On Tooth Decay

As kids, our well-intentioned dentist forcefully instructed us to “Brush and floss twice each day.”  Sound advice that we largely ignored.  After we blew off that first evening chore and realized the world didn’t end, we became more ambivalent on following the regimen with precision.

We’d blow off a brush here and a floss there.  Wow… no consequences.  Until that fateful visit back to Dr. Scary when we learn about the four cavities that have invaded our scared mouths.  “How did this just appear out of nowhere?” we’d ask with indignant outrage.

Twenty years later, you understand that each small hygiene infraction created just a tad of unnoticeable decay.  While undetected until much later, each negative behavior contributed to what eventually became a most unpleasant outcome.

Funny how that same thing applies to a lot more in life than just dental hygiene.

As we cut corners in so many aspects of life, little pieces of our full potential chip away without detection.  With no clear and immediate repercussions, we continue the deviant behavior as if no one’s looking.  The problem with decay – in business, relationships, communities, and organizations – is that we often don’t visibly see the problem until it’s too late.

At some point in the 1980s, Kmart was heralded as the far superior retailer to Wal-Mart. More stores, more merchandise, bigger company, more profits.  Yet under the surface, erosion was having a field day.  One little innovation the planners missed.  That extra bureaucratic act that further poisoned the corporate culture.  Small, undetected acts that ultimately led to the company’s undoing.

What’s going on behind the scenes in your own company that could be systematically unraveling your competitive advantage?  What small details did you stop caring about in your relationship that could be leading to a painful crash?  The more you examine the underlying daily habits in your life, the more opportunity you’ll have to course-correct before it’s too late.

Aristotle said it best: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

The more discipline you can invoke to consistently do the right thing, the better your long-term results will be.  By far.  And most importantly, you can avoid the worst human emotion of all: regret.  That burning feeling of desire that you can’t do a damn thing about.

It’s time to turn off the Kardashians and recommit to those small daily habits that will add up to your biggest gains.  Read.  Exercise.  Dream.  Laugh.  And of course… don’t forget to brush.