As I reflect on what’s changed over the past year I see that this step of progress has less to do with a specific goal about dental hygiene and more to do with being a bit more of a self in all of my relationships.
I’ve been dismal with dental flossing for most of my life– I’ve made many efforts to be consistent with this key aspect of dental hygiene only to lapse as life gets busy. I have never quite understood why the establishment of this good habit has eluded me. Flossing was never a part of my childhood routine in the way that teeth brushing was. Hence I appreciate that it’s always more challenging to establish good habits as an adult if they haven’t been supported by parents in childhood. But this excuse doesn’t really let me off the hook. I recall hearing a conference lecture on geriatric preventative health and my ears pricked up when the doctor declared: “Flossing is not necessary…” this sounded hopeful until he went on to say “…unless you don’t want to lose your teeth!”
I floss regularly a week before a dental check-up but the redness of my gums gives my dentist evidence that I have not been consistent. After getting a lecture on preventing gum disease I improve for a little while but the habit starts to lapse before it is consolidated. A bit of external expert pressure can temporarily get me on track but I haven’t mobilised enough internal ‘self’ to persist. Growing a more responsible self is measured by how much a person can function in life without being dependent on external relationship directives.
2016 however has been a breakthrough for me in this area of my laziness. Surprisingly I have managed to make daily flossing a habit and the results were affirmed at my end of year dental visit. What is it that has enabled this meagre maturity break-through? It has not been a conscious new year (or post dentist) resolution as the evidence over the years doesn’t back this up. As I reflect on what’s changed over the past year I see that this step of progress has less to do with a specific goal about dental hygiene and more to do with being a bit more of a self in all of my relationships. Over the pressures of the past year I have learned a great deal about managing myself in both family and work situations. I have consciously improved my respect for other’s autonomy – asking what is helpful before jumping in, keeping in contact, being more responsible for myself and less focussed on the other, noticing and addressing the sneaky signs of too much tension in me. I have continued my decades of small efforts to have better balance between managing my own health and sharing myself mutually in relationship. There have always been steps of progress mixed with setbacks, but gradually, over time I see the signs that I have grown a bit more inner agency (self) and have seen others in my family do the same.
The capacity to direct one’s self in a responsible manner while also being reliably connected to others – this is the groundwork for improving follow through on many a good resolution. It is less about achieving the individual goal and more about improving life maturity and a steadier emotional state in general. And, as important people in our lives lift their own responsible life management, others in the system are better able to lift theirs.
I can reflect on other previous habit forming failures and see that there have been steps of progress over the past year. Additionally I plan to work to be more responsible in a number of other life management domains —it’s a good size list. I do realise, however, that the broader endeavour to be a more mature self in the important relationship domains of my life is more fruitful that just targeting a specific resolution. My efforts need to be balanced between my relationship and my individual functioning.
I’ve always known that regular flossing is important but having the capacity to turn this awareness into a daily habit has been predicated by growing up a bit more in all areas of my life and relationships – to be more inner directed and less externally motivated. Who would have thought that broadly improving how I manage myself across all of life could translate into a better-quality set of teeth?
The surprising link between dental hygiene and relationship maturity – Jenny Brown