Do you have a bad habit you’d like to break? Yeah...me too. And we all know our kids have more than just a few! Knowing how to turn our bad habits into ones that are more desirable is yet another path on our road towards happiness. In fact, it just so happens to be the focus of principle 6 in Achor’s book, The Happiness Advantage.
We’ve all heard of the “5-second rule”. But do you know about the 20-second rule? No, it doesn’t allow us more time to declare a fallen snack on the floor as still being edible! The 20-second rule is all about minimizing the barriers that make change so difficult. Simply relying on the pure force of will isn’t going to cut it. Instead, to build better habits and create long-lasting behavioral change, the “20-second rule” calls on us to make small energy adjustments to reroute to the path of least resistance.
How do we redirect the path? How do we help our kids redirect their paths? Let us be your guide.
Lower the amount of effort needed for habits we want to adopt. Create a “path of least resistance”. For my two kids at home, this means keeping a basket of books in our living room, strategically placed near the TV, to promote at-home reading. Before screens get turned on, reading time needs to be logged. Having the books already in the living room eliminates the extra “20 seconds” it takes for them to run to their room and grab something to read.
Raise the effort needed for habits we want to avoid. Find ways to create obstacles that make the bad habit not worth the effort. With kids, this increase in effort might look like leaving phones or i-Pads on the kitchen counter after supper to avoid use right before bed as well as promote more restful sleep. If after-school snacking is an issue, keep the potato chips in a cupboard that is awkward and inconvenient to get to. The more barriers we add, the more time we have to decide if the habit is worth the effort.
Limit choices. Simply put, having too many choices depletes our energy supply! Making choices in advance, when stress is low and our tanks are full, can pay off in spades when it comes to developing habits you can feel good about. We all know mornings are a barrage of decisions and choices. However, if we can make some of those executive morning decisions the night before, or at the very least, limit the options available for those decisions, you just might find a little more peace before 8 AM. This might look like choosing outfits the night before, offering only two types of cereal for breakfast, and setting bags, pre-packed for the day ahead, right beside the door.
Set expectations...and stick to them. Setting expectations in advance allows us to put our power of choice on auto-pilot. This is a good thing! By not having to expend energy in making small decisions and choices, we have more energy to devote to the establishment of good habits and positive change. When setting expectations with your kids, be sure to have a conversation about exactly what you want from them and, most importantly, why you want that desired behavior. When both sides are clear on what needs to happen and why; there will be a greater probability of success.