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

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“Every Time You Break the Law You Pay, and Every Time You Obey the Law You Pay.”

gardnerEvery time you break the law you pay, and every time you obey the law you pay.

— John Gardner, interview, The Paris Review

I’m haunted by this line; I think about it all the time. It’s even the epigraph to my new book on habit-formation, Before and After– along with a quotation by William James (of course; you can’t talk about habits without quoting William James).

It’s a line with many, many meanings. In the context of habit-formation, I think about it whenever I ponder the Four Tendencies. Because, whether you’re an Upholder like me, or a Rebel, or a Questioner or an Obliger, there’s no evading it: every time you break the law you pay, and every time you obey the law you pay.

Agree, disagree?

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

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I'm deep in the writing of my next book, Before and After, about making and breaking habits, and there's nothing more satisfying than reading the success stories of people who have changed a habit. If you have a Before-and-After story of a habit you changed, and you're willing to share it here on the blog, please contact me here. Once a week, I'll post a story. We can all learn from each other.

Before and After: “I Struggled for Years With Getting Myself to Ring My Grandfather.”

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 someone who wants to stay anonymous.

I struggled for years with getting myself to ring my grandfather on a ‘regular’ basis. I grew up on the other side of the world from my grandparents and only really got to know them as an adult. I knew I should call my grandfather more often – that it made him really happy, that it didn’t need to take very long… but remembering at useful times seemed impossible.

 
And then, a year ago, I realised that I often have just a bit of down time just before my weekly dance lesson. I’m chronically early for things and being slightly *more* early was easy, and then there’s 20 minute or half an hour when I have nothing else to do but call. The dancing is something I love – making that a weekly habit was easy, and now I also have the physical reminder of standing outside of the dance building to help me build the other habit. I’ve called every week for almost two years now. He’s even stopped guilt tripping me for forgetting to call.

This is a great example of the Strategy of Pairing — when you connect two activities together to strengthen a habit. Sometimes, with pairing, it helps to say that one activity will occur only if the other activity occurs: “I keep my medicine by the coffee machine, and I can’t make coffee until I take my pill,” or “I can watch Game of Thrones only when I’m on the treadmill.”

Or, as in this reader’s case, you piggyback a new habit onto a settled habit. One habit connects to the other habit. This can be highly effective. Note: this approach seems to work better than trying to form a new habit at a particular time; it’s very easy to lose track of time.

Have you used the Strategy of Pairing to foster a habit? Have you ever piggybacked a new habit onto an existing habit?

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Secret of Adulthood: Enthusiasm Is a Form of Social Courage.

Further Secrets of Adulthood:

EnthusiasmFormOfSocialCourage_124717

 

The more I think about happiness, the more I value enthusiasm.

Enthusiasm is a form of social courage – it’s safer to criticize and scoff than to praise and embrace — and I’ve decided that I’d rather be “enthusiastic” than “confident.”

I have a patron saint for enthusiasm. Can you guess it? Julia Child. (By the way, identifying your patron saint is a very thought-provoking exercise in thinking about your own values.)

This post I wrote about Julia Child may be one of my favorite posts ever.

It can seem cooler and smarter to be ironic, detached, or critical, and it’s certainly much easier and safer to adopt that sort of stance. But enthusiasm is more fun. Enthusiasm is generous, positive, energetic, and social. It’s outward-turning and engaged. It’s brave, unself-conscious, warm-hearted, and kind of goofy. Like Julia Child!

I’m not sure whether I agree with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who wrote, “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm” – but enthusiasm certainly helps. And sometimes enthusiasm takes guts.

I’m reminded of one of something my sister the sage once told me: “No one has an opinion until someone else has an opinion.” By speaking up with enthusiasm, we change people’s attitudes.

Agree, disagree?

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Further Secrets of Adulthood — for Habits.

GardenSnail

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

This Wednesday: Further Secrets of Adulthood–for habits.

I collect axioms, paradoxes, maxims, teaching stories, proverbs, and aphorisms of all sorts, because I love to see complex ideas distilled into a few words.

For years, I’ve been writing my “Secrets of Adulthood,” which are the principles I’ve managed to grasp as I’ve become an adult.

Right now, I’m hard at work editing my next book, Before and After, about how we make and break habits — really.  This is the most fascinating subject ever — though it’s true, I say that about all my books.  (If you want to hear when Before and After goes on sale, sign up here.)

Many of my latest Secrets of Adulthood relate to habits:

  • We’re more like other people than we suppose, and less like other people than we suppose.
  • A slight delay is the easiest way; no delay is the easiest way.
  • Prioritize prioritizing.
  • Well begun is half done.
  • Don’t expect to be motivated by motivation.
  • Practice makes permanent.
  • Things often get harder before they get easier.
  • What we assume will be temporary often becomes permanent; what we assume is permanent often proves temporary.
  • There is no finish line.
  • It’s easier to keep up than to catch up.
  • By giving something up, we gain. (More true for Abstainers than Moderators.)
  • When we give more to ourselves, we can ask more from ourselves. Important for the Strategy of Treats.
  • We can’t make people change, but when we change, others change.
  • The biggest waste of time is to do well something that we need not do at all.
  • Make it easy to do right, and hard to go wrong. Strategy of Convenience.
  • Make sure the things we do to make ourselves feel better don’t make us feel worse.
  • To keep going, we sometimes need to allow ourselves to stop.
  • Working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination.
  • Most decisions don’t require extensive research.
  • Self-regard isn’t selfish.
  • Progress, not perfection.
  • Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. (cribbed from Voltaire)
  • The more we accept ourselves, and what’s right for us, the more other people accept us.
  • Nothing stays in Vegas.
  • Things look messier before they look tidier.
  • What we do every day matters more than what we do once in a while.
  • What’s best? Getting better.
  • Self-sacrifice can be self-indulgent.
  • Not choosing is a choice.
  • Everything counts.
  • Slow progress can be more frustrating than no progress.

 

What would you add?

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Revealed! Book Club Choices for April. Happy Reading.

stack-of-booksBecause nothing boosts happiness more than a great book, each month, I suggest:

· one outstanding book about happiness or habits

· one outstanding work of children’s or young-adult literature–I have a crazy passion for kidlit

· one eccentric pick–a widely admired and excellent book that I love, yes, but one that may not appeal to everyone

I’ll post these recommendations here, or to make sure you don’t miss them, sign up for the monthly Book Club newsletter.

Shop at the wonderful Brooklyn indie WORD, BN.com, Amazon (I’m an affiliate of all three), or your favorite local bookstore. Or visit the library! Drumroll…

An outstanding book about happiness or, more specifically, habits:

Laurie Colwin, Family Happiness. This excellent novel is is a brilliant portrait of an Obliger in full Obliger-rebellion, if that interests you.

Buy from WORD; BN.comAmazon.

An outstanding young-adult book:

Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth. This is an outstanding book, which I planned to recommend next month; for this month, I intended to recommend Carol Ryrie Brink’s Andy Buckram’s Tin Men. And it’s out of print! Horrible. Try to get it from the library, so good.

Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon.

An eccentric pick:

Journal of Eugene Delacroix.

Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon.

I’ve noticed that many times, when someone describes a book to me, I want to read it less. And often, weirdly, the better a book is, the worse it sounds. So I won’t describe these books, but I love all the books I recommend; I’ve read them at least twice if not many times; and they’re widely loved. I do provide slightly more context in the book club newsletter.

If you read last month’s recommendations…what did you think? Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit;William Pene du Bois’s The Twenty-One Balloons; and Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions.

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