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

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This Saturday: a quotation from Diane Arbus

Dianearbus“Everything is so superb and breathtaking. I am creeping forward on my belly like they do in war movies.” –Diane Arbus

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.

Need a simple and effective way to get your life under control? Try the “one-minute rule.”

One_minute_1I’ve realized that I’ve been backsliding on my “one-minute rule.”

This is an incredibly easy, incredibly effective rule—but it must be followed consistently if I want to see results. And it does take work.

It’s very simple: I must do any task that can be finished in one minute. Hang up my coat, read a letter and toss it, fill in a form, answer an email, note down a citation, pick up my phone messages, file a paper, put a dish in the dishwasher, replenish the diaper supply by the changing table, put the magazines away…and so on.

Because the tasks are so quick, it isn’t too hard to make myself follow the rule—but it has big results. Keeping all those small, nagging tasks under control makes me more serene, less overwhelmed.

When people ask me for happiness rules or tips, I often suggest the “one-minute rule,” because it’s very easy to implement. Several people have made a point of telling me how helpful they have found it.

One friend told me that her apartment went from being a wreck to being quite tidy, without much effort on her part. Another friend said that his productivity had shot up; because he got so many little things got done quickly, he had much more time for the bigger tasks.

One nice thing about the “one-minute rule” is that I don’t have to think about priorities. When I stop to think, “Should I tidy up the playroom or pay bills?” or “Should I answer emails or run my computer back-up program?” I sometimes end up feeling that whatever I’m doing is the wrong thing.

But with the “one-minute rule,” I do anything that presents itself, right away, as long as I can do it in a minute.

I can’t resist taking the opportunity to spread the word about a great new book just published by a friend of mine: Melissa Kirsch’s The Girl’s Guide to Absolutely Everything. It’s hilarious, profound, and useful–and there aren’t many books that can satisfy all of those three adjectives.

What makes a birthday happy?

Birthdaycake3Today is my birthday, and the Big Man wished me “Happy birthday!” the minute we woke up. I think I was more moved by that gesture than by any gift I could have received. The fact that my birthday was on his mind before we even got out of bed really touched me.

Though he wouldn’t describe it as a “happiness project,” I know that the Big Man has been working to change some things about himself. For example, he’s been trying to be less compulsive about going to the gym; as far as I can tell, he goes just as much, but is less stressed out about it.

He’s been working on being better about returning my emails dealing with our never-ending family logistics; he has improved tremendously on that front.

And now I also suspect that he’s been working on “family cheer.” Not only did he remember my birthday this morning, he also organized a family party this evening, and he took photos on our trip to India (in the past, he never took photos), and—this is what really tipped me off—he’s been doing some of the Christmas shopping. Unbelievable.

The Big Man is an outstanding gift-buyer—he’s given me some of my favorite items of clothing, and he has very original ideas. But he likes buying one gift at a time, not the stack of presents that we need to get for Christmas. But this year, he’s done half the work.

When I started the Happiness Project, I have to confess that I worried that if if I did more, he would do less. If I stopped nagging and complaining, would he leave all the work to me?

Well, I don’t know if my happiness project has had anything to do with it, but the Big Man is doing far more now than he used to. Voluntarily.

Now, correlation is not causation, so the ways that he’s changed may have nothing to do with the ways that I’ve changed. Or maybe they are related. But in any event, I’ve discovered that giving up nagging and complaining (well, mostly giving up nagging and complaining) haven’t made things worse. Surprise!

An unrelated thing that has made this day especially pleasant is that I happened to reflect on how often, in the past, I had to take an exam on my birthday. High school, college, law school—how clearly I remember spending my birthday hunting for good pens, flipping through blue books, humming mnemonic devices to myself. What happiness it is NOT to be taking an exam!

My second podcast! On being a more light-hearted parent.

This is podcast #2, about being a more light-hearted parent. I have to say that this is an area that I’ve been working on A LOT during this year, and it has really paid off. There’s a lighter, happier atmosphere in our house, and I’m happier because I’m not acting like such a harridan (most of the time).

Some readers reported that the volume on my first podcast was so low that they couldn’t hear it. I think I’ve figured out how to fix that, but let me know if it’s still a problem.


Download HP-02-061213.mp3

This Wednesday: tips for boosting your energy level.

EnergyEvery Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Tips for boosting your energy level.

Feeling energetic is a key to feeling happy. Studies show that when you feel energetic, you feel much better about yourself. On the other hand, when you feel exhausted, tasks that would ordinarily make you happy—like putting up holiday decorations—make you feel overwhelmed and blue.

So here are some tips for giving yourself an energy lift.

1. Exercise—even a quick ten-minute walk will increase your energy and boost your mood. This really works! Try it!

2. Listen to lively music.

3. Get enough sleep. If the alarm blasts you out of a sound sleep every morning, you’re not getting enough—and it matters.

4. For some people, taking a 10-30 minute nap is a big help. I can’t nap, myself, but my father has been known to take three naps in one day.

5. Act energetic. Research shows that when people move faster, their metabolism speeds up. Acting energetic will make you feel more energetic.

6. Talk to friends. I’ve noticed that if I’m feeling low, and then run into a friend on the street, I walk away feeling much more energetic. Reach out if you need a boost.

7. Get something done. Crossing a nagging chore off your to-do list provides a big rush of energy. For a huge surge, clean out a closet. You’ll be amazed at how great you feel afterward.

8. Do NOT use food. It’s tempting to reach for a carton of ice cream when you’re feeling listless, but in the end, all those extra calories will just drag you down.

Energy (or lack of energy) is contagious. If you feel energetic, you’ll help the people around you feel energetic, too. And that makes them feel happier, too. In fact, studies show that being an energizer was one of the strongest predictors of a positive performance evaluation at work.