Category Archives for "Personal Development"

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.

Start Young: 10 Time-Tested Tips for Teaching Tiny Habits to Your Toddler

Melissa Turney’s kids wake up early. Really early. Sometimes before 5:00 am. This is not a behavior she encourages, but everything that happens after that is. Hannah (age 6), Paige (age 4), and even Sam (22 months) make their own beds and put their clothes in the hamper each day. After breakfast they’ll clear their own dishes. When playtime is over they put toys away. Stop by Turney’s house unannounced and you’ll be amazed at the order she maintains with her young brood. So what’s her secret?

Turney is a recent graduate of the Tiny Habits for Moms course, but she’s a lifelong pro at habit formation. Like the course instructors, she’s been creating effective routines for her kids since they were born. Parents often ask, “How soon can I teach Tiny Habits to my children?” Turney’s kids are evidence that the earlier you start, the more effective your training will be. Click here to get your free Tiny Habits tips for Moms.

The Early Roots of Habit Formation

Studies show that children develop lifelong habits breathtakingly early. For example:

  • Household routines, such as doing chores and being responsible for one’s own belongings, are set by age 9.
  • Financial habits are formed even earlier: A child’s basic beliefs and attitudes about money are formed by age 7.
  • Dietary habits begin to take root from a child’s first meal, and the dietary patterns that can predict future obesity are established as early as 1 year old.
  • Infants begin to make sense of their environment the moment they are born, and can detect patterns as early as 2 months old. By 4 months old the child will be able to recall objects and events that are not present, and by 1 year old he will be able to imitate even novel actions more than a week after he has observed them.

The research shows that your two month old is already learning to pay attention to repeated behaviors, and will soon begin to imitate them. That copy-cat behavior is the foundation for establishing lasting habits.

From Imitation to Intentional Behavior

As anyone who has raised a child will know, kids are not simply automatons who will copy a parent’s every behavior. (Except swearing. Curse words are lamentably sticky!) Toddlers may see their parents cleaning up and proceed to throw everything into the garbage can indiscriminately. A kid may be thrilled the first time they are allowed to use a mop, but the novelty soon wears off. So how has Turney parlayed the instinct for imitation into a series of habits for personal responsibility?

Turney was raised with clear expectations that every member of the household is responsible for their own belongings and space, and that it is the entire family’s responsibility to take care of the house together. She shares the following tips for raising your child with the same expectations.

  1. Lead by example. Want your kids to make their beds, clear their dishes and keep their stuff picked up? It starts with you. Changing your own behavior can be a challenge, but the Tiny Habits Method can help.
  2. Start young. Really young. Sam isn’t two yet, but he already knows to put his diaper in the bin and his dishes in the sink. He’s not great at putting all his toys away, but he’s getting there, and as he gets older he’ll be ready to take on even bigger responsibilities.
  3. Be consistent. “Paige just naturally likes to rebel,” says Turney. “For six months she would put her clothes right next to the hamper or on top of the hamper or under her bed. And every day I would call her up from breakfast and say, ‘Hey, before you have breakfast you have to put your clothes in the hamper.’ One day something clicked, and she realized, ‘I don’t want to keep running up and down the stairs and stopping breakfast to do this thing.”
  4. Take advantage of their enthusiasm. “I have found with my kids there’s a certain age between like 3 and 4 where they are really anxious to help,” says Turney. “So when they are excited about something I try to keep that momentum going and I teach them how to do it.” And while Turney doesn’t typically pay for chores, she might offer a small reward for a job well done on a newly mastered task.
  5. Teach them to do it right. You can’t expect your kid to be perfect on their first attempt, but that doesn’t mean they can’t try, and for heavens sake don’t undermine their effort by redoing it for them. Praise their effort, then show them what they missed and teach them how to fix it themselves.
  6. Keep messes manageable. Turney and her husband work together for about an hour twice a week to compete deep-cleaning tasks such as mopping and cleaning the bathrooms. The rest of the week they clean up as they go along, so the clutter never gets overwhelming. To copy her style, try the following Tiny Habits:
    1. a. After I take off my clothes, I will put them in the hamper.
    2. After I brush my teeth, I will wipe down the sink.
    3. After I finish eating, I will rinse my dish.
  7. Tame the toy bin. The Turney’s toys are separated by category and kept in labeled bins. The kids can play with two bins at a time, allowing them the freedom to combine the toys in creative ways while keeping the cleanup manageable.
  8. Race the clock. Tiny Habits Academy Director Linda Fogg-Phillips frequently recommends a timed five-minute cleanup, followed by a celebration. It’s a tactic Turney uses as well. She warns her kids to move fast, as anything left out will be donated to charity, and they know she’s not kidding. After the cleanup, she praises kids for their hard work and points how quick and easy it really was.
  9. Give kids a space of their own. Give each kid one bin or dresser drawer where they have free reign to collect acorns, rocks, drawings and whatever else they want to keep. If the bin is overflowing, it’s up to them to throw some things out before they add anything new.
  10. Be flexible. Turney’s rules create a framework that keeps her home orderly and lets her kids know what to expect. However, she knows that sometimes it’s ok to bend the rules. When friends come over, the kids can play with as many bins as they want. If the cleanup is especially daunting they’ll get more than five minutes, and plenty of help. Projects in-process can be set aside instead of completely cleaned up. And if a truly treasured item gets left out she’ll give a warning instead of donating it directly.

