My current emphasis: how to make good habits and break bad ones (really)

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Video: For Habits, the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting.

I’m doing a video series in which I discuss the various strategies that we can use for habit-formation.

Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life, and a significant element of happiness. If we have habits that work for us, we’re much more likely to be happy, healthy, productive, and creative.

My forthcoming book, Better Than Before, describes the multiple strategies we can exploit to change our habits. To pre-order, click here. (Pre-orders give a real boost to a book, so if you’re inclined to buy the book, I’d really appreciate it if you pre-order it.)

Today, I’m talking about the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting.

I have to say, this was my favorite chapter. The loopholes are so funny.


If you want to read more about a particular category of loophole, look here:

1. False choice loophole “I can’t do this, because I’m so busy doing that” – this is one I often use, myself

2. Moral licensing loophole  — “I’ve been so good, it’s okay for me to do this”

3. Tomorrow loophole — “It’s okay to skip today, because I’m going to do this tomorrow”

4. Lack of control loophole — “I can’t help myself”

5. Planning to fail loophole, formerly known as the “Apparently irrelevant decision loophole”

6. “This doesn’t count” loophole – “I’m on vacation” “I’m sick” “It’s the weekend”

7. Questionable assumption loophole

8. Concern for others loophole — “I can’t do this because it might make other people uncomfortable”

9. Fake self-actualization loophole – “You only live once! Embrace the moment!”

10. One-coin loophole“What difference does it make if I break my habit this one time?”

If you’re curious about the book I mention, The Boy Castaways of Black Lake Island, I write about it here.

What’s your favorite loophole?

I've just finished writing my next book, Better Than Before, about how we can make and break our habits. If you'd like to pre-order the book, click here.

See for Yourself! The Jacket for “Better Than Before” Is Revealed.

better_front_FINAL.inddIn the life of a book, there are many milestones.

Finishing the first draft, choosing the title, making the final edit — and figuring out the jacket art.

We’ve all heard “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but covers matter so much. The look of a book really influences our perception.

So, it’s a big moment for me to reveal the book jacket for Better Than Before, my book about how we can change our habits. Ta-da!

If you get my newsletter, daily quotations, book club recommendations, or you’re a Super-Fan, you got a preview. But now I’m unveiling it to the world.

Pay special attention to the star shapes. See how they suggest the formation of a habit? I must say, having the jacket makes the book feel much more real. It’s really about to go out into the world, at last.

I love the jacket, and I hope you do, too, but if you don’t — please don’t tell me. This ship has sailed.

Right now, I’m also finishing the “second pass pages,” which is my very last chance to make any edits. I’m handing that in on Wednesday, and then my work on the book is FINISHED. It’s exciting, but also nerve-wracking. I edit, edit, edit, and it’s hard for me to put down my pen and say that it’s done. Of course, it’s also a huge relief. For better or for worse,  Better Than Before will be finished on Wednesday.

Then it will be onward to March 17, 2015.

The book comes out in March, but f you’re inclined to buy it, it would be a big help to me if you pre-order it now. The way that book publishing works these days, pre-orders really matter. Booksellers, the media, other readers, the publisher, all pay a lot of attention to that number. So buy early and often! So many people have already pre-ordered, and I appreciate that so much.

Many people have asked me whether I’ll read the audio-book myself. Yes,  I will. Last time I did a recording, for The Happiness Project, I learned that I’d been mispronouncing “gimcrack” all my life. Who knows what I’ll find out this time?

To give you a taste of Better Than Before, here’s my Habits Manifesto:

  • What we do every day matters more than what we do once in a while.
  • Make it easy to do right and hard to go wrong.
  • Focus on actions, not outcomes.
  • By giving something up, we may gain. (For instance, with the Strategy of Abstaining.)
  • Things often get harder before they get easier.
  • When we give more to ourselves, we can ask more from ourselves. (The most fun strategy–Strategy of Treats.)
  • We’re not very different from other people, but those differences are very important.
  • It’s easier to change our surroundings than ourselves.
  • We can’t make people change, but when we change, others may change. (Strategy of Other People.)
  • We should make sure the things we do to feel better don’t make us feel worse.
  • We manage what we monitor. (Strategy of Monitoring.)
  • Once we’re ready to begin, begin now.


