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

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Does Your Sweetheart Drive You Nuts with the Very Qualities that Attracted You?

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

This Wednesday: Are you driven nuts by the very qualities that drew you to your sweetheart?

A few days ago, I read Elizabeth Bernstein’s Wall Street Journal piece, How to cope when you and your partner are falling out of love.

It discusses the idea of “fatal attraction” — that the traits that drew you toward your sweetheart now drive you nuts. Often, we’re drawn to a quality in someone else because we somehow lack or desire that quality in ourselves — but then that very quality turns out to be a point of tension. An introverted person might be attracted to someone’s more outgoing nature, but then get tired of their constant desire to be sociable.

Bernstein cites the research of Dr. Diane Felmlee, a sociology professor at Penn State University, who has identified give situations in which this “fatal attraction” patterns emerges (I love these names):

Time Will Tell — you’re drawn to someone who’s putting best foot forward. You don’t see the downsides to a trait until later.

Sour Grapes — you’re in a tough relationship so you’re trying to distance yourself from your partner, by recasting traits as negative.

Rose-Colored Glasses — you’re attracted to a positive quality, but suspect there’s a downside — yet ignore it until it’s not possible to overlook it anymore

People Pleasing — a partner turns a positive trait into a negative trait, by laying it on too thick

Familiarity Breeds Contempt — there’s no change. You just get annoyed.

I can give an example from my own experience, though I’m not sure it fits squarely into these five categories. I’d call it the category of “Every upside has a downside.”

I’m an Upholder, and one disadvantage of being an Upholder is that I too readily meet expectations. It’s hard for me to know I’m “supposed” to do something, and then choose not to do it.

My husband is a Questioner. He has no trouble ignoring an expectation if he thinks it doesn’t make sense. I’m sure this is one of the things that attracted me to him in the first place.

In many situations, his Questioner nature is helpful to me. I often ask him, “I’m supposed to do X. Do you think I have to do it?” Or sometimes I just think to myself, “What would he do in this situation?” His Questioning provides a very healthy counter-balance to my Tendency. I admire this aspect of his nature.

But at the same time, his Questioner Tendency drives me crazy. I’ll say, “Would you do X?” and he won’t do it just because I ask him to. He’s funny that way.

Until I understood (or rather, invented) the Four Tendencies, I didn’t understand this dynamic. Now that I understand why we each of us behaves the way we do, and why his behavior really is helpful in many situations, I behave with much more patience. Well, I think I do. Maybe I should ask him if I’m acting with more patience. I feel more patient.

How about you? Do you recognize any of these patterns in your own relationships?

I'm just about finished writing my next book, Better Than Before, about how we can make and break our habits. If you’d like to hear when the book goes on sale, sign up here.

Video: For Habits, the Strategy of the Lightning Bolt.

I’m doing a video series in which I discuss the various strategies that we can use for habit-formation.

Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life, and a significant element of happiness. If we have habits that work for us, we’re much more likely to be happy, healthy, productive, and creative. My forthcoming book, Better Than Before, describes the multiple strategies we can exploit to change our habits. To hear when it goes on sale, sign up here.

Today, I’m talking about the Strategy of the Lightning Bolt. Ah, this is one of my favorite strategies.

Discussions of habit-change often emphasize the importance of repeating an action, over and over, until it becomes automatic, and such repetition does indeed help to form habits. However, it’s also true that sometimes we’re hit by a lightning bolt that transforms our habits. We encounter some new idea, and suddenly a new habit replaces a longstanding habit. The Strategy of the Lightning Bolt takes its power from knowledge, beliefs, and ideas.

The Lightning Bolt is a highly effective strategy, but unfortunately, it’s rare, and practically impossible to invoke on command. Which can be frustrating, because it often makes change so easy.

Something, whether positive or negative—a panic attack (here’s one person’s story), pregnancy, a documentary, a diagnosis, an anniversary, hitting bottom, a birthday, an accident, a midlife crisis, even a conversation with a stranger—can trigger a Lightning Bolt, because we’re smacked with some new idea that jolts us into change.

 

As I explain in the video, I was hit by a Lightning Bolt in March 2012 when I read Gary Taubes’s book, Why We Get Fat. I was so persuaded by his arguments about nutrition that my eating habits changed, for the better, overnight. No small steps, no gradual change, no looking back — bam.

