Since J. so quickly jumped off the flossing wagon, I’ve been thinking about how hard it is to change bad habits or foster new ones without the support of the people around you. We might not even have dental floss in the house were I not a recently reformed flosser, and I’ve silently encouraged J.’s new habit by modelling appropriate flossing behaviour every night before I brush my teeth. Similarly, some people need a workout buddy to get to the gym–being accountable to that other person motivates them to show up.
Bad habits are no different. If all your friends like to go for a drink after work and you are trying to abstain, you may find it hard to socialize with them at the bar initially because the setting may trigger your urge to drink. If you want to give up smoking, and your spouse continues to smoke in front of you and to keep cigarettes readily available in the house, you might be more likely to relapse.
Let’s consider my Great Sugar Revolution, which will soon be entering its seventh miraculous week. I’m sure I would have had a much harder time eating less sugar were J. to share my sweet tooth and to indulge in excessive dessert consumption in front of me, but she is not. She was not born with the genetic predisposition to sweets that I was. Hence giving up dessert was not that huge a shift for her as for me. She was never one to overconsume chocolate or other sugar-laden treats.
Since J. didn’t feel she was making that great a sacrifice by reducing her sugar consumption, she decided, to even the score, that she’d give up potato chips. I didn’t ask her to give up anything since I don’t care what she eats. Furthermore, an open bag of chips in the house poses no threat to me. My sodium-fearing persona keeps all chip urges at bay.
J. seemed to be managing well without her potato chips, although she may have been consuming her contraband out of the house and I’d never have known. Occasionally I’d text her from the grocery store to ask her if she’d like me to pick up a bag of her favourites when it was on sale, but she’d decline. I’d respect her wishes since I’m not one to sabotage J.’s efforts to make what she views as a positive change.
Imagine my surprise when, one evening last week, J. pulled out a mystery bag of chips from the cupboard, opened it, and poured herself a bowl. I was shocked beyond belief. J. is a diligent and determined woman and she follows through with whatever she sets her mind to, flossing aside.
I gently asked her what happened to her resolve. J.’s response, with her tail between her legs, in the most pathetic of voices: “I am weak.”
How did I feel when I witnessed her regression? I was relieved. At least she’s human, fumbling along like the rest of us. Sometimes I forget that.