Create Your Vision and Set Your Intentions For Your Best Year Ever

For the past three years, at the end of each calendar year, I’d sit down and reflect upon my vision for the New Year and what I wanted to accomplish and focus on in the upcoming year.  

First, I’d brainstorm a “theme” for the year and write down words that reflected values that were important to me.  Then, I set my intentions for the New Year by narrowing down the list down to the top three most important ones.  

Last year, the three values I chose were:

1.  Action

2.  Gratitude

3.  Perseverance


 

SET YOUR INTENTIONS AND CREATE A VISUAL REMINDER

I created an 8 1/2” x 11” document highlighting my intentions and focus for the year.  Then, I found quotes that I loved and that reflected “why” each value was important to me.  I made sure that the document was nice to look at and was easy to read.  I kept it posted up on my bulletin board next to my desk, where I looked at it every single day.  The document served as a powerful visual reminder of what my focus was on the year.

Interested in creating your own vision document?  Let’s deconstruct my 2017 document:

Year:  2017

Overall Theme:  “This is the Year”

 

Focus #1:  Gratitude

Tag Line:  Be thankful.

Quote:  “Gratitude opens the door to the power, the wisdom, the creativity of the universe.  You open the door through gratitude.”  Deepak Chopra

 

Focus #2:  Action

Tag Line:  Just do it.

Quote:  “The journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”  Lao Tzu

 

Focus #3:  Perseverance

Tag Line:  Keep going.

Quote:  “It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.”  Confucius


Set Intentions for the New Year 2018

This year, my overall theme is “keep the momentum going”.  You can see and print out a copy of my actual document here.  The three areas that I’d like to focus on are:

Focus #1:  Perseverance.  I carried this one over from last year because I felt it was super important.

Tag Line:  Don’t stop.  Keep going.

Quote:  “Never give up, for that is the time and place that the tide will turn.”  Harriet Beecher Stowe

 

Focus #2:  Get Out of Your Comfort Zone.  My comfort zone is so, well…comfortable.  Which is why it’s a tough one to tackle.  But I’m determined to make it a point to get comfortable being uncomfortable this year.

Tag Line:  Get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Quote:  “In any given moment we have two options:  to step forward into growth or to step back into safety.”  Abraham Maslow

 

Focus #3:  Healthy Living.  I want to focus on my physical and mental health.  I’ve done a pretty good job of creating and maintaining a meditation habit the past two years, so I feel like I’m on track with the mental health.  However, I’ve allowed myself to be sedentary for many years, and my most recent blood work numbers are reflective of this.  My physical health is a top priority for me this year.

Tag Line:  Exercise the mind and body.

Quote:  “When mind, body, and spirit are in harmony, happiness is the natural result.”  Deepak Chopra

 

CREATE YOUR OWN VISION DOCUMENT FOR THE NEW YEAR

Here’s how you can create your own “vision” document:

1.  Download our free template (it looks like the one below).  Opt-in to get this template and other freebies in our free resource library here.  If you’d rather create your own design, get into Word, Pages, or whatever word processing program you use.

Setting Intentions 2018 Template

2.  If using your own document, choose a pleasing background or color for your document.  Type the year in a large font at the top center of the document.

3.  Brainstorm your three focus areas to set your intentions for the new year.  Some ideas:

Exercise

Healthy Eating

Mindfulness/Meditation

Spirituality

Kindness

Love

Perseverance

Bold Action

Assertiveness

Being a Lifelong Learner

Gratitude

Relationships 

Build Confidence

Stress Reduction

Debt Reduction

Volunteerism

Play

Creativity

Journaling

Travel

Empathy

4.  After you’ve selected your three focus areas, type them in bold in your document.  Include a tagline if you want.

5.  Search online for quotes that will help you to focus on your three values.  Type into the google search box your query like this:  “quotes about creativity”, or “quotes about gratitude”, etc.  Once you’ve found quotes that resonate with you, type it below your focus word(s) and tagline.

Print out your vision document and keep it highly visible.  I keep one copy on my bulletin board next to my desk, and I shrink a copy to 60% and keep the small copy in my planner.  

Use this document to stay focused all year long.  I promise it works!  It serves as a visual reminder of what’s important to you.  This would also be perfect to print and paste on your vision board.  If you’d like to learn more about setting goals and creating a concrete action plan for achieving them, read about it here.  If you’re starting from square one, become self-aware with 25 questions in this post.  

I wish you all your very best year ever!  I sincerely hope you create your own vision document for the New Year.  If you’d like to share yours, e-mail me…I’d love to see it!  If you found this post helpful, please share it with your friends or pin it to your Pinterest boards.  Aloha!

Create Your Goal Action Plan to Achieve Your Goals

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Now that you've drilled down to your core values and purpose and have determined which goals you're going to pursue, you're now in the final stage of tactically determining how to go about setting and achieving your goals.  If you started here and would like to backtrack a bit, read our post about becoming self-aware (here) and then move on to our post about ensuring your goals are in alignment with your values (here).

Quite simply, the way to achieve your goals is to first set a reasonably achievable and specific goal.  Then, you break down your goal into smaller bits.  As you chip away at the smaller bits, you move closer and closer to your goal!

If you have a goal but no plan, you’ll have no roadmap and it’ll be super difficult to achieve the goal.  As the saying goes:

A goal without a plan is just a wish.

-Antoine de Saint-Exupery

 

Let’s get started.

 

ENSURE YOUR GOALS ARE SMART

First things first.  You need to set a proper goal, or you may be setting yourself up for failure before you even begin!  You may already know about S.M.A.R.T. goals.  SMART goals place structure around your goal setting and ensure that you know whether or not you’re making progress toward your goals.  No vague and unrealistic resolutions allowed!  Put your goals  through the SMART test:

S= Specific.  Be specific.  A goal such as “lose weight” is too broad.  State your goal in specific terms, such as “Lose 5 pounds by May 31st.”

M= Measurable.  The progress and outcome can be measured.  Sales numbers and e-mail subscribers are measurable.  Blood work numbers are measurable.  Doing 25 burpees in a row is measurable.  You’ll need to be able to measure the outcome, or how will you know when you’ve reached your goal?

A= Achievable.  Is the goal achievable?  If you’re currently a couch potato, a goal to run around the block without stopping after training for one month is achievable.  On the other hand, a goal to compete in a triathlon after training for one month is not.  

R= Realistic & Relevant.  Is the goal both relevant and realistic?  A goal to write a novel may be relevant to your end goal.  However, a goal to begin writing your first novel, and have it become a NYT bestseller and made into a major motion picture probably isn’t realistic (given the fact that J.K. Rowling and Andy Weir were both rejected over 20 times on their first go around).  On the other hand, a goal to write your first novel and self-publish it would be realistic.

T= Time-bound. Does your goal have a deadline?  Your goal needs to have a deadline attached to it.  Otherwise, there is simply no urgency to it.

 

SMART GOALS IN ACTION

Let’s examine one of my goals for this year: making exercise a top priority in my life.  How can I maximize the chances of success with this goal?  First, let’s put it through the SMART goal test.  Here we go:

WHAT I WANT:  To be a healthy and fit person. 

How will I achieve this?

MY SPECIFIC GOAL: Make health and fitness a priority in my life by exercising 5x/week for a minimum of 30 minutes a day.  Bring my A1C number (blood sugar reading) down and below 5.7.  Will accomplish this by the time my 6-month check-in appointment with my doctor comes around in June of 2018.

S= Specific.  My goal is pretty darn specific.  Check.  

M= Measurable.  I’ve set a definite number of times per week to exercise for a specified amount of time per day.  My A1C number can (and will) be measured by blood work ordered by my doctor.  Check.

A= Achievable.  The goal should be a bit of a stretch goal, yet still achievable.  In theory, I should be able to find 30 minutes per day, 5x/week, to exercise.  Check.

R= Relevant and Realistic.  This goal is relevant to being a healthy and fit person.  It’s also realistic because my doctor says the 5x/week is non-negotiable and is the minimum amount of exercise everyone should be getting.  No exceptions, no excuses.  Check.

T= Time-bound.  There is a deadline attached to this goal:  June 2018.  Check.

 

A SIMPLE GOAL ACTION PLAN

So now that we know my goal is SMART, we can get tactical.  Here’s a simple plan to drill down to the nitty-gritty of what you need to do to reach your goal(s).  There are five questions/categories you’ll need to brainstorm as well as a reflection of each action step you identify.

Refer to your goal.  Now, think:  What is the next action?  Here, you’ll need to identify the very first step to get to where you want to go.  If it’s really hard to figure out, think about already having achieved your goal and work backward from there.   In my (real life) example, I’d picture myself looking trim, fit, and feeling healthy.  Then I’d write down each step, working backward with my specific end goal at the very top and going down from there:

Feeling healthy, looking fit and trim

Exercising as a habit 5 days a week

Track exercise on habit tracker

No thinking about exercising, just do it, it comes easily as brushing my teeth every day

Exercise 3x/week walking the dog for 30 minutes outdoors

Exercise 2x/week cardio + weights

Download motivating workout music for walking

Get all necessary equipment (weights, glow in the dark dog leash)

Planning/creating exercise schedule

Researching online video exercise options and decide which ones to use (YouTube, fitness subscription sites, etc)

Research and identify how I will track the exercise habit

Determine how often and what kind of exercises I want to do and will likely stick with

 

Be sure to break down complex tasks into the smallest bits as possible.  As you can see, by working backward, the steps should be in descending chronological order and should make sense when you read them from the bottom up.  

So, in this case, the very first action step I’d need to take would be to brainstorm and decide what kind of exercises I want to do and knowing myself—what type I’d be most likely to stick with.  If my goal is to start my own eBay side business, the first step might be to begin looking around the house for items to sell.  So, for step #1, determine what the next actions that you need to do to move toward your goal.  Write the action steps down.

