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The scientific reason why wearing leggings every day could make you a better parent

It's all about reducing decision fatigue so that you can focus on what *really* matters, mama.

The scientific reason why wearing leggings every day could make you a better parent

“Mama, I love the bumpy part of your hair."

That makes one of us. The messy bun has been my morning style since the day my son was born. It makes me feel hopelessly lazy and unstylish. Last year on New Year's Eve I vowed to break out of the bun and get dressed, but, well, you know how New Year resolutions go.

However, that hairstyle may actually be a sign of success. Cognitive research suggests that my autopilot mom-style might be making me a better parent.

In a 2012 Vanity Fair profile of Barack Obama, Michael Lewis shares how the then-President streamlined his decision-making: “You'll see I wear only gray or blue suits," he said. “I'm trying to pare down decisions. I don't want to make decisions about what I'm eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make."

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Barack Obama is not alone. The world's tech pioneers opt for even simpler wardrobes. Steve Jobs wore black mock-necks. His successor Tim Cook favors blue button-downs. Mark Zuckerberg wears gray t-shirts.

These are not lazy people. They are decision-makers who don't waste cognitive energy on what they want to wear. Zuckerberg even claims that his shirts help him help more people: “I'm in this really lucky position, where I get to wake up every day and help serve more than a billion people. And I feel like I'm not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life." He frames his wardrobe not as a style choice but as a moral one.

Whether consciously or unconsciously, all of these global leaders are trying to avoid what scientists are calling “decision fatigue."

John Tierney, science reporter for The New York Times and co-author of “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength," describes what happens to our brains after a day full of decision making. We may not actually feel physically tired, but choice after choice begins to wear on us:

Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket, and can't resist the dealer's offer to rustproof their new car. No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can't make decision after decision without paying a biological price.

That price, Tierney notes, is not a physical one, but a mental one: We start to make shortcuts. The first shortcut is to make impulsive decisions, like eating a Costco-sized bag of chips or buying more plaid toddler shorts even though if you looked in the closet, you'd already see 12 pairs in the next size up.

The other shortcut is to do nothing, to make no decision at all. Think of the home improvement project you've been researching for months but are unable to make any progress on because you can't choose a paint color.

Mamas are some of the most decision-fatigued people out there. Just think of the decisions that happen before lunch: Whether you have time to work out or shower before the kids get up, what to make for breakfast, what to pack in lunches, whether the weather requires coats for the kids. If there are errands to run, it's what kind of pasta shape the kids will accept this week, what brand of toothpaste is on the best sale, and whether or not you have enough toilet paper.

Perhaps this helps explain midday social media confessions like this one: “DD is finally sleeping, but I'm too tired to figure out what to do." By nap time, moms spend as many as eight hours making decision after decision after decision. The science of decision fatigue may mean that we literally can't decide what to do.

Decision fatigue could be part of the reason that so many women claim they never have anything to wear. Think about when you're most likely to do your own clothes shopping. It's probably at the end of the day, after hundreds of decisions big and small. That's at least how I'll excuse the yet-unworn pale beige romper hanging in my closet.

Yoga pants or leggings are often snarkily dismissed as a mom uniform, but wearing them may actually reduce decision fatigue (which can make ripples throughout the entire day). Taking the decision work out of getting dressed leaves your mind that much freer to contemplate all of the decisions you'll need to make today.

Art Director Matilda Kahl may be the most recognizable female proponents of the work uniform because she has worn the same work uniform every day for five years. She was initially nervous about her uniform (white silk shirt, black slacks, blazers for cold weather) because she feared what people might think of her style. Then she realized that the work uniform was hardly a novel concept: “There's a group of people that have embraced this way of dressing for years—they call it a suit."

Realtor Renata Briggman has found similar success with her work uniform (white blouse, black slacks, red belt when she feels like accessorizing), which by her estimate has saved her a full work week per year of deciding what to wear.

One problem mamas might notice in these examples is the white shirt. That might work out during winter when it's all washable paints and play dough, but there isn't enough Oxiclean to make up for summer puddle stomping. Still, Kahl's and Briggman's uniforms are good models for parents: neutral hues, fitted-but-comfortable tops and pants and a variety of outer layers.

Once Kahl found the perfect silk blouse, she bought 15 of them at once. That kind of expenditure probably doesn't work for most of us, but we can all adopt the broader concept of finding something that works and sticking with it. For me, that's a slowly-growing collection of black textured base layers that let me feel well-dressed without ever having to use an iron, dark jeans, and the same loafers in every obnoxiously loud color they come in.

