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

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Quiz: Are You an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

quiz-.jpgEvery Wednesday is Quiz Day, or Tip Day, or List Day.

This Wednesday:  Quiz: Are you an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger? 

In the course of writing my book about habit-formation, Before and After, I’ve come up with a character framework. (To hear when the book goes on sale, sign up here.)

I have to say, I’m so pleased with this framework. I love it. But what to call it? The “Rubin Tendencies“? The “Expectation Types“? I’m still pondering that.

In a nutshell, I sort everyone into four categories, which describe how people tend to respond to expectations: outer expectations (a deadline, a “request” from a sweetheart) and inner expectations (write a novel in your free time, keep a New Year’s resolution).

Your response to expectations may sound obscure, but it turns out to be very, very important. For your habits, and for many aspects of your life.

In a nutshell:

  • Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations (I’m an Upholder, 100%)
  • Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense (my husband is a Questioner); essentially, they make all expectations into inner expectations
  • Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike
  • Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves

 

For more explanation, look here.

Many people have asked for some kind of quiz to tell them their Tendency. It’s tricky, because the Tendencies overlap, but here goes…

Check off every statement that describes you.

You’ll probably have checks in more than one category, but if you’re like most people, you’ll find that one will much more accurately describe you.

Upholder

___ I love crossing items off my to-do list.

___ I feel uncomfortable if I’m with someone who’s breaking a rule—whispering to me during someone’s giving a work presentation, or using a cell phone when a sign reads “No cell phones.”

___ Usually, I’m punctual and meet deadlines. In fact, I really dislike being late or missing a deadline, even if it’s somewhat arbitrary.

___ I’ve made New Year’s resolutions in the past, and I usually have good success in keeping them.

___ If something is on my calendar, it gets done.

___ I hate making mistakes or letting people down.

___ It’s just as important to keep my promises to myself as it is to keep my promises to other people.

___ I want to know what’s expected of me.

___ Sometimes other people feel annoyed by my level of discipline. I’ve been accused of being rigid.

___ I embrace habits.

___ It’s painful for me not to do something I’ve agreed to do, even if it doesn’t really matter, so I’m very careful about making commitments—to other people or to myself.

 

Questioner 

___ It’s very important for me to make well-reasoned decisions.

___ If I want to make a change in my life, I’ll make it right away. I won’t make a New Year’s resolution, because January 1 is an arbitrary date.

___ Even when a decision isn’t particularly important, I sometimes have trouble deciding, because I want more information.

___ I get very agitated if I have to wait in line.

___ If I’m asked to do something that doesn’t make sense, I won’t do it—which sometimes causes conflicts with other people.

___ Other people sometimes become frustrated by my demand for information and sound reasons.

___ It really bothers me when things are unfair or arbitrary.

___ I like to hear from experts, but I always decide for myself what course to follow.

___ I can start a new habit without much effort, if it’s something that makes sense for my aims.

___ Occasionally, I arrive at conclusions that violate conventional wisdom or common practice (which can cause problems with other people); I want to act on the basis of my own reasoning.

___ I question the validity of the Rubin Tendencies.

 

Rebel 

___ I never make New Year’s resolutions. Why would I commit myself to do something in advance?

___ If someone asks or tells me to do something, I often have the impulse to refuse—or to do just the opposite.

___ I resist habits.

___ I enjoy flouting rules and expectations.

___ Other people sometimes become frustrated because I won’t do what they want me to do.

___ If someone tells me I can’t do something, I think, “I’ll show you,” and I do it.

___ People sometimes accuse me of being irresponsible or unnecessarily contrarian.

___ I’m not particularly persuaded by arguments such as, “People are counting on you,” “You’ve already paid for it,” “You said you’d do it,” “Someone will be upset if you don’t,” “It’s against the rules,” “This is the deadline,” or “It’s rude.”

___ Sometimes I find myself attracted to institutions with lots of rules—the military, the police, the clergy.

___ If I’m expected to do something—even something fun, like a wood-working class—I have the urge to resist; the expectation takes the fun out of an activity that I enjoy.

