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Monday, August 14, 2017

What is Your Habit Plan?

Stop the habit of wishful thinking and start the habit of thoughtful wishes.
-- Mary Martin (Broadway actress and singer)

Stephen Covey wrote a terrific book about 7 habits that he identified in highly effective people. I began a podcast series for Suzuki teachers and parents based on Dr. Covey's book but related to the types of issues that we Suzuki teachers and parents face. I thought it would be helpful to write summary blog articles as companions to the podcast episodes.

If you want to follow along with the actual podcast and the introductory episode, click here: Introduction to 7 Habits of Highly Effective Suzuki Teachers and Parents.

In the first episode of the podcast series, I spent some time discussing the subject of habits. I believe that if we understand how habits are created, we will do a better job of creating and maintaining habits that will lead us to success. We will avoid falling into the trap of bad habits because we will be aware of the types of behaviors that might lend themselves to unwanted habits.

I highly recommend two books that provide very helpful information about habits:

I based my podcast series on Dr. Covey's book about the 7 habits. Dr. Covey includes a great deal of information, thoughtful insight, and interesting stories in his book, which I was unable to include in my own discussions in the podcast and blog articles. I highly recommend this book to be a part of everyone's library.

Charles Duhigg wrote his fascinating book about how we form habits, and I found the stories and information very interesting to read and think about. Within the first chapters, I already recognized most of my students' behaviors as they related to bad practice habits. After reading this book, I finally understood why my students and I struggled to create and maintain good habits. The book is structured around stories that are self-contained. I read the book over a long period of time, and I found that with every story -- whether corporate or individual -- I learned something useful that I could use in the teaching arena as well as in my personal life. A best-selling book (and for good reason!), I will keep this book on my bookshelf of teaching resources.

One of the first things I reflected on after reading the Duhigg book were those behaviors that I engaged in frequently but without much awareness. I often remark to my studio parents and university students that when we do something one time, it can be an accident or a once-in-a-while thing. Once we engage in the same behavior a second time, then we are on the threshold of initiating a habit. A third time? Good luck now, because we are already well down the road of habit formation.

Be Mindful

As I reflected on the scary thoughts of how easy a person can create a habit and that our brains are wired to build habits and routines in order to conserve mental energy for more important things, I spent more time being mindful of the habitual behaviors I engaged in. I made a list as I worked through a typical day. I was astonished, as you will be, by the sheer volume and number of habitual little behaviors we engage in with little to no conscious thought or awareness.

Not all habitual behaviors are bad. Some are good behaviors to cultivate. My advice is to become mindful so that you can devote more time and attention to support the good behaviors and to eliminate the undesired habits and routines or supplant them with new ones. Mindfulness was the first step.

Be Positive

I also spent time thinking about the attitude I brought to the exercise. Was I thinking of my habits as negative or positive? I recently listened to a TED Talk video about how difficult it is to change a negative attitude into a positive outlook while we can easily change a positive attitude into a negative one. My next step was to turn my habitual thinking and attitudes into positive outlooks. I ceased to think of my problems as stumbling blocks and instead reframed my thinking about problems and difficulties as merely things that need to be taken care of first in order to reach my ultimate goal. When I think of difficulties as preliminary steps on my habit journey, I find that I can more easily maintain my good attitude and consider a different approach.

Be Analytical

My third step was to go through a special analysis to develop the kind of habits that I wanted to create or maintain in my life. This analysis led me to a four-step process.
  1. Identify Behaviors 
  2. Build a Plan
  3. Take Action
  4. Evaluate
I began with exercises to identify behaviors and routines that I wanted to continue, eliminate, or change. I tried a variety of techniques to identify these sorts of behaviors. I thought about the areas of my life that dissatisfied me or made me feel uncomfortable. Those feelings helped me to build awareness of areas in my life that needed habit work. Sometimes I added the techniques of brainstorming or mindmapping to gather and sift through ideas. I picked one thing to work on at a time, and I carefully considered whether my habit goal was clear and specific. I made sure that I turned my bigger goal into a series of measurable small steps that I could follow that were within my control and would inevitably yield results over time.

I would then build a plan to follow with the list of steps I would take toward my goal. I found that I could accomplish a goal much easier if I built a plan around a series of small steps rather than some vague sense of working toward a goal. For example, I may not lose 10 pounds in two months by framing my goal in that way, but I am more likely to achieve that goal if I step on a scale daily, walk 30 minutes or run daily, measure and keep track of my food, and write everything down. If I do all of these steps or at least achieve a minimum level for each step, then my success is more likely to occur.

The most important step after building a play was to take action on the plan. I began to execute my plan. I did not wait until I thought my plan was perfect. I took immediate action. I did not wait until the next day or some nebulous and uncertain future date to get started. In fact, I frequently asked myself, "why not start today?" Why not take the momentum and excitement of the current moment and slingshot it into the first action steps?

Review is the most important part of any habit exercise. If we reflect on what we have done, consider the reasons for our success or failure, identify any good or bad patterns of behavior, and renew our commitment to the ultimate goal or habit, then we have the best chance of success. We will learn from our behavior and be mindful about the reality of our situation. Review is extremely important, and I recommend that you set aside a regular period of time to reflect.

Finally, build on your experience. Add new things. Build on old things. Experiment with mini 30 day challenges and allow your experience to grow into a larger experience. Have patience with yourself as you journey along your habit road.

Until next time,

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2017 by Paula E. Bird

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