Next, determine: Who is responsible for completing this step?  Do you need to complete it, or do you need to delegate it?  

Then, determine a deadline to complete the action step:  When should this step be completed?  Going back to your SMART goals, your goal should have a deadline.  Likewise, each action step should also have a deadline associated with it.  This increases the likelihood of completing the action step, as there may be no urgency without a deadline.  

The fourth question to ask yourself is: What resources do you need to complete this step?  You’ll need to identify what resources you’ll need to complete this action item.  Do you need to do research on meal or workout plans?  Do you need to complete a personality test?  Do you need to get authorization from someone?  Do you need to complete prerequisite courses?  Identifying the needed resources may create another separate action step to be tackled.  

This is a really important question to ponder:  Are there any challenges to completing this step?  If so, how will you overcome the challenges?  Really think about this one.  Recognize that things may not go as smoothly as you hope.  There will likely be obstacles that get in your way, things that can and will derail you (if you let it).  Thinking about these roadblocks in advance can help you to power through them.  Many times, we stop once we reach a roadblock, taking it as a sign to stop.  It isn’t!  If we stopped each time we hit a roadblock, we’ll never move closer to achieving our goals.  Working through each challenge is much easier if you’ve created a plan of attack in advance.  This should help you to achieve each action step, which will, in turn, bring you closer to achieving your goals!

As a side note, answering this challenge question is like using an “if-then” strategy.  I’ve talked about if-then strategies in this post, in case you’re interested in learning more.

Finally, a reflection question:  Did you complete this step?  Were any new steps identified in the process?  Sometimes, the completion of one step or the evaluation of our action steps will cause us to recognize another step that we missed or didn’t realize we had to do.  



 

OUR GOAL SLAYING AND PLANNING WORKSHEET

 
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We've created a beautiful worksheet (above) with fill-in-the-blank spaces for you.  On our worksheet, be sure to write in your big dream or goal IN BOLD at the top to keep it visible and top of mind!  Opt in above to get the free download printable.  Or simply create your own worksheet and just start writing!  

Answer all five questions for each action step that you’ve identified.  If you’ve given your specific goals and each action step enough thought, it should be detailed enough for you move confidently in the direction of achieving your goals.  

If you follow your action plan and complete each action step, you’ll know that you are making progress toward your goals!  Checking off action steps and visually seeing how much progress you’re making toward your goals will keep you motivated to keep going!

 

HOW TO USE THE GOAL ACTION PLAN TO ACHIEVE YOUR GOALS

Now that you have your action steps clearly outlined, here are some final thoughts about putting your newly created action plan into action:

  1. Keep several copies of your action plan to refer to:  at your desk, in your planner, and at your bedside.  Set aside some time to think about your goals and your “why” (what is motivating you to achieve your dreams and goals) each day.  I reflect on my goals each night before bed when I’m planning out the next day.  Some people journal first thing in the morning.  Others find a quiet spot to meditate during their lunch break.  Find what works for you.
  2. Some of your action steps will require further tracking and monitoring and perhaps, it’s own action plan.  For example, my action step of taking my dog walking 3x/week requires me to track this separately.  I’ll use my own organizational system where I plan out my day the night before.  In my planner, I’ll enter in the exercise that I’ll do the following morning and what time I plan to exercise.  I’ll also plan to take out the supplies and clothes I’ll need in advance.  This should eliminate any excuses I have to use to get out of exercising.
  3. Be sure to use some type of organizational system, habit tracking app, or goal tracking app to help keep you focused.  If you’re interested, tune in and watch a short video about my hybrid organizational system here
  4. Review your plan and make adjustments as you go along, if necessary.
  5. Create a reward as an incentive for reaching your goals.  My reward for achieving my exercise goals (in June 2018) is to gift myself a day off with a relaxing massage!  Just be sure that your reward doesn’t conflict with your overall goal.  For example, if you’ve just reached your goal weight after 3 months of healthy eating and exercising, don’t reward yourself with a Supreme deep dish pizza and a brownie sundae!

Good luck to you!  I hope there was something in this post that can help each and every one of you.  If you found this post helpful, please share it with a friend or pin it to your Pinterest boards!  Aloha!

Dreams and Goals Reality Check: Are They In Alignment With Your Values and Purpose?

Dreams and Goals Reality Check | Questions to ask yourself if your dreams and goals are in alignment with your core values and purpose

As we discussed in our earlier post (here), self-awareness is the key and the first step to moving toward your dreams.  You need to be clear on who you are, who you want to be, and where you want to go.  

So hopefully, you’ve spent the time and given yourself the mental space needed to honestly and thoroughly complete the 25 (or 50 if you opted in for our workbook) self-assessment questions in the earlier post.

If you missed the prior post with the 25 self-assessment questions, find them here.  

The Second Step in Goal Setting

So, what do you do now that you’ve identified what is important to you, what is holding you back, and what big dream or goal you’re working toward?

Are my dreams and goals in alignment with my core values and my purpose in life?

Now, you’ll need to do more self-reflection by evaluating whether or not your dreams and goals are in alignment with your core values and your purpose in life.  If your dreams and goals are not in alignment with your values and purpose, it’ll be very difficult to achieve them as you'll be fighting an internal battle the entire way.  And, if you do go on to achieve them, you’ll inevitably experience conflict and you won’t feel fulfilled as a result of achieving that goal or dream.

I’ll give you a personal example.  When I turned 40, I felt this incredible calling to express my creativity, which was being totally stifled at my corporate job.  So I enrolled in a makeup artistry class.  A whole new world of models, photo shoots, TV production, and pageants opened up.  I had some early success (I became the “go-to” makeup artist for a local model) and as a result, I was taken under the wing of an influential makeup artist who was working in Los Angeles on major movie productions.  Her career was taking off, and she was calling on me to assist her.  I was thrilled!  

Trouble was, the call times for these events were during the weekdays for corporate photo shoots and TV (during my full-time job normal work hours) and on the weekends for pageants and other events.  She asked me to take a special effects training class in Los Angeles with her.  To build up my portfolio, I needed to do those events and take that advanced training—but I was also experiencing a major internal conflict.  I had two young children at home.  They had homework, basketball and baseball practices, games, snacks, and potlucks.  And I had my full-time corporate job.  

In the end, I decided to let go of my goal of becoming a full-time makeup artist.  After some time, I realized that this goal was at complete odds with one of the most important things in my life, which was (and still is) to be the best mom I can be to my two boys.  A makeup artist’s schedule is untraditional and not family friendly.  I faced the realization that although I loved the creative expression and the energy at the events, it was taking away from the already limited time I had with my kids.  And that made my decision easy.

So how can you be sure you’re in alignment?  I recommend that you honestly reflect on the questions below to avoid the pitfall that I fell into.  I spent lots of time and money investing in makeup artistry classes, and in the makeup to fill my “kit”, only to realize that I was pursuing a goal that wasn’t in alignment with my values and purpose.  Don’t waste your time and energy on a dream or goal that is destined to fail or that’ll cause you further internal conflict.


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Let’s get started.  Here are the questions to ask yourself to determine if your dreams and goals are in alignment with your core values and your purpose in life:

1.  Is my dream or goal aligned with my core values?

2.  Are there any conflicts between my dream or goal and my core values?

3.  Does this dream or goal conflict with my purpose in life?

4.  Is this dream or goal in alignment with my ideal self?

5.  Does this dream or goal conflict with any other goals I’m currently pursuing?

6.  If so, how will these conflicts affect my pursuit of this dream or goal?

7.  Who does this dream or goal affect?  How does it affect them?

8.  Do I need to change my priorities in order to pursue this dream or goal?  Am I willing to do so?

9.  What sacrifices will I need to make in order to pursue this dream or goal?  Am I willing to do so?

10.  What will happen if I don’t achieve this dream or goal?

And finally, after reflecting on the above questions, ask yourself

Do I still want to pursue this dream or goal?

If the answer is yes, then you're ready to move on to the 3rd step in the process of creating a concrete action plan to move toward your goals and dreams.  Read about it here.   I hope you found this helpful.  If you did, share it with a friend or pin it to your Pinterest Boards!  See you in the next post!

Slay Your Goals and Achieve Your Dreams: Take the First Step In Goal Setting

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I hope you're reading this post because you've resolved to do something different this year.  I'm glad that something happened to cause that shift in you and caused you to realize you had to take action toward your dreams.  Sometimes that something is bad.  But that's okay.  Perhaps you've heard the saying:

Sometimes when things are falling apart, they may actually be falling into place.

I truly believe this.  In my own life, I've been through situations that seemed unbearable, unsolvable, and all-pervasive.  But as a result of those things happening to me, I was forced to dig deep and figure out a way to get through it.  Don't get me wrong.  It took me a while, but one day I finally decided I'd had enough of the self-pity, anger, resentment, and frustration.  I resolved to demonstrate to my kids what it was like to pick myself up after failure and to take action and at least try to get to a better place.

 

Developing Self-Awareness is Key

So what's that one thing I did to press ahead and move forward?  Becoming self-aware.  Getting clear on who I was.  Who I wanted to be.  What I wanted to achieve.  What my dreams were.  Why I wanted to achieve those dreams and goals.  And how important it was for me to be my best self.

So, the first thing to do when goal setting is to reflect and clearly define what your goals and dreams really are.  You'll need to identify why they're important to you (your "why"), and what's keeping you from either getting started or achieving them.  This is what it means to develop your own self-awareness!  In this post, you'll find some tough questions designed to get you really thinking.   Engage your heart and soul and be honest with yourself.  Give yourself the freedom to dream big. 

"You will never be able to escape from your heart.  So it is better to listen to it."  --Paulo Coehlo (The Alchemist)

Even if your dreams and goals are big, scary, and seemingly unachievable, write them down anyway.  It'll serve as your guide post, your North Star.  This is how I put my big, scary dreams into perspective:  

When I'm 80 years old, will I regret playing it safe and not at least trying to live my dream life?

