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

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Video: For Habits, Try the Strategy of Scheduling.

I’m doing a video series in which I discuss the various strategies that we can use for habit-formation.

Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life, and a significant element of happiness. If we have habits that work for us, we’re much more likely to be happy, healthy, productive, and creative. My book describes the multiple strategies we can exploit to change our habits. To hear when this masterpiece goes on sale, sign up here.

Last week was the Strategy of Monitoring — one of my favorite strategies (yes, I do have favorites, I must confess.)

This week — the Strategy of Scheduling. Also another one of my favorites.

The Strategies of Monitoring and Scheduling, along with the Strategies of Foundation and Accountability, form the section of my book on the “Pillars of Habits.” These are big, bedrock strategies.

 

To read more about my Wednesday adventures with my daughter, check out Happier at Home, chapter on Parenthood.

You can also read more about Power Hour and the Four Tendencies in those posts.

How about you? Do you find that you stick to your habits better — especially when a habit is fairly new — if it’s actually entered into your schedule? It’s surprising to me how the simple act of making a note of something can make such a big difference.

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I'm just about finished writing my next book, Better Than Before, about how we can make and break our habits. If you’d like to hear when the book goes on sale, sign up here.

Are You Overlooking This Giant Influence on Your Habits?

contagiousIn Maxims and Reflections, Goethe wrote, “Tell me with whom you consort and I will tell you who you are; if I know how you spend your time, then I know what might become of you.”

As I was doing the initial research for my forthcoming masterpiece of a book, about habit-formation, I tended to focus on strategies that I use as an individual.

I realized, however, that while it’s easy to imagine myself operating in isolation,  in fact, other people’s actions and habits exert tremendous influence on me, as mine do on them.

All the strategies of habit-formation deserve to be—and have been—the subject of entire books, but the Strategy of Other People is the strategy that’s hardest to distill into a single chapter. Our influence on each other’s habits is a vast subject. And it’s one of the most powerful, sometimes almost irresistible, strategies.

For instance, my husband, in particular, makes a big difference to my habits. In a phenomenon known as “health concordance,” couples’ health habits and statuses tend to merge over time. One partner’s health behaviors—habits related to sleep, eating, exercise, doctor visits, use of alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana—influence those behaviors in a partner. If one partner has Type 2 diabetes, the other partner faces a significant increase in the risk of developing it, as well. If one partner gives up cigarettes or alcohol, the other is more likely to quit.

My husband’s unwavering commitment to exercise has helped me stay dedicated. I also caught his habit of reading multiple books at one time, and buying books even when I have a huge pile I haven’t read yet. (Before we were married, I read one book at a time, and never allowed myself to acquire more than five unread books).

Also, some of my habits bothered him so much that I gave them up. For some reason, he objected to my snacking in bed. The things we do for love.

To quote another great thinker, in Letters from a Stoic, Seneca advised, “Associate with people who are likely to improve you.” This turns out to be very effective, because we do so readily pick up habits — good and bad — from each other.

How about you? Can you think of times when you’ve caught a good or bad habit from someone around you? Or when someone has caught your habit? A few years ago, I dramatically changed my eating habits (that’s a story for another day, and an example of the Strategy of the Lightning Bolt,  but if you’re curious, check out Gary Taubes’s Why We Get Fat), and I’ve noticed that my change has led to changes in other people, as my habits rubbed off on them.

To hear when my book about habit-formation goes on sale, sign up here.

Revealed! Book Club Choices for June. Happy Reading.

BookspiledonshelvesBecause 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:

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey

Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon.

An outstanding children’s book:

 Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp

Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon.

An eccentric pick:

The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman

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? Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography; Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s Understood Betsy; and Wayne Koestenbaum’s Jackie Under My Skin. All so good.

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Before and After: “I Simply Decided I Wouldn’t Go Near My Computer Before 9 am or after 9 pm.”

HabitsRepeatFourI’m writing my next book, about how we make and break habts– an issue  very relevant to happiness. Each week, I’ll 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 the book goes on sale, sign up here.

This week’s story comes from someone who wants to stay anonymous.

I made a decision a couple of years ago that I did not like the feeling I had when wasting time on the computer. On mornings I didn’t need to get out early, I could find that I’d ‘lost’ over an hour just surfing, or on Facebook. The same would happen at night, when I’d find myself tired but past my sleepy need to go to bed because of having stayed too long on the computer, usually pointlessly, in ‘veg- out’ mode.

