Jennifer Lee
Author Archives: Jennifer Lee

Prepping for a Big Performance? For Outsized Results, Practice Tiny!

My 12-year-old son started orchestra last year, playing on the same violin my grandma learned on 80 years ago. (We affectionately call it Shirley, after her.) After every class, I’d ask if he had exercises or songs he should be practicing at home. If you’ve had a tween, you won’t be surprised to hear that he consistently answered, “No, we haven’t done much in class yet”…until the day the flier came home for their upcoming concert. Cue pre-adolescent panic attack. 

Gavin has a tendency to catastrophize in the face of a big project, and immediately started moaning that, “I’m never going to be ready! I’m never going to be able to play all these songs! I’m going to have to practice 24/7 for a year to learn all this!” 

So we started breaking the elephant down into bite-sized pieces. “OK,” I said, “you only have three weeks until the concert. Maybe you won’t have all five songs mastered by then. But what if you focused on just one?” 

“Maybe if I practiced all day every day,” he sulked. 

“Well, you’re pretty busy, and you still have to go to school, so I don’t see that happening. But do you think there’s anywhere in your day where you could find just a few extra minutes for this?” 

“Like that’ll do any good!” 

“Maybe not. But why don’t you try it for a few days and see how it goes?” 

“Ugh.” 

With that enthusiastic reply, we got into the creation of a Tiny Habit recipe. My kids are familiar with the method, so I briefly reminded him that it might be a good idea to choose a specific time of day to practice, so he’d be more likely to follow through. He’s an early riser, so he thought mornings might work best. 

“Great,” I said, “Where does this fit best in your morning?” 

We decided that if he practiced as soon as he got up he might wind up running late, but if he made it the last thing on his to-do list he could practice more or less depending on how much time he had left before the bus came. 

We walked through the morning routine and pegged “After I put on my tennis shoes” as a good anchor; he keeps his shoes in his room, next to his violin, and puts them on after breakfast and before leaving for the bus. 

Now for the habit. “I’ll practice all my songs 10 times,” he said. 

“I like your enthusiasm, but that’s a pretty big goal. What happens if you’re running late one day? Can we scale it back a little? You can always do more if you have time.” 

At this point, we decided to play around with the smallest possible habit he could think of, “I will pick up my violin case.” On days he had time, this would lead to a quick practice session. On days he was running late, he’d pick up the case and tell his violin, “Sorry, Shirley, gotta run. Let’s play tomorrow.” 

Gavin was sure that anything short of a full practice session couldn’t possibly produce results, but he grudgingly agreed to give it a shot.

In three days the first song was mastered. After a week he was setting his alarm earlier to get more practice in, and picking up the violin after school to show off his growing skills. Three weeks later he walked onstage feeling calm and confident. He’d even taught himself a few songs that were not on the program and proudly gave the real Shirley a private concert over Christmas break. 

For kids (and grown-ups) who are easily overwhelmed, the Tiny Habits method gives them a concrete way to break down big, scary goals and projects. It also gives them continual small wins to celebrate, which boosts their confidence, created success momentum, and keeps them moving in the right direction. They quickly see how even small steps toward your goal can lead quickly to measurable progress. 

Curious about how the Tiny Habits method can help you accomplish big things? Check out BJ’s just-released bestseller, Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything. Ready to try it out for yourself? Sign up for our free 5-day program and learn how to create habits that can help you reach even your most daunting aspirations.

Tired of Tantrums? 5 Tricks to Tame Your Tots and Teens

I have a confession: I used to love seeing kids have tantrums. Every time I passed a toddler thrashing on the grocery store floor or saw a red-faced kid screaming at the playground, a part of me breathed a sigh of relief. Thank goodness, I thought. Other people’s kids do this, too.

We’ve all chuckled over the “Reasons My Son is Crying” blog or a friend’s tale of their own tot’s tantrum, because it’s so reassuring to see just how normal these outbursts are, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy to handle when they come from our own kids.

In our last post, Tiny Habits Academy director Linda Fogg-Phillips detailed strategies for helping parents to keep their cool when a kid is blowing up, but kids need help learning to negotiate their own big feelings as well. She mentioned my son, Gavin, and my goal to help him (and myself) to learn to deal with frustration without throwing a fit. In the Tiny Habits for Moms course, I learned some great strategies that have helped me and both my kids to develop emotional resilience and put irritations in perspective.

