Getting to be a Habit

SHA 2014 at the Indiana Statehouse

SHA 2014 at the Indiana Statehouse

Getting to be a Habit

By Rachel Abbott & Jacqueline Langholtz

Habit: A settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.

They say it takes 21 days to form a habit. By the time we head back home on Saturday we will have been here in Indianapolis for 21 days. Coincidence? Yes, but an interesting one when reflecting on our time here so far and anticipating the return home.

By coming to SHA, what were we telling ourselves we were going to try for 21 days? What habits were we hoping to form?

1. Practicing reflection & self-examination.

RA: Since being here I’ve gotten in the habit of asking “why?” a lot. “Why are we doing it this way?” “Why do you say that?” “Why are we struggling to accomplish our goals?” Seeing so many different strategies, styles and models has made me even more aware than I was before that we have options. We can choose to shift focus, to take risks and even to let some things go. It’s been incredibly useful and beneficial to look at my organization with a critical eye and I hope I can continue to do that.

2. Asking for help.

RA: I wanted to come to SHA and learn as much as possible from everyone. I wanted to ask my classmates questions, ask our speakers questions, ask local museum leaders questions. I wanted to get into this habit in order to squeeze as much professional development juice out of this experience as I could. And now I find myself hoping that this is a new habit, a new way of working. I work with experts in my “real life” too, and I could be doing a better job of asking them questions and learning from them every day.

SHA 2014 at Conner Prairie before participating in the Follow the North Star Program

SHA 2014 at Conner Prairie before participating in the Follow the North Star Program

3. Going outside our comfort zones.

JCL: Participating in SHA requires taking risks, showing vulnerability, trying the unknown, and trusting in others. Many days have been spent immersed in areas of the field that are foreign and unfamiliar territory: developing a case for support, making a fundraising pitch, strategic planning, creating an entrepreneurial venture plan, and more. A phrase we’ve heard echoed throughout SHA is if you’re feeling uncomfortable you’re doing it right. The hardest seminar days included their fair share of discomfort – they’ve also yielded the most growth, both individually and for our group. It’s easy to do what you’re already good at, avoiding both discomfort and growth. Two weeks into SHA, our class is finding that growing pains are worth it.

4. Focusing on the necessary.

RA: I hoped that being removed from day-to-day work would bring priorities into sharper focus. By stopping everything I would see that some things are more critical than others. We’ve been talking about the importance of the field of history being seen as necessary rather than just nice. I hope that when I get back to work I’ll be better equipped to let go of the activities that might just be nice in order to focus on the things that are most necessary.

5. Nurturing relationships.

RA: Both Jacqueline and I are very social people at home. We prioritize the relationships and community-building in our lives. So we wanted to maintain those habits at SHA. But we also hoped to do a better job of focusing on the people right in front of us. Here in Indy our social circle is always right in front of us. And I think it’s been great practice in not spreading ourselves too thin while still maintaining relationships. Hopefully we can take this habit home with us.

6. Nurturing ourselves.

JCL: Both of us came to SHA with personal habits we wanted to start, something we bonded over early on. While here, we’ve both made daily workouts a priority, Rachel now starts her day an hour earlier than usual, and I’ve abstained from eating meat. These might sound more like lifestyle choices than seminar work, but the intention is aligning “best self” with “best work” and recognizing that the two go hand in hand. It will take discipline to continue the many habits we’ve started here, and may mean creating new boundaries and structure once home. It can feel selfish to make yourself a priority; you may need to say no to others in order to say yes to yourself. After SHA, I plan to do more to protect that balance.



Typically our jobs are about setting and accomplishing goals. Attending SHA, however, is much more about forming new habits that we hope will make us more productive, efficient and effective leaders. We came into this experience with hopes to establish some new habits and now, after 21 days, we may have laid the groundwork. Some bad habits are waning and better habits are taking shape. But returning home is the real test. That’s when we’ll see whether the habits stuck, when we can choose to continue these habits or not.

Sunset on the canal - what habits will we bring home with us?

Sunset on the canal – what habits will we bring home with us?

We know we’ll encounter some triggers – challenges that might cause us to revert to and accept our own old habits. Institutional inertia. Difficulty in communication. Disagreements over priorities. Hearing the word no.

While we hope that the 21 day rule is real and that our new habits have taken root, we’re confident this experience has given us the tools and support to keep working at it.

Rachel Abbott is the Program Associate for Historic Sites and Museums at the Minnesota Historical Society. Jacqueline Langholtz is the Manager of School & Group Programs at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Both hope the habit of working together will last long past their stay in Indy.

About Jacqueline Langholtz

"So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner's Pies and walked off to look for America." -Simon & Garfunkel

Posted on November 17, 2014, in Change, Leadership, Museums, Seminar for Historical Administration, SHA, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Here’s to hoping that we will all stay in touch, because we learned so much from and with each other. I think that as my head and heart settle down, I will be back in touch with each and all of my 2014 classmates to help me put my lists in order. I know that reflection has to become a larger part of my life after SHA 2014. I also reconnected with the power of place as more than just words. I will be in touch with each of you about my future visit to your sites!

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