It’s never too early to instill good habits in your kids, and never too late to cultivate new habits of your own. Click here to get your free Tiny Habits tips for Moms.
Learn to do both, and to find greater health and happiness, in our next session of Tiny Habits for Moms.

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Planting the Seeds of Growth Mindset

It’s been a decade since Dr. Carol Dweck, Stanford professor of psychology, published Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, forever changing how parents and teachers praise their kids. In Mindset, Dweck explained the findings of her research on motivation, learning and mastery. To recap Dweck’s discovery:

  • People who believe their abilities are innate have a “fixed mindset.” These individuals often fear failure and shy away from risks and challenges.
  • People who believe that they can change their abilities through hard work and perseverance have a “growth mindset.” These individuals are more resilient and, in the long run, more successful.

Praising Effort, Not Ability

Dweck emphasized that, like ability, mindset can be shaped, and that a child’s mindset comes from the way the adults around them talk about ability and accomplishment. In the wake of Dweck’s research, parents and teachers strove to change the language they used with their children.

Instead of praising ability and outcome, they learned to praise effort and improvement. For parents of my generation, telling a child, “You’re so smart!” or even “Good job!” was tantamount to using profanity. Instead, we learned to respond to a child’s every action with, “Wow, you really worked hard on that!”

What’s Missing? Strategies and Results

Dweck now says that her research is often misapplied. Valuing effort is only the beginning. While effort is important, it is not the end goal. Children need to learn to use multiple strategies in their quest for growth, and should be praised for trying something new.

Parents should praise results as well, even when imperfect. The key is to give specific praise that emphasizes new learning and growth, not just effort. You might say, “You’re not there yet, but you’re on the right track! What else could you try here?” or “Look how your work has changed since two months ago. It’s clear you’re starting to get the hang of this. What are you doing that’s working?” Learn to acknowledge the small successes on the road to each accomplishment.

Celebrating Each Step

Celebrating incremental successes comes naturally to parents and teachers who use the Tiny Habits Method. Dr. BJ Fogg, Director of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford and creator of the Tiny Habits Method, frequently emphasizes the importance of celebrating each success.

The mental high that we experience with each accomplishment, no matter how small, contributes to what he calls “success momentum”. With every win, your sense that you can accomplish something more grows, and you become more motivated to pursue difficult goals and more confident that you will be able to achieve them.

The same thing happens for children. If they feel that only an “A” grade or a first-place ribbon mark success, they may shy away from classes and activities where they are not certain to win. However, if they have learned to celebrate each step on the road to achievement, they will take pleasure in tackling new challenges and learn to recognize their own potential for growth.

