#60 The last conversation you'll ever need to have about maintaining routines
“And how often do you floss?”
Fuck. I hate this question. I close my mouth and sit up in the dentist chair as my brain quicly starts balancing the embarrassment of having to admit that actually, I do on some days struggle with the motivation to brush my teeth at all, and with the fact that being in healthcare myself, I know lying about the state of your body after a physical examination is absolutely futile.
“See, that's something I struggle with,” I say as I proceed to explain that while I do brush my teeth multiple times most days, flossing is an absolute nightmare I most often skip. I'm internally dying of shame.
“Well, actually, you only do need to brush once a day properly,” the dentist says.
Now, I'm going to explain how this statement genuinely has changed my life, but before that I just want to say: I am NOT a dentist, and the most I've researched teeth is for trivia on vampire fangs. This is not medical advice and please feel free to email me back with better information if I'm totally wrong. But for the time being, let me convey what my dentist said:
Teeth brushing and interdental cleaning can be done once a day properly, no need for mouthwash, just don't rinse your mouth after using toothpaste (this bit I've done for years, defo recommend). Use a high fluoride toothpaste, and you're good.
While I can never leave the house without brushing my teeth, I will shamefully admit, there are nights where if I've forgotten to bring my toothbrush into the shower with me, I just have no more willpower left in me to brush before going to bed. For flossing, this happens a lot more often.
If you've ever done this, you might have also fallen asleep to choruses of shame, guilt, embarrassment and painful self-hatred. “How will you ever get anything done?” “If only your parents could see you now” “They were all right about how useless you are”.
The interesting thing here is just how little help self-hatred has been in helping me stick to my routines. Because, let me be clear, when it comes to getting things done, self-hatred or terror of any kind is a sort of blessing. It guarantees that I send projects in time, study before exams, pay my bills, but before this I'd never fully considered not using it for things I need to do every day, for habits and softer goals. When it comes to going to the gym, buying my groceries, eating fruit or brushing my teeth, self-hatred has always there but it's never been enough to get those things done.
The mindblowing thing however, is how this conversation changed me. I'd been internally deeply embarrassed for about 20 years that there were nights when I didn't brush my teeth. That there were days that I didn't floss. It's obviously not my biggest source of anxiety, but it definitely was there, contributing to that mountain of 'evidence' that I'm just a lot more useless an incapable than everyone else.
And suddenly I found out it wasn't true. That I was actually fine. That the baseline for health was a lot lower than I thought and that actually, I'm ok? And the craziness of this whole thing is that since then (three weeks ago), I've actually brushed and flossed every night, and kept brushing a couple times a day (not for hygiene, but I do like brushing between meals and before I leave the house). I've been tired, sad, angry, late into the night, yet not once unmotivated to do it, and it's just so unlike me, it's so new.
The reason I share this is that I've now been thinking what stupid high standards do I have for what an acceptable routine is? What do I think 'every adult should be doing' that isn't true? Now I think that while some 'anxiety' is helpful for deadlines, it turns out that swapping self-hatred for calmness actually works better when it comes to long term habits. Who would've known, I genuinely never thought I'd think in this way.
So maybe you think every self-respecting healthy adult 'never eats junk food', or 'eats 5 portions of fruit a day', or 'works out 5 times a week' or 'brushes and flosses twice a day' and so maybe it's time to actually look into that thought for a few minutes, call an expert or research it. Maybe knowing that the 'ideal' is a lot lower can help you get to your actual crazy expectation. Maybe save the pain for the rarer, shorter bursts of work.