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

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Before and After: Do a Little Work, Every Single Day.

HabitsRepeatFourI’m writing my next book, Before and After, about how we make and break habits–an issue  very relevant to happiness. Each week, I’ll post a before-and-after story submitted by a reader, about how he or she successfully changed a habit. We can all learn from each other. If you’d like to share your story, contact me here.

This week’s story comes from Caroline McGrawyou can also check out her blog, A Wish Come Clear.

I changed my habit of working on “scary” writing projects sporadically. Now, when I’m working on a big creative writing project — a book, a proposal, a guest post, etc — I work on it every day. With the exception of 1 weekly day of rest, I make sure to do at least a little bit each morning.

 

I love (and often repeat) the Anthony Trollope line you quote in your books, “A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the efforts of a spasmodic Hercules.” Committing to a daily task helps me maintain momentum, and it also helps render the task less terrifying. (If I work on it every day, it simply CAN’T be that scary — it’s just part of my routine, after all!)

 

I’ve also noticed that, if I skip a day, it’s that much harder to get back to the habit. And if I skip yet another day, it’s as though Mt. Everest springs up between me and getting back on track. If I write every day, though, the barrier between me and good habits is more like a pastoral English countryside hill. Like something out of a Jane Austen novel, a rise that Elizabeth Bennett could scale without breaking a sweat.

 

Working on big writing projects is challenging because so much uncertainty is involved; often, I have no assurances of acceptance or publication. No assurances but one, that is: that the very process of doing the work is its own reward. And that’s why I write every day: to enjoy the process itself, and to give myself something to count on in an uncertain world.

A couple insights jumped out at me from this terrific Before and After story.

First, I too have noticed that weirdly, it’s often easier to do something practically every day than to do it once in a while or four times a week. The more you do something, the more it becomes a part of your ordinary day. It doesn’t make you nervous, it doesn’t feel intimidating, it doesn’t feel like a special burden or extra credit.

Also, one of my habit strategies is the Strategy of Starting, and I’ve noticed that while starting is hard, starting over is often much harder. Once we’ve started down a positive path, it’s very, very valuable not to let ourselves stop. Because starting over is hard.

Another strategy used here is the Strategy of Scheduling. Whether daily, weekly, or whatever, just putting a task into your schedule–finding an exact place for it in your calendar–makes it easier to get it done. There’s an odd power to the schedule.

Have you found that making a daily habit of a certain task makes it easier?

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I've just finished writing my next book, Better Than Before, about how we can make and break our habits. If you'd like to pre-order the book, click here.

Tips, Tips, and More Tips about Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions.

new-years-resolutionFor all of you who make New Year’s resolutions — it’s Day #2! How’s it going?

In case you need a little help making and keeping your resolutions, I’m re-posting a round-up of many posts about resolution-keeping.

Note: Some of you are thinking, “If making some resolution is important to me, sure, I’ll make and keep it, but I don’t do it as a New Year’s resolution. January 1 is just an arbitrary day.” If this describes your view, let me guess–are you a Questioner? It’s crazy to me how often Questioners will make this remark, in almost exactly the same words. Upholders (such as me) usually love New Year’s resolutions.

But I digress.

One thing I’ve learned from my happiness project: keeping resolutions (also known as making habits) is a key to happiness. If you want to make a positive change in your life, you need to figure out what to resolve, and how to keep that resolution.

Because resolution-keeping has been so important to my own happiness project, I’ve written about it several times. So, to give you a boost as you launch your 2014 New Year’s resolutions, here are some of my favorite discussions about resolutions:

Five tips for planning effective New Year’s resolutions.

Twelve tips for sticking to your New Year’s resolutions.

The resolutions NOT to make for your New Year’s resolutions.  (You’ll see that the person interviewed is clearly a “yes” resolver, as discussed in the second post above – in fact, it was her comment here that got me thinking about the distinction between “yes resolvers” and “no resolvers.”)

Should you have goals or resolutions?

A menu of resolutions for your consideration.

Six tips to hold yourself accountable for keeping your resolutions.
Accountability is the essential element for keeping resolutions. Especially for Obligers.

How you, too, can copy Benjamin Franklin. Benjamin Franklin inspired the design of my Resolutions Chart, which turned out to be a key part of my happiness project. (If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, email me here—write “resolutions chart” in the subject line.)

Why I stopped drinking alcohol (more or less). I always get a big response on this issue.

Why NOW is the time to start keeping your resolutions.

The movie “Twilight” inspires me to do a better job with some of my resolutions.
I have to admit, this is one of my all-time favorite posts that I’ve written.

Don’t try to keep that resolution. In which I give up my longstanding resolution to “Entertain more.”

