When it comes to New Year’s Resolutions, I never win. Well, except for the last New Year’s Resolution I ever made, which was “Resolved: I will NEVER make another New Year’s Resolution for the rest of my life.” So far, I have been holding to that one flawlessly!
But why am I talking about the New Year? For us teachers, it might as well be the new year. And it is the time when many of us take our reflections from the previous school year, the wins and loses, and decide what we want to tweak, add, throw out, or change (or, as I teach my students how to revise their writing: Replace, Add, Delete, and Reorder).
Last year I made one tiny change to my day-to-day, and was able to do it all year long. Every. Day. It pushed me and challenged me. It has shown me that I really can set goals for self-improvement and make real changes, really! The thing is, the goal I set is kind of stupid. I’m almost embarrassed enough to not talk about it at all. I thought it was so silly when I decided to do it, I did NOT share it with anyone. I kept it to myself. But it was such a success, I think I want to share it. Just promise not to judge me.
“I will shave my face everyday that I stand in front of my students.” That’s it! I know, it’s ridiculous! I didn’t even tell my wife about it. For a lot of people, this is already a habit and you may be wondering why this was even a thing for me. It shouldn’t be. So, before you click away, hear me out, and you’ll see there is some insight in my silly adventure to shave more.
Prior to this tiny change, I had trouble getting a grip on my life. Not just the facial hygiene part, like the whole thing. All of my life. And for me, life is only getting more complicated as the years march on. Let me give you quick snap shot. At the time of this writing
- I am married with three kids under ten,
- A baby on the way,
- Shuttling kids to different activities throughout the week,
- Teaching full-time,
- Volunteering on the Home Owners’ Association Board in my neighborhood
- Co-advising the senior class for my high school,
- Volunteering as sound engineer at church,
- Coaching a small group of men in a leadership program at church (much easier than little league),
- Writing a book, and
- Looking to start up a podcast (check back in later for that).
And just like that, a daily shave looks like more of a challenge, right?
So, I have a lot going on. That means I have lot of different roles I play and a lot of different people that are looking for my time and energy. And at the same time, I recognize that I am not a perfect person in ANY of my roles. There are so many things that I want to improve, the thought overwhelms me. Some of the words that run through my head sound like . . .
- I wish I could just get a grip
- I don’t have enough hours in the day
- This is overwhelming
- I’m so stressed
In the past, when I would think about switching things up, so I could better fit all my responsibilities in, I would crumble under the weight of that thought, then neglect my kids, binge on Netflix, and create conflict in my marriage (what can I say, I’m human). It was too much! I remember talking with a colleague one time about how overwhelming certain times of the year can be (especially for teachers), and her remark to me was, “Oh, I know. The other day I was looking at my to-do list, and it was too much. I just took a nap because I knew that was one thing I could accomplish.”
Have you been there?
Last year, about this time, I had done some reading on habit forming. Since I was such a failure at forming meaningful, life-changing habits, I was concerned that I would fall on my face yet again. Usually, my goals and resolutions would be big and grand (i.e. getting back into the shape I was when I played water polo, you know, when I worked out six hours a day). In the reading I was doing about habits, here are a couple of quotes that stood out:
“Good habits are repeated as easily as bad habits.”
“Bad habits lead to consistent failure and defeat without the person realizing what’s happening.”
“Good habits lead to consistent success and victory with the person even realizing what he is doing.”
“Bad habits are easy to form but difficult to live with. Good habits are difficult to form but easy to live with.”
“Habits are a safety procedure.”
Reading these, and really thinking about them, a few things occurred to me:
- Habits really take a long time to form.
- Habits, even small ones, are life-changing.
- Once it’s a habit, then I won’t even have to think about it, I’ll just do it.
I don’t remember how I settled on the goal of shaving everyday as the habit I was going to form, but it was my test of whether or not I could really change my habits, and if this small change would “lead to consistent success and victory.”
Well, I did it! I didn’t miss a single day. Some days it was difficult. For a long time there were zero days where I looked forward to shaving. I just don’t like doing it, okay? The temptation to skip this morning ritual was a little more of a challenge too because growing beards has been popular in recent year, which gave me a culturally appropriate reason to avoid the razor.
Saying “yes” to shaving everyday meant that several elements of my day had to shift and make room for this change. Whenever we say “yes” to something, we are saying “no” to other things. Here’s how my day began to change:
- I took stock of all my bad morning habits.
- I reorganized my morning routine to put that habit front and center.
- I went to bed just a little earlier to make sure I had time when I woke up to include the activity.
- I would make sure that I shaved before checking social media or internet news (something that I could distract me to point of punting this daily task).
- I made sure I had the products I needed well in advance (I used to wait until I ran out of razors to go shopping), which means I had to plan ahead.
Those were the behaviors that changed, but I also unexpectedly saw a change in my attitude and decision-making. First, over time, I started to prefer shaving. If I waited until a later time in the morning to pick up my razor, my anxiety increased. On weekends, when I didn’t have to fulfill my commitment, I wanted to shave! If I didn’t shave on a Saturday morning, by dinner time, I would have had enough, break down, and grab the blade. This was new to me! The year prior, I was happy to ditch responsibility where I could, but now it didn’t feel right.
Changing my behavior with relentless consistency led to a change in value over time. I had heard this before–“Fake it ’till you make it,” right–but I was never convinced. I’m a believer now!
The other thing that changed was my decision-making. Over time, the thought “I am going to shave my face tomorrow morning,” became reality. If I found myself staying up too late, I would think, “Welp, looks like I’m going to lose a little sleep and have to get an extra shot in my Starbucks tomorrow because I have to shave in the morning.” One time late in the school year, I missed my alarm by an hour and a half! When I realized this, I sat bolt upright in bed in a panic. Do you know what I was panicked about? “Will I be able to fit in a shave this morning?” That was my chief concern! (note: I wake up ridiculously early, so sleeping in for me looks like an early start to others).
By making this tiny change, I experienced a big shift in my value and perspective on shaving my face in the morning. But more than personal grooming, I learned that if I make a small change, It can have a big, positive impact.
This year I plan to make two small changes to the start of my day that I believe will have a large impact. Here they are:
- Start my day with early morning devotions, every day.
- Write everyday.
For each change, the duration of time is not as important as making it a daily habit. Maybe I only spend five minutes on each, every day for a while. As the weeks and months go by, I will add time and value it more and more. And if I oversleep, I still want to get these in with relentless consistency, until the behaviors move into core values.
I want to take these behaviors to the point where this is true: “Good habits are repeated as easily as bad habits.” It’s just a rough road to get there.
What is a change you want to make for this upcoming school year? What small change have you made before that has maintained lasting impact in your life?
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