Tag Archives: routine

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.

To Be Creative, What Are the Best Habits To Follow?

Assay: This post is back by popular demand, because when I tell people that I’ve been working on Better Than Before, my book about habit change, one of the questions that people most often ask me is: “What habits are best for creativity?” They want to know what habits help people think creatively — and also, actually produce.

Often, people make the case for adopting a particular habit by pointing to a renowned figure who practiced that habit, with great success. For instance…

Maybe we should live a life of quiet predictability, like Charles Darwin.

Or maybe we should indulge in boozy revelry, like Toulouse-Lautrec.

Maybe we should wake up early, like Haruki Murakami.

Or maybe we should work late into the night, like Tom Stoppard.

Maybe it’s okay to procrastinate endlessly, like William James.

Or maybe it’s better to work regular hours, like Anthony Trollope.

Should we work in silence, like Gustav Mahler?

Or amidst a bustle of activity, like Jane Austen?

Maybe it’s helpful to drink a lot of alcohol, like Fried­rich Schiller.

Or a lot of coffee, like Kierkegaard.

Are we better off produc­ing work for many hours a day, like H. L. Mencken?

Or maybe for just thirty minutes a day, like Gertrude Stein.

The sad fact is, there’s no magic formula, no one-size-fits-all solution—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.

In his fascinating book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, from which these examples are drawn, Mason Currey exhaustively examines the work habits of 161 writers, composers, artists, scientists, and philos­ophers.

These examples make one thing perfectly clear about creative habits: while brilliant people vary tre­mendously in the specific habits they follow, they all know very well what habits work for them, and they go to enormous lengths to maintain those habits.

I used to tell everyone that working slowly and steadily was the best way to produce creative work. Because that’s what works for me.

And I used to encourage everyone to get up early, to work in the morning. Because that’s what works for me.

And I used to say that it was better to work in a reasonably quiet, calm, orderly environment. Because that’s what works for me.

But as I worked on Better Than Before, it became increasingly clear to me that the opposite habits work better for some people.

I’m a Marathoner, but some people are Sprinters.

I’m a Lark, but some people are Owls.

I’m a Simplicity-Lover, but other people are Abundance-Lovers.

We have to think about ourselves. It’s helpful to ask, “When have I worked well in the past? What did my habits look like then – and how can I replicate them?” Maybe you work more creatively with a team – or by yourself. Maybe you need deadlines – or maybe you feel strangled by deadlines. Maybe you like working on several projects at once — or you prefer to focus on one project at a time.

With habits, as with happiness, the secret is to figure out ourselves. When we shape our habits to suit our own nature, our own interests, and our own values, we set ourselves up for success.

How about you? What habits contribute or detract from your creativity?

Do You Have the Habit of Having Habits? Or Do You Fight Habits?

“Habit is necessary; it is the habit of having habits, of turning a trail into a rut, that must be incessantly fought against if one is to remain alive.”

–Edith Wharton, A Backward Glance

How do you feel about habits? Do you fight against them?

One thing that surprised me as I was writing Better Than Before is how much people differ in their attitude towards habits. I love habits and embrace them — perhaps that’s my Upholder nature — but I understand better, now, why other people dread and resist them. And although I love habits, I see more clearly now how they speed time and deaden experience.

Like technology, money, ambition, and caffeine, habit is a good servant but a bad master.

 

Do You Love Being Back in Your Routine? I Do.

I was out of town on vacation last week, but today I’m back in the usual swing (mostly) of my routine.

And I love it.

I’ve noticed that some people really enjoying being away from their usual routines; they try to avoid having a lot of habits; they feel freer, more energetic, and more creative when their lives are less predictable.

I’m just the opposite. I embrace habits and routine. For me, discipline brings a sense of freedom, and I love the sense of my day unfolding as I’ve planned.

How about you? Do you cultivate habits or fight them? Are you happy to be back from a trip, or do you dislike settling back into the usual routine?

As always, the secret of happiness is to know yourself. I used to feel bad about the fact that I was such a homebody creature of habit, but now that I follow my personal commandment to Be Gretchen, I embrace this aspect of myself.

If you’d like to read more along these lines, check out Happier at Home, chapter six.

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Want an Exercise Routine You’ll Stick To? Ask Yourself These 11 Questions.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day, or Quiz Day, or List Day.

This Wednesday: Want an exercise routine you’ll stick to? Ask yourself these eleven questions.

When I ask people what they’d like to do for their own happiness projects, they often say something like, “Exercise more regularly.” Exercise is very important for health and mood, and everyone knows this–and yet it’s often tough for people to stick to an exercise routine.

I think that one mistake is to choose a form of exercise based on a) what your friend recommends, b) what kind of change to your body you want to see, or c) what is the fashionable form of exercise. It’s helpful to consider these factors, but in the end, we’re far more likely to stick with an exercise routine that suits our nature and our schedule. If you’re struggling to exercise regularly, this is not the place to fight your nature! If you’ve been a night person all your life, vowing to get up at 5:00 a.m. to run isn’t very realistic.

Ask yourself these questions, and when you’re done, think about what kind of exercise routine would suit you best:

1. Are you a morning person or a night person?

2. Would you like to spend more time in nature?

3. Would you like more time in solitude; or more time with friends; or more time to meet new people?

4. Are you motivated by competition?

5. Do you enjoy loud music?

6. Do you do better with some form of external accountability, or does that just annoy you?

7. Would you like to challenge yourself with exercise (whether by learning a new skill or pushing yourself physically)–or not?

8. Do you like sports and games?

9. Would you like more meditative time, or more time to watch TV, read newspapers, etc?

10. Do you have a lot of control over your time?

11. Are you sensitive to weather?

Your answers should guide your thinking about exercise. Work out with a trainer? Take a class? Be inside or outside? etc.

For instance, if you’re a morning person who craves solitude and time alone with your thoughts, but has little control over  your schedule and hates feeling accountable to anyone, you might enjoy walking in a park every morning before you leave for work.

If you’re a night person who loves music and meeting new people, and is also motivated by accountability, you might like to take a dance-based exercise class after work.

Often, people will say, “Go for a twenty minute walk at lunch? That’s nothing. I really need to get in shape.” Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good! The twenty minute walk you take is so much better for you than the three mile run you never do. You get the biggest health boost going from no exercise to some exercise.

Just a little tweak in a routine sometimes makes a big difference. For instance, to exercise on the weekends, I go for a long walk. Generally, I like to think while I walk, but I do a lot of walking every day, and I found myself getting bored on the long walks–and so finding excuses to skip them.

One of my Twelve Personal Commandments is to Identify the problem. What was the problem? “I’m bored during these walks, so I don’t want to go.” For the first time, I bought myself an audiobook, and for the past few weeks I’ve been listening to The Golden Compass when I walk. It makes me so happy! I haven’t missed a day’s walk since I started.

How about you? What aspects of your nature and your schedule make it easier–or harder–to stick to an exercise routine? What works for you?