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
- 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.
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.