Friday, January 03, 2014


When I went to the dentist last summer after a three year hiatus, I was terrified that he would find cavities or something terrible. While there were no cavities (yay!), I did get a stern lecture about the necessity of flossing. It turns out that a lot of the mild gum pain I was experiencing was due to not flossing.  So I set out to begin to cultivate a habit of flossing by leaving myself an obnoxious note on my mirror and forcing myself to floss everyday--and actually have managed to become a regular flosser.  It is just part of my routine now, since I'd never go do bed before without brushing me teeth. Now I make sure to both floss and brush before bed, and I have zero gum pain.

I tell this story because I've been thinking of how I can apply this sort of habit-formation in other parts of my life. It was a small action, and it was kind of annoying at first, but I realized that if I set out to alter my behavior in a manageable way, I can do it.

I think the next habit I want to tackle is doing something right away instead of putting it off indefinitely. If it needs to be done, instead of getting all annoyed about how much I don't want to do it, I've been trying to mentally reroute that emotional response and just do the task, focusing instead on the happy feelings of accomplishment afterwards. For instance, I'm terrible about putting off reading and commenting on my students' work because 1) I get busy and want to be able to dedicate time to it, but sometimes 2) it stresses me out. So instead of focusing on the stress and the frustration that I might normally associate with the task, I want to reframe it to focus on the satisfaction of efficiently returning student work and the delight that also comes from reading their work.

Another thing I need to work on not putting off is morning exercise. While I meant to run this morning, I slept so poorly because of CATS and SNORING that I just couldn't get up to run with my running group. What I could have done, however, was gotten up a little bit later and done a slightly shorter run and still have gotten it in, yet I stayed in bed (it was cold!) and then got up to dink around on the Internet (emails! pinterest!). But, if my habit were to just get up and go, then I'd have gotten the run in already and would likely feel much more alert and ready to tackle the work I need to accomplish today.

Successfully forming one small habit, however, has taught me that habits can be created when the goal is specific, and the path is cleared to make creating that habit easier. I need to break these goals down into small, manageable steps until it becomes habitual for me to roll out of bed right away, put on my shoes, and get out the door with little fuss; or, alternately, tackle tasks immediately instead of putting them off and dreading them.

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