I took my daughter to the dentist yesterday. No cavities! It was a big mom win, as lately I can’t seem to open the internet or turn on the television or talk to well-meaning adults without feeling shame for something I’m doing wrong that will hinder her for life.
I too get a clean bill of health at the dentist. This stems from wearing braces through middle school, high school, and a few months of college. Yes, college. (I also had a perm. And amazingly, zero dates.) In case you’re wondering, the first thing orthodontists do to kids getting braces is show terrifying pictures of what your teeth will look like if you don’t brush well. I still have nightmares.
Why do I still do a good job? I’d like to say it’s because I’m conscientious about all aspects of my health. But the truth is that my brushing/flossing/dentist-appointment-every-six-months routine is because of one thing:
It’s a habit. I don’t think about it. I just do it.
According to Gretchen Rubin, best-selling author of Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, the secret to forming good habits is finding specific strategies that will work for you. She believes we all have certain tendencies that impact our abilities to form and break habits.
I had the pleasure of meeting Gretchen at a reading she had at the Denver Woman’s Press Club (see photo evidence here!). Her first step? Deciding to not decide. When something remains a decision, you can say yes or no. I want to make daily yoga a habit. Yet most mornings, I still make a decision. I don’t decide whether I’ll brush my teeth. That happens. That’s habit.
When you live with chronic illness, changing your habits—good, bad, and indifferent—is almost always a requirement. And it’s almost always (in my opinion) super hard to do.
Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies
Gretchen believes the next step is knowing yourself and your tendencies. It’s not about changing who you are. It’s about knowing how you respond to expectations.
“When we try to form a new habit, we set an expectation for ourselves,” she says. I do this all the time. I set an expectation that I will not eat the entire pan of brownies. Then someone leaves me home alone and suddenly the pan is licked clean.
We all have outer and inner expectations. Outer expectations are things like deadlines, laws, rules, threats of your husband leaving you if he trips over your shoes one more time…. Inner expectations are things like doing laundry every Tuesday or eating a healthy breakfast or stop licking pans of food like a dog.
She observed that most people fall into one of these four groups:
1) Upholders respond to outer and inner expectations. They keep schedules and to do lists. And they do them!
2) Questioners resist outer expectations. Like how my daughter believes I need to justify her bedtime. She’s stopped taking because you’re 5 and I’m the mom for an answer. They meet inner expectations so long as they can justify them.
3) Obligers (this is me) respond to outer expectations. Inner expectations…not so much.
4) Rebels say Expectations Be Damned! and go about their merry way.
As an obliger, I begin each day setting my own intentions. And every day, I anxiously await emails and phone calls that will allow me to respond to someone else’s needs first.
What I didn’t know (and which explains so much) is that I also have a bit of a rebel in me. Which, also explains why some days I ignore all expectations and spend the day adding dresses I don’t need into online shopping carts I never intend to buy.
Not sure which category you belong to? Never fear. A quiz is here!
Too much of my life still comes down to a decision. Some nights when I’m lying in bed, I decide whether it’s worth it to get up and take my Plaquenil. I walk or do yoga most days, until someone needs something from me and I drop everything to meet their expectations. I meditate every day, but it’s not a routine. I decide to do it. And deciding takes energy. As we all know, lupus and lupus-like illnesses like mine mean energy is already in short supply.
Are you interested in exploring how your habits impact your life? I am. So I’m reading this book again. I’ll fill you in on my progress in my next post.