Floss the Teeth You Want To Keep
Nick Crocker‘s QS journey started with his dentist telling him, “Floss the teeth you want to keep”. Nick tells the story of how he spent five years figuring out how to implement changes in his life, and how hard it was to add this habit to his routine. He also shares ten lessons he learned to make these changes easier.
That was the trigger really you know of how I became interested in change, and interested in tracking change. I began to floss the teeth that I wanted to keep which was all of them. That triggered what’s been like a five year obsession for me which has been how do you change yourself, how do you move from who you are to who you want to be. And for me that meant changing all manner of things about my life, from the way I flossed to the way I exercise, to the way I live to the way I spend time with family, to the way I studied and worked.
And what I realised was when I first started making the change, is the changes for me anyway were really difficult. So I assumed that I needed to floss and therefore that I would floss every day. And what transpired was like a couple of months of struggle with this incredibly simple task that happened at the same time every day for 20 seconds.
And when I looked around everyone else around me was having a lot of trouble changing. It wasn’t just me and the impact that this has that as a society we’re getting unhealthier. So I’m from Australia and 62% of Australians are overweight or obese. We have all the space in the world and we have no excuse for being unhealthy.
Now I come to this great land, America and 40% of deaths in America are related to lifestyle diseases. So my inability to floss isn’t just linked to my inability to floss. It’s linked to like the health of the world, and the inability to change small things is having a profound impact.
So we’re at this evolutionary point right now where for the first time we’re not dying because we don’t have shelter and not dying through enough resources. We’re dying because we can’t control ourselves. And we have this great wave of technology and in a lot of cases hindering us because we have desires now and can gratify them almost instantly. And so we do a really bad job now of valuing long term rewards, and we just live for short term gratification and technology accelerates that.
So I’ve been obsessed with this question which is how do you change yourself? And what I found out changing yourself isn’t hard it’s just that most of us just aren’t very good at it. So what I want to share today are the things that I discovered that makes it easier to change.
So the first one is when you decide to change you make a single change and you do it for a fixed time. And I’ve figured out that the ideal time is six weeks, because a habit takes 21 days to form and six weeks gives you two or three tries at it where you fail and you can make it up.
So the second thing that’s really important is to break down a goal like I want to run a marathon into the activities that get you to that point. And the reason you bring things back to the activity level is that over time – and this is a concept I found out about today called self-efficacy, you want to create this chains of change. You want to make it so small that you can do it every single day. And over time what you build up is this long chain that you really find hard to break and I can tell you that three and a half years into flossing, whatever state, whatever time of night I would still crawl into the bathroom and lie on the floor and floss my teeth.
The fourth thing is really important is to add behaviors rather than stopping them. So cold turkey is for people in various desperate situations or people who are very good at changing and I’m neither of those.
The fifth thing is to create triggers for new behaviors. So the secrete to flossing is that you do it straight after you brush. So when you create this trigger you create this much higher probability that your new behavior will happen.
Something else that’s really important is to never change alone because changing alone is really hard. And if you do it with other people you get encouragement, you get support and you get accountability.
The seventh thing that I think is really important is kind of what we’re talking about today is the Quantified Self with measuring the changes as you go along. And I don’t see the Quantified Self as change in a vacuum. I see the Quantified Self as enabling people to change in constant with all these other things.
And one of the other things that’s incredibly important is changing your environment. So if three of your best friends are obese, there’s a 50% chance that you’re obese as well. And being aware of the impact of the environment and your ability to change, profoundly impacts your ability to change the things you need to.
I think the nice thing that I found out was that creating sticks or negatives in your life can improve your ability to change is really important and after the talk I’ll share with you the stick that I created which is the burning money.
And the tenth thing is that when people think about change, there condition to think about the before and after photo of the person that lost 200 pounds, and that’s kind of an unsustainable way to think about change because that’s not how most people create sustainable change in their lives.
The only change that I’ve really found that works is little, small incremental change over time, and change rather than seeing it as a destination from point A where you are now to point B, I think of it as something your always integrating into your life whatever you’re doing and slowly you just add bit by bit by bit.
So I gave this talk recently at Ignite, and the purpose of Ignite is that you have to do it in five minutes and your slides have to move every 15 seconds, and I came here not thinking I would do that, but I don’t know how to switch it off. So I’m just giving you like the blast out five minute version and it was only meant to be for five minutes, so I might as well throw it over now to questions because I think it’s fun thing to discuss.