98 – Happy 2023

Hi and welcome, or welcome back. You are listening to the Perio Patient Podcast, a podcast for my patients and anyone else who cares to listen. My name is Dr. Ben Young and I am a periodontist in private practice in San Antonio, Texas. This is episode 98 and the title is Happy 2023. 

This one will be brief but I hope helpful. 

Let’s talk about habits. This is what we are all trying to form anytime we make a resolution and New Years is the most common time on the calendar for doing this. Right now we are past New Years enough to where many of our best intentions have probably evaporated back into the old routines and habits of life. 

So let’s begin by admitting that we cannot change that much about ourselves all at once. We can force ourselves out of many of our habitual routines we know could be improved by extreme intense measure, but for just a little while. It is not usually sustainable – unless we have joined the Marines and now have drill sergeant in our lives.  

So let’s talk about slow steady change and how it is best accomplished. 

First, let’s establish that you change your mind all the time. It’s in the moment and it’s usually under the radar – meaning imperceptible to the outside world. Some examples of this, and they happen every day, all the time: You decide to wear different clothes. You decide to eat a different breakfast or eat breakfast at all. You decide to buy a different product off the shelf at the grocery store, not because you were unhappy with what you were using, but you wanted a change. I bet you can think of hundreds of more examples of micro-change. 

This is important to understand, because the default belief for most of us is that we are too fixed in our ways. On big, massive things, that’s true. On little itty-bitty things, it is anything but.  

A lot of the decisions I make in the moment have to do with not doing something I thought would be good for me up to just before I was going to do the thing. It might be exercising. I planned to exercise, but then at the last minute changed my mind. I think this happens with patients and dental care. They intend to get something done and then at the last-minute change their minds.  

To see this is the first step at becoming a better change artist. It is to admit where we have a weakness and then thinking through how to not fall into the same lethargic hole.  

So to review. We change all the time and it’s under the radar. And we often change our minds at the last minute on doing something new. This is our old habits fighting back. 

This is where a simple resolution can pay off bigtime. Tell yourself to keep commitments even if it’s hard. When I do this I find I have less decisions to make in my life. For example, I commit to go somewhere with someone. Later a better offer comes along. I keep my commitment to the first someone. The only exceptions to this will have to do with emergencies. If a loved one get’s sick, then I certainly understand the need to change plans.  

Second, we are creative people. We can come up with all sorts of ways to do or not do things. This creativity needs to be harnessed in breaking bad habits. It might be setting up reward systems for going through with promises you make to yourself. It might be trying to accomplish something difficult in different ways that might make the process a little easier, or shorten duration of the pain of changing.  

My point here is that you are creative and all I need to do is to remind you to apply this skill, rather than being creative for you.  

Here is one that is close to home for my patients, and you may have heard me say this to you. It has to do with brushing and flossing. 

Be gentle. It’s frequency, not intensity. You can injure your gums and then your gums have to heal, not only from the bacterial infections that are behind tooth decay and periodontal disease, but also from self-inflicted injuries.  

Put the floss where you can see it and in the same place so you don’t have to hunt for it. Wrap the floss around the middle fingers between the two knuckles just a few times and at the right distance apart. For more information on this, review with the pictures in my book, The Joy of Flossing.  

So let’s end with a brief review. To harness our creative skills we have to figure out what needs changing and how to accomplish this in ways that do not disrupt our lives too much all at once. It is a slow process normally if we are the managers of our own change. Personally, the primary game changer idea I can give you is to set aside some time at the beginning of every day and think about your life. I do this in context with God. What am I about? Why am I here? How can I make this day count? How can I put up with difficult people and not become a difficult person myself? What are some things I can do that will improve the quality of my life and health today?  

By repeating this brief daily review long enough, you will turn it into a habit that will then enable to you tackle all the other habits you wish to correct. Happy 2023. 

Well that’s it for today. You have been listening to the Perio Patient Podcast and I am still Dr. Ben Young. Thank you, as always for listening. Bye for now.