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

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Whoops, I forgot to mention the secret of the video I mentioned on Friday.

On Friday, I posted about a fascinating experiment demonstrating “inattentional blindness.” Go to this site, by the University of Illinois’s Visual Cognition Lab, and watch the video. As you watch, count the number of times the white-shirted team passes the basketball. Now that you’ve done it — did you notice the guy in the gorilla suit who walks through the game? Crazy!

I've just finished writing my next book, Better Than Before, about how we can make and break our habits. If you'd like to pre-order the book, click here.

This Saturday: a happiness quotation from Samuel Johnson.

Samueljohnson_2“Reproof should not exhaust its power upon petty failings.” –Samuel Johnson

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One aspect of my Happiness Project is my continuing effort to awaken my visual side. It’s there, and I get intrigued with visual projects like interior design or graphic design, but I always lapse back into words. Nevertheless, I keep trying. I came across a great blog, Decor8, that I really enjoy. (I’m not going to admit how long it took me to notice the pun in the name.)

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It’s Friday: time to think about YOUR Happiness Project. This week: Go outside.

SunrisecityI’m working on my Happiness Project, and you should have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

This assignment is easy. Go outside.

Go outside into the sunlight; light deprivation is one reason that people feel tired. Research suggests that light stimulates brain chemicals that improve mood and increase motivation.

For an extra boost, get your sunlight first thing in the morning.

Now, I’m the kind of person who loves to sit around the house in my pajamas. If I can manage it, I enjoy the occasional day when I never step foot out of my apartment.

But even though I love staying in, there’s nevertheless something slightly oppressive about being inside all day.

And going from your front door, to the car door, to the office door, and then in reverse, isn’t much better.

At least for me, unscientifically speaking, spending time outside gives a feeling of freedom, of connecting with the seasons (even when the weather isn’t ideal), of breathing fresh air, of not being so trapped by a schedule that I can’t be out in the world.

Plus, if you use your time outside to go for a walk, you’ll get a double benefit for mood and energy. Because I live in New York City, I get a lot of opportunities to walk around outside, and I know it boosts my spirits.

If possible, push the directive to “Go outside” a little further, and try to build some more outdoor time into your life. Go hiking, go birdwatching, get a dog, shoot hoops in the driveway.

People in industrialized countries spent about 93% of their time inside; don’t forget how energizing and cheering it can be to go outdoors.

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I’d read about this fascinating experiment demonstrating “inattentional blindness,” but I’d never seen it for myself until Martha Beck included a URL to the video in her O Magazine article, Wait! Stop! It’s all too much.

Go to this site, by the University of Illinois’s Visual Cognition Lab, and watch the video. As you watch, count the number of times the white-shirted team passes the basketball.

If you want to know the point of the study, watch the video again — or tune in tomorrow, and I’ll explain.

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New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.
If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.

Just two days into 2008, I broke several of my most important resolutions.

SunriseSo much for keeping my resolutions.

Last night, on Day #2 of my resolutions for the new year, I broke about fifty resolutions in the space of ten minutes. Possibly a new record.

It was late, and both of our girls, who are usually good sleepers, were up and fussing in their various eight-year-old and two-year-old manners.

The problem: I wanted the Big Man to deal with it, for my own reasons, and he wanted me to deal with it, for his own reasons.

Neither of us was right or wrong. We both had good justifications for why the other person should step up.

But I was ENRAGED. I yelled, I stormed around the room, I said all the things you’re not supposed to say, like “You always…” “You never…” and my personal favorite, “For once, can’t you just…?”

I prevailed — but I lost. I felt terrible.

Many people believe in the “catharsis hypothesis” and think that expressing anger is healthy-minded and relieves their feelings. Not so. Studies show that expressing anger only aggravates it.

I’ve certainly found this to be true; losing my temper just made me angrier. And once my anger passed, I felt guilty about my behavior, which then re-fueled my anger.

I thought again of G. K. Chesterton’s haunting line, “It is easy to be heavy; hard to be light.” I should have expressed myself gently, with a sense of humor. I should have exerted the self-discipline to hold my temper.

Oh, well. As I constantly remind myself as I pursue my Happiness Project, today is another day. I hope that seeing all those reproachful XXXXXs lined up in my resolutions chart will help me remember to do a better job next time.

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On the subject of New Year’s resolutions, or more generally, to-do lists, I just discovered the To Do List blog. It’s like Joe’s Goals meets Post Secret.

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New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.
If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.

This Wednesday: Twelve tips for keeping your resolutions after the zeal of 1/1/08 has worn off.

ResolutionEvery Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Twelve tips for sticking to your resolutions after the zeal of 1/1/08 has worn off.

Some 44% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. I loooooove resolutions and make them constantly – I’m a big believer in the power of small changes to make us happier.

But it can be hard to stick to a resolution. Here are twelve tips for following through on a resolution as the year progresses:

1. Write it down – and be specific. Don’t try to “make more friends”; instead, “start a movie group,” “remember birthdays,” “say hello,” “make plans.”

2. Review your resolution constantly. If your resolution is buzzing through your head, it’s easier to stick to it.

3. Hold yourself accountable. Tell other people about your resolution, join or form a like-minded group, score yourself on a chart — whatever works for you to make yourself feel accountable for success and failure.

4. Think big. Maybe you need a big change, a big adventure – a trip to a foreign place, a break-up, a move, a new job. Let yourself imagine anything, and plan from there.

5. Think small. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that only radical change can make a difference. Just keeping your fridge cleared out could give you a real boost. Look close to home for ways to improve and grow.

6. Break your main resolution into smaller, more manageable tasks. Also, a long to-do list will give you a feeling of progress as you work toward a distant goal.

7. Keep your resolution every day. Weirdly, it’s often easier to do something every day (exercise, post to a blog, deal with the mail) than every few days.

8. Set a deadline.

9. Don’t give up if something interferes with your deadline.

10. Ask for help. Why is this so hard? But every time I ask for help, I’m amazed at how much easier my task becomes.

11. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Thank you, Voltaire. Instead of starting your new exercise routine by training for the marathon, aim for a 20-minute walk each day. Instead of cleaning out the whole basement, tackle one closet this afternoon. If you break your resolution today, try again tomorrow.

Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Johnson are the two patron saints of those who make resolutions. Benjamin Franklin’s virtue charts inspired me to do my own resolution charts (if you’d like to see my charts, drop me an email at grubin [that add the “at” symbol] gretchenrubin [add the “dotcom” part]).

I laugh every time I read the entry from Samuel Johnson’s diary on his 51st birthday in September 1760. He has a long list of resolutions, and he concludes with four resolutions to begin at once:

Rise as early as I can.
Send for books for Hist. of war.
Put books in order.
Scheme life.

“Scheme life!” Now that’s a resolution.

His first resolution, “Rise as early as I can,” brings me to Tip #12: Consider giving up a resolution.

For his whole life, Johnson vowed to start getting up early, and he remained a late riser. But he managed to get quite a bit accomplished, anyway. So give it up, Dr. Johnson! Sleep late, and enjoy it!

If you keep making and breaking a resolution, consider whether you should relinquish it entirely. Put your energy toward changes that are both realistic and helpful. Don’t let an unfulfilled resolution to lose twenty pounds or to overhaul your overgrown yard block you from making other, smaller resolutions that might give you a big happiness boost.

And if one of your resolutions is to drink more water, don’t worry about it! This is a myth! You do NOT need to drink more water!

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I often stop by Marginal Revolution, and with this visit, was rewarded with a post about the relationship between money and happiness — one of the most complicated and misunderstood sub-topics within the subject of happiness.

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New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.
If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.