The new habit. I simply decided that I would not go near my computer before 9 a.m. or after 9 p.m.

Now, I can’t say that I never slip, but on the whole, I find I feel so much better, more relaxed, more in control of my day at its start, and of my rest, at its end, that when I have slipped I’m reminded very quickly of why I developed this habit in the first place. It’s also helped to keep things in proportion. As I don’t (yet) have a smartphone, my new habit means it can sometimes be 24 hours or more that I don’t see my email. I’m happier when I feel I’m choosing when to open my computer and deal with emails, and choosing how to spend my time.

This is a good example of a “bright-line rule,” a useful concept I learned in law school. A bright-line rule is a clearly defined rule or standard that eliminates any need for interpretation or decision-making; for example, observing the Sabbath, or using the New York Times’s Manual of Style and Usage to decide grammar questions, or never buying bottled water,  or making purchases only from a prepared list.

Habits are so helpful, in part, because habits eliminate decision-making. It’s draining to make decisions — even little decisions — and by setting bright-line rules, we make things easier for ourselves, and it’s easier to keep our good habits.

In my habit-formation scheme, a bright-line rule is an aspect of the Strategy of Clarity. The more specific I am about what action to take, the more likely I am to form a habit.

Do you use any bright-line rules to help yourself stick to some good habits?

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Need an Emergency Energy Boost? Try These 9 Tips.

energyglowingcordEvery Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday, back by popular demand: Nine tips for an emergency energy boost.

When your energy level is low, everything feels like a chore — even things would ordinarily make you happy.

There are many good habits we should follow to keep our energy levels high, like exercising and getting enough sleep.

In my forthcoming book about habits, I write a lot about how to use habits to boost energy — but also how to use energy to strengthen habits. In particular, I think we need to make a special effort to foster habits of the “Foundation Four” — the ones that help us to sleep, move, eat and drink right, and unclutter. When we pay attention to these areas, we make sure we have enough energy to use our self-command to keep our good habits.

But what if you need more energy right now? And you don’t want to wait for the reward for your good habits to kick in?

Try one of these strategies:

1. Go outside into the sunlight. Light deprivation is one reason people feel tired. Research suggests that light stimulates brain chemicals that improve mood. For an extra boost, get your sunlight first thing in the morning. And while you’re outside…

2. Go for a brisk walk. Even a ten-minute walk can give you a surge of energy and decreased tension.

3. Act with energy. We think we ACT because of the way we FEEL, but often we FEEL because of the way we ACT. Trick yourself into feeling energetic by moving more quickly, pacing while you talk on the phone, and putting more energy into your voice.

4. Listen to your favorite zippy song. Hearing stimulating music is an easy, reliable way to get an instant lift.

5. Talk to an energetic friend. Not only do we gain energy from interacting with other people, we also – in what’s called “emotional contagion” — “catch” their emotions. Instead of infecting others with your draggy mood, try to lift yourself by catching the energy of a boisterous friend.

6. Tackle an item on your to-do list. Maybe you need to drive to an out-of-the-way store; or add the last, difficult touches to a homemade gift; or make a phone call to a difficult relative. You’ll be amazed by the huge rush of energy you get when it’s crossed off your list. If you’re having trouble, try doing it first thing in the morning. The night before, decide what you’re going to do, then get up and do it.

7. Clean up. For most people, outer order contributes to inner calm. If you feel overwhelmed and listless, try tidying up. No heavy scrubbing, just tidy the surfaces. Making your surroundings more pleasant will help to give you energy — plus, making visible improvements is a booster, too.

8. Jump! Yes, jump up and down a few times. I just started doing this, and it’s amazing how energizing it is. Or, if you feel too silly, run down the stairs.

9. Note of caution: people often try to use food to boost their low energy. This obviously helps if you’re actually hungry (and in my house, we constantly monitor people’s hunger levels, because we all get so “hangry” when we’re hungry), but if you’re not hungry, eating ice cream out of the container — tempting as it is — won’t really help.

“Energy is eternal delight,” William Blake wrote, and it’s surprising how much sheer energy level can affect the quality of the happiness of a day.

What am I forgetting? Have you found any good strategies for a quick mood boost?

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