Sometimes for all of our good intentions, we just can’t seem to stick to our plan, our goal, our different way of living. Sometimes when we’re the only one who knows about our plans or our turning over of a new leaf, it’s very easy to slip back into old habits. When we don’t have the pressure, it’s often much easier to go back to what feels normal (but not so great) rather than sit in uncomfortability doing something different that may (or may not) provide us more long lasting joy. Clearly this phenomenon is why so many New Year’s resolutions don’t stick even though we know it’s much better to consistently move and exercise than come home and sit on the couch, it’s much better to eat more vegetables and real foods than sugar and processed foods. In regard to school, we know it’s better to get into a routine of putting ourselves first, saying no to extra tasks that we don’t have time to take on, leaving at an agreed upon time or not taking work home every night. Despite knowing all of this, we still have trouble enacting new habits. Why is that and is there a solution?
There are lots of reasons for not being able to stick to a routine. But one really significant reason is that a person needs to do something regularly enough that the desired routine becomes habit. And the best way to make a routine into a natural habit is to perform the action every day. In Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before, a book devoted uncovering the complexities of habit building, she says “What I do every day matters more than what I do once in awhile.” The importance of this advice was lost on me at first…why do I need to do something every day? What if the habit is to leave early on Friday? Why do I need to practice this all the time? She goes on to explain that when we only do something once in awhile, we then have the time to negotiate with ourselves: should I do this thing this day or tomorrow? Can I switch around my schedule? Where else could I fit this in later on in the week? When we give our minds room to negotiate and think about implementing the task that is still just a desired routine, we run the risk of deciding that today is not the day and that tomorrow will probably work just fine. That’s fine if when tomorrow came, we didn’t often end up pushing it off on another day. However, this is often the case. These wishful habits take up time in our brain when we negotiate, shift, and make exceptions. What we are often left with are broken promises to ourselves as we struggle to piece some consistency together.
It seems very natural to want to ease into building a new routine or habit. We think, “I’ll start off slowly with only walking three days after school. That way I can ensure more success because my expectations aren’t too high.” This sounds absolutely reasonable and logically sound. However, be on the watch for your brain to go into negotiation mode a few weeks in to this habit building stage. Be on high alert for the shifting around of the schedule, the little voice suggesting that you do this tomorrow instead of today when you will have “more time.” So what’s the solution to this particular quandry of not having every day to do this new habit? Of only having Monday, Wednesday and Friday for thirty minutes of walking each day? It may sound silly, but walking even for just a few minutes on Tuesday and Thursday and maybe even sometime each weekend day would probably make a significant difference in how quickly this attempt at routine became a life long habit.
If you want to start a regular mindfulness practice, try sitting every day at the same spot, around the same time, even if it’s just for a minute. You will be building your memory muscles and on those days when you have more time ultimately present themselves, you will be able to devote more time to it.
Remember Rubin’s advice, “What I do every day matters more than what I do once in awhile.” When we routinely and automatically don’t have to make a choice of whether or not we are going to do something that day, the new routine starts to just become part of what we do and who we are. We no longer have to decide if we are going to leave work on time, walk after school, or any other choices we have created for ourselves by trying to (for good reason) not overload our lives. The very act of easing in to a routine that you want to make a habit sounds like a good idea, but it could just be setting us up for failure. So if you really want to make this new routine into a habit, try to find time to do this thing every day (even if every day the task is modified slightly to fit the rest of your schedule).
Good luck with trying to create a new habit by changing your routine! If you have any tips or tricks that work for you to create a new habit please comment below. If you are looking for some support in creating an every day wellness routine that will hopefully become a habit, check out Teaching Well’s free guide, 20 Minutes to a Working Wellness Routine. Above all keep in touch about how to best support you on your journey to teaching well!