Do You Face These Common Problems in Happiness and Habits? Here’s Your Answer!

For years, I’ve been reading, writing, and talking to people about their happiness and good habits. My preoccupation is: how can we make our lives happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative?

The Happiness Project, Happier at Home, Better Than Before, and now The Four Tendencies — all, in their own way, address this fundamental question.

And as I’ve talked to people, certain challenges keep coming up, over and over.

For years, I was so puzzled by them, I couldn’t stop thinking about them and trying to figure out the answers. Perhaps some sound familiar to you:

  • People can rely on me, so why can’t I rely on myself?
  • Why do people tell me that I ask too many questions?
  • How do I work with someone who refuses to do what I ask?
  • Why do people just do whatever they’re told to do, like lemmings, without demanding good reasons?
  • Why can’t I make myself do anything?
  • Why won’t you change what you’re doing, after I’ve explained the serious consequences of failing to change?
  • Why do people keep telling me I’m uptight?
  • Why do I have writer’s block?
  • How can I deal with someone who keeps telling me what to do?
  • How can I stop my teenager from dropping out of school?
  • How can my team become more effective, with less wasted time and conflict?
  • Why is everything an argument with my child?
  • I’m deeply committed to doing this thing (working on a novel, exercising regularly), so why can’t I do it?
  • Why can’t other people just get their own s!$* done?
  • Why can’t I convince my patients to take their prescriptions?
  • Why does my mother keep emailing me articles?
  • My child is so smart and does well on tests, so why does he refuse to do his homework?
  • How can I help my spouse to lose weight? To exercise?
  • Why can’t I start my side hustle?
  • Why am I always the one asked to pick up the extra work around here?
  • Why is it taking me so long to make this decision?
  • Why can’t my sweetheart be more spontaneous?
  • Why does this person refuse to answer my questions?
  • Why do my co-workers refuse to act with common courtesy — how hard is it to put your mug in the office dishwasher?
  • Why can’t I keep my promises to myself?
  • Why does this employee keep challenging every decision I make?
  • My spouse will do anything to help a client, so why can’t I get any help?

Why You Act, Why You Don’t

Perhaps it seems unlikely, but it’s true — the Four Tendencies framework sheds light on all these questions.

With every single one of these questions, I have an answer that I think can help, using the Four Tendencies.

To take just one example, I received this email about a teacher who used her knowledge of the Four Tendencies to change her way of working with a Rebel — in a way that allowed that Rebel to succeed:

I’m a teacher at our local county jail, mostly GED and high school diploma courses. Recently I had a student who was getting in her own way—arguing with the guards and not completing assignments. I believed her when she said that she really wanted to get her GED—yet she wasn’t making progress.

It dawned on me that she is a Rebel. I shared your theory with her, and it really helped her see herself in a new, more positive way. I stopped asking her to do homework and let her decide each day how she wanted to study: computer software, group lesson, independently, or not at all. As I write this, she has passed five of the five tests, and thus completed her high school equivalency.

When you know if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel, you understand yourself much better — why you act, why you don’t act, why you feel the way you do.

And as the example above demonstrates, when you understand other people’s Tendencies, you gain great perspective on why they act, why they don’t act, and why they feel the way they do.

To a degree that astonishes me, simple tweaks in language and circumstances can allow people to do a much better job in dealing with themselves and others.

I certainly use the Tendencies myself. I’m married to a Questioner, and I’ve learned that I always need to explain the reason if I want him to do something. Even just yesterday. I was filling out a tiresome form that asked for his work address. I called him and asked, “What’s your work address?” He answered, “Why ?”

Now, if he’d asked me a similar question, I would’ve just answered. I wouldn’t ask why. But my husband wasn’t going to meet even the smallest expectation — tell me your work address — without knowing why.

That used to bug me. Why wouldn’t he just do what I asked? Why did he slow down the process? Now I don’t get annoyed with him, because I understand his nature.

Managing yourself, and others, is much easier when you know what to do — and why.

 

Want to find out if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel? Take the quick Quiz here.

Want to learn more about the framework? Order my book The Four Tendencies. All is revealed!

