The last day before the holiday break, our son came home from school with news of the most momentous sort: There was a mouse in his classroom. Where it came from, and how it came to enter his second grade room, could not be ascertained, but its end -- the bottom of a janitor’s trash bin, limp -- was certain.
Most days, “How was your day?” is answered with an 8-year-old boy’s “Fine.” This day he didn’t wait for the question. He was off, wide-eyed and arms waving, with a tale of girls on their chairs and his own attempt of bravery and chivalry as he and a friend tried to catch it. Other than the dead mouse, the only other seeming consequence of note was that they moved to another room to watch a movie.
Several weeks later, at a teacher conference, we learned another casualty of the day. His teacher had planned to clean and organize that day. Papers, clutter, gone. Supplies and books, back where they belong. Derailed, and then back from break, it never happened. They just dove in after the calendar turned, and she realized it was affecting her classroom management. So, they took a morning and tended to the overdue.
Several weeks into your new year, are your best intentions of better eating, more steps, keeping up with email, derailed before they have taken hold? Whatever the plan, resolution or goal, have you had a mouse? Some days, we all have mouse-like things: a train on Cable, a spilled cup of coffee. More often, it’s the worst of ourselves who do the derailing.
I’m doing well with some of my ‘new year’ things, not as well with others. I’m reading for pleasure, something I let go years ago as a new mother. This past fall, I couldn’t take any more cable news and realized a book was a far superior alternative. I’ve nearly kicked fast food, and hope my cholesterol is responding accordingly. I’m not exercising as often as I said I wanted to, and my office is a hot mess.
Here are two of my biggest derailers: I’m a huge procrastinator, and I avoid conflict at all costs. We’ll save conflict avoidance for another day (and maybe a therapist), but let’s talk procrastinating. After 20 years as reporter on a deadline, I got better at not putting things off. My mother does not believe me, but it’s true. However, I’m still really good at it. The internet does not help. While thinking about this mouse column, for example, I considered the phrase, “the best laid plans of mice and men.” Which lead to time on Wikipedia reading about John Steinbeck’s novel and the Robert Burns’ poem for which the book is named.
Where was I? Oh yes, derailers. The longer I’m in this business of studying leadership, the more I value and appreciate discipline. To consistently do the thing you don’t want to do but need to do comes easily for a few yoga instructors and Navy Seals, but for most everyone else, I suspect not. Forming new habits is hard. An excellent first step is owning up to those derailers. Name them and claim them, because you’ll never rid yourself of them completely. Better to be on a first-name basis so when they knock, or even when they’ve overstayed a welcome you gave them, you recognize them and boot them back out, and start again.
Now, I’m going to clean the office.