Tag Archives: habits

Back to School: How to Help Your Children (and You) Form Good Habits.

In the United States, it’s back-to-school time. And that means getting back into the habits required by school.

So many things to manage! Waking up on time and going to bed on time. Packing the backpack for school, with homework, permissions slips, lunch, sports clothes, etc. Doing homework. Showing up promptly throughout the day. Plus, many children have after-school activities, so there’s just that much more to remember.

The question is: how can we help children form habits that will help them handle this load, without our constant nagging and supervising?

I’ve thought a lot about this myself, because each year when school begins, it hits my family hard. We have to work to get back into the swing of routine. Upholder that I am (see below), I relish this routine, but the other members of my family don’t agree.

In my book Better Than Before, about habit-formation, I learned one key fact that many habit experts ignore. There is no magic, one-size-fits-all solution for habits. The thing that works for me may be the opposite of what works for you. We need to form habits in a way that suits our nature. And the same is true for kids.

In Better Than Before, I identify 21 strategies that we can use to master our habits. So there are many from which to choose, as you try to help your child. Consider, for example:

Strategy of Convenience — this is the most universal strategy. We’re all more likely to do something if it’s easy to do it. So make it easy for your child to stick to a habit. If you want him to hang up his coat, clear out the closet so there’s plenty of room, or put in hooks that are quicker to use than hangers. If you want her to practice an instrument every afternoon, figure out a way so that all the equipment can stay at the ready, instead of needing to be hauled out and put away every time she practices.

Strategy of Inconvenience — likewise, we’re less likely to do something if it’s a pain. If you want him to stop sneaking cookies, put the cookies in a hard-to-open container on a high shelf. If you want her to stop hitting the snooze alarm in the morning, put the alarm clock across the room, so she has to get out of bed to turn it off.

Strategy of Distinctions — people are very different from each other, but we parents often try to make our children form the habits that work for usDon’t assume that because something works for you — that you work best in a space that’s very quiet and spare, or you think most clearly early in the morning, or you like to get everything finished well before the deadline, or you like to have a lot of supervision — that the same is true for your child. Pay close attention to how that child works best.

I made this mistake with my older daughter. When I work, I must be at a desk, and I kept trying to get her to work at a desk, instead of sitting in a chair or on her bed. It drove me crazy. How could she be productive on her laptop, when she was sprawled across her bed? Finally, light dawned. Just because I work best at a desk doesn’t make that a universal law of human nature.

Strategy of Abstaining — this strategy works well for some people, but not for others. Talk to your child, and explain, “For some people, it’s too hard to have a little bit of something, or to do something for a little while. They find it easier to give something up altogether. Do you think that for you, it would be easier to stop ________ [playing that favorite video game, using that app] than to try to do it just a little bit? Or maybe just do it on the weekend?” Your child may surprise you. Maybe not, but maybe.

Strategy of Other People — to a huge degree, we’re influenced by other people’s habits. So if you want your children to adopt a habit, adopt that habit yourself. If you want them to be organized in the morning, be organized yourself. If you want them to go to sleep on time, go to sleep on time yourself. If you want them to put down their devices and read a book, put down your device.

Strategy of Foundation — It’s easier to stick to our good habits when we have a strong foundation. That means getting enough sleep; not letting yourself get too hungry; getting some exercise; and (for most people) keeping our physical space reasonably orderly. So to help your child manage habits well, make sure to emphasize things like bedtime, not skipping meals, physical activity, and clutter.

Strategy of the Four Tendencies — In this personality framework, I divide all of humanity into four categories: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell a child’s Tendency until young adulthood — but some Tendencies are obvious from a very young age.

To figure out your Tendency, here’s a Quiz (more than 500,000 people have taken it). You could ask your child to take the Quiz, or read the short description of the Tendencies here — in many cases, you will very easily identify your child’s Tendency.

Or here’s a extremely over-simplified version, but to give you an idea:

If your child seems to need little support during the school year, that child is probably an Upholder.

If your child asks a lot of questions, and says things like, “But what’s the point of memorizing the state capitols?” “I didn’t do that homework because it’s a waste of my time, and the teacher is an idiot,” your child is probably a Questioner.

