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

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The happiness of keeping your resolutions — or at least, persisting in trying to keep your resolutions.

BridgetjonesI just finished re-reading Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary. I’ve learned that when I feel a mysterious compulsion to re-read something, I shouldn’t ignore it.

WarnpeaceA few months ago, I felt compelled to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and guess why — it’s a page-turner on the order of Stephen King, even if it is a world classic, and it’s also all about happiness (of course, it’s such a masterpiece that it’s about twenty other things as well, but to me, it was about happiness).

I felt drawn to pick up Bridget Jones’s Diary again. And I was laughing at myself, because the book is such a parody of my happiness project and my pep-talks to myself.

Bridget Jones begins by listing her New Year’s resolutions, which include, “I will go to gym three times a week not merely to buy sandwich” and “I will not get upset over men, but instead be poised and cool ice-queen.”

Some of our resolutions are the same, which made me feel a bit silly: “I will eat more fiber,” “I will put photographs in photograph albums,” “I will not bitch about anyone behind their backs, but be positive about everyone.”

The fact that Bridget Jones – in good company with more elevated figures, like Tolstoy, Pepys, and St. Therese – continually make and break the same resolutions is a great comfort to me.

I often repeat to myself the words of Samuel Johnson: “Grant me to resolve aright, and to keep my resolutions.” He has it exactly right. The secret to a happiness project is both to figure out what to do, and to do it.

(Zoikes, how often do you see Tolstoy and Bridget Jones woven into one discussion?)

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For some mysterious reason, I’ve started getting the Stanford alumni magazine, and this month it featured a fascinating article, Marina Krakovsky’s The Effort Effect. It argues that people’s view of the nature of ability shapes their performance. People with a “fixed mind-set,” i.e., who believe that ability is inborn, are more risk-averse, give up easily, don’t listen to criticism, and feel threatened by others’ success. People with a “growth mind-set,” i.e., who believe that ability is developed through practice, are more likely to take risks, to be persistent, to learn from criticism, and to learn from others’ success. Significantly, changing a person’s mind-set can affect their capacity to succeed.

This article relates to the New York magazine article How Not to Talk to Your Kids: The Inverse Power of Praise by Po Bronson, if you read that. Both articles are terrific.

After reading these articles, I’m reminding myself that, as Krakovsky says, “effort is a path to mastery.” If I keep trying to keep up my resolutions, I will do better.