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

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The connection between one of my Secrets of Adulthood and the “maximum-use imperative.”

DiningroomtableOne of my Secrets of Adulthood is: What you do EVERY DAY matters more than what you do ONCE IN A WHILE.

I’ve been surprised how often this “secret” comes in handy.

Exercising – I have a friend who thinks she’s a regular exerciser because every several weeks, she goes to the gym for two hours. Nope!

Eating – before I gave up fake food, I’d say to myself, “Sure, I eat fake food, but just here and there.” When I was really honest with myself, finally, I realized that I was eating fake food three or four times each day. It wasn’t a once-in-a-while habit.

In a fascinating book, Daniel McGinn’s House Lust, I learned that market researchers use the term “maximum-use imperative” to describe the fact that people will often buy something to accommodate a use that they need only rarely.

So, for example, you might look for a house, or a dining room table, that’s big enough to seat your entire family when it’s your turn to host Christmas dinner – even though you have a family of four that’s dwarfed by that size.

Along the same lines, I’ve noticed that when making decisions, I tend to give too much thought to what I do ONCE IN A WHILE and not enough weight to what I do EVERY DAY.

Shoes, for example. I wear running shoes 29 days out of 30 days a month, yet I have three pairs of black flats and only one pair of running shoes.

Why does this matter for happiness? Because, I think, we’re happiest when our decisions most closely match our natures.

If I splurge on linen cocktail napkins, but never have cocktail parties, I’m not going to be pleased with my purchase. If I tell my doctor I eat lots of fruits and vegetables, but actually eat lots of pizza and subs, I’m not going to get sound advice. If I insist that I love skiing, when in fact, I love staying inside reading, I’m not going to enjoy the vacation.

It can be hard to be myself, to acknowledge what I really enjoy — it can be easy to let lofty fantasies get in the way. Again, I ask, why is it so tough to “Be Gretchen”?

If I pretend to myself that I’m different from the way I truly am, I’m going to make choices that won’t make me happy.

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The New York Times blog Shifting Careers is a reliably great read. Even if you’re not looking to “shift careers,” it’s worth checking out, because so much of the information there is interesting and useful for work life generally.

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