Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Creatures of Habit

In some way, shape of form, we are all creatures of habit. We learn them, we try to live with them (in the positive cases) or we try really hard to change them (in the not so positive cases). One thing is for sure, if we do not actually create an environment where our habits will thrive, we will inevitably make an environment where our habits will fester. Sound like double talk? It isn't, really.

One of the things in the past few weeks that I did while preparing for our exchange students to be with us was that I shifted off the train and into my car. I wanted to make sure I had flexibility, and also to make sure that, should the train be delayed, I wouldn't be stuck when I was needed elsewhere (in fact, it was a large train delay one morning that prompted my moving to the car in the first place). What I later realized was that a lot of my momentum on other projects really depended on that "train time".  My Selenium practicum, my blog posts, a lot of my semi casual reading, was done on the train. For two and a half weeks, I broke the rhythm, and in the process, I also broke a number of other rhythms, and they cascaded out into my not doing things I wanted to do or needed to do.

When I'm taking the train, I have a number of transitional time periods. It's a process. From the time that I park when I park the car at the lot, walk up to the platform, sit or stand to wait for the train, get on the train, sit on the train until I reach my destination, get up and get off, walk to work, and then repeat the process on the way back… all told, that time works out to about eighty minutes. Those are eighty minutes where I am not physically engaged in the process of driving, and as such, I can actually let my mind roam free and think of other things, and often physically do other things. I can write, I can sleep, I can daydream, if I feel so inclined. I can't do any of that when I drive. For that time, even if it proves to be less total time en route, I am engaged in the task of driving. Even if I were to bring a recording device or some other auditory form of time use/learning, I'd have to do a second pass to capture ideas, take notes, write something, etc.

One of the things I've told my kids over the years, and I've heard articulated in other ways, is that it is easier to make a habit if you can associate it with something else that you do. If you know that you need to eat at a certain time, that may be a good time to whip out some book you want to get through. If you are going to be checking out Facebook, make a point of doing so while you are on an exercise bike or treadmill. Corny? Maybe, but it just might help you spend more time exercising, or less time on Facebook, whatever is the intended goal ;).

While combining efforts can be big motivators to doing more or creating new habits, changing to activities where you have to limit what you do can make you fall out of habits. Great if it's a negative habit, not so great if it's something you really want to be doing but aren't. Too often, we end up not doing the things that are important. Instead we end up doing the things that are urgent, or if we don't want to be that dramatic, then "pressing". When we deliberately structure our days to take us out of a mode where everything is pressing, then we can allow good habits to flourish. Likewise, if we succumb to doing something to gain a few minutes because everything is pressing, we may lose more than we actually gain.

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