by Claire Merritt, RN, Birth Assistant
Hello Dar a Luz families, and Happy New Year! As we all know, 2020 was an incredibly tough year (understatement of the year), and the simple act of persevering through 2020 is a huge accomplishment in itself. I know during this last year some people may have learned a new instrument or a new language, started a new workout routine, and more (and to all of you who did so, you are amazing). Many of us also did other things like binge watch Netflix, cry more than usual, eat chocolate almost every night, and maybe gain some weight (me… it was me, I did all these things)… and that is OK too!
It is also really important for us to hold space for all that we have lost over the last year. Many people have grieved the loss of friends, co-workers, or family members. Many have grieved the loss of their social support systems. Many of us have not seen or hugged our friends and family in many months. Many of you have grieved what you envisioned your birth would look like. All of our lives have changed.
Speaking of change, there is always a lot of pressure as the new year begins to set goals and resolutions. This may be too stressful for many of us at this time and that is okay, it is important to know your limitations and set appropriate boundaries. The new year is also a time of hope and a chance to reset. We have a rare opportunity, unfortunately birthed from a year of hardships, to reevaluate what was working for us before and what wasn’t. We can take this knowledge into 2021 with us.
For some, setting goals, a.k.a. resolutions, is a way to take control in small ways in an otherwise crazy and unpredictable time. If you are one of those people then by all means set those goals and resolutions! I personally think that I fall somewhere in the middle of these two mindsets. I love setting goals and I love making lists. Even more than making the list, I love crossing things off my list! It just makes me feel good! Sometimes I even make a list of all the things I’ve done throughout the day just so I can cross them off! That’s right, after I’ve already done all the things, it helps remind me what I have accomplished that day. I also always set a New Year’s resolution and very rarely keep it for longer than a month… guilty.
I recently came across a podcast featuring behavioral scientist B. J. Fogg, author of the book Tiny Habits. The whole premise of this book, as explained by Fogg in the podcast, is about changing the way we form new habits and accomplish goals. it is really worth a listen and it is only about 15 minutes long (listen HERE). As the title suggests, it’s all about starting small, really small. I mean it, really really small! So small that we cannot find any excuse to procrastinate the new habit. The beautiful thing about Fogg’s method is that it is broken down into three easy steps. I am putting them into my own words a little here:
1) Make it small
2) Make it fit
3) Make it fun
Sounds easy enough right? So let’s start with number one.
Make it small. For example, if your goal is to meditate every day, your new tiny habit can be to take one deep breath every day. The idea behind this is to improve your motivation. It might be intimidating to think about finding the time and the willpower to sit still and meditate for 30 minutes, but everybody can fit one deep breath into their day. The harder your goal is the more motivation it takes to initiate that goal, so the tinier your goal, the easier it is to get the motivation to do it!
Make it fit. Number two is all about making it fit into your schedule, which is essential to creating a new behavior. The way Fogg describes this is to start a dialogue with yourself. For example, after I wake up, I will take one deep breath. This is the dialogue: “After (insert time of day or something to be done) I will (insert new tiny habit).” This helps us create a designated space for our new habit in our lives and helps us be more consistent in actually doing it! I may not have time, or the motivation, to give 30 minutes to my habit every day starting January 1 for the rest of the year, but I can definitely find the time and motivation to take one deep breath every morning when I wake up. And if I feel like taking three or ten deep breaths, that’s just extra credit!
Make it fun. Who doesn’t like fun? Fogg describes this as celebration. This part is super important! Yes! Finally, the fun part is the most important part! The truth is that emotions create new habits. The way we strengthen and build upon those habits is by continuing to do them, but the reason we want to do them again is because of the way it makes us feel.
This is Psychology 101: Why do I eat ice cream? Because it tastes amazing and makes me feel good! Every time we perform our new habit we have to celebrate it, or in more scientific terms, create a positive association with that habit or action. A celebration/positive association can be something as simple as giving your partner a high five or even saying “woo hoo!” Anything that makes you feel good and happy. This method is like gold to me! It just makes so much sense when you really think about it. Our brains are made up of somewhere around 100 trillion neural pathways. That’s like a super mega highway of science fiction dreams! But it’s real, right there in your brain. You have all that power within you! The key is to learn how to tune in to it.
As some of you know, I also teach the Condensed birth class at Dar a Luz. One of the things I often talk about in that class is how to strengthen these neural pathways in your brain. A good example of this is learning to walk. As we watch our babies navigate the upright world they are often very clumsy, in the most adorable of ways! In the beginning taking one or two steps is monumental, and as parents we often get really excited and clap and smile and shout hooray — we celebrate it! As our children continue to navigate walking, we continue to celebrate it, and they are encouraged to strengthen that pathway in their brains, because they have made a positive association. Eventually it becomes automatic and they’re running all around our houses before we know it… and getting into everything!
To tie it all together with the example:
Number one: the baby started with a super tiny bit, literally one step at a time.
Number two: fit it into their schedule — the baby’s schedule was simple! After I stand up, I try to take a step.
Number three: celebrate! After I take a step everyone in the house smiles and claps and shout hooray and I smile and giggle and feel good inside.
I like to think of these pathways in our brains like a path in the woods. The first time you venture down this path it is unused, there are lots of trees, bushes, and other growth in front of you. If you walk this path every day, eventually you will start to create a groove through the trees and bushes. Eventually you will get to a place where you can walk down this path without even thinking about where you’re going, it becomes automatic. We can also strengthen the pathways in our brains that we use most often, and the stronger the pathway the more automatically your brain will take that path. Before you know it, a new habit is made that you not only do automatically, but that makes you feel good!
Some of the reasons we often don’t succeed at our goals is because we don’t create that positive association and we often set big and unrealistic goals. This sets us up for failure. If we set tiny and manageable goals we are setting ourselves up for success! Then we just continue to build upon those tiny successes until we have reached that big goal. So if you feel like embarking upon New Year’s resolutions this year, it’s not too late! I would try this tiny habits method. It is designed to set you up for success! Remember to give yourself time to make changes and be kind to yourself, and celebrate your achievements!
Wishing all of you the best 2021!
Your friendly Dar a Luz nurse, Claire.
Claire was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This lovely desert, full of culture and amazing skies, is my home and will always have a special place in her heart. Her loving and supportive husband and she have two wonderful daughters who were born at home under the care of an amazing midwife. They love to travel together, and enjoy hiking, camping, rock climbing, gardening, and basically anything outdoors. She is inspired by the holistic, compassionate, and empowering model of care that Dar a Luz provides. She feels incredibly thankful to be a part of the amazing team at Dar a Luz, and honored to be a part of many stories to come!