Most people who have moved from one home to another wouldn't call it a "gift," but that's what makes Ali Wenzke's philosophy so different. After moving 10 times in 11 years and living in seven states across the U.S. with her husband, Wenzke started a blog to share the lessons she has learned along the way. With her new book, "The Art of Happy Moving," she hopes to provide step-by-step guidance to bring some calm to the chaos of moving. Below is an excerpt from the newly released title.
Moving from one home to another disrupts your daily routine and creates the perfect time to make a change. You’ve been given a gift. Evidently, your gift is valued at approximately $20,000. When researchers studied successful habit changers, 36 percent of their subjects credited moving for the change. That’s more than one in three people who made a successful life change because they relocated. It would be a shame not to take advantage of this opportunity for a fresh start. Moving — even just across the hall — takes care of the toughest part. It breaks the daily feedback loop (at least temporarily) and creates an opportunity for you to alter your habits.
"The Art of Happy Moving," by Ali Wenzke, $14 (originally $20), Amazon
Set your goal for change — big or small!
You may want to focus on one change at a time. For example, after we moved back to Chicago, Dan (my husband) and I decided to switch to decaf coffee in an effort to decrease our caffeine intake. (It goes against my profession to drink coffee without caffeine, so let’s keep this little secret between us.) It was hard at first, but our initial cravings quickly gave way to a new addiction: feeling healthier. Before long, we had also stopped drinking caffeinated soda and started to eat healthier and exercise more. After a lifetime of chugging Diet Coke, I no longer craved it. We didn’t set out to change any major habits, but one minor change snowballed. It turns out that using self-control in one aspect of your life can create a domino effect, positively impacting other areas of your life as well. Moving doesn’t come around every day, though, so you may want to aim higher than switching to decaf.
Why moving will help you succeed
Here’s the lowdown on your brain: It’s lazy. Or, put another way, it’s efficient. Over 40 percent of the time, your brain is on cruise control. It knows how to brush teeth, put on clothes, drive to work, fire up the computer, make dinner, and go to bed. Your brain conserves energy for more important tasks, like remembering to call the utility company before you move or reading this book.
How does your brain juggle all this input? Among other things, it looks for cues, follows a routine, and then pats itself on the cerebellum as a reward for a job well done. You get out of bed in the morning and see your toothbrush (cue), you brush your teeth (routine), your mouth tingles, and you see yourself smile in the mirror (reward). It’s not long before you start to crave that clean, fresh smile. That craving is what transforms this routine into a habit. While brushing your teeth is a good habit, the same loop — cues, routines, and rewards fueled by cravings — occurs with bad habits.
Replacing bad habits with good ones
Habits are like paint jobs: you can’t make a bad habit disappear, but you can cover up one you don’t want with a new one. Charles Duhigg, the author of The Power of Habit, calls this the Golden Rule of Habit Change. The way to change a bad habit is to keep the same cue and the same reward, but you insert a new routine. For example, let’s say three o’clock hits and it’s time for your daily afternoon chocolate boost. Instead of reaching for a candy bar, go for a short walk outside and get the energy you need from a few minutes of fresh air.
Create new rules for the entire family
You can also take this opportunity to create new rules for the entire family. Right as we were getting ready to move back to Chicago, Dan (my husband) and I had reached our parental limit of so-called no-spill sippy cups hidden all around the house. The move presented a golden opportunity.
“Listen up, kids! New family rule: anytime you eat or drink, you have to sit at the table.” Oh, the joys of dictatorship. In the short term, we celebrated — no more cups of spoiled milk buried in the couch. Years later, I appreciate how many hours we’ve spent hanging out at the table together at snack time and how many fewer hours I’ve spent vacuuming the basement. Even this relatively minor change had a ripple effect on our family trajectory.
Form a new routine
To establish a new routine, a plan of attack can be helpful. If you want to eat healthier, create a weekly meal plan or do some batch cooking. To exercise more, sign up for specific classes at the gym or use physical cues like putting your running shoes by the front door. Let’s say you want to learn to be more patient. Use time as your cue and schedule three minutes of meditation after you wake up but before you brush your teeth.
If you decide to use time as your cue, pick a regular event instead of a specific time of day. According to Jeremy Dean, the author of Making Habits, Breaking Habits, “Researchers have found that the best cue for a new habit is something that happens every day at a regular time.” To maximize your success, don’t tell yourself that you will do something daily at seven in the morning or three in the afternoon. Instead, tie it to a current routine and choose to do it after your morning shower or your afternoon snack break.
How long does it take to establish a new routine?
You’re ready to make some positive changes, but you probably want to know how long it’s going to take. Well, I have the answer. Sixty-six days. Yep, that’s what the research shows. I love that it’s so specific. Also, it’s okay if you mess up every once in a while. Just because you miss a day or two doesn’t mean you need to start back at zero. Roughly two months is what it takes to put a new habit in place. You can totally do this.
From "The Art of Happy Moving" by Ali Wenzke. Copyright © 2019 by Ali Wenzke. Reprinted by permission of William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.