It’s time to tell lies

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Hello! I hope you had a great weekend, and for some of you, I hope it’s still going well – it’s a long weekend here and in some other parts of the world, so if you’re reading this at work and wondering why it’s so quiet today and where everyone is: YOU’RE WELCOME. It’s cool, we all, uh, know someone who’s done that. To be honest, since both Ange and I pick our own hours, this one almost skipped past me.

This week I want to talk about habits, because we haven’t talked about them in a while, and I’ve got a new trick I’ve been using for a few months now that I’m ready to share…

Better living through lying

Yep, we’re going to lie to ourselves. OK, lie is a strong word, but it’s the closest I can think of. I’ll explain in a minute, but first I want to tell you how I went from having the dentist scold me every visit to being one of those guys who flosses every single day. What does flossing have to do with veganism? Don’t worry, we’ll get there!

So, flossing. In past years, I’d try from time to time, but I’d rarely make it past three days. It was messy, I got discouraged when my gums would bleed, and so on.

Then something changed.

I saw a little snippet in a magazine last year, it might have been Fast Company, and it might have been that collection of factoids around an industry that they do in the opening section every month, which was probably about dentistry, and I might even be getting the factoid itself wrong here, but as you’re about to see, that doesn’t matter. Here’s what I caught a brief glance of:

“People who floss regularly live seven years longer.”

Have you noticed lately how I’ve been driving home the point that we shouldn’t rely on nutritional or health advice from Some Guy on The Internet (A.K.A. the “JAG”, or “Just a Guy”)? Here’s where I let things break down. I have no idea where that flossing and lifespan stat came from, and more importantly, I don’t want to know. What I do know is this: every time I brush my teeth and start to walk away unflossed, a little voice in my head goes “7 years.” And then I go back to the medicine cabinet and grab the spool.

See, if I spent the time looking into the health benefits of flossing (and I’m sure there are a bunch, or the dentist wouldn’t bug me as much,) I might find something that contradicts that fact, or maybe I’d find some better ones, who knows. I do know this: while I’m looking up flossing in this information-packed world we live in, there’s one thing I’m not doing, and that’s flossing.

So here’s where we bring it back: what other “probably true, and I don’t need to look into it” semi-facts can we find that we can use to reinforce healthy habits we’ve been having trouble starting?

I think the key here is that the “facts” have to meet this criteria:

The “fact” has to be used to reinforce an activity that you know is good for you, like eating fruit instead of junk food, getting a good night’s sleep, or, sure, flossing. Don’t use this system to justify, say, living on a diet containing nothing but apples. We’re looking to leverage bad science to reinforce a habit that’s backed by good science, so it’ll cancel out and net us a win.

Keep the fact simple. As simple as this guideline, for instance.

It helps if you read or hear the fact somewhere instead of making it up yourself. Your brain is going to subconsciously give more weight to something that comes from somewhere else that you didn’t take the time to verify than something you made up (and therefore kinda know isn’t totally true.)

On a related note, don’t pick a fact with an outcome like “people who do X never get cancer.” Make it something that can’t really be proven, so your intentions will be set towards goodness every time you do the action, but if the opposite outcome ever happens, you won’t think you’ve been wasting your time. Not that I wish cancer on any of you. Hmm, I probably should have picked a less-harsh example. That flossing one is good; I’m going to live 7 years longer. As long as I’m more than 7 years old, which I am, I can’t say it’s wrong.

Don’t research the fact in any way. It’ll only serve to dilute the effectiveness. If it supports your habit (and again, as per rule 1, if it’s a helpful habit,) take that factball and run with it for as far as you can.

The “fact” isn’t something you’d share with a friend, because, remember, we’re not even sure if it’s true in any sense other than the “true enough to reinforce a habit” level. It’s OK if you tell people in the context of how you manage to maintain such great habits, but as always, let’s not spread cloudy nutrition information – be sure your friends know *why* you’re holding this fact to be truth.

I’ve used the word “fact” throughout this, because I want it to be treated as a fact in your mind, but what we’re really talking about is a belief. Many beliefs require faith, and this is no different.

So what kinds of beliefs can you adopt? Like I said, it helps if you read them somewhere, so here are a few to get you going. As per rule 5, these aren’t real facts that I vetted or researched in any way, but they sound true and might help you with your habit-generation:

Want to eat more fresh fruit? People who eat two bananas a day have fewer headaches than those who don’t.

Trying to cut down on snacking? Drinking eight glasses of water a day results in four times less cravings.

Want to look great? People who read Staying Vegan three times a week are considered 85% sexier. (What?)


Thanks again for being in the habit of learning with me, and for telling your friends about Staying Vegan. I really appreciate your feedback!

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This newsletter goes out (almost) every Monday afternoon, see you next week!


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