Opinion: Old habits


“You are brushing your teeth all wrong,” she said blithely, seemingly a bit concerned that the basic skill had not been mastered some years earlier. Was the well-intentioned hygienist serious? Was it possible that a full-grown adult, one who’d been undertaking the exercise at least twice a day for many, many decades, needed to be coached? There was a bit of indignation. 

But as the reasons behind the admonishment unfolded, her point was made. The expertise, though long mastered, had been interpreted through the eyes of a child and lacked the maturity to be properly implemented. 

Taught to pursue the exercise in personal hygiene about the time we exit elementary school, most of us assume that we’ve long figured out the task and have it fully under control. We know how to brush our teeth. Done. No further practice necessary. Yet, is it conceivable that techniques have improved, needs have changed and, perhaps, we shouldn’t let a 9-year-old determine how we maintain our oral health? It may be probable.    

It is said that one cannot teach an old dog new tricks. Maybe. But how many decisions in our lives, made years before, continue to constrain our thinking and limit our alternatives? How much could we advance if we simply undertook to improve our method? Many argue that change for its own sake is a good unto itself. Others rightly hold that consistency is the superior plan. Is there a place between the two – one that urges us to routinely reevaluate our behaviors and, where needed, thoughtfully update them? 

There is little doubt that old habits die hard. Still, we know that they rarely die of natural causes. If we took inventory of the choices that rule our lives, how many of those choices have long outlived their freshness dates?