Building a Healthy Habit — Floss a Single Tooth

floss

Just floss a single tooth?

Stanford professor BJ Fogg has been studying habit formation and how to influence it by taking tiny steps towards a goal. In an interview with public broadcaster KQED, Fogg discusses his approach:

The strength of a habit is defined, at least the way I see it, is how much of a decision was that behavior. So if you’re deciding ‘yeah, I’m going to go to the gym today’ it’s a pretty good indication it’s not a habit. Habits are things you do without deciding.

So how should you go about helping a patient develop a healthy habit, such as regular flossing? According to Fogg, the key is to start with flossing a single tooth.

Next, find a habit you already have and do your new habit immediately after. “For me and for most people, brushing your teeth is a solid habit. So that can serve as a trigger for the new behavior you want.”

Then, reward yourself. “You declare victory. Like I am so awesome, I just flossed one tooth. And I know it sounds ridiculous. But I believe that when you reinforce yourself like that, your brain will say yeah, awesome, let’s do that.”

Reading about BJ Fogg’s approach we can’t decide if it sounds like positive reinforcement or positively a terrible idea. Share your perspective in the comments.

2 comments

  • The best-case scenario is when children learn that flossing goes hand-in-hand with brushing their teeth—every day. However, if you didn’t make flossing a habit at a young age, this is a great way to get going.

  • Unfortunately, brushing your teeth is not really a habit. For those who do it on a regular basis, it is really part of a daily regimen- not a habit. You think about brushing your teeth, it may only be a fleeting moment, but it is there. Think about it this way, if you go to bed and didn’t brush your teeth, what do you do and say? “I forgot to brush my teeth, I better go do that now” so it is a remember to do so thing not a habit.

    That being said, by slowly introducing a new task in your daily regiment and rewarding yourself for doing so, that seems like a reasonable way to increase your flossing. One tooth at a time seems a little silly though. Perhaps you start with the top one day and the bottoms the next day. But ultimately it is about self discipline and making sure you do it on a regular basis.