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?)

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.