Nagging Won’t Motivate Healthy Habits

Photo credit: Flickr/soundfromwayout

I had an interesting discussion about healthy habits with my mom. For the umpteenth time, it started me puzzling over what does and does not motivate one to stick to healthy habits.

My claim is that nagging is an extraordinarily inefficient way to motivate healthy habits in anyone.


My interest was sparked by a discussion with my mom last week.

I was sitting at a table removing the remains of my old make up when my mother laughed at me (kindly!) and remarked how funny it is to see me remove make up in the morning. I readily admitted that I have this bad habit of not bothering to remove my make up in the evening*.

And I added  that my dental health needs improving too, because I don’t always brush my teeth in the evenings not to mention flossing them regularly.

Then we started wondering why some people stick to healthy habits and what motivates that.

But What About Nagging?

I was intrigued when my mother revealed that – despite nagging at my dad on and off for 40 years – my father still doesn’t brush his teeth in the evening when he goes to bed. ** ( He doesn’t pick his socks either!).

So it’s probably safe to conclude that nagging at someone doesn’t motivate them to improve their habits if they are not motivated to change their habits themselves. I think that holds true about nagging at yourself too. Shoulding myself does nothing to improve my “dental health habits”. It’s just useless mental clutter.

The only exception to this rule I can think of is nagging at your children. If you nag at your children when they are still at an young and impressionable age, they *probably* pick up the good habits.

*Shouldn’t my facial skin be ruined already?

**The intriguing fact is that my father still has very good teeth in his 60’s


Despite my shortcomings, I claim that in general, my habits are pretty good. I realized that  when I used DailyFeats to improve my flossing earlier this fall. I realized I already practice many healthy habits: I eat fruits and veggies every day. I exercise every day. I read books every day etc. And my flossing habit got a considerable boost when I used DailyFeats.

P.S. I polled my sisters about their habits habits and they both claimed a) to brush their teeth morning and night and b) remove the old make up before going to bed. Eek, I don’t want to be the odd one out!


  1. Satu

    I completely understand what you are saying! I don’t quite understand why nagging from others (or unsubtle reminders that I’m supposed to be dieting and exercising / comments about what I’m eating) doesn’t work or motivate me to stop what I’m doing.

    I guess it’s something about motivation coming from within. (Or something!!!)


  2. I believe that healthy habits often develop from life changing experiences. Some people never have those experiences and never develop healthy habits. For others certain events occur in their lives ( maybe a disease or just plain feeling lousy) that serve as a wake up call. Certainly nagging doesn’t work as it usually just elicits the opposite response from the person being nagged.

    • Satu says:

      That is true, Michelle, but also a bit depressing. Life would be much easier if one could learn new healthy habits before something very dramatic – like life-threatening disease – happens.

  3. Marion says:

    Hi Satu! I totally agree. A person’s motivation has to be personal Although, I think that a few things I’ve said to my husband have been influential. I especially complement him when he eats several portions of vegetables at a time, and he knows I’m pleased when he does that again. So we can influence in positive ways.

    🙂 Marion

    • Satu says:

      Hi Marion!

      Giving positive feedback is probably the only very effective way to influence someone else’s behavior. Maybe I should tell my mom to start complimenting my dad when he brushes his teeth in the evening! 🙂

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