Want to talk about the Four Tendencies with other people? Join the discussion on my free Better app.

 

Podcast 126: Look for an Under-Used Area of Your Home, Dealing with Perfectionism, and Clear Instructions about How to Rate and Review a Podcast.

Update:  Congratulations to Elizabeth and Sarah, who are about to hit a milestone for their podcast “Happier in Hollywood” — tomorrow is their tenth episode. Teaser: in that episode, they interview the brilliant host of “Side Hustle School,Chris Guillebeau. Who is a Rebel, if you’re curious.

Try This at Home: Look for an under-used area of your home. Create your own “nook” like my daughter Eleanor or a “Cozy Club” like Elizabeth and Emilie. We mention the try-this-at-home tip from episode 72, of having room of your own.


gretchen rubin

**Stay tuned for the promised photos of the Cozy Corner — I thought our mother had the photo, but in her own recent efforts to clear space, she sent the photo to Elizabeth, and Elizabeth needs to find it. So hope to update with that soon!

Happiness Hack: When listener Korrine realized that she often cut her laps short when she was walking a one-mile loop, she switched to walking around a lake in a 2.7 mile circuit — no way to cut it short. She’s using several of the habit-formation strategies that I discuss in Better Than Before.

Happiness Stumbling Block: Perfectionism — a very common stumbling block.

If you want to read more about satisficers and maximizers, read here.

Send in your anti-perfectionist mantras! Here are some good ones:

  • “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
  • “Sometimes there are many right choices.”
  • “Don’t get it perfect, get it going.”
  • “There’s no wrong answer here.”
  • “Don’t spend your time rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”
  • “Enjoy the fun of failure.” (I write about this last one in The Happiness Project.)

 

Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth gives herself a demerit for not rating or reviewing other podcasts — even though we ask for people to rate and review our podcast all the time. She (and I) simply didn’t know how to do it. Turns out that it’s easy! For written directions, scroll down here.

1pixgretchen rubin recording podcast

Gretchen’s Gold Star: In related news, I give a gold star to all the listeners who have so generously rated and reviewed us already. We so appreciate it — it really does help new listeners discover the show.


Three Resources:

  1. Want a new podcast to listen to, with the same vibe as Happier? The Onward Project is the family of podcasts that I’ve launched, for podcasts that are about “your life–made better.” Check out these great shows: Side Hustle School and Radical Candor and Happier in Hollywood.
  2. I’ve announced my book tour schedule, and I’d love to see a lot of “Happier” listeners at events. Info here.
  3. If you want to pre-order my book The Four Tendencies (and it’s a big help to me, if you do), go here.

If you want easy instructions about how to rate or review the podcast, look here. Remember, it really helps us if you do rate or review the podcast — it helps other listeners discover us.

I do weekly live videos on my Facebook Page to continue the conversation from the podcast — usually on Tuesdays at 3:00 pm ET. To join the conversation, check the schedule.

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

Check out Smith and Noble, the solution for beautiful window treatments. Go to smithandnoble.com/happier for 20% off window treatments and free in-home or on-phone design consultations and free professional measuring.

Also check out Texture. Get access to all your favorite magazines — including back issues and bonus video content — in one super-convenient place. Try the app Texture for free by going to Texture.com/happier.

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We love hearing from listeners:

 

To sign up for my free monthly newsletter, text me at 66866 and enter the word (surprise) “happier.“ Or click here.

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Listeners really respect the views of other listeners, so your response helps people find good material. (Not sure how to review? Instructions here; scroll to the bottom.)

How to Subscribe

If you’re like me (until recently) you’re intrigued by podcasts, but you don’t know how to listen or subscribe. It’s very easy, really. Really.  To listen to more than one episode, and to have it all in a handier way, on your phone or tablet, it’s better to subscribe. Really, it’s easy.

Want to know what to expect from other episodes of the podcast, when you listen to the award-winning Happier with Gretchen Rubin?” We talk about how to build happier habits into everyday life, as we draw from cutting-edge science, ancient wisdom, lessons from pop culture—and our own experiences (and mistakes).  We’re sisters, so we don’t let each other get away with much!

