Building Personal Habits for a Successful School Year

I am just going to be transparent: I fell off on my healthy habits. I am inconsistent, some days I will make it to the gym or a long walk with my dog. Some days I will pour myself into bed right after work, sleep, and then wake up, eat, then go back to sleep. Some days I get up early and do some blog writing in the morning, and some days I will keep pressing snooze and miss my window all together. I know that this doesn’t sound too bad, but not only does it fail in comparison to past me, it is also significant because I attribute my healthy habits to why I am able to maintain a positive mindset while tackling significant challenges like teaching 9th graders and convincing them over and over again that they should read! I mean have you ever tried to convince a teenager to read, it is exhausting and it takes the utmost self care to maintain.

Last year Me was killin’ it! I would get up, meditate, journal, workout and walk my dog all before even getting dressed to go to work. I would come home and still, somehow, have energy to do all of my grad school work, and on Wednesday’s I would be in class until 8:00pm and then still have time to read a non-school related book. All while full time teaching. Life has taken a turn, and I look back on that woman as unrecognizable, amazed by her go-getter attitude and the discipline to wake up so early everyday. 

Curious about my own tendencies and habits, I, being me, wanted to learn the science behind this… How could I be so consistent in one season, and in the next, the habits that came to me with ease seem like herculean feats. I started my investigation by beginning the book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear, and I think I might have figured out the answer. 

According to his book, each habit that you have starts with a cue, something that signals to your brain that it is time to start a habit. Our life is littered with cues, so much so, that sometimes we don’t even know we are being triggered. Something that we think is a choice, may actually be a reaction to a cue.

Forreal y’all… not an ad, not sponsored, just really enjoying the book!

I started to think back to past bad-ass Stephanie, and I realized my environment completely changed, and one major cue was gone. I got married, so I moved in with my husband, so the life I designed to support healthy habits changed, and a huge thing that used to cue my habits, GRADSCHOOL, was over. I had no school work to design my self-care around. This led me to a journey to regain my healthy habits and intentionally design a new routine to fit my new life. I am going to share some of my research in hopes that it is helpful to you as you try and live your best life while educating in such a time as this!

  1. Identify your desired habits.

What is going to make your day run as smoothly as possible? What is going to pay off for your mental health in the long run? Do you know that exercise makes you feel amazing even if it is a pain to get to? Will it be so much better for your morning to have your lunch already packed? Do you reach the end of the day and realize you forgot to do something, so a planning routine will pay off? Identify what will make life easier and thus support your mental health.

  1. Schedule it, make it obvious, and make it easy!

In his book, James Clear explains the principles of behavior change. By nature, the entire world is lazy! Yes, it is literally a law. Everything from water to humans will take the path of least resistance, so you need to make sure that the desired habit is a part of that path. If you want to work out, make sure you have easy access to your gym or equipment. Set out your workout clothes and make sure your gym is on the way home. If you want to plan your day in the morning before work, set out your planner on your desk, so you see it right when you come into your classroom.

  1. Stack it and make it attractive!

Habits work best when you pair it with another, attractive habit. When James Clear says “attractive,” he means that you already like to do it. For example, I knew that after work I love to watch something to get my mind off of things, but I also know that I need to cook dinner right away to avoid the call of the drive-through and I also needed to be done cooking in time to work out, so I put a movie on my ipad, wash the dishes, and start dinner. I am not allowed to watch anything if I am not doing the dishes. Now I associate the chore with something I like, and it’s pretty fun (Well as fun as doing the dishes can be haha)!  Another technique is habit stacking. Habit stacking is doing a habit you are trying to build right after a habit you already have. For example, I write this blog everyday after I meditate and journal. I meditate and journal everyday without fail, so if that becomes a cue to write my blog, then I will begin to write everyday without fail.

  1. It isn’t about how long, it is about how often. 

This sounds simple, but for some reason when I read this it blew my mind! It doesn’t matter if you have been doing something for a year, if within that year you have only repeated the action 20 times. Building a habit and how it sticks is about repeating it enough, so the behavior moves to the habit part of your brain! This means you can start slow but often. For example, to build my morning routine, I used to just get up and sit on the couch, so I can get into the habit of getting up. Once I did it enough times, getting out of bed was automatic. Then I began to add in routine and since I did it everyday, it also became automatic. Now I feel completely off when I don’t complete it when in the past, I hated it!

This is an oversimplified explanation of what the book explains, but I hope that it was enough to get you started or inspire you to get the book. I think it is helpful in designing my environment and a life that serves me, but I also think it could be helpful for teaching. We try to instill healthy academic habits for our students. Understanding behavior change and the way habits are formed and maintained could benefit us greatly in assisting students to building their own academic habits. Maybe that will be my next post! Let me know if you’re interested. 

Thank you for making it to the end. And remember Mind, Body, and then Classroom. In that order!

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