Habit Training– Day One
September 17, 2008 § 8 Comments
Thank you for the advice and encouragement to yesterday’s angsty post. I’m going to take some of those suggestions and put them into practice. This morning, a dear friend who has been going through these cycles with me for years sat down on the phone with me to work out a cognitive behavioral plan for new habit-forming. My therapist has been saying that I need to get out of bed and do something everyday, and I think he has gotten rather frustrated with me for not sticking to anything for more than two days in a row. So here’s the plan. (Remember, these are baby steps, the list will get longer in time.)
For now, I have to get out of bed every morning, shower, get dressed, and then make the bed. After I have done this, I must call my friend to let her know I have accomplished the morning’s tasks.
Sounds simple, I know. But you have no idea how difficult it is for me to be consistent, and this whole exercise is about building new, good habits. More will be added to my list of “things to do each day” but for now, we are starting with basics.
I have added to this that I will keep a journal of my habit forming efforts; first to make sure I do my tasks daily, and secondly to keep a record of progress. These will be journals for my personal benefit, but if anyone is interested in following along on the journey, you are more than welcome. I may even create a filter for these journals, so if you want to watch, or even participate with your own habit forming exercises, let me know and I’ll add you to my habit filter. Heck, I may even start a community, if enough people are interested.
Many of you know the struggles I have had with my bi-polar situation etc., but I believe my biggest handicap to be a severe lack of discipline. I was raised in a very… fun household. We did lots of fun things together and had lots of games and adventures growing up– for which I am grateful. My husband and future children will benefit greatly from my incredible training in how to have a good time. But I was never made to do the normal things kids have to do– cleaning my room, doing chores, character building stuff like that. The lessons I learned early on were, “Do what you want, and have fun with it!”
I know my parents tried to teach us discipline, but they were seldom consistent and discipline from my mother was sometimes harsh, vindictive or retaliatory, rather than constructive. Also, I learned very early that my parents didn’t have the heart to really stick to their guns, because I would go to pieces emotionally if I did something wrong– before they could even punish me. I never wittingly attempted to emotionally manipulate my parents, but I was just… sensitive. My emotional outbursts seemed like punishment enough to them, I guess, so they usually let me go. Plus, I was such a “good girl” I seldom made real trouble anyway. A perfectionist from the start, willful and headstrong; I never really grew out if it.
So basically, I ended up being pretty spoiled, definitely lazy, and completely lacking in the skills to just… do what must be done, because I have to. And now, the task of learning discipline is up to me. What should have been formed in me by age 4 has never been established. So I am reconstructing the kinds of tasks I should have been ingrained in from an early age, and establishing them as new habits, while attempting to break the old.
Now, please don’t get me wrong. My parents did the best they could with the hands they were dealt, and I love and respect them both, and have a great relationship with them today. I am thankful for the things they excelled in as parents– like their love of knowledge and learning, the compassion and moral compass they instilled in me, and of course my love of adventure and fun, and my gifts of humor, wit and creativity come directly from them. Now it’s time to fill in the gaps.
I have been reading Charlotte Mason’s books on education lately and have been struck with her chapters on Habit versus Nature. The importance of instilling solid habits in our children from an early age can overcome any innate programming coming from nature, whether it is genetic, inherited or just part of being human. A well established habit can overcome our natural tendencies in an amazingly effective manner, so that the phrase “Habit is TEN Natures” was apparently a popular one from pulpits back in her day (late 19th, early 20th century.)
…In the first place, what is Nature, and what, precisely, is Habit?
It is an astonishing thing, when we consider, what the child is, irrespective of race, country, or kindred, simply in right of his birth as a human being.