Ready to learn more about how the Tiny Habits Method can benefit you and your family? Enroll in Dr. BJ Fogg’s free 5-Day Tiny Habits program.

How Your Inner Night Owl Can Help the Early Bird Get the Worm

The “morning rush” is so common it’s a bona fide cliché, but your day doesn’t have to start with pandemonium. Here’s a secret the most successful people know: their mornings begin the night before.

Take a look at your morning routine and evaluate each action. Does this need to be done in the morning, or could it be done at night instead? If it is indeed a morning behavior, what can you do  the night before to set yourself up for success?

Getting Dressed

My son used to beg to sleep in his clothes, arguing that it would enable him to sleep in for several more minutes each morning. We don’t advocate allowing your business suit to do double duty as pajamas, but laying out your clothing the night before does more than just save you time deciding what to wear. You’ll also spare yourself the hassle of searching for stocking and accessories, and you’ll know before it’s too late whether part of the outfit is wrinkled, dirty or in need of repair.

Have your kids lay out their entire ensemble as well, from underclothing to socks and shoes. You’ll know whether a necessary item is still in the laundry, and you can veto the bathing suit/batman combo and other unacceptable choices before your kid is halfway out the door. 

Prepare Breakfast, Pack Lunch

Set out bowls and cold cereal or bake muffins or quiche cups that can be quickly reheated. Chop fruits and veggies, make sandwiches and put cookies in zip-lock bags. If your kids’ activities keep you out late, prepare everything you need for a crock-pot dinner. In the morning you can dump it in, set the timer and go. For even more efficiency, set aside some time on Sunday and prepare meals for the whole week.

Check Your Calendar

Take a look at your appointments and to-do list for today as well as tomorrow. What did you accomplish today? Was anything left undone that you should address tomorrow? What are your highest priorities this week? Are there any conflicts in your schedule?

What do you need to be ready for the coming day? Will you need any documents, files or other materials? Will you need to prepare in any other way? If you wait until you’re at the office to see what’s on your agenda, you risk missing an early appointment or arriving unprepared.

Check your kids’ schedules, too. Is there a student council meeting that slipped your mind, and possibly theirs? Do they need any special materials or equipment? Do they have a ride to and from all their activities? By reviewing their day as well as your own you forgo missing cleats, unfinished science projects, and a hundred other morning dramas.

Prepare Your Launch Pad

You’ve identified all the major events of the day to come and prepared everything you need, but how often has an important form been left on the kitchen counter or in a child’s room? Identify your launch pad and make sure everything is there before you go to bed. For kids, set out:

  • Backpacks
  • Homework
  • Library Books
  • Shoes
  • Coats
  • Hats
  • Athletic gear
  • Instruments
  • Projects
  • Anything else they’ll need to make it through the day

For yourself, include:

  • Briefcase
  • Purse
  • Laptop
  • Exercise clothing/gym bag
  • Coat
  • Shoes
  • Keys
  • Anything else YOU need to make it through the day

Only two things stay out of the launch pad: Your clothes, which are laid out neatly in each person’s bedroom, and your lunch boxes – leave those in the kitchen, ready to be filled.

Set the Stage for Success

Now that you’ve covered the essentials, you may find that you’re more able to meet some of your personal goals. If you’re familiar with the Tiny Habits method, you know that the easier a goal is, the more likely you are to follow through with it. By arranging everything you need the night before, you invest in the next day’s success. In fact, it will add to your motivation – you don’t want to have gone to the trouble of laying out your things for nothing!

  • If you’re trying to establish a habit of taking supplements each morning, place the supplements and an empty glass next to your sink.
  • If you want to add some exercise to your morning, set out your shoes, yoga mat or weights.
  • If you’ve decided to write a thank-you each day, put some cards and a nice pen at your desk, ready to go.

Morning Chaos or Morning Clockwork?

