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

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

Samuel-Johnson-reading

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?

I'm just about finished writing my next book, Better Than Before, about how we can make and break our habits. If you’d like to hear when the book goes on sale, sign up here.

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:

NothingIsAsExhaustingTask_124869

 

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!

“Have You Heard It? Can You Remember?”

the-lion-the-witch-adn-the-wardrobe“The castle of Cair Paravel on its little hill towered up above them; before them were the sands, with rocks and little pools of salt water, and sea weed, and the smell of the sea, and long miles of bluish-green waves breaking forever and ever on the beach. And, oh, the cry of the sea gulls! Have you heard it? Can you remember?”

— C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

This passage has always stayed in my mind, as the best evocation of the feeling of being at the sea shore that I’ve ever read.

Also, as a writer, I’ve thought a lot about the oddities of this passage — why it’s effective, and how I could learn from it.

Did you read the Narnia books when you were a child–or now, as an adult? I’m home in Kansas City for my high school reunion, and I came across my sister’s old copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I’ve read this book a hundred times, and I love it more each time.

7 Tips To Make It Easier To Have Healthy Eating Habits.

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

This Wednesday: 7 tips that make it easier to have healthy eating habits.

Many people were very intrigued by my interview with behavioral scientist Brian Wansink and his ideas. He studies eating behavior and consumer habits, and has a book that just came out: Slim By Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life.

I asked him for some of his top tips, and he gave me these excellent suggestions to “Help your kitchen make you slim.”

  1. Serve vegetables first.
  2. Serve the main dish from the stove or counter, so that to get seconds, you have to stand up and go get more. (This combines the Strategy of Inconvenience, because you can’t just reach out to take more food, and the Strategy of Monitoring, because you can keep track better of how much you’re eating.)
  3. Use dinner plates that are 9-10 wide. We eat less when we use a smaller plate, but American plate sizes have been steadily growing.
  4. Sit at a table, with the TV off. People eat more, without noticing, if they’re watching TV. And if you have to sit at a table to eat, you’ve made it harder to have impulsive snacks.
  5. Keep two or fewer cans of sugary drinks in your fridge.
  6. Keep your kitchen counters organized, not messy. (I was interested to see this one — it confirms my argument about the Strategy of Foundation and the importance of “uncluttering.”)
  7. Keep snack foods in one inconvenient cupboard. (Again, the Strategy of Inconvenience.)

What would be your best tips? I remind myself of one of my Secrets of Adulthood for Habits: It’s easier to change my surroundings than myself. It’s easier to put cookies on a high shelf than to boost my willpower.

I talk about all of these tips in Better Than Before, my forthcoming book about habit change. The most fascinating subject in the world. To pre-order, click here. If you’re inclined to buy the book, I’d really appreciate your pre-order. Pre-orders really matter.