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

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Do You Still Consider September to be the Beginning of the New Year?

Rubi_9780307886781_jkt_all_r11.inddEven though I haven’t been in school for a long time, for me, September  marks the beginning of a new year.  Orange is the new black, breakfast is the new lunch, Monday is the new Thursday, pork is the other white meat, and September is the other January. (And yes, it’s still September, even though most schools start in August nowadays.)

January is the official start of the new year, and I always get a burst of renewed zeal at that time, but September also gives the same feeling of an empty calendar and a clean slate. The air seems charged with possibility and renewal.

Back-to-school is a time of self-evaluation and reflection–and also a time when I feel the urge to buy myself some new office supplies.

Because of the new year feeling of September, when I wanted to do a a happier-at-home project, I decided to start it in September.

So many of the elements of a happy life come together in the idea of home: marriage and parenthood, in my case, though certainly not in everyone’s case; time; possessions; body; neighborhood; and, perhaps most enigmatically, the idea of now. I wanted to set aside a time to focus on the aspects of my life, to try to be as happy as I could be.

If you’re thinking about doing a happiness project yourself, now is always the best time to start–but if you do like to pick a particularly auspicious time, September is a good one. Think about it! From September to May, in one school year, you could take some steps to boost your happiness.

Blatant self-promotion: if you’d like to read something to get inspired to do a happiness project focused on your experience of home, try…Happier at Home. I love all my books equally, but my sister says Happier at Home is my best book.  One of my specialties as a writer is writing endings, and my best endings are the end to Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill, the end of my college application essay, and the end to Happier at Home. I have to say, I love the ending to this book.

“But Gretchen,” you’re thinking, “is there any way for me to learn more about the book?” Well yes there is! You can…

— read a sample chapter on the subject of “time”

— watch the one-minute book trailer, “Ten ways to be happier at home” (Can you guess which suggestion has caused some controversy?)

— request the one-page book club discussion guide

— read the Behind-the-Scenes extra (I had a great time writing this)

Summer is almost over,  and the fall brings fresh beginnings and new possibilities. Now is now.

Do you feel inspired to turn over a new leaf in September? Or is this just me?

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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.

Story: I Love This Example of Thinking About Luck.

This week’s video story:  I love this example of superstitious thinking.

 

You can read about the disputed versions of this study on Wikiquote. As I said, I’m not vouching for the accuracy of this particular version of the story–in this context, it’s not particularly important how factual this story is, because the (perhaps apocryphal) exchange between the two men captures something very true about the way we think about luck.

How about you? Do you have any lucky objects or rituals that you follow–even if you don’t really believe in them?

Can’t see the video? Click here. If you want to read more about along these lines, check out this post.

Find the archives of videos here.  More than 1.6 MILLION views. Don’t forget to subscribe!

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More Questions for the Upholders, Questioners, Rebels, and Obligers Out There.

fourinawordMore questions about the Four Rubin Tendencies.

I’m still obsessed with the four categories I’ve developed–which, for lack of a better name, I’m currently calling the Four Rubin Tendencies. Or maybe I’m calling it the Rubin Character Index. Which name do you like better?

These categories describe how people tend to respond to expectations: outer expectations (a deadline, a “request” from a sweetheart) and inner expectations (write a novel in your free time, train for a marathon).

To learn more about the Four Rubin Tendencies, read here and here. In a nutshell:

Upholders respond readily to both inner and outer expectations

Questioners question all expectations, but will follow expectations if they think the expectations are sensible (effectively making all expectations into inner expectations)

Rebels resist all expectations

Obligers meet outer expectations but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves

Note: When I write about this framework, people often try to match it up with existing frameworks. From  what I can see, this  exercise doesn’t work very well. Every framework captures something different, and to try to make them all equivalent makes them weaker, not stronger. Also, my framework looks at a very specific aspect of human nature: how people respond to expectations. It doesn’t purport to predict other aspects of personality, such as extroversion. Just how a person responds to expectations.

I’m still working on refining these types, and I’d love to hear what you have to say about the following questions. Obviously no one would answer all these questions, but if one strikes a particular chord with you, I’d be interested in your reaction.

–If you consider yourself a Rebel, you resist other people’s expectations. How do you feel about imposing expectations on others? Do you resist that, or is that not as difficult? For instance, how would you feel about imposing a deadline on your colleagues, or making your children do yard-work? Do you get angry or annoyed when other people don’t meet your expectations, or do you think, “No problem.”

