I hate flossing.

Whenenver I visit my dentist for a cleaning or consultation, he asks me whether I’ve been flossing, and I always say no. Last Wednesday, I saw my dentist for a routine check-up, and we went through our usual song and dance. If anything, I was surprised at how little my dentist scolded me for my failure to floss properly. When he asked me to show him how I flossed, he quickly realized that I didn’t even know how to floss well — I had been holding the floss in ways that actively hindered my ability to succeed. He patiently demonstrated the proper technique for me, and sent me home with a package of unwaxed floss and an instructional booklet.

The last sentence of the booklet reads, “At first, flossing may be awkward and slow, but continued practice will increase skill and effectiveness.” This really resonated with me. In the past, after being scolded for not flossing, I would make a half-hearted attempt to build the habit. But I’d always get frustrated and quickly give up, until my next appointment — a sad cycle.

I decided I was tired of it.

Last Wednesday, I started flossing.

Last Thursday, I did something I had never done before: I flossed for two nights in a row. Then two became three. Then four, five, six. As the booklet led me to expect, it was not easy. Holding my hands in the proper positions was awkward, and the entire process felt agonizingly slow. But I refused to let that stop me from flossing every tooth, every night. And it did get easier as I went.

Last night, I marked an entire week of flossing consecutively. This may not be a big deal to some of you, but for me, it’s a tremendous step in better oral hygiene and being healthier overall.

Over the past week, I’ve realized that a major part of why I had been frustrated with flossing in the past was because I had been doing it improperly the whole time. My dentist walking me through the proper technique was one of the critical ingredients I needed to get over myself and actually start building the habit.

In a similar way, I’ve been actively seeking guidance from other people about overcoming mental slumps and developing discipline. One of the most helpful pieces of advice I’ve found happens to come from a Reddit user named Ryan, who outlined four rules for developing discipline and moving your life in a positive direction.

In essence, Ryan’s rules are these:

  1. No more zero days — A “zero day” is when you don’t do anything that advances you towards your goals. Doing anything, no matter how small, is still better than doing nothing.
  2. Gratitude to the three you’s — The three you’s are the past you, present you, and the future you. Thank the past you for the good decisions you’ve made, and do favors today for the future you.
  3. Forgive yourself — When you fail, forgive your past self and focus on today’s potential.
  4. Exercise and books — Read and work out. Physical and mental exercise are keys to a healthy life.

I find each of these rules inspiring in their own way, and I hope you do, too. If you have thoughts on them, I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Right now, I don’t have much to say about the rules beyond listing them — I’m still working on putting them into practice in my own life, especially Rules 2 and 4 — but I will comment that one of the big reasons I like these rules is because of the terminology they define, so I’ll likely refer to things like non-zero days in the future.

Last week, I set the goal of finishing my next Bearz Repeating (that’s this article) two days early, on Monday. Unfortunately, I was only partially successful. I did not finish this article on Monday. But I did sit at my computer, crack my knuckles, and put in a couple hours working on it — a non-zero day. Moreover, when I hit a wall and felt like I couldn’t go any further, I forced myself to push forward and at least outline a structure for the remaining portions of the article. Even though I didn’t necessarily have the inspiration to fill in those gaps, I was pleased that I found the discipline to push forward.

Next week, I plan on repeating my plan, but with an additional stipulation: I will set aside time to work on my blog at a reasonable hour, rather than very late at night. For this week, I had envisioned working on Bearz Repeating during the afternoon or evening; in actuality, I didn’t get to writing until well after midnight. Even though I’m a night owl by nature, the hours I spent on Bearz Repeating were outside my typically productive hours, and that certainly contributed to being unable to finish the article on Monday.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m very interested in reading more about building discipline and forming good habits. I’m grateful to Chase and Christine for mentioning a couple interesting people and books in the comments of last week’s article! If you have recommendations of other resources I should read, please let me know! And if you have stories about good habits from your own life — whether judging-related or otherwise — I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time, may you know the satisfaction of executing simple tasks well.

4 thoughts on “Flossing

  1. Have no fear, Bearz, if everyone were to follow the tips of the dentists all the time, more than half of them would be without a job. : )

  2. Another good way to think about future you is to imagine that they are a different person, but a good friend of yours. Would you really blow off doing that thing you are responsible for and make your good friend do it?

  3. I’d say the first rule is kinda harsh. Yes, it’s nice to spend time doing anything useful, but sometimes, you know, it’s great just to spend day resting. Anyways, good book or game or walk outside are not all that useless activities. And sometimes — i don’t say often — it’s okay to give yourself days when you can really, really relax.
    The desire to do something useful all the time and keep yourself always positive, that are so trendy now, are looking a little bit like mania. I think it’s totally fine to sometime let yourself go, be sad or do nothing so useful.

    Again, i don’t say let yourself go all the time, but when you have this one zero day in couple of week, don’t punch yourself, relax.

    1. The definition of a zero day though is “when you don’t do anything that advances you towards your goals.” If your goal for the day is to relax, and you do nothing but relax all day, then you didn’t have a zero day – you had the exact opposite of a zero day, and met all your goals for the day!

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