If your child is able to do tasks when given reminders, deadlines, supervision, but struggles to do things on his or her own, that child may be an Obliger.

If, to a very noticeable degree, your child wants to do things in his or her own way and own time, that child is probably a Rebel. If you ask or tell a Rebel to do something, that Rebel is very likely to resist. It’s very helpful to identify a Rebel early, because the strategies that work for the other Tendencies often backfire with Rebels! It’s not the case that “all toddlers are Rebels” or “All teens are Rebels.”

In just about every situation, it’s extremely helpful to know a person’s Tendency, because it makes a big difference in what works. For instance, the Strategy of Accountability is crucial for Obligers; often helpful but perhaps not necessary for Upholders and Questioners, but counter-productive for Rebels! Supervision, nagging, and reminders will make a Rebel child less likely to keep a habit.

The Four Tendencies framework is a huge subject. In fact, right now I’m finishing up an entire book about the Four Tendencies, and how to use them in different situations. (To be notified when that book hits the shelves, sign up here.)

If you want to hear more, you can also listen to discussions on the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast. Elizabeth and I have talked about it several times, for instance, here.

How about you — have you found any strategies or tips for helping a child to form good habits? The pressures of  school make it very clear that for children as well as for adults, having helpful habits makes life a lot easier.

Podcast 74: Choose the Quote for Your Yearbook Page, Use the Strategy of Pairing, and Some Thoughts about the Four Tendencies.

It’s time for the next installment of  “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

Update: If you want to take the Four Tendencies quiz, it’s here, to find out if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel. What would be some good questions to pose to children, to help identify their Tendencies?

Try This at Home: Pick your “yearbook quote.” What quote would you choose? Among others mentioned, Elizabeth’s quotation comes from Kurt Vonnegut’s Welcome to the Monkey House. Let us know: what quote would you choose?

If you want to sign up for the “Moment of Happiness,” my free daily email newsletter with a terrific quotation, sign up here.

Better Than Before Habit Strategy: The Strategy of Pairing is one of the simplest — and for many people, one of the most effective — of the 21 strategies of habit change that I identify in Better Than Before.

Listener Question: Laura asks, “Elizabeth and Gretchen, what are the Tendencies of your parents?” Interesting question. Again, if you want to take the Four Tendencies quiz, it’s here

Gretchen’s Demerit: I’m kicking myself for not realizing that Eleanor won’t have a way to take photos at summer camp — they have a strict no-cell-phone policy.

Elizabeth’s Gold Star: Elizabeth gives a gold star to her writing partner Sarah for encouraging her to go to the Podcast Movement conference.

Remember,  I’m doing weekly live videos on my Facebook Page about the podcast. To join the conversation, tune in Tuesdays at 1:00 p.m. Eastern.

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Happier with Gretchen Rubin - Podcast #74

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5 Tips to Deal with Insomnia

Recently I had a bad night of tossing and turning. I was up for a few hours, then overslept the next morning.

And while I was lying there, unable to sleep, I knew I was violating some of the beat-the-insomnia advice that experts give. Though, true, to give myself credit, I was following some advice.

These tips were on my mind, because I’d just read Andrea Petersen’s Wall Street Journal piece “Middle-of-the-Night Insomnia Blues.”

I violated one of the most basic back-to-sleep tips — the tip to get up, rather than toss and turn.

If you have trouble with insomnia, here are some of the tips from the article:

1. If you’re wide awake, get up.

I just kept lying there thinking, “I should get up.” Somehow, I couldn’t muster the energy to get up. I would’ve been a little cold, when I got out from under the covers, and I didn’t feel like reading my book…so I just stayed put.  Bad idea.

2. I love this tip: If you watch TV, wear sunglasses.

Hilarious! It helps to block the light that will mess up your circadian rhythm. I couldn’t watch TV during my insomnia because (this is embarrassing to admit) my family and I were staying in a rental house, and I didn’t know how to turn on the TV.  TV-watching is so confusing these days. If I’d been wide awake, I could’ve figured out how to manage the TV, but I couldn’t face the challenge in the middle of the night.

