As Aristotle said: ‘We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.’

What a bonus it is to have a routine in your life.

Only last week I was writing about goal setting and all the promises I made to myself to eat less, exercise more, have started to fall by the wayside. In fact, research conducted a few years ago, suggests 75 per cent of target setting doesn't work in the long term. It’s easy to blame a lack of willpower, but I think that habit is a significant and very overlooked, obstacle.

Psychologists believe as much as 45 per cent of daily behaviour is governed by habit. The reason we’re so good at forming habits is because when it comes to things we do often, the brain likes to lump things together , (cue often a time of day or particular environment) and reward to reduce the amount of mental energy that is needed to make it happen. Habit is a potent force that one study found people who routinely eat biscuits (the behaviour) at break time (the cue) will chomp it down even when it is stale, despite not getting the taste (the reward) they expected.

Those who have a teaching habit don’t find it difficult to do the same thing each day. When the bell goes off, autopilot kicks in and we’re by the door waiting for the next lesson.. But imagine that when the bell goes off you’ve got to teach another class instead. You have to get ready for another set of routines, where are the books, pencils, rubbers etc. Or you’re going on a course and have to explain your routines to another teacher. And all that thinking leaves you more vulnerable to others judging you when you are not in your comfort zone.

I noticed this recently, when I was not in a school. When I had to change my routines around, I found myself procrastinating and forgetting things. You could argue I simply found the new activities less interesting than teaching, but I don’t think that’s it: instead, I think it comes down to mental and physical effort that is required to perform an activity that is not yet a habit. Hence, despite the best intentions, the failure of so many of my targets.

The plus side of my experience is a newfound understanding for the coaches who are struggling to make some aspects of teaching a habit. Before, I assumed that people who are unable to develop their pedagogical understanding , would be down to lack of willpower. But now I realise what a bonus it is to have a routine in your life. For one thing, being a regular exerciser means you have less willpower because habit takes over. Once formed, habits are also good at weathering the storms life throws at us. A study published in the journal of personality and Social psychology found that when we are stressed or tired, we are more likely to default to habits - good or bad, and we are likely to perform them more than usual.

‘When we try to change behaviour, we strategise about motivation and self-control, but what we should be thinking about instead is how to set up new habits,’ says Professor Wendy Wood of South California US, who conducted the research.

It’s worth becoming a creature of good habits to spare yourself the daily inner battles and indecision that come with having to think and make choices about everything.


As Aristotle reminds us: ‘We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.’