Video: The Tomorrow Loophole. A Very Popular Loophole!

In my new (bestselling) book, Better Than Before, I identify the twenty-one strategies of habit-formation, and one is the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting.

I’m doing a video series in which I discuss the ten categories of loopholes. I love studying loopholes, because they’re so funny. And ingenious! We’re such great advocates for ourselves — in any situation, we can always think of some loophole to invoke.

Well, what is a “loophole?” When we try to form and keep habits, we often search for loopholes, for justifications that will excuse us from keeping this particular habit in this particular situation. However, if we catch ourselves in the act of loophole-seeking, we can perhaps reject them.

In Better Than Before, I describe all ten categories of loopholes; in this video series. I’ll describe them, one by one.

First of ten loopholes: the Tomorrow Loophole. Boy, this is a favorite. It always works, because, as Little Orphan Annie reminds us, “tomorrow is always a day away.”

 

This loophole depends on “tomorrow logic.” Now doesn’t matter much, because we’re going to follow good habits tomorrow.

It doesn’t matter what I eat now, because I’m starting a diet tomorrow. (Research shows that people who plan to start dieting tomorrow tend to over-eat today.)

 

I’m definitely on track to finish my paper on time, because starting tomorrow, I’m really going to buckle down.

 

I’ll be really frugal in January so it doesn’t matter if I spend too much in December.

 

Today I’m eating whatever I want, but tomorrow I’ll be “good.” (People tend to self-regulate day-by-day, but everything counts.)

How about you? Do you find yourself arguing that it’s okay to do something today, because you’ll act differently tomorrow?

“As Long as the Good Habits Outnumber the Bad Ones, I’m Ahead of the Game.”

Interview: Frank Bruni.

Frank Bruni has written several books and is an op-ed columnist for the New York Times. His brand-new book is a bestseller that has received a huge amount of buzz: Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania. It’s a thought-provoking look at how the college admission system works–and a fresh, reassuring reminder of what really matters in the college experience (as I wrote in my blurb for Frank’s book!).

Also, when I was researching Better Than Before, I read Frank’s fascinating memoir, Born Round: A Story of Family, Food, and a Ferocious Appetite, because I was reading everything I could find that I thought might touch on the subject of habits.

I knew Frank would have some interesting insights — and he did.

Gretchen: What’s a simple habit that consistently makes you happier?

Frank: There are three that come to mind, and they may stretch the definition of habit, in that they don’t all occur with daily or weekly or even monthly frequency, but I still think they qualify. And they’re of a piece, as they all relate to family.

My family—my father, my siblings, their spouses, their kids, my partner and I—are all very close, and there have been times in the past when, as a result of that closeness, we took actual time together for granted. But we’ve now ritualized certain things, which is another way of saying that we’ve turned them into habits, so that we’re guaranteed to see one another often, and this brings me enormous happiness. In fact a column I once wrote about it, called “The Gift of Siblings,” was by far the most widely read and shared column I’ve ever written for The Times.

One week every year, all 21 of us pile into a beach house somewhere in the Caribbean or Mexico or such, always in the summer, when it’s off season and less crazily expensive. And every time one of us adults has a milestone birthday—something ending in a zero—we adults do a special weekend away. My 50th, for example, was in late October of last year; we all spent three days in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, which is wine country.

And I no longer let more than a four or five days go by without talking with my father, either in person or on the phone. That wasn’t always so: my mother, who died years ago, was the talker, the one who wanted and even demanded to communicate; Dad was the silent rock, or maybe the plant that needed no watering. Sometimes my conversations with him are just five minutes, but five minutes is everything. Me hearing his voice, he hearing mine: It’s an enormous comfort. I know it won’t last forever—he’s about to turn 80—but thanks to this habit, maybe, just maybe, it will last forever, and more indelibly, in memory.

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

That habits are like muscles; they get stronger with repeated exercise. You force yourself to do something the first time. You force yourself the second and the third and the fourth. And then, with each subsequent effort, there’s less force required. What was intense effort becomes unthinking reflex or at least something close to that. You just have to trust in that trajectory at the outset. You have to tell yourself at the beginning, when so much will is required, that you’re not always going to need that reserve, that you’re moving toward a destination where everything becomes so much easier.

Which habits are most important to you? (for health, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)

Before I write, I need to read. I’ve seen time and again that I write better in the morning if I’ve read at night; I write better in the mid-afternoon if I paused midday to read. I’m astonished at how long I fought this, because I was sometimes lazy or tired or the reading seemed like procrastination, like a luxury. I finally stopped fighting. This was a habit begging to be developed, and yet still I resisted. It’s funny: habits are like commitments, until they become reflexive. And in the same way you can be a commitment-phobe, you can be a habit-phobe.

Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?

Yes. I have never lost the enjoyment of eating late at night and especially of indulging in a guilty food pleasure late at night. And though I’ve improved on this front, I still give in to this temptation and tendency—this habit—far too often. But you know what? In my life I’ve quit smoking. I’ve cut way back on drinking. I’ve remained a steady exerciser. So I don’t beat myself up about it. I see habits as a balance sheet. As long as the good ones outnumber the bad, and as long as the list of good ones grows faster than the list of bad ones, I’m ahead of the game. I’m OK.

Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

I think I straddle two of these. I’m two-thirds Obliger, one-third upholder. Though I hope—I pray—I have a dollop of rebel in there somewhere. [Note: this combination means that Frank is an Obliger.]

Has another person ever had a big influence on your habits?

Yes. The first personal trainer I ever saw. I used to get out of healthy habits by telling myself that if I couldn’t commit to them 100 percent or didn’t execute them perfectly then I might as well stall and wait until such (possibly mythic) moment when I could. He really hammered into me that doing at least some of what you intend to and doing it imperfectly is better than taking a pass on the whole shebang—and that it’s also the beginning of the path toward doing it really well, toward making the habit stick. I think he was and is right about that. I thank him for sharing that perspective with me. For haranguing me, really.

Podcast #9: Treat Yourself, But Resist “YOLO”; the Challenge of Changing Someone Else’s Habit; Why Elizabeth TP’d a Friend’s House.

My sister Elizabeth Craft and I are having a great time doing our new podcast,  “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

We’re thrilled–we’ve hit more than 500,000 downloads, in just eight episodes! Thanks for listening! (If you like the podcast, we’re sheepishly asking people to rate and/or review it, if time and inclination permit; that’s very helpful for a new podcast like ours.)

Like last week, this episode was especially fun; I was in Los Angeles for my book tour for my new book Better Than Before, so Elizabeth and I got to record together in the studio. By the way, Elizabeth is taller than I am, but in the photo she towers over me–she’s wearing boots.

And we also had the chance to do our “very special episode.” That’s coming up next week — something different. We had a great time doing it, though I will confess, even though it was Elizabeth’s brilliant idea, I enjoyed it much more than she did, for reasons that will become clear. Stay tuned for that!

Here’s what Elizabeth and I discuss in today’s episode:

First, we read a thoughtful reader email we got about the “evil donut bringer” issue that we talked about in episode 3. That happiness stumbling block sparked a lot of comments. After the episode aired, Elizabeth and I realized that we’d forgotten to mention something, because it’s so obvious to us: Elizabeth is a type 1 diabetic, so for her, those donuts are a serious issue.

Try This at Home: Treat yourself (not to be confused with “treat yourself like a toddler” from episode 7). Bonus: an audio clip from one of my favorite TV shows, Parks and Recreation. To watch the clip of Tom and Donna talking about “Treat Yo’Self 2011,” go here. (No surprise, Tom and Donna have very lavish treats; in real life, treats work better when they’re more modest.)

Happiness Stumbling Block: Avoid the “fake self-actualization loophole.” Not to be confused with a mindful treat. Want to read a list of all ten categories of loopholes?

Listener Question: What’s the best way to strengthen good habits through rewards? Great question. This is a very complicated issue, so if you want to read more, check out Better Than Before, chapter on the “Strategy of Reward.”

Gretchen’s Demerit: As an under-buyer, I delayed buying toothpaste–and then bought just one tube.

Elizabeth’s Gold Star: Elizabeth goes to her high-school reunion–and has a flashback adventure.

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors! Like Smith and Noble. Go to smithandnoble.com/happier for 20% off window treatments and a free in-home consultation.

And to Travel Zoo. Head to www.travelzoo.com to sign up for a free membership–or download the highly rated Travel Zoo app.

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

And we would love to hear from you — about whether treating yourself made you happier, whether you fall prey to the “fake-self-actualization loophole,” 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.

Or if you’re reading this post by email, click here to view online, to listen to the podcast from this post.

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).

Each week, we give  a “Try This at Home” suggestion, for some easy habit you can try, as part of your ordinary routine, to boost your happiness—something like setting an alarm to signal your bedtime, or using the one-minute rule, to help yourself stay on top of small nagging tasks.

We also suggest questions to help you “Know Yourself Better”—like “Whom do you envy?” and “Are you a Marathoner or a Sprinter in your work style?”—and explore “Happiness Stumbling Blocks,” those small, seemingly insignificant parts of daily life that drag us down—everything from aforementioned problem of the Evil Donut-Bringer to the fact that working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination.

