NextGen Collective: What Cleaning Teaches Us About Goals

According to Michele Cantos, our mothers' Saturday morning cleaning rituals have more power than we ever thought

Do you remember how much you’d look forward to Saturdays as a kid? You’d be excited to sleep in and not go to school—only for your mom to wake you up with loud salsa, merengue, or rancheras, and hand you a broom so you could join her in her weekly cleaning ritual.

Decades later, you may still wake up early on Saturdays, select a “Music Latina Moms Cleaned to on Saturday Mornings” playlist on Spotify, and continue the ritual as a way to preserve that part of our culture.

But Mamá was clearly onto something else.

The truth is that while us Latino kids may not have enjoyed helping our moms clean on a weekend morning, that weekly ritual just might be the answer to meeting many of our personal and professional goals.

During a time in our lives when we are all spending more time at home, socially distancing, and facing professional uncertainty, we could all use better habits and better ways to meet our goals—and maybe even a way to finally conquer those New Year’s resolutions we made earlier this year. Achieving goals ultimately comes down to changing our habits, and neuroscience and psychology (in addition to our Latina moms) prove it.

Take, for example, The Power of Habit by journalist Charles Duhigg. Habits are powerful, he explains, because they strengthen over time, become automatic, and even come to shape your identity. Our mothers made the habit of cleaning even more powerful by making it consistent (same time and place), providing accountability (waking us up and, perhaps, dragging us out of bed), and enhancing the overall experience through the dopamine-releasing effects of good music, family bonding, and the satisfaction having of a clean home at the end.

Then you’ve got author James Clear, who argues in his book Atomic Habits that getting 1 percent better every day (or, in our mothers’ cases, every week) through small but consistent improvements can transform your life.

So, how can this information and your past cleaning experiences help you today?

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Answer: If your New Year’s resolution or goal for 2021 was to quit your job but you’re not sure what to do next or don’t feel confident, consider all of the small habits you could introduce into your life to get you closer to your goal. For instance, you could start by initiating LinkedIn conversations with professionals at companies where you want to work. You could block off time to do this, such as your Friday lunch hour, and reward yourself with your favorite lunch. If you struggle to keep yourself accountable, find a friend who is also job searching and use Zoom calls to keep each other accountable.

As you repeat these habits, you may make new contacts, hear of job openings, get referrals, and boost your confidence to apply to and secure that dream job. Your identity may also shift from being the person who is unhappy with their job to the person who is a savvy networker. For me, this example illustrates the huge difference between setting resolutions and building habits. One may get you a job, but the other helps you build an impactful career.

So instead of being disappointed that your 2021 resolutions or goals are not panning out as you planned, I invite you to flip your thinking and focus on building new and better habits. Only through consistent, habitual action will you get closer to your goal—and when that beautiful day comes, make sure to call your mom and thank her for setting such a great example.

Michele Cantos Michelle Cantos has nearly a decade of international working experience in the US, EU, and Latin America—first as a public relations specialist, then as a program manager for a prestigious fellowship, and now as managing director at a coding bootcamp where they train career changers on the skills required to land their dream tech jobs.

She speaks and writes about leadership, the future of work, and diversity, equity, and inclusion at places like Uber, General Assembly, LMHQ, the Anita Borg Institute, and Hispanic Executive’s millennial brand, NextGen Collective.

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NextGen Collective: Ditch Your New Year’s Resolutions (and Try This Instead)