Tag Archives: habits

Podcast: Getting More Sleep, Resisting Strong Temptations, and Why It’s OK To Be Boring

I’m very excited to announce the second episode of the new weekly podcast, “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

One thing that makes this podcast especially fun is that I’m doing it with my sister the sage, Elizabeth Craft.

So what will you hear us discuss, when you listen toHappier with Gretchen Rubin“? We talk about how to build happier habits into everyday life, as we draw from cutting-edge science, ancient wisdom, lessons from pop culture—and our own experiences (and mistakes).

Each week, we give  a “Try This at Home” suggestion, for some easy habit you can try, as part of your ordinary routine, to boost your happiness—something like setting an alarm to signal your bedtime, or using the one-minute rule, to help yourself stay on top of small nagging tasks.

We also suggest questions to help you “Know Yourself Better”—like “Whom do you envy?” and “Are you a Marathoner or a Sprinter in your work style?”—and explore “Happiness Stumbling Blocks,” those small, seemingly insignificant parts of daily life that drag us down—everything from the problem of the Evil Donut-Bringer to the fact that working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination.

We “Grill the Guest,” consider “Listener Questions,” and finally, we get even more personal, and each of us either gives ourselves a “Demerit” for a mistake we made that week, that affected our happiness, or awards a “Gold Star” to someone or something that deserves recognition.

We’re sisters, so we don’t let each other get away with much!

Here’s what we discuss in this episode:

Try This at Home: Set an alarm to help yourself get to bed on time.

Know Yourself Better: Are you an “abstainer” or a “moderator” when it comes to resisting a strong temptation? (Spoiler alert, I’m a 100% abstainer.) Not sure? Take this quiz.

Samuel-Johnson-readingThe quotation I mention, from eighteenth-century essayist Samuel Johnson, is when a young friend urged him “to take a little wine,” Dr. Johnson explained, “I can’t drink a little, child; therefore I never touch it.Abstinence is as easy to me, as temperance would be difficult.”

Listener Question: ‘What was your biggest misconception about happiness before you wrote your first book about it?”

Demerit: Elizabeth admits that she should’ve re-scheduled an important school interview, because her husband was recovering from the flu — but she didn’t, because she so badly wanted to cross the interview off the to-do list.

Gold Star: I give a gold star to our mother, for her idea about the email “updates” that my mother, father, Elizabeth and I now send to each other. Our motto: It’s okay to be boring!

To listen to this episode, just zip to the bottom of this post and hit the red “play” button.

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Happy listening! Or I should say, HAPPIER listening!

“The Way We Live Our Days, What We Do at 10 A.M., Really Is the Way We Live Our Lives”

 

Interview: Brigid Schulte.

I’m fascinated by habits and happiness, so I’m very interested in how we can use our time wisely, get the most out of every day, include everything we value into our ordinary routine, and so on.

So I was very interested to read journalist Brigid Schulte’s book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time. The title says it all! The book discusses a crucial issue:  how we can make time for the things that really matter. It just came out in paperback, so it seemed like a good time to ask Brigid Schulte some questions about her own habits and happiness.

Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What’s the most significant thing you’ve concluded on the subject of habits?

Brigid: That time is power. As trite as it sounds, but the way we live our days, what we do at 10 am, at 3 pm, how the evening flows, like habits, it really is the way we live our lives, as the writer Annie Dillard said. And that to live a meaningful life, means making meaningful choices for what to do at 10 am and 3 pm and in the evening. And that means taking time to pause, to step out of the swirl of crazy busyness and think about what really matters most to you. Then put that on your To Do list.

So often, we think we’ll get to the big stuff after we get to the end of the To Do list – that’s something I still struggle with, living what I call an If/Then reality – IF I finish all this drudgery and little stuff, THEN I can get to the stuff I really enjoy or is really important. Then we get so caught up in the IF, the doing, the stuff, we never get to THEN. So I’m trying to flip it, and put the important stuff, the things that give meaning and joy, not just on the list, but at the top.

The other thing about time being power: psychologists say that peak human experience comes from getting so wrapped up in something that your experience becomes timeless. That’s the state when art, literature, philosophy, and civilization gets created. It’s the kind of time that, throughout history, men with status have typically been the only ones to have.

