Shame, shame, double shame

I’ve been thinking a lot about motivation lately; both for myself with trying to get more exercise and for my students. We’re doing a unit in heath on healthy habits and I’ve been trying to use what I’ve learned about habit forming for myself to help them to change small habits to build up their healthy choices. For the most part, I have a group of students who are relatively active and eat pretty well with a few exceptions. It’s hard to know how to motivate those few who just don’t want to be active other than, well, what I’m doing already I guess, sharing positive stories, encouraging and celebrating their successes.

What I want to stay away from at all costs is shame. There’s too much around body image and so called “motivation” that is shame based. Sometimes it feels like if there’s anything “wrong” with our health, then it is our fault because we’re too lazy to exercise to fix the thing that’s wrong. Not getting enough sleep? Exercise more. Feeling depressed? Get more exercise. Gaining weight? Get off your couch and move!

It’s this whole weird complicated mess of emotions when it comes to body image and fitness and health. It’s hard to get motivated to start and hard to help others get motivated to exercise more while skirting things like shame. “It’s my fault that I feel like this”. Putting a positive spin helps, thinking about making positive choices and making it more about responsibility to yourself and your health rather than blame, but it’s a hard and mucky emotional bog.

One reason I’ve been thinking about this a lot the last few days is I’ve had some success with getting more exercise this past month and I noticed an interesting benefit that brought back an old memory. This month, I noticed that my cramps and my period were much milder than usual. Normally they’re extremely painful and unimaginably heavy (approximately 4 times heavier than an average woman’s period) and this month has been surprisingly easy. No pain killers needed. But it’s not like I’ve never been this active before and one month doesn’t actually prove anything. It does however, make me think of a time that a teacher used shame to try to “motivate” me to be more active and how much that backfired.

When I was 16 and in grade 11 I took this course called PAL – Physically Active Lifestyles. At that time I was walking to and from school, about half an hour each way, dancing 4 times a week plus practicing at home, and was active generally, biking, ice skating, swimming, lots of walking, not sports or anything but dance was pretty intense so I was very fit. One day I started having cramps at school so badly that I could barely walk but I wasn’t one for missing school. In PAL that day we were going to play tennis but I told the teacher my stomach hurt and I didn’t feel well enough to play. I sat out and watched the class play.

At the end of the class, one of my classmates came up to me and asked why I hadn’t participated that day. The teacher overheard and in a loud voice said that “Jeannie is not physically active enough to help alleviate her menstrual cramps.” I wanted to fall into a hole and disappear. Why would a teacher do something like that? There was so much wrong with that whole statement. It’s amazing how something like that can stick with me for almost 20 years that even now I feel ashamed just thinking about it and it’s not an easy story to share. And 16 year old me was a lot more easily embarrassed than 34 year old me. 34 year old me would have stood up for myself.

Teachers are people, and people make mistakes. I wonder if that teacher knew that I didn’t take her class seriously and thought that somehow this would motivate me to change that. I didn’t respect her much as a teacher, and after that, well, my respect for her went way down. After all, not only was her statement incredibly inappropriate and rude, it was also false. I was physically active. I wish I was half as strong and in shape as I was back then. Did that motivate me or any of my classmates to be more active? I doubt it. It certainly didn’t motivate me.

So when I’m doing a fun, on your feet moving kind of video or exercise, I try to encourage them all to try rather than telling specific kids to get up and move. I hope none of them ever feel ashamed of how they look or if they’re out of shape because I know that shame is not a good motivator.

Habits and goals

2012 is here. It doesn’t sound like a date that could describe the present. I sounds more like a date from a sci-fi novel describing either a world full of robots and flying cars or a dystopian future after some terrible disaster, human kind is faced with extinction. Well 2012 is now the present. We do have some robots, we even have one in our house. It’s a vacuum and it’s been broken for a few years and I haven’t replaced it. I have an idea that cars could fly but they would be too expensive and would cause too many complications. As for the terrible disaster, we’ve had lots of those and we are still carrying on.

But that’s all off topic. Today I wanted to talk about how my goals for myself are going. So far I’ve been exercising every day. I’ve been drinking 8-10 glasses of water (I’m not sure if I’ll be able to keep that up when I go back to school though because it means having to go to the bathroom way more than I have time for) I’ve made and kept to my meal plan, I’ve been writing daily and I’m feeling pretty good.

After my last post about my goals, my father sent me a link to this site http://zenhabits.net/fitguide/ about how no one can stick to their resolutions and that fitness programs that promise quick results are worthless. Instead, it advocates choosing one habit that you want to change and focusing on it for one month. I agree with that idea and I have been mostly focusing on my fitness goal so far but I also want to re-start my other goals as well. The Zen Habits site has 5 big pointers for forming habits and the second is:

Do one habit at a time only. People often skip this one because they think they are different than everyone else, but I’ve found this to be extremely effective. You increase your odds of success with just one habit at a time, for many reasons: habits are hard to form because they require lots of focus and energy, having many habits means you’re spreading yourself too thin, and if you can’t commit to one habit at a time, you’re not fully committed.

Now I agree with this statement. I really do. But, the goals (habits) that I want to focus on are ones that I have done before but have let fall to the way side. I don’t want to not write just because I’m focusing on increasing my fitness. And I’m not going to wait three months before I start meal planning either. But perhaps this month I will focus on my fitness while writing and meal planning but not put as much energy into the other habits that I’m trying to form while I work on making sure that I’m exercising every day this month.

Another suggestion on this site was to use Fitocracy to help track your exercise and to make getting fit more social. It’s essentially a social networking site that promotes fitness. There are challenges and points awarded and all of those fun little carrots to help keep you motivated. I’ve joined up and am enjoying it a great deal.

I think that this idea of forming habits, focusing on one at a time and putting a lot of energy into making sure that habit becomes ingrained is very important in the classroom. Daily 5 is a perfect example of this. The way that read to self is introduced for example, is all about forming good reading habits. It’s done slowly and deliberately. None of the other components are introduced until the class has good read to self habits and high stamina for independent reading. After that is going then another component, maybe write to self or read to a friend is introduced and again, the class builds stamina, forms good independent habits before moving on to another.

In December, I decided to take a risk and try to introduce independent writing in my classroom. Why is this a risk? Well, they’re only 3 months in to learning French and independence is not something that comes easily when learning a new language. But their habits from learning to read to self independently in French were so strong that they surprised me. It took a lot of work and modeling and problem solving as a group, but they were very quickly able to take those skills and write independently.  So now Mrs. W and I are able to go around and conference with students without being interrupted by students who want me to be Mme LaDictionnaire. I’m hoping that when we switch over to English in a month and I officially introduce the Daily 5 to them that they will be able to take the skills and habits that they are learning now and apply them to our English Language Arts classes, but I won’t expect that they will all be able to do that on their own so I will help them, through explicit teaching and modelling, to develop those habits slowly and thoroughly so that they will have them forever.

What sorts of habits are most important for your students? For yourself? What do you do in your life to try to build your positive habits?