Do You Have a Favorite Image for Falling Asleep?

“I once had a favourite image for falling asleep…After waiting a minute or two before switching off my lamp, collecting awareness so that I would fully appreciate the embrace of darkness, I turned face downwards, sprawled my arms and legs, and my bed became a raft which floated me out onto the sea of night. It produced a sensation of luxury; the more seductive for being enlivened by an almost imperceptible thread of risk.”

Somewhere Towards the End: a Memoir, Diana Athill

I love this image.

To go to sleep, I often imagine that my alarm is about to go off. Thinking that I must get out of bed helps me feel tired.

Do you have a favorite image that helps you fall asleep?

Frequently Asked Question: How Do I Read So Much?

I have a new habit that I truly love: every Sunday night, I post a photo on my Facebook Page of all the books I’ve read that week. Doing this gives me enormous satisfaction.

Because of my also-fairly-new habit of quitting any book I don’t enjoy, if you see a book in the photo, it means that I enjoyed it enough to finish it.  No matter when I started a book, I post its picture for the week that I finished it.

Some weeks I read very little; some weeks, I read a lot. I often read several books at one time (a habit I picked up from my husband).

On weeks when I’ve read a lot, people often ask, “How do you read so much?” Some people have even accused me of…not telling the truth. Which I find hilarious, I must say. If you look at the books pictured, you can just tell that I’m telling the truth.

But here’s the thing: I have no idea when or how I read.

I feel like I have no time to read. In fact, when I was working on Better Than Before, I tried to keep a time log to track when I read. And somehow, I could never manage to pull that off.

I did come up with all sorts of habits to help me read more. I stopped finishing books I don’t like, as mentioned; I do “Study Reading” every weekend; I put reading time on my schedule.

But still, I feel like I’m never reading.

I do know that I get more reading done when I’m traveling.

And I read more when I’m going through one of my periodic obsessions — such as my recent obsession with May Sarton’s journals, or memoirs of people about their dogs, or the novels of Sharon Shinn (still working on that one).

And my reading is also influenced by my writing. I read a lot more when I’m in the research phase for a book; on the other hand, when I’m doing heavy writing or editing, I tend to read less, or to read less challenging books.

I’m not trained as a speed reader, but I must read fairly fast.

I check out books from the library, and I think that helps me keep up my pace; I feel like I have to keep pushing ahead, or they’ll become overdue.

Unlike many people, I almost never read much before I turn out the light. By the time I’m in bed, I’m ready to go to sleep. However, I love to read in bed at any other time of day.

I keep lists of books that I want to read, so I often have an almost panicky sense of wanting to read more, more, more.

For me, reading a book often counts as a “billable hour” –when  it’s a book that supports my writing or thinking, it doesn’t count as pure leisure. It’s easier to justify reading during the work day when that’s true.

So I don’t have a very satisfying answer to the question. I’m unsatisfied by my answer to that question. When the heck do I read? I feel like I never read, and yet I see that yes, books do get read. It’s a real mystery to me.

What are your secrets and tricks for getting more reading done? I’d love to know. And if you want to read more about reading more, here are 13 tips for getting more reading done. You may also enjoy Daniel Pennac’s 10 inalienable rights of the reader.

 

Podcast 50: Ask For a Favor, Cooperation vs. Competition, and I Struggle with My Daughter’s Ear-Piercing Request.

It’s time for the next installment of  “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

Update: We’re still basking in the glow of the live event.

Try This at Home: Ask for a favor.

Know Yourself Better:  Do you prefer to cooperate or compete?

Listener Question: Fiona asks, “How can I manage dealing with all the interesting articles and recipes that I cut out from the paper?” Elizabeth and I address this — and what are your suggestions?

 Gretchen’s Demerit: My sixteen-year-old daughter Eliza wanted to get more piercings in her ears. I didn’t handle it well.  If you want to hear Eliza’s perspective on the ear-piercing episode, you can listen to her excellent podcast, Eliza Starting at 16, episode 6. Yes, she has her own podcast!ElizaStartingat16logo

 Elizabeth’s Gold Star: Elizabeth gives Michelle a gold star  for her empathetic gaze during a mindfulness exercise.