___ My significant other is an Obliger.

 

Obliger 

___ I sometimes describe myself as a “people-pleaser.”

___ People often turn to me for help—to edit a report, to take over a carpool run, to speak at a conference at the last minute.

___ I’ve given up making New Year’s resolutions, because I never keep them.

___ I get frustrated by the fact that I make time for other people’s priorities, but struggle to make time for my own.

___ Every once in a while, I snap, and in a sudden moment of rebellion, I refuse to do what other people expect of me.

___ Promises to other people can’t be broken, but promises to myself can be broken.

___ Unless someone is enforcing a deadline, it’s hard for me to get work done.

___ I sometimes feel burned out, and it’s hard for me to take the time and effort for myself, to recharge my battery.

___ I’ll do something to be a good role model, even if it’s not something that I’d do for myself. Practice piano, eat vegetables, quit smoking.

___ It’s hard for me to tell people “no.”

___ I’ve made some good habits, but I often struggle without success to form others.

This quiz is still under construction, so let me know: was it helpful? what is it missing? any false notes?

People’s responses to the four Rubin Tendencies (or whatever they end up being called) has been very encouraging. Most people find themselves within the framework — and also find that knowing their Tendency helps them to understand themselves better.

You may be thinking, “The Rubin Tendencies are interesting, but what the heck do they have to do with habit-formation?” Of the many habit-formation strategies I’ve identified, the first, and the most important, is the Strategy of Self-Knowledge. To shape our habits most effectively, we must understand ourselves. And knowing your Rubin Tendency is enormously helpful in figuring out how to set up habits for success.

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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: If You Can’t Find Something, Clean Up.

Further Secrets of Adulthood:

IfYouCantFindSomethingCleanUp_124824

 

I’m amazed by how true this is. I repeat it to my daughters about once a week.

Do you have any other tricks for finding things that you can’t find? (One of the most annoying things in life.) Like the great Secret of Adulthood: Always put your keys away in the same place.

NOTE THE NEW FEATURE: I’ve added a Pin It button to the top of the post, so you can easily pin to Pinterest (I’m there myself.)

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Do You Find It Hard to Turn Off the Light, Even When You Need the Sleep?

unmadebedpillowsBecause I’m working on Before and After, my new book about habit-formation, I constantly talk to people about their habits, and as I heard about people’s sleep habits, something puzzled me.

For me, sleep is a self-reinforcing habit; I feel so much better when I get enough sleep that I find it fairly easy to respect my bedtime.

Often, however, people tell me that they’re painfully, chronically exhausted–yet when I suggest that they go to bed earlier, they become angry and resentful. Usually, these folks desperately need the sleep. So why do they get so upset at the thought of moving up their bedtime?

As I talked to more and more people, I began to understand. In most cases, these are folks who schedule very little time for themselves. They race around, weekdays and weekends alike, without a break, and their only open time comes at night, when nothing more can be expected of them.

Some use that time to try to catch up on work—to knock off a few emails, to read through a report. For many people, it’s the only time they can work without fear of interruption, and they want to get a jump on the next day.

Other people use the time not for work, but for play. The kids are asleep, the trash is out, office emails have stopped, and they can finally relax.

People don’t want to lose that precious slot of time, even to sleep. It feels like a deprivation—and people hate to feel deprived.

A friend said, with surprising vehemence, “I work at my law firm from morning to night. If I don’t have that hour or two at the end of the day, to read, to relax, I have nothing for myself.”

“So what are your hours?”

“I get home around nine, I never go to bed before midnight, I get up at 6:30 a.m.”

“You might work better and more efficiently if you got more sleep.”

“If I went to sleep earlier, in order to feel sharper the next day, that would just seem like a work-related decision, too. That would mean the firm is getting more of my time.” He shook his head. “No way.”

This it’s-my-only-time-to-myself phenomenon is a big habits challenge. “Rest, relax, and enjoy” is #4 of the Essential Seven, and many of those who cling to that last outpost of open time are reluctant to trade it for the restorative repose of sleep.

