Building Your Own Habits: Part 1

I see you, parents and teachers of little children. Often spending all your time and energy helping your kids to be the best they can be, putting your goals aside “for now”. If this sounds familiar, this post is for you! Raising and teaching children is such an intense and important job. It’s easy to forget that taking care of yourself, pursuing your own goals and needs, are crucial to your ability to continue supporting and developing others. As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup.

“Taking care of yourself doesn’t mean me first, it means me too.”

–L.R. Knost

Over the last few weeks we have been looking at ways we can support children to develop new skills and behaviors. This week, we’re focusing on you! Habit change and motivation is a large topic we can’t cover in depth in a single blog post. But to get you started, or keep you going, here are 5 strategies for building new habits.

  1. Focus on building one habit at a time.

We have all been there. Usually around New Year’s Eve. We decide this is the year for the big overhaul! Change all the things! Although a few of us are the type that can completely change their lives all at once and for good, that’s a very small number (and you’re probably not reading this post if that’s you!). Start with one habit at a time, no matter how small. One benefit of starting new habits is the feeling of success from one new habit creates the inspiration to keep you motivated and feel confident that now you can tackle the next habit. Think of it like exercising your habit muscle.

  1. Make the habit so easy it takes little effort to start, then add on to this little piece every day.

If your goal is to begin a mindfulness practice, starting with 15 minutes of meditation right away is likely to be a pretty big hurdle to suddenly add into your day.

  • Instead, try starting with 1 minute a day, that’s all! Start with this little habit of doing 1 minute of mindful breathing, then slowly add one minute at a time in small steps. If you add 1 minute a day, by the end of the month you could get up to 31 minutes, for a total of 496 minutes of meditation! But if this is too big a jump, why not start with just counting 10 breaths when you wake up. Then slowly progressing to 15 breaths the next day, then 20…
  • Want to build arm and core strength? Do 1 push-up the first day, then increase by 1 push-up each day. When this set gets too long, chunk the habit and keep going! Say you get to 15 but more than that becomes a hassle. Start another set in the same way at a different time: 15 push-ups + 1, then the next day 15 + 2, then 15 + 3… You would end up with a total of 496 push-ups in one month. (Full disclosure: I’ve been trying this, and as of today (May 18th) I’ve made it all the way to 18 push-ups in a row. And starting from just barely getting through 1 on the first day… I’m surprising even myself!)
  1. Be intentional about setting up your environment to promote the new habit.

Our environment is a surprisingly impactful part of what triggers our habits, whether it’s location, time of day, emotional state, or how things are arranged. Think about the excuses you make when you don’t feel like doing the behavior, and see if you can arrange your environment to get around this.

  • If you skip the gym because it’s out of your way, change gyms so it is on your way home from work. Keep water within reach while you’re sitting at your desk or driving. You may be surprised how often you take a drink just because it’s there. If you want to walk more often at work, but needing to wear nice shoes is your excuse, try keeping a pair of office walking shoes under your desk.
  1. Plan how or when you will follow through on your new habit.

Scheduling and planning your new habit process can be the secret sauce to success! How many times have you hoped, wished, or told yourself you are going to do something, but suddenly it’s the end of the day and you’re stuck putting it off until tomorrow? Me too! When you plan, or schedule what you will do ahead of time, you’re helping your future-self choose that new behavior later on. And, planning your days to reduce the amount of time spent using self-control in the moment, will make it much easier to stick to your new habits when you are tired or distracted by the craziness of life.

  • Wanting to write or journal more? Schedule it into your day. Want to eat healthier? Plan your meals for the week (and prep all your dinners if you’re really hardcore!). If you know you’re meeting a friend at a coffee shop and chocolate croissants are your weakness (but your goal is zero sugar), plan what you will order and make sure you’re not hungry before you arrive.
  1. Be consistent. Utilize your routines to increase habit.

Like we mentioned last week, humans rely on habits to such a great extent because it frees our brains to do and think of things other than each step in tying a shoe, or how to back out of the drive-way. The downside of using habits so much? They sure can be difficult to stop. When building new habits, we are often replacing old ones. If we give up, or are not consistent in practicing the new habit, it is easy to fall back on old ones.

  • Consider whether you can use an existing routine to build a new habit. Perhaps every morning when you push start on the coffee machine, you use that as your cue to meditate for 2 minutes. Make brushing your teeth the cue to hit the floor and do a few push-ups. (Well, as long as you already have the habit of brushing your teeth everyday…)
  • If you tend to misplace your keys around the house, turn the routine of opening your door into your cue for creating the new habit of placing your keys in the same bowl on the counter, or on the same hook by the door. (Try a stick-on utility or picture hanging hook by the door if you don’t want a permanent key-hook.)

Yes, some of these steps will take more effort up front. But remember the pay-off: reduced effort and struggle down the line when your hard work pays off and your new behavior turns into a habit!

Whether you take the time to work on your own good habits, or just take time for yourself to refill your own metaphorical cup, give yourself a pat on the back for being a role model of self-care and self-compassion for the kids who look up to you. If you are thinking about adding a new habit to your life, stay tuned for part two of this post next Monday: 3 Ways to Strengthen Change Motivation!

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