3 Secrets To Finally Escaping Survival Mode


We’re all trying to figure out how to master our to-do list without the constant overwhelm, mom guilt or spirit-crushing question, “Does this hamster wheel ever stop?” If you’re a busy mom who is also committed to creating a schedule for yourself and your family that gives your kids a solid foundation and sets them up for success, you’re in the right place! Read on for 3 secrets to finally escaping survival mode. For good.

We want our busiest years–the ones we’re in right now as moms juggling it all–to be our best years! Kind of like a roller coaster – equal parts thrilling and terrifying. But hopefully never in danger of actually going off the rails.

But how do we live busy without stepping over a line into survival mode – a place that isn’t healthy and doesn’t bring out our best?

We each became a mom over a decade ago, and we’ve been working to create the best balance for ourselves and our families ever since. We’ve tried it all: different calendars or planning systems, books at different stages of our kids’ lives, sermons and podcasts, moms’ groups and life groups, advice from our own moms and other moms who are a few years ahead in this journey. 

Kristie Sigler and Mary Sterenbery - SALT effect - helping busy moms build strong families

It’s hard to wade through all the information that’s out there and figure out what’s actually going to work. Over the last year, one of our favorite things has been to bring you the best of what we’ve learned–what the research says along with our own experience and tips from other busy moms–to save you time and energy so you can focus on what you really care about: your family.

Want to live your best life?

This week, we’re moving into our full-on teacher mode because we have valuable, life-changing information to share with you. We don’t toss words like “life-changing” around lightly, so you can trust that we really mean it. Because it has changed our lives and the lives of our families.

We want to show you how to make a shift–from struggling to get everything done each day, feeling like your mind is always running and worrying that the decisions you’re making for your kids and family maybe aren’t the right ones–to being the mom you really want to be.

Do any of these sound like you?

  • You find a way to get it all done, but would love a better way to make it happen.
  • You do all the things but worry whether you’re doing the right things. For yourself. For your kids and your family.
  • You want building a strong (and happy) family to top your priority list even in this crazy, busy season of life.

    Busyness isn’t the problem

    One of the things that makes us different is that we don’t see busyness as a problem to be solved. Controlled? Yes. Purposeful? Absolutely. Solved? Never gonna happen.

    Chaos and Coffee graphic tee - The Top Tees

    We love cute graphic tees like this one from The Top Tees!

    Mary and I are always going to be busy on some level—it’s the life we’ve chosen to live. And in many ways, we thrive in our busiest times. But barely keeping our heads above water? No thanks. 

    We’re okay with busy–when it has a purpose–but we’re definitely not okay with being constantly distracted or exhausted.

    We also don’t want to get stuck in all the mom guilt and worry. We’d rather have a feeling of calm and confidence that we’re doing the right things and making the right choices for our family.

    I mean, don’t we all want that? It’s ultimately what we want for you!

    Being a mom who builds a strong family means you’re NO LONGER LIVING IN SURVIVAL MODE to get through never-ending to-to lists. It means you embrace a better and more intentional way of making decisions for your family rooted in your values.

    We’re not talking about tips and tricks here. This isn’t the easy way out or even just going with the flow.

    Instead, we’re talking about taking control of your busy, making decisions more easily that impact your family, having confidence that you’re doing the right things for the right reasons and building a strong family of kids who have the kind of foundation you really want.

    Of all the things in your life–your work, your friendships, your physical and mental health, your extended family–we know that your immediate family is the most important thing to you. So let’s put more energy and intention there, just like you do in all those other areas.

    So how can we manage being busy without living in survival mode? Let’s talk about our 3 secrets!

    Secret #1:

    You’re overwhelmed for a reason, and so is every other busy mom. The difference is in the response. 

    We know you’re finding a way to make it work but that nagging question doesn’t go away: why can’t I figure this out once and for all? I’m educated, I’m good at my job, I love my family…why do I feel like I’m still underwater all the time?

    Sound familiar? We’ve been there!

    So many decisions

    Here’s one of the reasons: the average adult faces about 70 conscious decisions a day. If you’re awake for 15 hours, this means you’re making a decision every 10 minutes. All. Day. Long.

    And moms likely face far more daily decisions than the average person, right? It’s no wonder we’re tired! We’re making decisions and answering questions like these all the time: What time should I schedule that meeting? Is there enough time between work and practice to run to the store? Mom, can I watch a show? Mom, can I wear shorts today? When the forecast is 45 degrees.