Rushing through the morning has implications for the entire day, for both you and your children. Most kids need time for transitions. Arriving at school a few minutes early allows them to calmly stow their backpack and jacket, pull out the things they’ll need for the day, check in with friends and adjust to the classroom atmosphere. Running late means they’re constantly hurrying to catch up, and it impacts their entire day. You’ve probably noticed similar effects in your own life. Set your whole family up for success by letting your evening routine do the heavy lifting and see the morning chaos turn to clockwork.

If you’re looking for more ways to master your to-do list, create balance in your life and create peace and positivity in your home, sign up for our newest course, Tiny Habits for Moms.

Your Mom Was Right: This One Simple Habit Matters More Than You Think

Navy Seal William H. McRaven wants you to make your bed, and don’t try telling him that you’re only going to mess it up again tonight. Admiral McRaven is a big believer in the power that small actions have in accomplishing big objectives, and he should know. He was the commander of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

Start Your Day With Success Momentum

In his 2014 commencement speech at the University of Texas, Admiral McRaven told graduates, “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed…It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task, and another, and another.” At Tiny Habits we call this success momentum, and it’s one of the keys to the Tiny Habits method.

By making your bed, you start the day off with a win. You’ve only been awake for two minutes, and you’ve already accomplished something tangible. It’s a visible daily reminder that you have power over your environment as well as your attitude. It’s the first domino in your day of accomplishing tasks both large and small.

Order or Chaos?

A tidy bed sets the tone for your day, but it also impacts how you’ll feel at the end of it. Imagine it’s finally time for bed. Maybe you’ve had a terrible day. You lost your temper with your kids. You got stuck in traffic and arrived twenty minutes late for an important meeting. You didn’t accomplish half the things on your list. You open your bedroom door and there, blankets disheveled, pillows askew, is one more reminder that your life is out of control.

Or maybe you had a great day. You made it to the gym. You finished a project early. You helped the kids with their homework and had time for a story before bed. You open your bedroom door, feeling elevated by all the things you accomplished, and there is your bed. Disheveled and unkempt. Your balloon of satisfaction deflates just a bit.

End Your Day With A Feeling of Pride

Now imagine how a two-minute investment at the start of the day can change the way you feel at the end of it. You had a terrible day and you just can’t wait for it to be over. You open your bedroom door and there is your bed, tidy and neat, reminding you that not all is lost. You started your day with a moment of triumph, and you’ll do the same tomorrow. And if you had an amazing day, that perfectly made bed is the icing on the cake.

After your feet hit the floor each morning, take a moment to make your bed, then pause to celebrate your accomplishment. Teach your children to do the same, and they, too, will start their day with satisfaction and pride.

Our Groundbreaking New Course

Whether you’re a veteran bed-maker or recommitting yourself to the task, you’ll learn many new strategies for putting your life in order and finding much-needed balance in our new course, Tiny Habits for Moms. Sign up here to join this life-changing workshop.

Are Your Habits Hurting Your Brain? Part 2

If you missed yesterday’s post explaining the neuroscience behind habit formation and the novelty response, click here to get up to speed. If you’re wondering how you can cultivate cognitive reserve in your most routine moments, you’re in the right place.

Mindful Habits or Mindless Routines?

When you first learned to drive, your brain was probably very engaged. This challenging task requires coordination between your eyes, hands, and feet in particular. You have to be aware of everything around you while also monitoring your speed and position on the road. However, over time driving becomes less of a challenge and you are eventually able to navigate all but the trickiest of roadways with only minimal engagement. This is great for your commute, but not so great for your brain.

The brain possesses an infinite capacity for mastering new skills and making them feel effortless. This is great, as it’s exactly what we need to establish healthy habits and effective routines. However, like an energetic child, it needs to be continually challenged or it can become bored and disengaged. The key is to strike the right balance between novelty and structure.

