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

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Secret of Adulthood: Don’t Believe Everything You Think.

Further Secrets of Adulthood:

Don'tBelieveEverythingYouThink_124860

 

Agree, disagree?

This reminds me of the ten categories of loopholes. With a lot of loopholes — especially those in the Questionable Assumptions category — if you look at them closely, you realize that you don’t really believe what you think.

I have a chapter on the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting in Better Than Before, my forthcoming book about habit formation. (Sign up here if you want to hear when the book goes on sale.)

I love all the habit-formation strategies, but I have to say, Loophole-Spotting is the funniest strategy. I get a real kick from identifying loopholes. There are a lot of loopholes.

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.

Agree, Disagree? September Is the Other January.

HappierAtHomePaperbackEven 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 clean out my office.

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.

Also, as I’ve recently discovered, there’s nothing like being in a 6.0 earthquake to make a person appreciate home.

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

– request the Behind-the-Scenes extra (I had a great time writing this)

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

This feeling of beginning is a good time to start new habits; we can take advantage of the Strategies of the Clean Slate and First Steps to tackle our habits. In Better Than Before, my book about habit-formation, these two strategies are in the section on “The Best Time To Begin.”

Do you feel inspired to turn over a new leaf in September? Or is this just me? (For readers in other zones, please substitute your beginning-of-school-year time. The same principle applies.)

Revealed! Book Club Choices for September.

Stitched PanoramaBecause 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

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 habits:

Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern

Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon.

An outstanding children’s book:

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield

Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon.

An eccentric pick:

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon.

Some readers have said that they wished that I’d describe and make the case for my book choices, instead of just providing links.

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.

Nevertheless, because so many readers have requested it, I’ve decided to give a bit more context for these choices in the book-club newsletter. So if you’d like to know more about why I made these selections, check there. To get the free monthly newsletter, and to make sure you don’ t miss any recommendations, sign up here.

In any event, I assure you that, for all the books I choose, I love them; I’ve read them at least twice if not many times; and they’re widely admired.

If you read last month’s recommendations…what did you think? Nudge; The Westing Game; and Traffic. All so good.

“From the Gods Who Sit in Grandeur/Grace Comes Somehow Violent.”

aeschylusZeus, who guided men to think,

who has laid it down that wisdom

comes alone through suffering.

Still there drips in sleep against the heart

grief of memory; against

our pleasure we are temperate.

From the gods who sit in grandeur

grace comes somehow violent.

— Aeschylus, “Agamemnon,” translated by Richmond Lattimore

I’ve remembered the last two lines of this passage ever since I read them decades ago. I’ve also tried unsuccessfully to find another quotation from a Greek play that I read around the same time…lines saying something like “there are some sorts of wisdom that cannot with piety be prayed for.” Anyone recognize it?

“Instead of Feeling That I’m Never Going to Finish…I Can See Large Chunks Getting Done.”

HabitsRepeatFourI’m writing my next book, Better Than Before, about how we make and break habits– an issue  very relevant to happiness. Each week, I 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.

To hear when Better Than Before goes on sale, sign up here.

This week’s story comes from Nyssa Hattaway.

I am a devout member of my church.  All of my life I have been taught to develop the habits of church attendance, tithing, daily prayer and daily Scripture study.  I have easily been able to practice all of them except the Scripture study.  I am an avid reader, but for some reason I just hadn’t found my groove on this one. 

My cohorts had given lots of advice informally and from the pulpit.  Read a chapter a day.  Just read a verse a day.  Study by topic not chronologically.  Set a time for 10 minutes and read what you can in that time, and so forth.  You can imagine in my 20+ years of adulthood how many unsuccessful starts and stops I have had, and you can probably guess the guilt that accompanies it.

Somewhere along the way, someone gave me booklet with a 40 day reading plan.  Assignments are made daily and by the end of the 40 days, the entire volume of Scripture is complete.  I decided to try it.  Instead of just giving a little, this program requires 5-6 chapters daily, somewhere between 45-60 minutes of reading.  Instead of feeling that I’m never going to finish and that I’m slowing plowing through the book, I can see large chunks of it getting done.  I am already half way through the volume!  I never thought that by committing to MORE I would have more success, but it demands planning, time and commitment, and that is where I was falling short in previous attempts.  I think this strategy could be applied to many habits and wondered if you have encountered it?  I will continue to study the Scriptures in this way even after the 40 days as I finally have a habit that works for me.

This example illustrates one of the most important things I’ve learned about habits — actually, the most important thing I’ve learned. The secret to good habits is to know what works for you.

Using the Strategy of Distinctions allows us to figure out how we’re different from other people, how we might tackle habits in a way that suits our particular idiosyncrasies. It’s a Secret of Adulthood: we’re more like other people, and less like other people, than we suppose.

One distinction is: Do you prefer to aim big or aim small?

Some people have better success changing a habit when they start small. A series of small but real accomplishments gives them the energy and confidence to continue. For instance, a person who wants to write a novel might resolve to write one sentence each day. Or a person who wants to start running might resolve to run for one minute.

This approach is often emphasized as the best way to form a habit. But in fact, as the example above illustrates, some people do better when they’re more ambitious.

Sometimes, counter-intuitively, it’s easier to make a major change than a minor change. When a habit is changing very gradually, we may lose interest, give way under stress, or dismiss the change as insignificant. A big transformation creates excitement and energy and a sense of progress, and that helps to create a habit.

As Steve Jobs reflected, “I have a great respect for incremental improvement, and I’ve done that sort of thing in my life, but I’ve always been attracted to the more revolutionary changes. I don’t know why.

How about you? Do you do better with small changes or big changes?