Agree, disagree?

My argument, in a nutshell: There are no one-size-fits-all solutions; to change our habits, we first have to figure out ourselves. When we identify key aspects of our nature — which is what Better Than Before does — we can tailor a habit to suit our particular idiosyncrasies, and that way, we set ourselves up for success.

Better than before! It’s what we all want.

Dear readers, thank you, as always, for your enthusiasm and support. Better Than Before is so much richer and more insightful (I hope) than it would have been if I hadn’t had the benefit of the brilliant insights and comments from readers.

How to End This Sentence? “There Is Certainly No Greater Happiness Than To…”


How would you end that sentence? Here’s how Dr. Johnson completed it:

“There is certainly no greater happiness than to be able to look back on a life usefully and virtuously employed, to trace our own progress in existence by such tokens that excite neither shame nor sorrow.”

–Samuel Johnson, “Rambler No. 41,” August 7, 1750

I love the work of Samuel Johnson. I was looking back through the draft of Better Than Before, my book about habit change, and I realized that I’d quoted him several times — and I cut out several more quotations, as well. (To pre-order Better Than Before, click here.)

What authors do you find yourself quoting most often?

Buddhism has 8 “Auspicious Symbols.” What Are Your Symbols?

conch-shellEvery Wednesday is List Day, or Tip Day, or Quiz Day.

This Wednesday (well, Friday, I forgot to hit “publish”): What are your “auspicious symbols?”

I love numbered lists. My 12 Personal Commandments. My 8 Splendid Truths. The 10 Myths about happiness. The Essential 7 of Habits.

Buddhism has many numbered lists—the Triple Refuge, the Noble Eightfold Path, the Four Noble Truths—which is surprising to me, given Buddhism’s emphasis on gateless gates and transcending the bounds of rational thinking.

There’s a koan to be written about that paradox, for sure. (Along with numbered lists, I love koans.) Let’s see…how about, “Use numbers to throw away enumeration.”

I particularly love Buddhism’s eight auspicious symbols:

1. Parasol
2. Golden fish
3. Treasure vase
4. Lotus
5. Conch shell
6. Endless knot
7. Victory banner
8. Wheel of Dharma

I made up a list of my seven auspicious symbols:

1. Bluebird (of course)
2. Ruby slippers (what I want is already within my grasp)
3. Dice (chance and fortune)
4. Blood (hard to explain: diabetes, hepatitis C, St. Therese of Lisieux)
5. Gold star (my right actions are their own reward)
6. Holstein cow (my family, Kansas City)
7. Peacock feather (symbols beyond words)

This is so satisfying, I could keep going with more symbols. How about you? What would you choose for your auspicious symbols, and why?

Secrets of Adulthood: Nothing Is More Exhausting Than the Task That’s Never Started.

Further Secrets of Adulthood:



Agree, disagree?

For the research for my forthcoming book about habit change, Better Than Before, I asked people about the habits they most wanted to change. I found that most habits fall into the “Essential Seven“:

1. Eat and drink more healthfully (give up sugar, eat more vegetables, drink less alcohol)
2. Exercise regularly
3. Save, spend, and earn wisely (save regularly, pay down debt, donate to worthy causes, stick to a budget)
4. Rest, relax, and enjoy (stop watching TV in bed, turn off a cell phone, spend time in nature, cultivate silence, get enough sleep, spend less time in the car)
5. Accomplish more, stop procrastinating (practice an instrument, work without interruption, learn a language, maintain a blog)
6. Simplify, clear, clean, and organize (make the bed, file regularly, put keys away in the same place, recycle)
7. Engage more deeply in relationships—with other people, with God, with the world (call friends, volunteer, spend more time with family, attend religious services)

Note #5. Finding habits that help fight procrastination can be very, very helpful. Because as exhausting as it may be to start that key project, it’s even more exhausting to keep putting off starting that key project.

Do you agree with the Essential Seven? Did I overlook anything important?

Better Than Before is now ready for pre-order. If you’re inclined to buy the book, pre-ordering is a big help to me. Pre-orders create real buzz among booksellers, librarians, the media, and publishers. Buy early, buy often!