I’m taking a holiday from the blog…I’ll be back soon. Have a wonderful holiday.
“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”
— Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol”
Habits are a chain we forge in life–a chain that can pull us down, or lift us up.
A nice marriage of the theme of habits and the holidays! I’m impressed I pulled that off.
Holiday season is upon us, and many people exchange gifts. If you’re trying to think of a good gift for someone, may I suggest…one of my books.
This is certainly my best-known book. I can’t help mentioning: it was on the New York Times bestseller list for two years. Yes, two. It’s a book about the year I spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies, and the lessons from popular culture about how to be happier.
I love all my books equally, but my sister says that she thinks that this is my best book. It was such a pleasure to go deeper into the fascinating subject of happiness. The fact is, if you’re not happy at home, it’s hard to be happy anywhere. New York Times and international bestseller.
I intended this to be the gateway-drug biography that would introduce Churchill to an audience who knows nothing about him, but I’ve since learned that the people who respond most to the book are those who have already read a lot of books about Churchill. What a subject! It was a joy to write this book.
I love getting, and giving, books as gifts. In my whole life, no gifts have pleased me more than the hardback Little House books that my parents gave me, one each year–with those marvelous illustrations by Garth Williams.
In fact, if you want to give yourself a little holiday treat, re-read the chapter, “Mr. Edwards Meets Santa Claus” in Little House on the Prairie. I get choked up just thinking about it. “Pa and Ma and Mr. Edwards acted as if they were almost crying. Laura didn’t know why.” I love the detail that Mr. Edwards throws in: “Santa Claus rode well for a man of his weight and build.” Okay, I have to stop, or I will quote the entire chapter.
I think a lot about habits, and lately I’ve been thinking a lot about habits related to holiday eating.
The holidays are supposed to be a festive time, but many people feel anxiety and regret around food and drink—the holiday season is so full of temptation.
I have to say, I enjoy the holidays much more, now that I’ve got a better grip on my habits, than I used to.
Here are some ways to apply the strategies of habit-change to this challenge:
1. Buy food in small containers. Studies show that people give themselves larger portions out of larger boxes, so I don’t buy that economy box of whatever. Buy the little box of gingerbread cookies, not the giant box.
2. Make tempting food inconvenient—put cookies in a hard-to-reach spot, set the freezer to a very cold temperature so it’s hard to spoon out ice cream, store goodies in hard-to-open containers. The Strategy of Inconvenience is simple, but crazily effective.
3. Wear snug-fitting clothes. That’s the Strategy of Monitoring. When we’re aware of what we’re doing, we behave better.
4. Dish food up in the kitchen, and don’t bring serving platters onto the table (except vegetables).
5. Pile your plate with everything you intend to eat, and don’t get seconds once that food is gone.
6. Skip the add-ons: tell the waiter that you don’t want the side of fries. When I do this, I sometimes feel like Sally from When Harry Met Sally as I quibble about how my food should be served, but oh well.
7. After dinner, to signal to yourself that “Eating’s over,” brush your teeth. I’d heard about this habit, so I decided to try it, but I was skeptical. I’ve been amazed by how effective tooth-brushing is. This is the Strategy of First Steps–because that tooth-brushing is the first step toward bedtime.
8. Don’t allow myself to get too hungry or too full. This is the Strategy of Foundation.
9. Realize that, with some things, you might not be able to have just one bite. I sure can’t. In the abstainer/moderator split, I’m a hard-core abstainer. It’s far easier for me to skip cookies and chocolate than it is to have a sensible portion. The Strategy of Abstaining is not a strategy that works for everyone, but for some people, it’s enormously helpful.
10. Never eat hors d’oeuvres. This kind of bright-line rule, which is an application of the Strategy of Clarity, is very helpful.
11. Don’t eat food I don’t like, just because it’s there. No one cares if I have a serving of asparagus or cranberry sauce.
12, Plan an exception. Planned exceptions are a great way to break a good habit in a way that feels limited, controlled, and positive.
13. Watch for loopholes! Some loopholes that are especially popular during the holidays include the “This doesn’t count” loophole, the “Concern for others” loophole, and the “fake self-actualization” loophole. Remember, we’re adults, and we can mindfully make exceptions to our good habits, but everything counts.
Although it may seem festive and carefree to indulge in lots of treats, in the end, we may feel guilty and overstuffed. Which doesn’t make the holiday happier.
It’s a Secret of Adulthood: By giving myself limits, I give myself freedom.
NOTE: Email subscribers, I apologize for the glitch in the emails that you’re getting. It’s such a pain, I know — I’m experiencing it, too. Some terrific tech minds are trying to diagnose and fix the problem, so please bear with me. I hope to get it fixed soon.
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.)
Here, I talk about the Strategy of Treats. Of the many habit-change strategies I investigate in my book, I must say, this is the most fun strategy.
What exactly counts as a “treat?” A treat is a small pleasure or indulgence that we give to ourselves just because we want it. Remember, a treat is different from a reward, which must be justified or earned.
“Treats” may sound like a self-indulgent, frivolous strategy, but it’s not. Because forming good habits can be draining, treats can play an important role.
When we give ourselves treats, we feel energized, cared for, and contented, which boosts our self-command—and self-command helps us maintain our healthy habits.
Studies show that people who got a little treat, in the form of receiving a surprise gift or watching a funny video, gained in self-control. It’s a Secret of Adulthood: If I give more to myself, I can ask more from myself. Self-regard isn’t selfish.
When we don’t get any treats, we begin to feel burned-out, depleted, and resentful. And that’s a very bad state for good habits. Try never to let yourself feel deprived.
Have you found that giving yourself treats helps you maintain your good habits? Do you have any unconventional healthy treats? We should all maintain a large list.