Search Results for: habits

Agree, Disagree? “Habits of the Mind Far Outweigh Habits of the Body.”

Interview: Heather Harpham.

A friend recently gave me a copy of Heather Harpham’s new memoir Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After, and I whipped through it.

First of all — the title. Of course. Plus, I love memoirs generally, and among other things, this memoir covers the time during which Heather Harpham’s young daughter went through a bone-marrow transplant.

I’m hugely interested in the subject of transplants and organ donation generally (read here if you want to know why, and about the happiest day of my life).

It’s also about romantic love, marriage, parenthood, crisis. And all told from the perspective of a Rebel! I do love spotting the Four Tendencies in action.

Heather Harpham also writes fiction, essays and reviews for many publications, has written and performed multiple solo plays, and teaches at various colleges and universities.

Gretchen: What’s a simple habit that consistently makes you happier? 

Heather: Walking in nature. Specifically, the aqueduct that runs parallel to the Hudson River, and cuts through my small town. In summer, it’s a leafy green lacy canopy. In winter, it’s bare and you can see the water. I love it there. Typically, I walk with my friend Barbara Feinberg, who is also a writer and a teacher and that means we get to talk shop, and gossip, as we walk. Secondly, eating (very consistently, almost every morning!) a croissant from Antoinette’s French bakery. I’m a giant believer in butter and flour as a habit that brings happiness. And in pausing to pet the cat, if you’re lucky enough to be allowed. Petting the cat might be the key to happiness.

What’s something you know now about forming healthy habits that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

That habits of the mind far outweigh habits of the body. How you think is everything. Everything.  It’s the one and only thing we have control over, our perceptions and reactions, the loop our mind runs. I think of political prisoners—Geronimo Pratt in this country, or the South African writer Breyten Breytenbach are just two examples of so many who endured decades in prison without losing hope, without becoming like their jailers. Resisting bitterness or despair, simply by tending their thoughts. That amazes me.

I had no idea of this possibility before, say, 30. I would willingly junk up my mind with any kind of self-destructive or judgmental nonsense that occurred to me. The world was much more comfortingly black and white, good guys and bad guys; I was often furious with unseen forces. Or with myself. Not in a productive, how can I change this behavior kind of way, just idly furious. After college, I made a choice not to become an attorney because, as much as a life fighting for causes appealed to me, I feared I’d lean too far into the angry, intolerant side of myself. And that turned out to be a good decision because being a writer has gradually nudged my mind into better habits. Storytelling forces a slower pace, a wider lens. If you want to describe someone, or someplace well, you have to widen your field of vision. You have to divine, or try to, motive and subtleties. Writing invites the act of empathy, even when empathy is out of reach. Somewhere, a staggeringly compassionate soul is maybe—through the acting of writing—figuring out how the small boy who was Donald Trump grew into a guy capable of demoralizing, alienating and insulting millions with a single Tweet. Hats off to them! I’m not there yet. That’s the big leagues. But I do believe kindness or empathy, as a habit of mind, can be cultivated.

Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness? 

Thinking I’m right. It astonishes me how reflexive that impulse is; I almost always, in any conflict, assume my own moral ascendancy. And that’s really too bad because when you think you’re right, you generally stop listening. Why would you listen when you already know the answer? My kids, as you can imagine, are not great fans of this quality. Ditto my husband. Luckily, happily, I’ve had almost two decades of partnership and of parenting to help remind me that there is another way to look at what I think I see clearly. Having a sense of humor helps in this cause. Kids don’t let you get away with arrogance; with other things maybe, but not that. They are great at pointing out your inconsistencies, your hypocrisies. I’m so thankful to them for that, but only a week or so after the fact.

Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you changed a major habit very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?  

When we were living in Durham for my daughter’s medical care and I had to watch her and many other children around us suffer on a pediatric bone marrow transplant unit, I began, not quite consciously but not totally unconsciously either, to restrict my eating. Obsessing over body image or food had been a habit since puberty, and this was just another iteration on that stale refrain. I’d drift through the day on coffee or a chocolate bar and then drink half a glass of red wine for dinner. I liked it, honestly. I liked fulfilling an ideal of “thin” as competent or in control. I was so out of control over what happened to my daughter that even an illusion of control was comforting.

