01 Jan

Mind the Gap: Why it’s so hard to keep resolutions and how to up your odds

“I know I shouldn’t yell so much, but I just can’t seem to stop!”

“I know I shouldn’t eat this entire pint of ice cream, but here I go anyway . . .”

“I know I should stop reading Facebook, but the other things I have to do are far less interesting!”

Does any of this sound familiar?

Even when we know what to do, and why it’s important, many of us struggle with translating what we know into what we do.

Marshall Goldsmith, my favorite Executive Coach, explains it this way:

“If the understanding equals doing equation were accurate, everyone who understood that they should go on a healthy diet and work out would be in great shape. Why is it, then, that Americans weigh more than we have ever weighed in our history? We all know what it takes to get in shape, we just don’t do it.”

This gap between knowing and doing may explain why only 8% of New Year’s Resolution-makers are successful in achieving their resolutions (The Scranton Journal of Psychology, December 2015)

But it’s certainly possible to achieve our goals, right? We old dogs can learn new tricks.

We now have overwhelming evidence that the brain is plastic – it can literally create new neural pathways where none existed before, even in old age. (The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge.)

The problem is that behavior change takes a lot more time, practice, and focused attention than we think it will. Life gets in the way.

And we tend to give up before the new neural pathways are strong enough to stay.

Based on my own research and training, here are some of the most widely agreed-upon methods to close that gap between what we know we should do, and what we actually do:

1. Write down your resolutions or goals. It’s such a small thing that can make a big difference. According to many behavioral economists including Dan Ariely of Duke University, writing things down significantly increases your odds of following through. Other research demonstrates that “you are 10 times more likely to attain your goals if you explicitly make them.” (The Scranton Journal of Psychology, December 2015) Not surprising, right?

In my family, we have a one-page form we use to capture resolutions and intentions each year. It is fun to look back at the old ones and notice what was important and how we’ve all grown! This example is from my then 5YO:MESB 2012 Resolution


2.  Be inspired. If your resolution feels like an exciting opportunity rather than an obligation, you’re much more likely to take it to the finish line. For example, “Carefree in a bikini!” is more inspiring than “Lose 15 pounds!” – even with the exclamation point. If you still can’t get excited, consider a different goal! You will be much more likely to reach it if you are emotionally driven toward it. (David Rock, Results Coaching curriculum)

3. Focus on behaviors, not just the result. For example, “lose weight” is a result while “swim 3 times / week, 30 minutes each time” is a tangible behavior. You’ll also want to consider what needs to be in place for “swim 3 times / week” to happen. You may need to find a pool that accommodates your schedule, purchase a new swimsuit, and schedule the time into your calendar. Thinking through the “how” will dramatically increase your odds of success (Christine Carter, The Sweet Spot.)

4. Set up your environment to support you. Put a recovered drug addict back into his old environment and chances are very good that he will use again. The environment we are in is a powerful force. Consider this experiment from Google:

“The M&Ms in their New York office used to be in baskets. So instead they put them in bowls with lids. The lid doesn’t require a lot of effort to lift but it reduced the number of M&Ms consumed in their New York office by 3 million a month.”

“Your surroundings should make the things you need to do easy
and the things you shouldn’t do hard.”
(The Observer, 2015)

Environmental supports could be anything: a lid, items in your home, a post-it note, a repeating calendar entry, an alarm, a piece of clothing, a sign, or really anything that reduces the need for “will power.”

My own example: I yelled much less often after posting “PAUSE” signs around the house that reminded me to take a breath before reacting in anger to my kids.

5. Go public. Tell someone about your resolution, and enlist their support. “It takes courage – and humility – to publicly admit that you need to do better. But once you do, having that band of supporters will help you stay disciplined to reach your goal.” (Marshall and Kelly Goldsmith, Moneywatch, March 8, 2011)

After posting the “PAUSE” signs, I asked my kids to remind me to hit the pause button when they started to notice that I was “losing it.” My kids are wonderful at holding me accountable!