Be as specific as you can here.  Why?  Because it's impossible to reach a goal that isn't defined!  For example, if you're thinking, "I want to have a better life", this is not specific enough.  What does having a "better life" mean?  It means completely different things to you and to your neighbor, sister, or BFF.  Instead, be clear and say, "I want to leave my 9-5 job to pursue being a freelance writer to (1) give me the flexibility to be with my kids and (2) pursue my passion of writing."  Your BFF might say, "I want to earn $10K in bonuses this year so I can plan a family ski vacation next winter."   And your neighbor might say, "I want to quit my corporate job to become a yoga teacher and open up my own yoga studio to share my love of yoga with the world." 

Got it?  Then, when your answers are clear, you'll be ready to take the next step in figuring out how to achieve your goals and dreams. 

Side Note:  If you're interested in a more detailed self-assessment, I've created a beautiful, 14-page self-discovery workbook containing 50 questions.  Sign up to download it below.  If you'd rather not, no worries, simply scroll down and get started!

 


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Without further ado, here are 25 self-evaluation questions to reflect upon your life:

1.  What matters most to me in life?

2.  What is going well in my life right now (relationships, career, family, etc)?

3.  What is not going well in my life right now?

4.  What is my ideal self?

5.  What are the core values that I live my life by?

6.  What is my big dream or goal?  

7.  Why am I trying to achieve this big dream or goal?

8.  Am I living the life of my dreams?  Why or why not?

9.  What steps have I taken to work toward this dream or goal?

10.  What is stopping me from living my dream life and achieving my goals?

11.  Who are the most important people in my life?

12.  Am I giving those people the attention I want to give them?

13.  Am I not accepting someone I love for who they are?  How?

14.  Is there someone who has hurt me in the past that I need to forgive?

15.  What expectations do I have for my children that are more about me than about them?

16.  What is causing me the most conflict and stress in my life?

17.  How much time do I spend worrying about the past or future?

18.  What am I most worried about in the future?

19.  What are some past events that are preventing me from moving forward today?

20.  What is my biggest regret?

21.  Am I taking responsibility for the things I can control in my life?

22.  What limiting beliefs am I holding on to?  What evidence do I have that the limiting beliefs are true?

23.  What am I taking for granted in my life?

24.  What am I avoiding out of fear?

25.  What do I need to do to take the next big step toward my dreams?

 

What did you think?  How do you feel?  Once you've got all of your answers written down, remember to refer to it often.  Keep your goals and dreams fresh in your mind--don't let them get away from you and fade off into oblivion.  Then, begin the process of setting goals in alignment with your purpose, values, dreams and goals here in our next post.  

I hope you found this post helpful.  If you did, be sure to share it with a friend or pin it to your Pinterest Boards!  Aloha...

 

A 4-Step Process to Overcoming Setbacks and Failure

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I watched a video recently with one of my favorite internet entrepreneurs, Marie Forleo.  Marie interviewed Dr. Catherine Collautt, and they chatted about how to deal with setbacks and failure.  

If you've read my article about the growth mindset, you'll know that my older son struggles with the fear of failure (don't we all, to some extent?).  He tends to avoid the stuff that he knows he's not instantly good at.  I've already talked to him about this ad nauseum--I'm hopeful that one day these lessons will begin to take hold in his mind and effect real change in his thinking. 

Dr. Collautt outlined a four step process to overcoming setbacks and failure:

1.  You must learn to deal with and overcome setbacks and failure.  Dr. Collautt states we should think of it in terms of necessity as opposed to possibility.  Don't wonder, "How is it possible for me to overcome failure?" and think instead, "I have to find a way to deal with and overcome failure when it does happen".  Because failure and setbacks are a certainty in life.

2.  Recognize that success and failure are on the same path.  She states that in order to actualize this step, you need to relax about your failures.  Successful people fail more often than other people because they don't view failure as judgment of their entire being.

3.  Celebrate the effort, not the result.  This is a biggie, and mirrors what Carol Dweck talks about in her book Mindset.  (I talk about this step in my article about how to reframe our expectations about our kids' performance at their games).  Dr. Collautt says we should genuinely applaud the effort, and that it should not be tied to success or lack thereof.

4.  Confine your conclusions.  Don't let the specific failure define you.  The specific task, project, or activity that is the subject of the failure is NOT about you as a person and your entire self-worth.  

Following this four step process will help you to redefine what failure means to you.  Freeing yourself from the fear of failure may be the mindset shift you need to allow you to reach outside your comfort zone.  If we begin to model this behavior, we can help our kids to learn to view failure as just a step along the path toward success.

Best to you all in chasing your dreams and becoming the best version of you!

How Convenience Can Help Us Establish Good Habits

“What is right is often forgotten by what is convenient.”

-Bodie Thoene

Although this may seem to be common sense, we can use convenience to help us cultivate and maintain good habits.  What we do is greatly influenced by how convenient something is.  Is the gym or yoga class nearby?  Is the closest place to grab a quick lunch McDonalds?  

My work schedule is flexible and extremely variable from week to week and day to day.  I don’t have a predictable schedule of being in an office from 9-5.  I’m extremely grateful for this, but the lack of predictability in my days mean that I’m often eating on the run, or grabbing something quickly to eat.  I realized my tendency to grab whatever was quick and easy.  And my working from home often became a crutch to NOT plan in advance, thinking I’d be at home and able to prepare healthy meals.

Truth is, on more occasions than I’d care to admit,  I’ve heated up a frozen cheeseburger, Hot Pocket, or just ate a bowl of cereal for lunch.  This is not good when trying to maintain a healthy way of eating.  So I began using convenience to help me keep on track with my eating.  On the weekends, I try to prepare ready made breakfasts for the week.  For example, I make a tray of mini frittatas that last me all week.  So, at least I start the day with a healthy, filling breakfast.  These usually keep me satisfied for a while.  

I use the strategy of scheduling to plan my meals and the ingredients I need every Sunday.  Last week it was Italian Sausage and bell peppers, this week it’ll be bacon, red peppers, and parmesan cheese.  I set aside time on Sundays to plan out my meals and go grocery shopping.  That way, I’m not scrambling in the evenings after my kids’ practices, spending money on convenient, but unhealthy takeout.  

Here’s another tactic I’m using.  I buy the large package of plain whole almonds from Costco and individually portion them out.  That way, when I leave the house to run my kids around, I grab a small prepared ziploc bag and head out the door.  If it weren’t convenient, I’d look around for something already pre-packaged (Oreos?  Cheese and Crackers?) to bring along.  

How can we make filing our mail into a regular habit?  Our mail would pile up on our kitchen counter.  Embarrassingly, as I was going through my mail late in the year, I found mail from the summer in the pile.  I knew this had to change.  I bought an upright plastic file caddy and a plastic letter size tray.  I set them both on my shelf next to my desk.  Using the strategy of scheduling (again), I set aside time every Monday to file the mail from the week.  I put mail to be filed in the upright caddy and items to be shredded in the paper tray.  Then, I do it every Monday.  Because it’s being done regularly, it takes only a few minutes to keep up with the mail!

I’m still working on making exercise convenient.  For now, I’ve put my workout DVDs front and center in our TV cabinet with the laptop out and ready to roll.  It’s not worked consistently to date, but I’m working on it!

I have been the worst offender when it comes to losing track of all the gift cards and merchandise credits I’ve accumulated.  So, I looked for some ideas, and ended up buying a “Card Caddy”.  It was fairly inexpensive, served the purpose of keeping the cards and credits all in one tidy place, and comes in cute colors.  (I bought mine in silver).  It’s my new cue…when I’m heading out to the mall, I grab the card caddy and I know all my gift cards and credits are in there!

Using convenience to boost our productivity is a worthwhile strategy.  But it’s opposite, inconvenience, can also be used effectively.  Many of our bad habits are done impulsively, so we can control our impulsivity by making something inconvenient.

In the book “Better Than Before”, Gretchen Rubin outlines six ways to make an activity less convenient:

  1. Increase the amount of mental or physical energy involved in the activity.  Buy one of those alarm clocks that move around so that it forces you to get out of bed, or leave the alarm clock on the other side of the room.  Put tempting snacks away in a cabinet and wrap them up in something that takes a bit of effort to open.  
  2. Hide the cues for the activity.  Leave the cell phone off the table at dinner.  
  3. Delay the activity.  I’ve gotten into the habit of NOT checking my e-mails until after I’ve gone through my morning routine, and after I’ve dropped off my son at school.
  4. Engage in an incompatible activity.  When the urge to snack hits, go outside to pet your dog.
  5. Raise the cost.  
  6. Block it altogether.  

Many people check Facebook or other social media constantly, which makes them less productive during the day.  There are apps that you can use to block social media surfing, such as Self-Control, Freedom, Anti-Social, Focus, and Cold Turkey.  I’ve not used any of these myself as I use the strategy of abstaining from social media.  I’m rarely on Facebook or Instagram.  

One of my biggest weaknesses is Amazon’s super easy checkout, so I’ve been signing out of the app to make it just a tad bit more difficult to buy things.  I’ve been changing my passwords to online shopping sites (instead of using the same one for everything) to unique, long passwords, so that I’d need to physically look up the passwords to get logged in.  Other people use only cash to buy. 

Think about little ways that you can use convenience and inconvenience to help you change and reshape your habits!

 

References:

Rubin, Gretchen. Better Than Before. Hodder, 2016.

 

 

 

10 Tips to Help You Manage Your Life (in Real Time)

"The bad news is that time flies.  The good news is you’re the pilot.”

-Michael Altahuler

 

As a mom with a pretty demanding full-time job and two kids that are super involved in sports and school activities, I’m one who needs some serious lessons in time management.  Most days, I’m reacting to the things that happen to me.  I find myself always saying, “I don’t have time to plan…it’s day to day for me.” 

