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.
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.
WORD COUNT: 971
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.
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