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

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This Wednesday: Six tips for coping with the fact that you don’t remember a person’s name.

MynameistagEvery Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Six tips for coping with the fact that you don’t remember a person’s name.

If you’re like me, you sometimes have trouble remembering people’s names, or even how you know them. A few years ago, while at a chaotic birthday party for a three-year-old, I was on the brink of going over to some little kid’s father to say, “I think we went to college together.” Turns out it was Dylan McDermott!

So I’ve developed some strategies for coping with the fact that I’m not able to pull up a person’s name right away. Of course, you can always just say politely, “I’m sorry, I don’t recall your name,” but if you’d rather try to disguise your forgetfulness a bit, give these a try:

1. The “I know your name, but I’m blocked” dodge:
“I keep wanting to call you “David,” but I know that’s not right.”

2. The “Of course I know you — in fact, I want all your information” dodge:
“Hey, I’d love to get your card.”

3. The “The tip of my tongue” dodge:
“I know I know your name, but I’m blanking right now.”

4. The “You’re brilliant!” dodge:
“Wow, you have a terrific memory. I can’t believe you remember my name from that meeting six months ago. I can’t remember the names of people I met yesterday! So of course I have to ask you your name.”

5. The “Sure, I remember you” dodge:
“Remind me – what’s your last name?” If you ask a person for his last name, he’s likely to repeat both names. “Doe, John Doe.”

6. The “One-sided introduction” dodge:
“Hey,” you say to the person whose name you can’t remember, “let me introduce you to Pat Smith.” You introduce the two and say the name of the person whose name you remember. Almost always, the nameless person will volunteer his or her name.

Also, remember that others might have trouble remembering your name. When you’re saying hello to someone, err on the side of re-introducing yourself. “Hi, John, it’s Gretchen Rubin.” Say your name slowly and clearly. And don’t get offended if someone doesn’t remember your name!

I love a good personality test, so I was pleased to discover, on Rocks in My Dryer, a link to Similar Minds, where I can take all sorts of personality tests for free. They have a whole “Enneagram” section…zoikes, don’t get me started on the Enneagram. I’m a bit obsessed with it. I’m a “3,” by the way. And ENTJ.

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.

A secret to happiness: re-frame something that’s making you unhappy.

FrameOne technique for happiness is to “re-frame” – that is, to change your attitude or your thinking about something that’s making you unhappy.

This sounds Pollyanna-ish, but I’ve been surprised by just how often it’s quite possible, and extremely effective.

For example, I’m writing this post at 4:15 a.m. I woke up at 3:30, and was so wide awake that I knew I’d never get back to sleep. Instead of lying in bed, fuming about the lost hours of sleep (which I really need), I hopped out of bed and headed to my office.

Instead of feeling that I lost that time, I feel like I’ve gained precious time. I cleared out some emails, I took some notes (zoikes, I love to take notes), I cleaned off my desk, and I got a jump on my day by drafting this post.

(Because I knew I’d be up until morning, I’m doing mental work. If it were 1:00 a.m., and I thought I might be able to go back to sleep, I wouldn’t do any thinking – I’d be tidying up the apartment instead, a task that doesn’t roil the brain.)

A friend told me that when his kids were younger, he and his wife would try desperately to sleep late on the weekends, but their kids were up by 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. After months of frustration, he decided to give up the dream of extra sleep. He’d get up, get the kids dressed, and take them to the park so his wife, at least, could stay in bed.

Those mornings turned into a highlight of that time of his life – the early morning light, the quiet streets and empty playground, the time alone with his sons.

I suppose “re-framing” is a more scientific way of saying, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” But just because a piece of advice can be found on a Snoopy poster doesn’t mean that it’s not worth trying.

Another fun thing I’m doing, up in the middle of the night, is cruising around the Internet and stopping at sites I’ve never explored before. I don’t have any particular reason to be reading the Deception Blog, but what a treat to feel like I have the time to explore all the interesting material there.

A key to happiness: figuring out to keep your resolutions.

Jiminycricket_2Before I started my Happiness Project, I — like everyone — had repeatedly made resolutions to make positive changes in my life.