I don't yet have enough copies of the uniform to wear every day. That's okay, because I'm not yet ready to do a Marie Kondo-style closet clearing. Besides, I need clothes for when I'm not at work, too. I have found that uniform days are better days. I have more energy for all of the day-to-day decisions that come with parenting, and some special ones too, like what meal to let my 3-year-old make all by himself or how to turn the inside of the house into a giant yarn-based spider web.

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    These challenges from Nike PLAYlist are exactly what my child needs to stay active

    Plus a fall family bucket list to keep everyone moving all season long.

    While it's hard to name anything that the pandemic hasn't affected, one thing that is constantly on my mind is how to keep my family active despite spending more time indoors. Normally, this time of year would be spent at dance and gymnastics lessons, meeting up with friends for games and field trips, and long afternoon playdates where we can all let off a little steam. Instead, we find ourselves inside more often than ever before—and facing down a long winter of a lot more of the same.

    I started to search for an outlet that would get my girls moving safely while we social distance, but at first I didn't find a lot of solutions. Online videos either weren't terribly engaging for my active kids, or the messaging wasn't as positive around the power of movement as I would like. Then I found the Nike PLAYlist.

    I always knew that Nike could get me moving, but I was so impressed to discover this simple resource for parents. PLAYlist is an episodic sports show on YouTube that's made for kids and designed to teach them the power of expressing themselves through movement. The enthusiastic kid hosts immediately captured my daughter's attention, and I love how the physical activity is organically incorporated in fun activities without ever being specifically called out as anything other than play. For example, this segment where the kids turn yoga into a game of Paper Scissors Rock? Totally genius. The challenges from #TheReplays even get my husband and me moving more when our daughter turns it into a friendly family competition. (Plus, I love the play-inspired sportswear made just for kids!)

    My daughter loves the simple Shake Ups at the beginning of the episode and is usually hopping off the couch to jump, dance and play within seconds. One of her favorites is this Sock Flinger Shake Up activity from the Nike PLAYlist that's easy for me to get in on too. Even after we've put away the tablet, the show inspires her to create her own challenges throughout the day.

    The best part? The episodes are all under 5 minutes, so they're easy to sprinkle throughout the day whenever we need to work out some wiggles (without adding a lot of screen time to our schedule).

    Whether you're looking for simple alternatives to P.E. and sports or simply need fun ways to help your child burn off energy after a day of socially distanced school, Nike's PLAYlist is a fun, kid-friendly way to get everyone moving.

    Need more movement inspiration for fall? Here are 5 ways my family is getting up and getting active this season:

    1. Go apple picking.

    Truly, it doesn't really feel like fall until we've picked our first apple. (Or had our first bite of apple cider donut!) Need to burn off that extra cinnamon-sugar energy? Declare a quick relay race up the orchard aisle—winner gets first to pick of apples at home.

    To wear: These Printed Training Tights are perfect for when even a casual walk turns into a race (and they help my daughter scurry up a branch for the big apples).

    2. Visit a pumpkin patch.

    We love to pick up a few locally grown pumpkins to decorate or cook with each year. Challenge your child to a "strongman" contest and see who can lift the heaviest pumpkin while you're there.

    To wear: Suit up your little one in comfort with this Baby Full Zip Coverall so you're ready for whatever adventures the day brings.

    3. Have a nature scavenger hunt.

    Scavenger hunts are one of my favorite ways to keep my daughter preoccupied all year long. We love to get outside and search for acorns, leaves and pinecones as part of our homeschool, but it's also just a great way to get her exercising those gross motor skills whenever the wiggles start to build up.

    To wear: It's not truly fall until you break out a hoodie. This cozy Therma Elite Kids Hoodie features a mesh overlay to release heat while your child plays.

    4. Have a touch-football game.

    Tip for parents with very little kids: It doesn't have to last as long as a real football game. 😂 In fact, staging our own mini-games is one of our favorite ways to get everyone up and moving in between quarters during Sunday football, and I promise we all sleep better that night.

    To wear: From impromptu games of tag to running through our favorite trails, these kids' Nike Air Zoom Speed running shoes are made to cover ground all season long.

    5. Create an indoor obstacle course.

    Pretending the floor is lava was just the beginning. See how elaborate your personal course can get, from jumping on the couch to rolling under the coffee table to hopping down the hallway on one foot.

    To wear: These ready-for-any-activity Dri-FIT Tempo Shorts are perfect for crawling, hopping and racing—and cuddling up when it's time to rest.

    This article was sponsored by Nike. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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