1. Meet Primary Needs

Linda reminded us that people who are hungry, thirsty or tired have trouble keeping their emotions in check, and that goes double for children. I’ve learned that the combination of after-school hunger and homework makes it hard for Gavin to push through the afternoon without drama. Now I set him up for success by making sure he is getting enough rest, and that his blood sugar stays stable throughout the day.

Sample Habit: After my child sits down to work on his homework, I will give him a healthy snack and a glass of water.

2. Join Their Team

My friend Amanda’s son is a lot like Gavin, and she has said that sometimes she feels like she’s his emotional punching bag. Kids come to us with their frustrations because they want our help, but sometimes their efforts at getting it are clumsy and even downright abusive.

When one of Tiny Habits for Moms coach Brittany Herlean’s three boys becomes frustrated and starts taking his feelings out on her, she reminds him that she is not the enemy, and that she is on his side. Then she helps him redirect his focus by identifying the real problem, and helping him to find a solution.

Sample Habit: When my child yells at me, I will remind him that I am on his side.

3. Identify Tantrum Triggers

To deal with tantrums, outbursts and general moodiness, try to identify the root of the problem. It might not be as obvious as you think. Some are predictable; you know that these circumstances often challenge your kid. Common triggers include:

  • Perceived unfairness (“I wanted the pink one!” “You always take her side!” “His class got cupcakes and mine didn’t!”)
  • Unforeseen circumstances (“It’s raining? But I wanted to go to the park!” “We’ve been in this line toooo looooong!”)
  • Struggling with a challenge (“I can’t put my socks on!” “These Lego’s won’t stay together!” “I’m never going to finish my homework!”)

These triggers are pretty immediate, but some are much subtler. If a kid’s fit seems way out of proportion or just doesn’t make sense, step back and look at what’s going on in the rest of her life. Like hunger and thirst, feeling out of control or neglected can give kids a hair trigger. So can trouble with friends or stress at school, which may sap your kids emotional resilience and manifest in general snappishness.

Deal with the bad behavior, but follow up with a heart-to-heart once things have calmed down to see if your child is struggling with something unknown. Find ways to give your child more of whatever they need (like autonomy or affection) once the conflict is over, or help them to find solutions to the problems that are causing stress.

Sample Habit: After my child has a tantrum, I will snuggle her in the rocking chair.
Sample Habit: After my child pulls out her homework, I will help her outline a study plan for her test.

4. Help Them to Self-Soothe

Over the years I’ve tried a number of strategies to help my son Gavin deal with his mercurial temperament. Yoga didn’t help; a meditation app did. Counting to ten makes him angrier. Folding origami is magical. I spoke to some of the moms from my Tiny Habits for Moms group, and together we amassed a list of ideas that have worked for us. Try a few for yourself and see what happens.

  • Get moving: Go for a walk, run or swim. Shoot some hoops or punch a punching bag.
  • Focus on your senses: Rub a smooth rock or a soft piece of fabric. Chew gum or sniff a scented pencil.
  • Distract yourself: Fold origami, doodle, or play with a toy. Take three deep breaths or count to ten.
  • Keep a talisman: Focus on a special amulet, toy or object. Imagine it giving you strength and removing bad feelings.
  • Take a break: Walk to the drinking fountain, lie in bed and read a book, listen to a guided meditation, take a minute to play with the dog.
  • Give yourself a pep talk: Tell yourself, “I can do this!” or “I’m almost there!”
  • Seek comfort: Snuggle a blanket, lovey, parent or pet.
  • Make it tiny: Break dreaded tasks into bits. Focus on a single homework problem, a single toy to put away or a single bite to eat.

Sample Habits:
When I feel like hitting, I will stomp my feet.
When I get suck on a homework problem I will tell myself, “I can do this.”

5. Think Like a Scientist

Being a mom is a lot like being a scientist. Your child is an unknown element, and it takes some experimenting to learn what causes a reaction, and how to prevent one. As they get older, their triggers and strategies will change, and so will yours. Finding the right recipes can take time, but remember, you’re also teaching your children to be more aware of their emotions and more able to act on them in a healthy and socially acceptable way, and that lesson will benefit them for the rest of their lives.

Tantrums are just one of the challenges moms face every day. To learn how the Tiny Habits method can help you to deal with everything from the dinner dishes to your relationship with your spouse, join our next session of Tiny Habits for Moms.

