“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.“ – Aristotle
In her book, Legendary Learning, Jamie McMillin discusses habits. According to her, habits exert a powerful influence over our actions in our daily life and that we all have habits whether we are aware of them or not. She also says that habits are a great predictor of success, probably more than any test score can, which is why it is so important to develop good habits, especially in children.
In successful people, achievement did not just fall into their laps. They disciplined themselves to work hard, to follow through with promises, to take responsibility and to manage their own personal behaviour – not always perfectly, but consciously.
Jamie gives us some ways we can cultivate good habits in ourselves and our children:
1. Cultivate the habit of attention. The habit of attention is particularly important for learning. Children who get easily distracted should be trained to get into the habit of attention by keeping lessons very short (no more than 10 minutes) and interesting.
2. Replace a bad habit with a good one, little by little. Avert the unwanted behaviour quickly and keep at it consistently for 2-3 months until the desired behaviour has taken hold.
3. Reinforce expectations with gentle reminders consistently and follow through.However, it is not enough to say your expectations and repeat them at regular intervals hoping that your child will comply. You will save yourself a lot of heartache if you get your child in the habit early by doing it with him everytime at first.
4. Repeat the correct behaviour. According to Jamie McMillin, a fascinating brain research is being done on super talented individuals. She says, “neurologists have found that the more a nerve fires, the more myelin wraps around the nerve. The more myelin that is built up along nerve pathways, the quicker the nerve impulses can travel. But myelin super highways are not built overnight. They are built over time and with a consistent targeted practice. Everytime a guitarists strums a chord or a gymnast pounces on a springboard, they are reinforcing certain neural pathways. These neural pathways can either be correct or incorrect, depending on the quality of practice.” She says this is the reason why good teachers and coaches are always so particular about building skills in a certain order, and correcting form and posture before the student has a chance to develop bad habits.
5. Model the behaviour you want in your children. Screaming and scolding may temporarily solve situations. But according to Jamie McMillin, “consistency, modelling and practice are the way to go.”
6. Chunk Your Goals. Break down goals into small, manageable “chunks” or steps and focus on each small step, one at a time.
7. Keep it short, simple, direct and most of all – consistent. Demonstrate the right way to do something, then follow up with short, task-based feedback, not judgment.
8. Be patient. Creating a good habit may require some hard work at first. However, it gets easier as you practise it repeatedly.