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How to turn obstacles into opportunities with Tiny Habits

On the 4th of September, my life changed forever. Of course, I had no way of knowing that would be the day. I thought I was in Bali to celebrate my friend’s marriage and figure out the next chapter of my life. You see, my husband and I had decided to separate only a few days before. I had no idea the universe was about to deal such an unexpected hand. 

I was drugged at the wedding, abducted, violently, and repeatedly assaulted, and had a huge accident coming off a motorcycle trying to escape. This resulted in a mild traumatic brain injury and spine, neck, head, and nerve injuries. I couldn’t do much at all for more than two years. I couldn’t even legally make my own decisions because of my traumatic brain injury (TBI).

I was terrified of doing anything which might limit me. I avoided people; I avoided love; I avoided connection. I avoided friends, family—everyone. My natural state is an adventurer, explorer, extrovert, and I love people—but I became a hermit. I stopped exercising and socializing, which I had done all my life. I barely left the house. I told no one, not even friends or family or even my mother, what was going on. I didn’t show up to things when I said I would, though I prided myself on my reliability and reputation before this. 

I took approx 12 types of medication—anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, pain relief, sleeping tablets, sedatives, nerve medication. Otherwise, I could barely move, and I looked kind of like I had MS as a result of my collapsed spine pressing on my nerves. 

In the beginning, it was so bad I needed help to remember to do basic things, like take a shower. I’m grateful I didn’t need to learn to read, write or walk again—I was fortunate to have a mild TBI. Space and time seemed to merge into one for me. I had an excellent memory before the incident—it was one of my superpowers. Afterward? I couldn’t remember anything, but I was too embarrassed to tell anyone, so I wrote down what I did each hour of each day in my iPhone calendar in case someone asked me what I had been up to; otherwise, I couldn’t recall.

I gained a lot of weight as I was recovering, which was the least of my worries, to be fair. I didn’t look in a mirror anyway as I couldn’t look at the woman who stared back at me. Who was she? I didn’t recognize her at all. I relived the trauma day after day. I had flashbacks and was often terrified to go to sleep. My hair fell out. I never felt safe. I installed locks on every window, deadbolts on my doors, and locks on each internal door inside the house. I checked the locks countless times each day. I had the consistent pestering thought, “You’re not supposed to be here.” I felt endless shame and guilt that my recovery/getting back on track was taking so long. I felt like an utter failure day after day.

I was abducted. And that makes me an abduction survivor.

I narrowly escaped with my life.

My spine did collapse, and I did have a TBI (traumatic brain injury) from the experience.

And yup, I was violently and repeatedly assaulted.

Yeah, it did take several years, teams of people, and emptied my bank accounts to recover.

No, I didn’t tell many people when it was happening as I was so ashamed.

Dad drowned in a boating tragedy, check.

Mum went to prison; I had a violent stepfather, a tumultuous upbringing, check.

My best friend died while this was happening. My marriage ended. Yeah, I can tick those boxes too.

Each of us has a story to tell.

Our own version of these types of struggles and challenges.

Each of us has a life filled with trials and tribulations, ups and downs, highs and lows, the good times and the bad. Some of us have had horrific experiences as part of our destiny, some of us have had a life filled with shiny, magic moments, and most of us have some sort of combination.

What each of us takes out of these experiences — whether consciously or unconsciously — will ultimately shape our future.

We may not get to choose what happens to us, but we decide what we will make things mean.

What we decide shapes our experience of the world and our identity.

I have never worked so hard in all my life to overcome my obstacles, but at some point, I thought there has to be a better way, there has to be something I can do, and this is where Tiny Habits entered my life.

How the Tiny Habits Methods helped me overcome obstacles

At the time, I barely wanted to leave the house. Starting exercising seemed insurmountable.
I wasn’t lacking motivation; I was so terribly full of fear and feeling unsafe that I felt I couldn’t face people. 