Women’s time has always been fragmented and interrupted, by child care, by housework, and now, with work piled on top, because gender roles haven’t changed as much as we have.  And I found fascinating studies that show women feel they don’t deserve this kind of flow, they have to earn it by getting to the end of a To Do list of chores first. (Remember the If/Then mentality!)

So I’m arguing, it’s time now for women, too, for everyone, to carve out concentrated time for the things that give them joy, and get them into flow. And with technology splintering everybody’s time and attention, we all need to be aware of that pressure, and find ways to knit time together to concentrate, get lost in something we love, and just pay attention to our lives. It’s a skill, and it’s something we can get better at the more we practice. I’m practicing!

What’s a simple habit that consistently makes you happier?

Cocktail minute with my husband. We don’t even have cocktails. He’ll have a beer or glass of wine, and I may or may not. It’s just what we call that small space to check in with each other every day.

What’s something you know now about forming healthy habits that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

 I wish – boy – I wish I’d known a lot of things. Though I’m sure I’ll feel the same at some future point, looking back now. But I guess I wish I’d known how powerful baby steps are. I would think of something that needed changing, and feel like I had to do it all at once, and I’d start, make a herculean effort, and usually give up.

One of the most powerful strategies for changing behavior, changing the way we think and use time was this: Just Start.

Sometimes we overthink things. And sometimes, the brilliant Udaya Patnaik of the design firm, Jump Associates, told me, it’s easier to act ourselves into a new way of thinking, than it is to think ourselves into a new way of acting. You just start where you are.

Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?

I still don’t sleep enough. I know how important sleep is, but I’ve developed a lifetime of bad habits from thinking it wasn’t important. I’ll stay up too late, pushing to finish something, then get up too early to try to get a workout in, then feel jetlagged through the day. I know it’s nuts – that it takes me longer to do things, that I’m not thinking as clearly, that I make more mistakes, that I’m not giving myself the space for creative thoughts and innovation to rise – that they’re more likely to come when I’m rested and relaxed – so – ON THE LIST! Work in progress.

Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you changed a major habit very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

I wish! I keep hoping that will happen. It seems like it would be so much easier to be hit with that flash of clarity. But maybe  I’m a slow learner, or a little thick headed, so I just keep slogging forward in the fog and uncertainty, sometimes backward, sometimes falling on my butt. I guess what I’m learning as I get older – sometimes the point is to just keep going.

To Be Creative, What Are the Best Habits To Follow?

Assay: This post is back by popular demand, because when I tell people that I’ve been working on Better Than Before, my book about habit change, one of the questions that people most often ask me is: “What habits are best for creativity?” They want to know what habits help people think creatively — and also, actually produce.

Often, people make the case for adopting a particular habit by pointing to a renowned figure who practiced that habit, with great success. For instance…

Maybe we should live a life of quiet predictability, like Charles Darwin.

Or maybe we should indulge in boozy revelry, like Toulouse-Lautrec.

Maybe we should wake up early, like Haruki Murakami.

Or maybe we should work late into the night, like Tom Stoppard.

Maybe it’s okay to procrastinate endlessly, like William James.

Or maybe it’s better to work regular hours, like Anthony Trollope.

Should we work in silence, like Gustav Mahler?

Or amidst a bustle of activity, like Jane Austen?

Maybe it’s helpful to drink a lot of alcohol, like Fried­rich Schiller.

Or a lot of coffee, like Kierkegaard.

Are we better off produc­ing work for many hours a day, like H. L. Mencken?

Or maybe for just thirty minutes a day, like Gertrude Stein.

The sad fact is, there’s no magic formula, no one-size-fits-all solution—not for ourselves, and not for the peo­ple around us.

We won’t make ourselves more creative and productive by copying other people’s habits, even the habits of geniuses; we must know our own nature, and what habits serve us best.

In his fascinating book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, from which these examples are drawn, Mason Currey exhaustively examines the work habits of 161 writers, composers, artists, scientists, and philos­ophers.

These examples make one thing perfectly clear about creative habits: while brilliant people vary tre­mendously in the specific habits they follow, they all know very well what habits work for them, and they go to enormous lengths to maintain those habits.

I used to tell everyone that working slowly and steadily was the best way to produce creative work. Because that’s what works for me.

And I used to encourage everyone to get up early, to work in the morning. Because that’s what works for me.

And I used to say that it was better to work in a reasonably quiet, calm, orderly environment. Because that’s what works for me.

