For the past couple of years the matter of habits has seriously intrigued me. How is it that we do things we don’t want to do, try to change them and just can’t get it right.
This morning I got stuck in my old habit again… I was supposed to wake up at five, and start my morning routine, but I just couldn’t get out of bed.
Our habits form about 40% of all our actions, which means that over the course of your life you’ve learned certain habits, adopted them and they’ve become a routine. Both good and bad.
I just have to look at my kids to see it’s true. They’re leaving the toilet seat up (boys!), getting upset with loosing games (all!), leaving the last piece of bread on their plate (youngest!), not closing closet doors (girls!). Annoying habits.
Thankfully I also see good habits in our home. The boys bring their bikes in at the end of the day, and the girls are doing the dishes every evening after dinner. Yay!! Before breakfast all the kids run outside to water their veggies, open the chicken coop and feed the dog and cats.
So why is it that some habits work and others fail completely?
Creating habits is laying down rails
When I started homeschooling I ran into Charlotte Mason’s philosophy about habits. Sonya Shafer has done an amazing job capturing that in the book Laying down the Rails : A Charlotte Mason Habits Handbook. She writes how important it is that parents train their children well, and how to intentionally form good habits. Creating habits is like laying down train rails. It takes time and effort, but once they are there, it will go smooth and on autopilot.
Reading Mason’s work has made me realize that I am not very intentional. Not with my kids, but also not with myself.
I started writing down the habits I want my kids to have. And then choose one. Right now I want them to make up their beds as soon as they jump out in the morning, because I think it’s a valuable habit to have for the rest of your life. That takes some effort ;-).
How to make sure your habits stick
We often try new things without being intentional and strategic in how to implement it well. Our efforts fail, we get demotivated and throw in the towel. But there are things we can do to actually make sure the habits we want to create – or bad habits we want to change – will stick.
❤︎ Listen to the story in your head
It’s one thing to start from scratch and form excellent habits. Every mom want that for the child, right? But what about all those habits that I want to get rid of? How do I change?
I’ve discovered that the key is to listen to the story in my head. To become aware of the thoughts I have and pay attention to them. This morning, when I was eagerly (not so eagerly) trying to get out of my warm and snuggly bed, I did actually listen to the story in my head.
This is what it sounded like:
I really need to get out now.
But it’s too early. I’ll be tired all day if I get out now.
I would be soo happy when I get out.
Men, my body is not working this morning.. too sore. I won’t be able to work anyway if I feel like this.
If I want to get out, i must go out now. Oh men, you’re doing it again. Why can’t you get out. No self-discipline.
Let me snooze just one more time..
(9 minutes later)
Okay.. an other 9 minutes.
Being mindful of the conversation in your head is the first step toward breaking a bad habit. Start listening to yourself to find repetitive conversations. That what you pay attention to changes. Pay attention to your thoughts and you will be able to start seeing which thoughts come often, what are the circumstances, what are the triggers. If you find them you’re half way!
❤︎ Don’t start from a place of failure
What is the tone of your voice when you talk to yourself about your habits? Often it’s negative, right? We focus on our failures and keep score of all the times we didn’t do the thing we want to do.
A bid eyeopener for me was that you can’t start change from a place of defeat. Everything has to do with how you talk to yourself. If you keep beating yourself up over your failures, it will be very hard to motivate yourself to get out of a bad habit.
When I listen to the conversations in my head, this is exactly what happens. I’m so disappointed with myself and say things like: Will I ever get it right? What a terrible example am I for my kids. If I can’t get it right, how will my kids have healthy habits.
It will be much more effective to start from a positive place. Cheering yourself on for the fact that you are trying. Accept failures as they come – and they will – and move on. That way your motivation will be driving your efforts to change and it will be an encouragement.
❤︎ Pick one thing and be real
The outcome of what our live will be, will depend on the vision we have. If our vision is great, there will be tension between where we are right now, and where we want to be. That’s a good thing, it will drive us in the right direction.
Unfortunately we often have an unrealistic vision of what we want our lives to be like. Thanks to photoshop, the wonderfully edited world of Facebook and Instagram the pressure is on. Instead of a positive tension to move us forward, we fail to even start, because we internally know we won’t make it.
I had to do some serious self-talk, after I listed all the habits I wanted to change. I got overwhelmed with the idea, wanted to do them all changed at once, and then decided it’s not even worth trying.
But, if you focus on one at a time, you can put all your energy in. Once it sticks, you can move on to the next one, knowing that this one will stay. With Charles C. Noble’s words: ‘We first make our habits, then our habits make us’.
❤︎ Celebrate your victories
What gets measured gets managed! Counting your victories helps you celebrate your wins, and celebrating your victories is the best way to stay motivated. It are the little wins that will eventually get you the big success.
I made a habit tracker to count my victories. It’s an easy but visual way to see how I’m doing. It gives me a reason for positive self-talk and celebration. They say you need 21 days without fail to create a new habit. Although it might be true for some, I tend to be on the conservative side. Experience has taught me I can even fall back after that. So rather track 2×21 days, which makes six weeks, and make absolutely sure it has become part of your routine.
You can download Habit Tracker here. Start with one or two goals and keep score of the progress.
My youngest daughter is completely obsessed with John Flanagan’s The Ranger’s Apprentice Series . Yesterday, during our run around the farm she quoted her favorite quote: ‘An ordinary archer practices until she gets it right. A Ranger practices until she never gets it wrong.’ How’s that for creating new habits.
I’ll be working on my Morning Routine just a little longer… ;-).
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