But walking to the letterbox and back? Now that I could do.

Getting my exercise clothes ready for a workout? Now that I could do.

The Tiny Habits Method was helping me achieve both Fogg Maxim #1 & #2.

Fogg Maxim #1: Help people do what they already want to do.

Fogg Maxim #2: Help people feel successful.

So, where did I start? Where you can begin, too:
Start way smaller than you think you need to. Set yourself up for a win. 

Tiny Habit Recipes for Wellbeing, Exercise & Weight Loss

After I prepare my PJs in the evening, I will prepare a set of exercise clothes/shoes and put them in the bathroom and celebrate by smiling and thinking, “I got this!”

Why this works: I was already getting clothes ready to wear after my evening shower—my PJs and robe. So it was very easy to open another drawer and take exercise clothes to the bathroom with me. I even moved my exercise clothes to live in the drawer next to my PJs, so it was super, super easy.
I recommend this—making things easy to do, rather than relying on memory or motivation.

The pairing: Well-being stuff in the bathroom always works well for me (and my clients & fellow coaches too.) The only thing I needed to do was open another drawer and take a set of clothes out. I also started storing exercise gear in ready-to-go sets—rather than tops/shorts separately.

The frequency? Once per day

Time the recipe takes? 15-30 seconds

It also made me feel prepared, future-focused, and on top of the next day, in advance.

After I pee for the first time in the morning (final step: washing my hands/hanging the hand towel up), I will get dressed in my exercise clothes/shoes and celebrate by doing a Serena Williams fist pump.

Why this works: This Tiny Habits recipe made me feel like someone who worked out—it started to shift my identity and how I saw and related to myself. Also, once I was in my clothes and shoes, I felt like I needed to do something before getting out of them.

The pairing: Wellbeing stuff in the bathroom

The frequency? Once per day

Time the recipe takes? Approx 15 seconds.

After I finish the last mouthful of my first coffee, I will walk to the letterbox (and celebrate by clapping my hands).

Why this works: I was in action. Tiny, simple, action—walking. 

The pairing: Coffee is a feel-good morning ritual, so I wanted to anchor exercise in here.

The frequency? Once per day

Time the recipe takes? Approx 15 seconds.

Want to earn extra credit? Keep walking! Just remember to practice your celebration first.

Focus on Celebration

Celebration is how we make our habits automatic. It creates a feeling of positive emotion right after we practice our Tiny Habit recipe—our new behaviour—or while we are doing it. It teaches us how to be our own BBF and to be kind to ourselves.

Focus on Creating Success Momentum

Rather than doing one big thing once, do small things lots of times. This gives us lots of small opportunities for success, which is actually more important than one single opportunity for larger success.

“It’s the frequency of success, not the size of success, that matters.” – Dr BJ Fogg

Real-Life Results

5-30 seconds a day using the Tiny Habits method have resulted in some massive changes.

I’ve reduced my body fat by 12%.

I’ve reduced my weight by 25lb and kept it off (approx 100-200g fat loss per week.)

Last December I could only lift a broomstick, and now I can Olympic lift.

I’ve used the Tiny Habits Method to stop taking all medication. I’ve now been medication-free for 12-months.

I’ve used Tiny Habit Recipes to assist with overwhelm, anxiety, and PTSD flashbacks. 

I couldn’t jump around at all when I began with Tiny Habits. I was so scared my spine would collapse. I started skipping in 2020, and now I dance every day.

I move my body 12,000 steps (10-15km) every day, even without going to the gym, by using Tiny Habits Recipes. I’ve consistently averaged 13,000 steps per day for two years now (I track this using Oura.)

Want to learn more

The Contributor

Kristy B

kristybertenshaw.com

igI write things & stuff on Medium

Tiny Habits for Reducing ADHD Overwhelm  

Tiny Habits for Reducing ADHD Overwhelm  

Stephanie Marcusky, CALC

If you are familiar with the Spoon Theory for chronic illness, or the idea of how to best allocate resources in a system, you may understand the idea that some people with ADHD feel that they only have the emotional energy for some activities and that there may be a lot of things that they can’t get to in a given day. 

