As I embark on a new role as educational consultant, I am actively looking for useful suggestions to enhance my skills and also to share with other educators and parents. Many blog/LinkedIn/Facebook posts succinctly encapsulate their messages into lists of actions or tips one should follow to be a better manager, parent, communicator, etc. I’ve written posts such as these myself! I enjoy reading these lists of action steps, and often find the ideas helpful. Because I want to be the best that I possibly can be, it is tempting to try to reach all of the lofty goals at once- but I’ve learned over time that this never works.
I was lucky enough to work with an incredible Educational Director at Seneca Academy who is practical, detail-oriented, and deeply understands the work of educators. Invariably, in August, when I would excitedly explain to her the list of initiatives and themes I had come up with for the year, she would have to patiently reel me in by reminding me that teachers (and administrators) can only work on one or two new things at a time. She helped us all become successful at several initiatives and skills over the years because we didn’t try to do too much at once.
There is a lot of speculation on how long it takes to change behavior or create a habit, but there is not a lot of actual research to support any specific time period. The most current and oft-cited study, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, suggests it takes an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become “automated,” depending on the habit you want to create (Lally et al. 2009). That means you need to really focus on a behavior for 2 months before it becomes a part of your regular routine. While it is certainly possible that you could try to achieve more than one behavior change at a time, this seems quite difficult- especially if you are trying to maintain all of your other positive habits!
So what do you actually have to do if you want to use those 10 management tips or incorporate those 7 habits of effective communicators- as promoted on social media? Start with one thing and work on it for at least two months. If you really want to change your behavior, it is going to take time and effort. Taking on too much at once is a recipe for failure. Then follow the SMART goals practice of articulating your specific goal, in measurable language, that is achievable and relevant, and identify how long you will work on it. Start small: pick a “habit” that will be easily achievable but that will also have meaningful results. It can be anything from saying “thank you” more, to spending 30 minutes each day engaged in relevant reading, to writing daily intentions each morning. Pick whatever you need to do to move your behavior in the direction you want.
Knowledgeable writers have offered many other suggestions to consider when trying to change behavior such as writing down your goal, telling others of your goal, charting your progress, etc. For example: 29 Ways to Successfully Ingrain a Behavior, 5 Secrets To Behavior Change and 5 Scientific Ways to Build Habits That Stick. But key to all of these strategies is starting with just one goal and then committing to work on it for a significant amount of time.
I’ll keep reading the lists and tips on social media. But I know that if I actually want to benefit from them, I can’t take them all on at once. And then I’ve got some work to do.