Tag Archives: schedule

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.

Daylight Saving Time! How to Survive the Loss of an Hour of Sleep.

There’s a very helpful Daylight Saving Time mnemonic: “spring forward, fall back.”

This Sunday, we “spring forward” and turn our clocks ahead one hour — which means losing an hour of sleep. And for many of us, each hour of sleep is precious.

So what can you do to offset that loss? My book Better Than Before has lots of ideas about forming habits — including habits related to sleep.

1. Use the Strategy of First Steps.

There’s a magic to starting, to taking that first step. Often, it helps to have some kind of external prompt, or a cultural milestone, to remind us to take a first step. Like a New Year’s resolution, a cue like Daylight Saving Time makes a good time to start a new sleep habit.  You could start new better sleep habits at any time, of course, but Daylight Saving Time is a good prompt. For instance…

2. Give yourself a bedtime.

Many adults don’t have an official bedtime; they just go to bed when they feel “tired.” But it’s so easy to keep ourselves jacked up on sugar, caffeine, office email, or binge-watching TV, so we don’t feel tired, even though we belong in bed. Most adults need at least seven hours of sleep. Do the math and give yourself an official bedtime. That way, you know, “Well, it’s 11:00 p.m., I’m up thirty minutes past my bedtime.” It helps.

3. Consider setting an alarm to mark your bedtime.

You probably set an alarm to help you to wake up; so set an alarm to help you go to bed. Often, we just need a reminder that “Oh, yeah, it’s about time for me to turn off the light.” You might even want to set a true “snooze” alarm, a fifteen-minute alarm that reminds you that it’s almost bedtime. We often give children warnings that bedtime is approaching, but grown-ups also need transitions.

4. Consider getting ready for bed well before your bedtime.

This really helps me. I realized that often, I was so tired that I couldn’t face changing my clothes, brushing my teeth, washing my face, etc., so I just kept staying up. Not exactly a rational response. Now I try to get ready for bed well before I intend to get in bed. Huge bonus:  brushing my teeth really helps me to quit night-snacking. I’d heard this advice before, but it seemed too easy to be effective. To my astonishment, it works really well.

5. Sleep really matters.

Sleep affects mood, memory, immune function, self-control — lack of sleep even contributes to weight gain. In fact, sleep is so important that in Better Than Before, sleep is part of the Strategy of Foundation, along with exercise, eat and drink right, and unclutter. Good sleep is at the foundation of good habits.

How about you? Have you found some strategies to cope with the loss of that hour of sleep — and to help yourself get more sleep, generally?

7 Things I Learned About Myself, from Getting a Dog.

As I may have mentioned, my family and I just got a new puppy — a cockapoo named Barnaby. He’s fourteen weeks old, and super sweet and delightful.

However, he is a dog, and even more so, he’s a puppy. I knew that his arrival in our household would mean big changes — and would also teach me a lot about myself.

So far, here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Getting up at 5:30 a.m. is very different from getting up at 6:00 a.m.

It’s just thirty minutes…but it feels like a much bigger gap. For years,  my day has started at 6:00, and I’m hoping that when Barnaby is a little older, I can move my wake-up time back to its usual spot. For now, he’s very eager to go out by 5:30.

2. New York City is an overwhelming place.

I’ve been here for so long that I take it for granted, but being with Barnaby has shown me how noisy and bustling it is. In some ways, that’s good; in some ways, (more…)

Podcast 21: Join a Group, Put an Item on the Schedule, Enjoy the Present Time, and the Joy of a Treadmill Desk.

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

This episode was particularly fun to record; Elizabeth was in New York City for a wedding, so we were together in the studio — and not only that, our mother was there, too! We tried to persuade her to make a cameo audio appearance, but she declined.

This week…

Update: We got many responses from people who tried the idea to “be a tourist in your own city” from episode 15. So many imaginative ideas.

Try This at Home: Join or start a group. If you want to start a group for people doing happiness projects together, request it here. Or if you want to start a group for people working on their habits together, request it here.

After we recorded the show, our mother made a good point: if you’re in a group that meets regularly, it’s much easier if you set a year’s worth of dates, or to set some kind of rule (first Monday of every month), to set the dates. Thanks to her reminder, one of my book groups has now set a year’s worth of dates.

Better Than Before Strategy for Habit Change: Put an item on the schedule. It sounds simple, but it really works. (Except for Rebels! It does not work for Rebels.) Something that can be done at any time is often done at no time.

Listener Question: “I’m always looking forward to the next thing in life, and not enjoying where I am now enough.”

Gretchen’s Demerit: I relied on sleep medication to get back into a sleep pattern after coming back from Australia, instead of using good sleep practices to get back on track.

