Habits Matter

5 lines per day habit — you need routine

If you wish to become a life-long reader of Latin or Greek outside of the university environment:

  1. Set up a very easy-to-reach goal that you can meet daily, e.g.  5 lines of Greek/Latin per day.
  2. Place the text in a very visible location within an arm’s reach.
  3. Develop the habit of reading immediately after another well-established habit, e.g. after you sit down on a bus, after you grab a cup of coffee, after you climb into bed, etc.

Even if you are a student with regular assignments, follow this regimen on holidays and breaks. You can always read more than five lines, but maintain the five lines of prose or poetry as a minimum goal for each day. The minimum goal is intended to encourage you to maintain the habit even on those days when you are exhausted or overly busy. If the goal is too high, you are likely to skip a day and break the habit. It is the development of the habit–not the quantity of lines–that matters. Once you develop a daily routine, the number of lines that you read will increase accordingly.

Celebrate your successes daily — you need positive reinforcement

Find some way to celebrate your daily progress and make it known to others:

  1. Announce to family and friends that you are reading a particular Greek or Latin work.
  2. Write out your translations so that you have physical proof of your daily progress.
  3. When you meet intermediate goals, give yourself a reward.
  4. When you finish a work, reward yourself, brag about your accomplishment, and create a trophy to commemorate your success.

To develop a habit, you need not only routine but also positive reinforcement. In a school environment, this reinforcement comes readily in the form of feedback from teachers, regular quizzes and exams, and eventually your degree. Outside of school, however, you have to be proactive and create your own opportunities for positive reinforcement.

First, announce to everyone that you are in fact reading a particular Greek or Latin work. You can do this verbally, but it is also good to note your goal online: for example, on Facebook. If the people you encounter daily are aware of what you are doing, they will more likely ask about your progress and give you that extra encouragement that you need.

Second, write out your translation. As you meet your daily reading goal, you need something physical to show how much progress you have made. Fitness bands and apps are popular among athletes for the same reason. These bands monitor an athlete’s daily progress and provide a physical reminder of just how many steps, repetitions, miles, etc. one has completed. We need similar reminders as we read Latin and Greek. That internal ‘wow’ that you express to yourself as you look over your written translation may be all the reinforcement that you need to sustain your habit.

Third, set intermediate goals every week or every two weeks and reward yourself when you meet those goals. If, for example, you are reading at a rate of 10 lines per day (again, keep the minimum at 5-per-day), reward yourself after every 100 lines. Splurge on coffee. Treat yourself to a movie. In short, give yourself something to look forward to as you strive to meet each intermediate goal. Again, the aim is positive reinforcement.

Finally, when you meet your overall goal, celebrate and create a trophy to remind yourself of your accomplishment. Do not separate your inner life of the mind from your social life. Tell everybody about your achievement and take a victory lap. If you want Latin and Greek to be part of who you are, make your reading  known to others. Moreover, treat yourself to something truly special, perhaps a night at your favorite restaurant, and make sure that everyone knows why you are celebrating. The anticipation alone will keep you motivated as you work towards your goal.

Read with a group — you need a community to support you

Reread what you have read in the past — you need a community to support you

Set aside 90 minutes each day for non-electronic reading — you need a larger routine

Set aside at least 90 minutes each day–7:00 to 9:30 each evening, for example–for non-electronic reading. The point of this activity is twofold: (1) to provide you with extended time to read and think without distractions (e.g. notifications, emails, cat videos) and (2) to embed your reading of Latin or Greek within a larger intellectual activity. Devote the the first part of this time to meeting your Latin or Greek reading goal and the second part to reading whatever you wish (yes, reading Harry Potter with your child counts). On some days you will spend just 15 minutes on Latin or Greek, on other days you will devote the entire 90 minutes. The choice is yours.

The point is to make your reading of Latin or Greek part of a larger routine. We successfully maintain  the habit of brushing our teeth because we make this habit part of another, larger routine: taking a shower, preparing for work, eating a meal. If we fail to remember to brush our teeth, it is often because there is a disruption in these larger routines. And so, if you want to read Latin and Greek regularly, make it part of your other reading habits.




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