Break old habits and create new ones

How to break old habits and create new ones

Did you make any new year’s resolutions this year?

If you did, and they were along the lines of quitting smoking, cutting out the late night snacking or hitting the gym 5 times a week, then there’s a high chance you’ve struggled and possibly given up altogether by now.

See the thing is, at the root of all these things are habits.

Smoking is a habit.  Reaching into the biscuit tin in the evenings is a habit.  And choosing to stay at home and watch netflix instead of exercising is a habit.

And habits are notoriously hard to break.

It can be done though, you just need to work out the best way to interrupt your brain’s old patterns and your normal routines, so you can replace these old habits with new, better ones.

 

For some people there is a really simple way to break a bad habit.

Just stop doing it.

Go cold turkey.

Make a choice that you won’t make whatever that thing is a part of your life any more.

 

For most of us though, it’s never that easy.

Partly because, as strange as it sounds, our bad habits benefit us in some way.  And partly because they’re so ingrained in our lives and our routines that half the time we’re not even really aware we’re doing them.

So you need to address those 2 factors to be able to break those habits.

 

First things first.

Look at the benefits that you get from the habit you want to break.

Take late night snacking for example.

The obvious benefit of hitting the biscuit tin is the pleasure of eating biscuits.  They taste nice.  Really nice.  And it makes us feel good to treat ourselves to something enjoyable at the end of a long day.

If you want to break that habit though, because you know it’s not all that healthy to eat a packet of biscuits a night, then you need to find other things to give you that pleasure, that sense of having a nice treat.

It could be as simple as finding a hot drink that you really enjoy that you can drink alongside just one of your favourite biscuits.

Or you can move away from food altogether and create a list of other things that feel like real pleasures to you.  A hot bath.  Curling up with a blanket and a few chapters of your book.  A phone call with your best friend.

It takes time but if you make a conscious effort to do one of these other things each time you want to head to the kitchen for snacks at night, then gradually you’ll start to replace that habit with these new ones that still bring you pleasure, but are better for you.

 

The second thing you need to do is get yourself off autopilot.

Think about the things that trigger you to indulge in your bad habit.

For late night snacking it might be a particular TV show coming on that prompts you to head to the kitchen.  Or it might be that half an hour after dinner you just really fancy something sweet.  When you know the things that lead you to snack, then you can take steps to changing things.

When that programme comes on, go and make a cup of tea instead of grabbing a pack of biscuits.  Have a fruity ice lolly or some frozen yoghurt after dinner to satisfy that sweet craving.

It’s all about rewiring your brain to do something different instead of falling back into the old habit.  Our brains are lazy and like to fall back on routines and shortcuts to free up thinking power for other, more important things.

So by recognising our triggers and interrupting that autopilot system we can replace our old habits with new, better ones.  It take conscious effort at first, but with time these new habits will start to be done on autopilot instead.

There are a few things that can help with this process though:

Don’t do it alone.

If you can, try and get someone else on board to make these changes with you.  It can be really hard to quit smoking if all your friends are doing it.  So see if one of them wants to quit with you, so you can support each other and hold each other accountable.

 

Know you’ll fail.

You will slip up.  There will be a night that you do get through a whole pack of bourbons.  You’ll have a cigarette (or 5) on a night out.  There will be a morning when you snooze your alarm instead of getting up to go the gym.

And if you know that this will happen you won’t beat yourself up as much about it.

You can acknowledge you slipped up and then choose to keep going with your new plan tomorrow.

 

Start again straight away.

When you do fail, the most important thing to do is make that choice to get right back on track with your new habits.

Missing one gym session is fine.  But if you snooze your alarm again the next day, and the day after that then you’re making it so much harder to get back on track.  Remember how lazy your brain is?  By staying in bed three days in a row you’re telling your brain that this is what you do.  The choice is being made, the shortcut is forming in your brain, to sleep in rather than get up and work out.

Don’t let that happen.  Get straight back on with building the new habits.

 

Make things as easy as possible for yourself.

If the new habit you want to form is exercising regularly then set yourself up for success with that.  Lay your gym clothes out the night before so they’re ready for you in the morning.

Of if you want to start drinking herbal tea instead of snacking on biscuits at night, put the teabags in a pretty container out on your kitchen worktop so you see it when you go out into the kitchen.

