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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

3 Ways to Teach Tiny Habits to Your Kids

After I put on my seatbelt, I will push play on my audiobook.

This has been my most successful Tiny Habit to date! I can quickly finish 1-2 books a week. But this habit didn’t start this way. 

My aspiration was to read at night after putting my kids to bed. During family dinner conversations, I would express my frustration with not getting the books read that I wanted to and how my pile was stacking up. There were nights of me commenting that I bought another book, and my kids would laugh because they knew my lack of success at reading was real.

After a couple of weeks of not completing this habit, I realized I needed to troubleshoot it instead of continuing to whine. 

There was an aha moment one day… I am in the car for multiple hours a day running kids around.

And that was when this super successful habit was created. I was learning the content inside the books (which had been the aspiration the whole time). My kids heard and saw the process (I had wanted something, created a habit, it didn’t work, so I adjusted instead of giving up.)

While I was focused during this, I hadn’t realized the lesson I was teaching to my kids until one night at dinner, my middle son started to explain a habit that he had designed and needed to troubleshoot it. 

He kept hearing about the importance of gratitude and wanted to create a habit around it.

He told me that initially, he was going to sit at his desk and write down three things he was grateful for. That hadn’t been working for him, so he moved to his bed. 

He said, “Mom, I thought that after I sit on my bed, I will open up the notes on my phone and type out three things I’m grateful for.”

He explained that many of his teachers at school have him do stuff with an app on his phone, and then he dreads that, and he didn’t want to dread this habit. So time to redesign again. He liked the location of the habit (his bed); he just needed to design the gratitude part to be easier for him.

His habit ended up being, “After I sit on the end of my bed when I am done playing guitar, I will close my eyes and think of one thing I’m grateful for.”

I was excited for him. I had no idea this habit was being created and that he was doing it on his own.

The first and most powerful way to teach your kids the Tiny Habits method is by modeling positive habits yourself. Be the example and explain behaviors that you would like to have as habits for yourself. Involve your kids in the process. Let them hear what you would like to accomplish, how it’s working out, or how it isn’t. Letting them live through you and your explanations so that their thoughts can follow the process and see themselves within it. 

My absolute favorite way to teach my kids about habits is with the Swarm of Bs. 

To say I love doing this with my kids is an understatement!

It creates a moment for me to understand their aspirations and desired outcomes (sometimes it’s for a long-term desire, and sometimes it’s to solve a current problem).

How I to do the Swarm of Bs with my kids:

  1. Print this out or grab a piece of paper to draw it
  2. Sit down with your kid and ask them what an aspiration or outcome is that they get excited about (aspiration= abstract desires, outcome= measurable)
  3. Write that in the center
  4. Ask your child what behaviors they think would help achieve that aspiration or outcome (there is a deeper method mentioned in the Tiny Habits book called “magic wand”)
  5. After we have spent some time talking through what my kid wrote in the middle and the behaviors, we decide on the one that they think would be the most successful for them and design a habit around that behavior 

I love this because I get to hear their thoughts. We get to spend time together brainstorming all these fantastic possibilities of behaviors. Often there are ideas I would not have thought of.

One of my sons used this exercise to solve our family’s problem of not playing enough board games. I had no idea this was something he had wanted to have more of.

When I did this with my oldest stepdaughter, she wrote “confidence” in her swarm. Again, I had not realized this was something she wanted. Talking through how she (& I) could help her grow her confidence was playful, creative, and fun! It also allowed me to understand her and be aware of how I can help her be successful.

After Liv and I did her Swarm of Bs, she decided that mirror affirmations would be the most successful for her.

Awesome! We had a starting point.

From there, we talked through what time of day she wanted to say an affirmation. (Morning while she was brushing her hair. This was her anchor). Then we talked through what her affirmation would be (behavior). 

Her Tiny Habit:

When I am brushing my hair in the morning, I will look in the mirror and say, “Today is going to be a great day!” 

Recipe for a Tiny Habit: 

Anchor + Behavior + Celebration

I have noticed that for kids, celebration comes pretty naturally. 

A celebration is an emotional reaction. It  can be verbal, physical, or in your mind. 

One of my kids does a dance shimmy; another says “yeah!” in their mind.

My third and last suggestion for teaching your kids how to use the Tiny Habits method is to get their “buy-in.”

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

Designing habits around things your kids already want to do is fantastic. 

However, I have found I want them to do habits that they might not be stoked about.

Forcing them is one option, but that is not a long-term solution; it won’t necessarily help them as adults. So explaining to them what behavior I would like for them to make a habit and talking through it with them has been successful.

As we talk, I can hear something that they want that aligns with the behavior I am hoping for.

An example of this is making their beds. 

I have yet to find a kid that is excited about this.

I remember a particular dinner conversation that came from my frustration of my kids’ rooms being trashed by the time school started each morning. I realized what I had been doing wasn’t working, which was getting mad at them, and I decided to take a different approach. I asked them why making your bed might be important. It was helpful for them and me to understand where we all were coming from. I then asked them how they felt after school when they came home and saw that their bed was made (they all agreed that they felt happy and there was peace). I took some time to explain how simple it could be. I also explained my expectations of what a “made bed” could be (aka it didn’t have to be perfect with blankets tight & pillows lined up, etc.). I explained how it could be done in 30 seconds or less. The final part was designing a habit around this: 

After my feet hit the floor first thing in the morning, I will flip around and pull up my blankets. 

It was fascinating how literally overnight this habit was magic. They understood the behavior and have invested their ideas into the habit of designing. 

To recap: 

  1. Teach by example (using words and actions)
  1. Understand their aspirations (use the Swarm of Bs)
  2. Get their “buy-in” (value their input when designing habits)

Sign up for a free mom-focused 5-Day Tiny Habits Program: 

Tiny Habits for Moms 5 Day Program

Brittany Power

@iambrittanypower

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 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 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.