3. Don’t eat.

make a point not to eat between dinner and breakfast, as a habit for healthy eating, but the article makes an interesting additional argument: middle-of-the-night eating can condition you to keep doing it in the future. I was reminded of a dog-training story I just read: a couple  had trouble because their dog kept waking them up in the middle of the night to eat. Turned out that the dog had been conditioned to do that, because they’d had a new baby, and the father was getting up to the feed the baby, and at the same time, he gave the dog a snack. The baby started sleeping through the night, but the dog still wanted the snack.

4. Don’t sleep late the next morning.

Which I did, by accident.  Usually I set my alarm, and I really don’t know why I forgot to set it that night. Bad timing, but fortunately, I slept well the next night.

5. If you get up, keep lights dim.

I’m good about doing this. It really does help. When we moved into our apartment, I was careful to make sure to put dimmable lights in the bathroom.

Interesting fact I learned: “Waking up–and staying up–in the middle of the night is more common than having trouble falling asleep.

I wrote more sleep-related tips here: 14 tips for getting more sleep–and why it matters. I’m a sleep zealot!  I’ve learned through tough experience that it’s hard to be happy, and to stick to my good habits, when I’m exhausted. In fact, “sleep” is one of the key habits for the Strategy of Foundation that I write about in Better Than Before. If you want to change a habit — any habit — getting enough sleep is a key first step.

Do you have any good tips for battling insomnia?

3 Things My Puppy Taught Me About Happiness.

Tomorrow is our puppy Barnaby’s first birthday! But tomorrow we’ll be driving my daughter to summer camp in Maine, so we’re celebrating today.

(Quick question: When is a puppy no longer a “puppy?” When he’s a year old?)

As I wrote about here, and talked about on the podcast in episodes 24 and 27, I really debated about whether to get a dog. My daughters desperately wanted a dog, my husband was game, but I wasn’t sure.

In the end, I decided to follow my own advice, and to “Choose the bigger life.”

And I’m so happy I did! Barnaby makes us very happy.

I’ve thought about three things, in particular, that Barnaby taught me — or more accurately, highlighted the truth of — since he joined our family.

1. Give warm greetings and farewells.

In my book Happier at Home, I talk about why I resolved to give people in my family a warm hello and good-bye, every time they came and went from our apartment. I was surprised by how much this small change boosted our sense of love and attentiveness. But if I ever forget the wisdom of this effort, boy, Barnaby reminds me. Dogs are so happy to see you when you come through the door! Barnaby jumps to his feet, he wriggles, his tail wags. And it’s so, so nice. It really makes a difference when you feel like someone or some dog is truly happy to see you.

2. Go outside.

Since Barnaby arrived, I’ve spent a lot more time outside. And I love it: experiencing the weather, observing the patterns of my neighborhood, watching the days grow longer and shorter. I feel more connected to the natural world and to my environment. Now, I’ve known for a long time that going outside boosts happiness, but that knowledge didn’t make me go outside more often. But Barnaby needs to go outside! So we go. Interesting fact:  dog owners tend to get more exercise, and to enjoy it more, than people who go to the gym.

3. Shake it off.

Taylor Swift sings about this, and Barnaby actually does it. At first, I wondered why he kept shaking as though he was trying to get water out of his fur, when he was dry, but I learned that this is a stress reaction in dogs — when they’re anxious about something, they literally shake it off. Perhaps weirdly, I’ve tried this myself. When I feel a rush of stress about something, I do some jumping jacks. It really works.

shakeitoff

If you have a pet, what has your pet taught you about happiness?

Check Out These Examples of the Four Tendencies in Movies, TV Shows, & Books. Send More Examples!

Yes, I continue to be obsessed with the Four Tendencies framework I created.

Just last night, at a dinner party, I expounded on my theory to both dinner partners, separately (one Upholder, one Questioner). Am I becoming a bore? Perhaps.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can find out here whether you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel.

One of my favorite things has been to gather mottoes for the Four Tendencies. So many hilarious, brilliant ones! (If you want a mug with your Tendency and its motto, you can buy one here.)

