How Are Your Habits Shaped by Your Surroundings?

“There is a myth, sometimes widespread, that a person need only do inner work…that a man is entirely responsible for his own problems; and that to cure himself, he need only change himself…The fact is, a person is so formed by his surroundings, that his state of harmony depends entirely on his harmony with his surroundings.” —Christopher Alexander, The Timeless Way of Building

One of the items on my Habits Manifesto is “It’s easier to change our surroundings than ourselves.”

Have you found ways to change your surroundings, in a way that helps you keep your good habits? Sometimes it’s as simple as not buying ice cream, or keeping the TV remote control hidden on a high shelf, or making your bed.

This comes up often with Obligers. Obligers often say to me, “I need to build my self-esteem,” “I need to learn to honor my own priorities,” or “I need to make time for myself.” My response is — change your surroundings, not yourself. Add external accountability, and you’ll meet that inner expectation. And adding external accountability is so much easier than trying to change ourselves.

What has worked for you?

Secret of Adulthood: Give Myself Limits to Give Myself Freedom

From Further Secrets of Adulthood.

This is one of my Secrets of Adulthood, absolutely, and I used to think it was true for everyone, but now I know that not everyone has the same view about limits and discipline that I do.

I’m an Upholder. And an Abstainer. And an Under-buyer.

For all these reasons, and others, too, it seems right to me that discipline brings freedom. But now I understand that other people may have different perspectives. For instance, Rebels! I should have made the Secret of Adulthood, “Give myself limits to give myself freedom.”

For instance, as I describe in Better Than Before, in the chapter on the “Strategy of the Lightning Bolt,” my eating habits are very limited. For me, observing those limits is tremendously freeing and energizing — but that doesn’t mean that everyone feels the same way.

I remind myself, as always to Be Gretchen — and also to remember one of the entries on my Habits Manifesto: We’re not very different from other people, but those differences are very important.

How about you? For you, do limits give you freedom?

While traveling for my  book tour for Better Than Before, I’ve had the chance to to talk to so many interesting people and groups.

If you’re interested, you can…

watch my talk at Google, in conversation with Logan Ury

watch my interview on the BBC about how habits affect happiness

–check out the special page that iTunes created for me, which lists both my podcast and my books. I can’t resist quoting what they say about my work–zoikes!

“We’re major fans of Gretchen Rubin, bestselling author of The Happiness Project. Rubin’s fascination with human behavior–as well as her sincere believe that we can make our lives more fulfilling and joyous–shines through in her podcasts, blog, and books. Her new book, Better Than Before, looks at how we form and break habits and is packed with her trademark warmth, wit, and down-to-earth intelligence.”

–listen to the Washington Post podcast “On Leadership” or read it here

watch a clip on Big Think

I love getting a chance to talk about habits with readers, but boy it’s nice to be home for a few days. This year, for once, I remembered well in advance to get out the Easter decorations.

“I Formed a ‘Resolution Club’ with Three Friends. We Each Had Different Resolutions.”

Interview: David Lat.

I got to know David Lat through our connection as being combination lawyer/writers. He founded and is the managing editor of Above the Law, a site which covers law firms and the legal profession (in an edgy way).

David recently published his dishy first novel, Supreme Ambitions. It’s the story of a woman who graduates from Yale Law School and wants to clerk on the Supreme Court. As a Yale Law School grad who clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, you can see why this intrigued me.

I was curious to hear how David manages his novel-writing habits, work habits, and health habits.

Gretchen: Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?

David Lat: Procrastination. I postpone difficult, unpleasant, or challenging tasks until they can’t be postponed any longer. Running a widely read, commercial blog like Above the Law has been good for me because I can’t indulge my procrastination habit; I constantly need to be writing and editing. But procrastination was a major problem when I was trying to write my novel, Supreme Ambitions, which was a much more long-term project.

Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

I managed to pick up a healthy habit (walk at least 15 miles a week) and break an unhealthy one (excessive consumption of desserts and sweets) by forming a “resolution club” with three friends. We each had different resolutions we brought to the group. Every Monday, we’d check in with each other: did we keep our resolutions over the prior week? Those who failed to honor their resolutions had to pay $20 to the other group members — and also had the shame of acknowledging failure. [If you’d like a “starter kit” for launching a group of people who work on their habits together, click here.]

Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?  [Readers, to learn more about this framework, or to find your own Tendency, look here.]

I’m definitely an “Obliger.” When I was in school, I would do assignments to meet the expectations of my professors. When I worked as a law clerk and then a lawyer, I would complete projects to meet the expectations of my bosses. Now that I basically work for myself, running Above the Law and doing outside writing, I struggle more with getting things done. When I was working on Supreme Ambitions, I would have a hard time sitting down and producing pages. I didn’t start making real progress until, acknowledging my “Obliger” personality, I told my editor Jon that I would send him some pages every Monday. He didn’t have to read them immediately, but I committed to sending them to him every Monday, which at least kept me writing so I could meet Jon’s expectations.

Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits? (e.g. travel, parties)

Travel interferes with my healthy habit of going to group fitness classes at my gym. I’ve been traveling a lot over the past few months on book tour. I try to exercise in other ways while on the road, but I do miss my classes. What’s great about classes is that they occur at fixed times, and I make an “appointment” with my friend and workout buddy Jen to go to certain classes, ensuring that I actually go. But when I’m traveling, that’s not possible.

