How Do I Get Certain Habits to Stick?

As a full-time education consultant, Allison Zmuda works with educators to grow ideas on how to make learning for students challenging, possible and worthy of the attempt. Over the past 19 years, Zmuda has shared curricular, assessment, and instructional ideas, shown illustrative examples, and offered practical strategies of how to get started.

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how do I get habits to stickBy: Allison Zmuda

I started this website three years ago, dreaming that I could create a community that shares ideas around making schooling more interesting, fascinating, and powerful for kids and educators.

I have seen my motivation wane as I have experienced the challenges of finding new content, blogging on a regular basis, seeking out others to join in the conversation. Working on the website became on my permanent “to-do list” that created a ton of anxiety, but little action.

Here’s what I have come to realize about me and habits: I start full guns blazing, determined that this time it will stick. And I’m good for the first few days or the first few weeks. When the novelty starts to wear off, when I start realizing that this is a regular commitment rather than a once-in-awhile moment I start feeling the drudgery of it.

My heartfelt attempts are replaced with mechanical follow through. I stall. I cut corners. I put myself in a position where a half-hearted attempt is still okay. The expectations I have shift down a little lower, which requires a little less of my full attention, determination, and emotion.

But once in awhile a new habit sticks. Some days are better than others, but I show up, I stick with it even if … even when …  So I wanted to make sense of why certain habits stick.

  1. I had to check my motivation and remind myself why I was doing this. I believe in children tapping into their true potential to be active participants in their own learning — cutting corners can’t be an option if I’m going to persevere in achieving my goals.
  2. I recognized that, if have time and energy to worry about it, I have time and energy to get it done. Sometimes I worry about how much time it takes to design a personalized project idea, draft a blog post, dig into new legislation which makes me feel a bit paralyzed. But not taking any action is more draining than just starting. It doesn’t have to be flawless or perfect or intense every time to keep it moving forward.
  3. I realized I struggle because my inner critic rears its head when I finally sit down to do something. That critic suggests that what I am drafting is foolish, clumsy, or stupid. Especially when I am trying to generate something from scratch, like the 12 Elements for Personalized Learning. This one page took over six months to refine and it continues to evolve. Silencing that inner critic is imperative to sticking with what I’m doing.
  4. As I started (or restarted) this new habit, I had to learn to be compassionate with myself. It is okay not to feel well, to be exhausted, to need comfort. I am on the road working with schools who are committed to designing curriculum and instruction where students make sense of complex and meaningful problems. But it is tough at the end of the day to find the energy to capture what happened while it is still fresh in my memory.
  5. I recognized that, when I am doing the same habit in the same way for a few weeks or months, it starts to feel mechanical and uninspiring. Had a great opportunity to sit down with Don Marinelli, co-founder with Dr. Randy Pausch of the Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center, who described to me the power of the reset button. I need to look at what has happened and figure out what to do next rather than pretending that I am just starting out. I want this site to be a community space not a one-way delivery system.

I am choosing to shake off the guilt of not keeping up with this in the past, to put my inner critic in a box, and to reach out to old and new friends to make this site vibrant and alive. But I need you to do it.

What does learning feel and look like to you? What are some topics you are interested in around personalized learning? What are the worries or the “Yes, buts” in your head. Let’s start getting more connected.

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