Sunday, July 20, 2014

Exercising my self-control muscle this summer!

July is one of those strange, yet beloved months for those of us in education. It is that month where we are no longer on a tight schedule controlled by the school calendar, the daily bell schedule, the controlled rhythm of the start and end of the school day, each and every day.

In July, we are between “seasons” so to speak.

It is our time for reflection, freedom from the daily routine, vacationing and recovering and so much more. No fixed routines! I love July!

We have chosen a work life that imposes a schedule upon us for 10-11 months of the year. If we do not exercise the self-control to follow that schedule day in and day out a lot of people in our school community are affected by our action (or inaction). And so, we adjust our lives to follow the routine of each and every day without reservation or question.

For many years, I so loved this routine. There was something in my hardwiring that needed the structure of every day, the movement of the bell schedule, and the consistency that followed one season after another. Lunch at 11:42AM every day. Perfect.

Then July would appear, and I could sleep in until 9:00AM, wear my jammies until noon, and maybe (get ready for this) not even shave until tomorrow! I could work out at 1:00pm, take a nap at 2:00pm and go to a movie during the week at 11:00pm! What freedom!

Only, after 10 months (or more) of tight daily schedules and a work rhythm I depended on to keep me under control, I really did not know how to manage that free time! How do other people do it I wondered? There are so many professions, so many jobs, where you can just break the routine, exercise your own self-control muscle and make your own decisions for how your work schedule today will be different tomorrow.

And then a few weeks ago, while drifting around the internet on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, I ran across an article from the Harvard Business review: “In the Afternoon, the Moral Slope Gets Slipperier” by Harvard professor Maryam Kouchaki.

Hmm, in the afternoon, I thought: “What about all of July?  In this Harvard Business Review interview, Kouchaki reveals that workers are 20-50 percent more likely to be dishonest in mid-to late-afternoon than in the morning and are less likely to exercise self-control after lunch. There is a “psychological depletion” of the resources needed for self-control as the day wears on resulting in poorer moral choices, she indicates. 

Ahh, now I get it! July is not about freedom from the daily grind! July is our month to re-build the mental resource muscles necessary to maintain self-control in order to stick to more moral behavior when the next season begins a month from now. Whew! 

Seems like a lot of responsibility is placed on the month of July if you ask me. Next October, when I am worn down by fatigue or discouraging events, will my self-control muscle exercises from July be enough to save me from the natural drift to unethical behavior? Probably not. July may be too far away to touch. 

Here are some suggestions from Kouchaki: Breaks from the routine of your day can serve the valuable purpose of restoring your depleted energy, positioning you to make better choices in the afternoon. She indicates that self-control is like a muscle – we need to restore its strength after use through an afternoon nap, rest, yoga, meditation, prayer, or an energy filled snack  (See my blog entry a few years ago on the need for Quadrant II time built into your day) all those things can help restore us back to more ethical behavior late in the day, week, month, or even  - the 2014-2015 season.  

Well, I am off to work out, and relax, so this blog entry must end. Gotta go get that ethical muscle exercised and renewed. August is just around the corner and my kids and colleagues are going to need me to be in shape! 


  1. I like this column very much. It makes me think of how to work with my own son better, but also to give myself a guilt-free break from the daily stuff of life.

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