In Your Own Words: Ann Kroeker – Habit

hab·it — noun \ˈha-bət\

: a usual way of behaving : something that a person does often in a regular and repeated way
: a strong need to use a drug, to smoke cigarettes, etc.
: a piece of clothing worn by members of a religious group
__________

“You need a rut to run in.”

When I read that years ago in a book about home education, I bristled. A rut? People get stuck in ruts and never change, never take risks, never explore new possibilities. Ruts feel like tedium. Monotony. Boredom. Ruts seem unimaginative and unattractive. Everything in me yearned to break out of any rut I might run the risk of tumbling into–my random-abstract personality craved variety and spontaneity for myself and my kids.

I wanted us to experience a life of adventure, flexible enough to enjoy exploring the world of science and art and literature in novel ways, so to speak. I had an overall vision and plenty of books to support my ideas, but I didn’t want to feel constrained and I didn’t want the kids to feel that way, either. I wanted my kids to grow up with a sense of curiosity, adventure, and freedom. No ruts for us, no way.

But the longer I home educated, the more I came to realize that a rut–formed by established routines and habits–would simplify life. If we had a rut to run in, we wouldn’t have to reinvent every single day. If we established a routine, the kids could wake up and know what to expect. They could get straight to work on sequential, daily subjects like math, handwriting, or spelling. Well-conceived, a routine could provide a sense of peace, order and regularity–a steadying framework. After too many inefficient, unpredictable mornings, they began to crave a rut to run in. And as much as I resisted–as much as I hated to admit it–so did I.

So, we gave it a try. My kids and I continued with our ordinary habits of morning hygiene, then we added new elements: a time to gather for prayer and devotions, breakfast, poetry reading and memory review. Together, these activities created a morning routine. We made checklists at the beginning of the week so that each child could easily launch his or her work by moving somewhat automatically through the list. No need to inventory all possible options and reinvent each day. We could complete repetitive, foundational tasks the same way, same time, each day. Simple.

What I worried would restrict and restrain actually propelled us toward our goals more efficiently and effectively than anticipated. We made more progress than we ever imagined in an atmosphere of order and peace. And, by reducing effort on inventing and reinventing those straightforward, foundational, daily activities, I ended up with the best of both worlds; by creating a rut to run in, I had more energy to do some of the curious, adventurous outings I always valued. We went to a Renaissance Festival and the art museum; we attended park nature programs and took hikes in the woods. I had the energy to pull those off because I’d simplified so many other things that would have sapped my energy if I’d had to think them through each morning.

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About a month ago, in the season of goal-setting and resolutions, I thought back to those earlier days. Because my new career as a writing coach had already grown faster than anticipated, I was remembering the power of digging that rut and establishing routines and habits, convinced I needed to put as much as possible on autopilot yet again. I began to organize my workspace and workflow, creating order and peace to open up time and mental space that I could dedicate to my clients and their needs.

I set to work figuring out how I could dig another rut to run in. Potential routines started with domestic activities and personal goals–even simple things, like ensuring I keep up with laundry and take time for a daily devotional. I also looked for ways to build habits into my writing coach and editing life. I’ve contained and categorized physical paperwork in file folders and notebooks, and organized electronic files in a methodical way that makes the search easy and habitual. Daily, I record and review two lists–an electronic master list and a daily, handwritten to-do, which helps me stay on top of tasks. I clear my desk at close of day as another new routine. I’m steadily digging a rut to run in, and I feel so much more at peace. In fact, I have tips to pass along to clients who might be wanting to establish habits for their writing life.

I’m establishing habits and routines that will be this year’s rut to run in, and I hope I find it to be as steadying and freeing as I did in those early years of homeschooling. As I establish one set of habits, I can look for more ways to “automate,” and I intend to pass along to my clients all the extra curiosity, energy, and freed-up mental space I gain as a result.

A few people asked me if I picked a word for 2014, and I said no. In response to one friend who asked, I said, “Instead of a one-word theme of the year, I’m just trying to develop the habit of taking a multivitamin every day.”

My friend observed that my word for the year was “riboflavin.”

