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

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Need an Emergency Energy Boost? Try These 9 Tips.

energyglowingcordEvery Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday, back by popular demand: Nine tips for an emergency energy boost.

When your energy level is low, everything feels like a chore — even things would ordinarily make you happy.

There are many good habits we should follow to keep our energy levels high, like exercising and getting enough sleep.

In my forthcoming book about habits, I write a lot about how to use habits to boost energy — but also how to use energy to strengthen habits. In particular, I think we need to make a special effort to foster habits of the “Foundation Four” — the ones that help us to sleep, move, eat and drink right, and unclutter. When we pay attention to these areas, we make sure we have enough energy to use our self-command to keep our good habits.

But what if you need more energy right now? And you don’t want to wait for the reward for your good habits to kick in?

Try one of these strategies:

1. Go outside into the sunlight. Light deprivation is one reason people feel tired. Research suggests that light stimulates brain chemicals that improve mood. For an extra boost, get your sunlight first thing in the morning. And while you’re outside…

2. Go for a brisk walk. Even a ten-minute walk can give you a surge of energy and decreased tension.

3. Act with energy. We think we ACT because of the way we FEEL, but often we FEEL because of the way we ACT. Trick yourself into feeling energetic by moving more quickly, pacing while you talk on the phone, and putting more energy into your voice.

4. Listen to your favorite zippy song. Hearing stimulating music is an easy, reliable way to get an instant lift.

5. Talk to an energetic friend. Not only do we gain energy from interacting with other people, we also – in what’s called “emotional contagion” — “catch” their emotions. Instead of infecting others with your draggy mood, try to lift yourself by catching the energy of a boisterous friend.

6. Tackle an item on your to-do list. Maybe you need to drive to an out-of-the-way store; or add the last, difficult touches to a homemade gift; or make a phone call to a difficult relative. You’ll be amazed by the huge rush of energy you get when it’s crossed off your list. If you’re having trouble, try doing it first thing in the morning. The night before, decide what you’re going to do, then get up and do it.

7. Clean up. For most people, outer order contributes to inner calm. If you feel overwhelmed and listless, try tidying up. No heavy scrubbing, just tidy the surfaces. Making your surroundings more pleasant will help to give you energy — plus, making visible improvements is a booster, too.

8. Jump! Yes, jump up and down a few times. I just started doing this, and it’s amazing how energizing it is. Or, if you feel too silly, run down the stairs.

9. Note of caution: people often try to use food to boost their low energy. This obviously helps if you’re actually hungry (and in my house, we constantly monitor people’s hunger levels, because we all get so “hangry” when we’re hungry), but if you’re not hungry, eating ice cream out of the container — tempting as it is — won’t really help.

“Energy is eternal delight,” William Blake wrote, and it’s surprising how much sheer energy level can affect the quality of the happiness of a day.

What am I forgetting? Have you found any good strategies for a quick mood boost?

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I'm just about finished writing my next book, Better Than Before, about how we can make and break our habits. If you’d like to hear when the book goes on sale, sign up here.

Secret of Adulthood: The Days Are Long, But the Years Are Short.

Further Secrets of Adulthood:

DaysAreLongYearsAreShort_124845

 

Of everything I’ve ever written, I think this one line resonates most with people, and the one-minute video I did, in which I tell the little story about the day that this idea hit me with full force, is one of my favorite creations.

 

Do you know the feeling when one particular day seems endless — but then the year passes in a flash?

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“For in Truth Habit is a Violent and Treacherous Schoolmistress.”

montaigne“For in truth habit is a violent and treacherous schoolmistress. She establishes in us, little by little, stealthily, the foothold of her authority; but having by this mild and humble beginning settled and planted it with the help of time, she soon uncovers to us a furious and tyrannical face against which we no long have the liberty of even raising our eyes.”

— Michel de Montaigne, “Of Custom, and Not Easily Changing an Accepted Law”

Agree, disagree?

I use this passage as the epigraph to the chapter “Change My Surroundings, Not Myself,” about the Strategy of Inconvenience in my forthcoming book on habits. (To hear when the book goes on sale, sign up here.)

I love habits — I’m an Upholder, after all — but I recognize their fearsome power. What do you think — do you embrace habit, or do you turn away from that “furious and tyrannical face”?

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Former Navy SEAL and I Agree on an Important Habit. Not What You Might Expect.

mcravenWhenever I talk to people about their happiness projects, I ask, “What have you tried? What works for you?”

People tell me a million things they’ve done, but to my astonishment, the one resolution that comes up the most often — and this isn’t the most significant thing you could do to boost your happiness, but it does seem to be the thing that people most often try, and that does work — is to make your bed.

“Make the bed” is one of the most popular happiness-project resolutions, and in fact, the habit of bed-making is correlated with a sense of greater well-being and higher productivity.

I write a lot about this issue of “making your bed” in The Happiness Project and in Happier at Home — and it also comes up in my forthcoming book about habit-formation — so I got a big kick out of seeing that when Naval Adm. William McRaven, ninth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, gave the commencement address at the University of Texas at Austin a few days ago, he specifically mentioned the resolution to…make your bed.

Here’s the video, here’s what he says:

Every morning in basic SEAL training, my instructors, who at the time were all Viet Nam veterans, would show up in my barracks room and the first thing they would inspect was your bed.

