Ah, the double-edged sword of a habit – as a parent and educator, I know I have some strong interactional habits with the people around me. Some of my autopilot responses serve me well, but others perpetuate behaviors that trouble me. The problem with a habit is that when a behavior becomes automatic, we lose our focus and don’t make a conscious choice to respond in a certain way. We just go through the motions.

When my mom passed away about four years ago, I took home a small plant that was in her kitchen window. The plant was mine anyway since for years I had been watering it every time I visited. I told mom she was lucky it was a succulent, which somewhat thrives on neglect. Four years later that plant is still in the same sad little tin can in my kitchen window. I’ve had several opportunities to replant it, but I haven’t. Every time I water it, I think of mom. Only today when I did so, a stem dropped off, at which point I discovered…the plant is plastic. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry, so I just put it back in the window.

Whether it is an interaction with a child, colleague or spouse, we need to be aware of our behaviors so they don’t develop into poor habits. A sarcastic comment, loud volume, or cold body language can become a habit that, over time, will erode a relationship. Luckily, I now have a small unwatered plant in my kitchen window that will serve to remind me of this lesson.