My Flossophy on Habits

January 01, 2006 | Fresh Start | Karl Haffner

The electric chair. Sweat moistened my body as I trudged toward it.

"Sit here," the attendant barked.

I plopped in the chair, awaiting the torture. I stared vacantly at the "No Smoking" sign above the doorway.

The attendant approached the switch. She flipped the lever. I felt the power surging in the chair.

"There you go, Mr. Haffner, that's about the right height," she remarked as she flipped the switch off. "Just wait here. The dentist will be with you in a minute."

"Ah, um, ah, thank …" The words caught in my throat like sunflower seeds.

Maybe I won't have any cavities this time, I thought to myself. Reconsidering, I thought again. Right, Karl! That's about as likely as George W. getting re-elected in 2008.

I stared at the poster on the wall. It was a close-up of a grinning mouth sporting diseased gums. The teeth (the three that remained) looked like pebbles protruding from rotten bananas. The caption taunted me: “Avoid Gingivitis! Do You Floss Regularly?”

The clamor blared around me. I heard a duet with a howling kid and the buzzing drill, the "light tunes" of KLIT in the tinny speaker above me, and the gurgling miniature sink beside me.

I could already taste the experience: the sour Novocain; the bitter, squeaky gloves of the dentist; and the bubble-gum-flavored fluoride treatment.

Twenty-six minutes after the dental assistant told me, "The dentist will be with you in a minute," Dr. Johnston entered my cell.

"Hi Karl," he chirped. "We'll get you going here by doing a cleaning. Your dental-hygienist today will be Jill."

Jill dashed into the room. Glancing at my chart she stammered, "Hi, ah, Mr., um, Haffner."


"How are you today?"

"Good," I lied.

She curled some floss around her fingers. I knew her next question. Oh how I dreaded that question. Please, I thought to myself, don't ask me "The Question." Any question but "The Question." Guilt overwhelmed me.

"Do you floss?"

I knew she'd ask me that!

Why is it, I thought to myself, every time I leave the dentist's office I swear to myself I'll start flossing everyday, then disregard my commitment within a week?

"No, not usually." I meekly confessed.

"You really need to."

"I know."

"Once you get in the habit, it will be easy."

That evening, I determined to start a new habit. I yanked, pulled, bled, and muttered, "Flossing is so barbaric. Why do I think this habit will stick?"

"Practice what you preach," my wife said.

"Huh?" I had no idea what she was talking about. I was quite sure I had never preached on flossing.

"You know,” she said, “you're always preaching about making a commitment, then acting on that decision, not your feelings. Determine your action then act with determination. You’ll never feel like flossing. But if you decide what you want and then act on it …"

"Yeah, yeah, I know." There’s nothing worse than getting your sermon preached at you.

With new resolve, I determined to floss daily. Believe it or not, 15 years later I’m still a flosser. I can’t say I love doing it, nor do I sport a bumper sticker that reads, “I’d rather be flossing.” But every time I floss I am reminded that it is possible to form new habits.

Remember that the next time you renege on another New Year’s resolution. Perhaps 2006 was going to be your year for a deeper prayer life, a more disciplined exercise program, a better devotional experience—well, it’s not too late. Decide what habits you need to form this year, then act by faith, not by feeling. I’d explain that further, but it’s time to go floss.