Secret of Adulthood: Take Yourself Less Seriously–and Take Yourself More Seriously.

Further Secrets of Adulthood:


When it comes to human nature, paradoxes abound.

Accept myself, and expect more from myself.

I’m very like other people, and very different from other people. (This was one of my key insights about habit-change, in Better Than Before.)

Use my time efficiently, yet also make time to play, to wander, to read at whim, to fail.

Keep an empty shelf, and keep a junk drawer. (Want to see my empty shelf? Look here.)

Work can be play, and play can be work.

Think about myself so I can forget myself.

Do you find it harder to take yourself seriously, or not to take yourself too seriously?

Why Today Is a Huge Milestone For Me.

Weirdly,  as an author, it’s hard to say when a book is “done.”

I finish the first complete draft — then it’s “done.”

But then I do endless numbers of edits. Then that’s done, and I send it to my editor.

Then it goes through several stages, of which the last is “second pass pages.” That is the last time I can make a change to the book — and if I make a change, it had better be pretty small.

At this point, the book is in almost final form. It looks like the book (it’s a huge morale booster to see the text formatted to look like an actual book).

When I send back those “second pass pages,” my work is completed.

The design of the book is still being tweaked, and the copy for the jacket is still be tweaked, and there are a few corrections to be made (for instance, this second pass had a blank the section where my author bio was supposed to be), but now my work on the substance of the book is done.

It’s unnerving, but also a relief. No more edits! No more tinkering!

It was strange to take a photo of that pile of pages, and know — well, this is it.  (The “AU” means “author,” to show that any edits are from the author.)

I have to say, this book was hard to write. All my books are challenging — happiness is a challenging subject, Churchill, all of them — but this was particularly challenging.

So much information, all so fascinating. How could I fit it all in? At one point, the book was 140,000 words long, and I’d cut it way back to get there. Now it’s about 80,ooo. And believe me, it’s much, much better being shorter. I didn’t lose any ideas, I just expressed myself much more concisely.

A lot of people ask my how I do my research.

I read a ton of science and studies — and I read a lot of novels, biographies, and memoirs, and spend a lot of time talking to the people around me, about their habits.

In fact, I spend most of my time trying to understand what’s happening right in front of me. Samuel Johnson said, “Men and women are my subjects of inquiry,” and that’s how I feel.

With this book, I wanted to make new ideas about habits feel familiar, and I also wanted to make familiar ideas feel new and fresh.

My hope is that Better Than Before will give readers the thrill of recognition and relief, because at last, we have the vocabulary and framework to change our habits successfully.

For better or worse, my work on Better Than Before is done.  Zoikes! It’s hard to believe.

Do you ever feel a kind of shock or listlessness descend, when you finish a big project? I still have a ton of work to do around the publication of the book, so I’m as busy as always; but that main task is behind me. And that feels…odd.

Fill in the Blank: “The Mind Is Rarely So Disturbed But That __ Will Restore It to Tranquility.”

“The mind…is rarely so disturbed, but that the company of a friend will restore it to some degree of tranquility and sedateness.”

–Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments

Agree, disagree?

Ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists agree: strong relationships are a key to happiness. We usually get a little lift from engaging with other people.

Here’s My Habits Manifesto. What’s Yours?

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

This Wednesday: My Habits Manifesto.

Writing a personal manifesto is a great exercise for clarifying your thinking — and it’s also a creative, absorbing process. I’ve written my Twelve Personal Commandments, and I also collect Secrets of Adulthood, which aren’t manifestos, but related to the same impulse.

As I’ve been writing Better Than Before, my book about how we make and break habits, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about habit-formation.

I decided I should write my manifesto for habits. Earlier, I’d done a similar exercise, where I distilled each strategy of the book into one sentence, and I also made a list of Secrets of Adulthood for Habits.

Voila, here’s my Habits Manifesto.

What we do every day matters more than what we do once in a while.

Make it easy to do right and hard to go wrong.

Focus on actions, not outcomes.

By giving something up, we may gain.

Things often get harder before they get easier.

When we give more to ourselves, we can ask more from ourselves.

We’re not very different from other people, but those differences are very important.

It’s easier to change our surroundings than ourselves.

We can’t make people change, but when we change, others may change.

 We should make sure the things we do to feel better don’t make us feel worse.

 We manage what we monitor.

 Once we’re ready to begin, begin now.

Have you ever written your own manifesto? If you wrote a manifesto for habits, what would you add (or subtract)?

When I’m writing about a very big subject, I find it helpful to push myself to distill it. Trying to express an idea in very few words forces me to get very clear in my thinking.

In Books and Characters French and English, Lytton Strachey wrote, “Perhaps the best test of a man’s intelligence is his capacity for making a summary.” I’m not sure whether I agree with that, but I absolutely agree that making a summary is a great way to clarify thoughts.

To pre-order Better Than Before, click here.

Video: For Habits, the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting.

I’m doing a video series in which I discuss the various strategies that we can use for habit-formation.

Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life, and a significant element of happiness. If we have habits that work for us, we’re much more likely to be happy, healthy, productive, and creative.

My forthcoming book, Better Than Before, describes the multiple strategies we can exploit to change our habits. To pre-order, click here. (Pre-orders give a real boost to a book, so if you’re inclined to buy the book, I’d really appreciate it if you pre-order it.)

Today, I’m talking about the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting.

I have to say, this was my favorite chapter. The loopholes are so funny.


If you want to read more about a particular category of loophole, look here:

1. False choice loophole “I can’t do this, because I’m so busy doing that” – this is one I often use, myself

2. Moral licensing loophole  — “I’ve been so good, it’s okay for me to do this”

3. Tomorrow loophole — “It’s okay to skip today, because I’m going to do this tomorrow”

4. Lack of control loophole — “I can’t help myself”

5. Planning to fail loophole, formerly known as the “Apparently irrelevant decision loophole”

6. “This doesn’t count” loophole – “I’m on vacation” “I’m sick” “It’s the weekend”

7. Questionable assumption loophole

8. Concern for others loophole — “I can’t do this because it might make other people uncomfortable”

9. Fake self-actualization loophole – “You only live once! Embrace the moment!”

10. One-coin loophole“What difference does it make if I break my habit this one time?”

If you’re curious about the book I mention, The Boy Castaways of Black Lake Island, I write about it here.

What’s your favorite loophole?