Find as many prompts as you can to remind you to stick with your new habits instead of falling back into your old ones.

 

Hopefully these tips will help you to break whatever old habits you want to move on from, and replace them with better ones that make you feel great.

What habits do you want to break or create this year?

Ways your home could make you happier

4 ways your home could make you happier

Your home is a place where you can relax and enjoy the company of those who matter the most to you. It’s a haven and a refuge from the stresses and strains of the outside world. Nonetheless, the longer we live in a place, the more we can (if we’re not careful) invite stress and anxieties from the outside world into it.

Whether we’re treading the mess of the outside world into the carpet or bringing home way more possessions than we actually need we can find that our love of spending time in the home can start to slowly erode.

In fact, we can even find that spending time at home actually raises our stress levels and leaves us feeling like we have nowhere else to turn. 

 

If this feels a little too close to your state of living, here are 4 ways in which you can help your home to make you happier. 

 

Do away with distraction

It’s an unfortunate symptom of a consumer capitalist society. As the years go by we accumulate more and more belongings. And before long these cease to become useful or valuable to us and start to become clutter.

Clutter is visually distracting and disrupts your home’s otherwise carefully planned aesthetic. What’s more, its presence can exacerbate your stress levels and take a surprising toll on your mental health. Thus, your first step should be to rid your home of clutter. Find somewhere out of the way to store the belongings you want to keep and find an ethical way to get rid of anything you no longer want. 

 

Give yourself the gift of space

Extra space helps you to feel calm and relaxed in your home, while also making sure you get the most out of every room. Of course, there are many ways in which you can get the most out of your home’s space. It’s really a matter of how far you’re prepared to go. Interior Architects can help to reimagine your living space while retaining the architectural facets that lend your space personality and historical context. Or, if you want to go smaller, something as simple as investing in smarter storage solutions can help you to maximise your available living space. 

 

Colour me happy

Colours can have a surprisingly powerful effect on our psychology. Whether they’re painted on our walls, incorporated into our flooring or echoed in our soft furnishings, an understanding of colour psychology can help you to decorate your way to happiness. Even a minimalist aesthetic can make some room for bright, vibrant and cheerful colours here and there. 

 

Scents of tranquility

Finally, the peace and happiness your home affords you isn’t just absorbed through the eyes. Your home’s scent palate also plays a huge part in making your home a happy and relaxing place to live. Whether you incorporate a lot of plants and flowers into your home’s decor or use strategically placed diffusers filled with essential oils, natural relaxing scents like jasmine, sandalwood and citrus can go a long way towards elevating your mood. 

 

Disclosure: this is a collaborative post

ways to be luckier

3 ways to become a luckier person

There’s a scene in Titanic when Jack is having dinner with Rose and her family.

Colonel Gracie makes a comment that “All life is a game of luck”, and Cal replies that “a real man makes his own luck”.

Now, as much as I dislike Cal, you can’t argue with the point he’s making that luck is something we can all choose to create more of.

You might not think of yourself as a naturally lucky person, but that’s probably part of the problem.

Generally speaking, what we think about the world and ourselves becomes our reality.  So if you think you’re unlucky, then chances are that you won’t get many lucky breaks.

Don’t worry though, you can turn it all around!

Here are 3 different things you can do to become a luckier person.

 

1. Pay attention to the world around you

A lot of the time we’ll say that someone is lucky because they seem to always be finding amazing opportunities, or moments of serendipity.

All that’s really happening is that they’re paying attention to the world around them.  They’re always keeping an eye on the little things around them that other people might just walk right past.  So they spot the amazing job opportunity posted in a window.  They find a bargain designer jacket in the charity shop.  They get chatting to the person next to them in a queue who offers them a way into the industry they want to crack.

This idea of lucky people paying more attention to everything has been shown to be true in various studies.

The most famous was carried out by Professor Richard Wiseman in 2003.  He took a group of people who thought they were lucky and a group who thought they were unlucky and asked them all to count the number of photographs in a newspaper.

The unlucky people were so focused on the task of counting photos that they didn’t notice anything else that was printed in the paper.  The lucky people, on the other hand, noticed a sign in the paper telling them that they’d won $250, and another one towards the front of the paper saying they could stop counting photos.

