March 22, 2020

Flossing 365

Sent by Jonathan Stark on March 22nd, 2020

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About two years ago, my dental hygienist convinced me to take flossing seriously by cheerfully repeating “You only have to floss the ones you want to keep!” for about two minutes while she cleaned my teeth.

As silly as her repetition exercise might sound, it stuck in my head. When I left, I added “Floss teeth” to my daily todo list. 632 days later, I haven’t missed a single day.

Crazy, right? Overnight, I went from flossing maybe once a month to flossing daily.

Here’s the thing…

As effective as my hygienist’s refrain was at convincing me in the moment to start flossing more, it wasn’t what kept me on track. What kept me on track was my daily todo list.

What’s my daily todo list?

I’m glad you asked!

My daily todo list is a set of todos that repeat daily. Every day, I check them off as I do them. The next day, they all come back unchecked.

At the moment, I’ve got 13 items on the list:

Missing a day

Every once in a while, I’ll screw up and not finish one of the todos on a given day. If it’s something that I can do more than once a day (e.g., 50 push-ups) I’ll do it twice the next day and check off both. This might seem like cheating but whatevs… I’m often up past midnight and might have a few todos left over from the previous day.

Breaking a streak

If it’s something I can’t really do twice in one day (e.g., fast for 12 hours) I’ll just delete it and break the streak. Whenever I break a streak on one of my daily todo items I make DOUBLY sure that I don’t miss it again the next day. If I screw up once in a row, that doesn’t bum me out too much. If I miss twice in a row, I feel like a loser.

The streak is the key

There have been times when I’ve woken up from a dead sleep because my subconscious remembered that there was something on my daily todo list that I’d forgotten to do, like take my vitamin D. 

Obviously, it’s not a big deal to skip a single dose of vitamin D. In the moment, I don’t really care about taking the vitamin, but I care a LOT about not breaking the streak.

If you have a long-term goal that requires months or years of quick little daily activities, starting and maintaining a streak will help keep you at it. The streak gives you a near-term reward, whereas the promise of the long-term payoff probably isn’t enough motivation. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I haven’t stretched yet today...