You might also think of this as “bandwidth” – the emotional energy you have available to handle activities and stress is analogous to the amount of data traffic that can be handled by the network. 

Neurotypical people who subscribe to a GTD (Get Things Done)/Eat The Frog way of life may not understand this.

How Many Health Points? 

So let’s put it another way – When you start a new game that uses Health Points (HP), you generally have a small number of health points, but the activities you’re supposed to do only need a few. You level up pretty quickly, and you get more capacity for health points. There comes a point, though, when doing only small activities makes it take longer to level up, so you might have to slog through slow gameplay before you can level up.

Bigger activities take more HP but you get the rewards of accelerating through the game.

If we’re talking real life, going to college is going to get us farther in life than staying home and doing small chores. But it’s going to take a lot of HP. And if we have anything else that needs HP – physical or mental health problems, family to care for, unsafe living arrangements, unsafe communities, lack of transportation, cost of books and courses, all the way up to systemic economic and social structure problems – it might take longer.

The Six ‘S’s

On an individual level, if you need help getting your life under some semblance of control, some ADHD Life Coaches use the acronym of Three Ss: Structure, Support, and Systems. I like to add Strategies, Strengths, and Skills. To explain:

Structure is along the lines of how you organize your environment to help you.  For example:

  • Do you have a place for your keys by the front door? 
  • Where do you keep medication so you can take it consistently? 
  • How do you track and respond to tasks and appointments (written versus electronic planners)?

Support is alarms, automatic bill pay, Alexa/Siri/Google for creating shopping lists and setting timers, hiring people to help, or finding a friend to body double while you do boring things.

Strategies are how you approach problems. We may unconsciously start getting angry when things aren’t going the way we planned, but if we take the time to step back and re-examine, we may find a way to reframe the issue that helps us let go of some of the anger. Or we take a time-out to work off some steam with exercise or music.

Strengths mean using what we are good at. It may be different than what we’ve been taught is important, but it is our strength, and it’s important to start there and build on that. A fish isn’t going to be good at climbing a tree, but maybe swimming is exactly what helps you succeed.

Skills can be learned to support you where you might be lacking.

Systems are routines to order your life and environment. 

When we want to make a change to our routine behaviors, whether it’s adding exercise, flossing our teeth, or meditating – things that can fall into any of these Six Ss – we need a system to change our behaviors. 

The Fogg Behavior Model

BJ Fogg, a behavior researcher at Stanford, realized that behaviors need 3 elements to occur (https://behaviormodel.org/): Motivation, Ability, and a Prompt. 

If you aren’t motivated to make a change, you probably won’t. If you’re very motivated, but don’t have the ability to make the change, you won’t – throwing a library of motivation books at you isn’t going to help. And if you don’t notice an internal sensation (like needing to use the restroom) or an external “flag” (your medicine is next to the coffee maker so you can take it before you leave for work), you might not realize/remember you should do that behavior.

This leads to figuring out how to help people make those behaviors easier.

Creating a Tiny Habit

Tiny Habits® helps you create new behaviors, and it’s as easy as ABC: Anchor habit, tiny new Behavior, and Celebration.

Your Anchor is your prompt, a tiny new Behavior is small enough that you can do it quickly, and the Celebration sets the habit by flooding your brain with feel-good chemicals. Looking at it another way, (maybe more scientifically) you are strengthening your neural pathway to do that behavior. Three simple ingredients, and the encouragement to play and stay curious.

So why did I start with the long-winded Health Points game-play story, you ask? Because Tiny Habits is the key to getting more done with less HP. When you set a new habit in place after an anchor habit, you can grow it to become automatic, and you can move it from something that takes emotional labor/”HP” to something you don’t have to think through. So either it becomes a lower HP item, or almost a 0 HP item, and you can use that HP for something else.

