Working in Beeminder support, it’s hard to avoid noticing that folks sometimes feel a bit embarrassed about their goals. Or at least of the fact that they need to beemind learning how to juggle goslings when everyone else is born knowing how. So let me put it right out there: my most socially embarrassing goal is probably the one for brushing my teeth in the mornings.
I know, I know, a lot of you are instantly wondering why that would be something that takes effort. You roll out of bed, go to the sink, and boom…
But some of you know what I mean. Trauma, ADHD, sensory issues, the awkward fact that putting anything (much less a whole toothbrush head) into the back of your mouth at 6am causes your gag reflex to trigger… Whatever your reason, you’re not alone. And whatever other gosling juggling task you need to beemind, there are other people who struggle the same way. And I don’t think we need to be embarrassed, either!
Can Beeminder help?
But let me qualify that: it may not be a magic bullet for you. I derailed 17 times on my goal for brushing my teeth before I got it kind of figured out. So let’s go on a little journey about that.
Why don’t you just do it in the first place?
“It tells you something about what the obstacles are”
I think this is a key question to ask at the beginning of trying to set a new habit. It tells you something about what the obstacles are. If you don’t exercise because your gym teacher used to shout at you and make you feel terrible then maybe self-criticism or fear of others watching you is going to be what gets in your way. Maybe you can mitigate that by choosing an exercise that you can do on your own, or face up to it by signing up for a class or getting a personal trainer.
For me, for instance, one of the obstacles in my way of remembering to brush my teeth was bad dentistry. My childhood dentist used to cause me pain and humiliate me constantly, and then “promised” me braces (which I’d seen my best friend suffering with) if I got better at brushing my teeth.
Needless to say, I didn’t want braces if she wanted to give me braces. So to prevent my parents from forcing me into it, I just didn’t brush my teeth. Makes total sense when you think about it, but it doesn’t serve any purpose now.
Why do you want to change that?
This is really important too. You know what’s holding you back now, but what’s pushing you on? And I’d say think of as many things you can here! You want to experience a runner’s high regularly, you want to enjoy the outdoors on a more regular basis, you want to stick it to the haters, you think it’ll help with your anxiety…
As I grew up, I realised that the main person being hurt by all this was me. Plus I got a new dentist. So I started actually wanting the results of clean teeth: better health in general, fewer fillings, looking better, etc.
I try to remember that when I get frustrated. Which I do. A lot.
Alright, so what did you do?
The first thing I did was use a streak tracker. I think it may have been Habitica, because I didn’t know about Beeminder yet. It worked pretty well, and I managed to learn to brush my teeth every evening on autopilot. It’s the last thing I do before I go to bed.
Brushing my teeth in the morning, though… I’m not a graceful riser, to put in lightly. So that often just slipped in the morning rush. And that broke my streak, and that broke my motivation, and I was stuck again.
“Beeminder never let me give up — straight back on track, every time I slipped”
The nice thing about Beeminder is that when you miss the task for one day, it may not even matter if you have buffer built up. And if it does matter, and you derail, you’re put right back on track. You get the little sting, and sometimes that’s enough to keep you from derailing in the first place. I’d argue that the most powerful thing is being put right back on track, though.
I’ve been working on this goal on Beeminder since September 2018, and Beeminder never let me give up. Straight back on track, every time I slipped. And when you look at the graph, you can also see immediately how often I succeeded. That trend is always going up!
As you can see on the graph (at least at the time of writing), I recently had a breakthrough. I don’t know if this secret will work for other people, but after years of failing in setting up a routine, I created a simple two-step routine. The first thing I looked at in the morning was a book, and I’d read for 10 minutes, to start the day off with something chill and enjoyable. Then I’d go brush my teeth.
I’ve dropped the reading habit for now, but somehow the cue to go brush my teeth remains.  I do strongly recommend creating a routine that’s robust, though, because I know that the day I’m most likely to fail is on the weekend when my routine changes. I got down brushing my teeth at night because I do it right after changing into my PJs, and that works in the morning on weekdays, but not on Saturdays and Sundays when I get to laze around in my PJs for much longer.
I suspect everyone’s path to this is different, but stopping to reflect on your reasons for not doing the thing and your motivation to learn to do the thing, and then setting up a Beeminder graph to keep picking you up when you fall… Most likely, you’ll do better than you did without Beeminder.
And if you’re feeling embarrassed about your goal, please don’t. I can almost guarantee you’re not alone.
Will I ever learn to juggle goslings?
I have faith in you.
 You may have noticed (if you see this at the time of writing) that I have a lot of buffer built up because I have a rate of less than 1/day, so that when/if I stop brushing my teeth, it’s going to be a loooong time before I have to do that again. For now I’m celebrating my achievement, and enjoying that buffer number going up. But in the future I will use a ratchet to keep myself a bit closer to the red line.
Image credit: Faire Soule-Reeves