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

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Lower the Bar.

Stile

I only saw it once, and I can’t find it now online, alas, but I’ve never forgotten an old Saturday Night Live skit from many years ago. One of the characters, playing a frustrated swinger, says “Ladies, ladies, ladies! You’ve got to lower your standards.”

I’ve often invoked that mantra — “Lower your standards” — when I find that there’s a resolution that I really want to keep, but for some reason, don’t seem to be able to keep. Recently, I’ve changed the wording to “Lower the bar.” “Lower your standards” suggests that I’m embracing mediocrity; “lower the bar” suggests that I’m clearing away hurdles.

For instance, I’m in four books groups — a regular book group and three children’s/YA literature reading groups (a lot, I know!). In each of these groups, we take turns meeting for dinner at each other’s houses. I serve take-out Chinese food and store-bought cookies — because if I raised the bar any higher, I might feel like I couldn’t handle belonging to so many groups. The imperfect dinner that I serve is better than the perfect dinner I never serve.

Similarly, with exercise, I have a very low bar. I’m a natural couch-potato, but by allowing myself to do very manageable work-outs, I’ve been able to turn myself into a regular exerciser. The moderate forty-minute work-out I do several times a week is better than the rigorous work-out I never do. I wanted to keep a journal of my family life, but I knew I wouldn’t keep up with it; I lowered the bar and now faithfully keep a one-sentence journal. A journal entry of one sentence a day is better than three pages never.

Voltaire wrote, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” When I find myself backing away from something that I want to do, I try lowering the bar, and it helps.

How about you? Have you found a way to lower the bar?

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

* I love reading Dan Pink‘s blog — always thought-provoking and funny.

* Waiting to buy the paperback of The Happiness Project? It’s coming out in just a few days. If you’re inclined to buy it, for yourself or a friend, you’d really help me out by pre-ordering it now. Pre-orders give a BIG boost to a book. (Can’t resist mentioning: #1 New York Times bestseller.) If you do pre-order, as a thank-you, I’ll send you my page of Happiness Paradoxes. Just drop me an email at gretchenrubin1 at gmail dot com, with the note “I pre-ordered.”
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