Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Bad Part About Good Habits

Hi, guys! Mark here, sitting in for Wendelin because she’s up to her neck with the latest SK manuscript, where Sammy is up to HER neck, getting in trouble in Las Vegas in what I affectionately refer to as Sammy Keyes and the Wayward Parents. (Ever notice how sometimes the parents act like children, which of course means that the children have to act like parents? But that’s a topic for another time, mi amigos!)

What’s on my mind at the moment are habits. Both kinds… the good ones we all aspire to acquire, and the bad ones that are oh-so-easy to pick up and darn near impossible to let go. Bad habits are certainly more fun, but I want to talk about good ones because lately I’ve been trying to divine their secrets…

The good thing about a habit (assuming it’s a good habit) is that once it in fact becomes a habit, you don’t have to struggle with the ‘Should I or shouldn’t I?’ issue every day, as it becomes an automatic part of your life. Cool.

The bad part about good habits, however, is that they can be a beast to make into an actual habit.

Sometimes that beast can be almost un-tamable. (Anyone tried quitting smoking lately?) However, there is a secret. (Actually, it’s more like a helpful methodology. However, doesn’t ‘SECRET’ sound way more interesting than ‘HELPFUL METHODOLOGY’? I thought so, too…) And the secret is this: You do NOT have to force yourself to do the desirable/healthy/intelligent/mature/successful behavior forever. Nope. You just need to force yourself to do it for the indeterminate-but relatively-short period of time it takes for the desired behavior to become a true habit.

After that, it’s automatic, right? Easy money, honey!

And it really helps (uh, I mean, here’s another secret!) if you can put a strategy in place whereby the desired behavior is pretty much unavoidable during the habit-forming stage.

Case in point…

Wendelin has mentioned that we (as a family) are training for a marathon. This will be the first marathon for both of our boys. The older one is really looking forward to it, and joins us on our group training runs with a smile and zero complaints. The younger one… not so much. At first, he tried to say he wasn’t going to do it. Until I reminded him that he committed to doing this, and only after we had everyone’s commitment did Wendelin move some already-scheduled speaking engagements so we could run a marathon as a family. Then, he’d go on the early runs (marathon training is a four-month endeavor) very begrudgingly, complaining the whole way, and walking half the time. We just put on our ‘happy face’ and laughed when he complained, like he’d just told the world’s funniest joke.

Finally, after several weeks of this, his body started getting used to the running and his fitness level improved, and instead of being the boat anchor, he and I actually ran ahead of the others on a few runs, and he was like, “Hey guys, keep us with us!” (Ahh, the glory of youth…)

And most recently, on a Friday evening when we had a 12-miler scheduled for the next morning (usually a cause for much verbal dissention) he said, “Ya know, I’m actually looking forward to tomorrow’s run.”


I knew (okay, hoped) that if he stuck with it through that magic ‘indeterminate-but relatively-short period of time’, he would arrive at this juncture. And the thing that helped facilitate his sticking with it was a strict schedule (and occasional reminders that he was required to honor his commitment).

Once you’re past that stage, the part of the human brain that likes things in an orderly, repeated, constant, and consistent pattern takes over, and makes the motivational piece of the self-improvement puzzle that much easier to deal with.

At least, that’s my hypothesis until proven otherwise. (IOW, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it…)

Here’s hoping all your newly acquired habits are good ones!


Caradith Craven said...

Mark, great insight into the process of developing good habits. Now, if I'll only take it to heart and pass it on to family, friends, and students.

Your sons are very fortunate to have parents like you and Wendelin who set the stage for them to honor their commitments and become motivated to acquire good habits and character qualities that will serve them well throughout their lives. Every young person should be so blessed.

Mark said...

Thanks, Caradith!

I'm right there with you - the challenge for all of us is the follow-through part. :-)

And your students are fortunate to have YOU, motivating them to learn and read and love books!


Raisa Karim said...

coooll!! guest post! i love ur family u guys r too cool!

katarinandersson said...

Oh, how I wish that the good habits would be easier to develop! It's a shame that it's so hard to know for how long you have to force yourself to do something before it becomes a habit. I think that it would be easier if you knew exactly for how long you'd have to force yourself to go for a run, get up in the morning without first hitting the snooze button or start doing your homework on time. But I guess that knowing that the period of forcing yourself to do something doesn't last forever is better than nothing :) Thank you for sharing your wisdom!