A mum-tested way of changing habits

I find it so easy to think of all the things I’m doing wrong as a parent. The times I muck up, the things I should be doing more of, the things I should stop doing, the times I lose my temper and don’t respond like the post-it note on my fridge reminds me to – ‘be clear, be calm, be consistent, be kind’.

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So I’m endeavouring to change, to replace all these ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’, and I’m doing this by working on my habits. And no, it’s not a giant list of the big things I want to change. I know that if I did that, I’d try to change them all at once, fail and go right back to how I was before. I’m talking about little habits. Tiny things that I previously wouldn’t have thought important enough to tackle.

My goal? Fix my sleep deficit

Over the summer holidays, I was up way too late, way too often. I don’t have babies anymore. And sure, I’m up at least once a night for a child who wants water or needs a snuggly rescued from down the side of the bed. But I really couldn’t blame my sleep deficit on my kids.

My self-inflicted staying-up-late habit was mucking up my waking hours and so I tried a few things to combat it. (Newsflash: More coffee during the day didn’t help). I tried an hour of cleaning and tidying before bed. I tried going to bed by 9.30pm. I tried cutting screen time. None of it worked.

So how do you actually change a habit?

I decided to do some reading. I learned that to successfully change a habit, it needs to be something so small it feels like you’re almost changing nothing. In other words, something super achievable. And so I chose an 11pm bedtime. It sounded late but I figured I’d definitely be able to turn the light off by then – with plenty of time to spare.

The good news? After doing it a few times, it actually started working! The habit has now become routine and it’s not longer an effort, just a pattern my body knows without me having to work hard at it.

How do habits actually help with being a mum?

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project says, “Habits are decisions that we put on autopilot, so they take no time, effort, energy or willpower to enforce them”. They help eliminate “decision-making fatigue.”

The whole idea about habits is that effort, willpower, discipline – which we only have finite supplies of – is taken out of the equation. With the myriad of tasks I have to do and decisions I have to make on a daily basis as a mum, I like the thought of flicking the switch to auto-pilot once in a while.

A life-full of habits

I’ve come to realise my life is full of habits. Some of which I started a long time ago without even realising it – some even as a kid. For example, my parents used to read to me every night before bed and once I was old enough, I kept it up – and still do to this day. It’s a great habit I enjoy a lot. As a mum, I intuitively pass on habits to my own children. Things like brushing their teeth, thanking the cook for dinner, hanging up our helmets after a bike ride – and the list goes on.

Habit-based change

Since I’ve started this habit-based way of change, I’ve consistently been getting more sleep. I’ve also reduced the amount of alcohol I consume by creating a new habit of limiting drinking to the weekends. And no, I’m don’t have a 100 percent track record. Once in a while, I stay up late or have a mid-week glass of wine but I give myself permission to because it happens so rarely.

I wish I had a longer list of these changes I’ve made. But I’m actually pretty proud of these two changes – because I know I can keep them up. There are plenty more things I want to change and I’m tempted to start them all now – but I’m resisting until I can tackle them in this manageable, tiny-habit-change way.

Attend a Toolbox parenting course

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