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16 September 2010

Building Some Habits

Charlotte Mason talks an awful lot about the importance of habits, and I've been working on building better habits in both our homeschool and also in my own duties around the house. Keeping things clean is something I've always struggled with. I'm sure the sister I used to share a room with would be glad to verify that, lol! I'm told she once asked Mom to intervene because I wouldn't put away a box of my stuff that was sitting in the middle of the room. Mom asked me about it and I denied its existence. So Mom showed me the box in the middle of the room and asked me to put it away. [blush] I'm just not naturally talented in this area! But Miss Mason is right: habit is a powerful lever. I learned this as a piano teacher: the most naturally talented students, surprisingly enough, seldom were the best pianists. It was the ones who were the most consistent in their practice, and those tended to be the ones who did well only when they worked at it. I never applied this to cleaning until reading Miss Mason at the end of last month. Now, I'm putting stickers on the calendar for me every time I go to bed with a clean kitchen. My kitchen wasn't (usually) disgusting: I regularly got it clean. I just didn't keep it clean very well at all.

But, --supposing that the doing of a certain action a score or two times in unbroken sequence forms a habit...
-Charlotte Mason
Laying Down the Rails, pg 12-13

Inspired by Miss Mason's "unbroken sequence" I'd hoped to get the kitchen cleaned every night for the entire month of September. "Clean," I defined as going to bed with the dishes done, having swept the floor at some point every day. I'm going to have to try again in October, and it's possible that I'll still be working on this in November: I'm running about 50% right now. Of the past 15 days I've had a clean kitchen 8 of them. Since I nearly never finished the night with a clean kitchen before, this is a tremendous improvement for me! I'm getting clutter cleared and some of the detail work is getting done, and it's sooo much nicer! I'm noticing that I'm weak when we have company, and that sometimes takes a couple of days to completely recover from. I also notice that Monkey is learning this new habit right along with me. I've got my eyes on getting his toys under control, which at his age is more my bad habits as it is his. The way he readily works with me on keeping the kitchen clean is very encouraging: I think that once we work out a system he'll adapt to it quickly. Another thing that's tremendously encouraging is my husband's appreciation. He loves a clean house and isn't shy about appreciating my (imperfect) efforts. It makes such a difference.

Power comes by doing and not by resolving...
-Charlotte Mason
Laying Down the Rails page 13

The other place where I'm working to cement into place some good habits is in consistently getting all our school work done. It's not much work; Monkey's little. But building the habit of doing it all every day now will serve us so well next year when he is officially "school age." I'm a little amazed at how much more we're getting into our days! Monkey has free time, where he plays by himself (this drives him a little crazy, social creature that he is), time where we work on school things, time where we work on keeping up the house, and time for other projects or errands or play dates, as well as family time. I'm amazed at how much time there is, once I start paying attention to getting the important things done first!


Wendy Williams said...

I also have a hard time keeping the kitchen clean, and have recently made goals regarding that. I've been keeping up with it a wee bit better than you report HOWEVER--I do NOT have ANY small children in my home. That makes quite a difference. Keep it up!!! Hopefully, we'll attain our goal together!

Ritsumei said...

Hi Wendy! Welcome to my blog!

Some of the best advice I ever got on setting goals was at a facility for mentally & emotionally handicapped kids where I used to work. The psychologist had us take data on how often the kids were doing their "problem behaviors" for a few days before we'd start doing anything to correct them. The one I remember most vividly was there was a young man whose mental disabilities were such that he could not speak. He used to spit on the staff. Hundreds of times a day, literally. We spent a couple of days marking down each and every time he did it. Then, they wrote a plan to teach him not to do that anymore. Supposing we weren't counting how much he was doing it at first, and he reduced the spitting to only about 50 times a day. That's a tremendous improvement! But spitting is such a disgusting habit that probably nobody would notice if we weren't actually counting. In this way she demonstrated the importance of counting.

She said that a good goal will have a couple of elements:
1. It will be concrete. I am going to clean my kitchen every day. "Clean means dishes finished and floor swept." This way, you can easily tell if the goal has been met.

2. A good goal is countable. "I am going to clean my kitchen by bedtime every night" is a much better goal that "I will keep my kitchen clean."

3. A good goal has a time frame. "I am going to clean my kitchen by bedtime every day in September." Obviously, I'm not making it. But in counting things up & knowing that in the first 1/2 of September I did 50%, I can (1) give myself a pat on the back for doing that much and (2) recognize if I'm doing 70% in the second half of the month I'm doing better than at first, and set my October goal accordingly.

I'm a little afraid that my post makes me sound like a slob, and I'm not... anymore. That would probably have been a fair label in college, but not anymore. I'm no longer embarrassed to have company. But I do struggle with lingering dishes: the dishwasher was full, so I just left the last pan or two to "soak" overnight. The counters never seemed to be cleared of junk, so the corners seldom if ever get washed. The floor got swept every week or so. I know how to do better, and would periodically get things all the way clean, rather than just mostly clean. I simply hadn't made it a habit. Now, I want to make all the way clean my habit.

Anyway, hopefully some of my ponderings will be slightly useful to you in cleaning your kitchen!

Nancy said...

Wow - what a thorough post on habits! Thank you for sharing this. I especially like this line, "...how much time there is, once I start paying attention to getting the important things done first!" This is so true and an important lesson for all moms. I've HAD to learn it as I have 6!

Ritsumei said...

I'm glad my musings are useful to you!


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