So the lesson here is that while it’s good to focus on what we’re doing, if we want to invite more luck into our lives we have to be more open and observant of potentially great things going on around us.

 

2. Listen to your gut

If you get a gut feeling about something, do you tend to listen to it and trust it?

Well if you want to be luckier you should start trusting your gut more.

Professor Wiseman believes that our intuition is a result of our bodies and brains picking up on patterns that our conscious minds haven’t put together yet.  So that gut feeling is our subconscious telling us, “we’ve seen this before, it will most likely work out well/badly”.

People who think of themselves as unlucky are often quite anxious too.  And this anxiety leads them to question where that gut feeling has come from and ultimately ignore it when there seems to be no obvious, logical reason for it.

Lucky people, on the other hand, are more confident and trust their gut instincts.

 

3. Expect good luck

One of the reasons that lucky people trust their gut instincts is that it’s worked out well for them in the past, so they expect the same to happen each time.

The same goes with good luck.

If you expect good things to happen to you, then you’ll notice more potential opportunities and be more open to inviting good things into your life.

Studies have shown that lucky people are generally more optimistic and more persistent in their approach to life.  They expect things to go well, so they persevere more to get the outcome they’re after.

It might seem like they’ve just ‘got lucky’ but it’s more likely that they’ve just stuck at things long enough for them to work out in their favour.

 

I do think that there are some things in this life that do just come down to chance, but I love this idea that by changing our attitude and approach to life we can all become luckier.

So much of how we experience life comes down to our mindset, and we can all become lucky people if we make the shifts in our thoughts and outlook on life to invite more luck in.

Do you think of yourself as a lucky or an unlucky person?

If you feel that you’ve generally been unlucky up till now, try making these changes to how you see the world and see if things get luckier for you!

4 new years resolutions for a happier new year

4 resolutions to make for a happier new year

When a new year rolls around we all start to look at our lives and make big, sweeping declarations about the changes we’re going to make.

Now, I’m not convinced that we need to try and reinvent ourselves at the start of a new year.  I think, instead of trying to radically change our lives, we should be looking at the little things we can do to gently change our outlook.  To bring more joy and happiness to our lives, and to other people’s.

 

If this sounds like the sort of thing you want to get on board with, then here are my suggestions for 4 resolutions to make for a happier new year.

 

1. Make mindfulness a habit

Our lives are so busy these days, especially as parents, and it can feel like we spend our days rushing around trying to get everything done.  We end up trying to multitask and feeling like we never do any one thing properly.

This year let’s try to do things a bit differently.

Take everything one thing at a time.

Let’s say you’re at home with your children and you have jobs to do around the house.  Instead of trying to juggle the housework and entertaining the children, separate out the tasks.

When you’re with your children, make sure you’re really there with them.  Get down on the floor and play with them.  Then set them up with an activity while you get on with the jobs that need doing.  Giving them your undivided attention for half an hour before you crack on with some housework is much better for everyone than spending two hours trying to juggle the two tasks together.

Be mindful of how you’re spending your time, and try to slow down a bit.

Notice the world around you more; stop and appreciate the changing seasons instead of rushing through the year.  Taking a bit of time to practice mindfulness can do so much for you sense of happiness and wellbeing.

 

2. Move your body more

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, getting regular exercise is one of the best things you can do to boost your happiness.

Don’t get caught up in the new year hype about getting in shape though.  If you jump in, join a gym and pledge to go every single day you’ll burn out really quickly.

Take the focus off losing weight and getting in shape, and shift it to how good it feels physically, mentally and emotionally when you move your body more.

Start off gently.

Go for a walk around the park on your lunch break.  Or walk to the local shops instead of taking the car.  Dig out your old exercise DVDs and do them at home a few times a week.  Look on YouTube for some free classes you can follow along with.

Take your time and keep focused on all the benefits of regularly moving your body more.  You’ll feel happier, calmer, and more able to cope with the little stresses in life.

 

3. Let yourself feel things other than happiness

Sometimes, when our goal is to be happier, we try and shut out all the other emotions.  We feel like we’re failing if we feel stressed, or anxious, or sad.

So give yourself permission this year to feel all your feelings.

