What I Learned from a Simple Toothbrush


Sometimes, we lock ourselves into a rigid mindset believing what we’re doing is ideal—especially when we think we’re using top of the line tools. We put up with discomfort and keep going.

While consistent action is the foundation of good habits, we need to refine our practice to better suit our preferences and, possibly, add a little flavor and joy to our routine.

Today, I’ll share with you a few insights from an experiment with a simple toothbrush that lead to improving an important habit, and fundamentally transformed how I look at change.

A sophisticated tool is not going to change your behavior.

Many years ago, I got a fancy electric toothbrush as a gift. I used it for a short while and stopped. I wasn’t taking good care of my teeth at the time. The new brush didn’t make a difference.

I only changed my behavior after having painful gum surgery. I decided to do the work needed to avoid further damage. It didn’t matter what toothbrush I was using.

The most important step is committing to the new change, right where you are, with what you have. Take action and keep going. You’ll have plenty of time to look for better tools later.

Real change is only possible through constant repetition.

I started a daily regimen using the electric toothbrush (because I had it), and developed the habit of brushing twice and flossing once.

The work I put in reversed some damage due to neglect. I’ve never stopped taking care of my teeth since.

Repeat your action for as long as you need to become familiar with the process and determine what’s working for you, and what’s not.

Everything about habits is personal. What works for others may not work for you.

In spite of being referred to as the Rolls Royce of toothbrushes, I didn’t feel comfortable using the electric toothbrush. It was too strong, I smacked my front teeth a lot, and I needed more time than the default two minutes.

Whenever I went for a cleaning, the hygienist pointed out a couple of areas that needed more attention. It was difficult for me to reach them with the electric toothbrush.

Expert advice and other people’s recommendations can be a good starting point. But we still need to take action, and determine what works for us.

There is always room for improvement. Run small experiments to simplify your process.

To focus on the weak areas, I started using the same brush but manually to give myself more time and control. I felt better about the technique.

So, I talked to my hygienist about switching to a manual toothbrush. She recommended that I use the electric toothbrush, at least, once a day for optimal care.

I started using a simple toothbrush in the morning. At first, it felt awkward and I gagged. But it felt light, and I had more control. After a few months, I got the practice down.

We tend to gravitate towards complexity and that can be ineffective when it comes to meaningful change. It might be more beneficial to scale down: use tools with fewer features, and focus on essential action steps.

Gradual change is the best way to streamline routine.

Once again, I asked my hygienist if I could fully switch to manual brushing. We agreed that I’d do it as an experiment. If on my next visit my teeth got worse, I’d go back to the electric brush.

After getting used to brushing twice with a manual toothbrush, I added a third brushing after lunch. Needless to say, the experiment was a smashing success.

I don’t think I would’ve been successful if I’d abruptly went to a manual toothbrush without easing into it. It took me about 18 months to complete the transition.

Radical change is not sustainable. It may be exciting for a short while, but it’s difficult to sustain in the long run.

Don’t hesitate to write off the cost of something that’s served its purpose.

It was tempting to keep using the more expensive brush. But it wouldn’t have given me the results and enjoyment I experienced with a simpler (and cheaper) toothbrush. Once I made the full switch, I let go of the electric toothbrush and gave the new replacement brushes to my family (they all love the electric toothbrush).

A well-developed mundane habit will transform other areas of your life.

Whenever I feel friction, I ask: How can I do it differently that it’ll feel like I’m brushing my teeth? I’ve since simplified tracking our personal expenses, house cleaning, and my exercise program.

Once we know what a good practice looks and feels like, we become more accustomed to refining other actions and routines to best suit our needs and preferences.

Do something long enough, and well enough, and it’ll turn into a lifelong act of devotion.

I’ve been brushing with a manual toothbrush for a couple of years and it turned into a meditation on wellness. I feel great doing it. And I miss it on the rare occasion that I skip it.

If you do something with deep care and enjoyment, over time you tap into the sacred that’s in every life affirming action … and in the process, you change the core of who you are.

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