The Danger of the Finish Line.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, I’m hard at work on a book about how we make and break habits. This masterpiece will hit the shelves in 2015 (sign up here to be notified when it’s available).

One thing that took me a long time to realize, in the study of habits: the danger of finish lines.

Setting a finish line does indeed help people reach a goal, but although it’s widely assumed to help habit-formation, the reward of hitting a specific goal actually can undermine habits.

A finish line marks a stopping point, and once we stop, we must start over, and starting over is harder than starting.

The more dramatic the goal, the more decisive the end—and the more effort required to start over. By providing a specific goal, a temporary motivation, and requiring a new “start” once reached, hitting a milestone may interfere with habit-formation.

Also, once we decide that we’ve achieved success, we tend to stop moving forward.

Even an intermediate finish line can interfere with good habits. In a letter, novelist Kurt Vonnegut advised his son Mark:

“I have seen a lot of writers stop writing or at least slow down after getting an advance. They have a feeling of completion after making a deal. That’s bad news creatively…I advise you to carry on without an advance, without that false feeling of completion.”

Have you ever found that hitting a finish line meant that you stopped do something, even though you’d been doing it successfully to that point? That you thought you’d been forging a habit, but it turned out not to be?

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“When We Can No Longer Find Any Amusement Ourselves, We Can Still Take Pleasure in Reading It to a Companion.”

“When we have read a book or poem so often that we can no longer find any amusement in reading it by ourselves, we can still take pleasure in reading it to a companion. To him it has all the graces of novelty…”

–Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments

This may explain some of the fun of being a parent. There are some things that we wouldn’t do, or enjoy, as adults, but we can heartily enjoy them when we do them with our children. I would never ride a merry-go-round, decorate Easter eggs, or pore over Richard Scarry books on my own, but I truly enjoy doing these activities with my daughters. I wouldn’t sit down to watch Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on my own, for the hundredth time (original version of course), but I enjoy it when I watch with my daughter.

Have you found pleasures that you can revivify by sharing them with someone else?

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Question for You: What Habits Most Affect Your Money?

As I’ve mentioned many times before, I’m hard at work on a book about how we make and break habits. This masterpiece will hit the shelves in 2015 (sign up here to be notified when it’s available).

When it comes to habits, most of us — well, perhaps not the Rebels — have habits that we’d like to add or drop,

A few weeks ago, I asked the question: What habits most affect your spiritual life and work life? The answers were fascinating.

Now I have a follow-up question: What habits most affect your financial life?

For instance, do you…

–use an automatic savings plan (what I call an “invisible habit”)

–use cash instead of credit cards Andy Warhol, who enjoyed the experience of spending, remarked on this distinction: “I don’t like charging. It feels more like buying if you pay with money.” For most people, using cash makes it harder to spend (in a good way).

–spend hours every day on online shopping

–shop only from a list, so you’re not tempted to make impulse purchases you’ll later regret

–keep a careful record of everything you spend

Those are some examples, to help prompt your thinking.

Some people need habits to help them not spend — I, as an under-buyer, need habits to help me spend. I remind myself, “If I need it, buy it now.” Otherwise I just keep putting off purchases, even when it causes me a lot of inconvenience.

How do habits–both good and bad–affect your financial situation?

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Revealed! Book Club Choices for May. Happy Reading.

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, more specifically, habits:

Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography

Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon.

An outstanding children’s book:

Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Understood Betsy

Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon.

An eccentric pick:

Wayne Koestenbaum, Jackie Under My Skin: Interpreting an Icon

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. I do provide slightly more context in the book club newsletter.

If you read last month’s recommendations…what did you think? Laurie Colwin’s Family Happiness; Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth (which my nine-year-old daughter is reading aloud to me now); and Eugene Delacroix’s Journal. Such good books.

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Secret of Adulthood: Sometimes, You Can Minister to Your Spirit Through Your Body.

Further Secrets of Adulthood:

 

In Happier at Home, I spend a chapter focused on the “Body” — because our physical experience always colors our emotional experience.

Continuing in this line of thought, in my forthcoming book on habits, I return to the subject with the Strategy of Foundation. I argue that in order to have the self-command that we need to foster good habits, we need to pay a lot of attention to our Foundation, and therefore we tackle habits that help us to:

1. Sleep

2. Move

3. Eat and drink right

4. Unclutter (because for most people, outer order contributes to inner calm)

Three of the four Foundation habits relate directly to the body.

When it comes to ministering to the spirit through the body, in my own life, I often turn to one of my favorite happiness habits: To cultivate my sense of smell. I have a big shelf crammed with beautiful or interesting scents, and whenever I need a lift, I go there. Plus I have a lucky perfume.

How about you? Do you have ways to minister to your spirit through your body? Through your eyes (looking at art or nature), through the sense of taste (comfort foods, new cuisines), through the sense of hearing (listening to your favorite upbeat music is one of the quickest ways to intervene in mood), or through the sense of touch (getting a massage, fur therapy by petting your dog?)

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