One day it hit me that this was actually a very selfish thing I was up to. It’s a fantasy to think you can limit your self-destructive practices to yourself—they spill over. Any drug addict will tell you that, any alcoholic. When I realized that restricting my eating meant I had diminished energy, physically and emotionally, to give to Gracie and Brian and Gabe, I was very disappointed. I thought, I like this, I don’t want to give it up. On the other hand, I suddenly saw it as a kind of stealing. Hungry, I was often short tempered or fuzzy headed; I was taking away a good enough mom and replacing her with mediocre one. So, reluctantly, I began to eat normally again. I didn’t want to, and I was still in a loop of mental mishegoss over body image (what a waste of so many women’s TIME!). But I recognized that this was a behavior that could be stopped. And, once I was well fed, I did in fact have more conversation, more caring, more jokes, more flexibility, more of whatever the heck the self is made of—to share.

Has another person ever had a big influence on your habits?

I have three people whose habits I try to adopt daily: a humanist-atheist (the novelist Brian Morton), a Buddhist (the improviser Ruth Zaporah) and Jesus, the original Christian, who appears in my imagination as a kind of Casual Friday Jesus, but Jesus.

Brian is my husband so I get to watch and learn from his habits at close range. He’s phenomenally disciplined as a writer and always has been. He writes daily, or tries to. Every single day, in his view, is a work day creatively speaking, and that’s a beautiful thing. He’s taught me that if you want to be taken seriously in the world, if you want the privilege of sharing your work with others, then step one is to take yourself seriously by showing up for work. I love that.

Ruth Zaporah is a master teacher who I’ve studied with for almost 30 years. Her art form is improvised physical theater, predicated on the belief that attending to the present moment is the only way to be vibrantly alive, imaginative and inventive on stage. She views the body’s sensations as potential narrative gifts, little benedictions that appear at the exact moment we need them. To enter this state, we have to pay keen attention, beat by beat, in a way that’s antithetical to the receptive, passive state that many of us default into with technology (i.e. the iPhone stupor). It requires a kind of galvanized attention, which can also help transcend our unconscious ruts, to refresh the brain. Training with her has re-aligned my thought patterns in the best way possible, it’s helped me be more awake, not just on stage but out in the world.

And finally, Jesus, who’s habits are hard to argue with: wash the feet of those who need it, stop to help, look out for each other. I’m a big fan of those core Christian ideals, even while failing at them every day. I grew up Greek Orthodox; the presence of a religious instinct has been, if not a habit, a touchstone that’s sustained me since I was a kid. The beauty of the physical building (our cathedral had a copper domed ceiling painted with a very beautiful, sexy, dark-eyed Jesus, surrounded by his twelve apostles) together with the beauty of the rituals—the music; the communal standing and sitting and walking together towards the alter—acts moved me in a way I found hard to articulate. Later, when I could absorb the actual teachings of Christ (minus, if such a thing is possible, the horrific crimes committed in his name) I was deeply moved in a whole new way by the simplicity of the message—practice kindness. Act out of empathy and caring, especially towards “the least of these.” What a beautiful basic plan: make compassion your first move, your habit. Even if we only get to that ideal some tiny percentage of the time, what a great thing to reach for.

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 122: Tackle a “Power Day,” People Who Question Your Good Habits, and What’s Your Advice about College-Bound Children?

Update: The September book tour for The Four Tendencies is set! I’ll be going to New York City (obviously), Boston, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.  I hope to see you there — please come, bring friends. Info is here.

Try This at Home: Tackle a “Power Day.” In episode 6, we discussed a “Power Hour.”

Are you wondering if you’re a Rebel? Take the quiz here to see if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel.

Happiness Hack: Jen explains why having a two-person book group has made her happy. (I love one of their reading choices, Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead.)

 Happiness Stumbling Block: Kelly’s in-laws discourage her from eating the way she likes to eat.

I mention several strategies of habit change from my book Better Than Before.

If you’d like to know what a low-carb zealot like me eats every day, here’s the post.

Listener Question: This week, I have a question for listeners. My daughter Eliza is starting college in the fall, and I would love insights, suggestions, experiences, and advice about dealing with a child going off to college. This is a big transition, so I would love to hear people’s ideas.

Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth gives herself a demerit for lamenting the end of the first grade for Jack.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: How I love the waterfall in the ravine of the North Woods of Central Park.

Two Resources:

  1. Follow me on LinkedIn — just go to happiercast.com/linkedin.

2. In just 21 days, you really can take steps to make your life happier—without spending a lot of time, energy, or money. I’ve created four premium 21 Day Happiness Projects for you to follow, if you want to tackle one of these common happiness challenges. Or buy the Omnibus, to get them all. Find out more by clicking on the links below.

