Our current culture is buzzing with information all about habits- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Better than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits, The Miracle Morning, and Desiring the Kingdom are just a few. Browse any self-help book section (Christian or secular) and you will find an enormous amount of information on habit building and habit maintaining. Habits matter!
Habits are both conscious and subconscious. Take a moment and think of some conscious and subconscious habits you do on a daily basis. Subconsciously, what do you do the moment you walk in your front door? Where do you put your keys? Your shoes? When you wake up in the morning, what do you automatically move towards or start doing? Consciously, do you have dinner with your family most nights? Do you read aloud? Do you take time to go for a walk as a family or do another activity together?
"If I consider my life honestly, I see that it is governed by a certain very small number of patterns and events which I take part in overt and over again... when I see how very few of them there are, I begin to understand what huge effect these few patterns have on my life, on my capacity to live. If these few patterns are good for me, I can live well. If they are bad for me, I can't." (Christopher Alexander, The Timeless Way of Building)
Scientific studies continue to confirm that neural pathways are created, strengthened, or lost depending on our daily habits. The more we do something (or don't do something) the more automatic it becomes, the easier it becomes, the quicker and faster we are able to travel down certain pathways.
We accept this forming and building when it comes to physical activities such as training for a sport, learning complicated music, playing an instrument, competing in a triathlon. We fully accept that this takes time, effort, and consistent training. We don't begin the first cross country practice with the hardest, most difficult workout. We build up our stamina, we remain consistent, and we don't give up if we don't see results by leaps and bounds after week one. Just as the tortoise in the Tortoise and the Hare states, "slow and steady wins the race."
So while we are accepting of this in the physical realm, we often neglect it in the mental realm. We expect that training these other parts of ourselves (growing spiritually, emotionally, academically and as a person) should come easily, or at best, with one hard attempt.
Parenting, academics, family life, spiritual life, and more... it all has a very long arch. It's so easy as parents and teachers to get caught up in the here and now. We see all the good things, the best things, and we panic to try and include them. We set ourselves up for failure because we find ALL the things we want to do and be, the things we want our families to do and be, the things we want our students to learn and apply. We get all trapped and often end up doing nothing when we try to make everything the best.
Stormy Goodwin suggest these four principles for parents:
1. When considering how to structure your days, keep this in mind: habits built now can affect what your child loves for a lifetime. Work things like reading stories, family worship and prayer, dinner together, and listening to good music into your daily life. Make your own list depending on what is important to you. If you don't have time, then cut other activities. You are sending a clear message to your kids through both what you plan and what you allow.
2. When considering standards of behavior, remove the tendency to be purely practical. What you allow your kids to wear to a funeral matters. How you train them to greet people matters. And what you do for Sabbath rest matters.
3. When encountering habitual sinful thought in yourself and your children, address them intentionally. First, find replacement thoughts centered on truth, gratitude, and faith to insert immediately. Then, intentionally do so, and reminder your kids to do the same. Over time, wrong habits will become fulfilling thoughts. This can be life-changing.
4. And finally, get into the habit of continually repeating the true, good, and beautiful.
At the Academy, we are ordering habits and nurturing affections. We structure our campus days for students to always be exposed to the best pieces of art, music, and stories, and we hold a high caliber of expectations. We being our days centering ourselves on Jesus through our Scripture memory, catechism, and worship. We teach our students that people matter more than anything- we teach them to properly greet others, to include others, to stand up for each other, and to show up for those around them. We are continually repeating the true, the good, and the beautiful.