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

Generally I resist habits. I enjoy spontaneity, novelty, and excitement; I like every day to be different. So I have relatively few habits, since I associate habits with routine, and routine with a lack of freedom. But maybe I’m overlooking the way that good or healthy habits “free us” to be our better selves.

Revealed! Book Club Choices for April.

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

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:

Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It by Gary Taubes

Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon.

An outstanding children’s book:

Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones

Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon.

An eccentric pick:

Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes

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’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.

Nevertheless, because so many readers have requested it, I’ve decided to give a bit more context for these choices in the book-club newsletter. So if you’d like to know more about why I made these selections, check there. To get that free monthly book-club newsletter, and to make sure you don’ t miss any recommendations, sign up here.

In any event, I assure you that, for all the books I choose, I love them; I’ve read them at least twice if not many times; and they’re widely admired.

If you read last month’s recommendations…what did you think?

Lately, I’ve been doing some good reading on airplanes and in hotel rooms, while I’m on tour for Better Than Before. Right now I’m reading Andy Warhol’s POPism: The Warhol Sixties.

Things are going very well for Better Than Before: it was an instant bestseller, has received a lot of great attention in the press, and I’ve been able to talk with many readers as I’ve been on tour. Thanks as always, readers, for your enthusiasm and support.

If you like the book, and you have time chance, it’s a big help to me if you write a review or rate the book on the online bookselling sites. Readers really respect the views of other readers. As a big reader myself, I know that I often see what other readers have to say, before I head off to the library or bookstore or click “buy.”

Happy April, and happy reading.

Podcast #6: Try “Power Hour,” Consider Envy, Back Up Your Phone, and Enjoy the Process

My sister Elizabeth Craft and I are having so much fun with our new podcast,  “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been on my book tour for Better Than Before, and many people have told me that they’re enjoying it. Thanks so much, and thanks for listening! (If you like the podcast, we’re sheepishly asking people to rate and/or review it, if time and inclination permit; very helpful for a new podcast like ours.)

Here’s what we discuss in today’s episode:

NothingIsAsExhaustingTask_124869Try This at Home: Try a weekly “Power Hour.” This is a habit that’s working very well for me; Elizabeth is intrigued.

Know Yourself Better: Ask yourself the uncomfortable question, “Whom do I envy?

Listener Question: Our first recorded listener question! “Is there any science behind the happiness we get happiness from helping others?”

Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth learns, the hard way, about the importance of backing up the data on your smart-phone. On the bright side, though, her Candy Crush account was wiped out! If you listened to episode #2, you know that Elizabeth was battling a serious Candy Crush habit. Now she’s free.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: I give a gold star to our father, who always remind us to “Enjoy the process.”

Thanks again to our advertiser, Framebridge — a terrific way to get your art and photos framed, in a super easy and affordable way. Use the code HAPPIER at checkout to get 20% off your first Framebridge order.

To listen to this episode, just zip to the bottom of this post and hit the red “play” button.

Or if you’re reading this post by email, click here to view online, to listen to the podcast from this post.

Want to know what to expect from other episodes of the podcast, when you listen toHappier with Gretchen Rubin?” We talk about how to build happier habits into everyday life, as we draw from cutting-edge science, ancient wisdom, lessons from pop culture—and our own experiences (and mistakes).

Each week, we give  a “Try This at Home” suggestion, for some easy habit you can try, as part of your ordinary routine, to boost your happiness—something like setting an alarm to signal your bedtime, or using the one-minute rule, to help yourself stay on top of small nagging tasks.

We also suggest questions to help you “Know Yourself Better”—like “Whom do you envy?” and “Are you a Marathoner or a Sprinter in your work style?”—and explore “Happiness Stumbling Blocks,” those small, seemingly insignificant parts of daily life that drag us down—everything from the problem of the Evil Donut-Bringer to the fact that working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination.

We “Grill the Guest,” consider “Listener Questions,” and finally, we get even more personal, and each of us either gives ourselves a “Demerit” for a mistake we made that week, that affected our happiness, or awards a “Gold Star” to someone or something that deserves recognition.

We’re sisters, so we don’t let each other get away with much!

HOW TO SUBSCRIBE: If you’re like me (until recently) you’re intrigued by podcasts, but you don’t know how to listen or subscribe. It’s very easy, really. Really. Instructions here.

Or for an amusing short how-to video made by Ira Glass of This American Life, click here.

If you want to listen to more than one episode, and to have it all in a handier way, on your phone or tablet, it’s better to subscribe. Really, it’s easy.

Tell us what you think! Drop us a line at @gretchenrubin, @elizabethcraft, Facebook, podcast@gretchenrubin.com, or call 774-277-9336. Or just add your comment to this post.

Again, be sure to subscribe and listen and subscribe on iTunes so you never miss an episode. And if you enjoyed it, please tell your friends and give us a rating or review. Listeners really respect the views of other listeners, so your response helps people find good material. (Not sure how to review? Instructions here; scroll to the bottom.)

Happy listening! Or I should say, HAPPIER listening!