Tag Archives: goals

Andre Agassi and the Odd Energy around a Finish Line.

Agassi extravaganza continues.

I recently read tennis star Andre Agassi’s memoir, Open, even though I’m not interested in tennis, because so many people recommended it to me. And I must say, the book is fascinating.

The other day, I posted a happiness quotation from the book.

Yesterday, I noted that Agassi is an Obliger (if you want to know what that is, read here), and his autobiography presents an excellent example of that perspective.

Today is the last Agassi reference, I promise. This passage  caught my attention, because it’s about the power of the finish line.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, I’m hard at work on a book about how we make and break habits, which will be available March 2015 (sign up here to be notified when it goes on sale).

One thing that took me a long time to realize, in the study of habits: the danger of finish lines. They came up in my study of the complicated Strategy of Reward.

Setting a finish line does indeed help people reach a goal, but although it’s widely assumed to help habit-formation, the reward of hitting a specific goal actually can undermine habits.

The more I thought about finish lines, the more I noticed…there’s something strange about finish lines. They have a weird, unpredictable power. They need to be considered very carefully. They affect our habits in ways we might not expect.

Agassi captures this beautifully.

The finish line at the end of a career is no different from the finish line at the end of a match. The objective is to get within reach of that finish line, because then it gives off a magnetic force. When you’re close, you can feel that force pulling you, and you can use that force to get across. But just before you come within range, or just after, you feel another force, equally strong, pushing you away. It’s inexplicable, mystical, these twin forces, these contradictory energies, but they both exist. I know, because I’ve spent so much of my life seeking the one, fighting the other, and sometimes I’ve been stuck, suspended, bounced like a tennis ball between the two.

Here’s an example. My friend Adam Gilbert founded the terrific program My Body Tutor, to help people get fit and healthy through accountability. He told me that sometimes, people will do very well with their new healthy habits, and then when they get within a few pounds of their goal weight, they drop out.

This really surprised me. Wouldn’t the promise of hitting the finish line keep people going? Yes, sometimes. But sometimes people become uneasy as they near the finish line — just as Agassi explains. Or people cross a finish line, say by reaching a goal weight, and they immediately push off in the other direction, with contradictory energy, and seem to hurry to undo all the work they’ve done.

Finish lines. There’s an odd atmosphere around them. Agassi captured it better than I’ve ever seen elsewhere.

What about you? Have you seen unexpected behavior emerge around a finish line — in yourself or other people?

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Pigeon of Discontent: I Don’t Know How To Start My Happiness Project.

Each week, I post a video about some Pigeon of Discontent raised by a reader. Because, as much as we try to find the Bluebird of Happiness, we’re also plagued by those small but pesky Pigeons of Discontent.

This week’s Pigeon of Discontent, suggested by a reader, is: “I don’t know how to start my happiness project.”

 

If you want to read more about this resolution, check out…

Get started on your own happiness project.

5 tips for planning effective New Year’s resolutions.

13 tips for sticking to your New Year’s resolutions.

You can check out the archives of videos here. It’s crazy–my YouTube channel has passed the mark for one million viewers.

Making New Year’s Resolutions? Ask Yourself 6 Questions.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day—or List Day, or Quiz Day.
This Wednesday: Six questions to help you make effective New Year’s resolutions.

Forty-four percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, and I know I always do. I’m more inclined to make resolutions than ever, in fact, because if my happiness project has convinced me of anything, it has convinced me that resolutions—made right—can make a huge difference in boosting happiness.

So how do you resolve well? This is trickier than it sounds. Here are some tips for making your resolutions as effective as possible.

1. Ask: “What would make me happier?” It might having more of something good —more fun with friends, more time for a hobby. It might be less of something bad —less yelling at your kids, less nagging of your spouse. It might be fixing something that doesn’t feel right—more time spent volunteering, more time doing something to make someone else happier. Or maybe you need to get an atmosphere of growth in your life by learning something new, helping someone, or fixing something that isn’t working properly. (These questions relate to the First Splendid Truth.)

2. Ask: “What is a concrete action that would bring change?” One common problem is that people make abstract resolutions, which are hard to keep. “Be more optimistic,” “Find more joy in life,” “Enjoy now,” are resolutions that are hard to measure and therefore difficult to keep. Instead, look for a specific, measurable action. “Distract myself with fun music when I’m feeling gloomy,” “Watch at least one movie each week,” “Buy a plant for my desk” are resolutions that will carry you toward those abstract goals.

3. Ask: “Am I a ‘yes’ resolver or a ‘no’ resolver?” Some people resent negative resolutions. They dislike hearing “don’t” or “stop” (even from themselves) or adding to their list of chores. If this describes you, try to find positive resolutions: “Take that dance class,” “Have lunch with a friend once a week.” Or maybe you respond well to “no.” I actually do better with “no” resolutions; this may be related to the abstainer/moderator split. A lot of my resolutions are aimed at getting me to stop doing something, or to do something I don’t really want to do—such as Don’t expect gold stars. There’s no right way to make a resolution, but it’s important to know what works for you. As always, the secret is to know your own nature. (That’s the Fifth Splendid Truth.)