We “Grill the Guest” (well, we plan to — we haven’t had a guest yet), consider “Listener Questions,” and finally, we get even more personal, and each of us either gives ourselves a “Demerit” for a mistake we made that week, that affected our happiness, or awards a “Gold Star” to someone or something that deserves recognition.

We’re sisters, so we don’t let each other get away with much!

HOW TO SUBSCRIBE: If you’re like me (until recently) you’re intrigued by podcasts, but you don’t know how to listen or subscribe. It’s very easy, really. Really. Instructions here.

Or for an amusing short how-to video made by Ira Glass of This American Life, click here.

If you want to listen to more than one episode, and to have it all in a handier way, on your phone or tablet, it’s better to subscribe. Really, it’s easy.

Tell us what you think! Drop us a line at @gretchenrubin, @elizabethcraft, Facebook, podcast@gretchenrubin.com, or call 774-277-9336. Or just add your comment to this post.

Again, be sure to subscribe and listen and subscribe on iTunes so you never miss an episode. And if you enjoyed it, please tell your friends and give us a rating or review. Listeners really respect the views of other listeners, so your response helps people find good material. (Not sure how to review? Instructions here; scroll to the bottom.)

Happy listening! Or I should say, HAPPIER listening!

Secret of Adulthood: We Have More Time Than We Think. And Less Time.

From Further Secrets of Adulthood.

I’m always surprised by how much I can get done in a relatively short period of time, if I really settle down to it. I’ve learned that from my habit of Power Hour, for instance.

But we always need to remember that we may have less time than we think, too. If nothing else, the passage of time itself will bring about changes and endings. On this subject, and of everything I’ve ever written, I think this one-minute video, The Years Are Short, resonates most with people.

Something Becomes Important Because We’re Paying Attention.

I take giant amounts of notes, and I’m constantly copying passages from books that I read. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also one of my favorite things to do.

Oddly, I’ll often take notes, or copy passages, where the meaning isn’t clear to me. Sometimes it takes me years (if ever) to understand the meaning of something that I knew was significant, but didn’t know why. And then, when I grasp it — so thrilling! Nothing makes me happier.

This kind of epiphany happened to me recently, when I was in London, where I managed to visit the beautiful Wallace Collection.

Years ago, I read a fascinating book called The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film, by Michael Ondaatje, and I copied down a passage from Francis Ford Coppola’s notes for the script of the movie The Conversation. Coppola wrote:

The opening might be built out of fragments of various conversations. So that when we first meet the two young people they seem like just another conversation until we see that the microphone is trained on them: they are important only because someone is listening.

Something becomes important, because someone is paying special attention.

I never really quite understood why this struck a chord with me — until I saw Poussin’s painting,  Dance to the Music of Time, hanging on the wall in the Wallace Collection.

Why?

This painting is used in the exceptionally gorgeous design of Anthony Powell’s novels in the four-volume A Dance to the Music of Time.

Because I know these books well, and admire these four volumes every time I spot them in the bookstore, I assumed that the painting was quite important and famous.

However, the Wallace Collection didn’t make mention (that I saw) of the fact that this painting was in their collection. And it was almost by accident that I spotted the painting, at all.

DanceTimeWholeRoomThere are so many paintings in the room.

DanceTimeWallDanceTime5PaintinsCan you find it? In the first picture, it’s on the far wall, the bottom painting to the left of the large painting in the middle. In the last picture here, it’s at the bottom, in the middle.

Because of those books, I’d found the painting beautiful and important; because someone put it in the spotlight — because I saw it over and over, and took the time to look at it closely, and to think about its meaning.

If I’d just been wandering through the rooms, glancing at the paintings, I doubt I would’ve given the painting a second thought.

But when my attention was fixed on it, I learned to appreciate it.

I think of this, too, when I look at old class photos of my children. In a way, the children look all alike, and these photos look exactly (except for the clothes) the way my class photos look, from the same age. And yet — those are individuals! Some faces I recognize, some are precious to me. Because I know them.

I’m not explaining my epiphany very clearly. It’s just that — it’s our listening that makes a conversation important; it’s our vision that makes a masterpiece; it’s our love that makes a face stand out from the crowd.

“They are important only because someone is listening.”

Do you know what I mean? Have you ever had an experience like this — when your attention transformed an object into something dazzling?

P.S. This got me thinking that a fun project would be to choose 52 pieces in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (which is near my apartment) and spend a week studying and visiting each one, to understand why it’s great. And to write a book about it, of course! I’m certain that those works would be immeasurably more beautiful to me, after I’d studied them — even for a week. Gosh, I’d love to do that. I’ve always wanted to learn and write about art…