The Fascination With Habits
by Kerstin Pierce Long
"See me," the note in my mailbox said. I knew what was coming next. My principal wanted to talk to me about my tardiness to school. Despite my constant worry and effort, getting to school on time each day was a game of chance. Sighing, I hung my head and trudged toward the office for the conversation I dreaded.
My principal was firm. My habitual tardiness had to change.
I was already a student of the subject of habits. I had lively, intense conversations with family and friends on the topic. We joked about our struggles to start new, good habits. We lamented our lack of stick-to-it-iveness. They recommended books, and I spent hours reading about habits. I loved the lists that declared there was a Five-Step Cure for Bad Habits, and if I stuck to it, it was a mere Eight Weeks to Optimum Health. My reading was a bit obsessive and it became a habit to read about habits. And I continued to be late for school.
It is not uncommon to feel pangs of guilt associated with our habits and yet choose to keep them despite the consequences. I recently read an article about how hard teachers push themselves for self-improvement. Motivated, dedicated, and perfectionist types worry about the downside of their frenetic pace. Their habits create a dynamic of successes that are unable to satisfy them and, eventually, they burn out.
There will always be things we want to do to improve our lives and our teaching that will require discipline, but I think these shifts are more sustainable if we come at them from a calm place, aware of our strengths, and able to accept ourselves with a bit of humor.
In The Art of Imperfection: Simple Ways to Make Peace with Yourself, Veronique Vienne urges us to explore our habits and eccentricities to find peace in being ourselves. She urges us to discover that our perceived imperfections can be enriching characteristics. Running a little behind can become an opportunity to lend a hand and share a smile with someone who needs it.
As coaches, we understand the importance of approaching our work from a place of grace and compassion. Working first with ourselves and our habits in a place of gentle encouragement, we are more able to offer support to teachers as they examine their own practices and seek positive change. It's an idea I have embraced. I'm almost always on time now, and I've learned to celebrate my punctual arrival at school with a victory dance. It's silly, but like all changed habits, it deserves to be noticed.