Further Secrets of Adulthood — for Habits.

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

This Wednesday: Further Secrets of Adulthood–for habits.

I collect axioms, paradoxes, maxims, teaching stories, proverbs, and aphorisms of all sorts, because I love to see complex ideas distilled into a few words.

For years, I’ve been writing my “Secrets of Adulthood,” which are the principles I’ve managed to grasp as I’ve become an adult.

Right now, I’m hard at work editing my next book, Before and After, about how we make and break habits — really.  This is the most fascinating subject ever — though it’s true, I say that about all my books.  (If you want to hear when Before and After goes on sale, sign up here.)

Many of my latest Secrets of Adulthood relate to habits:

  • We’re more like other people than we suppose, and less like other people than we suppose.
  • A slight delay is the easiest way; no delay is the easiest way.
  • Prioritize prioritizing.
  • Well begun is half done.
  • Don’t expect to be motivated by motivation.
  • Practice makes permanent.
  • Things often get harder before they get easier.
  • What we assume will be temporary often becomes permanent; what we assume is permanent often proves temporary.
  • There is no finish line.
  • It’s easier to keep up than to catch up.
  • By giving something up, we gain. (More true for Abstainers than Moderators.)
  • When we give more to ourselves, we can ask more from ourselves. Important for the Strategy of Treats.
  • We can’t make people change, but when we change, others change.
  • The biggest waste of time is to do well something that we need not do at all.
  • Make it easy to do right, and hard to go wrong. Strategy of Convenience.
  • Make sure the things we do to make ourselves feel better don’t make us feel worse.
  • To keep going, we sometimes need to allow ourselves to stop.
  • Working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination.
  • Most decisions don’t require extensive research.
  • Self-regard isn’t selfish.
  • Progress, not perfection.
  • Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. (cribbed from Voltaire)
  • The more we accept ourselves, and what’s right for us, the more other people accept us.
  • Nothing stays in Vegas.
  • Things look messier before they look tidier.
  • What we do every day matters more than what we do once in a while.
  • What’s best? Getting better.
  • Self-sacrifice can be self-indulgent.
  • Not choosing is a choice.
  • Everything counts.
  • Slow progress can be more frustrating than no progress.


What would you add?

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35 thoughts on “Further Secrets of Adulthood — for Habits.”

  1. I have two that I think of often.

    “It’s all gonna happen” (picked up from Lana Del Rey’s song This Is What Makes Girls) When I’m stressed out and think of all the things I should’ve done or worry about something that might happen in the future, I like to think about the fact that it’s all gonna happen anyway.

    “If your job is to eat a toad, don’t stare at it” …When I really don’t want to do something that has do get done I tell myself to eat the damn toad.

  2. The only one of these I could not agree with is ‘slow progress is more frustrating than no progress.’ I understand why a person would say or think that: they are actually aware and looking for progress, and feel frustrated because their pot doesn’t instantly boil.
    No progress is only less frustrating to me because I’ve completely given up–it’s a hopeless condition.
    In acquiring any habit or new condition (fitness, weight loss and maintenance at a lower weight for example) I have become very happy with tiny increments of progress in the right direction. In fact I try to work more in small increments, which continually reward me while I am strengthening my habits until they move from experiments to a new regime to a habit to a ritual I don’t want to go without. Slow is good.

    One thing that I am grateful to have learned from you is the ‘do it EVERY day’ mantra. This has been more helpful to me than any other changed outlook I can name. I am sure that is a shared abstainer ‘aha!’ Gretchen. Thank you so much!

    1. Weird, I read that as “no progress is more frustrating than slow progress.” I guess my brain unconsciously disagreed with that statement too and then switched it around.

      But I can maybe see a point the original statement. Sometimes it makes sense to change gears completely because what a person is doing might not suit them well. Yet that person keeps at the task (or career) because there are some benefits, like maybe increased paychecks or more supervising responsibility or other perks. If the person was making “no progress” it might jolt a flash change to something that is better.

      Just a guess…

      1. Actually, I see what you mean about this. It like that saying about not trying to teach a snake to fly or a songbird to swim etc. You can expend an awful lot of energy to make small increments of progress at something not suitable for you, be it an occupation or a flawed relationship. Better to stop, take stock, and possibly change direction.

  3. At 26, I feel like I am constantly coming up with secrets to adulthood. Some of them are basic and simple (budgeting works!) but others, particularly involving relationships and learning to love and live with yourself are very hard. A few of my recent secret of adulthood discoveries:

    – Sometimes things that are good for you may seem bad and sometimes things that are bad for you may seem good.
    – Suffer now, benefit later.
    – Never started, never done.
    – The answer is always there.

    1. Conversely, mine is “You’re more likely to regret NOT doing something than you are to regret doing it and failing (or not liking it.)

  4. Life is not a dress rehearsal.
    The best time to appreciate people is right now.
    It’s hard to be overweight; it’s hard to lose weight; it’s hard to keep weight off. Choose your hard.

    1. I love the dress rehearsal one myself! It was a true revelation when I first heard it.
      I love the “hard” saying. Never heard that one before. Love it!

  5. Some of mine are:
    – Go to church it will make you feel better.
    – Fell blessed and lucky to have the life you have.
    – It’s all about human connections
    – Faith in God is how I live my life

  6. Since college, I have used this quote from another student:
    motivation FOLLOWS action.
    It’s helpful when procrastinating…

  7. What a great list! I’ve so enjoyed reading and learning from your Secrets of Adulthood over the years, and I can’t wait for the next book. :)

    What I’d add:
    – If you think you need a nap, you need a nap.
    – You won’t regret going to bed earlier; you will likely regret staying up later.
    – It will always look better in the morning. (What my mom would say to me when I was tired and discouraged at night!)
    – Always bring snacks.
    – When in doubt, be kind.
    – “You only fail when you decide to not try again. So it’s entirely in your control. Once you understand failure, it’s impossible to fail.” (From Humans of New York)
    – You don’t know what you HAVE until you get moving with what you’ve GOT.
    – Good habits are like good relationships: always works in progress. :)

  8. “who are you when nobody is looking?”
    advice from my father who I miss terribly. love you dad~

  9. “Yes,there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.” Led Zeppelin

  10. I am interested in reading Secrets of Adulthood, this must be an eye opener to the very many phases of adulthood we all go through in our personal development as individuals. so, how do I get started?

  11. Great list. I would add surround yourself with a tribe that inspires and supports you in creating good habits. I just joined a community at http://stickyhabits.com to help me with daily exercising (running,walking or cycling).

  12. Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are good is like expecting the bull not to charge you because you are a vegetarian.

  13. I have many of the same Secrets of Adulthood as Gretchen’s originals, but I also add these:

    – First things first (water, breakfast, sleep)
    – Listen to your body
    – Cultivate rituals and traditions
    – Reframe the situation (i.e. “Make the positive argument”)
    – When in doubt, go to bed
    – Go outside
    – Celebrate small victories
    – If you really want to do something, you will find the time to do it
    – Objects need stories

  14. One that I find helpful is “Not every day can be a crisis.” In this context, it means that you can’t always be in a state of working on the immediate at the expense of the long-term. Most days should be making slow forward progress. (I might have stolen this from the Happiness Project, actually!)

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