Healthy Habits: Celebrate the small wins with your kids
To quote James Carse, the author of Finite and Infinite Games, “a finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.” The goal of the “infinite game of health” is to “continue to play,” i.e., to be vital and engaged in your life for as long as possible. Since health is a lifelong game, it requires a sustainable, long-term approach. Think growth mindset. Think celebrating little wins. Think about creating long- and short-term goals.
As a parent, it is all too easy to talk the talk without walking the walk. It is way too common for parents to tell their kids “health is important” while continuing to ride the rollercoaster of unhealthy, unsustainable crash diets and unrealistic workout plans. Say goodbye to yo-yo dieting and falling on and off the health horse.
Walk the walk for you and your family. Help your kids develop a healthy relationship with food and activity as a youth. Let the inertia of habits power them forward. It is MUCH easier to maintain a healthy lifestyle than it is to create one in adulthood.
Demonstrate what adopting a long-term approach to health looks like. By demonstrating healthy choices, you show your family AND yourself the power of a healthier lifestyle. Each time you drink water, prioritize sleep, eat vegetables, move your body, or organize a fun, active family outing, you remind YOURSELF that you are a healthy human and you show your family that when it comes to health, action is key. It is easy to talk about health, but you create your “fittest future you” by the actions you take today.
So how does one embrace this sustainable, long-term approach? Embrace little wins. Think progress, not perfection!
Two ways to be in it for the long haul
Embrace little wins!
Consciously “tag” little wins and teach your children to tag their wins. Teach your kids to note when they make choices that serve their “future self.” When they want to sleep in, but instead they get up in time to make soccer practice and then feel awesome after the practice, get them to note that “they didn’t want to go, that they went anyway, and that they felt better after.” This is valuable data. It shows them that they can show up even when they don’t want to and that desires of the moment don’t always represent what will ultimately make them feel proud and satisfied. When you don’t want to train and you do it anyway, congratulate yourself and state out loud how much better you feel.
“Tagging” the little wins does NOT mean you don’t keep working towards your big goals; it is what allows the big goals to become reality. Yes, completing a marathon is a bigger deal than one walk around the block, BUT if you can’t get yourself to go for a walk you will never complete the marathon.
To accomplish any goal, we must master the skill of “showing up,” of making participation a non-negotiable! “Showing up” day after day doesn’t guarantee mastery and success, but success is not possible without showing up! As Anne Lamott would say, you gotta put in your “bum in seat” time.
Teach your kids what I tell clients: “You don’t have to be great to start, but you do have to start to get great! Daily participation is what creates the big wins!!”
Go ahead and teach your kids to set big goals, BUT make sure to break the bigger goals into manageable chunks and celebrate the little wins.
Say “fork it” to perfectionism…embrace a growth mindset
Enter the importance of cultivating a growth mindset and letting go of perfectionism.
Teach your kids to embrace “progress over perfection.” Think, growth, consistency, and effort over instant gratification.
Perfect is not possible, especially when it comes to health. When you model that “perfect” is required to be healthy, you set your children up for a life of misery and body shame. Teach your kids that life is about riding the wave of being human, that we all have better and worse days! Even top athletes vacillate slightly; they just ebb and flow in a different stratosphere.
Now, I am NOT suggesting you teach your kids to be complacent, or that you become complacent and stop trying to make healthy choices. Far from it. The fact that no one can be perfect doesn’t mean you don’t TRY; it doesn’t mean you tell your kids that “anything goes,” that you don’t work hard and aim for mastery. What the mantra “progress vs. perfection” means is that you aim for “productive, healthy striving.”
Do you have kids who love sports? Remind them of this stat: if your batting average is above 300, you will make the hall of fame, yet you will still strike out 7 out of 10 times. Peyton Manning will go down in history as one of the greats; his completion rate is 65.3% — he doesn’t complete a third of his passes. If Peyton Manning can throw an errant pass, you and your family can miss a workout or practice without letting that missed workout derail you or without letting that miss spiral you into further less-than-healthy choices.
Unrealistic goals simply set you — and your family — up for failure! If you make your goal to have an “A” workout every day, to have an “A” practice every day, and to serve “perfect” food all the time, you will probably end up depressed, overwhelmed, burned out, and/or injured. Making a goal to eat “perfectly” simply gives you daily ammunition to abandon your health ship.
Sometimes people misunderstand my suggestion to “celebrate little wins.” They think I am saying “be easy on yourself” and/or “pretend everything is amazing.” Nowhere in this article am I suggesting that you embrace toxic positivity, let yourself lean in to a “who cares” attitude, and/or lie to yourself or your children about an accomplishment. Call a spade a spade. If you miss a workout or your child doesn’t perform as hoped at a sporting event, note the experience. Just don’t use the experience as an opportunity to shame yourself. Also, don’t use the experience as justification to quit. The experience is “data.” Use the data. Create systems that will help you progress. Remember, practice makes better. Maybe your child needs a few extra lessons or more sleep in order to perform at their best. Maybe you need to get an exercise buddy or find a workout that excites you.
Don’t lie to yourself. Set realistic goals. Celebrate little wins. Have a bigger picture. Keep your bigger “why” in mind. Learn to talk to yourself and your family like a coach, like an advocate. When you can cheer on your little wins and foster a growth mindset there is no limit to what you can do. Have fun progressing through your infinite game! Think progress. Think mastery. Think KEEP GOING!