Ali Girard

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Making New Habits Stick

I had an appointment earlier this week with a new dentist. As I was sitting in the reception area filling out the intake form I was faced with an oral hygiene question I’m embarrassed to answer: How often do you floss? I gave the minimum answer that the form forced me to give (1 time(s) a week), but in reality it’s probably closer to 1-2 times a month. Why? Aside from the gross feeling of having my fingers coated in wax, I find flossing to be a hassle due to a difficult-to-navigate permanent retainer on my bottom teeth.

As expected, I received a lecture from my new dentist about the need to floss, and all the health problems that could ensue from neglecting this activity. Normally, I would nod and go on my merry way, forgetting it all by the next day. However, in light of my recent focus on making workplace changes stick and my waning immortality complex, I decided I was going to find a way to make this change stick.

Coincidentally, the weekend prior to my visit I had watched Gretchen Rubin’s speech on “The Four Ways to Successfully Adopt New Habits.”┬áRubin explained adopting habits as imposing a behaviour, or a rule, on yourself. She says the people fall into four different categories depending on how they respond to rules:

  1. The Upholder: responds readily to outer rules and inner rules.
  2. The Questioner: questions all the rules, but will follow the rules if they make sense.
  3. The Rebel: resists all rules, outer and inner rules alike.
  4. The Obliger: responds readily to outer rules, but struggles to keep inner rules.

I’m an Upholder. I’m motivated by accomplishment. I want to know the rules. I want to tick all the boxes. I have a strong sense of obligation to my own rules. Much stronger than my sense of obligation to outer rules. So how do I make this work for me? How do I apply this knowledge to make a new habit stick?

I realised that I already had the answer: add it to my to-do list. I have a list app that started as a place to dump the one-off things I needed to remember: work-related tasks, grocery items, appointments I needed to schedule. When I made my New Year’s resolutions I added them as a category in this app. Having a place where I can literally check items off as I complete them fulfills my need to “accomplish” things.

So, I added a daily, recurring task: “Floss.” Now flossing isn’t something I “have to remember” but something that I “accomplish” every day. It may seem silly to some people, but it’s how I’m making the habit stick.

Which category do you think that you fall under? How can you use that knowledge to make habits stick? Let me know!

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