Switching Key Habits in the Home & Homeschool: Engage the Emotions

posted in: attitudinal | 2

Switch examines the common denominators in those who make successful change, through engaging stories and practical advice for making positive individual & group changes. The authors posit that

when change works, it tends to follow a pattern. The people who change have clear direction, ample motivation, and a supportive environment.

So let’s look at how to apply those factors to our own home situations, particularly as we begin new routines for the school year.

Switching Key Habits in the Home & Homeschool Series
  1. Review of the book Switch
  2. Remove Lack of Clarity with Crystal-Clear Direction
    1. Leverage the Bright Spots
    2. Practice Specific Scripts
    3. Describe the Destination
  3. Overcome Exhaustion by Engaging the Emotions
    1. Find the Feeling
    2. Shrink the Change
    3. Cultivate a Growth Mindset and Build an Identity
  4. Change the Situation, Not the People

Find the Feeling

I have always tended to be an abstract type, one who prefers an idea and logic to talk of emotions and affections. I mean, clearly it is better to make decisions intentionally using reason and rationality over feelings, which so easily lead us astray, right?

However, slowly, I am learning to see that though I am more comfortable in the world of abstract ideas and rational argumentation, yet it is my affections that drive my actual, in-the-moment, gut decisions. So, if I pretend like I am all reasonable and not at all emotional (which isn’t true at all), I am simply being blinded to reality and hindered in my growth.

Because here’s the thing: being driven by our emotions is inevitable, but our emotions are not themselves inevitable.

We can train and channel our feelings, our affections, as well as those of others.

There is so much modern hoopla about pursuing self-discovery, being passion-led, and letting one’s heart be one’s guide, that it is easy to overact toward believing that cold calculation is biblical and wise. I know, because I am still recovering from this belief.

However, touching the heart, the affections, the emotions, has always been an important concept in classical education and political theory, a vital concern in both Old and New Testaments, and an essential component of the medieval development of virtue.

In the Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis discusses exactly this point: we do not act based on what we know in our heads, on our intellectual knowledge, but we act based on what we want and love. This does not leave us victims to our whims and irrational emotions, however, because those wants and loves can be trained. Training the desires, the heart, the tastes, is precisely what education is. He writes:

St. Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it. Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought. When the age for reflective thought comes, the pupil who has been thus trained in ordinate affections or ‘just sentiments’ will easily find the first principles in Ethics; but to the corrupt man they will never be visible at all and he can make no progress in that science. Plato before him had said the same. The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting and hateful.

So, the traditions of the ages tell us that developing and training the emotions is the essence of education and of virtue. On top of that, Switch is telling us that it is useless to attempt to change our habits or the habits of those under our leadership if we do not touch the emotions.

But how do we communicate a feeling to our children? How do we impart it? Talking about it is good, unless overdone, but never seems super effective or lasting, at least at our house. Talking about it generally relies on logic and reasoning, but we’re trying to reach past that, to the heart.

The answer is that we are to direct and train and display our own affections about work, about learning, about relationships, and that will permeate our home atmosphere and teach more subtly and effectively than we realize.

More caught than taught, right?

However, how to we pass on an emotion about our duties if we ourselves don’t fully possess it?

Once again, it becomes clear that parenting and teaching is a path of sanctification: Of us becoming who we are meant to be, more than of making these other people who they are supposed to be. It is when we see our children’s faults and struggles that we are made aware of our own.

C.S. Lewis to the rescue, again:

Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already.

Yes, fake it until you make it. I have a whole collection of quotes from various and sundry people maintaining that action and even emotion effect our affections.

Facial expressions don’t merely reflect emotions, they also influence emotions. In “facial feedback,” studies show, the mere act of smiling makes people happier — even when they smile mechanically, as I’m doing, or when they’re asked not to “smile” but rather to contract specific facial muscles. Random smiling is an example of my resolution to Act the way I want to feel: while people suppose that feelings inspire actions, in fact, actions also inspire feelings. – Gretchen Rubin, Happiness Project

Here are some ideas I’ve brainstormed, ones I need myself to take to heart and apply:

  • For each habit you are working on, list the emotional motivator behind it. For example, “If we clear and wash the tables and do the dishes after dinner, we will feel prepared for the next day” or “If our [math] lesson does not come easily to us, we will know that we are being challenged and growing. We want to improve, not stagnate.” Add these statements to your daily morning review sheet so they are near the front of your mind when the situations arise, so that you can respond with the feelings and direction you want to inculcate when the challenges arise during the day.

  • Watch your tone and your story as you help yourself and your children through the rough patches of the day. Does your tone communicate frustration or grace? Anger or love? “I’m tired of you” or “I’m sticking with you until we conquer this”? Is the voice in your head chanting the refrain, “It never ends. This is so hard. Well, I swept the floor but it’s just going to be terrible again after lunch. What a waste of my life.” Know that likely similar lines are going through the children’s heads: “Math is always hard, so I must not be good at it. Mom always gets irritated during Circle Time, so this is all a real drag.” And, of course, all the various manifestations of “life isn’t fair” that play in our minds and our children’s. When you become aware of your own, consciously change it. Say something true and positive. When you’re working through something with the children, ask them what the voice in their head is telling them. Help give them a better story to tell themselves.

  • Just plain smile more. Simply look into your children’s eyes more and see them as little full people and stand in awe and wonder. They aren’t a pet project. They aren’t a hindrance to a clean home. The clean home is for them, not they for the clean home. See them more than you see their effects.

  • Thank God for your family, thank God for the duties He’s given you, thank God for everything He’s given you, which includes the difficulties. Everything comes from His fatherly hand, and that is why you can (and should) thank Him in all things.

Gratitude is the best and most biblical motivating emotion. Cultivate it in yourself and in your children, and watch other things fall into place.

2 Responses

  1. robin
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    As a teacher of art, I am keenly aware of my feelings that sometimes prevent children from learning. I get easily frustrated when kids don’t get the simplest things and over the day it builds stress. I am reminded on your blog to take stock so to speak and be grateful and mindful of all the beauty of these children and their own method of creativity, since i teach art. I am trying to learn to gain control over my classroom that being a subject that doesn’t suggest control..but control in a different sense. Have any suggestions?

  2. Eva
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    Thanks for this column. I have four adult children and four still at home, and I am just learning some of these things. When I was reading Switch, I became frustrated when it got to the motivation part, because I just didn’t know how to engage the emotions. Your column, tying in other strands, is helpful to me in thinking how to begin to do this.