DEVELOPING ROUTINES

Family Meetings

Some Advice from a Mentor

When as a young mother I asked a mentor, “What is the one piece of advice you would give a mother of young kids?” she told me that one of the most valuable pieces of advice she had received as a parent herself was to run regular family meetings. She described how they were able to resolve many more issues at their Family Meetings than during the heat of the moment. She said it was a ritual that helped them grow together as a family, they often reminisced about it now that their children were grown up, and have kept the notebooks containing the minutes of their meetings.

Evolving Our Family Meetings

My kids were probably about 4 and 6 when we started family meetings of our own. They could not sit still and we had them rather sporadically for many years. When they finally hit the age where a weekly cash allowance piqued their interest, it was a bit easier to entice the gang to sit at the dining table on Saturday mornings to have a “family meeting” (can you see the head wobbling and eye rolling?) to discuss that and other issues. 

After all these years, the Family Meetings are a consistent part of our lives and they are indeed invaluable. We have grown as a family, learning to discuss topics as a group and developing our organizational skills. They have evolved a lot. When they were little, we had meetings that lasted about 5 minutes. As they got older, some meetings ended up to be an hour and a half, learning the hard way that this made it extremely unpleasant!

There is a lot less groaning about them now than when we first started. Also, it’s become a lot easier to keep them sitting still rather annoyingly watching them bounce around. They even bring topics to the table. Meetings are now scheduled for every two weeks, usually Sunday morning.

Various Topics

  • Allowance — it goes without saying that it’s the first thing on our agenda!
  • Weight — we stopped doing this; it’s probably better that we don’t weight ourselves all the time.
  • Planning for trips — such as, visiting grandparents.
  • Family chores — there is a list of 4 items and we each choose one we will do.
  • Updates — anything to share with the rest of the family?
  • Extra-curricular activities — who wants to take what classes and how things are going.

It took a long time to evolve our Family Meetings into a regular event that everyone participates in equally. It’s particularly gratifying to see our kids be able to turn to us parents and say “Can we do such-and-such differently? Currently it has this-and-that impact on me and I don’t like it.” I also love that in the heat of the moment, one of more of us will say “Hey, we should add this to our Family Meeting.”

Do you have Family Meetings? How do you make yours work?

BOOK REVIEW, DEVELOPING ROUTINES

Atomic Habits by James Clear

Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous book.

James Clear’s book is all about how to build productive habits (make them easy, attractive, and enjoyable) and how to stop destructive habits (make them difficult and uncomfortable). He presents his case and breaks it down. I have actually already started developing better habit management due to reading his book!

Most people think that building better habits or changing your actions is all about willpower or motivation. But the more I learn, the more I believe that the number one driver of better habits and behavior change is the choice architecture of your environment.

–Excerpt from Atomic Habits by James

His book helps you understand WHY we end up with counterproductive habits that are difficult to change.  Through his research, he has developed simple structured ways for us to work with ourselves.  I like that it removes some of the self-bashing and turns it into better planning.

But wait… there’s more!

One of my all time favourite business models lately is the “freemium” model from writers and experts. They create content, but they give a lot of it away for free, whether on their website, via videos/webinars or by regular email messages. It’s like the great bands who would play in local pubs and bars. You feel like you get to know them well and you start to like them personally because you can feel them authentically sharing themselves. The author of this book engages with his readers in many ways and you get so much value that you feel GREAT about buying his book.

Valuable and Short Emails

I’m a sucker for subscribing to emails.  The website looks interesting and I hit ‘subscribe’ – and then after a month or so of ignoring and deleting the emails, I unsubscribe. I used to think, Maybe I’m just a loser, I pick bad emails. Or maybe I’m just lazy, I don’t read emails I should read. No, no, I’ve got it, I can’t commit to anything I should do. 

Then I decided to be kind to myself: I have a lot of curiosity and I like to give everyone a chance. So I subscribe and check them out, then I delete when they don’t delight me. And given that I’m still subscribed to his list 2 months later, you can guess what I think of James Clear’s emails–they are the BEST! My favourite is his weekly 3-2-1 newsletter: 3 ideas from him, 2 quotes from others and 1 question for you to ponder.  Easy read, but definitely a positive pick-me-upper.