If you’re sad then cry.  Wallow in it for a bit.  Get a journal and write down everything that is making you feel sad, no matter how silly it might seem.  Really feel it, get it out of your system, and then you can pick yourself up and move on.

The key is to feel it, acknowledge it, express it if you need to but then let it go.  Don’t let a negative emotional experience in the morning set the tone for your whole day.  If someone cuts you up in traffic on the school run, then have a moan about it, and then let it go.  Choose to move on from it instead of letting it put you in a bad mood for the rest of the day.

 

4. Be thankful

If you only do one thing differently this year then make it this.

Develop a practice of thankfulness.

At the end of each day write down 3-5 things that you’re thankful for.  You can do this in a notebook, or you can get a gratitude journal to fill in every day.  If you want to be more public about it you can post your lists on Facebook or Instagram stories every day.  I’m trying to build the habit of putting mine on my stories as much as possible, and I’m using #thisgloriousyear if you want to join me and use it too!

Studies have shown that spending just a few minutes a day thinking about what we have to be grateful for can help us feel happier, more optimistic, physically healthier and more likely to help other people.

 

How many of these things do you already do? 

Which do you think will have the biggest impact on your happiness over the course of the year?

Boost your brain's happy chemicals

9 ways to boost your brain’s happy chemicals

Happiness, basically, comes down to chemical reactions.

Our brains react to certain things by releasing hormones and neurotransmitters that tell our bodies to relax, to calm down, and to feel happy.

These feel-good chemicals include things like dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin and they all work to make us feel good.  And because our brains work on a positive feedback system, this initial boost in happiness generally leads us to more happiness.

The great news is that there are lots of different things we can do, none of which take all that much effort, to get our brains to release these happy chemicals.

 

1. Make the most of the daylight

Getting out into bright sunlight is a great way to boost the amount of serotonin that our brains produce.

It can be harder in the winter months, but make an effort to get outside in the natural light every day if you can, to give your mood a boost.  Another great benefit from natural sunlight is that it helps reset our body clocks.  It regulates the release of melatonin, which then helps us sleep better at night.

If you have a little one that doesn’t sleep well at night it might be worth a try to get them out in bright sunlight during the day as much as possible to see if it helps their sleep improve a bit.

 

2. Write it all down

When you’re feeling a bit low, try writing everything down.

Don’t censor yourself, don’t worry about making too much sense.  Whatever is on your mind, get it out and on paper instead.

Doing this is a great way to clear your mind, but there is another psychological benefit of writing about your emotions.  Studies have found that processing our emotions linguistically, as in writing them down, produces less amygdala activity than other ways of processing emotions.

The amygdala is the part of our brain that kicks into action when we’re in situations we see as dangerous.  It’s the root of the fight or flight response.

So when the amygdala is nice and calm, so are we.

 

3. Smile

Even if it’s the last thing you feel like doing.

When we smile, even if we’re faking it, our brains release those wonderful feel-good hormones dopamine and serotonin.

Turns out that it’s not always a case of us smiling because we’re happy, sometimes we can end up feeling happy because we started smiling.

 

4. Go one better and laugh

Laughing works in the exact same way as smiling.

When we do it our brains react by releasing more happy chemicals.

So if you’re feeling a bit blue then try watching a film that always makes you laugh, or an old familiar series like Friends that is guaranteed to make you giggle.

 

5. Do some reminiscing

Try looking through old photo albums, listening to songs that remind you good times and playing back memories of amazing experiences.

When we think about happy times the levels of serotonin in our brains get a boost, and we feel happier.

So dig out those photos, write in a journal about a happy memory or chat about the good old days with a friend.

 

6. Hug it out

Grab your partner, your children, your mum, or whoever, and have a lovely long hug.

When we hug people our brains release oxytocin, which is the lovely feel-good bonding hormone.  It works to calm down the amygdala, and leaves us feeling happy and calm.

 

7. Try something new

You can start small with something like walking a different route home from work.  Or go big and do something you’ve never done before like bungee jumping.

Whenever we do something new our brains react by releasing dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter.  Dopamine boosts our mood and improves our attention and motivation to get things done.

So try doing something new as often as possible to get that dopamine hit.

 

8. Change up your diet

Eating foods that contain tryptophan can help when we need a feel-good boost.

