Manhattan self-help guru and author Karen Salmansohn (“self-help for people who wouldn’t be caught dead doing self-help”) considers herself “a proud Jewish mom” first and foremost. So when the author of the bestselling “Instant Happy” embarked on “Think Happy“—an illustrated book with 50 inspirational pep talks—she originally intended it to be a parenting book. It turned into something broader, with catchy affirmations (she used to be in advertising) for any circumstance. But lots of them are hard-won parenting lessons.

Confronted with an explosive diaper? A child who won’t stop wailing? Utter these four mantras to yourself before embarking on any challenge:

“Every expert started out as a beginner.”
Nobody comes into this parenting thing as a wizard, despite what some holier-than-thou message-board warriors might have you believe. We’ve all entrapped ourselves in overpriced “carrying devices,” been unable to soothe a crying child or made an unrecognizable dinner that absolutely nobody would eat.

“Don’t compare yourself to supermoms: At the very beginning, we’re all newbies. As my son learned new things, so did I. This lesson can apply to anything from breast-feeding to diapers. Do what feels right with your kid. That takes time,” she says. And just remember: With every parenting milestone comes a new opportunity to feel like a total amateur. Think you’ve mastered the Terrible Twos? Soon enough, your kid will turn 3. Roll with it.

Salm_Think Happy
(Courtesy Ten Speed Press/Berkeley)

“Practice is how you learn.”
“No matter how many books you read, practice is really how you learn,” Salmansohn says. From sleep habits to learning how to hold your baby without breaking your back, some things have to be experienced to be understood. And that’s OK.

“Fear is nature’s caffeine.”
As Salmansohn says: “Fear has allowed people to lift a car off a child. It can give parents super-energy.” It’s OK to be afraid! In our culture, we tend to avoid and run from fear, as if it’s a measure of our inadequacy. Embrace it instead. “Fear does make you more energized, it really does. Exciting things are scary, and scary things can be exciting—and even brave people feel fear,” she says. So next time you confront a parenting dilemma, whether it involves having another child or moving to a new town or going back to work, follow Salmansohn’s advice: “Focus your mind on two things: what you want to achieve and why you know you can achieve it. Those two things can help you conquer fear.”

“It’s easier to be a saint for 15 minutes than an hour.”
Salmansohn subscribes to the 15-minute rule: It’s easier to form a good habit by doing it for 15 minutes instead of committing to a longer chunk of time. (The Japanese call this “kaizen.”) It’s simpler to build into your schedule and therefore easier to make stick—whether it’s 15 minutes on an exercise bike while your kid naps, 15 minutes of meditation before you roll out of bed in the morning or a 15-minute walk around the block while pushing a stroller. Keep repeating these short rituals, because over time you’ll strengthen your brain’s neural pathways and toughen up your willpower muscles, she says.

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