It's All About That "Why"


I was lucky enough to inherit my family’s worst dental and orthodontic features: a buried I-tooth; large teeth and a small jaw; TMJ. There were some major awkward years in my youth.

I had braces when I was 11 and my orthodontist was a creepy old man with brown teeth, glow in the dark pale skin and a winter-white comb-over. I was terrified to return to his office after he handled me aggressively when I gagged on putty for my post-braces retainer. Decades passed, I let my teeth go. When I moved to Malibu, I was sold “6 Month Smile” by a local dentist (the self-proclaimed “Smile King”). Anything that promises guaranteed results in faster than usual timing is usually too good to be true.

It was an awful experience. Teeth pulled this way and that. A gap in my front teeth in the morning, closed after one appointment hours later. A “used car salesman” approach, also selling “Invisalign” trays that ended up being a knock-off. He bonded most of my teeth together and I couldn’t floss for months. Even with all the bonding, my teeth moved back to their original state two months after braces were removed.

When I switched dentists, the new office said they get a lot of “The Smile King’s” disappointed patients. They recommended a great orthodontist, Dr. Oh, to do final fixes – and within a month of my first visit I received my Invisalign trays.

Along with the trays, I received computerized images of the expected progress of my teeth. Committed to finally doing it right, I printed out my current teeth and my future outcome. I glued the images on a card and wrote notes about why I’m going through orthodontia for the THIRD time, especially after having such difficult experiences. My list included general things ("my bottom teeth are crowded") to very specific (“I can’t say the s’s in my own name" and "I can't bite into a Happy Meal Cheeseburger without creating a mess"). I see it everyday when I get ready and it motivates me to keep going even when I’m not feeling like it. Just seeing it is surprisingly all I need to keep moving forward.

When I create goals, I need to know why I’m working toward them. What I’ll need to stay committed to them. What I like about the future result. What I'm unhappy about with the current state. I'm honest with myself about the un-romantic parts of the process (in this case, that I have visible anchors on many of my front teeth and that I have to take out my retainer every time I want to eat – sexy – oh yeah, and that I feel like an awkward teen all over again). And finally, after two decades of orthodontia hell, I will complete the Invisalign process nine months earlier than expected this spring. I totally credit my little why-card.

Taking time to think about why I’m doing it made it real for me. Keeping the card in a visible spot has been that little Jiminy-Cricket-reminder to stay on track.

It’s a small example of something that could be so much bigger. Why eat healthy? Why stay in shape? Why ask for a raise? Why take risks, be open to failure and speak your truth? Why express love to loved ones regularly? Why say YES to adventure?

Our “why” is the driving force in any goal. It's what causes us to take action. It’s what we need to keep moving forward. I’d love to hear about things that have helped you stay committed to your goals. How did you tackle your biggest goal? What made you stay on track? There are many awesome ways to commit to goals and this has been the single most effective one for me.