 

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Happier with Gretchen Rubin - Podcast #50

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Agree, Disagree? “Forming New Habits Can Actually Be Fun.”

Interview: Chris Bailey.

I learned about Chris’s fascinating work through a mutual blogger friend, the wonderful Neil Pasricha. Chris has a blog, and he’s written a book about the project he did, to spend a year experimenting on himself to figure out to be more…productive. So of course I was intrigued! His book, The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy, recently hit the shelves.

It was very interesting for me to hear his views, because in so many ways we took different approaches to changing our habits — which is a great example of my core belief about habits, that to change our habits, we must all figure out what works for us. For instance, I changed my eating habits completely, overnight; for Chris, making small, incremental changes worked. And of course I abandoned meditation! Which is his most essential habit.

Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating thinking. What’s the most significant thing you’ve concluded on the subject of habits and productivity?

Chris: Like you, I see forming new habits as a way of leveling up to become more productive automatically. Of course, habits take energy and willpower to form. But when we form the right habits for the right reasons, all of that effort becomes worthwhile.

So much of my work focuses on which habits make us the most productive. In the short-run, productive habits can be a challenge to implement, but in the long-run they pay incredible dividends.

What’s the one habit you couldn’t live without?

By a wide margin, my daily meditation ritual. Right next to the desk in my office, I keep a meditation cushion, and meditate for 30 minutes every day—I’ve had this practice for years, since starting university.

Hardly any habit allows me to become more productive than my daily meditation ritual—despite how strange that may sound on the surface.

I think the connection between meditation and productivity is simple. Meditation has been shown to help you bring more focus to what’s in front of you in the moment, and resist distractions and temptations, and this lets you get the same amount of stuff done in less time. I’m personally not a fan of the word “efficiency” as far as productivity is concerned; I think it reduces it down to something that feels cold and corporate. But there’s really no better word here: when you bring more focus to your work, you accomplish more in less time. Meditation helps you spend your time more efficiently. You can easily make back the time you spend meditating in increased productivity, especially if your work requires a lot of brainpower.

I don’t think productivity is about doing more, faster—I see it as spending time on the right things, and working more intentionally, so you can accomplish more. This is what makes meditation, and mindfulness for that matter, so powerful. I wouldn’t trade the practice for anything!

What other habits are most important to you—that you’ve found indispensable for your creativity and productivity?

One of the most exciting parts about my productivity project was how I got the chance to play around with so many habits, to see which ones led me to accomplish more (regardless of how difficult they were to implement at the time!) On top of my meditation ritual, a few I wouldn’t give up for anything are:

  • Defining three daily intentions. My favorite daily productivity ritual is to, every morning, step back and consider what three main things I’ll want to have accomplished by the time the workday is done. It’s a simple ritual, but setting these intentions gives me a guiding light for when $%* hits the fan throughout the day, which it often does. It also lets me step back, if only for a few minutes, to think about what’s important. I see intention behind our actions as like the wood behind the arrow. I maintain a to-do list, too, but this simple rule helps me work that much more intentionally, and flip of autopilot mode for a few minutes to consider what’s most important.
  • Disconnecting from the internet. Whenever I want to hunker down on something important, I almost always disconnect from the internet. This was hard at first, but the habit has paid incredible productivity dividends with time. I also wrote most of my book while disconnected from the internet, which I think is one of the main reasons I was able to ship it six weeks ahead of schedule! One study found that we spend an average of 47% of our time on the internet procrastinating. I’ve found totally disconnecting to be another great way to accomplish more in less time.
  • Single-tasking. Doing just one thing at a time is a less stimulating way of working compared to multitasking. But the research on multitasking is conclusive: we totally suck at it, and multitasking invariably makes us less productive. I don’t see productivity as how busy we are—I see it as how much we accomplish. That’s what we’re left with at the end of the day. Just because you’re busy doesn’t mean you’re productive, and this is especially the case with multitasking. Even though I prefer to multitask, I work on just one thing at a time most of the day, because the practice lets me get so much more done. It’s not even close!

