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a potpourri of mirth and madness

Habit forming

I find that habits are best made and broken in sets. If I want to form a new habit, I’ll try to get rid of an old one at the same time. I don’t know why this works, but it seems to. Perhaps I only have room in my head for a certain number of habits, so if I want a new one, then an old one has to go. I’m sure some combinations are better than others.

I’m currently working on changing some habits, including:

  • Start exercising, swimming three times per week
  • Stop drinking alcohol entirely
  • Start a consistent flossing routine

I’m thinking of adding a reading habit to the set, but it’s going well so far and I don’t want to overdo it. I feel good, and am forming a new routine.

The flossing is definitely the hardest of the three. I hate pretty much everything about flossing. It also unbalances the set, so that I have a net gain of one habit. Maybe that’s the real reason, and if I broke another habit, it would get easier.

Does anyone else have this experience? What sort of tricks do you employ to help you change your behavior?


Written by Matt Zimmerman

June 23, 2010 at 20:14

Posted in Uncategorized

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17 Responses

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  1. I have the same experience – I hate just about everything about flossing.


    June 23, 2010 at 20:48

  2. I used to hate flossing too, until I started using the Reach Floss Sticks – easy – http://www.kk.org/cooltools/archives/000554.php


    June 23, 2010 at 21:41

    • I have been told (by a dental hygienist) that these are not as effective as traditional flossing, because it’s more difficult to use proper technique to get the floss between the tooth and gums (the “C” shape).

      Of course, it is certainly better than nothing, so if it helps to establish a habit, perhaps it’s a net gain.

      Just don’t sneeze: http://jmedicalcasereports.com/content/2/1/78

      Matt Zimmerman

      June 24, 2010 at 08:01

  3. I don’t see the problem with flossing. I’ve been doing it before washing my teeth every night, since I don’t remember when.

    I’ve also being exercising with an elliptical trainer regularly for the last eight years, and recently upped the frequency to three times a week. I used to go swimming, but it’s a hassle.

    Finally, I don’t drink anything alcoholic above 20°, but don’t see a problem with the occasional beer or glass of wine either, usually one or two times a week.

    Nicola Larosa

    June 23, 2010 at 21:47

  4. I’ve had the same experience with floss, and I’ll second the recommendation for some kind of flosser with a handle. I use the Crest Floss-Pick.


    June 23, 2010 at 22:09

  5. “Stop drinking alcohol entirely ”

    Hey, hey, now lets not get crazy here.


    June 24, 2010 at 00:42

    • I thought it would be more difficult than it was, since alcohol and socializing are so linked (perhaps especially so here in England). It’s been pretty easy, though, and I feel better for it.

      Matt Zimmerman

      June 24, 2010 at 07:43

  6. Having many undesirable behaviours or aversions myself, I’ve been intrigued by this anti-habituation post:


    June 24, 2010 at 01:56

  7. I’ll third the floss stick, (eg reach) Its fully saved my teeth and breath – it as easy as tooth brushing and you do it in conjunction with the brush. Wow never thought linux blogging could get so personal!


    June 24, 2010 at 03:16

  8. I have no need for floss sticks or handles, fingers are enough.

    I also use old fashioned toothpicks, to good effect.

    Nicola Larosa

    June 24, 2010 at 07:29

  9. Hi Matt,

    I’m not the one to advise you about hacking, but I find that doing different activities, helps on apparently unrelated things of the life.

    I say… It’s better 2 days swimming an 1 day a random (run, yoga, cycling, football, martial art, etc) sport. than 3 days swimming.

    It’s better to read 90′ and write or try to write 30′, than reading 120′.

    Well, I don’t know very well if this can apply to flossing :)

    But planning this way, the same routine calendar, has a wide range of activities, and give a wide range of (some times surprising) results.

    Albert Einstein said: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

    Greetings! :)


    June 24, 2010 at 07:44

  10. Strategies I use to change habits:

    1) Tell the world. (Like you did here.)
    2) Find substitutes. (I drink carbonated water instead of diet coke now.)
    3) Build it into your routine. I don’t shower until I work out. (I work from home. :) Since I like being clean, I’m more likely to work out.

    FYI, I found giving up alcohol for a while was much harder on my friends than me. Several of them seemed to think they couldn’t drink if I wasn’t drinking. And if we weren’t drinking, they didn’t want to hang out talking in the bar. Very odd.


    June 24, 2010 at 08:47

  11. Just read an article that says you have to do something at least 21 times for it to become a habit. So mark that on your calendar and take it one day at a time. In a few weeks it will be old hat.


    June 24, 2010 at 13:32

  12. Flossing: it’s something you just gotta start doing. I’ve been flossing every night for the past several months; before that, MAYBE once a month.

    What got me more serious about it was just seeing all of the chunks of food and debris that come out, even AFTER brushing the teeth. You start to realize just how gross it is to sleep with all that crap in your teeth. Plus, the thought of getting gum disease is too horrible to bear. Once that sets in, it takes a lot of work to reverse.

    Jose McFallon

    July 13, 2010 at 16:20

    • I used to not floss as well, until I got gingivitis.
      I used to hate flossing as well, because it made my gums bleed, and was not comfortable. What I didn’t realize was that the crap in between my teeth was making my gums sensitive, which in turn was why I hated flossing.
      Now that I floss, I can feel the crap in my teeth when I fail to floss.


      July 16, 2010 at 12:52

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