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Here’s a typical Monday morning summer conversation at my house:

Me: Uh, let’s see. This week is Girl Scout Camp. So you need to pack a lunch. And a swim suit. And a towel. Oh wait, you have a BBQ today, so no lunch but you do need to bring—oh, darn. We’re supposed to bring dessert. How fast can we make Rice Krispie treats?

Fiona: Can’t we just buy something on the way? What time does camp start?

Me: I think 9:30. But I have a meeting at 9:00. I might drop you off early.

Fiona: I think that’s against the rules. They gave us a big rule book, you know. Who’s driving me home?

Me: Uh. Hmmm. I’ll check the schedule and call Debbie so she can text her daughter, who’ll tell you.

Fiona: Cell phones aren’t allowed at Girl Scout Camp.

Me: Oh yeah. That’s why we love it.

There is so much to love about summer, but let’s be real: The lack of routine can be a little hellish. Which makes the importance of habit and routine even more salient.

Not every summer day has to be as chaotic as a Monday at my house. In fact, I’ve actually found summer to be the perfect time to practice getting into good habits and routines. Creating habits is a skill, just like learning a new sport, and when we practice, we get better. Here are eight research-based steps for creating new routines:

1. Contemplate a change you’d like to make in your life. What do you need to be healthier and happier? For example, one of my clients wants more energy to accomplish her goals; to feel better she’ll need to get more sleep, which affects our intellectual ability, our physical health, and our emotions. Habits like sleep, exercise, or meditation—anything that creates a platform for more good habits—are what Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, calls a “keystone habit.” Which of your routines has the power to change your mood or outlook on life?

2. Do your homework. We know that people go through stages when they are making changes, and before we spring into action, we need to prepare. So if more sleep is your goal, maybe you need to read up on what it takes to get a better night’s rest or buy a new pillow.

Caution: Research shows that you will probably feel tempted to stop here, after you’ve bought the book and the pillow. Feel good about getting started, but please don’t stop before you’ve actually begun.

3. Make your goal public or find a friend to hold you accountable. This is where that post-4th of July FAQ (“What are you doing the rest of the summer?”) comes in handy. Telling lots of folks what we are shooting for can dramatically increase the odds we’ll actually do it. For starters, comment below to let us know what habit you’d like to get in this summer.

4. Make a list. Write down all of the small changes you’ll need to make in order to reach your goal. For example, if you are trying to get more sleep, you might want to stop drinking coffee after 11:00 am, turn off the computer at 9:00 pm, get the kids to do their own laundry so you don’t have to do it after-hours, get in bed by 10:00 pm, read a book instead of watching TV in bed, etc.

5. Pick a super-easy first step. Look at your list: What is the easiest thing on it? Now, what one tiny step can you take toward that already small thing? Maybe it would be easy for you to go to bed ten minutes early tonight, or to replace your afternoon coffee with decaf. Do the thing that is easiest and most appealing to you.

When you’ve accomplished one small thing, choose an equally unambitious next step. @RaisingHappines (Click to Tweet!)

You are more likely to reach your goal by taking a series of teensy steps than if you try to do it all at once.

The key to successfully changing your life in a summer? Practice. Practice creating new habits by mastering one ridiculously easy behavior at a time, slowly making them automatic.

Here is the really good news: Your good habits are contagious, highly likely to spread to your friends, your family, and especially your children. So consider that good night’s sleep a contribution to the greater good.


Best known for her weekly Happiness Tips, Christine Carter, Ph.D., draws on psychology, sociology, and neuroscience, and uses her own real-world adventures to demonstrate happiness dos and don’ts in action. Dr. Carter is a sociologist at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, and the author of RAISING HAPPINESS: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents. She teaches happiness classes online throughout the year to a global audience on her website www.christinecarter.com.

If you have trouble getting food on the table, check out my Happiness on Autopilot online class for added incentive and support.

For more tools and strategies for motivating kids, check out my Raise Kids’ Emotional Intelligence.