 

What’s something you know now about forming healthy habits that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

That forming new habits can actually be fun. Like so many people, as I’ve tried to shoehorn habits into my life in the past, I just became harder on myself in the process. But that idea runs counter to why we form new habits in the first place: most of us make new habits to turn ourselves into a better, more productive human beings, and being hard on ourselves in the process runs counter to that. The kinder I’ve become on myself while forming new habits, the more they’ve stuck. I’ve had some fun with this, and over time have started to do things like:

  • Reward myself, usually with a tasty meal of some sort when reaching a milestone with my goals.
  • Find social support when making big changes (like finding workout buddies).
  • Shrink habits so they’re not as intimidating. For example, if the thought of working out puts me off, I’ll shrink how long I’ll go for until I’m no longer intimidated by the habit. (E.g. Can I work out for 60 minutes today? Naw, the though of it puts me off. 45 minutes? Nope, still not going to do it. 30 mins? That actually isn’t so bad—I’ll only hit the gym for 30 minutes today.)
  • Making an actual plan to form a habit, so I’m not trying to shoehorn it into my life. I realize that this is pretty lame advice, because on some level everyone knows they should do this, but yet hardly anyone does. For me, the only habits that have stuck have been the ones I’ve thought through in detail. But this could also be because I’m a pretty big Questioner

 

Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

My biggest weakness is definitely food—out of all of the things in the world, food is one of my favorites. From the time I wake up to the time I go to bed, I’m thinking about it. I’m even thinking about it as we’re chatting right now. But in my experimentation I’ve found that what we eat can have a profound affect on our energy levels and productivity—especially when we eat too much, or we eat too much processed food. (Most of us have experienced that feeling of having almost no energy in the afternoon after a massive, unhealthy lunch.)

The best way I’ve found to change my habits around food that were so ingrained—like eating too much, eating too much processed food, and eating when I was stressed out— has been to chip away at these habits over time.

In my opinion, the best diet in the world is the exact one you have already, but with one small, incremental improvement. Making incremental improvements is one of the best ways I’ve found to become healthier; because the changes are small, they won’t intimidate you once your initial motivation runs out. I’ve found this to especially be the case with habits so ingrained. Changes become habits so much faster when they’re not intimidating!

One of my favorite quotes is from Bill Gates, who said that we have the tendency to “overestimate what we can do in one year, and underestimate what we can do in ten years.” I think this holds true for our habits, and our productivity, too. Over time, incremental improvements add up.

Revealed! Book Club Choices for February. Happy Reading!

Because nothing boosts happiness more than a great book, each month, I suggest:

  • one outstanding book about happiness or habits
  • one outstanding work of children’s or young-adult literature–I have a crazy passion for kidlit
  • one eccentric pick–a widely admired and excellent book that I love, yes, but one that may not appeal to everyone

Shop at IndieBound, BN.com, or Amazon (I’m an affiliate), or your favorite local bookstore. Or my favorite, visit the library! Drumroll…

A book about happiness, good habits, or human nature:

Here Is New York by E. B. White

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon.

 

An outstanding children’s book:

Baby Island  by Carol Ryrie Brink

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon.

 

An eccentric pick:

Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon.

 

Some readers have said that they wished that I’d describe and make the case for my book choices, instead of just providing links. I’ve noticed that many times, when someone describes a book to me, I want to read it less. And often, weirdly, the better a book is, the worse it sounds.

Nevertheless, because so many readers have requested it, I’ve decided to give a bit more context for these choices in the book-club newsletter. So if you’d like to know more about why I made these selections, check there. To get that free monthly book-club newsletter, and to make sure you don’ t miss any recommendations, sign up here.

In any event, I assure you that, for all the books I choose, I love them; I’ve read them at least twice if not many times; and they’re widely admired.

If you read last month’s recommendations…what did you think?