One of the products I use had an interesting Black Friday deal: The users would publish a promotion and get month(s) of premium for free. I really like the product and liked the idea of paying one month less. I’m not used to writing, however, so I missed the deadline. I’ll go ahead and post this anyway.

There is so much online content about habits. This note will be part of that pile, but I actually don’t think I have much to add: I have a long record of failures, even for a trivial habit like flossing. I managed finally, though, and I will write how.

The challenge I had with flossing is particularly interesting for me, since I have been able to change all sorts of things in my life so far. Some of these changes were, some emotionally challenging and a few once unimaginable. Why does flossing my teeth almost every night is so difficult, of all things?

I think there are two reasons. The first is that there is no immediate feedback when I don’t floss. In addition, I engage in something similar to moral licensing: I’m often busy with a few new things that challenge me throughout a day, I buckle down and apply myself. By the time I need to floss, I’m inclined to think “Oh I’ll do it tomorrow, today has been long.”

The first reason doesn’t need tackling: I already know flossing is better for me. How to tackle the-moral-licensing-like-decisions, though? This is where Beeminder is helpful

Beeminder is a commitment device. You set goals, it helps you stick to them. At the very core of most my Beeminder goals are two things: What do I want to do? And how often? [1] For any goal, these are often clear. Deciding how often to floss is trivial: The more evenings of a week the better (ask your dentist though).

Here’s what happens once I set a goal like “Flossing, 5 times/week”: If I don’t stick to the frequency I’ve set, Beeminder will take $5 from my wallet. To make sure they don’t take my money without good reason, they’ll be annoyingly persistent at sending notifications to my phone. If I already flossed that day, I’ll respond to notification using their app. That’s all.

After months of Beeminding flossing, I need Beeminder’s push less and frequently. Nevertheless, nearing the 7 months of this commitment, I still have days where I would not floss if not for Beeminder. In fact, I tried getting rid of the Beeminder after a chat with a friend, to see if I would keep up the habit. Although I did keep flossing, my frequency went down. After all, using Beeminder was effective for me for consistently flossing. So I went back to using it to make sure I stick to my commitment. And my dentist doesn’t care if it’s a “habit” or something I do because an app triggers me, as long as I keep flossing.

  1. 1: Other measures are possible too: How many steps? How many words? How little work hours? How many kilograms?