"In all of living have much fun and laughter. Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured!"
~ Gordon B. Hinckley

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Lesson in Flossing

I'm terrible at flossing my teeth. If there was a trophy awarded for America's most infrequent flosser, it would be mine. And I would win it again every year. (For the record, I am a good diligent brusher, don't worry, and I have only ever had one cavity in spite of my life-time of flosslessness :)

I know I'm supposed to floss, but it's just such a hassle.  I have to stay up an extra couple minutes when I really just want to be sleeping, it gets my gums bloody because it's been months between flossings and I hate sleeping with that nasty bloody aftertaste (water doesn't effectively rinse it out and mouthwash on bloody gums is just too painful to be an option. fail), just the flossing itself can hurt, getting back to my molars is almost enough to set off my gag reflex sometimes, it smells less than wonderful, I always wind the floss around my fingers too tightly and it cuts off my circulation, and I have to deal with this big long mess of gross icky floss during and afterwards. It's not quite my idea of fun. Not to mention, there will always be more junk between your teeth tomorrow...so why not just wait till then and get it all out at the same time and save yourself the trouble? Or maybe a week later? It saves time and effort that way.  Plus my dentists, hygienists, and parents have harassed me about it plenty, but you know what? I didn't floss yesterday and I didn't die and no teeth rotted out, so what's the big deal?

Just a couple months ago I had a conversation/whining session discussing flossing with a few coworkers who felt similarly on the issue. Then a few weeks later, one of my fellow flossing failure friends from the conversation came to work after having just received a bill for a root canal. It was roughly $1500. He of course vented for a bit about the whole procedure, and how frustrating it is to have to pay that much money. Then his advice to the rest of us was something along the lines of "so the next time you're asking yourself if it's worth the effort to take the extra 2 minutes to floss instead of just going right to sleep, the answer is yes. It's worth it".

Ok, so it's just some advice about how to prevent an unpleasant procedure and an extra unwanted expense, but it's also some pretty deep life counsel if you want to look a little deeper and go the analogy route (which I love taking!).

Needing a root canal is no good, but fortunately there is a fairly inexpensive way to help prevent it (flossing) that only takes a minute or two each day. It can seem like just a useless annoyance because the results of one day of flossing are not immediate, but if done consistently it can make all the difference.

Big changes are usually brought about by small acts that build on each other. As Aristotle said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." It's easy to give up on frustrating little things, and then get dis-heartened when we do not reach our goals. We've heard the saying, "A journey of 1,000 miles begins with 1 step", but that is just the beginning. The journey itself is comprised of hundreds of thousands of individual steps, repeated over and over and over until the destination is reached. One step may not seem like a very big deal. It only moves you a few inches away from your previous location. But if you don't move those inches, you will never reach your end point. So if you're wondering 'is this one step worth the effort?' the answer is yes!

Here's another example.  One pound of body fat is worth about 3500 calories, so if you only increase your calorie intake by 100 calories a day (a couple bites of pizza, 4 hershey kisses, less than 1 serving of ranch dressing...), by the end of the year you will have gained 10 pounds. If you aren't watching what you eat, excess will slowly build up and you'll end up with an end product you don't want. There's the root canal. That little extra splurge is easy to make because the results of 100 calories on your body aren't immediately noticeable, but the damage is still being done. It can easily be combated though by cutting back 100 calories instead (flossing your teeth!). Put the left overs in a bag instead of forcing them down, skip the bag of chips, or whatever else. Again the results aren't immediately noticeable, but they are still happening. And more importantly, good habits are being formed! (Ok so maybe the reason I thought of that example in particular is because I've gained a bit of weight in the past month or two, so it's on my mind, but it's still a good example!)

The same thing applies to pretty much every goal. Want to avoid getting an F? Do your reading and homework assignments every day. Want to be better at playing the piano? Don't skip a day of practicing. Want to get promoted at work? Go and do your best every day even if no one notices. The process of achieving things can get tedious and frustrating when the results are not apparent, but just remember, "the next time you're asking yourself if it's worth the effort...the answer is yes. It's worth it!".

And yes, I flossed my teeth last night :)

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