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.
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:
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.
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?
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:
For yourself, include:
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!
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.
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.
A gratitude habit can create a seismic shift in the way you view the world. If you’re already listing the things you are grateful for each day, allow that habit to change the lives of others as well by taking the next step and expressng your gratitude for the ones you love. William Arthur Ward stated it well, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”
There are many ways to express our gratitude to others. You might choose to simply tell them. Your habit might be, “When my spouse comes home from work I’ll tell her one reason I am thankful for her.” or “When I call my father on Sunday I’ll tell him one reason I appreciate him.”
Writing is another wonderful way of expressing gratitude to others, and can be as simple or complex as you’d like. For a while my habit was that after I dried off after a shower, I would text a family member and express my gratitude for them. A text, email or Facebook message can be a quick and easy way to reach out to a loved one.
In time my habit expanded to writing an actual note. I wanted to write a physical note to one person a day. This habit isn’t so tiny – it’s more of a bush, so I had to be sure to find a time in my day where my tiny habit would have room to grow, a time where I would typically have five minutes available to write. So my tiny habit was, “When I sit down at my desk for the first time each morning I will take out my notecards.”
There were some days when I didn’t actually write the note, when I pulled out my notecards but I didn’t have time because I had more pressing issues, but it would still trigger me to think of somebody and to think of my appreciation and gratitude for that person, and I found that it helped my mindset for the entire day. I was more appreciative of all of my family members and in general more aware.
Consider the following when expressing your gratitude:
One reason I think this tiny habit is really important is that unfortunately, there are tragedies that happen in our lives and we don’t know if the individual is going to be around when we do finally decide to show our love and appreciation for them. I’ve had a number of loved ones who have taken unexpected exits, and I look back and I think, I wish I could have been able to tell them one last time how much I love them and how much I appreciate them.
Expressing your gratitude can have such a transformative effect on your life, your relationships, and the lives of others. My aunt still comments on how much that note meant to her. When you express gratitude to somebody else it creates a ripple effect for you and the person you have thanked. You’ll be more aware of the good things others bring to your life, and in turn they’ll be more aware as well, and more likely to see the positive things in their own lives.
In the United States, November is the month for focusing on gratitude as we prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday. Celebrating an abundant fall harvest is a common practice in many cultures, and with good reason. There are many documented benefits to approaching your life with gratitude. Those who do:
Taking a moment to reflect on the positive can have far-reaching effects on many facets of our lives. As Eckhart Tolle stated, “Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.”
When you’re working to cultivate a habit of gratitude, it’s important to formulate a recipe tiny enough that you will feel capable of completing it even when your motivation is low. The simplest version might be:
“When my head hits the pillow, I will think of something that I’m grateful for.”
Consider, also, the timing of the habit. Beginning your day with gratitude can be a powerful way of adjusting your mindset so you are more aware and appreciative of the good things that happen as you go through your day. Gratitude at night is good for reflecting on your day and the positive things you’ve experienced, and can set the stage for contentment and restful sleep.
Expanding Your Habit
In our next blog post we’ll explore some ways to take your internal gratitude habit and make it external. For now, here are some suggestions on ways you can make an internal habit more powerful.
Taking a moment to acknowledge the positive things in your life can color your entire day. When you choose to view your life through a lens of gratitude, you create a mindset that enables you to see the opportunity in a challenge and the many small blessings that are present in every day.