Informative and Easy to Read Website

His website is also a great resource for information about better habits, better performance, better thinking, and optimal health. It’s simply organized and chock full of science-backed studies written in simple language. It gives you a taste of how his book is written and organized. I love how this is not one of those self-help sites that almost make you feel worse for not being able to do it. He actually explains WHY it’s hard to do the right thing.

Free Bonus Materials!

He even makes you feel really good for buying his book by immediately giving you bonus materials, like a chapter on how to apply it to parenting. It takes the structure that you learn from his book and gives you real life examples of how you can help your kids develop better habits. I’m excitedly starting to use this and fingers crossed the kids will not catch on too quickly. Shhh! Don’t tell them I’m testing his suggestions out on them! 

Summary

I don’t have to feel shame and guilt for having limited willpower and motivation. I can spend the time and headspace to design the architecture of my environment and make little adjustments.

In conclusion, one of the most impactful self-help books I’ve ever read.

DEVELOPING ROUTINES

The Rs: Routine and Ritual, Reflection and Restoration

Walking the dog and showering. Brushing teeth and driving. Washing dishes and folding laundry.

What do all these things have in common? They are daily routines when our brains can go on autopilot, requiring very little headspace for the task at hand, which allows us to.. well… do free thinking. Think about whatever our mind wants to wander that has nothing to do with the task at hand. Like work stresses, kid problems, the argument from the previous night. A dream. A memory. Maybe a cool ah ha.

When doing these easy routine tasks, it’s like you have two completely different sets of brains. Remember when you were driving somewhere and had no idea what route you took? Your body just automatically paused at the stop signs and parallel parked, while you were completely lost in your thoughts.

It’s as if certain movements, easy and familiar, allow us to separate the thoughts brain from the doing brain.

Nightly prayer and daily meditation. Yoga and breathing exercises.

What do all these things have in common? They are planned rituals that force our brain to focus on something that requires… focus. It’s a moment in time not to think about work stresses, kid problems, the argument from the previous night. It’s time to get in synch with our breathing, emotions, and merge physical with the mental. It’s an opportunity to reflect consciously about the now. It’s a mindful and purposeful effort to reflect, rest, reset, and restore.

What routines and rituals do you do that help you reflect and restore?

DEVELOPING ROUTINES

From Changing Table to Standing Desk!

Being at home with the husband and kids 24/7 for months on end means that other than quality family time together, everyone also needed quality alone space… Initially, the boys were set up side by side in their shared room, hubby was in his den, and I was downstairs in the open concept kitchen/living/dining/entertainment room. I would go to the master bedroom when I needed privacy for calls.

The 13-year old complained about the wifi speed for his gaming, the 11-year old complained about his brother’s loud (no kidding bullhorn-like) voice and I really was tempted by the fridge and pantry all day long sitting only 20 feet away from the kitchen area.

A1 asked if we could pull the wired internet cable up to their room to connect to his computer. I said no. A2 asked when we were kicking Daddy out of the den so that he could move out of the shared room into the den. I said, next year.

So the ole Mommy brain started thinking about how to get to a win-win-win situation.

I had an idea.

But I have a tendency to figure something out after a ton of conversations in my own head and then just present the solution to my husband and kids as a done deal, which often creates tension. Sometimes they don’t like the idea at all or else they object to a part of it. Either way, I would feel annoyed and offended. But now, I’m getting better at presenting the idea to them by pointing out the problems and what the proposed solution addressed, asking them if they see any problems.

Before A1’s birth, we bought an IKEA diaper changing table that converted into a normal bureau. Due to a broken drawer, it got moved into the den to sit and collect dust while we piled things on top of it that needed to be stored away. I got that cleared out and cleaned up. I moved that into our master bedroom. It takes up very little space, and when opened up, it was perfect for my laptop.

Then I asked A1 if he wanted to move downstairs so that he could be wired. He said (no kidding with no pause) yes, yes, yes, when, when, when? I said, but you lose some privacy. And he said, worth it.

Then I asked A2 if he was okay with A1 moving downstairs so that they could play with their own friends or have their online classes without interrupting each other. I told him that he could shut his door and I would knock and wait for him to say it’s okay to come in. He also jumped at it, but worried that A1 wouldn’t like the idea. I told him, A1 cleared it. He said, okay, cool, but don’t forget, I still get my own room in a year.

Then I asked hubby if he was okay with it and he said, I don’t have to move? I’m good!

So now we each have our own working space and privacy for calls.

