Habit Forming

My teacher friend, Michael, says his students are dropping like flies.

There is no firm policy on how many classes our students can miss, so we all set our own absentee limits. Michael allows more absences than I do and he has still had to drop six students, he tells me, with more on the way. He asked me what I thought he should do. I told him he should do what he thought was best. I insist my students come to class.

I am not the toughest grader. I allow the occasional text message during class. I know that laptops and tablets are being used to check Facebook and I turn a blind eye. But I insist my students come to class. Michael asked why this was so important to me. I think it is because I believe in habits.

Habits are powerful things.

I was thinking this as I laced up my running shoes. I have found that the single hardest thing about running is putting on my running shoes.

I don’t really like to run. I never have. I never ran at all until I was well into my thirties. I didn’t run around the block in high school. I was happily sedentary until I noticed, one afternoon, a little cushion of flesh had taken up residence on top of my hips without my actually giving it permission to live there. I realized that my metabolism was changing which meant that I would either have to stop eating and drinking the things I liked to eat and drink or… do something. Reluctantly, I decided to do something.

The first day I went out running I ran for a little more than three miles. The next morning I had great difficulty climbing a short flight of stairs. My legs ached. But I kept running and it got easier. While I can honestly say I never learned to enjoy it, running got to be a habit.

When I think of the things I’ve done in my life that I am the least bit proud of, they never happened in a moment. It was not a flash of inspiration, or a moment of terrific bravery, or an epiphany that suddenly changed everything. I know Oprah has people on her show nearly every day who have experienced these “Ah ha!” moments. I am not one of them.

The things I have done in my life that I am proud of were not things that became noteworthy because I did them once or twice or for a solid week. The things that significantly changed my life were small things I did every day that eventually became habits. Small things— like showing up for class, taking time to meditate, or putting on my running shoes and going out the door.

To believe in a habit is to have faith in the invisible. It is the ability to do something again and again with no immediately perceptible results. Creating a habit is a bit like setting the sail on a sailboat. It may take some time but eventually, holding the course, I end up crashing into a new land mass. I end up discovering a whole new world.

My students complain a little, but they show up. They show up a little late sometimes, they show up with their hair uncombed, they show up with a less-than-enthusiastic attitude, but they show up. And I am very proud of them.

I feel as if anything else I teach them will be less important than what they have already learned.

Till next time,

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