But as I worked on Better Than Before, it became increasingly clear to me that the opposite habits work better for some people.

I’m a Marathoner, but some people are Sprinters.

I’m a Lark, but some people are Owls.

I’m a Simplicity-Lover, but other people are Abundance-Lovers.

We have to think about ourselves. It’s helpful to ask, “When have I worked well in the past? What did my habits look like then – and how can I replicate them?” Maybe you work more creatively with a team – or by yourself. Maybe you need deadlines – or maybe you feel strangled by deadlines. Maybe you like working on several projects at once — or you prefer to focus on one project at a time.

With habits, as with happiness, the secret is to figure out ourselves. When we shape our habits to suit our own nature, our own interests, and our own values, we set ourselves up for success.

How about you? What habits contribute or detract from your creativity?

One Way To Use Someone Else to Strengthen Your Good Habits

In Better Than Before, my book about habit change, I outline the twenty-one strategies we can use to change our habits.

Don’t be alarmed: twenty-one may seem like a huge number, but it’s actually good — it means that each of us has many options from which to choose. In different situations, at different times, different strategies will be most helpful.

It’s clear, however, that one of the most popular and effective strategies is Accountability. When we know we’re answerable to someone, most of us do a better job with our habits.

For Obligers, the Strategy of Accountability is crucial. Key. Central. Necessary! If you’re an Obliger, external accountability is the element that will allow you to follow through.  And for Rebels, on the other hand, it can actually be counter-productive. Are you an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel? Take this Quiz. More than 53,000 people have taken it.

Because accountability is so important, I’m always looking for new, ingenious ways that people have created accountability — and I’ve noticed that some people create accountability by pulling another person into the process.

In the New York Times, Gina Kolata wrote the article, Doctors Strive to Do Less Harm by Inattentive Care.

The article explains that Dr. Michael Bennick wanted to reduce the number of times that patients were awakened in the middle of the night to get get their blood drawn.  Here’s what he did:

“I told the resident doctors in training: ‘If you are waking patients at 4 in the morning for a blood test, there obviously is a clinical need. So I want to be woken, too, so I can find out what it is.’ No one, he said, ever called him. Those middle-of-the-night blood draws vanished.”

The doctors were in the habit of ordering blood tests in the middle of the night, so they’d have the results when they made rounds in the morning. But when they had to wake up another doctor, as well as a patient, their habits changed.

This reminded me of a writer friend whose book was long overdue. She created a standard email response that said, “Please email only if you have an urgent message.” Despite that word “urgent,” people kept emailing her. So she changed the message, “If you have an urgent message, please email my husband, and he’ll convey it to me.” She gave his email address — but no one used it.

So how could this approach be adapted to other circumstances? I’m trying to think of ways to draw someone else in, as a buffer…maybe:

–you can eat ice cream, but only when your spouse eats it, too

–you can use a device only when your kids are using one, too; many people wish their children spent less time on devices, so this might be a good deterrent.

–before you make a purchase over $50, you have to call your brother and tell him

Can you think of other ways to use a person as a buffer? Somehow I feel like I haven’t quite got the knack of this one, to understand the possibilities. I’m eager to hear your suggestions.

For You, Does Abstaining Give Mastery Over a Pleasure–Or Not?

“It is not abstinence from pleasures that is best, but mastery over them without even being worsted. ”

— Aristippus, quoted in A History of Ancient Philosophy

This reminds me of one of my favorite lines from Samuel Johnson: “All severity that does not tend to increase good, or prevent evil, is idle.”

This issue comes up a lot with the Strategy of Abstaining, when Abstainers and Moderators debate their approach to resisting a strong temptation.

Moderators argue, “Why abstain, why be so absolute, why give up a pleasure altogether?” But for Abstainers — and I say this as an Abstainer myself — abstaining is the way to gain mastery over pleasures. It’s easier to abstain, and it’s a relief.  “Abstinence from a pleasure” not for the sake of abstaining, but because it’s easier.

Are you an Abstainer or a Moderator? Take this Quiz.

In Better Than Before, I have a whole chapter dedicated to the Strategy of Abstaining — but as always, I must emphasize, this is not a strategy that works for everyone! It doesn’t work for Moderators!

And most of us are a mix of both.

How about you? How do you best master your pleasures?