Switch describes the common patterns in successful habit changes through engaging stories, turning them into practical advice. The stories and advice are all based on three observations they made about habit changes, both personal changes and organization-wide changes:
- What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity. So provide crystal-clear direction.
- What looks like laziness is often exhaustion. It’s critical to engage people’s emotional side to get cooperation.
- What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. Use the environment to your advantage.
So I want to look at these elements and the practical steps given for each in the book, applying it to our home and homeschool settings. Oddly enough, homemaking and homeschooling was not ever an example in the book, but a household is a small organization, a group of persons working together toward an end.
Switching Key Habits in the Home & Homeschool Series
- Review of the book Switch
- Remove Lack of Clarity with Crystal-Clear Direction
- Overcome Exhaustion by Engaging the Emotions
Change the Situation, Not the People
Point to the Destination
An important aspect of inspiring motivation and providing clear directions is to know what end you are working toward. Why are you doing what you’re doing? Why practice piano scales? Why wash the dishes? Why do math drills? Why make the bed?
To do this, visualize what it would look and feel like to have the habit in place. Run through the scenario of your day as if the habits were already established. Do your best to keep yourself from envisioning what the day would look like if you and everyone else were perfect. Good habits still won’t make you or your children perfect. Sorry to burst the bubble. But how would the good habits help? Can you describe that outcome in a compelling but brief way?
This can be as simple as following up the habit-to-be-learned (“Close the gate on the stairs”) with a compelling outcome (“So that the baby doesn’t fall down the stairs”). The baby not falling down the stairs is a destination that can be reached. You state the habit – brush your teeth after breakfast and before bed – but you also provide the reason, the end-point, the destination – “so that you don’t get cavities.”
However, the more descriptive and compelling you can make that destination, the more likely the habit will be to stick. So, reimagine “don’t get cavities” and make it more vivid: “So that the sugar-bugs don’t gnaw your teeth all night and make your teeth holey and rotten.” Maybe you have a fruit tree with some wormy fruit. Take a rotting and worm-laden fruit as a concrete picture and say, “This is like what happens to your teeth if you don’t brush them.” Google images works, too.
Take your boring reason for the habit, and dress it up with some imagination-catching image. It will help the habit stick.
Painting a postcard of home: Ready for action
Housekeeping is one of those activities that easily grows to fill whatever time or energy you give it, and that at the same time multiplies the less time or energy you give. It’s never “done.” So how can we have a destination in mind for tending the home?
It’s simply not going to be spic-and-span at the end of every day, especially if you have young children and actually live all of life all day everyday in your home. “Have a clean home” is a frustrating goal, because “clean” can be so vague and abstract.
How about this end-of-day destination description: ready for action. That would include the dishes being washed so they are ready to use the next day (even if your sink isn’t shiny), clothes washed and ready to wear (even if they don’t make it neatly folded into a drawer), and the tables used for meals and school are ready for use the next day (even if that means a project left in progress or stacks of books, well, everywhere).
It would mean that the baby toys in the living room that didn’t get picked up are not a big deal. It would mean that the bathroom is addressed often enough to not be embarrassing. It would mean that you can start the day ready to tackle that day’s work rather than starting by finishing up yesterday’s.
Painting a postcard of education: Vital interest
Of course it’s important to have an idea about the ultimate end-goal for the education you are providing for your children, and that vision will shape the choices that you make year by year and day by day. However, what about the small, daily habits? They work toward the overarching goal, but the overarching goal might still seem to abstract, especially as a motivation for the children.
If, say, the new habit you want to work on is that your student use proper capitalization in all his work, then bringing to bear the long-term goal of the love and pursuit of the True, Good, and Beautiful is not going to help motivate said student. Instead, try something like, “This year, we’re going to work on using proper capitalization in all your writing. See this paragraph in this book? See how all the first letters of sentences are capitals? See how not all Ds are capitalized? See how proper names are capitalized? See how it’s not random or based on ease and convenience? Your writing this year is going to look like that. It will take lots of correcting at first, but by the end of the year, your writing will look like a real book’s and you’ll do it the right way the first time.” Now the child isn’t just being beaten down with mistakes to correct, but he’s working toward a goal: Making his writing the same as a real book. Moreover, with that as the stated goal, you as the teacher are reminded that your resolve is to correct capitalization in all the student’s work, all year.
That worked for my oldest in his third grade year, and I am now commencing the same course of action for my second-born.
What other small habits are you working on? What images can you bring to bear to give an inspiring goal and reason? Let’s help one another out with these in the comment section!