Want a new podcast to listen to, with the same vibe as Happier? The Onward Project is the family of podcasts that I’ve launched, for podcasts that are about “your life–made better.” Check out these great shows: Side Hustle School and Radical Candor and Happier in Hollywood.

HAPPIER listening!

How a Health Coach Harnessed Her Rebel Tendency to Lose 40 Pounds and Boost Her Energy.

I love hearing how people put the Four Tendencies framework to work — whether by using knowledge of their Tendency to improve their own lives, or to work more effectively with other people.

Recently, I got an email from Nagina Abdullah, health coach and founder of MasalaBody.com. She listens to the “Happier” podcast, and she told me about how she was able to eat more healthfully, lose weight, and boost her energy by harnessing the strengths of her Rebel Tendency.

This story was particularly interesting to me, because — as Rebels themselves often point out — the strategies that work for other Tendencies often don’t work for Rebels.

So I was fascinated to hear her story, and she wrote an account of it to share — which is below, with my comments in brackets.

Nagina writes:

When I was a kid, I got sent to the principal’s office on a weekly basis. While my teachers would ask the students to be quiet and obedient, I would end up in laughing fits and get sent to the principals’ office to get disciplined.

I struggled with following expectations for my whole life. As a child, I resisted my teachers’ rules. As I got older, I resisted being healthier.

See, I love food. I love sweets, fried food, food trucks, BBQs – everything that isn’t good for my waistline. I ALSO resist following the rules of having to be strict to get healthy.

My tendencies finally made sense when I took Gretchen’s Four Tendencies Quiz. I wanted to see if I was an Upholder, Obliger, Questioner, or Rebel.

I wasn’t surprised when I scored as a “Rebel.” Rebels resist outer and inner expectations.

After decades of being addicted to sugar and feeling unable to control my cravings, I embraced my Rebel tendencies. As result, I lost 40 pounds, skyrocketed my energy and started wearing the clothes I had dreamed of wearing.

The “Healthy Rules” I Did Not Want to Follow

After having two kids and working 60+ hour weeks, I felt exhausted and overweight, more than ever before. I needed to get healthier to feel better and have more energy for my kids.

I didn’t want to deprive myself of food I loved and I didn’t have time to spend hours in the gym.

Here are the rules to getting healthier I would regularly hear:

  • “You have to count calories, points, crumbs, licks, and drops”
  • “You must exercise 3+ days a week”
  • “No eating cupcakes, donuts, and everything else you love”

 

Even though I wanted to get healthier, I resisted restrictive rules like these.

This led to a lot of internal frustration, yo-yo dieting, announcing “It isn’t worth it!” and “Why is this so hard for ME?” [Rebels often get frustrated when they try to use the same techniques that work for other Tendencies.]

Even if I wanted to be healthier, I couldn’t even follow my OWN rules.  [Rebels resist outer and inner expectations.]

Would I ever change my habits to get healthier when I kept rebelling against the rules?

I finally got my dream body when (only when) I broke the rules.

Here’s how I broke the rules to lose 40 pounds and keep it off for now over six years.

Above All I Wanted to Be a “Rebel Mom”

Being a mom is the greatest gift, but I feared I would be overweight, exhausted and put myself last in the name of my kids, which is the stereotype of a mom I held.

That’s when I decided to be a REBEL MOM and break through the stereotype.

Here’s my vision of being the mom I wanted to be:

  • Feel confident in a bathing suit so I could swim and play in the sand with my kids
  • Run 5k’s with my kids and set healthy examples for them
  • Feel sexy around my husband
  • Go rollerblading, biking, ice skating, roller skating, skiing, snowboarding and more with my family and feel strong and agile as I am doing it

 

Having a goal of a “Rebel Mom” inspired me to be healthier.  [Rebels want to express their identity; they want to live in accordance with their authentic self; they can do anything they choose to do, in order to be the kind of person they choose to be.]

3 Rules I Broke to Get My Dream Body

I started by eating healthy, because I found that it is the most impactful thing to do. But I needed to make eating healthy enjoyable and realistic for my life and family, and that’s when I realized there were three rules I had to break. [Rebels do well to focus on enjoyment. They also often enjoy breaking rules or achieving aims in unconventional ways.]