If you know your kids are going to be bickering and asking questions and forgetting clothing items as you’re trying to get them out of the door, adding a new habit isn’t going to work right then. But if you add the Tiny Habit of hanging your car keys by the door when you come home, you save yourself a lot of HP later. If you help the kids learn the habit of putting their shoes in the bin by the door instead of letting them take the shoes into the living room where they can be lost under the couch, you’re saving time, frustration and brain power.

Why Habit Stacking Doesn’t Work

You may have heard of “habit stacking” – a 13-step process for creating a repeatable set of habits – a routine – that you can adopt to make things easier. The problem is, the more you stack together, the more likely your proverbial Jenga tower of blocks can fall if you forget something. 

A Better Strategy for Success

Let’s go back to the idea of marshaling the kids out the door to get to school. If you get distracted by a kid looking for a shoe, you might forget that you are supposed to grab your keys, then grab your lunch bag, then grab your purse/laptop bag.

I would suggest that you set 2 or 3 separate habits: when you put your coffee cup/dirty dish by the sink, move the lunch bag by the door. When you grab your shoes, move the work bag to the door. Then when you grab your keys, you will grab your bags. This is an extra check to be sure you have both bags together.

If you’re looking to reduce your stress by adding mindfulness to your day, trying to find specific time to set aside can be hard, especially with kids. But you can build a Tiny Habit to add 30 seconds of mindful breathing every time you go to the bathroom and wash your hands. 

Our modern world is complex, fast-paced, and not wired to help you focus on long-term goals. So, perfect to distract our already-distractible brains even more. The less our overburdened brains need to remember, the lighter their load and the lower our stress and overwhelm. Tiny Habits turns more high-frequency behaviors into automatic habits and increases our ability to tackle more high-energy/HP/bandwidth activities without getting overwhelmed as quickly.

Living in Integrity through Tiny Habits

Name: Chandni Sawlani

One of the biggest sources of pain and anxiety in my life, and perhaps the lives of most of us, is witnessing and knowing all that I can be but not being able to close the gap. For years like most people, I’d go through cycles of being highly motivated. Inspired by experiences that moved me deeply, I’d set powerful new intentions, take massive action, and then have all of these new behaviors fizzle away.

I first came across Tiny Habits in the middle of the pandemic in 2020. I remember going through the 5-day program, and beginning to get a sense of how it worked. My first round wasn’t too successful, but something stuck, something clicked into place, and so I gave it another shot. And BOOM…I got it! The first layer of understanding of this simple and powerful method locked in.

  1. Showing up consistently as my best self

The first piece I started to work on was my morning routine. For years I’d had fleeting phases of success with my morning routine and had experienced how this impacted the version of me I’d show up as through the day.

I started with this Tiny Habit: ‘After I open my bedroom door, I will roll out my yoga mat’ (and celebrate!). And lo and behold, there I was, rolling out my yoga mat, day after day, feeling absolute delight go through me. Soon enough, rolling out my yoga mat turned into a 20-minute yoga practice. In time, this was complemented by a meditation routine and other pieces.

Now, about a year and a half later, I wake up to my dream morning routine without fail, almost every day, even when I am travelling, even after a late night. I wake up, sip some hot herbal tea with a book to read, roll out my yoga mat and stretch, meditate for 20 minutes, send my loved ones morning messages, eat a bowl of fruit, and have a hot shower. It is my default now, and I couldn’t imagine more than a day or two of not living this routine! What’s amazing is that this routine has evolved and gone through many iterations. It’s flexible and I tweak it whenever I feel inspired to. It feels so simple to add and delete pieces, to move things around.

The returns from locking this in are priceless. I start each day feeling deeply centered and in integrity with myself. I’m able to show up to the day with stillness and with a smile. And more consistently, I have productive and successful days!

