Do You Have an Image that Calms You? Like a Clock During a Thunderstorm.

“Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened, but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm.”
-Robert Louis Stevenson

I love this image, and often recall it to my mind when I feel anxious or harried.

Do you have an image that calms you?

Trying to Change a Habit? Beware These 5 Traps.

Today is Tip Day: Avoid five habit traps that can destroy your good habits.

In my book Better Than Before, I describe the multiple strategies we can exploit to change our habits. Habits — the most fascinating subject ever.

One thing I observed is that when we’re trying to master our habits, it’s important to be aware of the justifications or arguments that we sometimes invoke that interfere with keeping a good habit.

They slip in so easily and quickly, it can be hard to spot them. Be on the look-out for these five popular lines of thoughts:

1. Thinking, “Well, now that I’ve slipped up and broken my good habit, I might as well go all the way.”

I remind myself, “A stumble may prevent a fall.” Because of the colorfully named “what the hell” phenomenon, a minor stumble often becomes a major fall; once a good behavior is broken, we act as though it doesn’t matter whether it’s broken by a little or a lot. “I didn’t do any work this morning, so what the hell, I’ll take the rest of the week off and start on Monday.” “I missed my yoga class over spring break, so what the hell, I’ll start again in the fall.” It’s important to try to fail small, not big.

2. Thinking, “If I really beat myself up when I break a good habit, I’ll do a better job of sticking to it.”

Although some people assume that strong feelings of guilt or shame act as safeguards to help people stick to good habits, the opposite is true. People who feel less guilt and who show compassion toward themselves in the face of failure are better able to regain self-control, while people who feel deeply guilty and full of self-blame struggle more. Often, when we feel bad about breaking a good habit, we try to make ourselves feel better by — indulging in the bad habit! A woman told me, “I felt so bad about breaking my diet that I ate three orders of french fries.” This is the cruel poetic justice of bad habits.

3. Thinking, “Sure, I’m not sticking to the habit that’s meant to keep me productive, but look how busy I am.”

Working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination.

4. Thinking, “Of course I usually stick to my good habits, but in this situation, I can’t be expected to keep it up.”

We’re all adults, and we can mindfully make exceptions to our good habits, but alas, everything counts.  Justifications like “It’s my birthday,” “I’m sick,” “It’s the weekend,” “I deserve it,” “I’ve been so good,” “You only live once,” are loopholes, meant to excuse us from responsibility. But nothing’s off the grid. Nothing stays in Vegas.

I love all the strategies in Better Than Before, they’re all powerful and fascinating, but I especially loved writing the chapter on the hilarious Strategy of Loophole-Spotting. We’re so ingenious of thinking of loopholes for ourselves!

5. Thinking, “I love my good habit so much, and I get so much satisfaction from it, that now it’s okay for me to break that habit.”

One danger point in habit-formation is the conviction that a habit has become so ingrained that we can safely violate it: “I love my morning writing sessions so much, I’d never give them up,” “I stopped eating cereal two years ago, so now it’s okay for me to eat it.” Unfortunately, even long-standing habits can be more fragile than they appear, so it pays not to get complacent.

What have I missed? What traps catch you, when you’re trying to keep a good habit?

Podcast 13: Stop Reading a Book, a Know-Yourself-Better Quiz, and the Trap of Free Stuff.

Time for the next episode of  “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

Always game to talk about her clutter issues, Elizabeth reports on the status of her closet, in the aftermath of our special clutter-clearing in episode 10. For better and after closet photos, look here. (Boy, I love before-and-afters.)

Also, many listeners responded to tell us how they “treat themselves,” which was the Try This at Home for episode 9. Excellent treats!

This week:

Try This at Home: Stop reading a book if you don’t enjoy it.  (If you want more ideas for reading better than before, check out this one-pager.)

Better Than Before Habit Strategy: This is the “Four Tendencies” Framework, which tells you whether you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel. Take this Quiz 170,000 people have taken it. I’m an Upholder; Elizabeth is an Obliger. As I mention, if you want to start an accountability group, here’s the starter kit.

Listener Question: “Do you have any tips about staying happy while slogging through dating?”

Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth fell prey to the allure of free stuff. Of course, it’s true, that some people would have been thrilled to get those items–and that free stuff is a problem that’s also a luxury. Absolutely. But for Elizabeth, taking the free stuff was a happiness mistake. Here are two photos: what she intended to buy, and what she brought home.

facecreamfacecreamwithstuff

Gretchen’s Gold Star: Having “weekly adventures” with my teenage daughter. I talk about this at some length in my book Happier at Home.

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors! Check out The Great Courses for a wide variety of fascinating courses. Special offer for our listeners: go to thegreatcourses.com/happier to order from eight of their bestselling courses, including Practicing Mindfulness: an Introduction to Meditation, and get up to 80% off. Limited time.

Also, thanks to Framebridge.com — a terrific way to get your art and photos framed, in a super easy and affordable way. Use the code HAPPIER at checkout to get 20% off your first Framebridge order. This ad includes a fun bonus flashback to the Closet-Clearing episode!