Turning Off Auto-Pilot

If you frequently can’t remember whether you took your morning supplements or arrive at work with little recollection of the drive there, your brain may be so bored by the day’s predictability that it has essentially shut off. When your routines have become mindless, you’re missing out on great opportunities to boost your brain throughout the day.

Try spicing things up by adding a small cognitive challenge to each routine task.

  • Brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand. It’s harder than you’d think. It also forges novel connections in several parts of the brain.
  • Shower with your eyes closed. You’ll use senses that are usually neglected and be more focused on the task.
  • Spritz on a new scent. Our olfactory center is closely linked with memory formation.
  • Try a different morning beverage – swap coffee for tea or sample a different blend. Take a minute to really savor the new flavor.
  • Switch seats – at the dinner table, in the lunchroom or in a meeting. You’ll hear different conversations and see things from a different perspective, literally and figuratively.
  • For one day, turn your photos upside down. Again, the change in perspective can spark your brain to work in new ways.
  • Shop in a different grocery store. It might take a few minutes more, but your brain will be more engaged and open to new foods and discoveries.
  • Read a section of the paper you usually skip. You’ll learn something new and spark your creative brain as those new ideas bump up against the old.

Now you know how you can change your everyday routines to better support your brain health, but what about that morning crossword puzzle? Is it possible it’s not as productive as you think? Check back tomorrow to find out more.

If you’re ready to learn more about the habits that support your brain health, click here to join our groundbreaking new course, Habits for Brain Health. This live, interactive course combines the Tiny Habits method with powerful, practical recipes for keeping your brain sharp now and throughout your life.

Are Your Habits Hurting Your Brain? Part 1

If you’re hoping to foster new habits this year that will increase your health and happiness, we’re here to help. Daily exercise, meditation, and even flossing can boost your brain health, but not all habits work in your favor. You probably already know that smoking, sugar and a sedentary lifestyle can wreak havoc on your cardiovascular and cognitive functioning, but what about your drive to work or your morning crossword?

Making Healthy Actions Automatic

Habits and routines give our lives structure and direction. Turning healthy behaviors into habits is important because you want to follow through on those actions even when your motivation is low. That’s one reason the Tiny Habits method is so successful. Often those habits become part of our daily routines, and are so engrained we don’t even have to think about them. In general, that’s a good thing. However, you certainly don’t want to go through life on auto-pilot. Your brain craves novelty and challenge to stay sharp and agile.

Pathways in the Forest

Every new thought or experience sends a tiny spasm of electricity that stimulates dendritic growth and expands your brain volume. Dendrites are like tiny pathways through your brain, and the more of them you have, the greater your cognitive reserve. If a thought or action is repeated, the pathway becomes stronger and it takes less effort to send a signal through. “Neurons that fire together wire together,” as neuroscientists say, and this is exactly how habits are formed: by repeatedly following a trigger with an action, that pathway is solidified in the brain and the action becomes more automatic each time.

Building Cognitive Reserve

Establishing strong pathways that reinforce healthy habits is a good thing. However, you don’t want your brain to become so accustomed to its most well-worn pathways that stagnation sets in. As we age, the plaques and tangles that cause Alzheimer’s disease can choke off even the most established of routes. If one pathway becomes bogged down, it’s good to have plenty of other options. As you continue to learn new things and challenge yourself throughout your life, you increase your cognitive reserve, creating a brain that is both resilient and adaptable.

This Is Your Brain On Novelty

Psychologists call it the “novelty response”, and in some ways it’s the opposite of a habit. Where a habit is so engrained you don’t even have to think about it, a novel experience requires your attention and engagement, but this is precisely why it’s so effective. When you challenge yourself to learn a new word every day, cook a new recipe or take a new class, you activate new neural networks that keep your brain alert and engaged. For the best results, be sure there’s a method to the madness. Build novelty into your day by periodically establishing new habits that challenge your brain in new ways.

Building cognitive reserve doesn’t have to be costly or time-intensive. Come back tomorrow to learn how you can increase your cognitive reserve on your drive to work or even in the shower. Click here to join our groundbreaking new course, Habits for Brain Health. This live, interactive course combines the Tiny Habits method with powerful, practical recipes for keeping your brain sharp now and throughout your life.

