“Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.” ~Mahatma Gandhi
Research varies regarding how long it takes to form a habit. Some researchers say that habit-making takes between 21 and 28 days of repetition. Others say the result of habit happens with more than 60 days of focus. Habit formation and the ease of developing a habit depend on several factors. What type of habit are you trying to form? How single-minded are you in developing the habit? How important is the action you are trying to make into a habit? How mindful are you on a daily basis toward creation of the habit? A habit is created when the act of doing what you want to change becomes automatic. For automaticity to occur, mindful actions need to occur. Whether the habit is writing daily, exercising, or choosing to not bite ones nails, the process of developing a habit develops many benefits beyond the actual action that is repeated toward automaticity.
The Writing Challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers, allows teachers and writers to participate in a community building, fun activity while developing a habit of writing. My experience of participating in the challenge was one where I felt an easy flow of ideas and automaticity in writing as I bumped up against deadlines, managed busyness with a limited time of writing, and chose to write regardless of the excuses that might have come to me about why I might stop or skip a day. My determination, along with much positive feedback as support along the way (another huge contributor to habit development) allowed me to create writing muscle and resilience to spur my writing forward. I developed writing times, responding times and a rhythm that allowed me to best produce and articulate my message. My creativity developed along with my confidence as I worked on developing a habit of writing during the challenge. Since the challenge has ended, I decided to increase the number of weekly times that I post. I risked a poetry challenge that I would not have done before the challenge. And I get up 45 minutes earlier than in the past to write on a daily (although not posted) basis. Many benefits emerged from choosing a writing habit.
The benefits of practice and habit are numerous. Below are three important by-products of habit development:
Practice makes perfect. The more we practice a skill, the better we get at it. 100 Days is a link that shows one person’s journey in developing a habit of dance. Through a time-lapsed video we see her improvement in the skill of dance as she takes on a habit of dance. Give it 100 invites anyone who wants to form a habit in 100 days to become a part of her 100 day habit challenge.
Positive character traits are developed and nurtured through the habit-forming process. Persistence, resilience and determination are by-products that result from a person giving focus to development of a habit to the level of automaticity. Self-awareness and self-confidence grow as a habit is established and failure as well as success is conquered.
Developing a habit can also give cognitive space for more complex tasks. In our classrooms, with the establishment of routines in writers’ workshop we are allowing for students to take on the complex task of writing without butting up against thinking about procedures. The structure of Writers’ Workshop is one of predictability. From the first days of school, students learn the habits of workshop to allow for a greater benefit which comes from knowing and automatically practicing the regular routines of the workshop day. With predictability, a student can dig deeper with thoughts and craft in the development of the writing piece. Habits within the community happen and deeper creativity and craft can be advanced.
Developing a habit is a process. Whether habit formation takes 21 days or 100 days, it starts with a value and a thought. It grows with a repetition of actions. Habits are developed and values are strengthened. As teachers we help shape habits for our young people. As people, we define our future as we develop habits that promote the life we want to create.