Want to get in touch? Email: podcast@gretchenrubin.com. Twitter: @gretchenrubin and @elizabethcraft. Call: 774-277-9336 (774 HAPPY 336).  Facebook Page. Or comment right here.

And we would love to hear from you — whether you stopped reading a book that didn’t interest you, whether it was helpful to know your “Tendency,” your questions, and any other comments.

To listen to this episode, just zip to the bottom of this post and hit the red “play” button.

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Want to know what to expect from other episodes of the podcast, when you listen toHappier with Gretchen Rubin?” We talk about how to build happier habits into everyday life, as we draw from cutting-edge science, ancient wisdom, lessons from pop culture—and our own experiences (and mistakes).  We’re sisters, so we don’t let each other get away with much!

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Secret of Adulthood: The Fun Part Doesn’t Come Later; Now Is the Fun Part

From Further Secrets of Adulthood.

I remind myself of this often.

For instance, when I’m writing a book, and I’m thinking of how nice it will be to have it published and out in the world, I remind myself, “Ah, but the research! The writing! The editing! These are the fun parts.”

My father often reminded my sister and me to “Enjoy the process.” It’s important, I’ve realized, because when you enjoy the process, you don’t depend on any particular outcome. (If you’d like to hear me and my sister discuss this, we talk about it in Episode 6 of the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast.)

I wrote about this Secret of Adulthood, in relationship to parenting, in my one-minute video, The Years Are Short. Of everything I’ve ever written, I think this short video resonates most with people.

How about you? Do you remind yourself that now is the fun part? And, of course, all we really have is now.

Have You Ever Felt a “Call” to Do a Certain Kind of Work?

Assay: A few weeks ago, my family and I went to see Sequence 8, a performance by Les 7 Doigts de la Main (7 Fingers, if your French is rusty).

It’s a performance that’s part circus, part dance…it’s very compelling.

But as much as I enjoyed the show, I was just as interested in the playbill.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to experience a “call” — that is, a powerful, practically irresistible feeling that you’re meant to do a certain kind of work.

I certainly felt a call to writing. It took me a while to hear it and follow it, but I remember thinking, “Well, at this point, I’d rather fail as a writer than succeed as a lawyer.” I remember quoting Juvenal to my father, “An inveterate and incurable itch for writing besets many and grows old with their sick hearts.” I didn’t want that to happen to me.

I was struck by the evidence in the playbill that many of these performers had felt a call to the circus. A sampling from several bios: “In 2008, his life took a serious turn when he abandoned his studies at McGill University and entered the National Circus School of Montreal, in what was decidedly one of the best decisions of his life…discovered circus at age eight…immediately impassioned, he tried every circus experience he could…was barely five when he entered the San Francisco School of Circus Arts…”

I once met a woman who’d left her family  and dropped out of school in her early teens to become a juggler. When I expressed surprise, she said, “I just had to do everything I could to learn to juggle.” This sounds comical as I write it, but in the moment, it was a profound and almost terrifying statement.

In some ways, a call is wonderful. It’s clear. It’s urgent. It’s fulfilling.

But in some ways, and for some people, a call isn’t wonderful. A call means no choice — or at least, great pain in making another choice. Some people don’t want to be called to do the kind of work they feel called to do. This reminds me of one of my favorite novels, Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, where Hazel Motes destroys himself (and redeems himself) in resisting his call.

Also, a call is no guarantee of success. Now, does a call help? I imagine it does help, because a call makes it easier to practice.  Logan Pearsall Smith wrote, “The test of a vocation is the love of the drudgery in involves.” There are good and bad aspects to this. I feel unsettled at any time when I’m not writing. And I mean that. There’s a sense of peace, and of being in the right place, that I experience only when I’m writing. You can see how that has drawbacks.

I remember talking to a group of first-year medical students. I made a vow to myself, always to talk about drift when I speak to college or graduate students, so we were talking about how to avoid drift. I was asking them how they got into medicine, and they had many different answers: “I’ve always been fascinated by biology and the human body,” “Both my parents are doctors,” “From the time I was a child, I’ve known I was going to be a doctor.” The last answer sounds like a call, to me. All three students could make excellent doctors, but having a call makes the experience different.

Is a “call” the same as a “moment of obligation?” I heard this term from someone who awards grants to people to start public interest projects. She explained that when they were evaluating people as possible grant recipients, they asked, “Did you feel a moment of obligation?” Meaning, did you spot a problem and decide that you were the one who had to fix it? Many of the people they funded had these moments. “I was reading about the malaria problem, and I thought, someone should come up with a better way to distribute nets. And then I realized, I should be the one.”

We often think of a call as related to a religious vocation. And it certainly happens there. I’ve been meaning to read Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, which I think is about a call to be a missionary, though I’m not sure, because I haven’t yet read it. I’m reminded of one of favorite titles of all time: William Law’s A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life.

I’ve just started thinking about this. How about you? Have you ever felt a call, or been around someone who felt a call? To do what?  Was it pleasurable or painful?