It seems as though there’s never enough time in the day between work, kids, commuting, activities, etc.  I feel like its nearly impossible to find time to exercise or do things for myself. For many years, I worked on side-gigs; a baby business, then a makeup artist, then a blogger.  But I could never find the time to exercise.  I resigned myself to thinking, “It’s one or the other.  The moms who exercise regularly don’t have side gigs.  The exercising IS their side gig.”

Is there a way to get it all done? 

After researching “time management” tips and strategies, here’s what I found.

In an article in Entrepreneur Magazine, the authors outline a difference between “clock time” and “real time”.  Clock time is the concrete 60 seconds per minute, 60 minutes per hour, and 24 hours per day we all have.  But “real-time” is the time we all identify with; the time that makes the minutes crawl in the late afternoon at the job you hate, and the year that your son went from a boy to a pre-teen fly by in a heartbeat.  That’s the time I know.  And that’s the time that I need to figure out how to manage; to figure out how to find time to enjoy my kids before they get too old to want to be around me; to achieve the things I want to in my life.

In the article, the question was posed, “Which time describes the world in which you really live, real time or clock time?”.  I know you just said “real time”.  The authors say, “Clock time is irrelevant.  You don't live in or even have access to clock time.  You live in real time, a world in which all time flies when you are having fun or drags when you are doing your taxes.”  So true.

And for the good news:  “the good news is that real time is mental.  It exists between your ears.  You create it.  Anything you create, you can manage.  It’s time to remove any self-sabotage or self-limitation you have around “not having enough time”.  

So thinking about your time requires a mindset shift.  We all have the same amount of time in a day, no matter who we are.  Like with the growth vs. fixed mindset, it’s all up to you.  Your mindset can be changed.  

Trust me, I know this sounds crazy.  But stay with me here.

I read the book, “I Know How She Does It”, written by Laura Vanderkam.  The tag line of the book is “How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time.”  What could I learn from Laura and the women in her book?

First, Vanderkam challenges us to rethink what we can accomplish in the 24 hour day, saying we should look at our time in blocks of a week at a time, or 168 hours.  She says that when we focus on how much we can accomplish in one day, it’s easy to become disheartened when many things on our to-do list doesn’t get done.  That’s when the “I don’t have the time” becomes our knee-jerk reaction to life.  

Vanderkam recommends taking stock of your 168 hours per week by keeping a time log.  I did this for a month.  In my first week of logging my time, I was shocked (and saddened) by the number of hours I was working at my full time job.  It was far in excess of 40 hours.  But the following week, it went back down to 40 hours.  From tracking my time, I learned the time spent working varied from week to week, but thankfully, it wasn’t always in excess of 40 hours.  That was good news.

The next variable that I was forced to confront was my commuting time.  My son goes to a private school that is 15 miles away.  In terms of miles, it’s very close.  But where we live, the traffic is a nightmare, and picking him up after basketball and baseball practice involves fighting traffic both to school and back home.  That’s a minimum of 1.5 hours a day on the road.  On the days that I wasn’t commuting, I was shuttling my younger son to and from his sports practices. 

I had to recognize that those hours involving work, commute, and my kids’ sports were non-negotiable and that I had to work around them.  We all have choices.  My son could attend the local public school and we would have no commute time, but this was a choice we made and don’t regret.  My job and my kids’ activities are also non-negotiable.  

The fact is that when you say “yes” to something, it means you are saying “no” to something else. 

So, here’s my big takeaway from what I’ve gleaned so far:  I have to be intentional about my time.  Manage my time or it will manage me (as it has all these years).  As we all know, time will get away from you.  I have to learn to work with and maximize the time that I have. 

“Recognize the choices you make impact other areas of your life, accept what is non-negotiable, and work from there."

-Me

First things first.  The problem I wanted to tackle most was the issue of weeknight dinners.  From reviewing my time sheets, I recognized that Sunday was the one day of the week where I had more time than any other day.  So I decided to begin planning the meals for the week and going to the market for the ingredients on Sunday.  Since my shopping list was written down in advance, the trip to the market didn’t take too long.  I wasn’t wandering down the aisles searching for dinner inspiration or looking up recipes on Pinterest on my phone.  And so far, it’s helped.  Knowing what I’m preparing for dinner (or if we’re eating out that evening) means I have to make one less decision at the end of a harried work day.  

Here’s where I found Vanderkam’s book most helpful.  She dedicated a section to how we might approach the busyness of our lives with children to maximize our family time.  This may seem obvious, but to me, her most helpful advice was to “Think Through Your Weekday Evenings.” 

She suggested actually setting aside some time during the day to think about your evening.  And because I’ve adjusted to planning my meals on the Sunday of the week, what to cook for dinner didn’t need to be thought of, but only when and what other activities we could fit in.  Being intentional means planning your evening as opposed to letting it simply unfold.  Even doing nothing can be planned out and intentional, and totally okay!

Extending this theme is helpful as you can be intentional and plan your mornings as well as weekend play and free time as well.  She also suggested sharing a family meal, and to not get boxed into thinking the meal had to be dinner.   Plan adventures.  If you don’t plan, it won’t happen. 

So, to summarize, here’s how to make the most of your precious time:

  1. Keep a time log to track your time
  2. Know which activities are negotiable and which ones aren’t.  Recognize your time is a by-product of the decisions you make.
  3. Work around the activities that aren’t negotiable
  4. Be intentional about your time.  Really think about it!
  5. Change your mindset about time.  Think about it as something you create and can manage.  Think about it as 168 hour week as opposed to a 24 hour day.
  6. Think through your weekday evenings.
  7. Think through your mornings and weekends.  Don’t just let things unfold.  
  8. Share a family meal to spend quality time together.  It doesn’t have to be dinner.
  9. Plan your family adventures.  
  10. Plan, plan, plan.  One of my favorite quotes, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”  

Good luck!  Please share this article on Facebook, or pin it to your Pinterest boards if you found it helpful!

 

 

References:

Mathews, Joe.  Debolt, Don.  Percival, Deb.  “How to Manage Time With 10 Tips That Work”, www.entrepreneur.com.  Accessed 8 April 2017.

Vanderkam, Laura. I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time. Portfolio/Penguin, 2017.

Identifying Loopholes You Use to Justify Bad Habits

Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.”

-George Washington Carver

 

I recall that I’ve said that the best place to start is by knowing yourself.  Well, if I’m completely honest, I’ll admit that I’m one of the worst when it comes to finding a loophole to justify whatever it is I’m trying to get out of.

What I’ve realized along the way is that awareness is key.  Being conscious of what I’m doing can help me to stop finding and using loopholes to sabotage my own efforts.

Gretchen Rubin, author of “Better Than Before”, does a nice job of outlining a bunch of common loopholes.  As I read it, I was glad that I wasn’t alone….and neither are you!  Some examples of loopholes to be aware of:

The “Moral Licensing” Loophole.  This is when you justify doing something bad or counterproductive because you’ve earned it by being good.  I’m quite good at this one, often justifying a sugary dessert after a few good days of clean eating or exercising.  Just as we know that a small, positive act can lead and snowball into a lasting habit or habits, the reverse is also true.  We also know that it takes at least 21 days to create a new habit, so a few days of smart eating and exercising do not make a habit.  Which is why the moral licensing loophole is a no-no.

The “Tomorrow Loophole”: It is as it sounds.  You’ll start tomorrow, so you can do whatever you want today.  We all know this is a bad one, yet we all easily fall under it's spell.  

Rubin describes the “False Choice” Loophole as where you treat two activities as the only two choices you have even when they don’t necessarily conflict or even have anything to do with one another.  She outlined an example of a reader on her blog who declared that her belief was that life was too short and should be enjoyed to the fullest by exploring new countries, new places, and new tastes.  The reader’s boyfriend often suggested going to the bar to have a few drinks.  She described her two choices as either “eating lettuce” or going to the pub and enjoying life.  Herein is the false choice loophole:  were those alternatives, eating lettuce or living life to its fullest, the only two choices she had?

Some other common loopholes include invoking “YOLO” (You only live once), for example, “what’s one drink going to matter?”.  Like the earlier example, will this one act of indulging because you only live once derail your efforts at creating or maintaining a good habit?

I’m all over this next one.  Rubin calls it the “questionable assumption” loophole.  It means you assume something to be true and foundational to start or maintain a behavior.  Rubin states we need to examine these assumptions as they aren’t always true or even necessary.  When we say, “I can’t start working until my office is clean”, ask yourself if it’s really necessary to completely clean your office.  Can you clear just your desk and work?  Can you tidy up for 10-15 minutes and begin working?   

I’m really good at justifying avoiding exercise by saying to myself, “Unless I exercise for at least an hour, it’s not worth it.  It takes me 15 minutes to stretch and warm up, and 15 minutes to cool down, and I just don’t have a 1 1/2 hour block of time free.”  I need to stop myself when I say this to myself.  After all, my doctor was clear in his instructions to me.  He said “30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.  And you can break up the 30 minutes however you want.”  So, this inner dialogue in my head is simply an excuse because I don't feel like exercising.

So, what are some strategies we can use to help us stick to our habits and not self-destruct?  A good one is to distract yourself.  This means intentionally distracting yourself from the bad behavior that is tempting you.  Rubin says,

 

“Although people often assume that cravings intensify over time, research shows that with active distraction, urges-even strong urges- usually subside within about fifteen minutes.”

 

Can you find a way to distract yourself from the temptation for 15 minutes?  Some suggestions mentioned in the book were simply telling yourself to wait 15 minutes before indulging (and the craving usually went away), taking a whiff of peppermint or grapefruit oil to suppress snack cravings, and doing jumping jacks or something active (i.e. squats, lunges, marching in place) as a distraction.  Set a timer for 15 minutes and tell yourself you can have whatever it is once the timer goes off. 

And what about rewards?  Doesn’t it make sense to reward yourself if you reach your goal(s)?  Rubin cautions that you should be careful about using rewards, as “rewards can actually be dangerous to habit formation.” 