    And you’re not going to believe this one! A Cornell University study said we make 226.7 decisions every day on just food alone. So when your kids say, “Hey mom! What’s for dinner?” every night this week…and next week…and thousands of days after that…. It’s okay to lose your mind on occasion because if most people are making 226.7 food decisions every day, we think you should be able to multiply that times the number of people in your house and add all of it to your own total!

    Why do they want dinner every single night? Ecard

    A few days ago, my husband texted about dinner as he was picking up our son from practice. The text simply said, “Dinner?” I had absolutely no brainpower left, so I texted back, “I ate chicken.”

    I realize this wasn’t at all helpful, but at that moment, I really didn’t care. It was probably my 226th food decision that day and we only do 226.7 so, I guess it was just too much!

    And then there are those bigger decisions: Should I step back from this stressful friendship? Should we allow our kids to do activities with a hefty price tag or time commitment? Should I change jobs?

    These are real questions Mary and I have asked ourselves and we know we’re not alone.

    Decision Fatigue

    We’ve talked about it before, but it’s important to realize that decision fatigue is a real thing! The more choices we make each day, the harder each decision becomes for our brain. And, oh yeah, our choices define every aspect of our lives and our family’s lives. No pressure, right?

      I don’t know about you, but it makes me feel a lot better to know that I SHOULD feel overwhelmed as a mom with all of that on my plate! But the question is, what do we do when we’re overwhelmed? When I’m not careful and intentional, I get really angry and impatient with my family. I either lose my temper or I completely shut down and want to take a nap and ignore everything I should be doing. Which just makes me feel worse.

      None of these are helpful responses—and I mentioned that secret #1 to escaping survival mode is having a different response.

        Constant Comparison

        What about this as a response? The constant comparison. Mary’s last blog was all about the dangers of comparison and what to do when we fall victim to it. We say or think things like:

        My life would be so much easier if I just had her life, her job, her fill-in-the-blank…. Must be nice to have a nanny to help get kids to practice and start dinner. They have it so much easier because they have family living in town. Didn’t they just go on vacation? Why are they mowing the lawn AGAIN?

        We live on the main street in our neighborhood, right between empty nesters and a family with kids in college. There’s just no way I’m going to spend as much time on my lawn or driveway as they do right now. My time is finite and that’s something I don’t love doing and don’t have the capacity to closely manage right now. I’m sure it drives them crazy…but I have to let go of that tendency to compare my life to someone who is 10 or 20 years ahead of me. 

        Don't let your ice cream melt while you're counting somebody else's sprinkles

        The other problem with comparing is the imaginary other. That person–that mom who looks like she’s got it all together all the time–doesn’t actually exist. It’s a dangerous game to compare our ordinary daily life to the glimpses of perfection we see on Facebook and Instagram or even in person when we don’t know what else others really have going on. We spend too much time worrying about what other people think about our house, our kids, or much money we make.

          Now, being competitive can be a good thing—Mary and I are definitely competitive! It motivates us to continually improve our teaching and it makes games a lot more fun (for us anyway). But left unchecked, it can do serious damage. When we compete to win, it puts us on one side and other people—friends, family members, even strangers—on the opposing side. 

          So, all those other moms whose lives or clothes or houses you wish you had? Some other mom is looking at you and wishing the same thing. But if we’re all busy and guilty of playing this game that nobody will ever win, how do we stop the vicious cycle?

            The difference is in the response

            This is the secret: We have to be intentional about responding differently.

            It’s not about trying to get rid of the overwhelm and comparison (you still have to make those responsible decisions and live next to people with immaculate yards. We don’t have complete control over those things. But the secret is in making a conscious decision to respond in a healthier way for yourself and for your family – and practicing that response over and over until it’s your new normal. 

            Secret #2

            You have to STOP doing it the old way long enough to MAKE THE TIME to learn a new and better way.

            Yes, we know we’re trying to tell you–the busiest moms around–to do 2 impossible things: stop and make some time. But wait! Don’t leave! We’re among those busiest moms just like you and we’ve learned that THIS really is a secret to creating balance. Stopping and making time are not easy for high achieving moms. But if you want something done, give it to a busy person.

              No Time To Stop

              Ok, time for some truth. Do you feel like it would be impossible for you to take a break–just long enough to put in place a different way of doing certain things–because your schedule is already so precariously balanced?