Don’t try to keep that resolution – Part II. In which I realize that giving up the resolution to “Entertain more” actually allowed me to plan a party.

Want to be free from French fries? Or, why abstaining may be easier than you think. This is another one of my favorite posts.

Onward and upward in 2014!

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Revealed! Book Club Choices for January. Happy Reading.

booksopenforreadingBecause nothing boosts happiness more than a great book, each month, I suggest:

· one outstanding book about happiness

· one outstanding work of children’s or young-adult literature–I have a crazy passion for kidlit

· one eccentric pick–an 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:

–La Rochefoucauld, Collected Maxims and Other Reflections

Buy from WORD; BN.comAmazon.

An outstanding young-adult book:

– Julie Andrews (yes, the Julie Andrews), Mandy

Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon.

An eccentric pick:

Graham Greene, The End of the Affair

Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon.

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. So I won’t describe these books, but I love all the books I recommend; I’ve read them at least twice if not many times; and they’re widely loved.

If you read last month’s recommendations…what did you think? Baumeister and Tierney’s Willpower; Cameron’s Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You; and Strachey’s Queen Victoria.

So, so, so good.

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Today! The Paperback of Happier at Home Hits the Shelves.

HappierAtHomePaperback Warning: Blatant self-promotion to follow. You’ve been warned!

The last day of the year always seems auspicious to me, so I’m very happy that today is the release date for the paperback of Happier at Home. (The publication date for the hardback was my wedding anniversary, so that also seemed auspicious.)

“Um, why should I buy your book,” some people have asked nicely, “when I can read the blog for free?” Other people have asked, “I read The Happiness Project; is this book more of the same?” Here are some reasons to read Happier at Home:

1. One smart friend who has read both said she thought the blog was process, the book was conclusion. The ideas in the book are presented in a more distilled, thoughtful way, and the book framework allows me to tell longer stories and explain more complicated ideas. Also, I can be funnier (or at least, try to be funnier).

2. On the blog, I write about whatever subject interests me that day, so it skips from topic to topic. The book is organized by subject matter: Time, Possessions, Parenthood, Body,  Marriage, Neighborhood, etc. If you’re interested in particular subjects, you can focus there.

3.  The Happiness Project is broad and lays out general principles; Happier at Home goes deeper into the one particular area of life that, at least for me, and I think for many people, is the foundation of happiness.  It has a more specific focus and carries ideas further. My sister, in fact, says that Happier at Home is my best book.

4. If you’ve been enjoying the blog, and you’d like to share it with a friend, you can give the book as a gift. You can’t give the blog as a gift. Or if a friend was a fan of The Happiness Project, you can give Happier at Home.

5. In a book, you can more easily take notes about what applies to you and your happiness project. Underlining, highlighting, and taking notes in the margin allow you to engage with the material.

6. In Happier at Home, I write about many ideas and episodes that I’ve never mentioned elsewhere. Also, I include photos from my own life (which I took myself). No one ever mentions the photos! I got such a kick out of doing this!

7. Many of my readers have written that they want to buy Happier at Home to show their support—a “thank you” for everything I do for free. Which I very much appreciate.

8. The ending of Happier at Home may be the best thing I’ve ever written–and my specialty, as a writer, is endings. I love the ending to this book.

Of course, the book may be of special interest to anyone particularly interested in “home”: college or grad students, recent graduates, empty-nesters, newlyweds, new parents, people who have just moved, people overwhelmed with clutter, people who feel like they have no leisure, single people, people with spouses and/or kids, people with health issues…hmm, looks like that covers just about everyone! Because the fact is, for most people, home is a very significant element of their happiness.

If you’re thinking, “Yes! I’m intrigued! But, Gretchen, how can I learn more about Happier at Home?” well, you’re in luck. You can…

read the chapter on possessions, “Find a true simplicity

listen to a clip from the audio-book

watch the Behind-the-Scenes video or request the Behind-the-Scenes extra. It was so fun to do these–I’d never done anything like this before. Yes, you can know the true story of “artisanal pickles.” All is revealed.

request the one-page book-club discussion guide, also for spirituality book clubs, Bible study groups, and the like.

Thank you as always, dear readers, for your enthusiasm, ideas, and support. You make me very happy.

Story: Preparation Is an Essential Part of Execution.

This week’s video story: Preparation is an essential part of execution.

I didn’t plan this story for the last day of 2013, but it’s a great fit. For those of you thinking about how to make 2014 a happier year, taking the time to prepare and plan is an essential part of being able to execute your aims. I’ve become more and more convinced that mindfulness and planning are keys to happiness–and habits.

How about you? In your life, have you seen how preparations, or rituals of preparation, have helped you to do your best?

If you want more tips about how to keep your New Year’s resolutions, look here.

If you can’t see the video, click here.

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