First, setting a reward for achieving a goal subconsciously tells us that there’s no other reason to do the activity but for the reward.  Sometimes rewards can derail our efforts because it causes us to become extrinsically motivated, or motivated only for external rewards.  A habit can stick if you find intrinsic rewards in the behavior, meaning you find satisfaction in the outcome without having some type of external reward tied to it.  For example, once I started making my bed everyday, the intrinsic reward is the feeling of calm tied to seeing a clean and tidy bedroom when I’m ready for bed.  There’s no external reward that I’m seeking.  And this is precisely why the habit has stuck.

Another reason why rewards can be destructive to habits is that they require a decision to be made.  As you know, a habit is something we do without thinking.  Once a reward is tied to the action, you spend time thinking about whether or not you’ve earned the reward.  Did you claim to exercise one day when you really only walked for 20 minutes, instead of 30?  What if one one of those days you were really lazy, and barely broke a sweat?  Did you truly earn the reward?  Having to make a decision about a behavior is the exact opposite of a habit.  

Finally, Rubin states that having a “finish line” created by the reward helps people reach a one-time goal, but doesn’t help in creating lasting habits.  Once you reach the finish line, you’re done.  Then what motivation is there to continue on?  And why create a habit if it doesn’t stick?

Still, rewards can be used effectively, as long as they’re carefully thought out and intentional.  Rubin states a great way to use rewards is to create a reward within the habit, which will encourage you to stick with the habit.  Think about it this way:  if you are trying to create a new habit of running several times a week, an effective reward might be to buy yourself new running shoes or a cute new outfit.  A well thought out reward encourages you to continue with your habit.  

The takeaway here:  once you’re aware of your tendency to latch onto one of these loopholes to excuse yourself from starting or maintaining a good habit, then you can identify it and stop it in it’s tracks.

 

References:

Rubin, Gretchen. Better Than Before. Hodder, 2016.

Two Essential Strategies to Help You Build and Sustain Good Habits

"Failing to plan is planning to fail."

-Alan Lakein

 

Part of effectively changing and remaking our habits is to recognize traps that allow us to revert back to our old ways.  It’s so easy to fall back on to the familiar, that we must use all the weapons at our disposal to help us win the habit battle. 

Because the pull of our bad habits is so strong, we must first recognize the temptations we face.  Gretchen Rubin, the author of “Better Than Before”, states we should remove the cues associated with the bad habit.  For example, if we are tempted to snack during the day, remove the visual cues like the candy jar that you pass whenever you walk by the kitchen.  Replace the candy jar with a basket of oranges or bananas instead.  If Amazon’s latest offering tempts you, turn off your e-mail notifications.  Out of sight, out of mind!

Of course, it’s impossible to eliminate all cues.  Not to fret!  Rubin suggests formulating an “if-then plan.”  This is simple.  We plan in advance for contingencies by formulating a plan if (undesired action) happens, then we do this (desired action).  For example, if you know you’ll be on the road all day, it's likely you'll be trying to grab lunch on the run and susceptible to driving through at Taco Bell, so here's a plan:  “IF I know I'll be out on the road all day and I'll need to grab a quick lunch, THEN I will be sure to pack a healthy snack so I’ll have something to eat if I can’t find a healthy, quick alternative on the road.”  That way, you can have your snack to hold you over and then find somewhere more suitable to grab your lunch.  Or, you could say, “IF I’m on the road and need to grab a quick lunch and if McDonald's is the only place nearby, THEN, I will order a grilled chicken salad.”

My challenge is afternoon snacking.  I could say, “IF I find myself heading toward the kitchen to grab a snack, THEN, I will go outside to look for my dog instead, because she’d love the attention.”

Or, “IF I'm approached to serve as the Team Mom for the basketball team, THEN, I will politely decline and offer to be the assistant to the Team Mom."  Thinking about these situations ahead of time makes it easier to stay on track as opposed to giving in to pressure in the moment or having to come up something to say on the fly (or giving in to the pressure).

Or, “IF my chatty co-worker wanders over to my desk, THEN, I will politely say that I need to follow up with this customer, manager, another co-worker now and proceed to busy myself with that task.”

I love the IF-THEN plans!

Another good way to protect your good habits is to utilize the strategy of what Rubin calls the “planned exception”.  The planned exception works like the “if-then” planning, but you make an intentional decision to make an exception to your good habit.  An example of this could be, “I plan healthy meals and snacks, but when my family goes out to celebrate my son’s birthday, I can eat my favorite pasta dish.”  This is an intentional exception to the normal eating plan and assumes that I’ll return to healthy eating after this dinner.  Rubin states this strategy is effective because planning in advance puts you in control.  This is in contrast to saying, just as you sit down at the celebration dinner, that you are going to break your habit on a whim.  Making a decision on the fly to break a good habit leaves you feeling out of control.

However, Rubin states that the planned exceptions are most effective when they’re limited in scope and they’re for something memorable.  For example, she states you could make a planned exception for Christmas Day and not for the entire holiday season.  You want the exception to be worth it.

To sum up, the “if-then plan” and the “planned exceptions” are two great strategies to be aware of when retooling and monitoring your habits.  Add them to your habit toolbox to protect your newly formed good habits!

I hope you found this helpful!  Please share it with anyone who might find it useful, or re-pin it to your Pinterest Boards!  If you'd like to learn two additional strategies that'll help keep you on track with your new habits, read about it here.

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Plan Your Schedule to Maximize Your Day

"I don't need time.  I need a deadline."

-Duke Ellington

 

In my last post, we talked about building foundational habits, and using monitoring to change habits.  

In the book, “Better Than Before”, Gretchen Rubin outlines two additional strategies you can use to help stay on track.  Remember your personality type?  I’m an obliger, and the two strategies we’re going to discuss in this post totally appeal to me. (If you haven't read my prior post, it's totally ok.  These strategies are useful for anyone!  But, if you care to read the article to find out what your personality type is, find it here.)

The first strategy is called scheduling.  It’s just as it sounds—scheduling an activity and putting it on the calendar.  The more you schedule an activity, the more likely it may become automatic and habitual.  This year, I began scheduling my days, instead of letting them unfold without a plan.  To stay motivated, I bought a beautiful planner, one that I love to look at and write in.  (Post Update:  I originally started with a beautiful Rifle Paper Company planner, but gave it up for the "Self Journal" form the Best Self Company.  If you're interested in a roundup of the best, most stylish planners and accessories, see my gift guide here). 

My habit is to plan out my day the night before.  If I’m able to assign a specific time to the task, I’ll write it in.  Thinking about the next day and writing it all down has become a habit, and has caused me to become infinitely more productive.  And the more productive I am, the more motivated I am to stick with this system.  

Note:  Do you struggle with multiple to-do lists?   Do you find that you frequently forget stuff on yourmental "to-do" list?  I've found a super simple solution and now have my own organizational system.  Watch my short, animated 10 minute video to find out how you can do it too (watch it here.).

Rubin, as well as most productivity experts, say that you should aim to schedule the most important tasks in the morning, when you are most alert, focused, and have the most self-control.  As the day goes on, our willpower decreases.  This is why, Rubin says, “sexual indiscretions, excessive gambling, overconsumption of alcohol, and impulsive crimes usually happen at night.”  Now, I make a conscious effort to do the tough tasks in the morning, usually by assigning it a time.

Another great idea Rubin discusses in her book is scheduling time to do those pesky, low priority odds and ends.  She schedules one hour per week into her calendar.  I thought this was a great idea that I’m going to try!

While most times we think of scheduling as a list of things we “need” to do, we can use scheduling to do things we “want” to do.  I see the value in this.  As the years go by, and as my friends and I are increasingly busy with our kids’ and their school and sports activities, it’s harder and harder to get together.  By making a conscious effort to schedule time to see each other, we all get a much needed break from the everyday grind and we get to see each other!  Another friend of mine has a group of friends that has dinner once every month.  At each gathering, they all look at their calendars and set up the next get-together for the following month.  This ensures it gets on the calendar 30 days in advance, and all other activities can be planned around it. 

Rubin says scheduling appeals to upholders and may also appeal to questioners and obligers.  From an obliger standpoint, seeing it on the calendar or on my daily to-do list gives it extra weight and importance.  Rebels may have difficulty with this tactic.

Next up is the strategy of accountability.  The research supports the effectiveness of this strategy.  I’ve read multiple times about how employees are less likely to take a snack from the office snack room (where there is a jar for payment by honor system) without paying when there is a picture of two eyes near the payment jar.  Just the subconscious thought that we’re being watched causes us to be more conscious of whatever we’re doing.

To further the point that self-awareness is key, it’s important to know if you find external or internal accountability more compelling.  For obligers, external accountability such as an accountability partner, accountability group or Coach is important to keep you on track.  The other three types (upholders, questioners, and rebels) all benefit from this strategy as well.  Upholders can create accountability systems to themselves and be effective.  

Many find communities that you can join and that can motivate you to keep with your habit.  CrossFit, running clubs, online business Facebook groups, scrapbooking groups, sports fan groups, martial arts groups, paleo and vegan food enthusiasts, home cooks, etc.  There are groups for just about any interest or topic in this universe! 

Physical accountability devices can work as well.  Many find wearing the FitBit helps them to be more intentional about their activity level, even while working a sedentary job. 

Find what works for you!  For two other strategies to protect your new habits, check out my other article here.

I hope you found this helpful.  If you did, please share it or re-pin it to your Pinterest Boards!  And, if you'd like to be notified of additional helpful tips and strategies, sign up below.

 

 

 

References:

Rubin, Gretchen. Better Than Before. Hodder, 2016.

 

 

 

Do You Know What You Do All Day? Monitor Yourself and Find Out

“You’ll Never Change Your Life until you change something you do daily.  The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” 

-John Maxwell

 

Now that we’ve already talked about the framework for habit change, and we’ve assessed our own personality, we can use all that information to try to effect change for the better.