                Yes, your balance may be working, but it can work even better. Trust us on this. We’ve been where you are—keeping it together but knowing that one small thing could bring that carefully orchestrated schedule tumbling down in a heartbeat: a sick kid, an unexpected snow day, a bill you didn’t know was coming, a meeting that didn’t get put on the calendar.

                Mary went to the dentist earlier this year and shelled out SO much money for some work that she’d needed for awhile. She’s not even done paying it off yet, and when she went in for her six month check this week, they found a cavity and another crown with decay underneath. Another several appointments to cram into her schedule for a hefty price.

                I won’t sugarcoat this. It’s hard to make a change. Mary reminded me that it’s the devil you know. It’s easier to stick with what you know than to risk the unknown, even if you’re nearly certain the unknown would be better. Which is why stopping to make an OK system a really good system remains a secret—so few people are willing to do it.

                Making a change that will impact your whole family is daunting, but we guarantee it will be worth it in the long run. Nothing ever stays the same—it either gets better or it gets worse. We know what a difference it made when Mary and I were proactive and pushed through the fear and uncertainty to find a better way to manage our busy lives. Survival mode is no way to live.

                So, what would happen if you stopped? Now, I don’t mean stopping and telling your family they have to fend for themselves because you’re just done. Can’t do that because it would mean no groceries or clean clothes, kids would miss practices, permission slips wouldn’t get signed, neighborhood kids would have no ride for carpool. Those things need to be done.

                We’re not offering a magical solution to life responsibilities that aren’t going away. But I do want to challenge your thinking… I’m talking about mentally stopping to take stock, look at what’s working and what isn’t, and then make any necessary changes.

                But what happens if you don’t stop? Let’s face it…most of us just keep going, right? Everything continues in the same way because there’s not time to make a new plan. We stick with what’s familiar because it’s easier that way.

                But not stopping is also a choice, even if it’s a choice you don’t actively make. Not stopping is a choice to stay in survival mode.

                  Get Off The Bike

                  Here’s an analogy that was really pivotal for Mary and me: Imagine that your busy life is like you riding a bike—when you’re managing so many things in your busy lives, it’s easy to feel like you just have to keep going.

                  There’s too much to do, too many people to manage, too many activities to juggle, so you stay on the bike and pedal as fast as you can so you don’t lose any ground. It’s the rat race, the hamster wheel, that dreaded survival mode.

                  But it makes no sense to just ride this bike faster and faster. All the other things you’re doing–the new planner, the cooking hacks, the goal to simplify–are GOOD. They DO help you ride your bike faster.

                  Until there’s no faster.

                  Can't stop, won't stop, should stop - SALT effect

                    Get In The Car

                    What we’re proposing is a more fundamental shift. The secret to stopping and making time is a bigger picture solution to escaping survival mode. You need to get in the car. The car is easier to drive, it goes a lot faster and it uses your own energy more efficiently.

                    But the only way to get in the car—the better way!—is to get off the bike first. You don’t have to stop forever, not even for a long extended time. But long enough to figure out a better way. What’s really working for you and your family? What activities and relationships are really worth your time and effort? How can you look at your schedule with fresh eyes and decide what’s best for everyone?

                    Are you ready to get in the car even if it feels like a pretty big change? Remember…not choosing—moving along in the same patterns—is still choosing the bike. And if you stay there, you’ll never get where you really want to be.

                    Mary stopped 10 years ago when she switched careers. We both stopped and evaluated our family’s activities before we started SALT effect. Our lives are better, and we’re making these busiest years of life our best ones.

                    Secret #3 

                    You need a new and better decision-making system rooted in your values.

                    I’m going to let Mary tell you about this one, because she was not convinced this would actually work. Until she actually did it….

                    When Kristie presented this to me over a year ago, I’ll just admit I was skeptical. I care about my values, but I wasn’t convinced they were a key to keeping my busy and overwhelm in check. I’m a get-to-the point, practical person who doesn’t waste time doing things unless I clearly see how A gets me to B.

                    But Kristie won me over…and here’s how.

                    Take a cue from our favorite brands

                    Think about some of your favorite brands. The brands who are thriving today, like Apple or Coca-Cola, make their company values the foundation for everything else. They know what they stand for, and they use these values as guideposts to drive both their business decisions and build a strong company culture.

