Today’s Ava could always rely on future Ava to pick up the slack.
But things changed once her son came along. There was so little time to spare. There was way too many things to do to have the time to procrastinate.
But old habits are hard to break. Ava still pushed off cleaning the bathroom, taking out the trash, moving the laundry from the washer to the dryer. But there was no longer the luxury of time on the other end. And when Ava procrastinated she paid a steep price later, because now her workload was even more jam-packed.
Future Ava never got time to relax because there was always something that needed to be done. Always.
How could she possibly enjoy herself or find time for flexibility in her schedule when she needed to be doing something every single second just to stay ahead of the avalanche of chores and her obligations to work, family, and volunteer commitments?
And me time? How could she justify me time when there was always something more demanding that needed her time, attention, and energy?
Ava knew that she needed to somehow create change. The funny thing was, the more buried she felt by her schedule, her list of things to do, and all her tasks and responsibilities, the more resistant she became to what needed to be done to make her life better. She felt resentful of her husband because he seemed to have such a better deal than she did. She even felt resentful of her son for all that dirty laundry, the spills and crunchy floors, and the same scattered toys that she moved from the play area to the put away pile over and over again.
Ava thought she just needed a new system. One that actually worked, like a special day planner. She researched and purchased the perfect one and began to follow the new program with high hopes, filling out all the spaces on the pages for each day. Soon though, old habits took control and she found herself back at square one, still feeling overwhelmed by her messy home and unfinished list of tasks, but with the additional weight of knowing that she failed at yet another thing.
Running on Autopilot
Our human brains are constantly looking for ways to create automatic shortcuts so that you have more brainpower for other activities. These shortcuts become habits, which run on autopilot, outside of our awareness. “Forty percent of the time we’re not thinking about what we’re doing,” says University of Southern California professor Wendy Wood in a Science Daily article.
A habit is “an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary.” You no longer think about all the steps you go through just to change into a different lane on the freeway, and you probably don’t tie your shoes by talking yourself through the bunny rabbit ears steps (unless you’re at that stage with your children). Our habits are great because they save us so much time and brainpower but when an old habit works against you or you’re struggling to build a new one, you can find yourself frustrated, overwhelmed, and at a loss of what to do next.
Finding a solution to your overwhelm isn’t about following someone else’s system. And it’s not about using the perfect planner to map out your days in half-hour increments. It's about figuring out what works for you, starting with the habits you have and the ones you want to create. Here are my top three recommendations for building better household habits.
• Develop Your Plan
To become more successful at managing your household you must first build a plan to build new habits or change the ones that are no longer working. “Deciding in advance when and where you will take specific actions to reach your goal can double or triple your chances for success,” says Heidi Grant Halvorson, a Columbia University professor who studies the science of motivation.
A research study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology showed that 91 percent of people who planned when and where they would exercise each week actually ended up exercising compared to less than 40 percent of people who didn’t have a plan. Your eventual success starts at the beginning with a very specific goal.
• Link Your Habits
When you link a desired habit to an already existing one, you increase your chances of success. This connection between the new habit and the old one is called a “cue,” which works significantly better if you perform the old habit first which then cues you to perform the new habit. A study on flossing found that people were more likely to floss if they flossed after they brushed their teeth (the cue), rather than before.
My client Ava kept finding herself falling behind on the laundry. Her washer and dryer were right off the kitchen so it made sense to link mealtime with laundry time. Once Ava cleaned up her son after he ate and while he was still secure in his highchair (her cue), she’d give him a special toy to play with and then do one quick step of the laundry, like starting a load in the washer, moving wet clothes to the dryer, or bringing the dry clothes to the kitchen table to fold them.
Building routines reduces the amount of choices you have to make in your day-to-day schedule, which increases willpower and your ability to make your new habits hold fast. “Since you’ve already decided exactly what you need to do, you can execute the plan without having to consciously think about it or waste time deliberating what you should do next,” writes Halvorson in an article on the 99u website.
• Build Your Support
Your old habits are like a deep rut in a familiar road – you often can’t help but slide right back into the old ways of doing things. When you share your goal with another person, you can build your motivation to stay on the path to new and better behavior. Integrating a new habit can take anywhere from 15 to 254 days research shows, and having an “accountability partner” can help to remind you why you’re building new habits, something that’s often very easy to forget when success feels so far away.
2016 can be a year when you change your home so that chores become routine, giving you more brainpower and willpower for much more important things, like your family, your creativity, or that dream of making a difference in your corner of the world.
I’m offering a free call on Thursday, December 10th at 1:00 (Pacific time) to share with moms my step-by-step process for building better household habits so that moms can begin 2016 with a strong plan for creating change. To register for the free call – or to sign up to receive the recording if you can’t make it live – click here.