  1. Responding and no longer reacting

The second most important piece that my Tiny Habits have helped me with is responding to challenging situations, especially ones that are emotionally triggering. 

For the last few years, I have been trying really hard to navigate a certain challenging relationship with integrity. What kept me stuck was my disappointment with who I had been in this relationship. My behavior was out of alignment with the person I know I am. Intentions failed me in moments of being deeply triggered, and I’d find myself reacting with frustration and helplessness. 

When I read Amy’s story of Pearl Habits in the Tiny Habits book, it moved me to tears. I finally felt there was hope in this situation, and I had a new approach I could try. I started with the Tiny Habit: ‘After I feel emotionally triggered in a conversation, I will stand up and get into a power pose’. 

This Tiny Habit was a game-changer. It allowed me to change my physiology in a moment of stress and create a moment of pause, the space to choose my response. Over time I found myself reacting less and responding more deeply to my authentic self.

This Tiny Habit then rippled to other Tiny Habits designed specifically to navigate the nuances of this challenging relationship. Now, about 10 months from when I first started this experiment, I have managed to close and complete this relationship. There is not as much mutual acceptance as I had hoped for, but I have a sense of inner peace that comes with being in integrity with myself.

  1. Growing and evolving consistently

The third piece that my Tiny Habits have really helped with is the confidence to pursue learning and growth consistently. 

The massive gap between information and action has been a serious cause of anxiety for me. Learning was stressful because the weight of not implementing things was painful and overwhelming. 

Through Tiny Habits and the overall mindset of keeping things tiny, simple, and sustainable, I have grown confident in my ability to integrate new learnings into my life, be it professionally or personally. For instance, now whenever I complete a session of absorbing any new content or information, I have a Tiny Habit recipe: ‘After I finish reading/watching/listening to something, I will ask myself ‘What is the one thing that is most relevant for me to remember/integrate from this right now?’ This has definitely brought ease into my life, and I find myself growing and evolving more rapidly than I ever thought possible!

Tiny Habits has been the single most important framework in my toolkit for living in integrity with who I am. With my current understanding of Tiny Habits, I am confident that I can bring any change that I desire into my life, and that gives me such a sense of freedom and joy! 

I sincerely hope that you find this freedom too 🙂 Here’s a link to sign up for the free 5-day program that got me started on this journey.
Through my business Moonlight Accelerators, I support young game-changers step deeply into integrity with themselves and do their greatest work in the world! Tiny Habits is an important part of our toolkit. You can learn more here.

How I Ate a Cookie Every Day and Lost 20lb.

cookies

The rain started pouring and splish-sploshing on my window. Should I? Shouldn’t I? It isn’t part of my plan today, and I am on a deadline with my commitments. It isn’t part of my diet plan either. When was the last time I had one? I tried to remember. 

I sat inside my car, parked right outside of my house with the engine of my white Audi A1 Ambition running while I was lost in thought.

Fasting beach walk done? Check.  Errands done? Check. Gym workout done? Check. Groceries done? Check. 

Yeah, I deserve it; I’ve worked really hard this week and been consistent with my workouts; I’ll go now and get one. I did a cheeky u-turn and was on my way. 

A burnt salted-caramel slice. All of this mental energy, procrastination, time-wasting over a caramel slice. 

I knew I would feel guilty about it later and yet, over the past few weeks, I had been craving cakes, cookies, and slices far more than usual. How much time was I spending lately thinking about food? Dreaming about it? Arguing with myself over whether to eat this or not? Trying to justify the sweets, burgers, and other non-nourishing food choices, which had tightened my waistband slightly of late? 

It wasn’t the cost of the tightened pants that was of most concern; it was how much time I was spending mentally and emotionally thinking about food and the pain, guilt, suffering, and shame I felt after eating it. That’s what was triggering alarm bells. And how did this even get started? What prompted this behavior?

