Brushing teeth as habit not hygiene

People familiar with many of my quirks know that I'm a cleanly person. I hate the feel of my own natural hand oils and I wash often. During the work day I even get up several times just to wash my hand before returning to my own work station. I naturally assume that the obsession with washing and being clean would carry over into all aspects of hygiene, but I've recently made a stunning revelation that my cleanly compulsion is actually overridden by habitual training when it comes to tooth brushing.

Almost every morning I go through the same routine: wake up, shower, get half-dressed, check email, surf the net, finish getting dressed, and then pack up my computer for work. The last thing I do before walking out the door is brush my teeth. This changes, however, on the days I work from home.

The act of brushing my teeth is so tied with the act of walking out the door that if I don't have to leave the house in the morning I will forget to brush my teeth until later in the afternoon when I leave for lunch. It's really strange. I guess if you do the same thing every day for years it's bound to override compulsion. It's so programmed into my head that on some level I can't even brush my teeth anymore unless I'm leaving the house (or going to bed for that matter).

Come to think of it, I also always used the bathroom right after brushing my teeth, which I'm going to assume is coincidentally related to more habitual training. It's not that brushing my teeth makes me have to use the restroom, it's that the times I brush my teeth also coincide with times I've been trained to use the restroom growing up. While I now brush my teeth just before leaving the house, growing up my parents always had be use the restroom before we left for any road trip since there would not be an available bathroom till we reached our destination. Similarly, as I now brush my teeth right before going to bed, my parents used to have me use the restroom right before bed as a child so I wouldn't wake up in the middle of the night needing to.

Over time these two tasks have become one. Under normal circumstances, the two are naturally paired, but I would bet money that if I decided to randomly brush my teeth in the middle of the afternoon I would still feel some urge to use the restroom directly following it. It's something to think about the next time you're getting ready in the morning. How much of your routine are you in direct control of and how much of it is simply a habitual act that you're repeating like you have every day before it?

posted by Christopher Schnese