5 Simple Strategies for Starting Your Day Like A Champion

Imagine you’re at the Olympics. The crowds are cheering, but you’re not among them. You’re down on the field, crouched at the starting line, poised for the race that may define your career.

No doubt you’ve trained for this moment for most of your life, but how would you prepare for it on the morning of the big day? If you were looking to accomplish something monumental, would you begin by hitting the snooze button until you were running late, grab whatever breakfast came to hand, then rush into the fray distracted and without a plan?

A Strong Start for a Strong Finish

Runners know that the morning of a big race is crucial, and they leave nothing to chance. All-State Conference track and Olympic distance triathlete Maria Serrata explains, “When that alarm goes off and you want to sleep in another hour, you can’t. No matter how much you’ve prepared, the things you do the morning of are critical. They will make or break your race.”

Whether you’re an Olympic runner, an adventurer setting out to ascend Mt. Kilimanjaro or a busy mom with a mountain of laundry to summit, the way you start your day can have a huge impact on whether you meet your goals or fall short. The Tiny Habits for Moms team offers these tips for creating a morning routine that will prime you to accomplish whatever you choose to pursue.

  1. Stop the snooze. Waking before the rest of your family gives you a few minutes to get centered and think about the day to come. Skip the snooze button and stretch, meditate, write in your journal or read a few verses of scripture while the house is still quiet. The calm and focus you’ll carry with you throughout the day will feel much better than another nine minutes of sleep. One habit to try: After I open my eyes, I will open my journal.
  2. Make Your Bed. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Making your bed first thing in the morning starts you off with a win and sets the tone for the entire day. By accomplishing something concrete right away you create something we call success momentum. As Stanford behavioral scientist and Tiny Habits creator BJ Fogg says, “the success you feel will radiate out to other parts of your life.” Ready to get started? Try this: After my feet touch the floor I will fluff my pillow. 
  3. Watch the sun rise. (Or at least greet it when you rise!) Open your blinds, step out onto your porch, or have breakfast on the patio. Dr. Phyllis Zee of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine found that exposure to natural light, particularly in the morning, has beneficial effects on mood, alertness and metabolism. Make it a habit for the whole family: After I check to see that my child is awake, I will open her blinds.
  4. Hydrate – with citrate. Runners aren’t the only ones who need fluids. Every part of your body, from your brain to your immune system, benefits from adequate hydration. Add a squeeze of lemon and drain a glass before your morning cup of coffee to reduce inflammation, stave of infection and stimulate enzyme production. It’s an easy way to start your day off right. Just tell yourself: After I turn on the coffee pot, I will pour each family member a glass of lemon water. Now drink up!
  5. Don’t wake the kids. Instead, train them to wake themselves. Illustrator, mom of four and Tiny Habits for Moms alumni Kimberly Petersen buys each child an alarm clock a few weeks before they start kindergarten. “It seems like a Tiny Habit for now, and it’s something that does make my life simpler every morning, to not have to wake them up, but really it’s something that I’m doing because it’s a life skill that they’re going to need as adults,” she says. Is someone in your family having trouble waking when the alarm goes off? Put the clock across the room and work on the habit, “After I turn off my alarm I will touch my toes” (instead of getting back into bed!)

There’s one more piece of advice that applies to star athletes and moms alike: Figure out what works for you and do it every day. “My friend eats pop tarts before every run. After a race I drink a Sprite. Listen to your body and do what works best for you,” says Serrata.

However you choose to structure your morning, do it with the same focus and intent as a runner preparing for the Olympics, with the understanding that by starting your day focused and strong you’ll set yourself on the path to achieve your goals and do amazing things.

For more free tips on creating strong habits, click here.

To learn more about how to achieve your goals by creating habits that work for you, join our next session of Tiny Habits for Moms.

How to Find an Anchor in the Stormy Sea of Parenthood

It’s Sunday afternoon, and my dinner guests are an hour and a half late. Luckily this is a barbecue, so the food is all prepared save the burgers and hot dogs, which my husband will throw on the grill the moment our overdue friends waltz in the door.

In another life I would have been furious at such inconsiderate behavior, but Sam and Nicole have a good reason for their tardiness: they have three boys under the age of three, and their one-year-old twins are still napping. I know what it’s like to deal with just one cranky toddler, so I’m happy to wait.