All Persons born with the same Primary Desires.––That we all have the same instincts and appetites, we are prepared to allow, but that the principles of action which govern all men everywhere are primarily the same, is a little startling; that, for instance, the same desires stir in the breasts of savage and of sage alike; that the desire of knowledge, which shows itself in the child’s curiosity about things and his eager use of his eyes, is equally active everywhere; that the desire of society, which you may see in two babies presented to one another and all agog with glee and friendliness, is the cause, alike, of village communities amongst savage tribes and of the philosophical meeting of the learned; that everywhere is felt the desire of esteem––a wonderful power in the hands of the educator, making a word of praise or blame more powerful as a motive than any fear or hope of punishment or reward.
And Affections.––And it is not only the same desires; all people, everywhere, have the same affections and passions which act in the same way under similar provocation: joy and grief, love and resentment, benevolence, sympathy, fear, and much else, are common to all of us. So, too, of conscience, the sense of duty.
Content of the most Elemental Notion of Human Nature.––Dr Livingstone mentions that the only addition he felt called upon to make to the moral code of certain of the Zambesi tribes (however little they observed their own law) was, that a man should not have more than one wife. “Evil speaking, lying, hatred, disobedience to parents, neglect of them,” were all known to be sin by these dark peoples whom civilised or Christian teaching had never before reached. Not only is a sense of duty common to mankind, but the deeper consciousness of God, however vague such consciousness may be. And all this and much more goes to make up the most elemental notion of human nature.
Nature plus Heredity.––Then, heredity comes in, and here, if you please, is ten natures: who is to deal with the child who is resentful, or stubborn, or reckless, because it is born in him, his mother’s nature or his grandfather’s? Think of the trick of the eye, the action of the hand, repeated from father to son; the peculiar character of the handwriting, traceable, as Miss Power Cobbe tells us is the case in her family, for instance, through five generations; the artistic temperament, the taste for music or drawing, running in families: here you get Nature with a twist, confirmed, sealed, riveted, utterly proof, you would say, against any attempt to alter or modify it.
Plus Physical Conditions.––And, once more, physical conditions come into force. The puny, feeble child and the sturdy urchin who never ails must necessarily differ from one another in the strength of their desires and emotions.
Human Nature the Sum of certain Attributes.––What, then, with the natural desires, affections, and emotions common to the whole race, what with the tendencies which each family derives by descent, and those peculiarities which the individual owes to his own constitution of body and brain,––human nature, the sum of all these, makes out for itself a strong case; so much so, that we are inclined to think the best that can be done is to let it alone, to let every child develop unhindered according to the elements of character and disposition that are in him.
The Child must not be left to his Human Nature.––This is precisely what half the parents in the world, and three-fourths of the teachers, are content to do; and what is the consequence? That the world is making advances, but the progress is, for the most part, amongst the few whose parents have taken their education seriously in hand; while the rest, who have been allowed to stay where they were, be no more, or no better than Nature made them, act as a heavy drag: for, indeed, the fact is, that they do not stay where they were; it is unchangeably true that the child who is not being constantly raised to a higher and a higher platform will sink to a lower and a lower. Wherefore, it is as much the parent’s duty to educate his child into moral strength and purpose and intellectual activity as it is to feed him and clothe him; and that in spite of his nature, if it must be so. It is true that here and there circumstances step in and ‘make a man’ of the boy whose parents have failed to bring him under discipline; but this is a fortuitous aid which the educator is no way warranted to count upon.
I was beginning to see my way––not yet out of the psychological difficulty, which, so far as I was concerned, blocked the way to any real education; but now I could put my finger on the place, and that was something. Thus: –
The will of the child is pitifully feeble, weaker in the children of the weak, stronger in the children of the strong, but hardly ever to be counted upon as a power in education.
The nature of the child––his human nature––being the sum of what he is as a human being, and what he is in right of the stock he comes of, and what he is as the result of his own physical and mental constitution––this nature is incalculably strong.
Charlotte Mason, The Original Homeschooling Series, Vol I, Part III, Section III; pg 100-104
As strong as that nature is, I can overcome it with good habits, something I need to possess myself if I am ever to be an effective wife and mother.
So, is anyone interested in joining me on my habit-forming exercise?