Flossing changed it all.

It’s that time of the year again, January, which means everyone is bragging about what goals they are going to accomplish by this time next year.  Can we take a moment and acknowledge that it’s going to be 2020 next year? It seems like just yesterday that we were singing along with Prince about partying like it’s 1999.

Most of us have quit our New Years Resolutions by now.  January 17th is Ditch New Year’s Resolution Day.  But maybe this is the year that is different for you.  

A leader I admire, asked me a question recently, “who did I want to be in 2020?”.   It took me off guard for a moment. I had to think that through. When I asked for clarification, he pushed in a bit more.  Who do I want to be? Do I want to be a healthy person in 2020? Do I want to be a great inspiring leader in 2020? Do I want to be a loving husband and father in 2020?  

I kept shaking my head each time he asked.  I had no idea where this was going. He pushed in a bit more on me.  He asked me what systems I’d created to make sure I’m all those things in 2020.  

I told him I work out four times a week when I can fit it in my daily schedule.  I also listen to podcasts and read books several times a week. I love my wife. I serve her. I date her.  I provide for my sons. I hang out with them, etc.

He pressed the conversation a bit more.  This leader asked me to honestly evaluate the systems I have to see if those systems would help me become the man I want to be in 2020.  

During my evaluation process, I realized I had goals.  I even created habits that helped me accomplish them, but I had not established a system that would help me achieve the kind of person I wanted to be 365 days from now.  

Let’s use my workout routine for example.  I workout at least four times a week when I can fit it in my daily schedule.  

That’s not a system.  It’s a statement.

So, the system I’m establishing starts with the kind of person I want to become by 2020.  I have an ideal weight. I have the ideal body fat percentage I need to be healthy.

Now the system I’m creating around my habits moves to the next stage, which is evaluating my current patterns.  When I recognize a ‘bad or ineffective habit,’ I need to change that pattern in my daily routine.

For this, I reached to a past lesson I learned while working at a manufacturing plant.  To reduce production defects and improve customer satisfaction, we initiated a system of quality checks after performing the tasks required in an assembly process.  Some quality checks were referred to as a “point and call out” check. The associate would point at a bolt, fan assembly or whatever and verbally confirm ‘full seated’ or ‘not cross-threaded.’  Yes, a person might feel foolish for saying these things, but the reality of the situation was that we needed to improve our quality record drastically. This meant we needed to change our methods radically.  

With my own routine right now, whenever I am tempted to eat a donut instead of an apple or when I’m tempted to skip leg day (NEVER SKIP LEG DAY!), I verbally remind myself who I want to be in a year.  I want to be the healthiest 38-year-old husband and father for my family. That little verbal reminder resets my system.

A decade ago, I started on a journey of becoming the healthiest person I can be.  I was encouraged to start with the smallest habit I could control that would help create the system.  I evaluated my life and my routines looking for the smallest thing I could change to improve.

Every night I floss my teeth.  If I skip flossing my teeth, I feel horrible because I’m not taking the best care of my teeth.  One of my friends who is a dentist reminds me all the time that ‘teeth are treasures, not tools.”  Every time I skip flossing, I hear Emily rattle that little saying off. So, I floss every night. Ten years ago, however, I didn’t have that habit.  Flossing was the habit I decided to change in 2007.

Once flossing became a habit, it was then considered part of an established routine.  I now needed to focus on creating other habits. The idea of working out however in a new gym was a bit intimidating.  The concept of not eating ice cream each night seemed foolish.

So, I decided to pair new habits with already established patterns.  Every night while flossing, I reminded myself I wanted to be a healthy person, a person who weighed 100 lbs less than I did at the time.  That simple verbal reminder triggered me to lay out my workout clothes and shoes before I went to bed.

When I woke up, (an old habit) I visually saw my workout clothes.  I’d remind myself of the kind of person I wanted to be. I’d get dressed (an old habit) but I’d wear workout clothes (new habit).  I’d go to work (old habit) and after my shift I’d change from my work uniform into my workout clothes and go workout. I had a very set schedule.

I paired working out with the end of my work shift.  

This routine is the system that works for me.  It’s called habit stacking. I partner an old habit that I already have as part of my life and when I accomplish that already established task for the day, it triggers my new habit.  Instead of hoping I can fit a new pattern in, I simply a attach the new habit to the end of the old habit. I made a system that helped me accomplish ‘good habits.’

At the same time, I created a system that made accomplishing ‘bad habits’ more difficult.  I used to eat a bowl of ice cream each night… not joking. I loved it too. I would take ice cream, peanut butter, chocolate, maple syrup and mix it all together. I would eat my bowl of ice cream while watching The Biggest Loser.  

Once I started on the journey of losing 100 lbs, Heather and I made the intentional decision to make eating ice cream more difficult.  If we wanted to eat ice cream, we’d have to go out to a restaurant to eat it. One time I tried to reduce the amount of TV I watched during the day.  I unplugged the TV and would only plug it in if I knew what show I wanted to watch.

Creating a system that allows effective or ‘good’ habits to be made and wrong or ineffective habits less accessible is critical to your success.  

This system might be foolish to some, but this routine is what started me on the journey of losing 100 lbs.

Now, like I said, this system is a system I’ve created over the last ten years.  I am not done creating this system either. When I get frustrated because I want results faster than what I’m experiencing currently, I remind myself that ten years ago I couldn’t see my feet… among other body parts.  I tell myself that I was completely unhealthy. While I might not be the healthiest person I can be, I’m not what I used to be. Each year I change one or two habits that help me become the healthiest person I can be.

This year I’m changing the times that I eat.  I tend to snack late at night. So, this year I’m not eating food past 8 pm.  

Who do you want to be in 2020?  

What systems do you have in place now to help you become that kind of person?

What already established habits could you partner new habits with to create a system that would help you accomplish those tasks?  

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