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

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7 Tips for Making Other People Feel Smart and Insightful.

smartEvery Wednesday is Tip Day.

This Wednesday: 7 tips for making other people feel smart and insightful.

We all want to get along well with other people, and one way to do this is to help people feel good about themselves. If you make a person feel smart and insightful, that person will enjoy your company. The point is not to be manipulative, but to help other people feel good about their contributions to a conversation.

Here are some suggestions…

1. Take notes. I’m a compulsive note-taker, and I used to feel self-conscious about pulling out my little notebook and taking notes during a casual conversation. Then I noticed that people really seemed to enjoy it; the fact that I was taking notes made their remarks seem particularly insightful or valuable. Now I don’t hold myself back.

2. Refer to a comment that the person made earlier in the conversation. “This ties to your earlier point about…” This reference shows a person that you’re tracking and remembering their comments very closely. And give people credit for their ideas! The terrific Ramit Sethi gave me the idea for this post.  Relatedly…

3. If a person doesn’t finish a thought, ask him or her to pick it up again. “You said there were two reasons, but we didn’t get to the second reason.”

4. Use the person’s name—judiciously. Perhaps it’s the influence of How To Win Friends and Influence People, but some folks seem to think that throwing names around is always a winning move. I think it’s much more complicated than that. Sometimes, when someone uses my name, I feel as though I’m being manipulated, or chided, or patronized. But in the right context, it can add a very nice note.

5. As people talk about things they’ve done, take note of evidence of their admirable qualities—just in a word or two. “That must have taken a lot of research.” “You showed a lot of initiative in starting that.” When someone mentions a fact from the past, my father-in-law often remarks, “You’ve got a good memory.” It’s surprisingly gratifying.

6. Ask for advice. We all love to give advice, and feel smart when someone seeks our counsel. Even better…

7. Take someone’s advice! If you read a book that someone recommends, use a software program that someone suggests, or try a restaurant that someone loves, that person will feel brilliant. In conversation, I’m always making recommendations such as Inform Fitness gym, where I go for strength-training, and Gary Taubes’s book Why We Get Fat, and I feel enormously pleased when someone follows my suggestions.

What have I left out? What are some other ways to make people feel smart and insightful?

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.

Story: The Things That Go Wrong Often Make the Best Memories.

For the weekly videos, I now tell a story. I’ve realized that for me, and I think for many people, a story is what holds my attention and makes a point most powerfully.

This week’s story: The things that go wrong often make the best memories.

Can’t see the video? Click here.

Have you ever had something go very wrong–which then turned into a great memory?

If you want to read more along these lines, check out…

Eight excellent tips for living that my parents gave me.

Sometimes flawed can be more perfect than perfection.

Further Secrets of Adulthood.

You can also read more about this in Happier at Home, chapter 10.

Find the archives of videos here.  More than 1.3 MILLION views. Don’t forget to subscribe!

It Makes Me Happy To Spot These Symbols Hidden in Familiar Logos.

Along with koans, paradoxes, teaching stories, and aphorisms, I get a big kick out of spotting visual symbols, hidden in familiar logos. They add a little burst of pleasure to everyday life.

I was amazed when someone pointed out this symbol. How had I missed it? Once I knew it was there, it was so obvious: an arrow between the E and the X



I always had a dim sense that the arrow was off-center, but never thought about it until my older daughter pointed out the reason. The arrow makes a smile that goes from A to Z.



Love this one! It’s a little harder to spot. Look hard…do you see the chocolate kiss, on its side, between the K and the I?







I’d love to know more examples. Do you know of any great hidden symbols in logos? Or am I the only one who loves to collect this kind of thing?

“I Still Feel a Very Strong and Positive Pleasure in Being Stranded in Queer Quiet Places.”

chesterton“I can recall in my childhood the continuous excitement of long days in which nothing happened;  and an indescribable sense of fullness in large and empty rooms.  And with whatever I retain of childishness…I still feel a very strong and positive pleasure in being stranded in queer quiet places, in neglected corners where nothing happens and anything may happen; in unfashionable hotels, in empty waiting-rooms, or in watering-places out of the season.  It seems as if we needed such places, and sufficient solitude in them, to let certain nameless suggestions soak into us and make a richer soil of the unconscious.”

–G. K. Chesterton, “On the Thrills of Boredom”

I feel exactly the same way. Years ago, my sister and I stayed at a small, shabby motel in the middle of Nebraska, and it gave me the most tremendous sense of excitement. Very odd.

Perhaps relatedly, when I’m trying to calm myself, I often envision places that are usually crowded and busy in their empty, quiet times–an empty parking lot, a deserted Metropolitan Museum.

How about you? Do you love diners in small towns, and the like?

A Trip to the Pediatrician’s Office Reminded Me of This Important Truth.

stethoscope1This week, I took both my daughters to the pediatrician for their annual check-ups. I was a little late, but the need to turn in camp health forms got me to schedule the appointments, finally.

As I walked out of the second appointment this morning, I found myself thinking, “Good! That’s another thing to cross off my to-do list.”

But this afternoon, another thought occurred to me. At various points, several of my friends would have joyfully given all they possessed for a fifteen-minute appointment with the pediatrician that ended with the cheerful words, “Everything looks great! See you in the fall for flu shots.”

Once again, I remind myself: The things for which I’m most grateful are often the things that I take for granted.

One day, we all have that bad visit to the doctor’s office, but this week, our visits were good. And I want never to lose sight of how very, very grateful I am for that.