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27 Oct

Making Mornings More Manageable

Most parents have experienced the “morning from hell” more often than they care to admit. I don’t even have to describe it — I’m that certain you know what I’m talking about.

When I say good-bye to my kids after that kind of morning, I’m left with that terrible, icky, dark cloud lurking over my head for the next several hours (at least) while I curse my kids for being so difficult and berate myself for losing it yet again. Sigh . . . Can you relate?

On the other hand, have you noticed how awesome it feels when the morning goes smoothly and you leave your kids feeling connected and peaceful? Ahhhhh! So much better.

My kids are now 7, 11, and 14, and we have to be out the door by 7:30. So I’ve been collecting wisdom on getting your kids out the door without major trauma for years. Here’s what I’ve learned . . . that actually works!

kids in line for busFirst, from Dr. Laura Markham: Change your goal for the mornings from “Get everyone ready on-time” to “Start the day with love and connection.” I happen to be pretty driven by the clock and I hate being late. (My problem.) So I’ve modified her advice just a little bit, and I say, go for both! Get everyone ready on-time and start the day with love and connection.

The implications of shifting to this dual goal are profound. You might start the morning with cuddles, songs, or reading a joke of the day. You might spend an extra minute just talking about what’s ahead or about a vivid dream your child had the night before.

When you shift your focus from “rush, rush, rush!” to “love, love, (rush,) love,” the whole morning mood changes. As Jane Nelsen of Positive Discipline often says, “Kids do better when they feel better.” I’ve found that they get ready faster when they feel better, too!

Second, here are five practical tips to enable this dual goal:

1. Build in some cushion time. When adults plan mornings, we generally allocate just enough time to get ready physically, and without hiccups. This strategy is simply unrealistic. Children need some time to get ready emotionally, too, as well as time to make mistakes (“Oops! I forgot my gym clothes!” or “I spilled all over the table!”) Often it’s me who’s made the mistake: “Shoot! I can’t find my car keys,” and now I’m yelling at my kids to hurry up because I’m making us late. “More cushion means less pushin’.” I made that up. You can quote me.

2. Get yourself ready first. It would be so cool if we could just tell our kids what to do, and then forget about them while they do it. And yet, I’ve found that this expectation is also unrealistic, even though I try very hard to practice Positive Discipline methods, and have been practicing for years.

For me, mornings go way more smoothly when I get myself ready first: shower, get dressed, and do whatever I need to for myself first, and then put my focus on creating a peaceful and efficient morning with my kids. I’m tempted to check my email and get some work done while my kids get ready, but I’ve learned that creating peaceful, smooth mornings takes my full, focused attention.

3. Create a morning routine chart together with your kids. Routines create predictability and safety for kids of all ages (even adults!) by both clarifying what’s expected, as well as giving advance notice for what’s coming next. Visual reminders (a chart, a picture, a list) can also provide a literal picture of success, and help transfer responsibility from parent to child.

For example, if I find my child dawdling in the morning, rather than bark commands from across the room, I can simply point to the chart or ask, “what’s next on your routine chart?” and let them take it from there. Now I’m not the boss, the routine is! And if your child has helped to create the routine, well then they are the boss, too, and that’s self-discipline.

4. Follow the “Night Before” rule. This means getting everything ready the night before including: packing up homework into the backpacks and placing them by the door, packing lunch into lunchbox in fridge, laying out clothes (which children choose themselves), deciding what breakfast will be (OK, I’m not as good at that one, but I’m aspiring to be,) and identifying and gathering any miscellaneous items that need to brought to school the next day.

5. Start every morning with connection. Rather than, “Son, you’ve slept in! Get up now! You’re going to be late,” start with a warm cuddle as your child wakes up, or a big hug or genuine conversation when you greet your child. When you make it a priority to have your very first interaction with your child be warm and connecting, it can change the morning’s direction profoundly. (An alarm clock helps, too!)

I know you have your own tips for making mornings more manageable. Please share what you’ve learned in the comment section below!