A continuation on my last post is to address formation of habits. My students who did their homework immediately after school performed better in my class than those who didn’t. However, there are students that procrastinate and still get good grades. That is the category I fall into myself. Procrastination is my most damaging habit in life.
When I was in 5th grade, I started the “homework during recess club”. It consisted mostly of myself and a few other procrastinating friends. Instead of doing our homework the day we received it, we would wait until the day it was due. We would sit along the wall of the school and complete our assignments quickly right before the class it was due. What a terrible habit to form at such a young age!
All through school and life I have struggled to begin projects before they are due. I would always justify this by saying that it takes less time. If I start writing a paper a week before it’s due, I’m going to spend a week thinking about it, writing and revising. If instead, I wait until the night before it’s due, I know exactly how long it will take me to write because I only have a certain number of hours left. Logically, it made sense to put every project off until the last minute in order to have the most efficient use of my time. Of course, I didn’t calculate in stress and risk because those are difficult to quantify.
In high school, I still managed to be near the top of my class despite my terrible habits. In college however, things got harder and I struggled to adapt and form new habits. For the last 3 years, I have read and listened to many great teachers about character development, habit forming, and living with excellence. I have tried time and time again to break my bad habits and form new habits. For the most part, I continue to fail. My weekends are often unproductive and I am flying by the seat of my pants to teach my students.
I shared this information with parents and students at conferences in order to urge them to make better choices than me. If I could go back in time and change one thing about myself, I am pretty certain it would be this. Procrastination has destroyed my life.
Success in life is not determined by GPA or academic performance. Instead, it is determined by character. There are so many people in this world that did worse than me in school but have accomplished so much more than me. They may have struggled to get good grades in school, but they were forced to work harder than me to do as well as they did. This hard work continued through their life, and they soon passed me up in abilities because of their character and habits. I think of this as velocity vs acceleration. I had a high velocity in life but small acceleration. Others that worked harder began with a very small velocity but large acceleration. At some point, they passed me up and left me in the dust. Now, I have built up so much momentum in the wrong direction that it takes immense work to change habits. Habits must be formed as early as possible to avoid having to work harder in life to accomplish what you want.
What is the best way to convince students of this truth? How do we get students to form good habits? I sense that most of my students have gotten their good work habits from their parents pushing them to do things right. What do we do to help the students that don’t have that influence?