Thursday, February 02, 2017

Method to the madness

This morning, I got up, put on my spy master hat, and posted a coded message for all of my secret agents. It was really just a list of what we were doing this morning, but it kept the imaginary play story line going. I also don't think it would be a bad thing if everyone learned Morse code by the end of our little adventure.

Other than just raking in the fun mom points, I do have a purpose in all of this. It was a good thing that I accidentally reread the book about habits a few weeks ago. As I was pondering the craziness of what the next few months could look like, I realized that I needed to create new habits in all of us. (And the adults are just as guilty of leaving things lying around as the children, so we are definitely included in that 'us'.) I also realized that I had just read a book about habits and I had some idea of how habits are formed and how they are changed. I could use this, plus my children's strong need and enjoyment of imaginative play to my benefit.

Here's the short version of how habits work. There are three parts: trigger, action, and reward. Once the brain is triggered by something, it automatically reverts to the actions that it chunked together in the first place. This is why, if you are taking a road you usually only take to go one place but are going to another, that you might find yourself at that place you usually go instead of the place you meant to. It was a driving habit and that habit was triggered by the road you were driving on.

The trick to doing away with an unwanted habit is to not try to eradicate the habit, but to replace that bad habit with something better. To do this, you need to figure out what the reward is that you are enjoying for that particular action. In the case of sloppy family habits, such as leaving things lying about, the reward for that action is getting to move on to what you had wanted to and not having to spend time putting something away. My goal then, was to come up with some sort of reward that would counteract the first one. I knew I didn't want to go the 'pay for picking up route', because I also know that tying a behavior to such a reward means that if the reward goes away, so does the behavior. It's not really a habit, and picking up habit is what I wanted.

Thus the spy school idea was born. We could play a pretend game, have some fun, and actually create new habits at the same time. The reward in this case would be the enjoyment of playing the game successfully. This could become a habit. The trigger would be anything out of place. The action is putting that item away. The reward is the congratulations of others and the self-satisfaction of being a good spy and being able to blend in the with Magazine People (aka the people who will be looking at the house when it goes on the market) when the time comes. For the adults, our reward is a little different. I'm not so motivated by playing the game, but by my children continuing to play. For that to happen, I have to be all in. I have to be noticing things and then verbally rewarding my spies. I have to create new challenges so my spies can further their training. I have to be modelling the behavior I want from them. I am hoping that after two months of this, neater habits will be well on their way to full development and living life in a house on the market will be that much less stressful for everyone. Though being undercover is always a little bit stressful...
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I have a new article published. If you ever had a question about special needs adoptions or had a friend who did, I have probably answered it in the Special Needs Adoption Guide. Feel free to share... a lot.

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