Tryptophan is an amino acid, found in high-protein foods like turkey, that our brains convert into serotonin.  It works best when we eat these foods with carbs, so try a meal of salmon and brown rice, or a turkey sandwich.

 

9. Have a massage

It doesn’t matter if you go to the spa for a proffesional massage, or get your partner to give you one at home, the result is the same.

Massages give us a boost in both dopamine and serotonin, those lovely happy chemicals.  They also have the added benefit of reducing the amount of cortisol, the stress hormone, that our bodies produce.

 

None of these things take all that much time or effort, but they can all have a big impact on how happy we feel, thanks to the feel-good chemicals our brains release when we do them.

 

How many of these things do you already do on a regular basis?

 

Which do you think would have the biggest impact on how happy you feel?
How to be more productive and get more done

5 ways to be more productive and get more done

Do you ever have days where it feels like you’ve been really busy but you’re not sure what you’ve actually got done?

Come on, I know it’s not just me that this happens to!

As parents we have so many things on our minds, so many things we’re juggling that it can be really hard to even know where to start some days.  There are a few tricks that I want to start using more though, to actually get stuff ticked off my to-do list.

If you could do with some help in that area too, then here are 5 interesting ideas of things you can try to be more productive and get more done each week.

 

Go into aeroplane mode

One of the biggest reasons I don’t get as much done as I could is that I’m always being distracted by notifications popping up on my phone.

I have all sorts of things set up to push notifications through, from Twitter and Facebook to emails and Instagram.  And then there’s things like ClassDojo and texts from the school keeping me up to date with various things.

When you need to put your head down and focus sometimes the best thing you can do is switch your phone to aeroplane mode.

This basically turns off your phone service and disconnects you from wifi.  So you won’t receive any calls or text messages and no pesky notifications will come through either.

 

If you want you can take this a step further and really drop off the grid for a bit.

Put a ‘do not disturb’ sign up on your door.  Shut down all unnecessary windows on your computer so you don’t see any notifications of new emails or Facebook posts.  Go as low-tech as you can and crack on with that to-do list.

 

Schedule in a power hour

This is just where you set aside an hour to focus on something.  To go at it with all your energy and just get. it. done.

Lots of people do this with cleaning their homes.  Pick an hour, put on some music and just whizz round getting as many cleaning jobs done as possible.  Don’t let anything side track you, just stay focused and crack on.

 

You can also use this power hour idea to get on top of all those niggly jobs that never seem to get done.

This is something that Gretchen Rubin has written about and I love the idea of it.  What you do is schedule in one hour each week to work through your list of jobs that need doing but have no real deadline to them.  Those little annoying jobs that need to be done but don’t NEED to be done so they end up, well, not being done.

You know the types of things I mean.

Jobs like actually taking that bag of clothes and books to the charity shop.  Sewing that button back on that fell off weeks ago.  Ordering prints and putting them in a family photo album.

Pick an hour a week, pick a job or two from that list and get them done.

 

Use the ‘one touch’ rule

This is something I learnt about in a random course I did when I worked an office job.  And while I don’t always stick to it, I know that it does make an impact on how productive I am when I do follow it.

The rule is this – only touch things once.

When the post arrives, sort through it and deal with each item there and then.  File anything you need to keep straight away.  Recycle junk mail immediately.  Respond to anything that needs a response there and then.  Don’t look through the pile and then put bits to one side to deal with later.  Touch it once, deal with it straight away.

The same goes for emails and text messages.

If you read them, respond to them at the same time.  If you know you can’t reply straight away then don’t read them yet.

When you read an email, then leave it to reply to later it sits in the back of your mind.  Draining your energy and taking a little bit of focus away from the other things you’re trying to do. So make an effort to only touch things once, either physically or metaphorically.  Deal with things there and then so you can put them out of your mind and move on to the next job.

 

Try narrating your life

This one is a bit more out there.

If you want to be more focused and, as a result, more productive then try narrating your day.  The idea is that you think ahead to how things are likely to go in your day, then pay attention and note to yourself how things actually go.

Studies have shown that people who do this are more focused and more likely to pick up on things that are out of the ordinary and react accordingly.