What Helen Keller Can Teach Us About New Years Resolutions

When my children were younger, we spent a few years homeschooling. Class started promptly at 7:30 am, in our pajamas, after we had gathered and scrambled some eggs from our free-range backyard chickens. I knew that the arrangement was temporary, and that these few extra years with my children at home were a gift that I did not want to waste. While I had always been their teacher, the role took on new meaning as I worked to create a curriculum that would inspire passion, kindness and creativity while imparting the skills they’d need to assimilate into a traditional classroom one day.

I considered my priorities. As an English major, I wanted them to crave beautiful language and stories the way I always had. As a lover of science, I wanted them to wonder how everything works, from the creation of the universe to the infinite reaches of their own minds. As a mother, I wanted them to understand the power they have in this world, and to use it well. I knew that the habits and values we form in our youth are often the most lasting.

I began collecting quotes, scriptures and verses of poetry that inspire kindness and courage. Each morning as we nibbled our toast we worked to memorize one. We learned about Nelson Mandela, who said, “We can change the world and make it a better place. It is in your hands to make a difference.” We talked about Ghandhi, who taught, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” We read Aesop’s Fables and learned, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

Every week we talked about someone new, someone who used this one life we’re all given to make a difference in this world, and as we went about our day we looked for opportunities to “be the change”. Soon we’d made a habit of picking up stray trash at the playground, thanking our cashiers, and smiling and making eye contact with those we meet. We learned to watch out for new members of our groups and to invite them into our circles. We looked for those who were struggling and learned to ask, “How can I help?”

In first grade my daughter returned to public school. One day her teacher told me that they’d read a book about Helen Keller in class, and that London had shared from memory Keller’s famous words, “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. I will not refuse to do the something I can do.” I explained our homeschool devotional. “Well, it worked,” she said. “I’ve noticed that. She’s always watching. If someone is getting picked on or left out, she takes care of it.” All those words we’d learned were still there, in her mind as well as in her heart.

During this holiday season, we become more focused on serving others. Up to 88% of those who make charitable donations each year do so during the holidays. In addition to money, many individuals and families donate gifts and food to homeless shelters and needy neighbors. Others give of their time, serving in soup kitchens, caroling at nursing homes or collecting packages for soldiers stationed abroad. We recognize how blessed we are, and we search for ways to share those blessings with others.

On the heels of this season of giving we begin to contemplate the year to come. We imagine ourselves thinner, wealthier and more accomplished. We set goals and make resolutions and consider deeply the people we want to become. For many, giving is a cherished Christmas tradition, but imagine how powerful it would be if this tradition became a habit, a way of living that infused our lives every day of the year. How could you transform your own life, and the lives of those around you? As you write your resolutions for the new year, consider how in the accumulated small moments that are available to every one of us every day, it is in your hands to “be the change” and make a difference.

5 More Ways to Improve Your Brain Health in Under 30 Seconds

If 5 Ways to Improve Your Brain Health in Under 30 Seconds inspired you to care more for your brain in the coming year, click here to receive information about our upcoming course, Habits for Brain Health. If you’re ready to plant some new seeds today, try one or more of the habits below.