In my last post, I wrote about changing a bad habit I have of foraging for some kind of snack in the late afternoons while I sit at my desk.  So far, I’m a week in and I have little progress to report.  My schedule has been variable and I haven’t been home at my desk in the afternoons, so my alarm would go off (with the dog barking alert) but it didn’t cue me to do anything.  I will keep trying!

The good news is that there is good information out there about habit formation.  Knowing what to do is half the battle.  Unfortunately, the other half is harder.  It’s putting our knowledge into action.

In Gretchen Rubin’s book, “Better Than Before”, she outlines four “pillars of habits”, which are four important strategies to help you stay on track.  We’ll tackle two of the four here.

The first strategy is called monitoring.  This is nothing new, but understanding how it can help you, and what type of people this strategy is useful for, is extremely helpful.  Says Rubin, “Self-measurement brings self-awareness, and self-awareness strengthens our self-control.”  She cites an example of a roadside speed display bringing awareness to people’s driving and causes them to slow down.  A widespread example of monitoring is the step tracking bands, which are super popular and cause folks to become more aware of their activity level.  And that has a positive side effect of them now want to move more (to achieve their step count goals).

Rubin states that in order for this strategy to work, you must be able to clearly quantify the act you want to monitor.  It can’t be broad and unspecific.  For example, “See my parents more” sounds good but isn’t as specific and measurable as “Call my mother every Sunday”.  Or, the goal to “get in shape and exercise more” can be replaced with “At 10:00 each day, get up and walk around the office twice.”  The latter is specific and can be tracked so you can take pride in your progress.

Monitoring is an effective strategy and can help lots of people change their habits.  Monitoring has benefits outside of changing habits; you can track a behavior to see if it even warrants a change (i.e. self-awareness).  For example, you can track your time to see how much time you’re spending watching TV, or aimlessly surfing the internet.  And then, you can use the strategy of monitoring once you’ve followed the habit change structure to change that habit into a more productive one (if that’s what you want to do).

People use food diaries all the time to change their eating habits.  Doctors recommend it and a lot of people find it very effective.  I’ve tried it several times in the past and each time, failed miserably.  I would start but never finish.  And, I found that whatever I wrote down didn't motivate me or compel me to change my habits.  

Why is it more effective for some than others?

It goes back to knowing yourself.  Rubin states that monitoring appeals to upholders and questioners.  Rebels could use this strategy if they wanted to, but obligers (like me) struggle with this.  This is maybe why the food diary never “took” with me.

Next up is the strategy of Foundation.  It’s useful to be aware of this.  Rubin states that when looking at changing habits, it’s useful to start with habits that “boost feelings of self-control, and in this way strengthen the foundation of all our habits.”  For example, she states starting with habits having to do with sleep, moving/exercising, eating, and decluttering are good places to start.  She says that once you start sleeping better, you feel better.  Not only do you feel great physically, but you feel great about mastering that habit.  And that one small change can cause a snowball effect.

It happened to me.  One day, I decided that I had to dust the blinds in our living room (my kids have pretty bad allergies).  This will make me sound like a bad parent, but I hadn’t dusted those blinds in….forever.  I started with the living room, and then I felt compelled to continue with my kids’ room.  Then, it spread to the entire house.  It was weirdly energizing—I had to keep going!

When my husband saw me tackling the blinds, he decided to rip out the carpet in our kids’ room.  Our doctor had always recommended removing the carpet and replacing it with hard flooring.  We’d never done it because there just never seemed to be a good time.  With no plan in place, we ripped out the carpet. 

Then we decided to repaint their room.  And then I had to clean out my office.  And file all of the kids’ school projects.  And then I created a system to file all the mail that used to pile up on our kitchen table.  My newly formed routine of keeping my office and dining room table clear of mail, school projects, etc. all started off with decluttering and cleaning the house.  Rubin calls it a foundational habit and Charles Duhigg calls this a “keystone habit”. 

A keystone habit starts small.  Once you accomplish it, it causes you to take on additional habit changes.  An example of this is flossing.  Popular advice says to start with flossing one tooth.  Before you know it, you end up flossing all your teeth, all the time!  It’s a classic keystone habit, where one small habit snowballs into larger and bigger things.

And although Rubin recommends starting with one of the four foundational habits, she advises that you must always start from a place of knowing yourself.  Know thyself, and go from there.

The Scientifically Proven Formula to Change Your Habits

“Our lives change when our habits change.” 
-Matthew Kelly

 

Charles Duhigg’s book, “The Power of Habit”, deconstructs the science of habit formation.  But the book is also great because it outlines a practical framework for changing habits.  Once we are aware of its components, it is possible to tinker with the parts to effect change.

Sometimes we say that we need to completely eradicate a bad habit, but Duhigg states that the “Golden Rule of Habit Change” is that you can never completely get rid of a habit.  You can only change the habit.

And here’s how you do it.

First, identify the routine involved in the habit.  For example, I get up from whatever I’m doing (if I’m at my desk) to get a snack in the afternoon.  If I know we have ice cream or yogurt bars in the freezer, I’ll head there.  If not, I’ll grab some Hershey’s Kisses or some other sweet treat.  It’s automatic and really hard to control, even though I’m conscious of what I’m doing.  

The second step in the habit change framework is to experiment with the rewards.  All habits have a reward attached to them, and the reward is powered by a craving.  To determine what is driving the reward, Duhigg suggests experimenting with different rewards.  In my first example, instead of walking to the freezer or to the pantry to get a sweet treat, I could modify the routine and insert a different reward.  But it has to be something that offers a reward…it can’t be that I’ll go to the pantry and help myself to carrot sticks.  That won’t work!  After giving this some thought, I think going outside to pet my dog would be a suitable replacement reward.  

Once you’ve identified alternative rewards, begin keeping a record of your thoughts when the urge strikes to do your normal routine.   Duhigg suggests that you write down the first three thoughts, no matter how random, that enter your mind once you embark on the routine and return to whatever you were doing prior to the routine.  Then, set a timer for 15 minutes and see how you feel.  Did the craving for the sweet treat go away?  Review your notes and repeat the process of fiddling with the rewards and recording your thoughts until you can isolate the craving that is driving your current routine.

The third step is to identify the cue.  The cue is what prompts the routine, and can be hard to identify.  Duhigg suggests writing down these five things as soon as you’re triggered to perform the habit routine:  1) where you are, 2) what time is it, 3) what is your emotional state, 4) who else is around, and 5) what action directly preceded the urge?  Take note of these 5 items and compare them across the days you are keeping a record of.  Then, it’ll be easier to identify the cue that is triggering the routine.

Finally, the last step is the have a plan.  In the book, Duhigg wrote about a habit of his that was very similar to mine: snacking in the afternoon.  Once he identified the cue (he felt an urge to eat a cookie between 3:30-4:00 p.m. every day), the routine (he walked over to the cafeteria to get the cookie), and the reward (a temporary distraction), he was able to attack this habit with a concrete plan.  This is what he came up with:  “At 3:30, every day, I will walk to a friend’s desk and talk for 10 minutes.”

It’s convenient that the example he uses in his book targets a specific habit that I’d like to change.  I have virtually the same cue (urge to get up and get a snack every day in the late afternoon), routine (walk to the freezer or pantry and get a snack), and reward (temporary distraction).  So, I wrote out a similar plan for myself:  

“At 2:30 each work day, I’ll go outside and pet/play with my dog.”  And I’ll set the alarm on my phone to do just that.  

And remember that self-assessment we did in the last post?  Keep that information in mind when thinking about the best way to attack your habit change efforts. 

Why Knowing Thyself is the Key to Habit Change

“All bad habits start slowly and before you know you have the habit, the habit has you.”

-Zig Ziglar

We’ve all got ‘em—bad habits.  It’s important to pay attention to them because so much of what we do every day are done by habit and not by conscious decision making.  My usual procrastination habits mean that I operate in a reactive mode on most days.  The events and circumstances of the day control me and I often feel like I’m on the proverbial hamster wheel.  I’m running, spinning my wheels, and not much is getting done.

So, yes, I’d love to change some of my habits.  But the truth is, changing habits can be hard work.  Fortunately, if we’re willing to put in the work, habits can be changed.  

But first things first.  Before we dive into the “how to”, habits researcher Gretchen Rubin, the author of “Better Than Before”, said that we first need to know ourselves.

“There’s no magic formula—not for ourselves, and not for the people around us.  We won’t make ourselves more creative and productive by copying other people’s habits, even the habits of geniuses, we must know our own nature, and what habits serve us best.”

So first up is self-awareness.  Rubin wanted to tailor her habits to who she already was.  She felt it would be a losing battle to create habits that go against your personality or innate nature.  I can relate.  For years, I made a goal to get up early and go jogging.  Each time I tried, I never made it past the second day.  Why?  Because I’m more of a night owl than a morning person, so it was excruciating to get out of bed earlier than I needed to.  So, I totally agree…why not personalize our efforts at habit reformation based on our individual tendencies? 

Rubin identifies four distinct groups of people.  Understanding which group you’re most like is a great place to start when reviewing your habits.  Here they are:

The Upholder:  Upholders keep their commitments to themselves and have “little trouble meeting commitments, keeping resolutions, or meeting deadlines”.  Upholders operate very well when rules and expectations are clear. 

The Questioner:  Questioners question everything, and resist anything they consider to be arbitrary.  They won’t take action unless they decide that it makes sense.  

The Obliger:  Obligers respond to external forces but have difficulty with motivating themselves if there is no external monitoring or commitments.  Obligers do things easily for others, and not so easily for themselves.

The Rebel:  Rebels resist everything, and place a “high value on authenticity and self-determination”.  

Which group do you identify with?  I’m definitely an obliger.  I’ll take on commitments that serve others, but struggle with promises I make to myself.

