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

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Which of These 8 Types Describes You, as You Relate to Your Environment?

natural-scenesEvery Wednesday is List Day, Tip Day, or Quiz Day.

This Wednesday: Which of these 8 types describes how you relate to your physical environment?

I’ve been reading Brian Little’s interesting book, Me, Myself, and Us: the Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being.

Among other things, he discusses various  frameworks for understanding people’s different traits.

I’d never heard about the “Environmental Response Inventory” before, and found it very compelling. Created by George McKechnie, this set of traits is meant to identify the way that people are oriented toward their everyday physical environments.

They say there are two types of people: those who love dividing the world into two types of people, and those who don’t. I love dividing the world into categories. Abstainers and moderators. Radiators and drains. Leopards and alchemists.  Under-buyers and over-buyers. Eeyores and Tiggers. And, of course, my favorite of all, the Four Tendencies.

Of course, using these kinds of categories is very simplistic, but often they help me to understand some hidden aspect of myself — or other people — better.

Does reading this inventory give you better insight into your own nature? Do you find yourself described by:


  • Display sensitivity to pure environmental experience, opposition to land development, appreciation of open space, and preservation of natural resources
  • Accept natural forces as shapers of human life
  • Endorse self-sufficiency in the natural environment



  • Enjoy high-density living
  • Appreciate the unusual and varied stimulation of urban areas
  • Take an interest in cultural life and enjoy the richness of human diversity


Environmental Adaptation

  • Regard the environment primarily as providing comfort, leisure, and satisfaction of human needs, and endorse modification of the environment to achieve those ends
  • Endorse private land use and the use of technology to solve problems
  • Prefer stylized environmental details

Stimulus Seeking

  • Express great interest in travel and exploration of unusual places
  • Enjoy intense and complex physical sensations and display a great breadth of interests

Environmental Trust

  • Responsive, trusting, and open to the environment, and have a sense of competence in navigating the surroundings
  • Relatively unconcerned about their security and are comfortable being alone and unprotected



  • Enjoy antiques and historical places and have a preference for traditional vs. modern design
  • Have an aesthetic sensitivity to well-crafted environments, landscape, and cultural artifacts of earlier years
  • Have a tendency to collect objects for their emotional significance


Need for Privacy

  • Strong need for physical isolation from stimuli and distraction
  • Enjoy solitude and dislike extensive contact with their neighbors


Mechanical Orientation

  • Interested in how things work and in mechanics in its various forms
  • Enjoy working with their own hands and have an interest in technological processes and basic principles of science.


It’s easy to see from this list how people might have trouble agreeing on where and how to live, or on what values to pursue.  A “pastoralist” and an “environmental adaptation” both might love nature, but have very different ideas about how best to engage with nature.

Can you find yourself in this list? Do you fit in more than one category? Seems to me as if they might overlap. For instance, for my fellow Parks and Recreation fans, I think Ron Swanson would be environmental adaptation/environmental trust/antiquarianism/need for privacy/mechanical orientation.

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.

Secret of Adulthood: Take Yourself Less Seriously–and Take Yourself More Seriously.

Further Secrets of Adulthood:



When it comes to human nature, paradoxes abound.

Accept myself, and expect more from myself.

I’m very like other people, and very different from other people. (This was one of my key insights about habit-change, in Better Than Before.)

Use my time efficiently, yet also make time to play, to wander, to read at whim, to fail.

Keep an empty shelf, and keep a junk drawer. (Want to see my empty shelf? Look here.)

Work can be play, and play can be work.

Think about myself so I can forget myself.

Do you find it harder to take yourself seriously, or not to take yourself too seriously?

Why Today Is a Huge Milestone For Me.

BetterThanBeforeSecondPassWeirdly,  as an author, it’s hard to say when a book is “done.”

I finish the first complete draft — then it’s “done.”

But then I do endless numbers of edits. Then that’s done, and I send it to my editor.

Then it goes through several stages, of which the last is “second pass pages.” That is the last time I can make a change to the book — and if I make a change, it had better be pretty small.

At this point, the book is in almost final form. It looks like the book (it’s a huge morale booster to see the text formatted to look like an actual book).

When I send back those “second pass pages,” my work is completed.

The design of the book is still being tweaked, and the copy for the jacket is still be tweaked, and there are a few corrections to be made (for instance, this second pass had a blank the section where my author bio was supposed to be), but now my work on the substance of the book is done.

It’s unnerving, but also a relief. No more edits! No more tinkering!

It was strange to take a photo of that pile of pages, and know — well, this is it.  (The “AU” means “author,” to show that any edits are from the author.)

I have to say, this book was hard to write. All my books are challenging — happiness is a challenging subject, Churchill, all of them — but this was particularly challenging.

So much information, all so fascinating. How could I fit it all in? At one point, the book was 140,000 words long, and I’d cut it way back to get there. Now it’s about 80,ooo. And believe me, it’s much, much better being shorter. I didn’t lose any ideas, I just expressed myself much more concisely.

A lot of people ask my how I do my research.

I read a ton of science and studies — and I read a lot of novels, biographies, and memoirs, and spend a lot of time talking to the people around me, about their habits.

In fact, I spend most of my time trying to understand what’s happening right in front of me. Samuel Johnson said, “Men and women are my subjects of inquiry,” and that’s how I feel.

With this book, I wanted to make new ideas about habits feel familiar, and I also wanted to make familiar ideas feel new and fresh.

My hope is that Better Than Before will give readers the thrill of recognition and relief, because at last, we have the vocabulary and framework to change our habits successfully.

For better or worse, my work on Better Than Before is done.  Zoikes! It’s hard to believe.

Do you ever feel a kind of shock or listlessness descend, when you finish a big project? I still have a ton of work to do around the publication of the book, so I’m as busy as always; but that main task is behind me. And that feels…odd.

Fill in the Blank: “The Mind Is So Rarely Disturbed But That __ Will Restore It to Tranquility.”

AdamSmith“The mind…is rarely so disturbed, but that the company of a friend will restore it to some degree of tranquility and sedateness.”

–Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments

Agree, disagree?

Ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists agree: strong relationships are a key to happiness. We usually get a little lift from engaging with other people.

Here’s My Habits Manifesto. What’s Yours?

BlackboardwithchalktrayEvery Wednesday is List Day, or Tip Day, or Quiz Day.

This Wednesday: My Habits Manifesto.

Writing a personal manifesto is a great exercise for clarifying your thinking — and it’s also a creative, absorbing process. I’ve written my Twelve Personal Commandments, and I also collect Secrets of Adulthood, which aren’t manifestos, but related to the same impulse.

As I’ve been writing Better Than Before, my book about how we make and break habits, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about habit-formation.

I decided I should write my manifesto for habits. Earlier, I’d done a similar exercise, where I distilled each strategy of the book into one sentence, and I also made a list of Secrets of Adulthood for Habits.

Voila, 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.

Things often get harder before they get easier.

When we give more to ourselves, we can ask more from ourselves.

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.

 We should make sure the things we do to feel better don’t make us feel worse.

 We manage what we monitor.

 Once we’re ready to begin, begin now.

Have you ever written your own manifesto? If you wrote a manifesto for habits, what would you add (or subtract)?

When I’m writing about a very big subject, I find it helpful to push myself to distill it. Trying to express an idea in very few words forces me to get very clear in my thinking.

In Books and Characters French and English, Lytton Strachey wrote, “Perhaps the best test of a man’s intelligence is his capacity for making a summary.” I’m not sure whether I agree with that, but I absolutely agree that making a summary is a great way to clarify thoughts.

To pre-order Better Than Before, click here.