Healthy Habits

Habits are formed by repeating a behavior enough times to become automatic, and for two reasons healthy habit formation has been on my mind a lot this week.

The first reason is the recent release of Atomic Habits by James Clear, a book that is so impressive, and of such crossover potential for #HealthEd teachers we have made it the #slowchathealth book of the month. I purchased the book because I receive regular email updates from which provide great weekly content AND is actually offering a FREE download of Chapter 1 of Atomic Habits.


James Clear’s NYT Best Seller is packed with evidence-based self-improvement strategies. Clear has spent years honing the art and studying the science of habits, and has created THE guide you need to break bad routines and make good ones.
No matter your goals, Atomic Habits offers a proven framework for getting 1% better every day Join our book club and find out how this book . empowers you to master the tiny behaviors that lead to remarkable results.

The ultimate purpose of habits is to solve the problems of life with as little energy and effort as possible – James Clear

Although much has been written about habit formation, what I like about this book is the Four Laws of Behavior Change presented with strategies to apply to our daily lives. Without giving too much away, and you can hear more about the book in this podcast interview with Rich Roll, the author suggests that whenever we want to change behavior we need to ask ourself:

  • How can I make it obvious?
  • How can I make it attractive?
  • How can I make it easy?
  • How can I make it satisfying?

Which brings me to the second reason why habit formation has been on my mind this week. Recently I excitedly tweeted about my discovery of a new Alexa skill/podcast from Gimlet Media called Chompers.

I think the language we use for Alexa/Google Home/Siri devices is ‘personal assistant’ or ‘smart speaker’ and my own personal use of Alexa tends to be one of the following

  • Alexa, what’s the weather?
  • Alexa, whats the latest (insert struggling Chicago-based sports team) score?
  • Alexa, play (insert suitably cool Pandora station) in the kitchen.

However, since writing my blog post “Can You Use Alexa to Improve Your Health?” developers have explored the capability and usefulness of these personal assistants and Chompers is an excellent example.


Chompers is an Alexa skill (Google home users have to access the podcast version) that educates kids on how to brush their teeth. Gimlet Media is creating two, two- to three-minute shows every day for the skill. In the morning, the skill guides through the four quadrants of brushing with music and games, such as asking kids which animal has the most teeth. This week is Bug Week and I’ve learned some cool facts, and cringeworthy insect jokes.

In an interview Anna Sullivan, vp of brand partnerships at Gimlet Media said that the reason behind these short two-to-three minute shows is that they have  “to be short—you want to make habit-forming things that fit in with people’s day.”

My own two young sons, who haven’t traditionally been good teeth brushers are now hooked and are on a 9 day streak of using the skill. We know they are on a streak because at the end of the recording, we are given personalized feedback! And perhaps a reason for my sons now brushing their teeth more regularly is that Chompers follows James Clear’s Four Laws of Behavior Change.

Behavior change starts with becoming aware of your habits and recent visits to the dentist for my 4 year old (cavities) and the momentous losing of two front teeth in time for school picture day for my 6 year old has made our need for improved dental hygiene obvious.

Chompers has made our new approach to teeth brushing more attractiveRachel Ward, who was formerly the host of the show Surprisingly Awesome, narrates the content in a very engaging way. The sounds throughout the recording add to the experience, there’s a chime when it’s time to switch brushing sides, and a fun “3-2-1 SPIT!” to let us know our brushing is completed. However, the interactive element that my kids get the biggest kick from is the personalized feedback at the end. This morning we were informed that we were on a 9-day brushing streak and had just one more brush until we had reached 10 in a row. My sons are already excited for tonights brushing, and as James Clear says “it is the anticipation of a reward – not the fulfillment of it – that gets us to take action”. Their dopamine levels are spiked!

Using Chompers is easy. The interaction is frictionless. No longer do I need to find a timer, or write out a teeth brushing chart. My sons now say “Alexa, open Chompers” and we are good to go. If you do like to use a brushing chart, you can download one from the Chompers site. We did that, and also downloaded the tooth envelope, which came in handy the very next night.

Finally the Chompers experience is satisfying. With the instant rewards of clean teeth, beating a new high score, spending time with family while brushing and learning fun new facts of course it’s more satisfying than me nagging my kids to see if they’ve brushed their teeth or not. Satisfying experiences are more likely to be repeated and I know that my children are slowly developing a healthy habit – repeating it often until there will come a time when they will no longer need Chompers because the habit will become second nature.

When I think of habit formation in our #HealthEd classroom I see crossover with health promotion and disease prevention, decision making and goal setting to enhance health, and practicing health enhancing behavior. Throw in some Alexa technology to influence health behaviors and you’ll see that there’s a lot to chew on in this weeks blog post. Just don’t forget to brush your teeth afterwards.

If you liked this blog post you might also like this video recording of the James Clear/Rich Roll interview.

If you want to read more analysis on the future of personal assistants, you should read Alexa, Should We Trust You? from The Atlantic. Thank you to Jeff Bartlett for sharing this article with me.

Here’s the Chompers podcast on iTunes.


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