If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the rack—rack—that’s Navy talk for bed.

It was a simple task—mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle hardened SEALs—but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over.

If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another.

By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.

If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.

And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.

If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.

I wholeheartedly agree.

I also think that for many people — like me — an unmade bed is a broken window, which is why “Make the bed” is one of the most popular happiness-project resolutions, and in fact, the habit of bed-making is correlated with a sense of greater well-being and higher productivity.

 

(Now, some people say that, to the contrary, they revel in not making their beds. One of my Secrets of Adulthood is The opposite of a profound truth is also true, and for some people, a useful resolution might be “Don’t make your bed.” One person wrote to me, “My mother was so rigid about keeping the house tidy when I was a child that now I get a huge satisfaction from not making my bed, not hanging up my coat, etc. It makes me feel free.” Some people thrive on a little chaos. Everyone’s happiness project is different.)

What about you? Does making your bed – or not making your bed – contribute in a small way to your happiness? Or have you found other manageable resolutions that have brought more happiness than you would’ve expected?

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Are You Chronically Late? 8 Tips for Showing Up on Time.

white-rabbit-closeupEvery Wednesday is Tip Day, or List Day, or Quiz Day.

This Wednesday: 8 tips for getting yourself to show up on time.

Many people have the habit of constantly running late — and they drive themselves, and other people, crazy.

I have the opposite problem — I’m pathologically early, and often arrive places too soon. This is annoying, as well, but in a different way. As I write this, I’m realize that I assume that chronic earliness is very rare. But maybe it’s not. Are you chronically early?

In any event, more people seem bothered by chronic lateness. Feeling as though you’re always running twenty minutes behind schedule is an unhappy feeling. Having to rush, forgetting things in your haste, dealing with annoyed people when you arrive…it’s no fun.

If you find yourself chronically late, what steps can you take to be more prompt? That depends on why you’re late. As my Eighth Commandment holds, the first step is to Identify the problem – then you can see more easily what you need to change.

There are many reasons you might be late, but some are particularly common. Are you late because…

1.You sleep too late? If you’re so exhausted in the morning that you sleep until the last possible moment, it’s time to think about going to sleep earlier. Many people don’t get enough sleep, and sleep deprivation is a real drag on your happiness and health. Try to turn off the light sooner each night.

2.You try to get one last thing done? Apparently, this is a common cause of tardiness. If you always try to answer one more email or put away one more load of laundry before you leave, here’s a way to outwit yourself: take a task that you can do when you reach your destination, and leave early. Tell yourself that you need that ten minutes on the other end to read those brochures or check those figures.

3. You under-estimate the commute time? You may tell yourself it takes twenty minutes to get to work, but if it actually takes forty minutes, you’re going to be chronically late. Have you exactly identified the time by which you need to leave? That’s what worked for me for getting my kids to school on time. As I write about in Happier at Home, we have a precise time that we’re supposed to leave, so I know if we’re running late, and by how much.

4. You can’t find your keys/wallet/phone/sunglasses? Nothing is more annoying than searching for lost objects when you’re running late. Designate a place in your house for your key items, and put those things in that spot, every time. I keep everything important in my (extremely unfashionable) backpack, and fortunately a backpack is big enough that it’s always easy to find. If you still can’t find your keys, here are some tips for finding misplaced objects.

5. Other people in your house are disorganized? Your wife can’t find her phone, your son can’t find his Spanish book, so you’re late. As hard as it is to get yourself organized, it’s even harder to help other people get organized. Try setting up the “key things” place in your house. Prod your children to get their school stuff organized the night before—and coax the outfit-changing types to pick their outfits the night before, too. Get lunches ready. Etc.

6. Your co-workers won’t end meetings on time? This is an exasperating problem. You’re supposed to be someplace else, but you’re trapped in a meeting that’s going long. Sometimes, this is inevitable, but if you find it happening over and over, identify the problem. Is too little time allotted to meetings that deserve more time? Is the weekly staff meeting twenty minutes of work crammed into sixty minutes? If you face this issue repeatedly, there’s probably an identifiable problem – and once you identify it, you can develop strategies to solve it — e.g., sticking to an agenda; circulating information by email; not permitting discussions about contentious philosophical questions not relevant to the tasks at hand, etc. (This last problem is surprisingly widespread, in my experience.)

7. You haven’t considered how your behavior affects someone else? A friend was chronically late dropping off her son at sports activities until he said, “You’re always late dropping me off because it doesn’t affect you, but you’re always on time to pick me up, because you’d be embarrassed to be the last parent at pick-up.” She was never late again.

8.You hate your destination so much you want to postpone showing up for as long as possible? If you dread going to work that much, or you hate school so deeply, or wherever your destination might be, you’re giving yourself a clear signal that you need think about making a change in your life.

Late or not, if you find yourself rushing around every morning, consider waking up earlier (see #1 above). Yes, it’s tough to give up those last precious moments of sleep, and it’s even tougher to go to bed earlier and cut into what, for many people, is their leisure time. But it helps.

I get up at 6:00 a.m. so I have an hour to myself before I have to rassle everyone out of bed. This has made a huge improvement in our mornings. Because I’m organized and ready by 7:00 a.m., I can be focused on getting all of us out the door. (On a related note, here are more tips for keeping school mornings calm and cheery.)

What are some other strategies that work if you suffer from chronic lateness?

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