DEVELOPING ROUTINES

Starting My Day with Making the Bed

For anyone dealing with any sort of mental health challenge (any health challenge really) ((or just feel like there is too much to do in a day)), we struggle with what some may describe as procrastination or laziness.

For example, over the years, I had slid into a habit of reading the news, work email, and/or social media on my phone while trying to get out of bed after the alarm went off. After a while of that, I would jump out of bed and rush around getting ready to start my day. My husband did the same. Our bed was rarely made. I also had a couch that served as a dumping ground for clothes that got tried on, but didn’t make the cut that day. Every few weeks someone would have to go through the pile and hang everything back up.

Our cluttered bedroom was not a relaxing place. Sheepishly, I feel obliged to let it be known that both my parents and my in-laws taught us to make our beds. They always made theirs and I’m sure would have been extremely appalled at how it was NOT happening in our home. Shame, guilt, shame, guilt.

In January, I thought about all the usual new years resolutions, like losing weight, learning to play an instrument, exercising, learning a new language, going vegan, etc. but decided I didn’t want to set myself up for failure yet again. This year I really wanted to be able to accomplish my new years resolution. 2020 was going to be my year. So, I picked Making the Bed.

Reasons why Making the Bed is a great way to start the day:

  • SIMPLICITY: It’s honestly as simple as you want/need it to be. We just take the comforter and cover the bed. Then we line up the pillows. That’s it.
  • PRODUCTIVITY: A 2019 study surveying 1,000 American adults suggested a correlation between making the bed in the morning and being productive.
  • ACCOMPLISHMENT: It’s also something accomplished, done, out of the way, first thing in the morning. It’s a way to create momentum to start checking things off the To Do List. See Productivity.
  • PREVENTION: As my 11-year old pointed out, after making his bed, it was a lot less inviting to crawl back in as you don’t want to undo what you’ve already accomplished.. It kind of gently FORCES you to start your day. See Accomplishment.

It’s weirdly both an easy and difficult resolution to keep. It’s an easy enough task that takes minimal time. But it has an emotional weight to it and it requires a 365-day commitment.

I definitely feel guilty if I can’t even take 1 minute to get it done. (Working on shifting that shame to a self-talk that asks: So! What is the barrier? How can I make this easier on myself?) Plus, different awake times with a partner can also throw this off. I tended to make my side of the bed when I got up, while my husband would leave it for me if he was up first. This annoyed me to no end until I decided to assume that we were both trying to be thoughtful. I was trying to reduce his work while he was not to disturb my sleep. (Confirmed with husband, yes that was it!)

Once I cleared that up, I was able to feel good about this little routine no matter how it happened. It became a routine that just got done.

This is a daily win for me now!

If you are looking to build a daily routine, I highly recommend making your bed as a foundational one.

If you already have that one down, then add something else that brings you closer to your aspirations, like stretching or meditation for your health.

One step at a time.

One day at a time.

DEVELOPING ROUTINES

New Fun Obsession: PRETZELS!

When I first started working with my therapist at the beginning of the year, he asked me what I did for fun.

It’s one of those questions that makes me very uncomfortable.

“For fun~~~?” He pushed me a bit and asked me, what do I do for fun… with NO UTILITARIAN VALUE TO IT. What do I do to just let go and enjoy myself?

“I don’t,” I replied rather abruptly.

“I know,” he responded.

Everything I did was related to “should” or “should not”. As in… I SHOULD do this, because it will help with… or I SHOULD NOT do this because it’s a waste of time. Everything. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything or refrained from doing something without going through that filter. And since everything went through that filter, if I did something I SHOULDN’T, I felt very guilty or if I didn’t do something I SHOULD, I’d feel shame. Exhausting way to live, yes.

“Your mission this week, should you choose to accept it, is to do something frivolous,” he challenged me at the end of our session. I nodded outwardedly, but inside I felt a bit puzzled as to what I was supposed to do.

So I looked up the word frivolous:

friv·o·lous (adj): not having any serious purpose or value

It was an interesting week.

I used to love reading, so I tried reading, but my brain was vibrating too hard for me to sit still and read. I tried picking up my ukulele again, but it felt more like work since I was/am such a beginner and it made me feel more like a loser than a learner, given the frame of mind I was in. I tried watching TV, but it wasn’t ‘fun’ so much as mind numbing. Plus, a lot of it was stressful. I think I was a bit Trumped out . I tried blogging again, which I do love, but it’s also work… some days I have nothing, which made me feel anxious.

