I know, I know: this small-things-every-day idea comes up over and over again in this blog because I struggle with it so much. I devoted a whole chapter in my book to the idea of “the power of small things.” (Read that chapter here.) Becoming more aware of how counterproductive it is to let things pile up has helped me to improve my consistency even as I experience the boredom of putting things away, making the bed, wiping down the bathroom counter, etc., etc. It’s a total drag, but the results are great. In fact—stop me if you’ve heard this before—it has struck
me that there’s an inverse relationship between the drama of a process and the magnitude of its results. Buckling your seat belt is just about the most unexciting step you can take to improve your personal safety (and wrinkle your clothes in the process), but that car accident where you don’t go through the windshield will be a major dividend of that small routine task. The task of buckling up is dull; the saving of your life is dramatic. On the other hand, the dramatic process of, say, staying up all night to meet a deadline, results in what? Handing over whatever it is to the person in charge. A rather anticlimactic end to your pulse-pounding last-minute efforts.
Yesterday I finally got myself in to the dentist, having let things go for far longer than the recommended six months. On the one hand, it was encouraging to hear that the pocket depth of the gums has improved. (Hope this isn’t TMI.) What the hygienist does first thing is to go around and probe the gumline at each tooth, noting how far down she can go. You want to have your gums tightly up against your teeth, with the probe registering no more than a 3. (Millimeters, I think.) At my last appointment I had seen a significant negative change, with a number of 6’s and 7’s. Not good! Before that my highest number had been a 4 at a few spots. I don’t know why this downturn happened, but it scared me enough that I tried to be more consistent over the past few months with flossing and going over the teeth one final time with my electronic toothbrush. This appointment saw an improvement , with the worst readings in the 4’s and 5’s. Still not great, but better. The hygienist said that she flosses three times a day! I can’t see myself doing that, but I’m going to shoot for twice a day, after breakfast and after dinner. (Did you know, by the way, that brushing your teeth after dinner instead of waiting for bedtime really helps curb that evening-snack urge? You don’t want to do the whole dental routine all over again, so you don’t eat.) A small thing. I can do it while reading, or listening to a podcast, or watching TV. It only takes a couple of minutes extra a day. Maybe I’ll institute an after-lunch brushing if I’m home. The thought occurred to me, as it often does after a dental appointment, that if I got every single speck of plaque off every single day, I’d never need the dreaded scraping.
Maybe I’ll get really motivated about these numbers in the same way I’m motivated to get and keep my A1C blood sugar number at a good level. Those numbers can be my gold stars. Keeping my blood sugar under control by the small consistency of saying “No, thank you” to desserts and treats will likely have the dramatic effect of keeping me off diabetes medication and saving my retinas. (My poor retinas are stretched to the breaking point because of my extreme near-sightedness. Diabetes impairs circulation as high blood sugar levels destroy capillaries. Retinal tissue is especially at risk and mine is even more vulnerable than usual because of its thinness.)
On it goes. When I post this article on my blog I need to take a couple of minutes to fill in the SEO fields so that my chances of showing up well in Google searches are maximized. I hate doing that! It’s dull and routine. And there’s some controversy about how much difference it really makes to have your SEO rating button turn green. But if I take that few extra minutes and gain even a few new readers, a small avalanche effect may be put in motion. It’s such a minor investment of time and effort that I need to do it even though I just want to post the post and be done with it. As I often remind myself, if I write something but then don’t take the necessary steps to get it out in front of eyeballs, I might just as well put it in a drawer for all the good it will do.
In that same vein of going ahead and doing what needs to be done even if it’s boring (or scary), I would recommend today’s “Happier in Hollywood” podcast with Liz Craft (Gretchen Rubin’s sister) and her writing partner Sarah Fain. (There’s one clip from a film early on that has some objectionable language.) Their main topic is about how to get an agent in Hollywood, but their advice is true across the board: plunge in even if you’re scared, do the work, push yourself, and hold yourself accountable. The episode starts out, though, with Sarah reading a partial list of all the items she had to pack for her first mother-daughter overnight camping trip. Making that list and rounding up the supplies was a massive pain, but the camping trip was wonderful. It wouldn’t have happened without that list, though. (And their Hollywood Hack for the week involves keeping a checklist, something I keep trying to do–and sometimes even succeeding.)
Well, hafta go and brush my teeth!