 

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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.

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Observations from Marie Kondo about the Life-Changing Magic of Creating Good Habits.

Interview: Marie Kondo.

It’s hard to exaggerate the influence that Marie Kondo has wrought with her blockbuster books The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy. The latter book takes its name, of course, from the question she urges us to ask ourselves, “Does this possession spark joy?”

Her ideas about how to create order and fight clutter have helped countless people to give themselves more energy and peace. (You might ask, “How does something paradoxically give you more energy and give you more peace?” and I would say, “That is exactly the effect of clutter-clearing.“)

The New York Times called her “perhaps the world’s only decluttering celebrity.” Absolutely!

Even I don’t agree with everything that Marie Kondo prescribes (as I write about here), I’m a huge fan of her work. It’s practical, thought-provoking, and often surprising. For most of us, outer order contributes to inner calm, and her “KonMari method” resonates with many, many people.

One thing I love is that alongside detailed instructions for how to fold a t-shirt, Marie Kondo makes observations like this: “Tidying is the act of confronting yourself; cleaning is the act of confronting nature.” Profound.

In my books The Happiness Project and Happier at Home (can’t resist mentioning–both bestsellers), I write a lot about the role of possessions in building a happy life. It’s a fascinating area.

I was thrilled to get the chance to ask Marie Kondo questions about happiness and good habits.

Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

In terms of tidying, I’m definitely an Upholder. I stay tidy because I feel that the effects ground me and allow my home to spark joy for my family and me.  However, I’m not sure if I qualify as an Upholder in other aspects, as I’ll procrastinate submitting written work or sometimes show up late to get-togethers with friends or colleagues!

Perhaps this makes me a Questioner, as I’ll only do things if, when I ask myself: “Does it spark joy?” and the answer is “yes.” My very profession is centered on encouraging others to ask themselves: “Does it spark joy?” This must qualify me as a Questioner! [Yes, that sounds Questioner to me.]

Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits?

I usually go to bed early and wake up early with my kids, who are 18 and 5 months old. However, because I travel frequently for work, I’ll sometimes get jet-lagged. This can disrupt my sleep pattern for a couple of days after! When this happens, I get a little anxious that I am getting behind on work or missing out on time spent with my daughters while I try to catch up on rest.

Simply having children can interfere with healthy habits!  For instance, before bed, I usually like to stretch and release any tension that may have developed over the course of the day. However, if one of my daughters cries or calls out for me, I’ll tend to them and, by the time they’re calmed down, I’m tempted to pass on stretching and head straight to bed.

Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you changed a major habit very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

When I was 15, I would continually tidy my room, only to have it become cluttered again shortly after.  This cycle contributed to so much stress that one day, I fainted. This breaking point made me realize that I was approaching tidying the wrong way.  Instead of focusing on discarding things and approaching tidying as the removal of negativity, I realized that I needed to focus on finding and keeping things that spark joy.

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

For daily life, I try to keep to routines, but for work, I prefer variety. For example, I get new ideas by traveling and exposing myself to other countries’ cultures. I enjoy giving talks in a variety of locations, because it allows me to interact with different people and learn from their diverse perspectives.

Has another person ever had a big influence on your habits?

My grandmother taught me the importance of tidying up even those places you don’t openly see, such as the insides of drawers and bureaus.  She recognized the intrinsic beauty in belongings and took pride in their presentation in her home.  When she dressed and accessorized, she applied the same philosophy to her personal appearance – everything mattered.  I developed my initial respect for my belongings as a result of her influence.

Connect with Marie Kondo here:

For Habits, “Adopting a Sabbath Pause Has Been Revelatory.”

Interview: Abigail Pogrebin.

I met Abby Pogrebin because our daughters, now seniors, have been in school together since kindergarten, and she also lives right around the corner from me.

I’m a huge fan — of the many and various things that Abby’s involved in. She wrote a fascinating book about her experience as an identical twin, and about the twin phenomenon generally, in One and the Same: My Life as an Identical Twin and What I’ve Learned About Everyone’s Struggle to Be Singular. (If you want to hear me recount what I found to be one of the most striking observations from this book, you can watch that that two-minute video here.)

She was recently featured in the fascinating documentary Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened, about the making of the Stephen Sondheim/Hal Prince musical Merrily We Roll Along, which opened with enormous fanfare in 1981 and closed after sixteen performance. The show starred teenagers and young 20-somethings, and Abby was the youngest member of that cast. Yes, she was in a Broadway musical at age 16. You can read her account of the experience in her Kindle Single, Showstopper.

