Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I Thought of It So Now I Have to Do It . . .

A few days ago, I asked on this blog how big a commitment to discipline needs to be in order to yield significant improvement. I've been guilty more than once of trying different systems and methods in an attempt to introduce a smidge of discipline into my life . . . Only to fail miserably at actually changing anything long term.  

The Power of One Minute

Thus was born a system of my very own - the ITOISNIHTDI technique. (Oh, yeah, I was coming up with crazy, unpronounceable acronyms LONG before "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" thought of it.) This mouthful stands for a pretty simple idea: I thought of it, so now I have to do it.

Sounds pretty revolutionary, right? (insert gentle sarcasm) I mean, nobody ever thought of something like that before! Frankly, if it were just as simple as that, I'd be able to get mountains of work done every day of my life without fail. And some people really DO have that ability down pat - they may not do everything as soon as they think of it, but they don't put off a lot of things that they could just as well go ahead and do.

What I was really trying to get at, though, was WHY some of us (like me) don't always do things that need doing when we think of them.  Procrastinating on the daily things that pop into my head is a habit that I'd finally recognized in myself, and, based on what I've heard, is also a problem for a lot of other people.

"I need to clean the toilet when I get a chance."
"I need to tidy the living room, sometime today."
"Somebody should really change that light bulb."

With the swiss cheese I now have for a brain, unless I get things done right away or at least write them down, I'm going to forget all about it until the next time I trip over a book, or try to turn on the light.

Bearing that in mind, I tried to recognize obstacles to discipline.  Removing those obstacles would create a smooth path to actually completing the things I wanted to do without having to trip over the book 5 times first.

So why don't we do the things we should be doing to keep our lives running smoothly? My own favorite excuses include, "It's too hard, I'm too tired, I don't have time, if I do one thing, I'll have to do these 200 other things, too/first", and so on.

To demolish these excuses would be no small feat. . .

Or, wait a minute, maybe a small feat was exactly what was needed!

 In fact only the very smallest chores would be a part of this "system". Only chores that took one minute or less need apply! Surely I couldn't tell myself it was too hard to do something for one minute! I quickly compiled a manageable list of four or five items that took less than a minute each to execute, and prepared to put ITOISNIHTDI into practice.

I have to admit, after all those ambitious projects had all failed, I initially found it hard to get very excited about making smaller changes. Because, really, if a big change doesn't make much difference, how much difference can a small change possibly make?!

Well - out of boredom, or, possibly, desperation to prove that I could in fact discipline myself for at the very least ONE minute of my life, I decided to go ahead and make this smallest practical change that I could.

After all, if I really couldn't take control of myself for one stinkin' minute, then a disorganized home life was going to be the least of my worries!

But, I soon realized that if I really wanted to get rid of the whole litany of excuses, I needed one more simple rule. That's because, as soon as my brain heard "one minute", Worry started up - "What if I think of 50 one minute chores, one right after the other? You're not going to trick me into working for an hour that easily!"

That was when I made the rule that I didn't have to make myself do more than 3 one-minute-chores (OMC's to the initiated) in a row. I could do a few more if I wanted to, but if I did three of them, I didn't have to worry or feel pressured to do more of them for at least TWO HOURS. I mean, I was really setting a pretty low bar, here.

Other than that, though, as soon as one of my selected chores popped into my head, I required myself to do it right then.  Even if I was on my way out the door, or needed to do something else more "important".  These few simple chores were sacrosanct, my own personal dare to myself.  A dare so easy, that I couldn't help but honor it.

The Results?

I was pretty surprised at how much difference even a small (practically miniscule!) amount of discipline helps, especially if, like me, you haven't ever considered yourself to be particularly well-disciplined. If I was tempted to skip something, or to put it off for later, I would ask myself if I really couldn't spare ONE minute to do something and have it out of the way.  That self-reminder generally shamed me into action, which, of course, was the point!

Since then, I am happy and encouraged to say that I have very successfully adopted these little habits into my routines, and they have made a huge difference in my entire process of keeping house. While I required myself to complete the chores whenever I thought of them, in practice, I eventually settled into a routine where I thought of them at the same times every day, often when getting ready in the morning. Eventually, many of them became automatic, which meant i did them without even thinking about it, often while thinking of other things. It was like I developed muscle memory for these chores, a new reflex, something that requires very little conscious discipline to keep up.  Which is kind of awesome, when you think about it! Habits are powerful.

When you see my list of simple chores, you won't think that they could possibly make much difference.  I was amazed, however at how much easier it was to lock into the whole mindset of bringing order to my home once I committed to those chores. They are (cue drumroll, please):
  • Make my bed.
  • Swish my toilet
  • Wipe off my bathroom countertops.
  • Take the trash bag out of the kitchen can as soon as it gets full. (No more Mt. Trashmore!)
  • Unload the dishwasher. (This one sometimes takes as much as two minutes - I added it as a "challenge" after a couple of months of doing the other OMC's)

That's it. 


 Now, I don't want you to get the wrong idea - I am still by no means a model housekeeper, and with all the health problems and family crises we've been dealing with over the past couple of years, more times than not our house is an absolute wreck. The whole house is almost never entirely clean at once.  And, my husband pitches in with laundry and dishes since I've gotten sick, which helps immensely.  

But, I still stick with my commitment to do those same quick, easy chores, regardless of how silly they may seem, regardless of how many other, potentially more "important", tasks there may be, and somehow I almost always feel like I am no more than an hour or so away from being able to tidy things into some semblance of order again. No matter what else is going on, I feel like I am still doing things to maintain our home, to keep it from getting completely out of hand.  My OMC's provide a foundation on which to build, when I'm ready and able to do more.

