Thrive Global and Oral-B have partnered to explore the links between oral care and overall well-being through habit stacking. Learn how to improve your brushing routine with guided brushing and progress tracking, and sign up to be one of the first to try Oral-B’s WiFi-enabled toothbrush by visiting oralbconnect.com.
What we do in the morning can have a huge impact on our day, from our happiness levels, to our performance, to our physical and mental well-being. Research shows adopting a consistent morning routine can help set you up for a more successful day ahead, and engaging in habit-stacking — or layering a new healthy habit onto an existing routine — can boost productivity, mindfulness, and focus.
As anyone who has started and dropped a New Year’s resolution knows, forming a healthy new habit can feel daunting, especially if we bite off more than we can chew. “Part of the reason we have such a hard time sticking to healthy habits is that they take time, and most of us are super busy,” Tchiki Davis, Ph.D., a social psychologist and happiness expert at the Berkeley Well-Being Institute, tells Thrive. “When we find ways to incorporate healthy habits into our existing routines, we increase the chance that we’ll stick to these habits.”
Take brushing your teeth in the morning, for example. Oral care is one of those habits that have become embedded into our daily routines, but when something becomes second nature, we can slip up on the details — like brushing every morning and evening, for at least two minutes. When you pair that foundational habit with an uplifting ritual, like reciting an empowering mantra, you add value to a routine you’d do anyway, and might be more mindful of the original habit (brushing). You’re taking the time to brush your teeth — why not infuse that time with an added benefit? “That’s why I love habit-stacking,” Davis says.
Here are five more expert-backed habit-stacking ideas to try while brushing your teeth in the morning:
1. Visualize your best possible day
Imagining the most ideal version of your day ahead is a great way to set your intention in the morning, and Davis says the exercise only takes a minute to do. “While you’re brushing your teeth, spend a few minutes imagining the best possible day you could have,” she suggests. “For example, I might imagine that my morning is really productive and I accomplish everything on my to-do list — I’d feel a sense of accomplishment.” Davis notes that the key to the exercise is mindfully honing in on how you feel during each part of your day, and channeling that feeling from the get-go. “Really try to generate the emotions that would occur inside you if your day went exactly as you desire,” she adds. “By doing so, we experience thoughts and emotions similar to those that would occur if the situations were actually happening to us right now.”
2. Do a happy dance in the mirror
The idea of dancing in the mirror while brushing your teeth might make you laugh, but the mental benefits behind dancing have been backed by research: Studies show that dance helps increase the levels of serotonin in our brains, the feel-good hormone that reduces stress and boosts our mood. Dancing has also been proven to activate the sensory and motor circuits in our brains, and develop new neural connections that can improve memory and cognitive function. Try doing an in-the-moment dance move that brings you joy, and see how your mood changes when you start your day on a lighthearted, cheerful note.
3. Tidy up your space to clear your mind
We often underestimate the mental benefits of simply tidying up the space around us, and a quick exercise in decluttering can help you start the day on the right foot while brushing your teeth. “The mornings are a great time to do a bit of a pick-up around the house,” Alice Boyes, Ph.D., author of The Anxiety Toolkit, and the The Healthy Mind Toolkit, tells Thrive. “Putting things away can help us leave the house with a clear mind, and it’s a good way to physically get moving for a few minutes while your brain wakes up.” When you brush your teeth in the morning, try putting away just one or two items that are out of place. By decluttering the physical space around us, we enter the day feeling more centered and focused.
4. Prepare for your morning commute
Between train delays and traffic jams, your commute to work can be a hidden source of stress, and Boyes says preparing for your commute, whether mentally or physically, can be a productive way to habit-stack in the morning. “If you know you won’t have service on the train, take a moment to download an entertaining or uplifting podcast,” she suggests. Any small adjustments that can help prepare you for those in-between moments in your day can be helpful to do right after you wake up, and they can be done during the two minutes you spend brushing your teeth.
5. Be mindful of your negative emotions
We’re typically told to channel positive thoughts to set ourselves up for a happy day, but Boyes says acknowledging our negative feelings can be healthy for us, and the few minutes we spend in front of the mirror in the morning can be the perfect chance to process those emotions. “When we’re taking risks and working to reach our goals, it’s natural to have moments of self-doubt and uncertainty,” she points out. “It’s important to acknowledge those feelings instead of masking them.” Boyes says that taking a moment in the morning to anticipate our anxious emotions can help us when they creep in later on — so take that time to acknowledge your self-doubt and accept it, then (going back to tip number one) visualize things going the way you want them to, and move forward with your day ready for anything.