And now Abby has a new fascinating, candid, funny, heavily researched book: My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew. Although she grew up with some basic holiday rituals, Abby realized that she didn’t know much about the history, purpose, or current relevance of the Jewish calendar. To reconnect with her Jewish roots and spirituality, she decided to immerse herself for a year — to research, write, and observe eighteen important holidays on the Jewish calendar.

I love this kind of year-long-experiment book — like my own book The Happiness Project (my year-long experiment in how to be happier), A. J. Jacobs’s hilarious The Year of Living Biblically, and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love. (Foreshadowing: I’m not sure, but it’s possible that after The Four Tendencies comes out, I’ll write another book that takes the form of year-long experiment. Stay tuned.)

Abby has so many interesting things to say — I couldn’t wait to hear her answers.

Gretchen: What’s a simple habit that consistently makes you happier?

Abby: Having a cappuccino in bed reading the New York Times on my iPad every morning.

What’s something you know now about forming healthy habits that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

It’s very hard to do any healthy thing consistently if I didn’t get in the habit of doing it when I was in my teens or twenties. To that end, I would not, at this stage, be able to give up sugar or butter unless I absolutely had to.  But I did manage to start weekly yoga in my thirties and that added enormously to my ever-elusive sense of equilibrium, which– truthfully– remains elusive.

Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?  

Yes. I hate my habit of being unable to get off email at night, when all I want to do is read a book.  I also hate my habit of waking up each morning thinking about the one thing I’m worried about, instead of the ten things I’m grateful for.

Which habits are most important to you? (for health, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)

          • Having Sunday breakfast with my family – at a nearby diner or our own kitchen table.
          • Going to synagogue services every Friday night.
          • Always being in the middle of an interesting book.
          • Volunteering to serve breakfast to the homeless once every few weeks.
          • Exercising in some form five times a week.
          • Connecting with my twin sister daily.
          • Reading the New York Times daily.
          • Being mindful of my carbs.
          • Enjoying a great almond croissant when I find one.

 

Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

The healthy habit I adopted is to make sure I forcibly slow down at least three times a week – whether that means doing a yoga by myself (admittedly, often in front of CNN, which quickens my pulse counter-productively), meditating for 10 minutes (the recommended 20 minutes is still too much for this rookie), or not looking at email on the Sabbath – from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.  Adopting a Sabbath pause has been revelatory.  It’s untethering and freeing.  The unhealthy habit that all of these address is my addiction to constantly crossing off the to-do list or thinking of what I’ve forgotten to accomplish – an exercise which is obviously bottomless. Maria Popova of the always-fascinating Brainpickings.com site which I read every Sunday once quoted author Jonathan Fields saying that, “busy is a decision.” I am trying to make a different decision than “busy” – at least part of every week; to decide to be unscheduled and inefficient.

Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?  

Definitely, unequivocally, and a little pathetically, an Upholder. Everything you describe fits the bill.

Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits? (e.g. travel, parties)

Calls and coffee dates.  I often look at my calendar and see that there are too many coffee dates scheduled with people and too many work calls — with little space remaining for reading, working, walking, or exercise.  I am currently President of Central Synagogue, so these coffees and calls are important – and admittedly always interesting, even enriching.  But there can be too many in a day and leave me craving the chance to shut my mouth for a couple hours.

Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you changed a major habit very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

I started slow-weight lifting for 30 minutes every week (lifting very heavy weights for very few reps, to the point of muscle failure), after taking a walk with Gretchen Rubin and hearing her report that this regimen made her feel stronger.  I’ve continued that habit for a decade now.  [Yes! I converted Abby to Inform Fitness, the gym that trains Super Slow method that I “love.”]  But I have been unsuccessful when it comes to jettisoning my daily one-Diet-Coke-at-lunchtime habit.  I stopped for a while, after a nutritionist said it was potentially bloating and dehydrating.  But then I started again because my husband likes it and he pours the soda over ice, which makes it look good.

Do you embrace habits or resist them? 

Embrace them.  I like routine because it’s reassuring and I’m not someone who feels the need to shake up – or even vary that much –my exercise, eating or sleeping habits.  Maybe that makes me dull and predictable, but there is plenty of other unpredictability in my life; habits give me a sense of stability, having a home base.

Has another person ever had a big influence on your habits? 

My identical twin sister.  When she tries something and likes it, I often follow suit.  That has happened with yoga, meditation, and eating Grape Nuts for dinner every once in a while.