I reported back to my therapist that I didn’t quite find anything frivolous, but I would try again. He said, not to worry, don’t feel pressure about this, just think about it.

Months late, my son declared one night that he wanted to make pretzels and that he found a recipe. So after dinner, the two of made pretzels. Well, *I* made pretzels. *He* experimented with the dough in the microwave, with chocolate, with butter, with sugar, with water… you name it, he *experimented* with it. The Tiger Mom in me wanted to yell at him and say FOLLOW THE RECIPE! And so I said “you know, people usually play with the recipe AFTER they’ve mastered it”. And he responded, “Yes, I know, but I just wanted to try this.” I thanked the Tiger Mom in me for making that recommendation and let him go ahead, even tasting some of his experiments. (Not horrible.)

My first pretzels were *okay*. I did get some feedback from my husband. “You may want to make them a bit thinner, so it looks more like a pretzel instead of a big bun.” To me, as long as it tastes good… who cares what it looks like!?

But then I started making pretzels just to make them. And each time I made them, they looked more and more like pretzels you buy at the mall.

This week… I made my first sweet cinnamon pretzel. And they were soooo good. I’m so proud of them. I realize that making something one can eat isn’t entirely frivolous, I suppose. But, then again, pretzels are frivolous! There is no nutritional value. They just taste great. And making them has become fun. I don’t even look at the recipe anymore! And I experiment with different flavours now, like herb and garlic and now this sweet cinnamon one.

(For those of you who cook, bake and are crafty… please understand that I’m no homebody. On the nights I had to cook, my roommates at university ate such “Sherry classics” as cucumber casserole, KD with cream of corn, and instant ramen noodles with frozen peas…. those were the *edible* ones.)

So now, if my therapist asked me what I do for fun, I can say: make and eat pretzels!

DEVELOPING ROUTINES

Fail to Succeed

The voices in our heads can be horribly mean: “You are failing as a mother.  You not a good wife.  You are a lousy daughter.  You are a bad friend. You are a bad manager.  That was a dumb thing to do.  You sounded stupid in that last meeting.  You didn’t complete your work AND you’re going to be late to the parent-teacher meeting. You have bad judgment, you make bad decisions. Your house is a disaster. Your health sucks.  You are too fat. You don’t make enough money. Your kids are badly behaved and it’s all your fault. Your cardio needs improvement. You have no grit.  You can’t do anything well!  You are a complete disaster!”  The spiral can happen pretty quickly and it’s a brutal if the other side of our brains don’t step up quickly enough to combat those bullies.  Lack of sleep and high expectations are not a good combination (am I right, new moms?)…

On the other hand, the celebration of success is entrenched in everything that we do, every Olympics, every career promotion, every project, every election…  What we don’t see is how hard those winners worked, how often they failed and how difficult it was for them to motivate themselves beyond the last fall or broken bone.

So how do we adjust our thoughts when we are bullying ourselves just at a time when we need to be encouraging ourselves to keep going?  Apparently the secret is to accept that failure is an integral process of succeeding.  Let’s hear from a few famous people, you know… famous for their many successes:

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.” – Confucius

“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

“Failure provides the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently.” – Henry Ford

“I don’t believe I have special talents, I have persistence … After the first failure, second failure, third failure, I kept trying.” – Carol Rubbia

“There is something to be said for keeping at a thing, isn’t there?” – Frank Sinatra

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” –  Thomas A. Edison

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” –  Winston Churchill

“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” – Bill Gates

Failure has to be BUILT in to the process!  It is actually a part of learning, improving, growing, developing… it is on the path to the success.  Success doesn’t happen without failure! If we stopped riding our bikes as soon as we fell off because we defined ourselves as a failure… then we fail to learn how to ride a bike.  If we define the falling off as a failure to get the balance right, then get back on, figure out how to adjust the balance… then we learn how to ride a bike. If we said “I’m not good at math” because we got some answers wrong, then we will be bad at math.  If we define getting the answer wrong as failure to get that answer right, but then asked about how to get it right and figured out where we went wrong… well, then we will learn how to get better at math!

So I hope you join me as we get back on the horse, get back on the bike and get up after each fall. Never say die.  Just do it. Try and try again.  I’ll be back!  We start where we start!

Like my pretzels… after a few tries, they are looking a LOT better than they did when I started out!