I don’t usually buy my coffee. My life isn’t designed that way. I drink it black and at home. I have my home set up—my environment designed—so my coffee is specifically ethically sourced—I have a bunch of criteria—and I make it at home. I’m not usually tempted by the siren call of the cakes and slices that way. But then my coffee pot broke, and I wasn’t able to find an immediate replacement. I live in Australia, and with COVID-19, the replacement would be about 6-8 weeks. I also immediately ordered a french press, but since I’m not a huge fan of coffee that way, I started buying my coffee every other day, increasing my exposure to all things delicious that the stores put in front of their counters. Clever them, given food, has always been my contention point. Burgers. Cakes. Fries. Willpower? Forget about it. All the willpower in the world won’t keep me off a cake past 3 pm. Willpower is connected to a limited reserve of mental energy, and once we run out of that energy, we’re more likely to lose self-control. Psychological researchers even have a name for this phenomenon: ego depletion. With my daily coffee run sparking the siren call of cookies and cakes, it was time to deploy a strategy I’d learned years before.

When I was going through the most challenging time in my life, my go-to was cookies. I called it my cookie conundrum. I had an excellent nutritionist at the time. He said to me if I’m doing something over and over again—if my body is craving it, or it is causing some pay off mentally, emotionally, or physically—rather than making myself wrong, to instead incorporate it into my lifestyle. In this case, he created a meal plan where my diet plan was clean to meet my desired outcomes and aspirations—at the time, fat reduction and to increase my fitness & strength—but every day, there was an afternoon cookie and coffee ritual, which I got to indulge in. There was no need to feel bad as it was fulfilling a need and was pre-planned for. I didn’t know it at the time, but my nutritionist was practicing behavior design. My nutritionist was unwittingly living, teaching, and embodying Fogg Maxxim #1 & Fogg Maxxim #2.

Fogg Maxim #1: Help people do what they already want to do.

Fogg Maxim #2: Help people feel successful.

I also believe in eating food for nourishment and performance. Foods that will cause sustained uplifting energy, vitality, and aliveness help with my productivity, anti-aging, and long-term objectives, so all this cake and slice eating isn’t actually working. There is an absolute conflict between my values and goals.

Conflicting motivations are opposing drives related to the same behavior and can be a source of psychological suffering. “I want to eliminate non-nourishing, sugar-laden foods from my diet, but gosh, I really want to eat these cookies”. These conflicts can change depending on what’s happening around us, and we may not even understand where the desire to eat these specific foods is coming from. Rather than needing to figure out why or the source of our motivation—emotionally, mentally, or physically—we can design something workable for our life, right now, exactly as it is. We can figure out what’s prompting it.

What’s prompting my cookie-munching anyways? The mid-afternoon energy slump.

My mid-afternoon energy slump usually happens at 2 pm, and it’s a feeling for sure. I feel tired, low energy, mild fatigue, and want to lie down and take a nap—which I never do—followed by the overwhelming feeling of craving something sweet to eat—ala, the desire for cookies and cake. And I’m not alone. 

A lot of us get a mid-afternoon slump.

A carb-heavy lunch can lead to a sugar crash. A rebound in fatigue that was temporarily held at bay by morning caffeine. Being mildly dehydrated can subtly yet negatively affect our energy levels. Also, insomnia and sleep deprivation are commonplace in the world today. If we are not getting enough sleep at night, small factors can have a large effect on our alertness in the afternoon.

Behavior happens in a specific context or environment when we are motivated, we have the ability to do it, and we are prompted. 

B (Behavior) = (happens when) M (Motivation) & A (Ability) & P (Prompt) converge at the same moment.

If we know this is going to happen, we can research and plan ahead to achieve our aspirations & outcomes.

A quick google search brings up a plethora of nourishing choices which fulfill the same need, which we can pop into our pantries as better options when we are prompted.