ElizabethTreadmillDeskTheFamilyElizabeth’s Gold Star: Now that she has started her new job on The Family, Elizabeth is back on her treadmill desk. You may remember her treadmill desk; she mentioned it in our very first episode. Hearing her gold star made me very happy, because, as I describe in Better Than Before, it was my idea to give her that desk! Best gift I’ve ever given.

Elizabeth and I have a favor to ask. We’re part of the Panoply network, and Panoply has created a listener survey. If you could take a few minutes to take the survey, it will really help us — and Panoply — learn more about our listeners. Thanks!

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“The Way We Live Our Days, What We Do at 10 A.M., Really Is the Way We Live Our Lives”

 

Interview: Brigid Schulte.

I’m fascinated by habits and happiness, so I’m very interested in how we can use our time wisely, get the most out of every day, include everything we value into our ordinary routine, and so on.

So I was very interested to read journalist Brigid Schulte’s book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time. The title says it all! The book discusses a crucial issue:  how we can make time for the things that really matter. It just came out in paperback, so it seemed like a good time to ask Brigid Schulte some questions about her own habits and happiness.

Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What’s the most significant thing you’ve concluded on the subject of habits?

Brigid: That time is power. As trite as it sounds, but the way we live our days, what we do at 10 am, at 3 pm, how the evening flows, like habits, it really is the way we live our lives, as the writer Annie Dillard said. And that to live a meaningful life, means making meaningful choices for what to do at 10 am and 3 pm and in the evening. And that means taking time to pause, to step out of the swirl of crazy busyness and think about what really matters most to you. Then put that on your To Do list.

So often, we think we’ll get to the big stuff after we get to the end of the To Do list – that’s something I still struggle with, living what I call an If/Then reality – IF I finish all this drudgery and little stuff, THEN I can get to the stuff I really enjoy or is really important. Then we get so caught up in the IF, the doing, the stuff, we never get to THEN. So I’m trying to flip it, and put the important stuff, the things that give meaning and joy, not just on the list, but at the top.

The other thing about time being power: psychologists say that peak human experience comes from getting so wrapped up in something that your experience becomes timeless. That’s the state when art, literature, philosophy, and civilization gets created. It’s the kind of time that, throughout history, men with status have typically been the only ones to have.

Women’s time has always been fragmented and interrupted, by child care, by housework, and now, with work piled on top, because gender roles haven’t changed as much as we have.  And I found fascinating studies that show women feel they don’t deserve this kind of flow, they have to earn it by getting to the end of a To Do list of chores first. (Remember the If/Then mentality!)

So I’m arguing, it’s time now for women, too, for everyone, to carve out concentrated time for the things that give them joy, and get them into flow. And with technology splintering everybody’s time and attention, we all need to be aware of that pressure, and find ways to knit time together to concentrate, get lost in something we love, and just pay attention to our lives. It’s a skill, and it’s something we can get better at the more we practice. I’m practicing!

What’s a simple habit that consistently makes you happier?

Cocktail minute with my husband. We don’t even have cocktails. He’ll have a beer or glass of wine, and I may or may not. It’s just what we call that small space to check in with each other every day.

What’s something you know now about forming healthy habits that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

 I wish – boy – I wish I’d known a lot of things. Though I’m sure I’ll feel the same at some future point, looking back now. But I guess I wish I’d known how powerful baby steps are. I would think of something that needed changing, and feel like I had to do it all at once, and I’d start, make a herculean effort, and usually give up.

One of the most powerful strategies for changing behavior, changing the way we think and use time was this: Just Start.

Sometimes we overthink things. And sometimes, the brilliant Udaya Patnaik of the design firm, Jump Associates, told me, it’s easier to act ourselves into a new way of thinking, than it is to think ourselves into a new way of acting. You just start where you are.

Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?

I still don’t sleep enough. I know how important sleep is, but I’ve developed a lifetime of bad habits from thinking it wasn’t important. I’ll stay up too late, pushing to finish something, then get up too early to try to get a workout in, then feel jetlagged through the day. I know it’s nuts – that it takes me longer to do things, that I’m not thinking as clearly, that I make more mistakes, that I’m not giving myself the space for creative thoughts and innovation to rise – that they’re more likely to come when I’m rested and relaxed – so – ON THE LIST! Work in progress.

Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you changed a major habit very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

I wish! I keep hoping that will happen. It seems like it would be so much easier to be hit with that flash of clarity. But maybe  I’m a slow learner, or a little thick headed, so I just keep slogging forward in the fog and uncertainty, sometimes backward, sometimes falling on my butt. I guess what I’m learning as I get older – sometimes the point is to just keep going.