Now I’m collecting movies, novels, and TV shows that illustrate the Four Tendencies. And I need your help. I have many examples, but I want more. Please send your suggestions — especially for Rebel. I’m surprised that I don’t have lots of fictional examples of Rebels, but so far, I don’t.

Upholder:

The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling — Hermione is a textbook Upholder. She constantly (and annoyingly) reminds Harry and Ron about the regulations and laws of the magical world, she never falls behind on her homework, and she becomes very anxious when anyone breaks a law or even a school rule. Nevertheless, when she becomes convinced that official expectations are unjust, she crusades against them, even in the face of others’ indifference or outright disapproval, as she did in her campaign to improve the poor treatment of house-elves. In her final year at Hogwarts, she quits school and opposes the Ministry of Magic in order to fight the evil Voldemort.

The Bridge on the River Kwai — The character of Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guiness) is a magnificent portrait of an Upholder, with all the strengths and terrible weaknesses that accompany the Tendency.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer — A thoughtful reader wrote to me to say that she thought Buffy from the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer was an Upholder— but shockingly, I’ve never watched that show, so I don’t have a view myself. What do you think? Is Buffy an obvious Upholder?

Game of Thrones series — When Lord Stannis Baratheon and his men were besieged during war, they were saved when infamous smuggler Davos Seaworth brought supplies through the blockade. After the war, Stannis knighted Davos for his act—but he didn’t forgive Davos’s earlier crimes; he enforced the law by chopping off the tips of the fingers on the outlaw’s left hand. Later, when his older brother King Robert Baratheon dies, Stannis believes the crown should pass to him, as the next-oldest male in line. So he fights to assume his rightful place, and sacrifices everything he values along the way—even though he doesn’t even seem to want to be king. (I’m going by the TV show here; I haven’t read the books in a while.)

Questioner:

Parks and RecreationRon Swanson (Rick Offerman) is an outstanding example of a Questioner. He willingly upholds rules and expectations that he thinks makes sense—such as gun licensing laws—but ignores rules that seem unjustified—such as the building codes for his woodworking shop.

The X-Files — I haven’t watched the series in a long time, but I think I’m correct in remembering that Mulder and Scully are both Questioners, right?

Jane Eyre by Charlotte BronteJane Eyre is a Questioner. In fact, on the very first page of the book, Jane’s hateful aunt Mrs. Reed literally calls her “Questioner” to explain why she finds Jane annoying: “Jane, I don’t like cavillers or questioners.” (I had to look up “caviller”; it means “one who quibbles.”)

Obliger:

It’s a Wonderful Life George Bailey (James Stewart) is an Obliger who, at every juncture, meets outer expectations but not  inner expectations. The movie shows both the risks and the rewards of the Obliger path.  Note that when George finally drops into Obliger-rebellion, it’s aimed at himself, as so often happens with Obliger-rebellion. It makes me sad to reflect that most Obligers don’t have a Clarence to help them.

Before Midnight — Céline (Julie Delpy) expresses Obliger frustration and is shown progressing into full Obliger-rebellion.

27 Dresses — Obliger Jane (Katherine Heigl) satisfies everyone’s expectations, until her deceitful sister Tess pushes her too hard, and she rebels with a dramatic, destructive, ugly gesture (spoiler alert: it involves a wedding slide show). When her best friend Casey questions her actions, Jane defends herself, saying, “You’re the one who is always telling me to stand up for myself!” Casey answers, “Yeah. But that’s not what you did. What you did was unleash twenty years of repressed feelings in one night.” Yup. That’s Obliger-rebellion.

Rebel:

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen — Lady Bertram is a thorough Rebel; she’s also a good example of how Rebels may appear proper and conventional — until closer consideration reveals that they do only what they want to do.

Do you have any examples to add? Do you disagree with any of my categorizations?

It’s funny to me that I, as an Upholder, have lots of examples of Upholders, and the fewest examples of the Rebel Tendency, which is the opposite of the Upholder Tendency. I’m sure there’s a lesson in that. So suggest more examples!