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