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Nancy Napier: Reviewing habits, thanks to my dog

Our thirteen-year-old Australian terrier has developed a strange early morning ritual. Starting about 5.30 in the morning, Purple stands in front of the floor length mirror for 30 minutes and scratches the glass. She also leaves a line of nose smudges about six inches from the ground the width of the mirror.

She must see herself—or what she thinks is another dog—and wants to scratch it out of her line of vision. Or maybe she’s greeting the other being. I’ve found no good explanations for it, but have learned that cats scratch on mirrors or glass. But dogs?

The habit irritates and fascinates me. Why would she start this now? Is it a senior citizen routine that calms her? Does she see an image that scares her? Is she showing she can be the alpha dog, although she’s never seemed to care?

This bizarre habit sparked me to question my own routines.

I’m a proponent of habits and routine as ways to streamline life and save energy for more important tasks. Since my mind so easily wanders to new projects or ideas, I need as much brain space as possible for tasks and thoughts that demand more effort. So I do that by creating habits and routines where I can, like the route I drive to work, what clothes to wear, or what to eat for breakfast. Those are decisions I don’t want to spend time on so I’ve reduced the options. Instead, I prefer spending time on how to improve my teaching, writing or problem solving.

But hearing that silly scratching also made me consider irritating habits I have in my daily schedule that I could delete, and also the reverse—potential new habits that I should develop. Nothing profound but I suspect my list will make life a little easier, or at least more pleasant.

Here are three small ones I plan to change. What are yours?

First, I’ve fallen into the bad habit of checking email on my iPad before I even get out of bed in the morning. No more. I didn’t do it today and felt like my day started a bit more calmly.

Second, I’ll streamline the “where to park decision.” Too often, I try to park close to my building but then forget where I’ve parked by 9.30 at night after classes finish. I stand in the lot wandering around looking for my car. Waste of energy. From now on, I’ll park a bit further away but in an area where there are always spots so I’ll go back to the same place every day. Another advantage, of course, is getting a bit more exercise. Then again, if I biked or walked, parking would be moot and I’d never lose my car. That’s a future habit to develop.

Last, I’ll try to be more patient with senior citizens and their habits in general and my dog in particular. We all have quirks. Habits are one. Long live habits.

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