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Playful Self-Discipline: Changing My Mind About Flossing

It’s Thursday and time to check in on my Playful Self-Discipline Project. So far this month I’ve written about getting more sleep and including my kids in my exercise routine as part of January’s theme of physical health. Today I’m tackling a topic that I have historically put off as much as I possibly could: flossing.

Ugh, Flossing?

I really don’t like to floss. I do like to brush my teeth; I like the pleasant smooth feel and minty aftertaste. I don’t mind going to the dentist. I just lie back and let the hygenist do her work. Flossing, however, has so many things about it that I don’t like. The ends of my fingers go blue from having the floss wrapped around them. If I don’t floss often enough my gums are sore afterwards. It takes a long time, and it’s fiddly. Add all that up and the result is years of substandard, occasional flossing.

However, when I went for my checkup and cleaning at the beginning of December, my hygenist told me bluntly, “Michelle, you’re starting to get gum and bone changes here that are really worrying me. If you’re not able to floss regularly then you’ll have to come in for a cleaning every 4-6 weeks so we can get a handle on this.”

While I don’t mind a regular checkup and cleaning every 6 months (I go to HillsDentalDesign.com.au and get an estimate before coming in and getting hammered with a large bill), I wasn’t prepared to be going to the dentist every 4-6 weeks. At this point, the hassle of flossing in the evenings was more appealing than the hassle and cost of eight dental appointments a year. I knew I had to step up and do the adult thing: I needed to become a frequent flosser.

dental floss wrapped around a finger

Self-Discipline – Doing the Right Thing Even Though You Don’t Want to?

Now I had two conflicting thoughts about flossing. 1 – I don’t like to floss. 2 – I need to floss to have healthy teeth and gums. I also had a dental appointment in six weeks where I knew the hygenist would be checking up on my progress. I was going to be held accountable for my flossing, or lack of it.

Often people think of self-discipline as doing what is right, even if you don’t want to do it in the moment. I think this is partly true. For me, however, there was a mental shift that transferred some of the weight away from my thoughts about not liking flossing. This shift made my thoughts about wanting to have healthy teeth and gums more prominent in my mind. It wasn’t so much about flossing even though I hated it, I actually started to think about flossing in a more positive way. This positive attitude helped me re-prioritize my time so that I could make sure I had enough time to floss before Claire’s usual midnight wake up.

What Does Flossing Have to do With Parenting?

Well, on the face of it, not a whole lot. But the most useful thing I learned as I worked on flossing more regularly is that self-discipline is not just forcing yourself to do something. It’s a process of growth and change that supports the new behaviour from the ground up. The more I think of myself as a person who hates flossing, the less likely I am to make it happen in my life. When I started to think about flossing as a way I could take charge of my health, I was more motivated to to it, and I found ways to make it happen.  Flossing has started to be something I do because I WANT to do it.  It’s not yet fun exactly, but it is becoming intrinsically motivated, and I see that as a few good steps towards playfulness.

The other thing I learned is that accountability can be a huge motivator as well. I didn’t want to go crawling back into the dentist’s chair only 6 weeks later to find out that my gums were even worse. Six months is long enough to forget that you wanted to do something. Six weeks is not.

I feel like I’ve created a net of accountability for myself by publicly writing about my intention to improve my self-control in a playful way.  Each time I write about my experiences here I’m reminded of my motivation and goals, and I know there are people out there reading along and paying attention to my progress. You all get to be like my hygenist, keeping tabs on the health of my gums. In the very nicest possible way, of course.

Have you changed your habits and attitude towards something you once seriously disliked? How did you do it? I’d love to hear about your experience!

And stay tuned for next week’s linkup! Share links to a new or old post you’ve written about self-disipline or physical health. I can’t wait to read everyone’s posts.

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{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Seonaid January 20, 2011, 11:01 am

    This is an on-spot post for me today, because I *hate* flossing, and I have braces, which means that my teeth are getting lots of attention, and flossing currently takes a ridiculous length of time. I definitely need a rework of my thinking about this. I have to do it, the resentment is not adding to my experience. Thanks for this!

    • michelle January 20, 2011, 11:15 pm

      I’m glad it was helpful. :) I’m still not exactly excited by flossing, but I’m keeping up with it, which is a big improvement from before.

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