A modern lifestyle brand redefining motherhood

I picked up the book “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg with the specific intent of curing my morning “snooze” habit.


You see, I waste 30 to 40 minutes each morning torturing my husband through the synthetic sunlight and multiple rounds of birdsong emanating from a fancy light-up alarm. It is a habit beyond reason. Plus, I could really use the extra time to work on lengthy morning negotiations with our toddler (“I will give you one pretzel if you get in the car right now,” etc. etc.)

Thanks to “The Power of Habit” I did cure my morning snoozing, but more on that later.

The more I read, the less important snoozing became as there were much bigger takeaways to be had. Here are a few.

1 | What is a habit? Cue, routine, reward

The first revelation came with Duhigg’s simple breakdown of what constitutes a habit. I began thinking this was a powerful and complex mystery, and came out knowing that it is a simple, changeable, three-step loop: cue, routine, reward, and the loop is driven by a craving.

The clearest example from the book is smoking. “When a smoker sees a cue – say, a pack of Marlboros – her brain starts anticipating a hit of nicotine.” That would be the craving. The routine is smoking. The reward is the nicotine rush.

Our brains use habits like tools. We have reptile-like cores that perform actions without any conscious thought. This allows us to complete complex processes, like backing a car out of the driveway, while our conscious minds are elsewhere. In many ways, this is helpful, but in modern society, with temptations like smoking, snacking on unhealthy foods, and watching too much Netflix, it can hurt us as well.

2 | Create a habit: learn to crave exercise (or anything else you hate)

When I stop to think about it, I have long list of habits I’d like to create. Those include exercising, eating better, writing regularly, and cooking at home. Conveniently, the book uses exercise to explain how habits are created.

Duhigg sites a 2002 study from New Mexico State University that tracked 266 people who exercised three or more times per week. He analyzes the specific “craving” these participants had cultivated in order to drive their habit loop. In one group, 92 percent of participants craved the “feel good” endorphins a workout provides. In another group, 67 percent craved a sense of accomplishment that came with tracking their performance.

Anyone can use this information to exercise more, according to Duhigg. “Choose a cue, such as going to the gym as soon as you wake up, and a reward, such as a smoothie after each workout. Then think about that smoothie, or about the endorphin rush you’ll feel. Allow yourself to anticipate the reward. Eventually, that craving will make it easier to push through the gym doors every day.”

3 | Change a habit: swap the bad for the good

The key to eradicating a bad habit, like snoozing repeatedly, is not stopping altogether (which can be nearly impossible thanks to those reptile-like brain cells), it’s replacing just one element in the habit loop: the routine.

“If you can use the same cue, and provide the same reward, you can shift the routine and change the habit,” says Duhigg.

I examined my bad habit in detail: My cue is the phone alarm. My routine is to hit snooze. My reward is lingering in that delicious, relaxing, semi-awake state, where I’m still warm in my bed and just conscious enough to appreciate it.

I  needed a new routine, something that would allow me to stay warm and in bed, without hitting snooze and falling back to sleep.

I’d been wanting to try the paid version of the meditation app, Calm. It offers a new 10-minute guided meditation each day. This was my answer.

The app took the thinking out of it for me. I could open it instead of hitting snooze.

My new pattern: My alarm goes off. I open Calm, pop in headphones and start the session right away. I get to stay warm in bed for 10 minutes.

Going smoothly from groggy to mindful works well for me. Meditating in the morning is much easier than trying to meditate at night. As a bonus, I still get 20 to 30 minutes to spend talking my toddler into putting shoes on! Thank you, Mr. Duhigg.

4 | Keystone habits: get your whole family in on the action

What surprised me most was learning that both individuals and companies use a concept called the “keystone habit” to kick off widespread improvement. Keystone habits are habits that seem small and offer small wins. Their magic lies in convincing people that bigger achievements are within reach and this causes a chain reaction of improvement.

Again, Duhigg uses exercise as an example, saying, “Typically people who exercise start eating better and becoming more productive at work.”

Family dinner is another well known keystone habit. “Studies have documented that families who habitually eat dinner together seem to raise children with better homework skills, higher grades, greater emotional control, and more confidence.” Such a small daily ritual does all that.

Besides creating the momentum of a consistent “small win,” keystone habits can help children exercise willpower like they would a muscle. “That’s why signing kids up for piano lessons or sports is so important,” says Todd Heatherton, a researcher from Dartmouth who has worked on willpower studies and is quoted in the book.

