Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Habit Training and Rewards

Charlotte Mason talks a lot about “habit training” of young children. She seems to advocate training into “habits” all sorts of behavior - from controlling a bad tember to closing the front door when going out to play. A new and desirable behavior is only difficult at first, she says. Once it becomes habit, it still requires effort, but is remarkably easier. She recommends to all parents to teach their children several desirable habits - from a sweet temper to a tidy room - slowly, but deliberately, and to stave off bad habits by replacing them with good ones.
Good habits, Bad habits
The more I think on this, the more sense it makes to me. We are, indeed, creatures of habit. But how do we, as adults, train our own habits? We can remind ourselves continuously, re-convincing ourself to follow the new “rule” at each moment, and that works sometimes. Just look at how many people have great success with the flylady program. For me, though, I generally need something more concrete (probably because I can’t convince myself to read as many emails as the Flylady sends in a day!).
Something that has worked for me in the past is to pay myself. When I started using cloth diapers, all I could see was what a pain it was. I didn’t like washing them out, I didn’t like pinning them (I use the old-fashioned type), I didn’t like the smell… It was really difficult to use them. “This saves us lots of money” didn’t really cut it. Finally, I sat down and figured how much money it really was saving. At the time, each disposable diaper cost us about 18 cents. So I figured that I saved 15 cents for each cloth I used.
I started a piggy bank, and deposited a dime in it each time I changed a diaper. At the time, we were pretty strapped for cash, and a dime felt like a reasonable reward - plus I still saved money over the cost of a plastic diaper. I earned nearly a dollar a day this way, and when I had reached $18 or so in the piggy bank, I rewarded myself with bought a length of fabric that I’d fallen in love with and figured I could never afford. I still love the fabric, and I still use cloth diapers now five years later.
Next, I tried it with hanging up laundry to dry rather than use the dryer. It saves us 50 cents when I do this, so I paid myself a quarter for each load. That turned into my garage sale cash, and bought, well, more things than it should have!
After a habit is established, I quit paying myself to do it. When I falter, I remind myself of the things I still like about it: the smell of nature-dryed laundery, the peaceful quiet of hanging it out in the yard, the opportunity to lock myself in the bathroom alone for a few minutes to wash out a diaper…
That’s been a few years ago now, and I’m thinking that it’s time to start paying myself to develop new habits again. Back then, it was money management habits. Now I need time management habits: getting up on time, starting the day with a walk or at least stretching, going to bed at a reasonable hour, maybe washing the dishes a better way…. I think I’ll pick one and pay myself a quarter. When I have enough added up, I’ll get a new haircut!
What new habits are you working on? How do you reward yourself?


  1. from Amanda:

    I love this post. What a great idea. I should have done that when I started cloth diapers 2 years ago! I found you through keeper of the Home, Simply Saturdays post, which I hope to join this week. I am trying to start cooking a new healthy recipe a week… not sure how to reward myself for it, but if I did, I think it would help motivate me to do more than 1 a week. :) I ‘ll think on that.
    Thanks. Amanda

  2. from AmyH:

    Charlotte Mason seems pretty cool…I still need to read more about her method though. Any book/website recommendations? I’ve browsed Ambleside Online.

    I like the idea of payment/reward to develop new habits. I’ve used it with the kids (M&Ms for potty training), but never thought to use it for myself!

    The habit I’m working on now is getting up early and exercising. I’m thinking a new clothing item would be an appropriate reward (since if I actually do all that exercising, chances are the clothes will look nicer on me!)

  3. from liketrees:

    Amy, since both yours and my kids are preschoolers, the resource I’ve found most helpful is the AO year 0 list http://groups.yahoo.com/group/AmbleSide_Year0/

    It’s focused especially on children 6 and under, and what Charlotte Mason recommended at that age, and how to implement those suggestions.

    I also have several books on CM philosophies and their implementations, including Charlotte Mason’s books. But, honestly, I haven’t read them. I’ve just read the list for almost a year now, and it’s really helpful. Maybe I’ll actually get around to reading them and review them here :)

    I want to get up early to exercise too. I wish you well in it.

  4. from Jessica:

    Great post!! I am doing this too - I have started running every day and once a week I treat myself to something nice to eat out once I hit 4 days in a row - this week it was a Gyro. :)