 

Get things out of your head

One of my favourite ways to get focused and tick more things off my to-do list is to do a brain dump of everything I need/want to get done.

Grab some paper and a pen and write down everything that is swirling around in your head.  All the jobs you need to get done, all the little things you’re keeping in your head to try and remember and keep on top of.

Once it’s all out of your head you’ll be able to think more clearly, process what’s important and urgent to get done and it’ll be much easier to actually do something productive and tick things off that list.

 

Which of these tips do you think will help you most with being more productive and getting more done?
Do you do any of these things already?
This post is linked up with KCACOLS.
ways to get your children to do what you want

5 brilliant ways to get your children to do what you want

If you find getting your children to do what you want a bit of an uphill battle then this post is for you.

Whether it’s tidying up their toys or being able to trust them not to eat the treats you’ve put aside for Christmas, there are a few psychology-backed things you can try to get them to do what you want without feeling like you’re nagging all the time.

 

1. Ask them early in the day

If you want your children to make a choice that might be hard for them, like picking out some old toys to give away to charity, then the best time to ask them to do it is early in the day, but after they’ve eaten some breakfast.

The science behind this is that making hard decisions uses a fair bit of brain power in processing and thinking, so our bodies need higher blood sugar levels to do it.

When our blood sugar levels are low our brains take short cuts and we go to the default, easiest answer.  In this case your child will most likely default to not wanting to give any toys away.

When we’ve recently had breakfast though and our blood sugar levels are nice and stable then we’re better able to make these harder decisions.

 

2. Put more mirrors up at home

This is an interesting one.

If you want your children to be more trustworthy, they try hanging mirrors up at home so that they can see themselves more often.

Studies have shown that people are more trustworthy and collaborative if there is a mirror on the wall of the room they’re in.  One study in particular placed people in a room by themselves, with a jar of cookies.  They were able to buy the cookies with an honesty box type approach, with no one checking whether payments were made or not.

The researchers found that people were more likely to make a payment for the cookies they took if there was a mirror in the room.

 

 

3. Give them a reason.  Any reason.

Various studies have found that you’re more likely to get what you want from someone if you give them a reason.  Even if the reason you give them doesn’t make any sense.

One study in particular involved office workers.  When someone asked if they could jump the queue to use the photocopier with no reason given only 32 % let them.  But when they gave a reason for needing to push in 92 % of people let them.  This figure was pretty much the same when the reason was ‘because I’m in a hurry’ and when it was the ridiculous reason that they ‘needed to use the photocopier’.

So next time you want your children to do something, anything, just give them a reason why.

Tell them you need them to tidy up their rooms because it’s nearly lunchtime.  Or that they need to put their shoes on to go out because it’s Friday.

The reason you give doesn’t seem to matter, just the fact that you give a reason is enough.

 

4. Get subliminal

If asking your children directly to do something isn’t working, they try planting the idea in their heads instead.

You don’t have to go to full-on inception style lengths to do this, just casually mention the thing you want done in conversation.

Lets say you want your toddler to put all their toys away.

You might say “Look at how much fun we’ve had with all these toys.  Now I wonder who might put them back in the baskets”.  Or “It would be nice if these toys were back in their baskets, then we could ….”.  What you’re doing then is putting the idea of tidying up the toys in your child’s head, without directly asking them to do it.

It might not work on every child but a lot of the time doing this will be enough for them to do what you want, while thinking it was their idea.

 

5. Focus on positive reinforcement

Make a point of praising and thanking your child when they do what you want, and try to ignore it when they don’t.

So going back to the tidying their toys example.

If you notice they haven’t done it, don’t say anything.  Don’t nag them to get it done.

Try instead to make a bit of a show when they do tidy up.

You can also do this on a much more subtle level.

If you want your child to sit and eat nicely at the dinner table then catch their eye, smile and nod when they’re doing well.  And try to ignore the moments when they are a bit wriggly or picking up their food with their fingers.  This is something that Derren Brown does to control what people do.  He’ll keep a blank face and have his head still most of the time, but nod his head when people do what he wants.

This subconscious reward encourages them to keep doing what he wants them to do.

 

Have you ever tried any of these things with your child?

Which do you think would be most likely to work to get them to do what you want?

 

This post is linked up with KCACOLS with A moment with Franca.