  1. Sip a cup of green tea. The antioxidants in a cup of green tea may contribute to lower blood pressure, better working memory, stronger bones and a healthier immune system. Drink it hot as you read the morning news or iced at the end of your workout for the moderate boost in energy and long-term neuroprotection the caffeine will provide. Brew your own and go easy on the sweetener for a brain- and budget-friendly beverage.
  2. Stub out your cigarette. If the threat of lung, throat and oral cancer isn’t enough to dissuade you from smoking, maybe its effects on your brain health will. Smoking thins the lining of the cortex, a part of the brain that is essential for memory and language function. The sooner you quit, the less damage you’ll do and the longer your brain will have to recover.
  3. Text a friend. “Remember that time when…?” Research shows that the more connected you are, the more likely you are to maintain high cognitive functioning throughout your life. Reminiscing with friends activates the memory center and relieves stress, providing a one-two punch against cognitive decline.
  4. Grab a brain game. It’s no surprise that exercising your brain is good for your brain, but if you’re not a fan of crossword puzzles, don’t worry! Research shows that any mental challenge will do. Keep a book of sudoku in your pocket or a brain training app on your phone and sneak in a mini-workout next time you’re sitting on the train, standing in line or waiting for a friend.
  5. Put your phone on airplane mode. Too little sleep puts your brain in a fog and contributes to the buildup of beta-amyloid in the brain, increasing the risk of developing dementia. Set yourself up for a restful night’s sleep by putting your phone on airplane mode. Your alarm will still work, but you won’t be disrupted by the buzz of an incoming late-night email or text. Try this trick when you’re with your friends and family, too. Being present with the ones you’re with strengthens your social connections, keeping your relationships and your brain strong, healthy and happy.

These habits may seem simple, but don’t be deceived. Every one of these actions can have lasting long-term effects when they become a part of your everyday life. But you don’t have to wait until your senior years to reap the benefits. The habits that support long-term brain health will also help you to feel healthier and happier while you’re still young. For information on our upcoming brain health course, click here.

The Surprising Secret About Service

I’ve been on the board of directors for a group called Choice Humanitarian for thirteen years, and am now on their advisory board. Every year when my kids were growing up we would take trips to Guatemala, into the villages where there is no running water, no electricity and no doctors. We would spend weeks there providing medical care and helping them to build water systems and schools. It was tough work, but when I ask my children about their greatest memories so far in their lives, without fail, all of them reference their experiences serving the Guatemalans. In fact, when I asked my daughter what she wanted for a high school graduation gift, she asked if we could take another trip to Guatemala.

I think when you have a 17 year old girl who says that, it really says something about the power of service. Here we went into a place where they didn’t even speak Spanish, they speak a Mayan dialect, and what surprised me the very firs time that we took a group into the very deep forest there was that even though no one spoke their dialect, what it really came down to was the universal language of love. You don’t need to know each other’s spoken tongue, but that love and just the fact that we were there to serve them immediately bonded us.

We went into these very poverty stricken communities hoping to bring them a wealth of health, and we found that they were far more wealthy than we were in the most important things in life, like loving, serving each other and compassion. That sticks with me to this day. When you go and serve someone you always come away with more than you gave. You always come away richer from the experience.

People often think that self worth and self confidence comes from awards that people earn, prizes or accomplishments, but in actuality self confidence comes from serving others and knowing that you made a difference in someone’s life. Realizing that even though you’re a single individual, you can make a big impact on people and on a community. And the best thing about service is that you don’t have to travel to Guatemala to make a difference in someone’s life. You can make a difference in your own community every single day through small acts of kindness and service that leave both you and the people you serve richer and happier.

One of my favorite quotes is on my office wall, and it states: “To the world you may be only one person, but to one person you may be the world.” Oftentimes you might think, “I can’t make a difference, I’m only one person, there’s nothing I can do,” but in reality, there’s a lot that you can do. Something as simple as a kind word to a cashier or a smile to a stranger on the street, just acknowledging other people and their worth, is huge.

When I was in junior high we moved to a new area in the middle of the school year. I found myself in a big new school, not knowing anybody, but during those first few weeks there was one girl in particular who didn’t know me, but she would say “hi” and smile, and that was enough to make me feel like I was going to be ok. It cost her nothing, but it meant the world to me.

As you celebrate the holidays and begin to think about the person you want to be in the coming year, consider how acts of service large and small can make an impact on the people in your life. Even a simple habit like saying thank-you with a smile or letting one person each day know how much they mean to you can change a person’s day, and can increase your own feelings of self-worth and efficacy. If you are feeling powerless in your own life, there is no better way to realize the difference you can make.