Have you ever been hit by the Lightning Bolt, and found that your habits changed? I’ve been surprised, as I’ve been writing Better Than Before, to discover that this happens more often than you might expect.

How the Strategy of Scheduling Helped Me Make a Habit.

studyIn my study of habits, I’ve identified many strategies that we can use to make or break our habits.

The Strategy of Scheduling, of setting a specific, regular time for an activity to recur, is one of the most familiar and powerful strategies of habit-formation—and it’s one of my personal favorites.

For most people, and certainly for me, there’s a kind of magic about seeing an item actually appear on a schedule. Scheduling makes us far more likely to convert an activity into a habit (well, except for Rebels), so, for that reason, I schedule even some slightly ridiculous habits, such as “Kiss my husband every morning and every night.”

One of my most helpful Secrets of Adulthood for Habits is, “What I do every day matters more than what I do once in a while.”

However, while I want many of my habits to happen daily, or almost daily, there are other habits that I want to follow just once a week.

Many of my habits revolve around trying to read more. Reading is my favorite thing to do, and it’s also essential to my work, yet I still have to work on reading more and reading more widely.

This is one of the most surprising thing about habits — at least to me. I understand why we find it tough to make habits to do something that we don’t want to do, but why is it often so hard to make a habit to do something we do want to do? That we love to do? (One of the big themes of Better Than Before is how to make habits that allow us to do more things we enjoy.)

In my case, I made a habit to get me to do more of something that I both like and dislike to do. I used the Strategy of Scheduling.

I’ve acquired a large pile of books that look fascinating — but also demanding and dense and perhaps a bit boring. Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media, Plutarch’s Lives, and Victoria Newhouse’s Art and the Power of Placement were at the top of the stack. I needed to schedule a specific time for this kind of reading. It wasn’t work reading, for which I always make time, and it wasn’t pleasure reading, for which I make as much time as possible…it was study.

I decided to add thirty minutes of Study Reading to my weekend, to tackle those books. I can read more than thirty minutes, if I want, but I can also stop at thirty. That’s another Secrets of Adulthood for Habits: To keep going, sometimes I have to allow myself to stop.

I became a little discouraged when it took me a month to plow through Understanding Media. Should I abandon this habit? Then I realized—well, I wasn’t reading the McLuhan very fast, but it was faster than I’d been reading it for the past two years, when it sat untouched on my bedroom nightstand.

For more tips on reading more, check here. If you want to hear when Better Than Before hits the shelves, sign up here.

How does the Strategy of Scheduling work for you? Do you find, like me, that just seeing something “on the schedule” makes it much more likely to get done?

Revealed! Book Club Choices for August. Happy Reading.

Stitched PanoramaYes, I said I was on vacation this week, but I forgot that it was time for the book club suggestions. So here I am, live from Kansas City, for a single post.

Because 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 habits:

Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein

Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon.

An outstanding children’s book:

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon.

An eccentric pick:

Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt

Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon.

Some readers have said that they wished that I’d describe and make the case for my book choices, instead of just providing links. I’m considering whether to change this, but I haven’t so far, for two reasons:

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. I assure you: when I choose these books, I love them; I’ve read them at least twice if not many times; and they’re widely admired.

Also, one of the secrets of reading lots of books is making time to read. It would take me a lot of time and mental energy to do justice to the terrific books I choose, yet at the same time, with a single click, there’s a huge amount of information available about the book choices. So I’ve figured that I could let readers avail themselves of that option.  But I’m pondering whether I should do it differently. (By the way, here are more tips on getting more reading done.)

In the meantime, if you want a little more explanation of why I picked these books, I do provide slightly more context in the book club newsletter.

If you read last month’s recommendations…what did you think? Crossing to Safety; Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH; and Fight Club. All so good.

Farewell, I’m Off for a Week.

winsteadsI’m off for a week’s family vacation, in my hometown of Kansas City (Missouri, for those of you in the know).

Each year we visit my parents, and do all our favorite KC things: eat at Winstead’s and The Mixx; visit the library; shop on the Plaza; go to Worlds of Fun; walk through the Kauffman Gardens and the Nelson-Atkins Museum; go to the playground in Loose Park; etc. I also plan to do some binge-reading.

One of the Secrets of Adulthood for Habits is: Sometimes, if I want to keep going, I have to allow myself to stop.

In fact, research suggests that people who take vacations get a boost in life perspective and productivity.

Do you love to visit your hometown? Or do you still live there? I love visiting Kansas City.