After determining which group you fall into, Rubin poses some additional questions for the purpose of self-awareness (and I’ve put in my answers):

  1. Are you a lark or an owl (a morning or night person?) I’m a night owl.

  2. Are you a marathoner, a sprinter, or a procrastinator? A marathoner prefers to go slow and steady, and the sprinter likes to work in short, energetic bursts up against a deadline. In contrast, the procrastinator works themselves up against deadlines but not out of choice as they wish they had done things earlier. No question here…I’m a total procrastinator.

  3. Are you an under buyer or over buyer? I’m an over buyer.

  4. Do you love simplicity or abundance? Definitely abundance. To me, having pictures up and books everywhere feels “homey”. Minimalist decor feels stark and impersonal to me.

  5. Are you a finisher or an opener? A finisher loves the finish line and enjoys seeing things through to the end. Openers love to launch stuff without necessarily finishing it. I’m an opener; I love to take on new stuff and I'm easily lured by the next new shiny object.

  6. Do you love familiarity or novelty? This one was tough for me. I don’t think I sway far in any one direction, although I’m probably a little more on the familiarity side than the novelty.

  7. Are you promotion-focused or prevention-focused? If you’re promotion-focused, you do things to actively pursue praise or achievement. If you’re prevention-focused, you do things to minimize danger, pain, or loss. I think I’m promotion focused.

  8. Do you like to take small steps or big steps? Although I’ve been a part of big, sweeping changes, I prefer taking small, baby steps.

Being real and honest about your own personality and tendencies means your habit change efforts can be personalized to you.  Don’t make it harder than it already is—it seems logical that you’ll have a greater chance of being successful if those efforts are tailored to you! 

 

References:

Rubin, Gretchen. Better Than Before. Hodder, 2016.

Why You're Operating on Autopilot a Large Part of the Time

In the past few weeks, I finished reading Charles Duhigg’s book “The Power of Habit”.  He’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for the New York Times who graduated from Harvard Business School and Yale University.  He began studying habits while he was a reporter in Baghdad, covering the US military. 

I was intrigued by this book—I have a lot of bad habits.  Mindless snacking, severe procrastination, excessive shopping, taking naps instead of exercising.  The list is long.  Could I work on these and change them, I wondered?  

The book states the technical definition of a habit is: “the choices that all of us deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about but continue doing, often every day.”  

According to Mr. Duhigg, about 40-45% of our daily actions are actually done by habit, as opposed to conscious decision making.1 That’s almost half of what we do every day!  Most intriguingly, he said, “Habits can be changed, if we understand how they work.”  Bingo!  

So, here’s the short version of Mr. Duhigg’s analysis of the science of habits:  

Located deep inside your brain is a small oval of cells about the size of a golf ball.  This mass of cells is called the basal ganglia.  To study the basal ganglia, scientists attached probes to the heads of rats and observed the activity in the rats’ brain as they ran through a maze.  The rats’ basal ganglia went crazy as they navigated the maze.  But as the maze became more familiar, the rats’ mental activity decreased.  He said,As the route became more and more automatic, each rat started thinking less and less.”  He continued, “The rat had internalized how to sprint through the maze to such a degree that it hardly needed to think at all.”  Thus, it was found that the basal ganglia “was central to recalling patterns and acting on them.”  

Amazingly, this small mass of cells inside our brains are what control 40-45% of our daily activities!  What happens is that the brain “converts a sequence of actions into an automatic routine”.  This is because the brain is constantly looking for ways to conserve it’s precious resources. 

Mr. Duhigg states:

“When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making.  It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks.  So unless you deliberately fight a habit—unless you find new routines—the pattern will unfold automatically.” 

So how are habits formed?

Mr. Duhigg outlines a three-part “habit loop” that serves as a framework for all habits.  First, there is a cue, which can be a specific location, a person, an object, or an emotion.  A cue can be just about anything.

Then, there is the routine.  The routine is what happens after experiencing the cue.  The routine can range from very simple to extremely complex.  Completion of the routine leads to the reward, which can be either physical or emotional.

Let’s deconstruct an example.  One of my habits that I perform every morning is making the bed.  The cue: getting out of bed and seeing that the sheets and blankets are a crumpled mess.  The routine:  on auto pilot, I fold the blankets and straighten out the bed.  The reward:  a freshly made bed, something I look forward to every night.  This is one of my good habits.

Here’s another example that I think many of you can easily relate to.  When I worked in a corporate cubicle, I would wander to the snack table every day at around 2:30-3:00 p.m.  The cue:  needing a break, feeling sluggish in the late afternoon.  The routine:  get up from my desk and automatically head toward the snack table to indulge in a sugary treat.  The reward:  a temporary sugar rush/energy.  This was one of my bad habits. 

But there’s more.  In order for the habit loop to take hold and endure, there must be two other factors present; a craving for the reward and belief in the change that the habit creates.  The craving “powers” the habit loop, and belief in the change solidifies the new behavior, making it permanent.

I learned about Tony Dungy from this book.  According to the book, Dungy played football in the NFL and dreamed of being a Head Coach for the NFL.  He spent many years coaching at the college level, and then as an assistant in the NFL.  After 17 years, he landed a Head Coaching with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  At that time, the Bucs were widely regarded as the worst team in the NFL.  

Dungy’s strategy was based on changing his player’s habits.  Instead of teaching them hundreds of different plays, he concentrated on having his team execute a few plays on autopilot, without thinking, and faster than the opposing team could react.  With this strategy, he turned the Buccaneers into one of the most successful teams in the NFL.

But the Buccaneers would fall short of the Super Bowl two years in a row and Dungy was fired.  He had succeeded in changing his players’ habits during the regular season, but in the post-season, his team seemed to revert back to their old ways.  Under the stress of the post-season, they began to think about their plays instead of just executing automatically.  Dungy found that his players’ habits didn’t stick.

After Dungy was fired, the Indianapolis Colts called.  He took over as Head Coach in 2002 and although the Colts had impressive seasons from 2002-2005, a Super Bowl berth remained elusive.  Dungy saw the same thing happen; his system would take hold during the regular season, but the players reverted to their old habits after reaching the post-season.  

In December of 2005, tragedy struck when Dungy’s college age son committed suicide.  As the news spread, there was some kind of emotional shift within the team.  They started to believe in Dungy’s system.  And when they believed, they bought into his system 100%.  The habits they formed stuck around, even through stress and hardship.  The next season, the Colts won the Super Bowl.  

The example provided by Mr. Duhigg about Tony Dungy and the Colts perfectly illustrates the habit loop.  There was the cue (the technical stuff players would look for when on the field), the routine (the few plays that Dungy taught), and the reward (winning games).  The feeling the players got when they won created the craving.  And then, the habits became permanent when the team began to believe in the system, causing the team to stick to their habits.  

And that, my friends, is the habit loop in action! 

Hopefully, this will help you to become aware of your habits and to start thinking about your own habits, good and bad!

 

 

 

  1. Harvard Business Review; https://hbr.org/2012/06/habits-why-we-do-what-we-do

How Changing Your Mindset Can Set Your Career On Fire

Do you ever feel trapped in your own life?  I did.

Straight out of college, I landed what seemed to be an excellent job.  The few of us who were hired were told, “We had hundreds of applicants.  You are the cream of the crop.”  I took pride in my work and was pretty good at it.  It paid really well and was modestly rewarding.  The people I worked with were some of the brightest people around.  But I hated it.  The first few (maybe 10 or so years) was tolerable because my pay climbed quickly and I was young and single.  

Later, I got married and started a family, but by then, I was 15 years into my job.  I couldn’t leave because the pay was too good and I wouldn’t have been able to match it if I left.  I had a family and a beautiful house with a white picket fence (seriously, I did).  In Hawaii, that house wasn’t cheap.  I was trapped.

It was 22 years before I finally left my job.  Last year, I landed a career and job that I love (with a matching salary!)

I attribute a lot of what got me the job to my new growth mindset, courtesy of Dr. Carol Dweck, the author of the book “Mindset”.

Was I able to land the new job solely by changing my mindset?  Of course not.  There were many factors; the perfect job had to be available, I had to actually get the job, and the pay had to match or be reasonably close to what I was already getting paid.  But somehow it all fell into place. 

So how did the learnings from the “Mindset” book help me professionally?  After reading the book I did three things:  (1) I realized that I wanted to do things differently, (2) I believed I could change things in my life by changing my mindset, and (3) I took action.

Here’s the deal:  I actually interviewed for the same job (my new job) two years earlier.  At that time, I was passed over.  I was crushed.   I wasn’t good enough, smart enough, articulate enough…I was a total failure.  

After being rejected, I spent a few months being upset.  I made unfounded accusations in my head about the Company and the people who interviewed me, and felt sorry for myself.  It was around that time that I decided to read “Mindset”.  I came across the book because I wanted to help my kids with their mental game in baseball.  Not only did the book help me with parenting, but it helped me to reframe that experience as feedback instead of failure.  

The core principle of the growth mindset is that your abilities and intelligence aren’t set at birth; that they’re malleable and can be shaped by effort and attitude.  In other words, through hard work and effort, you can improve your ability in whatever area you want to improve in.

In the book “Mindset”, I felt like Dr. Dweck was speaking directly to me when she asked, “Is there something in your past that you think measured you?  A test score?  A dishonest or callous action?  Being fired from a job?  Being rejected?  Focus on that thing.  Feel all the emotions that go with it.  Now put it in a growth minded perspective.  Look honestly at your role in it, but understand that it doesn’t define your intelligence or personality.  Instead, ask, What did I (or can I) learn from that experience?  How can I use it as a basis for growth?” 

I took the rejection experience and turned it around.  I asked myself, how can I work toward becoming a better mother, wife, daughter, friend, colleague and employee?  I immersed myself in books and podcasts.  I started taking online courses on Udemy, Coursera, and Creative Live.  I joined online communities to learn from others who were doing the same.  And I began blogging to exercise my creative and writing muscles.   

