Today’s guest post is by Alison Fincher Solove of Experimental Wifery.
On her summer reading list, Anne suggested Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by brothers Chip and Dan Heath. In the book, the Heaths explain how to mediate between our rational minds and emotional minds to break bad habits and build better ones. (Anne has some great things to say about building good habits over at Wellness Mama.)
Switch is built around interesting stories about people who have changed their companies and communities. But it’s also full of life-changing advice that has helped me, slowly and surely, make my own life better and my home a happier place. Here are a few of the most useful case studies in Switch and the changes they helped me make.
Shrink the Change: Make a task more approachable by making the first step easy.
When I see a cluttered room or a pile of dishes, I get so stressed out I don’t know where to begin. The thought of straightening, dusting, sweeping, and cleaning overwhelms me so much that I break down in tears before I pick up a broom.
Organization guru Marla Cilley (“The Fly Lady”) suggests going to the messiest room in the house and setting an egg-timer. I tell myself I only have to clean until the timer goes off. Sometimes I have enough momentum to continue after the timer dings, but even five minutes can make a huge difference in the way the room looks and feels. My husband calls our 5-Minute Room Rescue “Man Cleaning.”
Grow Your People: Improve the way you think to improve the way you behave.
I’m an avid reader turned English teacher and math has always scared me. “Math is my weakest subject,” I would tell myself in school. “I’m just not good at math,” I would tell my computer-programmer husband when I couldn’t do a mental math problem.
Carol Dweck and two other psychologists conducted a study on junior-high-school students. They taught half of the students to think about the brain as a muscle they could exercise and strengthen. Those students dramatically outperformed their peers on math exams for the rest of the school year. If they could get better at math, I could too. After several months of “mental exercise,” I can now perform three-digit addition, subtraction, and even multiplication in my head. No more surprises at the grocery store check-out!
Tweak the Environment: Change the space around you to make change easier.
My husband and I used to fight almost every evening. He would come home tired from a full eight-hour workday. Frazzled from looking after an infant, I would toss the baby into his lap and go make dinner. We’d eat in stony silence and it was only after an hour or so that he would warm up to me and want to talk. I told myself my husband just didn’t want to help me.
Marriage therapist Michele Weiner-Davis says, “Most people attribute their marital problems to some deeply engrained personality characteristics of their spouse.” This “Fundamental Attribution Error” blames people’s behavior on the way they are instead of the situation they are in. I realized I was attributing my husband’s grumpiness to his unwillingness to help, but my husband loves to help with our son any other time of day. He just needs a few minutes to collect himself after he comes in the door. Letting him spend ten minutes reading a magazine on the couch prevents most of the arguments we once had in the evenings.
Build Habits: Make positive behaviors automatic.
Even at my most physically fit, I’ve never had great abs. But after pregnancy caused diastasis recti and scarring in my abdominal wall, crunches became a very important part of my life. Teaching only part-time and having a son who was a good napper should have left lots of downtime for exercise, but I usually remembered my crunches only when I fell into bed, too tired to do anything else.
Peter Gollwitzer, a psychologist at New York University, says that most effective habits have “action triggers.” When you have an action trigger, you imagine a time and a place you’ll do something. Action triggers are surprisingly effective at motivating action. I told myself that I would do two reps of crunches every time I got down on the floor to play with my son. The four to six reps I get in every day are making a slow but steady difference in the way I look and feel.
Change is hard, even for the most self-controlled. I strongly recommend Switch to anyone interested in making their lives and homes a little better, one change at a time.
Alison Fincher Solove blogs about learning to be a better woman and wife at Experimental Wifery. She teaches English part-time and lives with her husband and one-year-old son in Wheaton, MD. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.
What’s a great nonfiction book you’ve read this summer?