Rule 1: “You need to eat healthy every day to lose weight.”

How I break Rule 1:

I have one “Cheat Day” a week where I eat everything I want, so I always get a “break” from the rules and have something to look forward to. A Cheat Day is KEY to losing weight if you hate following those strict diet rules. [As an Upholder and an Abstainer and a very low-carb eater, this would not work for me — but it works for Nagina.]

Rule 2: “You have to eat boring food in tiny portions so you feel like you are starving to lose even 5 pounds.”

How I break Rule 2:

Instead of making my food flavorful with heavy sauces and creams, I use spices and herbs that pack in the flavor and have natural health benefits (like anti-inflammation and reduced water retention). I feel like I’m “cheating” and indulging even though I’m actually eating healthy.

I love to add a pinch of cinnamon (lowers your blood sugar) in my morning coffee because it tastes so delicious. [Again, the focus on pleasure and choice.]

Rule 3: “You are “supposed” to eat healthy.”

How I break Rule 3:

Remember the last time you were at an airport? Temptations at every turn, with most people indulging in them? It’s HARDER to eat healthy than not!

As a result of eating healthy, I feel in control of myself, and feel like I’m rebelling against the “norms” of society. [Rebels often benefit from reminding themselves, “I’m not going to be trapped by a sugar addiction. These big companies can’t control me with their fancy marketing campaigns and crinkly packages. I’m strong, they can’t make me eat their junk.” Rebels also often love a challenge: “Most people can’t resist the goodies in an airport, mall, or store, but for me, it’s not a problem.”]

 What you can do to get healthier:

If you resist outer and/or inner expectations (Rebels resist both, and Questioners and Obligers resist one or the other), and/or you have found it challenging to get healthier, try to BREAK some of the traditional rules by using one of the methods that worked for me:

  1. What’s a stereotype you would break by getting healthier? Embrace that and make it your goal.
  2. Include one cheat day a week and eat whatever you want on those days, while staying healthy on the other days. [Very effective for some people! Not effective for others! Know yourself.]
  3. Add herbs and spices to your foods to make it taste indulgent without the extra calories.
  4. Resist the unhealthy temptations around you and feel in control of yourself.

To help you, I have a special gift for Gretchen Rubin readers. I would like to send you my three spiced late-night snacks to banish your sugar cravings forever AND a bonus recipe e-book, “7 Spicy Recipes to Help You Lose Your First 7 Pounds.” You can get these here.


What I love about Nagina’s account is how carefully she examined what works for her, what she wants, and figured out her own way to get there.

By embracing her Rebel Tendency, she was able to get the benefit of its enormous strengths. By contrast, when Rebels think they “should” be able to use techniques like to-do lists, scheduling, monitoring, or accountability, they often get very frustrated with themselves.

There’s no one “right” way, no one “best” way — only what works for you.

A Little Happier: You Get What You Get, and You Don’t Get Upset.

It’s funny what we remember. When handing out scarves with different patterns, or cupcakes with different colors of frosting, I would hear my daughter’s nursery school teachers admonish the children, “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset.”

I remind myself of this all the time. Sometimes, I can change, control, or choose; sometimes I can’t — in which case, it doesn’t help to get upset about it.

This saying is a good example of the “fluency heuristic,” by the way: we remember ideas better, and find them more valuable, when they’re easy to remember — for instance, because the words rhyme. (For some reason, I get a big kick out of this.)

Do you have any childhood sayings that have stuck with you? Rhyming or non-rhyming.

This mini-episode is brought to you by Prudential. Their new podcast Everyday Bravery brings inspiring and personal stories about finding the courage that brings out the best in us. Go to EverydayBravery.com or subscribe everywhere podcasts are available.

Want to get in touch? I love hearing from listeners:

 

 Happier listening!

A Mysterious Observation about Happiness from Oscar Wilde.

“There are many things that we would throw away if we were not afraid that others might pick them up.”  — Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

This has always struck me as an eerie and mysterious observation; I’ve been surprised by its truth.

Taking a job, dating a person, accepting a position, a great bargain…how often do we pursue a certain course because we know that if we don’t take advantage of something, someone else will?