                      Easier Decision Making

                      When companies know their values, it makes their decisions simpler. Apple values innovation and individuality. When it filters decisions through these values, decisions about who to hire or whether to pursue a partnership or release a new product become easier. If it fits the company values, we do it. If it doesn’t, we don’t.

                      Or Wendy’s, headquartered in our hometown. One of Wendy’s values is “Give something back” and their focus is on foster care adoption because that’s the story of the founder, Dave Thomas–he also created the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. It tends to draw in customers and employees who share that value. Kristie’s family often chooses Wendy’s because adoption is an issue that hits home for them.

                      My family decided on family values last year, but Kristie and her husband chose values for the first time when their boys were babies – so I’ll use her as the example since she can see the impact over the longer-term. Their values are: faith, family, education, service and travel.

                      Their values guided decisions about whether the boys would play travel sports. Or if so, should they look for the most competitive teams? Both of her boys have played, but they chose clubs that have lower fees, reasonable practice schedules, and local travel. They didn’t want to miss Sunday mornings at church (faith) or eliminate vacations because of the cost or schedule of sports (travel).

                      The decisions were right for her family because it aligned with their values and intentional. It is so easy to just go with the flow, making ad-hoc decisions as they come up and moving in a direction that ultimately can land you and your family somewhere other than where you wanted to be. Your values are specific to your family. Travel is on my list and hospitality might be on yours. My finances tend to go toward travel while yours may go toward home renovations. But the decisions on what to do are purposeful, and the indecision and worry and guilt are minimized.

                      A Sense of Purpose

                      Another reason companies spend so much time on their values is because it gives the company and all of its employees a sense of purpose…a reason for being. It’s the core of why they exist and the mark they want to leave on the world.

                        We all love Target, right? Two of Target’s values are Affordability and Diversity. This led Target to become a frontrunner in featuring more diverse models and sizes. Customers and employees who shared these values had an even bigger reason to work or shop there. They believe in what the company stands for.

                        One of the biggest things that spurred Kristie to talk to me about starting our business was how she felt when she looked at her family values. Her family was doing pretty well prioritizing 4 of the 5, but she realized they were lacking in service. That wasn’t okay with her, and she wondered if other families might feel the same way—knowing that it’s important to find ways to volunteer with their kids, but allowing that to be the thing that to get squeezed out of a busy schedule.

                        Serving others is one of the things that gives her family purpose, and they knew they weren’t doing it often enough. If it wasn’t one of the values, Kristie doesn’t know if she would have taken note and done something about it—even if in the back of her mind she thought it was probably important.

                        Sigler family values - SALT effect

                        My boys are now tweens, so we redid our family values with their input.

                        A New And Better Way

                        Secret #3 is one of my favorites because it has been absolutely life-changing for my family! You need a new and better system that’s rooted in your values. We know that successful brands have clearly defined values that guide and simplify decision making, and give employees a greater sense of purpose.

                        If this is all true, WHY don’t we identify core values in our marriages and families? I mean, think about it! Wouldn’t you love to be confident about the decisions you make, and make them more easily? Wouldn’t it be easier–and a heck of a lot more satisfying–to have a process for making decisions big and small in your family that you really feel good about? Here, again, is why this is a secret. It’s a difference maker that not everyone considers doing–or stops long enough to make TIME to do.

                        But you must be willing. Or you wouldn’t still be reading.

                        If you want to dig in even more, we’d love to teach you step-by-step how to create a life-changing system for your family that’s rooted in your values–something specific to you.

                        At this point, the way I see it, you have 2 options:

                        1. You don’t make a plan to get off the bike and into the car and you’re in the same place this time next year, with older kids, busier schedules and less time together as a family.
                        2. You 100% commit to creating a life-changing system for your family THIS YEAR using a proven framework.

                        If you’re ready to create a life-changing system rooted in YOUR values to control the busy in your family’s life, and you want a road map, you’re invited to our

                        Good Busy, Bad Busy Workshop!

                        It’s the only program of its kind that doesn’t see busyness as a problem to be solved, but gives busy moms a framework to create the busy that works best for them and delivers long-term changes instead of surface-level improvements.

                        Good Busy, Bad Busy Workshop - SALT effect online course for busy moms

                        We’re moms, just like you. We don’t have super powers. We don’t have access to exclusive experts or magical formulas or resources. We just have a proven road map based on years of teaching young people and parenting our own kids. If we can do it, SO CAN YOU.

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