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

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Are you interested in reading about creativity?

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On the last day of every month, I post a list of happiness-related recommended reading.
A reader asked for a list on the subject of creativity, so here it is.

A note about this list: I find people’s descriptions of their own creative processes more useful than books that suggest creativity exercises, so that’s the kind of book that dominates on my list.

Each one of these books is fascinating and will be enjoyed by anyone, whether or not they’re interested specifically in creativity – except the Boice and the Baty books on writing, which really do focus on the process of writing.

Books about creativity:
Bob Dylan, Chronicles
Edward Weston, The Flame of Recognition
Twyla Tharp, The Summing Up
Anthony Trollope, An Autobiography
Robert Boice, How Writers Journey to Comfort and Fluency — although (ironically) badly written, everyone I know who has read this thinks it’s a fantastic book for helping writers get writing done — but it’s bizarrely expensive, so be sure to check the price before you buy!
Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics
Chris Baty, No Plot, No Problem
Christopher Alexander et al, A Pattern Language
Edward Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information
Virginia Woolf, A Writer’s Diary

If you’re interested in other lists of happiness-related recommended reading, check out this blog’s right column, near the bottom, under “Happiness Library.”

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.

This Saturday: a quotation from Goethe.

“The clearest indication of character is what people find laughable.” — Goethe

Why happiness IS a warm hug.

One of my resolutions is “Affectionate touching.”

With my family, I’m working on doing more hugging, back rubbing, and making kind gestures, like handing over a utensil, pointing out something interesting, or straightening a shirt. Sometimes we all crowd together in one big huge, and yell, “Family love sandwich!”

I’m trying to hold my hugs for a longer time, too. Research shows that if we hold a hug for at least six seconds, we optimize the flow of mood-boosting chemicals.

Studies show that a family member is 47% more likely to feel close to a family member who often expresses affection than to one who rarely does. Sometimes it’s good to say, “I love you,” sometimes it’s good to express that thought without words.

Also, frequent huggers have lower blood pressure and higher levels of oxytocin (a chemical that promotes bonding).

At the same time, I’m trying to stop jaw-clenching, eye-rolling, and sighing in annoyance. A few times lately I’ve started to make an exasperated sound, and then pretended that I hadn’t done it. I’m not fooling anyone, but it’s an improvement.

Do you want to stop nagging?

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One of my main goals for the Happiness Project has been to stop nagging, for three reasons. First, people don’t like being nagged. Second, nagging doesn’t work. Third – and I didn’t really understand this until I’d cut back on my nagging – it makes me feel bad about myself. I don’t like feeling a shrewish, badgering person.

I hit on several strategies to stop nagging the Big Man, and I’ve managed to improve. One Wednesday, I posted a list of tips for getting to do your sweetheart to do chores–without nagging that worked for me.

Once I started paying attention to my nagging, I realized that I also nag the Big Girl quite a bit (the Little Girl is still too young to be a target for nagging).

In particular, my nagging takes the form of repeating instructions over and over, before giving her a chance to comply.

For example, the Big Girl was supposed to bring an extra pair of shoes to school today. I reminded her at breakfast. I reminded her while she was getting dressed. Then, as I was putting the Little Girl into the stroller for the walk to school, I started to yell a reminder.

But I thought—no. Don’t nag. Not only is my nagging an aggravation, it shows that I don’t think she can remember to get the shoes on her own. Two reminders was already one more than necessary.

I choked back my words, and sure enough, she showed up a few minutes later with the spare shoes in her hand.

This Wednesday: Six tips for tackling a dreaded task.

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Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Six tips for tackling a dreaded task.

Going to the gym. Practicing a new skill when you have no skill. Giving bad news. Dealing with tech support.

We all have to make ourselves do things that we just don’t want to do. Here are some tricks I’ve learned that help me power through the procrastination.

1. Do it first thing in the morning. If you’re dreading doing something, you’re going to be able to think of more creative excuses as the day goes along. One of my Twelve Commandments is “Do it now.” No delay is the best way.

2. If you find yourself putting off a task that you try to do several times a week, try doing it EVERY day, instead. When I was planning my blog, I envisioned posting two or three times a week. Then Eugene Volokh of the Volokh Conspiracy convinced me that no, I needed to post every day. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, I think it’s easier to do it every day (well, except Sundays) than fewer times each week. There’s no dithering, there’s no juggling. I know I have to post, so I do. If you’re finding it hard to go for a walk four times a week, try going every day.

3. Have someone keep you company. Studies show that we enjoy practically every activity more when we’re with other people. Having a friend along can be a distraction, a source of reassurance, or just moral support.

4. Make preparations, assemble the proper tools. I often find that when I’m dreading a task, it helps me to feel prepared. Here’s a silly example: I always dread packing, especially for my children. Yesterday, finally, I made a list of every possible item I might need to pack for any conceivable trip. Already, I dread the thought of packing less. I have a list.

5. Commit. We’ve all heard the advice to write down your goals. This really works, so force yourself to do it. Usually this advice relates to long-term goals, but it works with short-term goals, too. On the top of a piece of paper, write, “By the end of today, April 25, I will have _____.” This also gives you the thrill of crossing a task off your list. (See below.)

6. Remind yourself that finishing a dreaded task is tremendously energizing. Studies show that hitting a goal releases chemicals in the brain that give you pleasure. If you’re feeling blue, although the last thing you feel like doing is something you don’t feel like doing, push yourself. You’ll get a big lift from it.

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This following link is related to the topic of happiness only in that it is such an elegant, sensible, economical solution to a sticky problem that is gives me a thrill just to contemplate it. I don’t even NEED this advice, but still, I appreciate its intelligence: Seth Godin explains how a small business or organization (or single person) who needs a web presence can get something perfectly satisfactory up with minimal money and effort, just using Typepad, a Squidoo lens, and Flickr (and actually maybe all you need is Typepad).