Tired of making grand resolutions you can’t seem to keep? Try smaller microresolutions instead and learn how to change bad parenting habits effectively.
Have you vowed to do (or not do) something only to fail so quickly? We say we’ll never yell at our kids again only to break our promise the next day.
Then we feel terrible for not being able to stick to our word or keep good habits in place. We’re tired of failing or trying so hard without getting anywhere. And we’re at a loss on how to change bad habits into good ones.
What if the solution isn’t to make grand, overarching goals, but small ones? So small, it’d seem ridiculous not to reach our goals?
Author Caroline L. Arnold says that’s the way to go in her book, Small Move, Big Change: Using Microresolutions to Transform Your Life Permanently (affiliate link). We make grand resolutions, especially around the new year or milestones like birthdays. We vow to exercise more and clean our homes. Improve our parenting and our relationships with family.
The resolutions might even start off well, especially as we’re focused on The Big Goal. But as with most big resolutions, we fail. We make small slips like running for only 25 minutes instead of 30. And larger ones like missing a week’s workout because we got sick.
And when those failures happen, we falter. We go back to bad habits, thinking, ‘Why bother?’ since we already screwed up our track record. Big resolutions don’t work.
Why are bad parenting habits too hard to break?
- They’re too difficult to commit to.
- They don’t replace your bad habits in a sustainable way.
- They discourage you when you don’t meet them.
Let’s go back to our exercise analogy. If you’re like most people, you’ve vowed to hit the gym five days a week, right after work. No excuses. Week after week.
But can you imagine telling a friend to make the same commitment? You wouldn’t call a friend and tell her, “Hey, meet me at the gym at 6:30 every weeknight. We’re doing this for the entire year. No excuses.” You wouldn’t do that, because you wouldn’t expect your friend to make such a grand commitment. So why do we do it to ourselves?
How to change bad parenting habits with microresolutions
Rather than setting big resolutions, start with small ones—microresolutions. And I’m talking no brainer goals that would seem ridiculous not to do. Let’s look at our first example of yelling at our kids. A grand resolution might be to vow never to yell again. I know I’ve made that promise and, not surprisingly, failed.
Rather than pressuring yourself and setting expectations you’re likely to fail, start small. Maybe your goal is to spot the trigger of what made you yell. Never mind if you yelled or not—that’s not the goal, yet. For now, your only goal is to determine what made you yell.
So you can say to yourself, “I yelled because my son ripped a page from a book after I told him to be careful.” Your only goal at this point is to identify and label your triggers. You’ll notice that this good habit, no matter how small, will lead to further good habits. You’ve developed a habit of identifying your triggers. And thus, you’ve been better able to try a new approach or a new response instead of yelling.
Again, the goal isn’t To Stop Yelling Forever. That’s a lofty goal that’s pretty hard for anyone to meet (we’re human, after all). So if you yell, it’s okay. Your goal wasn’t to never yell again, but to spot your triggers. Microresolutions replace your old habits with good ones. Over time, you’ll meet your ‘grand’ resolution step by step.
Another typical goal is to eat healthy. Rather than vowing to eat only healthy food from now on, start small. Maybe your goal is to have breakfast at home on Mondays. If you make breakfast on Monday and Tuesday, great! You’ve surpassed your goal. But your goal remains to only eat breakfast on Mondays.
Now imagine if you said your goal was to have breakfast at home every day, or worse, to only eat healthy food from now on. The next time you skip your breakfast or eat a cookie, you’ll feel defeated. You’re less likely to keep up all the good work you’ve done thus far. Better to make and exceed smaller resolutions than fail larger resolutions and give up.
Some tips on how to make microresolutions work include:
- Focus on only two microresolutions at most. No more Top 10 Resolutions of the Year types of goals. The more inundated you are with goals, the less likely you’ll be to meet any of them completely.
- It takes a long time. A daily microresolution can take four weeks to turn into an automatic habit. A less frequent microresolution can take up to eight weeks.
- Once your resolution has become a habit, then you can start a new microresolution.
I’ve made the mistake of trying to reach grand resolutions, both in parenting and in my personal life. And I’ve seen how that has gotten me not too far from where I started. Creating smaller resolutions instead has helped me reach my goals faster and more effectively.
Get more tips on changing bad habits:
- Small Habits to Improve Your Parenting
- How to Stay Organized
- Unfair Reasons We Get Mad at Our Kids
- How I Failed as a Mom… and Why It Wasn’t as Bad as I Thought
- On Choosing to Turn a Bad Parenting Day into a Good One
Your turn: Have you heard of microresolutions? What grand goals do you want to meet, and what microresolutions (small actions) can you do to lead you there? What are your tips on how to end bad habits?
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