–Along the same lines, Rebels, you probably don’t like working in a hierarchy, but maybe you can do so if you’re the boss. If you’re a Rebel in charge of other people, how do you feel about an expectation imposed by someone who works for you? Say, you’re asked by an underling to review a document. Do you feel less resistant to that expectation, because the person works for you?

— Are you chronically tardy? Often enough that people complain about it? If so, what’s your category? On the other hand, are you chronically early? What’s your category? I’m pathologically prompt, myself. If you’re chronically late/early  only in specific situations, what are those situations?

Do you find yourself not meeting an expectation from a respected source, because you’re not convinced that it’s justified? E.g., your doctor says you should take a specific medication, but you’re just not convinced it’s necessary, so you don’t. Or a colleague says you need to hand something in by Friday, but you don’t think it’s needed until the next Wednesday, so you don’t finish it. If so, what category are you in? (Obviously, no one is going to follow completely arbitrary or nonsensical expectations; I mean a situation where you believe those arguments haven’t been made.)

–Some people hate the idea of building regular habits or having a life of routine. If this describes your views, what category do you fit in? On the other hand, some people love the idea of building regular habits, and embrace routine. Like me. If this describes your views, what category do you fit in?

–A long time ago, I came across an intriguing term in the discussion of a then-boom in butler services, in a piece by Robert Frank: the “service heart.”

And many household managers talked with pride about what they call “the service heart”— the joy of giving their employers exactly what they want, when they want it, and how they want it. As butler student Dawn Carmichael told me, “I loved knowing what made my employer happy. I know that sounds weird, but making him happy made me happy.”

Would you describe yourself as having a service heart? If so, what category do you fit in?

— If you’re in a longtime relationship, what’s your category, and what’s your sweetheart’s category? I’m an Upholder, and my husband is a Questioner with a tendency to Uphold.

–Big question: If you identify as an Upholder, Questioner, Rebel, or Obliger, how do you feel about your category? Do you like belonging in it? Do you wish you were in a different category?

Despite the drawbacks, I love being an Upholder and wouldn’t want to be in a different category, though with time and (I hope) greater wisdom I’ve learned to be more of a Questioner (this is something that my husband’s example has helped me to do better). But an Upholder friend told me he doesn’t like being an Upholder, because of our craving for gold stars.

Your responses and observations welcome! You may think I talk about this a lot on the blog, but that’s nothing to how much I talk about it in real life.

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“Our Virtues Are Expressions of Our Choice, or at Any Rate Imply Choice.”

aristotle“When we are angry or frightened it is not by our choice;  but our virtues are expressions of our choice, or at any rate imply choice.” — Aristotle, The Nichomachean Ethics

Mindy Kaling’s Rules For Writing in a “Voice Checklist.”

mindy-kaling-mindy-projectEvery Wednesday is Tip Day or List Day or Quiz Day.

This Wednesday: Mindy Kaling’s Rules for Writing.

I’m a huge fan of Mindy Kaling. She is one of the geniuses behind one of my very favorite TV shows, The Office–and also played the great character, Kelly Kapoor. I love her book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). And I’m looking forward to binge-watching her newish TV show, The Mindy Project. (Added bonus: I love anything that’s an “___ Project.”)

Mindy Kaling also gave one of my favorite happiness interviews here. One great passage: “When I was 18 years old, I took a semester off from college and was an intern at Late Night With Conan O’Brien. It was the most glamorous job I ever had, and I idolized the writers there. I remember lying in bed every night telling myself that if I ever got a job as a comedy writer, I would be so happy and all my dreams would have come true. Six years later I got that job, working on The Office. I felt incredibly happy and grateful for a about a week, and then a whole new set of complaints set in. This would’ve shocked and disgusted my 18-year-old self. It’s helpful to remember the younger version of me because it reminds me to feel grateful when I want to be snotty.”

Mindy Kaling was on the cover of Entertainment Weekly this week, and the accompanying article included “Mindy’s Rules for Writing,” which is the “voice checklist” that hangs in her writers’ room. “The truth is,” she explained, “it’s much easier to write a bunch of mean zingers.”

Characters are helpful and kind.

No one is a moron.

Characters are polite.

Conflict should never come from a desire to be cruel or mean.

Do not fear nuance. Comedy from avoiding conflict, not instigating it.

Characters don’t have to be maxed out to be funny.

To me, this list also suggests how TV writers can avoid cliche. We’re also so familiar with the tired stock characters, the broad insults, the unrealistically extreme behavior that falls into the same patterns. These kinds of rules make it fresh.

What do you think of these rules?

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