Adrift on the Ever-Changing Tide

Making plans can be difficult when you’re dealing with small children, who are notoriously inconsistent. Creating habits in this unpredictable environment can be even more of a challenge. Several women in our recent Tiny Habits for Moms course shared this frustration, including Meg, who is struggling to get her infant on a schedule, and Kim, whose four children keep her running from school to soccer to swim team with no room to breath in between. Scheduling is also a problem for Michele, whose work schedule shifts at the mercy of her children and her boss. Can you relate?

Tiny Habits for Moms participants learn to create new habits by attaching them to existing behaviors. When asked to generate a list of existing routines that could be used as potential anchors, or behaviors that they complete at the same time every day, these women lamented that nothing in their lives happens at the same time every day!

Super Habits Save the Day

It’s a problem that Tiny Habits creator BJ Fogg often faces with a very different group of Tiny Habits students: high-profile business professionals. Many of the businesspeople he and Tiny Habits Academy Director Linda Fogg-Phillips train travel frequently for work. How, these professionals wonder, can you establish strong habits when your days are at the mercy of flight schedules and business meetings and you are sleeping in a different hotel room every night?

Fogg instructs frequent travellers to look for what he calls super habits. “When there’s a behavior you do no matter the context (in my life, for example, it’s brushing my teeth), then I call that a “super habit.” We all have super habits in our lives. Most people don’t recognize them. These super habits are great anchors to trigger new tiny habits.” It’s a strategy that can work for new moms as well.

Finding Patterns in the Pandemonium

In addition to these super anchors, moms might overlook other potential anchors because they don’t always happen at exactly the same time every day. You may not be able to set your watch by your baby’s diaper change or your preschooler’s nap, but any activity that happens regularly can make a good anchor. If your days feel entirely unpredictable, consider how many of the following types of behaviors you can still count on to provide some structure:

Biological Behaviors: There are some things we do every day simply because we are human and these behaviors keep us alive. These include:

  • Waking up
  • Going to the bathroom
  • Eating
  • Drinking
  • Getting dressed (unless you are a nudist, or one of my children)
  • Going to bed

Biological behaviors are the ultimate super habits, because no matter where you are or how harried your schedule, these things will happen. Anchor new habits to these behaviors and you’ll be well on your way to creating lifelong change. Some of our favorites are:

  • After my feet hit the floor, I will say, “It’s going to be a great day.”
  • After I go to the bathroom, I will do two pushups.
  • After my head touches the pillow, I will think of three things I am grateful for.

Existing Routines: These habits are so well-engrained that you do them without thinking. Many of them were probably established in childhood. Yours might include:

  • Bathing or showering
  • Brushing your teeth
  • Washing your hands after going to the bathroom
  • Buckling your seatbelt when you get into a car
  • Checking your phone (constantly?)

Most existing routines are nearly as engrained as biological habits, and can be just as effective in creating behavioral change. Try these recipes:

  • After I brush my teeth, I will floss one tooth.
  • After I wash my hands, I will fill a glass of water. (Bonus points if you drink it!)
  • After I buckle my seatbelt, I will put my phone on airplane mode.

Contextual Behaviors: These activities are more specific to your particular situation. They might happen multiple times per day, or only once a week. Decide how often you want to trigger a behavior and find an existing habit that fits. Your contextual habits and behaviors might include:

  • Starting your coffee pot
  • Walking to the mailbox
  • Getting the baby out of her crib
  • Changing a diaper
  • Dropping your child off at soccer practice
  • Checking your child’s homework folder
  • Reading your child a bedtime story

Contextual behaviors may change over time; odds are you won’t be changing your baby’s diaper three or four years from now. However, if an activity is a reliable part of your schedule, it can still anchor a behavior you want to get started on. For example:

  • After I start my coffee pot I will open the dishwasher. (And maybe load a few dishes?)
  • After I change my baby’s diaper I will do five jumping jacks.
  • After I check my child’s homework I will give him a hug.

An irregular, unpredictable schedule can increase stress and depression for both you and your family. However, it’s possible that your world isn’t as unpredictable as you think. By identifying the anchors throughout your day and using them to establish new habits and meet your goals you can feel more in control and more successful.

Click here to get your free Tiny Habits tips for Moms.

Could you use more predictability in your life? Learn more about finding anchors and creating new habits in our upcoming session of Tiny Habits for Moms.