Self-Directed Life Newsletter: Just one small thing
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Hey guys,

How was your week?

I love January and I love New Year’s resolutions. I guess that’s my nerd confession of the week.

I know a lot has been written about how resolutions never work, but what can I say? Some of mine have, and they’ve changed my health, my work, my relationships.

They weren’t mind-shattering changes, either — they were simple, small changes that gradually snowballed into a better life.

If you don’t want to wait for good things to magically happen to you all by themselves, then you need to try to make them happen — enter the resolution.

Several years ago our family started working on improving our health by changing one small thing at a time. First, we made more of our evening meals from scratch. Then we made more of our lunches from scratch. We ate less and less processed food until we hardly ate any.

We didn’t rush this process. Getting one thing working (homemade dinners) led naturally to the next (homemade lunches).

We wanted to be more physically active and started experimenting with different ideas. In the end, getting a dog turned out to be the surprise solution.

Walking our dog three times a day gave us daily exercise and vitamin N. Walking him together (with my husband in the morning, my son in the afternoon) gave us extra conversation time, in nature, with no distractions. Walking him alone once a day was great for thinking and having new ideas.

Small changes can have a big effect on your life.

Another great thing about resolutions — even if you “fail” at first, you’re having a conversation with yourself about what you want to change or improve in your life. Just thinking deeply about that can help you see possibilities and recognize opportunities — like a four-legged fitness coach.

Who else is going to spend an hour focusing on your deepest goals, other than you? 

I’ve written quite a bit over the years about resolutions — and forming habits — on the blog:

Four ways to make a change

It’s not all or nothing

Break it down

Use the upward spiral

Goals, goals, goals: Expectations vs. reality

Design the life you want

Five ways to find more time for the things that matter

The non-extreme path toward success


How to believe in yourself

You don’t have to wait until a new year, but there’s just something “crisp first page of a new notebook” about January. That fresh-start feeling might give you the little extra nudge you need to think about what you want to change — and try to change it.

If you’re looking for a small, easy way to start doing more with PBH in the new year (supporting your kids as self-directed learners), you might try one of these:

Try writing down what your kids are doing and reflecting on it. Let them see you do this. Let them suggest things you could write down. You don’t need a new journal; you don’t need to write paragraphs — you can use a calendar or just write single words or lists. The key is to look, listen, and think.

Clean a small space for your kids. This works best if it’s at the heart of your home (where you spend most of your time). Don’t try to fight gravity. You can put a few open-ended materials there if you like, but kids are so attracted to clean, empty spaces, they’ll probably fill it on their own.

Share what you’re reading, watching, listening to, talking about, thinking about with your kids. Just share — no big deal. But share everything — struggles as well as triumphs, confusions as well as inspirations, and frustrations as well as breakthroughs. Get a conversation going and remember to ask your kids what they’ve been reading, watching, listening to, and so on — then really listen to what they say, without interrupting.

You don’t have to do all of these at once and you don’t have to do them in any particular order. If you clean a space, your kids may do something and then maybe you can write it down and think about it. If you share with your kids, you may find they say interesting things back to you, and you can write *that* down and think about it. So you can combine these. But low expectations are key — overwhelm yourself and you’ll do nothing. Just do one small thing and see how it goes. When it’s going well, add something else.

Whatever really big goal you have — especially if you’ve been carrying it around for awhile — try writing it down and thinking about how you could do the smallest possible version of it right now, without waiting, without it being perfect or needing a trip to Ikea first or more Pinterest research. Think of it as a beta version — a stripped-down experiment from which you can learn things you can apply to that later, more deluxe version. Then, even if 2018 comes rolling around and you never did get going on the deluxe version, at least you got started. You’ll be doing something … and you’ll be learning.

Often, just doing a little breaks up the logjam of plans and expectations, and you find you know what to do next.

If it helps, make a list of all the reasons why you can’t get started yet. Then imagine that none of these things will get resolved in the next three years. You won’t move to a bigger house, you won’t get the ceiling fixed, you won’t manage to have that multi-family garage sale. Do you really want to wait three years? If no, then figure out how you can do at least part of it right now.

As fast as you can hatch big, impressive plans, your brain will toss out reasons why they won’t work or why you need more time to make them work. Avoid all that by hatching small plans. Just change one small thing, and see what happens.
We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives…not looking for flaws, but for potential. — Ellen Goodman

Don’t just think about what you don’t like about your life. Think about what you DO like — then figure out how to have more of it. Think about what’s working and how you can make that happen more often. Put your attention and focus on the thing you want to see more of. Feed your successes. — Think about what you did right this year


My favorite book for thinking about overall ways to improve your health: Younger Next Year.

My favorite book for improving how you eat: Mindless Eating.

My favorite book for setting reasonable goals and forming new habits: The Happiness Advantage


Children thrive when parents, carers and other adults pay attention to those activities that the children themselves have chosen to do. If a child loves to paint and draw, the adults around them will hopefully take an interest in their artworks. Equally, if a child loves to play Minecraft, their caregivers have an identical opportunity to engage, ask questions, praise, offer advice and explore it together.” — A response to “screen based lifestyle harms children’s health”


“As a group of scientists from different countries and academic fields with research expertise and experience in screen time, child development and evidence-based policy, we are deeply concerned…”

“[The message that screens are inherently harmful] is simply not supported by solid research and evidence. Furthermore, the concept of ‘screen time’ itself is simplistic and arguably meaningless, and the focus on the amount of screen use is unhelpful.”

For example, there is no consistent evidence that more screen time leads to less outdoor play… Any simplistic approach to issues facing childhood health and wellbeing is inappropriate, and a focus on screen time is not evidence-based.” — Screen-time guidelines need to be built on evidence, not hype


For every homeschooling parent — even the parent who hesitates to take their child out of school for a single year:

“Is it possible for a student to make it all the way through his or her senior year, be given a high school diploma — and be illiterate? … Yes.”

“[A]mong the 72% of Connecticut students in the Class of 2010 who went on to college, at least 22% had to take non-credit courses to learn reading, writing or math skills they should have acquired in high school.”

“[G]raduation rates are significantly misaligned with the rate of high school juniors who are reading and doing math well enough to begin taking college-level courses.”

“What it means to have a secondary education is like a sugar-cube boat. It dissolves before it’s half launched.”What does a high school diploma prove?

If your kid is in school, what’s the takeaway here? Don’t trust institutions blindly; don’t assume they’ve got it covered; don’t forget that how you live and learn together at home is still crucially important.

If one of my teens was in school, I would read this article with him and discuss it.

(You may want to save a copy of this for doubting relatives, too. <__<  People who are A-OK with homeschooling sometimes think you’re a loon for homeschooling high school.)

Add to this the power of a good or bad teacher“[T]he students of a very bad teacher will learn, on average, half a year’s worth of material in one school year. The students in the class of a very good teacher will learn a year and a half’s worth of material.”

Good and bad years are a part of life, whether you’re a homeschooler, you attend school, or you’re all grown up. Remember when you‘re considering doing something a little risky or adventurous — taking the more ordinary path is no guarantee of best possible results.

Thank you as always for your continued support!

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Have a great week!
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