With the growth mindset, there was no expectation of anything in return other than becoming an all around better person.  But guess what?  When that golden opportunity for this job surfaced again—I was ready.   

The growth mindset places value on the process of growth and development instead of the measurable outcome or results.  The growth mindset places value on hard work, effort, and attitude.  Having the growth mindset means that all of your effort is not wasted if you fall short of your goal because there is value in the process of working toward that goal. 

 

When people believe their basic qualities can be developed, failures may still hurt, but failures don't define them.”  

-Carol Dweck

 

With the fixed mindset, hard work and effort are the enemy because:  1) you’re already born with a certain level of intelligence or ability (so why work toward something you’ll never achieve?), 2) if you try your best and fail, you have no excuse to tell yourself and/or others.  (so why expend the effort?), and 3) failure defines you as a person.  Since your abilities are embedded at birth, naturally talented folks don’t need to work hard for their accomplishments.  If you need to work hard at something, it means you aren't smart or talented.  And since there is no value placed on the process of working toward a goal, there is no reason in the fixed mindset to work toward high, lofty goals if they weren’t in the cards for you at birth.

There’s no room for self-limiting thoughts in the growth mindset.  When your negative self-talk takes over and says, “You shouldn’t try for that job, they rejected you last time.  And if you get rejected again you’ll be crushed.”  Or, you want to start a new side hustle business but that voice in your head is telling you that people might think it’s a stupid idea, you might fail, you might lose money, and you might lose face.  Those are all fixed mindset messages that limit you and prevent you from reaching for your dreams.   

 

“The idea of trying and still failing—of leaving yourself without excuses—is the worst fear within the fixed mindset.” 

-Carol Dweck

 

It’s not easy.  Although knowledge and awareness are the first step, execution is an entirely different matter.  Even after I resolved to embody the growth mindset, those limiting thoughts still found a way to creep in.  When the job posting came up, I initially told myself, “They’re not gonna hire you.  They passed you over last time, and you had the same skill set then—so why bother?”  I had to push past those limiting beliefs to submit my application.  If I let those fixed minded messages get the best of me, I’d still be trudging in to my corporate cubicle, day after day, working at a job that I hated!

This is a results driven world.  But do you see how having the growth mindset can lead to excellent results?  As someone once said, “when you focus on the process, the results naturally follow”.  What they mean is that if you focus intensely on improving and getting better, your results will inevitably improve! 

My #1 takeaway from “Mindset”?  That I was the biggest factor limiting myself and that I was preventing myself from reaching my full potential.  I had to learn to get out of my own way!  Remember that the growth mindset emphasizes hard work, effort, and attitude, and these are all 100% within our own control.  

Will this be your year to resolve to change and take action?

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Right Mindset to Crush It This Year

Hopefully you’ve decided this is the year that you want to try something different.  In my last post, we talked about (1) deciding that you want to make a change, (2) believing you can change, and (3) taking action.  I talked about taking charge of the things that we can control instead of being reactive all of the time.   

I decided to take control and change my mindset.

 

“Change your thoughts and you change your world”. 
-Norman Vincent Peale

 

I read a book called “Mindset” by Carol Dweck, Ph.D., a Stanford psychologist who studies achievement and success.  I learned that there are ways a parent can encourage growth and resilience in children.  Unfortunately (for myself), I identified many ways that I was NOT doing what Dr. Dweck’s research recommended.

First, Dr. Dweck identified two distinct mindsets, the "growth" mindset and the "fixed" mindset.

The fixed mindset is summed up by "believing that your qualities are carved in stone"1  With the fixed mindset, you believe people are born talented and smart, and that they don't have to work at it.  You also think this is something that can’t be changed.  If you’re in this camp, you believe that failure means you aren't smart or talented, and that effort is only required by those who don't have natural ability.  The idea of trying and failing is one’s worst fear.  The fixed mindset also values success over growth, and success is measured by the outcome (results) and not the process.

Perhaps this sounds familiar.  Your child only wants to participate in the activities he’s good at, and tends to lose interest if something is challenging or unfamiliar.  He doesn't want to try something new and fail at it.  He’s easily defeated when he doesn’t show immediate aptitude for something.

 

Do You Have the Growth Mindset?

The growth mindset is believing that your "basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts."2

In the growth mindset, you believe that your intelligence and ability are not fixed, and can be changed through effort and hard work.  If your child has the growth mindset, he thrives on challenges and enjoys being stretched outside his comfort zone.  He values the process of learning over the outcome, and doesn’t fear failure.  Instead, he believes that failure is only a temporary setback.  He’s not afraid of hard work, because he doesn’t believe hard work means he's less intelligent or talented.

Don’t we all want our kids to be the best version of themselves?  The growth mindset doesn’t measure your accomplishments against others.  You only want to be the best you can be.  

The growth mindset is believing that image doesn’t define you or your child.  There's no judgment.  He’s not a failure if if he wasn’t admitted to an Ivy League school or wasn’t the First Chair in Orchestra.  It’s not about being third batter on the team or how many travel teams he’s been on.  It’s about your child’s own development and growth.  We all know of Tiger Woods and his legendary drive to be the best golfer in the world.  Yet, he has said, “But the best me—that’s a little more important.”3

 

The First Step: Recognize our own Mindset

Whether we intend it or not, the messages we communicate to our kids (directly and indirectly), help to shape them and the framework for their own thinking.   Recognizing the limitations with our own mindset is the first step.  Only then can we help our children change their way of thinking.  

Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “You cannot sincerely try to help another without helping yourself”. 

Do you recognize some of the fixed mindset in yourself?  Being aware is key.  Once we are aware of it, we can take steps to change our mindset and the way we communicate to ourselves (our self-talk) and to our kids.

Be aware of what comes out of your mouth.  Listen to what your kids say.  I found myself sounding off many fixed mindset messages automatically, without thinking.  

 

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”
-Aristotle

 

Having the right mindset allows our kids the opportunity to fail forward, get up, dust off, and try again.  Teaching your child to get up after failing (with their heads up!) and working hard can help them to develop the mental fortitude needed to succeed in all areas of their life!  

Do you want to have the growth mindset?  The good news is that it can be learned and cultivated at any time.  It’s all within your control!

How To Make This Year Different From All The Others

 

It’s January 1, and many of us feel hope and optimism for the new year ahead.  We resolve to lose weight, get organized, cook more, prepare healthier meals for the family, exercise, be more involved with our kids, deep clean the house, be more productive at work, volunteer more at school, see my parents and friends more, etc.  (These are my resolutions, by the way.)

But the odds of seeing those resolutions through are slim.  It’s evident every January—the gym is packed with folks, eager to begin losing weight.  And by March, the exercise resolution people are gone and the gym is back to normal.  Same for my resolutions.  Right off the bat, I go strong and sooner or later, it fades and I’m back to the same old.  So how do we make lasting changes to our lives?

Last year, I made my usual resolutions.  Year after year, I made similar resolutions (like the ones listed above) and none of them stuck.  I was stuck.  Not happy with my job, my physical wellbeing, my day to day existence.  It was a grind.  

But last year was different.  I took action to change something in my life.

Good things happened.  I got a new job, created new and productive habits, and gained a whole new way of looking at the world.  Do I still have bad habits?  Sure.  Do I still have multiple, unrealized goals?  Of course.  The point here is that taking the first step to make some kind of change has resulted in a positive domino effect in my life.

That was the first step; embracing change.  As Albert Einstein once said, “insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results”.  I committed to change—instead of reacting to whatever happened to me on a daily basis, I decided to take control of things I could control.  

I changed my mindset.  Mirriam Webster Dictionary defines mindset as "a particular way of thinking: a person's attitude or set of opinions about something".  

Truthfully, I didn’t set out to intentionally change my own mindset.  It was a serendipitous effect of my desire to learn how to help my kids.  It began when my oldest son (at the time, he was 12) was struggling with his mental game in baseball.  I read a book called “Mindset” by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck because I thought it could help him. 

Turns out, the book was absolutely life-changing.  It provided invaluable advice to help my son with baseball.  Foolishly, I thought I could dispense advice from the book to my son and it would all be fine and dandy.  But when I started off with the “mindset” talks with my kids (cue the collective groans), I realized that the words were meaningless without teeth.  The teeth being actually believing what I was saying, and ensuring my behavior and communication was consistent with that.  

What I mean is that giving your kid advice about the baseball mental game and then yelling at him about striking out and harping on his 0-3 batting average is not a consistent message.  The message you’re trying to get across about the mental game could be negated by your actions and the way you communicate.  And as a result, his game doesn’t improve, you decide these mindset woo-woo techniques are BS, and go back to the old way of doing things.  So in turn, things don’t change for the better and you continue to react to situations as they arise.

So here’s the light bulb moment—sometimes we, as parents, have to change to be effective.  

I realized that I had to change before I could help my son.

Do you want to be a better parent?  Do you see your child selling himself short by quitting activities or tasks prematurely?  Are you afraid they’ll short change themselves and as a result, they won’t reach their full potential?  Can you help them overcome their limiting beliefs?

Dr. Dweck discusses two different mindsets and how changing your mindset can help you achieve personal and professional success.  It can also help your kids achieve their goals in school, in sports, and in life.  I’ve taken steps to implement her strategies in my own life.  Although the jury is still out on how it’s impacted my kids, I can say that her book has truly changed my life.  Rose colored glasses?  Maybe not 100% of the time, but it certainly has changed the way I view the world.  Instead of seeing the world in terms of suffering, lack, and circumstance, I now see life as full of opportunity and possibility.  

Will this be your year to make meaningful changes in your life?  Will this be the year that you take steps to be a better person and parent?  

The takeaway here?  To become better people as well and better parents to our kids, we must first want to change our mindset, believe we can change our mindset, and take action to do so. 

 

"Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything." 
-George Bernard Shaw

 

Let this be your year!