4. Ask: “Am I starting small enough?” Many people make super-ambitious resolutions and then drop them, feeling defeated, before January is over. Start small! We tend to over-estimate what we can do over a short time and under-estimate what we can do over a long time, if we make consistent, small steps. If you’re going to resolve to start exercising (one of the most popular resolutions), don’t resolve to go to the gym for an hour every day before work. Start by going for a ten-minute walk at lunch or marching in place once a day during the commercial breaks in your favorite TV show. Little accomplishments provide energy for bigger challenges. The humble resolution you actually follow is more helpful than the ambitious resolution you abandon. Lower the bar!

5. Ask: “How am I going to hold myself accountable?” Accountability is the secret to sticking to resolutions. That’s why groups like AA and Weight Watchers are effective. There are many ways to hold yourself accountable; for example, I keep my Resolutions Chart (if you’d like to see my chart, for inspiration, email me at gretchenrubin1@gretchenrubin.com). Or you might want to join or launch a Happiness Project group. Accountability is why #2 is so important. If your resolution is too vague, it’s hard to measure whether you’ve been keeping it. A resolution to “Eat healthier” is harder to track than “Eat salad for lunch three times a week.”

6. Ask: “Are there any small, nagging issues weighing down my happiness?” (really a subset of #1) I call these the Pigeons of Discontent. They aren’t major happiness challenges, but rather, the ordinary problems that bedevil us. The 2012 Happiness Challenge is going to be aimed at finding ways to get rid of these.

If you want to make 2012 a happier year, please consider joining the 2012 Happiness Challenge! The sign-up link isn’t ready yet, but it’s coming soon. By officially signing up, studies show, you help yourself better stick to your resolutions. More info to come.

Have you found any strategies that have helped you successfully keep resolutions in the past?

* Speaking of resolutions, several of my resolutions are aimed at making sure I exercise regularly. I’ve been exercising (regularly but mildly) for a long time now, but my couch-potato inclinations always lurk. Reading the New York Times blog Phys Ed strengthens my resolve by reminding me how much healthier and happier I am, when I manage to get some exercise.

* Again, if you’d like to see my Resolutions Chart, to get ideas for yourself, email me at gretchenrubin1@gretchenrubin.com. Or email me if you’d want the starter kit for joining or launching a Happiness Project group.

8 Tips to Feel Better About Yourself.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Eight tips for feeling better about yourself.

First came the self-esteem movement — then came the backlash to the self-esteem movement. What’s pretty clear is we don’t get healthy self-esteem from constantly telling ourselves how great we are, or even from other people telling us how great we are. At the same time, it’s a rare person who isn’t sometimes – or often – plagued with painful self-doubt.

So what’s the secret? When you’re feeling lousy, what can you do to feel better about yourself? It turns out that we feel better about ourselves when we behave in ways that we find worthy of our own respect — such as helping other people, surmounting a fear, and the like.

Here are some suggestions that I try to remember when I’m feeling full of self-doubt and self-anxiety (a term I just made up — is there a more elegant term for this feeling?):

1. Do a good deed. Be selfless, if only for selfish reason; you’ll benefit as much as the person you’re helping. When I’m feeling low, forcing myself to do something for someone else’s benefit seems particularly hard, but then it gives me a big boost. As Montaigne observed, “These testimonies of a good conscience are pleasant; and such a natural pleasure is very beneficial to us; it is the only payment that can never fail.” In the same vein…

2. Make small gestures of good citizenship. Bring your old magazines to the gym so other people can read them. Pick up trash that other people have left on the subway. Sign up to be an organ donor.

3. Keep a resolution. Not only will you benefit from exercising or cleaning out your garage, you’ll also get a boost from the mere fact that you made a commitment and stuck to it. Feeling so overtaxed that you can’t face the thought of trying to keep a resolution? Try this one: Make your bed. Just do that one thing. I know it sounds a bit preposterous, but many people have told me what a lift they’ve received from that small act.

4. Become an expert. There’s great satisfaction in mastery. Pick a subject that interests you, and dig in deep: the American Revolution, the works of Chekhov, wine, The Wire (my husband and I are currently obsessed with this TV show).

5. Boost your energy. Studies show that when you’re feeling energetic, you’re much more likely to feel good about yourself. For a quick shot of energy, take a brisk ten-minute walk (outside, if possible, where sunlight will also stimulate your brain), listen to some great music, or talk to a friend.

6. Challenge yourself physically. This tip doesn’t work for me, but I know that many people feel great after para-sailing, white-water rafting, surfing, or rollercoaster-riding.

