“They say it takes 65 days to cement a habit. I say you can cement the habit within days if you have laid the foundations first. It’s all in the intention. What is your reason for wanting to create the habit? Know that and you’ll have a better chance of sticking to it and changing your life for good.
Over the years, I have won and failed at various habits. Good and bad. I guess it doesn’t take a genius to guess that bad habits are the easiest to keep. We all have bad habits. It’s what makes us human. What I’m here for is to show you how to keep the good ones, your happy habits by your side. To keep them with you daily or monthly and then forever.
Some habits we have we do just because it’s part of life. We wake up, we brush our teeth (maybe even floss if we have that as part of our routine or one of our good habits) we eat, go to school, go to work, pay bills and try to get a good night’s sleep.
8 years ago, when I had my first child, other experienced parents would tell me how important it was to get my child into good routines and as early as possible. My daughter had barely learned to know the difference between night and day yet here I was wondering whether ‘making sure she feeds every 2 hours’ and ‘encourage her to nap at the same time every day’ were really critical for a newborn.
By the time my second child was born 2 years later, I was experienced enough to know what worked for us as a family, what advice was worth holding on to, and when to nod and smile politely. It was a huge contrast to the first time around where I was consumed with so much self-doubt I didn’t believe enough in myself in many of the decisions I had made.
Although as new parents we may talk about establishing good routines or habits for children, we very rarely talk about the benefits of good and healthy habits for ourselves as mothers and fathers. Much of our past lives get put on hold or forgotten about completely without a second thought. It’s the consequence of becoming a parent. We are led to believe this is what happens and we cannot complain about it. That to expect to have free time again is selfish and a sign you are not committed to being the best parent you can be. That is what I believed.
When I decided I wanted to return to work, I had no faith in my abilities in a corporate environment anymore. I dug out my resume, blew off the dust, and got to work on typing it up. As I read through the skills I had spent years honing in my previous ‘before being a parent’ life, I started to panic. No way was I going to be able to perform at the level I had previously been capable of.
To keep my anxiety over this in check, I left various parts of my old job roles off what I had to offer. My thought process was, ‘If it wasn’t written down, then it wouldn’t be expected of me.’ Even before I had children, I had a really bad habit of limiting beliefs in my abilities and telling myself on a daily basis all the things I was rubbish at.
‘You’re never going to achieve that’ and ‘as if someone like you deserves to earn more money. Be grateful for what you’ve got.’ Here I found myself doing it again yet it now felt comfortable, safe, and reassuring for an environment that used to feel comfortable to me in spite of my doubts. It was as if all the past negative thoughts I had were now coming true.
After many months of either hearing nothing or being rejected, I finally found a job that worked around my home life. I told myself I was very lucky to have found a job, rather than thinking they were just as lucky to have me as I was to have them.
The power of thought, be it positive or negative, is the driving force behind our need to run and hide or stand and fight. The years and years of verbal self-sabotage of limiting my skills I had to offer were in full effect. These feelings and thoughts of not feeling good enough would swirl around in my head completely controlling my mind. I would hear a knock sometimes. Something telling me it was all nonsense, I was better than this, but it was so faint I shut it out by drowning them in more negative verbal pounding.
One habit I had before I started working was heading to a gym class a couple of times a week. For that hour, I would work like my life depended on it! It was 60 minutes of complete freedom from my thoughts and a break from being a mother. Once I started working, this good habit I had created by going to the gym fell by the wayside. My partner encouraged me to go in the evening but by the time the children had gone to bed I was ready to hit the sack myself. But I knew I had to find a solution.
I came across an online app that did a variety of classes. Weight, yoga, cardio, pilates. 25-minute classes available 24/7. I could easily scroll through social media for 25 minutes but now I was thinking I could complete a class instead.
