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Wondering how to change your life completely, Mama? Learn how to hack your habits to make over your life a little at a time–all on autopilot.
You know what’s crazy?
The thought that most of us won’t be remembered 100 years from now. We’ll be gone. Our kids will likely be gone. At best, we hope that an idea or a creation of ours takes hold and sticks around after we’ve left. (Geez–I’m a regular ray of sunshine today, aren’t I?)
If history remembers me for anything, I hope it’s the idea that we, as mothers, have the power to choose lives that are simple, efficient, and joyful.
And habits, by the way, are the MOTHERLODE when it comes to this concept. Habits make our brain’s job simpler—eliminating the need to choose what we’ll do next or think hard about performing our daily tasks. Well-chosen habits make our lives incredibly efficient, ensuring that we do those things that we want to do easily and often. And if you choose the right habits, you can put joy on autopilot.
So, if you’re ready to change your life completely and live the simple, efficient, joyful life of your dreams, it’s time to get busy creating habits that support you.
What is a habit?
Merriam-Webster gives a great definition of a habit:
“an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary”
And we perform these involuntary actions all the time in both positive and less positive ways. I habitually hug my kids and ask how they slept when I first see them in the morning. I also habitually grab a piece of chocolate to eat every night after I’ve put those kids to bed.
Establishing a habit can take a bit of conscious brainpower, but once that habit is established, it moves to a completely different part of your brain—one that makes things happen on autopilot.
Why are habits so important?
If you want to live the life of your dreams, intentionally choosing your habits is absolutely essential.
We think a lot of the time that we need willpower or motivation to do great things with our lives. And when that willpower or motivation falters or doesn’t show up, we feel like failures.
But habits take willpower and motivation out of the equation. Put a great habit into place, and doing the thing that your best self would like to do just becomes the thing you do automatically.
Your life today is a result of your current habits. Achieving the life of your dreams is about putting habits in place that serve those dreams.
Want a cleaner house? Choose habits that support one. Empty your dishwasher every morning while your coffee brews. Throw a load of laundry in the washer every morning after your shower. Tidy the house for ten minutes after dinner every night.
Do you want better health? Developing an exercise habit, a water drinking habit, or a meal prepping habit will get you there.
Want to connect better with your family? Make a habit of eating breakfast together every morning, taking a walk together after dinner, or sharing something you’re grateful for as you say goodnight.
As James Clear, author of the book Atomic Habits says, “what you repeatedly do…forms the person you are, the things you believe, and the personality that you portray.”
Hopefully I’ve convinced you that if you want to completely change your life, it’s time to put some great habits in place. So how the heck do we do that?
How to master your habits and change your life completely
Luckily, lots of smart people have studied how to make and break habits, so we’ve got some terrific data on how it’s done.
Change your thinking
Studies have shown that one of the key components of putting a new habit in place and making it stick is actually believing that you can do it.
You might want to start habitually eating more green stuff every day at lunch. If your inner monologue is constantly repeating, “I hate salads”, though, you’re likely doomed before you begin.
Consider hanging a sticky note up on your fridge that says, “I enjoy eating nutritious foods that fuel my body”. This encourages a new thought pattern that supports this new person you’re becoming.
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Hack the habit loop
Charles Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit discusses the pattern that habits follow.
- We have a Trigger–for example, I see my children in the morning.
- We run a Routine–for instance, I say, “how’d you sleep?” and I give them a big hug.
- We get a Reward–for instance, I get a big dopamine rush from the smiles and snuggles.
This is great in the case of a positive routine like the one mentioned above, but what about in my chocolate-eating example? Maybe I’d like to cut down on my sugar intake, drop some weight, or cut my grocery budget.
In that case, I can identify the trigger and replace my routine with something that will also give me a reward. Perhaps when my trigger of putting the kids to bed happens, I can grab a cup of chamomile tea from the kitchen instead of a chocolate. I still get the benefit of ingesting something soothing that I enjoy, but this habit fits in a little better with my other life goals.
Think through some habits that you’d like to change and see where you might replace that routine with a different one.
Stack your habits
Want to make it easier for a new habit to take hold? Attach it onto a habit you already possess.
Your brain builds a network of neurons to support your current behaviors. The more you do something, the stronger and more efficient the connection becomes.
You already have patterns and behaviors that have been strengthened over the years. You may as well use them to make some awesome new stuff simple to implement.
Habits experts like James Clear and BJ Fogg agree that the following formula is great for cementing a new habit:
After [current habit], I will [new habit].
- After I start my coffee brewing, I will unload the dishwasher.
- After I brush my teeth, I will take my morning vitamins.
- After I clean up the lunch dishes, I will take the kids for a walk to the park.
If you have lots of new stuff you want to do, consider gradually adding one new thing at a time. For example:
Week 1: When I first open my eyes in the morning, I’ll meditate.
Week 2: After I’ve meditated, I’ll write in my journal
Week 3: After I’ve written in my journal, I’ll look over my plan for the day
Week 4: After I’ve checked over the day’s plan, I’ll move my body for 15 minutes
(This, by the way, is my actual morning routine currently, and this is exactly how I built it. Habit stacking works.)
Monitor your habits with a tracker
Habit trackers are awesome. It’s fun to put the little check mark in the box. Doing so gives us a bite-sized reward, and seeing a row of checks encourages us to continue doing the habit. After awhile, the idea of missing a day and killing our streak is unthinkable.
Habit trackers also remind us of our previous successes. We start to feel like the type of person who unloads our dishwasher, takes her morning vitamins, or does fun things with the kids. We have concrete evidence to support it.
If you need a habit tracker, I’ve got one for you in the Mama’s Lounge.
Pay attention to the day after you miss a habit
The most important day in the journey of mastering your habits is the day after you break your streak.
Streaks break all the time. Life happens. You are not a failure if you miss a day.
The day after you break your streak, though, is the day you decide who you are. It’s the day that you choose to be the person who completely changes her life.
The sad fact of habits is that there is never really a finish line with them. You are never done. The best you can hope for is that you get to a point where you do the stuff you’d like to do without thinking.
Don’t be all or nothing. If you miss a day, start again tomorrow.
How long does it take to solidify a new habit?
You’ve probably heard that it takes 21 days to form a new habit. That’s the figure that always gets tossed around. (Probably because we like the sound of it. 21 days sounds pretty quick and easy.)
According to research done at University College London, though, it actually takes an average of 66 days for new habits to form. Some might take longer. Of course a habit that you love might take root right away. (I don’t remember having to power through 21 days to establish my nightly chocolate habit.)
As James Clear says, “A habit is a lifestyle to be lived, not a finish line to be crossed. Make small, sustainable changes you can stick with.”
Mama, you can completely change your life by this time next year. And it doesn’t require giant steps or mega-willpower. It’s just tiny actions repeated again and again that little by little change who you are.
(And if you happen to be reading this in 100 years, I’m fairly certain that it’s still true.)
Do It Now:
- Spend some time thinking about the person you’d like to be in a year. Decide you’re her right now. What are some things that she regularly does?
- Pick one thing you’d like to add to your day, and choose a thing you already do daily that will serve as the new habit’s anchor.
- Grab the free Habit Tracker from the Mama’s Lounge, and get busy putting that new behavior on autopilot.
- Once that behavior feels established, add another.
- Rinse and repeat, and prepare to be amazed at how different your life looks this time next year!