Inside: Knowing how to create a new habit is a good skill to have – no matter the time of year. I researched what really works, and here are 5 surefire tips.
My mama friend Amanda also has a little book. She writes in it every day. Her husband does too.
In this book, they write precious things that their beautiful daughters said or did during their joy-filled day together. As they relive those darling moments, a feeling of peace washes over them like a bath of sunshine on a warm spring day. And they smile, knowing that when the girls grow up, they’ll have this incredibly meaningful, one-of-a-kind gift to share with them.
Why I’m Not Smiling
I started a similar book effort several months ago, and I’ve written in it four times total. I could blame it on our summer move with a huge renovation project right on its heels. Like maybe I forgot where I packed the book? Except that’s a copout. I know exactly where it’s been the whole time.
I just can never remember to write in the darn thing.
It’s not that I don’t share the pure comedic gold that comes out of Abby’s mouth. I’m sure my across-the-walkway cubemate is sick of hearing the stories.
So this is my public self-shaming that I hope will motivate me to write in Abby’s pink book more regularly. And if not? At least she’ll have four sweet memories from the year 2012 – with the added bonus of 148 blank pages with which to do whatever she’d like.
5 Ways for Busy Moms to Create a Habit
What you’re seeing here is my struggle with building a new habit. People have differing opinions on the big “R” word around the new year, but knowing how to establish a new habit is a good skill to have – no matter the time of year. Give yourself a monthly breast exam, go to sleep earlier, stop turning into the Incredible Hulk Mama when your kid drives you crazy.
So I did some research on what really works when you’re trying to make something second nature, and here are a few of the tips I found:
- Focus on one habit at a time. If you’re an overachiever, you’re probably rolling your eyes at this one. But the experts on behavior change agree on this point, and the research supports it. In his book The Power of Less, the mastermind behind zenhabits.net cautions us overachievers:
Do only one habit at a time. Do not break this rule, because I assure you that if you do multiple habits at once, you will be much less likely to succeed.
Trust me–I’ve tried both ways many times, and in my experience there is a 100 percent rate of failure for forming multiple habits at once, and a 50 to 80 percent rate of success if you do just one habit at a time.
- Set an action trigger. An action trigger is when you decide in advance when and where you’ll do the task. For example, you could tell yourself: “Right after I brush my teeth every night, I’m going to write in that pink book.” From Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard:
…what action triggers do is create an “instant habit.” Habits are behavioral autopilot, and that’s exactly what action triggers are setting up.
Here’s the proof of the “instant habit” concept: One study showed that the single biggest predictor of whether women gave themselves a monthly breast examination was if they had a habit of doing so. When another group of women who didn’t have such a habit were asked to set action triggers, they ended up doing just as well as the women with longtime habits. By preloading a decision, they created an instant habit.
- Use your phone. The Wonderful Day app for iPhone is a simple way to form new habits. You set up which habits you need to follow through on to have a “wonderful day,” and you give yourself a checkmark or an x for each day. You can also set up a reminder to ping you at a certain time each day.
The best part? When you get a satisfyingly unbroken string of green dots.
- Give yourself a visual cue. The book Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success has more on this:
Use cues to remind yourself of your resolutions in the very moments you’re most likely to forget. The best cues are the ones that kick you off autopilot and remind you of the commitments you’ve made and the results you want to achieve. They also suggest an immediate next step…[One] group we worked with placed small orange circles at locations where they tended to feel stress (certain meeting rooms, their steering wheel, and so forth). The colored circles served as cues to remind them to employ the stress-reduction tactics they had learned at a recent seminar.
For example, I could put the pink book and a pen on the nightstand next to my bed as a visual reminder. Better yet, I could leave the book on my pillow every morning to force myself to pick it up – that way, it won’t become wallpaper.
- Write it on your bathroom mirror. Steal your kid’s washable window markers and make the bathroom mirror your canvas. You can write your goal or a note of encouragement, or keep a running tally of how many days you’ve had a success with your new habit. (This is also a good way to communicate with your partner.) The trick with this one is to make sure you change it up regularly. Here’s what Change Anything has to say about this:
One important thing to remember about cues is that many of them have a half-life. Over time they become one more invisible part of your environment, so they stop working.
For more proven tricks to help you form a new habit, check out Lifehacker’s Top 10 Strategies for Making Your New Year’s Resolution Stick.
How to Find Happiness in the Chaos of Parenting
After my family welcomed our third little one into the mix, we became a family of five with a second-grader, a toddler, and a newborn. Even though I could have used more sleep and way more coffee, we were happy. Then my husband’s paternity leave ended, and I was at home with the kids all day. As time wore on, my patience became razor thin. And one day, I just broke.
The shame burns my cheeks just thinking of that day, even now. But thanks to that experience, I realized I had to make a change. I threw myself into researching how to find happiness in the chaos of parenting. Something beyond “make time for you” and “exercise more.” Because when you’re overwhelmed and at your breaking point, you don’t need the “experts” telling you more stuff to do on top of everything else.
That’s how I discovered the secrets: 10 secrets every parent should know about being happy. After hearing from hundreds of parents in the same boat as me, I knew I needed to share what I discovered. And so I wrote a book: Happy You, Happy Family.
Click here to download a free excerpt and start your journey towards finding more happiness as a parent.
Because the truth is that happiness won’t come from a big promotion at work, or from winning the lottery, or from your kids all learning to put their toys away when they’re done playing. Because eventually, you just get used to all that stuff.
True, lasting happiness comes from a conscious effort by you to put the right habits in place. This book teaches you which habits will boost your happiness, plus gives you a science-backed habit-forming toolbox so your new happiness habits actually stick.
Download my FREE cheat sheet as a bonus for joining my newsletter: 16 Miracle Phrases to Help You Reconnect With Your Child
How do you record all those precious gems that your kids come up with? What’s your best tip for creating a new habit? Let me know in a comment!
I’m a mom of four, a recovering perfectionist, and the author of Happy You, Happy Family. Parenting is hard enough without all the guilt we heap on top of ourselves. So let’s stop trying to be perfect parents and just be real ones. Sound good? Join my mailing list and as a bonus, you’ll get 25+ incredibly helpful cheat sheets that will ease your parenting struggles.