By: LeAnn Nickelsen, M.Ed.
If you’re like me, during winter break, I finally had time to reflect on, think about, and assess how the past year went. After this reflection time, I became hopeful that I would get rid of some bad habits and “get better” than last year. In fact, I committed to not fall prey to those bad choices or decisions again. To truly change bad habits into good ones or to get better from year to year, we need to commit to changing, create a consistent plan of actions, and persist when the going gets tough or when we just get back to our busy life and fall into those same patterns as the year before. I realize that by taking some time to reflect through these stages of improvement, we can be better.
Recently I heard a message from Jeff Henderson (#ForGwinnett) that reinforced what I know to be true. If we want to get better and avoid the same mistakes we’ve made in the past, we have to commit to being consistent with new, healthy habits to accomplish this goal. After all, it’s the small daily things done well that can help us achieve something big! For example, a little bit of exercise several times each week can help us have more energy, improve our memory, and keep our weight at a desired level. We can’t just exercise once and hope all of those benefits come our way for the whole month. Jeff framed the principle well when he said, “Commitment gets you to the starting line; consistency gets you to the finish line.” However, consistency is not enough when hurdles come your way.
When our vision, hope, goal, or desire starts to disintegrate (lack of motivation, stumbling block, health issue, other stressors impeding it, etc.), we have to persist through these challenges. We have some choices when this happens: we can abandon the whole goal, redesign the goal, go to Plan B (more about this later), or persist no matter what. What makes a person persist through challenges? A strong WHY! Why did you want this goal in the first place? How badly do you want to attain this goal and why? What will your life be like if you don’t accomplish the goal? Jeff reminded us that, when we lose the why we could lose the way. The “why” pushes us to persist.
The stages for getting better, commitment, consistency and persistence, require reflection. Reflection is a key ingredient to changing, growing, and getting better. American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey wrote: “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” Researchers Stefano, Gino, Pisano and Statts, (March 2014) found that the effect of reflection on learning is mediated by greater perceived ability to achieve a goal, and this self-efficacy or agency (belief that we can meet our goals) can be the reason we persist when the going gets tough. If you’re going to take the time to create a goal because of a strong commitment, and you consistently persist in the small/large behaviors to change habits, you should take the time to reflect – daily or weekly. It doesn’t have to take a large amount of time – you can reflect while driving, eating breakfast, or cleaning up the classroom at the end of the day. Some of my friends have an accountability partner who they text each day sharing how they are doing with their plan of action. Personally, I write in a journal, 3-4 sentences 3-4 times a week (not every day yet) how I’m doing with my learning and growing toward getting better. Writing is one of the strongest memory tools out there and can help you persist through the tough times that change can bring.
A final insight…
You might have already gone through this process several times. Reflect on what really helped you accomplish your goal and achieve your plan and also determine what you could do better through the valuable process of commitment, consistency and persistence. Reflection is a key ingredient to getting better and needs to happen during the commitment, consistency and persistence stages. “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is the bitterest.” (Confucius)
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