7. Face a fear. Some fears are physical (see #6), but not all fears. You might push yourself to speak in public, ask someone on a date, make a gesture of friendship toward an acquaintance, or begin an intimidating creative project. In these trying situations, I often comfort myself by repeating “Enjoy the fun of failure.” And it’s true, even when my effort fails, I feel good about the fact that I gave it a shot. As my sister the sage reminded me recently, “You’ve got to put yourself out there.” Which is hard, but gratifying.

8. Make something by hand. There’s something particularly satisfying about making something with your own hands, whether it’s a loaf of bread, a photo album, a piece of furniture, or a fly-fishing fly. It’s tangible, it’s creative, it’s right in front of you. Similarly, making visible improvements like cleaning out a closet can give a big boost. I get an (inexplicably) large boost just from changing a light bulb. I delay, I delay, I delay — and then finally I change it! A triumph!

How about you? Have you found any good strategies to feel better about yourself? As Joseph Addison observed, “The important question is not, what will yield to man a few scattered pleasures, but what will render his life happy on the whole amount.”

* I loved looking at the beautiful images of the art installation “White Flags” by Aaron Fein.

“Looking for a good book? I offer for your consideration The Happiness Project (can’t resist mentioning: #1 New York Times bestseller).
Order your copy.
Read sample chapters.
Watch the one-minute book video.
Listen to a sample of the audiobook.
Order the Page-a-Day calendar.

How Is Your Happiness Challenge Going? (Asking Again.)

Last month, I posed the question: “If you’re doing the 2011 Happiness Challenge, how is it going, now that we’ve reached the halfway point of the year?”

Several people kindly pointed out that, although June is month 6 of the 12 months of the year, the year isn’t halfway over until July 1. Whoops!

So I’m asking now, at the proper time: “If you’re doing the 2011 Happiness Challenge, how is it going?”

But really, it’s artificial to ask this question even on July 1, because most people doing the 2011 Happiness Challenge didn’t start on January 1. People still join every day — which is great. No need to wait for January 1, or the first of any month, to start a happiness project. Today is the best time to start!

If you’ve managed successfully to keep even one resolution, give yourself a big gold star. It’s hard to make change; it takes mindfulness, self-knowledge, and self-mastery. I’m often surprised by how hard it is to make even a change that’s pleasant, like my resolutions to Read more. Why is it so hard to push myself to make time for something that I love? And yet it is. (I will note that my obsession about the sense of smell is still so powerful that I’m finding it pretty easy to work that into my day — but it doesn’t take much time or energy to smell something.)

Have you followed any resolutions that have made a particular difference to your happiness? I’m always so curious to hear what people have tried, and what has worked. For instance, I’ve been surprised by how much clutter seems to weigh on people’s happiness. Although a crowded closet or a messy desk is trivial in the context of a happy life, for some reason, people report getting a disproportionate boost of good cheer and energy when they clear clutter. It’s a Secret of Adulthood: Outer order contributes to inner calm.

How do you keep yourself accountable? I use my Resolutions Chart (email me at gretchenrubin1 at gmail dot com if you want to see a copy). Some people use the Happiness Project Toolbox.

It has really been gratifying to see the high level of interest in starting Happiness Project groups. If you’d like to launch a Happiness Project group yourself, for people doing happiness projects together, email me at gretchenrubin1 at gmail dot com for the starter kit. To see if there’s a group in your area, check here. To find other people who would be interested in starting a new group in your area, start a discussion here. If you’ve started a group, please answer the six quick questions. I’m so curious to hear about the groups!

Have you found a system that works for you? Accountability is so important; without accountability, it’s easy to make big plans for change but then end up abandoning them. Something like 80% of New Year’s resolutions are abandoned by mid-February, and surely a good number are abandoned by January 3.

Have your tried resolutions that didn’t work? One of the most challenging, and also most popular resolutions, is the resolution is to Get more exercise. As a dedicated couch potato, I labored for years to get myself into the habit of regular exercise.

It’s thrilling to see that almost 11,000 people have joined the 2011 Happiness Challenge. If you haven’t signed up, join now. Studies show that taking an action, like signing up, will help you hold yourself accountable for your resolutions. And it doesn’t matter when you start; the important thing is to get started. Each week, here, I post ideas for resolutions that you might want to undertake for your own happiness project. I also post a weekly video with proposed resolutions.

I’m so interested to hear about people’s experiences with their own resolutions. What has and hasn’t worked for you, in your happiness project?

* I loved this video of two children who unwrap a big gift — not knowing that their father, who just finished his deployment, is hidden in the box. One child bursts out crying, and I absolutely understand that emotion. Too much to take in.

* If you’re in the U.S., you’ve got a holiday weekend in front of you. Have fun! And if you need a good book to read…please consider The Happiness Project (can’t resist mentioning: #1 New York Times bestseller).
Order your copy.
Read sample chapters.
Watch the one-minute book video.
Listen to a sample of the audiobook.