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

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This Saturday: a quotation from Raymond Carver.

My sister and I both had this Raymond Carver poem printed in the Order of Services for our weddings.


Suppose I say summer,
write the word “hummingbird,”
put it in an envelope,
take it down the hill
to the box. When you open
my letter you will recall
those days and how much,
just how much, I love you.

Now, off to primp, then to the wedding…

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 reminder that nothing lasts forever.

I’m in Kansas City for my sister’s wedding this Saturday. I got here on Tuesday, and the bride-to-be arrived Wednesday. The Big Man and our girls arrive this afternoon.

It was strange. I realized that Wednesday night was probably the last night for a long, long time that the four of us – me, my sister, my mother, my father – would be alone together. After years and years in which that was our everyday pattern, now that’s really over. From now on, we’ll always be with various husbands and children, too. Which is fun and wonderful, but not the same.

Right now, it’s not remarkable at all (obviously) for the Big Man, the Big Girl, and the Little Girl and I to be hanging around our apartment.

That night was a reminder to me that although these cozy family days seem limitless, they aren’t.

This Wednesday: tips for succeeding as a TV writer in Hollywood.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Tips for succeeding as a TV writer in Hollywood.

My sister is getting married on Saturday, so in her honor, I’m posting a list of her tips about trying to make a successful career of TV writing. She didn’t actually formulate these as tips, but every once in a while over the last few years, she’s dropped one of these truisms—which I find so interesting that I’ve remembered them all.

1. “Every stereotype about L.A. is more true than you can possibly imagine.”
My sister once went into a meeting to pitch a TV shows about a bunch of teenagers at a boarding school where they’re trained to use magical powers. The executives at the meeting said, “We love it! We absolutely love it! But what about changing the teens to adults, and setting it on Wall Street?” Just like you read about.

2. “People succeed in groups.”
We all know the uncomfortable, competitive feelings that you can get when friends score a success—it can even feel like that their success makes your own success less likely. My sister’s motto is “People succeed in groups,” so good career news for a friend is good for her, too. Not only is this line true, it makes you a much nicer person.

3. “Good news comes right away; bad news never comes.”
This rule applies when you’re waiting to hear whether people liked an idea, a proposal, a draft, etc. If you don’t hear back pretty quick, they didn’t like it.

4. “You have to live in L.A. for three years before anything much happens.”
People told my sister this when she moved out there, and indeed, after she’d been there for three years, her career really picked up speed. This is largely because relationships are so important in L.A., and it takes about three years to work up a serious network.

5. “In a meeting, if someone asks if you want something to drink, say ‘yes.’”
This is a generally applicable tip about the use of power. If you want to read more about this rule, and why it’s true, check out my book, Power Money Fame Sex: A User’s Guide.

6. “Remember, the person you hire today might be hiring you tomorrow.”
The TV business is in constant flux, and there are abrupt shifts of fortune. You’d think that as a result, people would feel compelled to be nice to everyone else, out of pure self-interest if not altruism, but they don’t.

Who knew? There are two kinds of stress: distress and eustress.

Kansas_cityIn a few hours, I’m off to Kansas City, to help get everything organized for my sister’s wedding this weekend.

A wedding is a wonderful occasion, but it also produces a lot of anxiety.

I just learned a new term, “eustress.” When we talk about stress, we generally mean “distress,” stress with its negative aspects. “Eustress” is the desirable kind of stress that comes from stimulating circumstances or challenges.

The distinction between dis-stress and eu-stress refers not to the effect on the person, but to the nature of the stress.

Although eustress is positive, it can be just as taxing at regular stress. My sister, for example, has two huge sources of eustress right now: getting married and getting her pilot picked up by ABC. Both of these are wonderful, and she’s thrilled – but she’s also very stressed. Or rather, eustressed.

This is familiar to everyone, of course. Happy occasions like getting a big promotion, the Christmas holidays, buying a new house, having a baby, or going rock-climbing can be very stressful.

I think it’s helpful to know this distinction. I’ll bet that reminding myself that I’m “eustressed” will help me remember to keep a grateful, appreciative frame of mind when I’m feeling stressed about a positive event.

I can’t believe that I’ve never mentioned Lifehack before, but apparently I never have. It’s a site I love to visit when I’m between tasks and can’t seem to get myself motivated to start the next thing. It’s always interesting and helpful, and just dipping into its enthusiastic, we-can-tackle-it atmosphere gives me a boost.

The influence of thinking style on happiness—it really does matter.

Lighbulb4In my research about happiness, I frequently come across discussions of how people’s happiness is affected by their ideas and assumptions about themselves and how the world works.

We’re not merely neutral computers absorbing information; we process and shape information in order to make sense of it. Research shows that unhappy people experience and react to circumstances differently from happy people.

For example, maybe you believe that you’re somehow always responsible for everything bad that happens. Maybe you believe that people are dishonest and are trying to cheat you. Maybe you believe that the worst possible consequence is the one most likely to happen. Different sets of assumptions make folks much more prone to anger, sorrow, and guilt—or not.

But, you may be asking, do habits of thinking really make much practical difference in a person’s life? After all, the actual “reality” of a person’s life is the same, no matter what’s going on in his or her head.

Over the weekend, the Big Man and I rented a good movie, The Upside of Anger, with Joan Allen and Kevin Costner. The movie presents an astonishingly persuasive example of the power of habits of mind. There’s a dramatic, surprise twist at the end (I do love a surprise twist) which turns SOLELY on the consequences of the main character’s way of thinking.

For those who haven’t discovered it, Steve Pavlina has the most popular personal development blog out there. Lots of great material in the archives, or you can check out the “best of” list in the left-hand column.