Since I started the Happiness Project, I’ve managed to do a better sticking to these resolutions. Recently I asked myself—why? What was different? Two reasons: accountability and salience.

ACCOUNTABILITY is a key aspect to sticking to a resolution. You must have a way to record your goals, your successes, and your failures. I make a big chart each month, modeled on the virtue chart Benjamin Franklin describes in his Autobiography, on which I score myself each day.

Many readers have asked to see my scoring charts, so I’m prettifying them now, and will make them available soon for anyone who’d like to see a model. Obviously everyone’s resolutions will be very different, but seeing my charts might help spur ideas.

SALIENCE is another key aspect to sticking to a resolution. I found that the more quickly and readily a resolution pops into my mind at an appropriate point, the easier it is to keep that resolution. And the way to keep an idea uppermost in mind is through repetition.

I re-read my Twelve Commandments (see left-hand column) every day. I have sticky notes around the house to remind me of my resolutions. Scoring myself on my chart requires me to review every resolution, every day.

As a result, I hear a little Jiminy-Cricket voice in my head whispering “Let it go,” “Show up,” “There is only love,” “Remember the evening tidy-up,” “Sing in the morning,” and all the rest as I go through my day. Of course, I often ignore that little voice, but at least I hear it more clearly than I did before.

Just last night, I discovered a new mechanism to be reminded of my resolutions. It’s a fantastic website called Hassle Me. This site allows you to arrange to be hassled at certain times – so, for example, as a trial I arranged to be hassled every two days with a message, “No fake food.” It can remind you to go to the gym, to call your grandmother, to pay bills, whatever you want, however often you want.

I think I’m going to send myself fifty hassle-me’s. More salience!

I found an interesting site, Wise Bread. It’s about “living large on a small budget,” and I like the sensibility. One of my happiness themes is the relationship between money and happiness, which I think is more complictated than people claim. This site is about living frugally, but with a fun and adventurous spirit — not cramped penny-pinching. Plus I learned the history of the “baby carrot.”

This Saturday: a happiness quotation from La Bruyere.

Labruyere“The true spirit of conversation consists more in bringing out the cleverness of others than in showing a great deal of it yourself; he who goes away pleased with himself and his own wit is also greatly pleased with you. Most men would rather please than admire you; they seek less to be instructed, and even to be amused, than to be praised and applauded; the most delicate of pleasures is to please another person.” –La Bruyere

What the movie “Knocked Up” has to say about the secret to happiness.

KnockedupLast night, the Big Man and I went to see the new movie Knocked Up, and it really lived up to all the glowing reviews.

This morning, I was trying to figure out why the movie appealed to me so deeply, and I realized that it was because it’s all about the nature of love – all sorts of love, between strangers, lovers, spouses, friends, co-workers, sisters, in-laws, parents and children…

As well as being hilariously funny, the movie has transcendent moments, when the characters truly tried to connect, or to offer love, or to help, or to take on responsibility, or to change. People were bickering, flaking out, being selfish and irresponsible, but they also tried to do better.

These moments didn’t seem too unrealistically sappy, and they were on the small scale in which most of life is lived: we make many of our important decisions about little matters.

I was reminded about something Flannery O’Connor wrote about her own work:

“From my own experience in trying to make stories ‘work,’ I have discovered that what is needed is an action that is totally unexpected, yet totally believable, and I have found that, for me, this is always an action which indicates that grace has been offered. And frequently it is an action in which the devil has been the unwilling instrument of grace. This is not a piece of knowledge that I consciously put into my stories; it is a discovery that I get out of them.”

Knocked Up is a terrific example of “the devil being the unwilling instrument of grace.” Though I’m not sure Flannery O’Connor would have liked Knocked Up very much.

Just in case the audience might miss this point, the last few minutes of the movie make that point explicit.

Busy Mom is a great blog — the subtitle, “Better parenting through coffee” gives a good clue to the sensibility. I always find myself chuckling away to myself as I read. I’m sure I sound like an idiot, so good thing I’m alone in my office.