“It has nothing to do with creating a good musician or soccer star,” Heatherton says. “When you learn to practice for an hour or run fifteen laps, you build self-regulatory strength. A five-year-old who can follow the ball for 10 minutes becomes a sixth grader who can start his homework on time.”

I never thought about structured activities for kids in this way before. I also snoozed so much on weekend mornings that the thought of rushing out to kids’ activities has always been quickly curtailed. However, while I’m riding high on the “small win” of morning meditation, I plan to tackle family dinners and an activity or two for the kids next.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

Subscribe to get inspiration and super helpful ideas to rock your #momlife. Motherhood looks amazing on you.

Already a subscriber? Log in here.

There are certain things that get less challenging with each child you have—like changing diapers or figuring out how to tie a Moby wrap—but breastfeeding just isn't one of them. Breastfeeding is different for every woman, and it can even be different for the same woman at different times in her life.

Mom of three Jessica Alba knows how true that is. She tells Motherly she's no longer nursing her 6-month-old son, Hayes, and while she's been through the end of breastfeeding with her older daughters, 10-year-old Honor and 6-year-old Haven, this experience was different and challenging in its own way.

"Emotionally, I know kind of what to expect. But every time, with all the hormones, it's so overwhelming. It doesn't get any easier," she says.

Alba and her husband Cash Warren welcomed little Hayes on December 31, 2017, and in the months that followed Alba shared several sweet breastfeeding photos on social media. In one, the Honest Company founder nursed during a board meeting, in another she breastfed Hayes in a Target fitting room. To her social media followers it seemed like she was always breastfeeding—and now we know that's because she was.

"I felt like he wanted to nurse 24/7, which was obviously really challenging when you're trying to go back to work," says Alba, who wasn't just busy with the Honest Company in the early weeks and months of Hayes' life, but also shooting her upcoming TV series with Gabrielle Union, 'LA's Finest.' The timing of the opportunity wasn't ideal, but the project was.

"I was actually bummed about it, I really did want to take four months but I got the pilot offer and it just happened to be shooting, so it cut into my maternity leave."

Alba was used to juggling the demands of working and nursing, having brought Honor to movie sets a decade ago and having welcomed Haven right when she was launching the Honest Company, but this time there was another hurdle, one many moms can relate to.

"Also my milk supply was challenged with him. I felt like I had the most milk with Honor and then it got less with Haven and even less with Hayes. And so that was just tough for me," she tells Motherly.

Although she had more milk supply back when she had her daughters, she's never been able to exclusively breastfeed for as long as she would have liked. She wrote about this challenge in her 2013 book, The Honest Life: Living Naturally and True to You.

"I breastfed as long as I could, but not as long as I wanted. I had to get back to work, and I wasn't able to keep it going. But I am proud to say I did the best for my daughters and I'm proud of all of my mom friends for doing the best they can on this issue."

Alba is hardly alone in having to stop breastfeeding earlier than she wanted. According to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, "Although most infants receive some breastmilk, most are not exclusively breastfeeding or continuing to breastfeed as long as recommended."

More than 81% of American mothers start out breastfeeding, but less than half are exclusively breastfeeding by the time their baby is 3 months old and fewer than a quarter make it to the 6-month mark without formula.

Studies show that although it is incredibly common, supplementing with or switching to formula is a decision fraught with feelings of guilt, failure or "shattered expectations" for a lot of moms.

But you don't have to breastfeed for a full year or two for your child to benefit from the cuddles and the antibodies, and no mother should feel guilty about doing what is best for her child and herself.

Take it from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: The organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding but also recognizes that a mother "is uniquely qualified to decide whether exclusive breastfeeding, mixed feeding or formula feeding is optimal for her and her infant."

A bit of advice Alba wrote in her book echos the ACOG's statement:

"Whatever you do, trust that you're doing the best that you can for your baby."

Still, weaning earlier than you wished to doesn't get easier even if you've experienced it before.

Years after writing that line in her book, Alba tells Motherly, "The only thing you kind of know the third time around is that it will pass."

Alba is an amazing mama, and she is obviously doing what's best for Hayes. And by being so honest about her breastfeeding struggles, she's also doing a great service to other mothers who are facing similar challenges.

Thanks for the honesty, Jessica.

You might also like:

In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

You might also like:

I have a confession to make.

I once completely ruined a (rare) date night out over... popcorn. Seriously.