It sounds ridiculous, but it represents the kind of ordinary habit that can form the routine that will sustain me this year. To that end, I’m happy to report that I’ve taken my multivitamin all but two days in January and every day in February. I’ve been reading (actually listening to) the One-Year Bible read aloud, and a load of laundry is spinning in the washer even as I type. As I settle into these small habits that contribute to order and health, I realized I could take on two new clients this past week.

I’m learning never to underestimate the power of habit. And a daily dose of riboflavin.

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WORD COUNT: 971

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A content editor for The High Calling and Tweetspeak Poetry, Ann Kroeker is a freelance writing coach, editor, and author of Not So Fast: Slow-Down Solutions for Frenzied Families*. She and her husband along with their four kids are committed to living life at a sustainable pace. Connect with Ann at annkroeker.com, on Twitter @annkroeker, or on Facebook.

 


In Your Own Words

An important part of bringing words to life is encouraging other writers with their words. In this regular feature, I invite other writers to write about one word that captures where they are in life at that moment, much like my own #wordoftheweek writing discipline. What is your one word?


Photo by colindunn, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.

*This website uses “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

  • Dolly@Soulstops ,

    Ann,
    Ah…I feel convicted to dig a deeper rut…or maybe a new one…enjoyed reading about your process…Thanks….Good to see you here at Charity’s place 🙂 Nice surprise.

    • Charity Singleton Craig ,

      Dolly – I think it’s true that sometimes our old ruts don’t work anymore, and we need to find a new one. I hope you find yours, my friend. I trust you will. Thanks for stopping by. I know it encouraged Ann to have friendly and familiar faces while she joined me here.

    • Monica Sharman ,

      Ann, I’ll bookmark this. I foresee the need to return to your ideas and example here. 🙂

      I love the rut idea, except if it’s a good rut I call it a “groove.” 🙂 That word is pleasant to me, reminding me of the old vinyl record days. Remember the Twyla Tharp book that someone mentioned in the workshop? The Creative Habit, I think. One chapter in there is called “Grooves and Ruts” (or “Ruts and Grooves”). I never did have time to read it, but now I’m wondering what she said in that chapter!

      • Charity Singleton Craig ,

        Monica – Yes, it would be interesting to see if that author gives a positive spin to grooves and a negative one to ruts. That’s my gut instinct at least. I wonder what the subtle difference is practically. Because I think there is a difference. Maybe it has to do with our will. When we can’t make ourselves break out of a rut that has become harmful to us in some way, that’s clearly negative. When we thrive and success in a rut, maybe that’s a groove? What do you think?

      • Diana Trautwein ,

        I need more of this in my own life, I think. And I’m lousy at it. Maybe i’m more like L.L. – possessed of moveable ruts! I also find it slightly ironic that you ‘coached’ me to re-dedicate myself to my own blog this year, doing new things in new ways. . . yet you haven’t done that yet yourself. I look forward to more regular blog-writing from you! But then, your plate is terribly full, isn’t it?? Well done, Ann. As usual, you inspire me to be better.

        • Ann Kroeker ,

          Diane, so lovely to see you here. Yes, we’re all a work in progress, eh?

          I’ve been thinking about what you’ve said here and what L.L. said, and I would add upon further reflection that as life evolves, another path must be worn or a rut, dug. That is, the ruts that worked when my kids were little worked when they were little. They are older now–one is in college, two in high school–so the routines look different.

          Similarly, my personal patterns and schedule look different as I’ve launched this new career. So I have to re-evaluate and reinvent. I guess that’s why New Year’s Resolutions get revisited each year. Things evolve even in a 12-month span of time, and we tweak.

          I am making changes to my website–some are design changes, some are content changes. Soon, I’ll have my plan in place to write. And my schedule. My rut.

          And it means a lot to know that you’ll be there to join me, reading the words I write. Thank you for always being there, Diana.

          • Charity Singleton Craig ,

            Diana – I am so encouraged by how faithfully you come here and comment and read and encourage. Thanks for helping Ann feel at home.

            I was intrigued that Ann had coached you to rededicate to your blog – I’ve seen so many wonderful things happening there recently.

