Creating New Routines

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My two year old is struggling with potty training.

He knows what he’s supposed to do in the bathroom and he’s pretty happy when he does things properly. His challenge is that he doesn’t even think about it when he’s focused on playing or having a book read to him. When he realizes what he’s done, he’ll often look really sad and then request a diaper change.

He wants to do the right thing, but it’s very challenging for him to establish a new routine, even though he knows what he should be doing.

I know the feeling.

Perhaps the single hardest part of getting ahold of my finances was making myself create new routines.

It seems kind of silly on the surface, but when I look back at the routines in my life at the time and notice how many of them involved spending on some level, it becomes really clear how difficult the challenge really was.

Take my meals, for example. My routine was to eat out for an average of two meals a day. Eating out is pretty expensive, even when you’re eating “value” meals.

My routine after work was to stop by one or two stores to browse, and often to talk myself into buying something I didn’t need.

My weekend routine often involved a round of golf on Saturdays, or at least a couple buckets of balls hit at a driving range.

This just scratches the surface. A lot of my routines involved spending money in an unnecessary way. Changing even one routine can be hard. Changing a lot of routines can feel almost impossible.

I have a similar challenge when it comes to food. It is very easy for me to eat a handful of tortilla chips or another slice of pizza while scarcely thinking about it. My default routine is that “if it looks good, I’ll just eat it.” I don’t eat to gluttony – in fact, I generally eat less at any one sitting than most of my friends – but I tend to mindlessly snack throughout the day.

In both cases, there is one single tactic that works better for me than anything else in overcoming negative routines.

Be mindful of every single thing you do.

When you’re about to spend some money, stop and think about it. Do you really need to spend that money? Is there a better option? Is there a free alternative or at least a lower-cost alternative?

Similarly, if you’re about to eat or drink something, stop and think about it. Do you really need to eat that thing? Are you actually hungry or thirsty? Is there something better that would scratch the same itch?

One tactic that really helped me with mindfulness was sticking a reminder of this in every sensible place. I wrapped my credit card with a picture of my oldest child, which made me think of his future whenever I would eat. Similarly, I put particularly unhealthy foods in very hard-to-reach places, so that I have to think about it when I go through the effort to retrieve that food.

In the end, though, it comes down to the thoughts going through your head.

This, of course, brings us back to the potty training. How do we encourage our little one to be mindful of his bathroom duties?

For now, we’re doing what worked with the other two in training their mindfulness. We just ask him all the time whether or not he needs to use the potty and quickly rush him to the bathroom if he says yes. (Of course, this requires us to be mindful of reminding him, but that kind of mindfulness is part of parenting.)

Soon, he’ll have a new routine, one of good bathroom behavior.

Much like him, a repeated pattern of mindfulness about the challenges in our own lives will help us establish new routines and a new “normal.” Soon, it won’t seem like a challenge to spend less money or eat better.

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