I signed up for a free 2-week trial. The first morning, I was full of enthusiasm and energy. How all good and new intentions start. I got up at 6 a.m., half an hour before one of my children usually wakes up. I rolled out an old gym mat I had and pressed play. It was tough but I was buzzing after. I felt as if I had achieved something. My mind felt clearer and I started the day in a better mood.
As the week progressed, it got harder. Getting up earlier was not easy. My alarm would go off and I’d think about how many times I had woken in the night because one or both of the kids needed me. But I kept focussing on how I felt after the class. I wanted that feeling again. It was only 25 minutes! I started to call it ‘my mind over mattress.’ I realized the best thing to do was to get up as soon as my eyes were open. To not even think about getting up. Just get up and head straight downstairs. Don’t look at my phone, get dressed in my gym gear, and go.
The ‘mind over mattress’ mantra completely changed my determination and I became more successful at getting up. I found even on the days I wasn’t doing a class, I still get up and enjoy the quietness of the house before the rest of the family wake.
It had a positive effect in many areas including my job where my confidence grew and I expanded my role. Being able to keep this habit has acted as a springboard to creating other positive habits. I’m easily stressed, I eat too much chocolate, I don’t drink enough water, and I worry too much about the future rather than enjoying the here and now.
When I was younger, I would ‘go off into my own world’ by staring out of a classroom window at school or ‘dolly daydream’ as many would call me. Nowadays, I realize this was a form of meditation. To switch off my mind and just ‘stare into space.’ Sometimes with my eyes open, others with them closed. I used to feel guilty about taking 10 minutes out to do this as a parent, but now I’m very much aware I need to do it for my well-being and I should not feel guilty about indulging in it from time to time. It helps me focus and be present, which makes me a better partner and parent.
I’ve always been terrible at eating fruit and during the lockdown period, I started cutting up an apple, a plum, and maybe a carrot while preparing breakfast and plate them up to leave nearby for me to snack on while working away on my laptop. I did this for my children too so when they declared they were hungry for the 100th time, I would point to the table and let them have as much as they wanted.
Let me be real here; each day I’m not a perfect fruit-eating, good-tempered mama! But I work on being better most days. It’s a constant battle. But my intention is there and I know the outcome from it is positive so this is what I focus my mind on. Find your intention and focus on it. That is what will cement the habit for you.
How to create Happy Habits.
Think about what you what to start doing. Hone the good habit craft by starting small. It can be anything yet it has to be something you are interested in improving for either yourself or your family. If you fail, don’t beat yourself up. It’s fine and completely normal. Tomorrow is another day to start again. The sun sets on the past and rises with new beginnings. Each new day is another day for your intention. Over time, you can add more intentions and also bigger ones.
Always focus on why you want to create the habit. Write it down. I find the best time to write down any intentions, be them current or new, is just before I’m going to sleep. I have a notepad next to my bed and I write them down. As I wake each morning, the page is open to remind me. You may prefer to stick them on post-its around the house. Whatever way works for you, do it.
One thing that is important is you have to enjoy it. If it’s a form of exercise you want to get into the habit of doing yet you detest it you are more likely to fail. Just because I get up earlier in the morning to do my class doesn’t mean it suits you. You may prefer running, boxing, or cycling in the evening or over the weekend. Whatever it is it has to be fun.
Whether it’s friends, family or strangers there are lots of stories out there to inspire and motivate us. I love listening to people’s stories as to how they overcome a personal tragedy or obstacle. I recently recorded a chat with a guy called Jason Anker who shared his story with me. In his early 20s, he had a workplace accident that left him unable to walk. Now in his 40’s and after many years of fighting his demons, he has come to the realization it wasn’t his accident holding him back all this time but his own mind. This is something we can all learn from. It is our own thoughts that hold us back from trying and believing in ourselves. If we find a way to overcome that, we can be our own true champion!
Finally, be proud of yourself. Even on the days that have not gone to plan. When I’ve failed I tell myself, ‘There’s always tomorrow.’ I see it and I know I’ll keep on trying to achieve it. Will you join me in it?”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Carrie Knights.
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