            As always, thanks for adding your good words, here.

          • Janis@Heart-Filled Moments ,

            Hi Ann~Missing your regular posts but so glad to find you here. We do need productive ruts to run in. I have always been one that delighted in spontaneity but that continuous indulgence results in mushy brain, drained energy, and a lack of accomplishing necessary tasks. Since both hubby and I have retired, I’ve found that our lack of a routine is slowing smothering me under the flab of spontaneity and over indulgence in projects that fly my way.
            So, we are headed for a rut–and I for one am happy. Routine, schedule, and a smattering of spontaneity will feel so good.
            Great post, Ann. And, so good to see you!
            Blessings,
            Janis

            • Ann Kroeker ,

              Janis, I hope you find a routine that can form a base that saves energy and gives you some free time to embrace the spontaneous. Sounds like part of you is craving it. I’m glad to see you here! I do hope to dig another trench for writing on my blog–a regular schedule. That’s another routine to establish…but first, vitamins. 🙂

              • Charity Singleton Craig ,

                Janis – I loved this phrasing: I’ve found that our lack of a routine is slowing smothering me under the flab of spontaneity and over indulgence in projects that fly my way. I live too much of my life that way, too. Ann’s post has really gotten me thinking about my habits – or the lack thereof – and what that is doing to my life and creativity.

            • Dea ,

              This resonates with something that I have been convicted about as I am transitioning into the next part of my life. I think this may be key to living well, intentional, and true to myself.

              Hey, and congrats on getting the vitamin rut started. I am not kidding. I have finally got that rut down along with krill oil.

              • Ann Kroeker ,

                Dea, I’m so glad you feel this connects with you and maybe even gives you some ideas for whatever is next. I wish we could all stay in touch and report the degree to which this helped or the ways it helped (or didn’t). I’d love to hear more what you’re thinking.

                And the vitamin, yes, I have a lot of dietary restrictions, so I want to be sure I get what I need to stay healthy. Thanks for the congrats!

                • Charity Singleton Craig ,

                  Dea – I think you are onto something as you mentioned “transitioning into the next part of my life.” I think transitions create a need for new habits. But it can also be an excuse to avoid creating habits – as in my case. I have been convicted about this, too. Ann’s post came at just the right time.

                • L.L. Barkat ,

                  I just never seem to do it. I have… um… moveable ruts 🙂

                  It works for me.

                  (I wish I could explain this better. It’s a sense of what needs to be done and then an internal sense to do it. Time of day changes. Days of the week change. I move with what feels deeply doable at any given moment. But, yes, I work from a weekly list, so I know where I’m aiming with my moveable ruts 😉 )

                  Enjoyed this, Ann.

                  • Ann Kroeker ,

                    That makes sense. I think. 😉

                    I do find that a routine will often only work until we experience some change and then a new rut must be worn down. For example, we got a little dog a couple of months ago who had different needs than our big old dog, so some of that “automated” dog care stuff had to evolve and re-form. But the new system is working fairly well. I guess you can teach old dog owners new tricks.

                    As for getting things done…a lot about my freelance writing/editing/writing coach life is fluid. Not everything can be “automated.” So, I create a kind of pattern for getting things done I don’t want to keep thinking about so I can write articles and edit and with with clients.

                    Thanks for reading and joining the discussion.

                    • Charity Singleton Craig ,

                      Laura – I think I work a little in moveable ruts, too. Or maybe my ruts are just a little wider, and I’m the moveable part. In some areas of my life, I need to find narrower ruts. In others, ruts that are too narrow feel like defeat.

                      I’m going to be watching for your ruts – maybe I can learn from them.

                    • Laura Brown ,

                      THAT’S why I’m restless. Because I’m rutless. Much to ponder here.

                      • Ann Kroeker ,

                        I hope you find the right rhythm, the right pieces of life to automate, Laura, so you can tap into your creativity full force.

                        • Charity Singleton Craig ,

                          Laura – Rutless and restless. I think they are connected in my life, too. I’ll be thinking about you as I look for my own ruts.