4 Maxims From William James On How To Keep A Habit




You’ll rarely hear of a teacher that has a New Year’s resolution.  Rather they adopt New School Year’s resolutions.  Just as New Year’s resolutions last as long as it takes to read this article, so do New School Year’s Resolutions.

They fade exceptionally fast.

This article is about how to develop, in yourself as an educator, a lasting habit. (though the ideas can apply to any change of habit)  New School Year’s resolutions are just dressed up goals that incorporate a habit.

Professional teachers reflect.  Upon reflection, we identify solutions, or steps to take to improve.  Summer vacation is not a rest for educators, it is period of time where extensive and exhausted reflection is practiced. 

Summer is when teachers develop game changing classroom ideas.

This article will teach you how to transform a game changing idea into a habit.

For help, we turn to William James, one of the most under appreciated educators in modern history.  His advice, concerning everything in life, is timeless and is worth your time.  For this discussion, our attention turns to several pages of Talks to Teachers on Psychology; And to Students on Some of Life’s Ideals.  Though it was originally spouted (it was first a series of lectures) in 1899, his ideas are pragmatic, rationale, and actionable.

He identifies four maxims to successful change of habit.

1. “…in the acquisition of a new habit, or the leaving off of an old one, we must take care to launch ourselves with as strong and decided an initiative as possible.”

Commit, unquestionably, to the new action.  Believe in the change and its positive implications.  Trust yourself that the change is for the better.

2.  “Never suffer an exception to occur till the new habit is securely rooted in your life.”

To successfully adopt a new habit (or break one), it takes 21 consecutive days.  Adhere to the guidelines of you goal for three weeks. At that point, automaticity takes over and less effort is required to maintain the habit.  Automaticity is when you subconsciously begin to perform the action.  When your body and mind treat the new behavior as something expected and automatic, missing a day doesn’t mean you turn back the dial to day one.  It means that resuming with the action will be easier.  Embrace this threshold and work hard to reach it.

3.  “Seize the very first possible opportunity to act on every resolution you make, and on every emotional prompting you may experience in the direction of the habits you aspire to gain.”

Recognize opportunities to foster and feed your new behavior.  Actions require prompts; be hyper-vigilant for small cues to practice your new habit.  As you “work through the motions” you do two things:  provide positive feedback and reinforcement and also take a small step to reaching automaticity.

4. “Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise everyday.”

Challenge yourself.  Small bumps will make your constitution strong so don’t shy away: the obstacle is the way.  Build resilience by embracing challenge and understanding it as an opportunity to grow.

More of a self-help article than an article on education, use the guidelines to improve the success rates of your New School Year’s resolution.

A little bit more…

On a personal note, I began using James’ ideas three years ago when trying to stick to my start-of-the-year objectives.  I keep them posted in my work-space and remove them when my goal has become a habit.

What has the Pragmatic TV Teacher changed over the years?

Goal One: Rise early- I now rise from bed between 3:30 and 3:50am: it is amazing what you can do before the rest of the world wakes up.

Goal Two: Exercise- rising early gives me time to get my blood moving.  More importantly, my instruction has improved- there truly is a link between exercise and productivity.

Goal Three: Read- though not as much as I’d like to, I treat literature as a professional responsibility.  My original goal was to read one book a week.  I’m now getting through two/three books a week.  Reading has been the single most important factor in improving as an educator.


What habits do you hope to change this year?  Connect with the Pragmatic TV Teacher and share your ideas.

Thanks for reading.

Photo Credit: William James

2 comments:

  1. Really very interesting and very valuable information about the Change Your Habits nice work.

    ReplyDelete
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