At Sleekgeek you will continually hear us talk about the power of making behaviours into habits and how we believe this is the foundation to build a healthy life.
You are what you repeatedly do and your life right now is the sum of all your habits. Good or bad.
Today I am going to talk a little about how I made brushing my teeth automatic in my 40s.
I am almost embarrassed to tell this story about my life but I think it was an excellent learning moment for me – particularly about habits. You may learn something too.
It is also ironic.
The reason I say that is because usually when we want to describe habits for the first time it makes sense to most people to say. “It is kinda like brushing your teeth.” Because that is what most people have habitualized over years of repetition.
So that is why telling this story feels like an irony to me!
For some reason neither my parents when I was a kid nor myself when I was an adult prioritised my teeth. I brushed my teeth seldomly (I know… cringe) and surprisingly neither had bad breath nor dental issues. Until in my 30s I lost 2 teeth at separate occasions. According to the dentist this was not a consequence of poor hygiene habits but I cannot not stop to wonder and feel responsible and have regret.
I have yet to replace those 2 teeth because the implants are 20k each and other financial matters have taken priority. I would LOVE to replace them tomorrow if I could. I invested in my braces first.
Before I lost weight and got in shape it did not bother me that I always had crooked teeth. But as I started to get into shape and become more proud of my appearance and take more care in it did start to bother me. But not enough for me to do something about it.
Then about 2 years ago a high-end dental company specializing in makeovers offered to do all the work I needed for a Hollywood smile in exchange for me making sponsored posts to my followers. The value of the dentistry at their rates was about 150k. I declined because I did not believe I could return their investment nor did I want to feel indebted. I did not think that many people who followed me would be looking for expensive dentistry.
But something very important did happen in the process. When I went for the review of my teeth the owner sat me down with a mirror to my face and asked me some psychological questions. He asked me how I felt when people saw my teeth. Suddenly I realised that in fact I felt ashamed. Especially as the face of a health brand I started to think about what people thought if they saw my 2 missing teeth. Girlfriends in the past had politely not commented.
I realised there is a strong chance they would immediately decide I had been negligent.
Which I guess was partly true and it hurt me. It made me feel dirty.
Why had I not built the habit of brushing my teeth as a child? I do not know. But something had to change.
I also reflected in this interview that I hardly smiled or when I smiled it was a half smile and even though I am a warm and friendly person people I did not always give off that feeling to people because I was subconsciously too ashamed to smile fully. When the penny dropped about these limiting beliefs that I had it was very powerful.
I decided that no matter what as a person who takes his health seriously – which is the identity I have built for myself I wanted to be a person who had healthy teeth and cared about taking care of them.
This led me back to my own dentist to explore doing this and paying for it myself. The deal clincher was when my dentist told me that because my teeth were not straight I had food traps that were hard to clean and that posed more risk for infection and that in the long run if I have straight teeth I would have more chance of keeping my teeth healthy.
Both my parents had false teeth by the age of 50 and I decided I was not going to be a part of that legacy. The health aspect drove me to take action because I have always prioritised health over cosmetics.
So to save money we went old school and I paid R45k to have railway tracks for 18 months. I got the clear ones so it was not too bad – but they were there!
Then something magical happened. I was told that with braces because food can get trapped it was especially NB to focus on brushing and cleaning.
Suddenly I was was so excited about the prospect of finally having teeth I did not have to feel ashamed about and being able to smile freely that I was more keen to focus on my oral hygene habits.
That resulted in me going from hardly brushing my teeth to doing it twice a day. I got excited about it. I was excited and emotionally connected to this idea of finally righting all the wrongs and having the confidence to smile more and be a warmer person.
It was such a mindset change that I did not wait for the braces to come off before I started smiling more. I started to smile more and proudly too – almost immediately – brace face and all.
Before I had the results I felt proud that I was taking action. After 18 months when they came off I was so happy with the result! They came off a week after my 44th birthday last year July!
I had built the habit of brushing my teeth twice a day to the point of it being automatic now.
I know it is a habit because it will be harder for me not to brush my teeth over brushing them. It would feel weird if I did not.
But my habit lessons were not over.
But the next habit lesson was around flossing when the braces came off. Now I dunno if it is just me or if I do not have much coordination but I find it so hard to floss with dental floss. I miss my tooth. It is just a mess. But I decided I was committed to doing the best I can with my dental health.
One of the key principles of building habits is to make something easy and doable. Easy enough not to fail. So I bought myself those dental flossing sticks. Those I am able to use. It is still a work in progress with the flossing but I decided to set myself the minimum goal of flossing just one tooth after I brush my teeth. I can do more than one but it must be a min of 1 tooth. In reality I always do more. It also helps to keep my flossing sticks next to my toothbrush.
I still need to replace those 2 teeth and do a little more cosmetic dentistry to achieve the perfect smile but right now I am happy with my new healthy teeth that I plan to look after to the best of my abilities.
At Sleekgeek we are passionate about the idea that health is a habit. If you want to hear more on that topic then click here to listen to our latest podcast where Eric and I talk about just that.