Who knew such a delicious, buttery treat could be such a catalyst for drama?

So, we were at the movies and after sitting down in our seats I asked my husband if he could go get me some popcorn. I mean, I didn't want to miss the beginning of the movie… He said something along the lines of, "Ugh, can you just go get it?" And I said something along the lines of, "You better sleep with one eye open tonight." 😜

I sulked off and got my popcorn. Then, I proceeded to watch the movie with a scowl and a bad attitude, similar to the combo my 2-year-old threw me a few days prior because I wouldn't give her my hot coffee (logical). This nonsense carried over into the car ride home. The evening that could have been a light, carefree night out with my partner turned into a bit of a dud.

But the thing is, it was never about the popcorn.

It was about my stress levels of being a work-from-home mom. It was about my exhaustion around having children who weren't sleeping well during the time.

It was about the mental load of motherhood that I carry around like a boulder in my brain. It was about feeling burnt out by all of life's responsibilities. It was about the fact that we hadn't been out on a date in over a month.

It was about the fact that our lives are consumed by preschool pickup and decisions about childcare and guilt over parenting fails and to-dos. It was about the pressure. Of parenting. Of adulting. Of date night.

Who has time to think of a new place to try for dinner? Who has the energy to shower, do their hair, put makeup on, and pick out a cute, flattering outfit on a Friday night after a long, long, long week? Who has the determination to make sure your date checks all the boxes—Is what we're doing exciting enough?

Are we going to the perfect restaurant? Does it matter that these Spanx are making me feel miserable? Should we do something spontaneous after dinner? Should I come up with some options for our spontaneous activity so we are prepared for spontaneity? 😂

The only question we should be asking ourselves is—what do we WANT to do on our date? The only goal we should have is to ditch the pressure and Just. Have. Fun.

The point of a date, especially as parents, is to connect. To have some alone time together. It's not to plan some magical, unicorn, non-existent "perfect" night out. This isn't The Bachelor. This isn't a planned-by-ABC one-on-one date involving a helicopter and bungee jumping. We both have already accepted the rose—we don't need perfection. What we need is to get out.

We're talking a meal at a restaurant and a rom-com. Sometimes we get wild and throw in an after-dinner drink somewhere. We go on dates to get away from poopy diapers and screaming toddlers. To go somewhere for a couple of hours so we can speak to each other at a normal decibel without pausing to answer questions like "WHERE DID YOU PUT MY WITCH HAT, MOOOOOM? I CAN'T FALL ASLEEP WITHOUT IT!" or "CAN YOU WIPE MEEEEE?!"

After more than a few dates like the popcorn-drama-night, we both have learned our lesson.

The recipe for a great date night is simple:

1. Leave your children home with someone you trust.

2. Exit the house and go somewhere together.

3. Wear clothes that are comfortable.

4. Have a good attitude.

5. Talk to each other.

(Bonus points if you can leave your kiddos home with a family member you don't have to pay!)

Recently, my husband and I went on a day date, to the beach, just the two of us. We left our girls home with their aunt (thanks, Liz!) and hightailed it outta there. We got iced coffees and sat on the sand under the warm sun.

We chatted and laughed and even just relaxed, laying there, closing our eyes—enjoying the peace and quiet. No one was eating sand. No one was complaining of the heat. No one had to go potty.

It was pretty amazing.

There was no bickering and no disappointment. It just worked.

I think we've found the secret to the elusive perfect parent date night: decrease your expectations and then you'll decrease the pressure. By doing that, you'll automatically decrease the chances of something or someone sabotaging your date, like an adult-sized tantrum caused by slick buttery popcorn.🍿

You might also like:

While we love the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale for clothing and accessories for the fam, some of the biggest savings are on cult-favorite baby gear items.

We're talking Nuna, Joolz, Maxi-Cosi and Bugaboo, mamas. 🙌 These pieces rarely go on sale so if you're in the market for one, grab it while supplies last.

Here are our team's favorite picks:

1. Nuna convertible car seat

This convertible car seat will take your little from their first day well through toddlerhood. It offers a little extra legroom for you toddler as they grow and features ventilation panels that allow baby to stay cool.

Fave features: 10-position recline and head support, one-handed use harness, flip-open cupholders (on both sides).

RAVA™ Convertible Car Seat, $374.90 (after sale $499.95)

BUY

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

You might also like:

Motherly provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.Your use of the site indicates your agreement to be bound by our  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Information on our advertising guidelines can be found here.