I often reflect on how flossing changed my life.
A few years ago I was in a deeply challenging place. My startup was falling apart, an investor who had given me over half a million dollars was threatening to sue me, and I was on the verge of personal bankruptcy. Despite my regular meditation practice, I felt continuous anxiety coursing through my body for weeks on end. The physical stress culminated in a horrible sinus infection that lasted for years.
In the middle of this I decided to start flossing. At this point you might be wondering… what does flossing have to do with what sounds like a pretty serious situation?
Throughout my life, sporadic visits to the dentist always concluded with the same prescription: floss. Apparently, flossing is more important than brushing. Who knew? Despite my best efforts, I could never make the habit stick. And so, in the middle of my crisis I told myself that if I could pick up flossing, I could pick up any habit and transform my life in this way.
For a while, flossing became one of my most important daily rituals. In the beginning, flossing each individual tooth felt awkward and time consuming. Although it only took a few extra minutes each night, it was an annoying routine that I would have rather skipped most nights. But I struggled through it and the habit stuck.
What flossing gave me was an entry point. When everything else was falling apart, it gave me a positive direction to lean into. And the power of that experience was that it built on itself. I could use my small success in flossing to give me confidence to take on bigger changes in my life. It was something seemingly insignificant, just between me and myself. Nobody else could appreciate the meaning of what this ritual held for me at this moment when I felt so absolutely beat down.
I have spent most of my life under the impression that personal change is something that happens as a sudden and massive transformation. And yet, my experience has been anything but that. It has taken me years to unlearn this belief.
The human organism, and the mind in particular, is subtle. We are ever confronted by our own psychology. Our meaning making is both master and captive. And that is exactly why leaning into change with consistent and small, incremental movements is so effective. Small changes are simple and adaptive, they allow for learning and adjustment. If they feel right and make sense, they naturally take on an energy of their own.
Coupled with self observation and dedication, small steady changes are the drops that fill the cup. The power of the process is that you don’t even need to know the destination, you just need to know the direction. Finding small ways to continually move towards something positive almost guarantees that you’ll get to a good place.
Today, nightly flossing is second nature, but the meaning stays the same. It is a daily reminder that I can pick up any habit and transform over time. But it is also a reminder that transformation takes time and begins with tiny, seemingly insignificant steps. Who could have ever imagined that such a simple and small ritual could have such a lasting and positive impact?
I’m curious what your experience has been with personal change. What has worked for you? Has anything been transformative? Please share your reflections here.