A few of my favorites, and where to find them:

Justine’s Cookies 

https://www.instagram.com/justinescookies/

I love chocolate, fudge & brownies.

Smart Protein Bars 

https://www.instagram.com/smartdietsolutions/

I love the Vanilla Nougat, Strawberry Cheesecake, and Marshmallow Chocolate Biscuit flavors.

Here’s what they look like in my pantry.

The cookie conundrum? I turned it into a blissful Tiny Habits Recipe you can use in your own life too.

Step 1: Purchase some protein cookies, bars, balls, or slices you believe are healthy. Not sure where to start? Use the links I’ve included above.

Step 2: Figure out a good prompt. The behavior sequence might look like this:

After I feel my energy fade (in the afternoon), I will pour a glass of water and indulge in a protein cookie (bar or ball).

Step 3: Really enjoy the taste. Bliss out in the moment and feel happy and good about adding a healthy habit to your life.

My Recipe—The Tiny Habits Method

After I feel my energy start to fade (in the afternoon)

I will pour a glass of water and enjoy a protein cookie

And celebrate with a Serena Williams fist pump

The best way to learn the Tiny Habits Method is to get started practicing immediately. Don’t wait.

Our decisions define us. Our actions define us. Our habits define us.

So focusing on designing specific actions is where we start.

What action will you choose to take now?

The Contributor

Kristy B

kristybertenshaw.com

I write things & stuff on Medium

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.

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.

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.

Change Your Relationships in Two Minutes A Day

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:

  • Be spontaneous. This might come as a surprise in a blog about forming habits, but what I mean is to express gratitude at unexpected moments as well as expected ones. I sent my aunt a card after she organized our family reunion, but I have also sent cards simply because I was thinking of someone and wanted them to know.
  • Be specific. Thank them for their actions, but also explain why those actions meant so much to you. For example, you might say, “I wanted to thank you for the beautiful musical number you shared in church. My grandmother was a violinist and your song brought back fond memories of her.”
  • Be prepared. One way I prepared for success with this habit was by planting it in the right soil, where it would have room to grow. I also kept everything I needed on hand – my notecards and a pen were there in my desk when I sat down. I also created a second habit that supported the first; each Sunday when I sat at my desk I pulled out my cards and wrote down the names of the people I wanted to thank that week on the envelopes, so I had already decided who I wanted to write to each week and could begin thinking about what I would say to each person.

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.

Taking a Moment for Gratitude

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:

  • Experience fewer aches and pains.
  • Exercise more often and are more physically fit.
  • Sleep more soundly. 
  • Expand their life expectancy by up to 7 years. 
  • Are more physically and mentally resilient.
  • Have reduced rates of depression.
  • Have greater empathy for others. 
  • Have increased self-esteem. 
  • Are more appreciative of others’ accomplishments. 
  • Have stronger and more satisfying relationships. 

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.”

Cultivating Gratitude

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. 

  1. Say it aloud. Thinking of something you are grateful for is an excellent start, and for some people it may be enough, but speaking a thought aloud makes it more concrete and more emotionally resonant. When I sit down to a meal, I will say one thing I am grateful for.
  2. Write it down. Like speaking the thought aloud, writing it down requires you to make the thought more defined. In addition, adding the physical movement of writing activates more of the brain and makes the thought more “sticky”. Writing also provides the added benefit of creating a log that you can look back on over time and reflect on the richness of your life. However, it does require a bit more time and available materials than a thought or spoken gratitude. When I get into bed, I will open my gratitude journal. 
  3. Make it specific. Consider why you are grateful for each person or thing. Instead of simply listing that you are thankful for your spouse, expand the thought by including that you are thankful for your spouse because he made your favorite dinner or because she always puts her phone down when you’re talking. If you are grateful for the things in your life, consider what those things allow you to do, be, accomplish or experience. For example, you might be grateful for your car because it allows you to get to work or for your new tennis shoes because they enable you to run without pain. 

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.