How does one go about the forming of a habit both in ourselves and our children?
In a famous article published in 1983, Anya Bateman tells how she changed her life by focusing on only one thing she wanted to change and then doing it for 21 days. For some of the habits she was trying to form, she kept a journal of her thoughts and excuses and anything else that came up that made her not want to keep her agreement with herself.
While working on forming a habit, we must be ever careful not to let ourselves or our children fail in the keeping of them. We must be vigilant.
I know this firsthand. For 3 months I faithfully exercised 5 days a week for 30 minutes. Then our family left for a 2 week vacation and after 3 months of establishing this habit of exercise, all my resolve and commitment went out the window in that 2 weeks and I couldn’t get myself back into it.
You see, as I mentioned in Part I of Habit Training, you have formed pathways in your brain when you do something over and over. When you initiate a new habit you begin forming new pathways but the old ones NEVER go away. That is why I went back to my old habit of not exercising even after 3 months of diligence.
Charlotte Mason gives the example in her book, Home Education Vol. 1, of a little boy who the mother wants to have establish the habit of closing the door behind him. She talks to her son concerning this, telling him she is going to help him remember by reminding him when he forgets. The little boy has trouble remembering in the beginning but mother reminds him in gentle ways and is careful not to let this become a source of contention between the two of them.
After about 20 times, the habit is starting to be instilled in Johnny and mother is quite delighted. But then comes a pivotal moment in the forming of this habit. Mother is feeling so happy that Johnny is finally consistently remembering, that she then allows herself to have a moment of pity for him.
‘Poor child,’ she says to herself, ‘it is very good of him to take so much pains about a little thing, just because he is bid!’ vol 1 pg 124
She doesn’t realize that Johnny is doing it because the habit is starting to form; she thinks he’s making the effort for her sake.
The day comes that Johnny forgets to shut the door, he realizes it and it makes him pause for a moment, but not enough to cause him to shut the door; he wonders if mother will call him back. Mother is thinking how good he has been about shutting the door for so long and so she thinks, “I’ll let him off this once.”
Then Johnny leaves the door open again and when mother half-heartedly reminds him, he hears in her voice her lack of commitment and he makes the excuse that he’s in quite the hurry. Mother lets him off until the next time when he makes another excuse that he’s going back out shortly, which he did 10 minutes later but he forgets to shut the door again.
In these few moments, mother’s work was undone and she will have to start all over again.
There are really only two steps to forming a new habit in your life and your children’s.
1. Work on only 1 habit at a time.
2. Do the thing, never once letting it slide, never once letting yourself of the hook, never once letting the children not do the thing you have purposed they need to change.
Like Anya Bateman, you may want to keep a journal recording your thoughts as you are establishing your new habit. At the very least, keep track on the calendar when you start and place a check mark showing you completed it each day.
Charlotte Mason made the correlation between habits and the rails that trains run on. Here are her words.
…just as it is on the whole easier for the locomotive to pursue its way on the rails than to take a disastrous run off them, so it is easier for the child to follow lines of habit carefully laid down than to run off these lines at his peril. –Charlotte Mason
Habits are a part of our everyday life in everything we do but are they good habits that we want to keep? Maybe we want to consider changing some. Let me list here some of the areas that we may want to focus our efforts.
Personal Hygiene – showering, brushing teeth, flossing, combing hair, shaving (for the boys – this is something my boys need help in!)
Physical Exercise – keeping our bodies strong and fit
Physical Environment - bedroom, schoolroom/school desk, house, yard
Dietary – eating more vegetables/fruit, not getting that second portion, saying no to so many sweets, losing excess weight
Spiritual – reading our Bible, praying, listening to tapes
Feeding the Mind – reading books that will encourage growth
and there are many more areas.
Why not mention a few areas that came to mind as you were reading this in the comments below?
Don’t be ashamed if you start with only a tiny baby step. The goal is to break the old way of doing things. If your goal is too lofty you might be setting yourself up for failure or discouragement. But who am I to say? If you have absolute resolve, and never let yourself slide, you can do it!
For myself, I have committed to the habit of exercise. I am doing a baby step – 2 minutes on my Gazelle ski machine, 4 days a week. It’s a small step, I agree, but I knew I would make excuses if it was much bigger.
The next habit that I’m working on is (I’m breaking the rule of learning only 1 habit, I know. ) having my kids clean their school desks off at the end of the day.
Are you currently working on forming a new habit?
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