Do you find it hard to turn out the light, even when you know you’d feel better if you got more sleep? How do you think about that trade-off?

(If you have trouble getting enough sleep, here are some tips. If you want to be notified when my habits book goes on sale, sign up here.)

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“There Is a Myth, Sometimes Widespread, that a Person Need Only Do Inner Work.”

christopheralexander“There is a myth, sometimes widespread, that a person need only do inner work…that a man is entirely responsible for his own problems; and that to cure himself, he need only change himself….The fact is, a person is so formed by his surroundings, that his state of harmony depends entirely on his harmony with his surroundings.”

—Christopher Alexander, The Timeless Way of Building

Do you agree or disagree?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, as I write my book Before and After, about habit-formation — to what degree are our habits affected by our surroundings and by other people? In my view, a lot. (To be notified when the book goes on sale, sign up here.)

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Before and After: “The Habit that Changed My Life Was Becoming a Morning Writer.”

HabitsRepeatFourI’m writing my next book, Before and After, about how we make and break habits–an issue  very relevant to happiness. Each week, I’ll post a before-and-after story submitted by a reader, about how he or she successfully changed a habit. We can all learn from each other. If you’d like to share your story, contact me here. To be notified when the book is available for pre-order, sign up here.

This week’s story comes from Nina Badzin.

The habit that changed my life was becoming a morning writer.

 

I’m a freelance writer and blogger with a regular column in Brain, Child Magazine. I also have four kids and try to keep up with answering blog comments, reading other blogs, and sharing others’ articles online.

 

BEFORE AND AFTER: More and more I found that I was using all my day time writing hours (which are never consistent) for the social side (but also important side) of blogging. The real writing was not coming along. To keep up with deadlines, I would end up staying awake until 2AM or later, which took away from time I should have been spending with my husband and made me exhausted, unproductive, and crabby the next day.

 

I realized that the only time I could count on was morning time before the kids were awake, something I’ve been avoiding even though every writer I respect says it’s the way to go. I did nothing to prepare for the first day. I just set the alarm for 5AM and forced myself awake. I’d say it was a cold turkey method.

 

It was never (and is never) easy to get up, but I do it anyway. The joy of having written quality paragraphs by 7AM when the kids are awake was enough to get me up the next day. Another strategy to avoid the snooze button is that my husband can fall back asleep after he hears me get up at 5. But if I let the alarm go off again or try to wake up closer to 6AM, it’s too close to when he has to start his day, which was not fair to him.

 

I’m finally going to bed earlier after many years of staying up way too late, and I’m so much more productive. I feel more professional. AND, I feel less guilty about hopping around on the internet reading articles, commenting, and engaging in social media during other pockets of the day since I already got my main work done.

This is a good example of the principle that if there’s a habit you really want to accomplish, it’s very helpful to schedule it first thing in the morning.

First of all, the Strategy of Scheduling — of explicitly putting an activity on the calendar — is very powerful. And for many people, if they don’t have time for something important to them, getting up earlier is a great strategy to reclaim some time.

Also, whenever possible, important habits should be scheduled for the morning. Mornings tend to unfold in the same way, and as the day goes on, more complications arise (whether real or invented).

Self-control is strongest in the morning, and self-control failures often happen at the end of the day. Activities like excessive gambling and alcohol abuse tend to happen at night, and the majority of impulsive crimes take place after 11:00 p.m.

However, it’s true that some people are “Larks” (morning people) and some people are “Owls” (night people), and night people generally aren’t successful at trying to get up earlier to write, meditate, exercise, etc. — because the world is already forcing them to get up too early! Work, school, children…the logistics of life make it hard to be an Owl. So if you’re an Owl (which isn’t the same thing as someone who stays up too late to send a few last emails or to watch TV), trying to get up earlier probably won’t be helpful.

Have you ever been able to adopt a new habit by scheduling it first thing in the morning?

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