Very often, one thing leads to another, and I'll find myself doing many other tasks, and gladly too, because of how nice it feels to make the house a bit more orderly, and because I've learned how much I really can get done in a minute or two.  I still haven't gotten our house exactly the way I want it, but at least I can say that I have made actual progress since I started. Somehow, in just minutes a day, I have changed.

Which sounds silly, but honestly, it is more than I can say for any of the more ambitious systems!

I've resisted adding other disciplinary commitments since then, though, wanting to give those first ones the chance to become firmly embedded as habit, especially in the face of all the health turmoil I've experienced in the past few years.  Yesterday I realized that I first came up with this strategy about three years ago!  Do you suppose that counts as a sufficiently ingrained habit, by now?!

Now that I am ready to consider adding more "official" OMC's, I wonder what I should commit to next?

What little things do you do that make things run smoothly and "feel" right?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Discipline ~ A Loaded Word

What do you think of when you hear or see the word "discipline"?

Talk about a word with a variety of connotations and accompanying emotions! Some people cringe when they hear the word - it means someone did something bad and is having to face the consequences! That's what I used to think of right off, whenever I heard the word.

There is, of course, more to the term than that. Discipline can also evoke images of a graceful and controlled martial artist, honing his technique through years of discipline, of devotion to doing what it takes to do a task well.

Think of how this second type of discipline could benefit a person, or a family. Could a firm commitment to doing what it takes to do something well help you? Make you feel good about yourself? Help you get things done? Maybe even lead to other good things?

If you could add more discipline to your life right now, where would you want it? Also, how big of a commitment to discipline do you think is needed in order to see a significant change?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

It could be worse . . . And maybe it should be?

No doubt you've noticed that different people can have strikingly different feelings about the same kind of learning experience. I'm sure many of the differences are due to personality and learning style characteristics. These are the factors that are usually pointed out. I think these factors miss something big, however.

As a homeschooler, I can't tell you how many times I've heard parents rave about how their kids finally came to love learning when they left school, while at the very same time I've also heard heaps of other homeschoolers bemoaning their children's lack of enthusiasm toward learning and wondering where they went wrong. Curriculum reviewers talk about how their children are finally loving math, while others lament their children's boredom or frustration with the very same curriculum.

These differences probably go beyond just what could be explained by personality, learning style, or educational merit. When you think about it, doesn't prior experience have as much to do with success as anything else? So much depends on the setup, the context, into which a learning experience is introduced.

A simple example: A student who has struggled through a math program with 50 practice problems a day might think a program with only 25 problems is like a vacation. What about a student who has always just done 25 problems, though? Or a student who is accustomed to doing 15?

I'm guessing they won't be impressed, to put it mildly.

Similarly, a student accustomed to a traditional, regimented, classroom learning environment may revel in the comparative freedom that even a rigorous homeschooling approach allows. A lifelong homeschooled kid may chafe at the very same program.

So the question that my mischievous little brain wants to ask is, is it ever a good idea to purposely choose a program or approach that we know might be unsuccessful, or at least not enjoyable, just to give our children a different frame of reference?

Most of the parents I know (myself included) tend to obsess over finding and using approaches that our children will like, as much as possible. When our children don't do well with the approach, we blame the method, thinking it is a bad fit for our child, and that we need to find something else.

An overwhelmingly common concern among parents is that they not crush their children's love of learning. In the face of this nurturing, and in the right context, many children flourish. But others become coddled, resistant to most effort and blind to the rewards of discipline.

This flies in the face of what most of us would call good educational technique - But maybe what we really need in some of these cases is an opportunity for a change in perspective.

(I guess that's a fancy, positive way to say "attitude adjustment".)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Picasso and the second mouse - "Quartz Quotes" of the week

One of my weird peculiarities is that I love to collect quotes and sayings. They can be fun and inspirational and sometimes just clever. This week, I have a couple of quotes for your consideration.

I love this first one.  When I read it, I realized that  it pretty much sums our entire homeschooling motto up in 17 words.
"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up."
~Pablo Picasso
Spanish Cubist painter (1881 - 1973)

Living life is an art form in itself, so I do agree it is a problem when grown-ups lose so much of that child-like creativity in their approach to daily existence. Drawing and painting are important and meaningful, but Art goes much further than that. I think any time we exercise our creative muscles is time well spent.

Certainly, it's a great reminder for us to give our kids lots of examples and opportunities to make and do beautiful and creative things.  And it reminds us to approach every undertaking with an eye to making that task a little work of art.

The second quote is an insightful little tweak on a completely unrelated common saying. A pretty valid point, if you think about it!
"The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese."  ~Author Unknown

Just goes to show, some of these traditional words of wisdom are not as cut and dried as they seem!

Image: "Child with a Dove" by Pablo Picasso

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Opportunities abound in this blink of an eye that we call the modern world. The sky is the limit, the world is our oyster. We can learn about anything, keep up with everything, be whatever we want to be.

In these exciting times I am constantly inspired to great and worthwhile pursuits. Opportunities that were once available to only a lucky few can now be done by anyone who will. Write a book, start a movement, teach others, share what you've learned, connect with people around the world, make art, design anything.

Possibilities are enchanting; potential enthralls.

If you think about it, however, you can predict the downside to all this bounty:

Somehow, someday, when I'm ready to actually bring even one of those possibilities into reality ...

I will probably have to focus,
to look all that limitless potential
right in the eye
and start slamming doors, pruning ruthlessly, eyes closed, fingers in ears, la-la-la-la, choosing over and over to ignore, pass by, forego.

Opportunities that were golden just moments ago, before the decision to Actually Do Something, are now nothing more than shiny traps and siren songs luring the unwary into the Bog of Distraction.

In case you haven't figured out, it's a problem for me. Just sayin'