A few years back, my friend, Jenny, had a very simple-yet-specific New Year’s resolution: floss nightly. We chuckled when she shared it, but I started to wonder if all my grandiose resolutions to lose weight and “get healthy” could benefit from one more straightforward like hers.
She was on to something, according to research.
In one recent study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology, researchers discovered that making flossing a nightly habit was all about timing. Those who flossed after brushing their teeth were more often still keeping up the habit at the eight-month follow-up than those who flossed first. As Timothy A. Pychyl, PhD, states in his Don’t Delay blog for Psychology Today, the new habit stuck because of “implementation intentions”:
“I think it has important implications for our own intention setting in our lives. When we make those all-important implementation intentions…we could make them more effective if we choose situations within an existing relevant event as opposed to outside of a relevant event.”
Because study participants had a cue linked to brushing — “When I put down my toothbrush at night, I will floss my teeth” — it was easier for their brains to connect than if they thought to floss after showering.
The mouth, of course, is interested because research has found that poor periodontal health is a larger sign of overall body-wide inflammation. According to the Academy of General Dentistry, more than 90 percent of systemic diseases have oral symptoms such as lesions. (Check out “The Mouth-Body Connection” for more information.)
So once you are in a regular habit of flossing, will other good habits follow? Most likely yes. As is the case with eating well, exercising more, quitting smoking, or clearing out clutter, once you start and see results, your drive to continue with healthy behavior increases. Think about the last healthy habit you started that no longer feels like a chore? What did it lead to next?
Take a lesson from Jenny and keep your goals specific. Then consider Dr. Pychyl’s suggestion to integrate your new habit with relevant tasks. You may find yourself on your way to a new healthier routine without a second thought.