Flossing your teeth is one of the best examples of the principles of time management. Why?
Well, we all know it’s something you should do, yet probably don’t do.
After you see your dentist, you vow to do better this time, you stay on it for a few days, maybe, and then let it go again, until your next appointment. Why does this happen? Well, flossing is a hassle, and the payoff is in the distant future. If I told you I’d give you a million bucks if you flossed your teeth right now, you’d run out and get some floss and make it happen, right? Of course!
But that’s not your reality.
The reality is that if you spend a few minutes now before bed time, you will be less likely to get cavities, lose your teeth, or suffer gum disease in the future — perhaps in the distant future, decades from now. When you are 75, you will wish you had started flossing when you were 30, but by then it will be too late. Furthermore, research has shown that people who floss actually live longer then people who don’t. Think about that. When you are on death’s door decades from now, you will wish you had a few more healthy years in you, to see your grandkids, to share with your husband or wife, to continue your life’s work. That puts things into perspective, doesn’t it? You can give yourself that gift, but you will need to start flossing today.
So, how will you stay motivated today when the payoff won’t come for so many years? You know you should floss, but should is not enough. You need to create a visceral, emotional payoff that you can experience now, that will motivate you to keep going. Perhaps it’s as simple as a mantra you repeat to yourself as you pick up the floss each night: “I am giving myself the gift of a longer life,” or “I’m going to have a sexy smile when I’m 75!”
Or maybe you imagine smiling as your grandkids bounce on your knee, or as you walk your granddaughter down the aisle to get married, or play golf with your best friend, whatever has meaning for you. Is that worth a few minutes of hassle right now? Of course it is!
Now, perhaps you are motivated by avoiding pain. In that case imagine something awful, like having no teeth, not being able to enjoy a juicy apple or hearty steak, but you can avoid that with a few minutes of work right now. Worth it, right?
Maybe none of that is sufficient. The payoff is too far away, too abstract. Fair enough. If you have kids, or if you have ever worked with kids, you surely know that they can be motivated by immediate rewards. Floss your teeth, and get a gold star on the chart! Collect ten stars and you get a reward, like a favorite coffee drink or a trip to the movies. Yes, this is bribery, and every parent and teacher on this earth has resorted to it many times, because used well, it works! Find a reward that is motivating and use that to incentivize yourself to floss. Create a chart if you need to, or find an app.
When I was 10, my aunt told me she would give me five dollars if I finished my green beans. I choked them down in seconds. She thought it proved that I actually liked them. I didn’t, but I had a clear picture of the reward for doing something I didn’t want to do — which was the five dollars she promised.
The bottom line is you want to find a way to experience some satisfaction today, even though the benefit of flossing won’t be felt for years. Create this kind of reward for yourself, and not just flossing — but anything — becomes possible.