What You Do Every Day Matters More Than What You Do Once In a While.

One of my Secrets of Adulthood is: What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while. I’ve been surprised how often this “secret” comes in handy.

Exercising — I have a friend who thinks she’s a regular exerciser because every several weeks, she goes to the gym for two hours. Nope!

Having enough time to read — I used to think, “I love to read, it’s my favorite thing to do! Of course I make time to read.” But when I really examined my schedule, I realized I needed to clear out more time to read; day after day, it was getting shoved aside.

In his fascinating book, House Lust, Daniel McGinn notes that market researchers use the term maximum-use imperative to describe the fact that people will often buy something to accommodate a use that they need only rarely. So, for example, you might look for a house, or a dining room table, that’s big enough to seat your entire family when it’s your turn to host Christmas dinner, even though you have a family of four that’s dwarfed by that size.

Along the same lines, I’ve noticed that when making decisions, I tend to give too much thought to what I do once in a while and not enough weight to what I do every day. For example, I wear running shoes 29 days out of 30 days a month, yet I have three pairs of black flats and only one pair of running shoes.

Why does this matter for happiness? Because we’re happiest when our decisions most closely match our natures and our values.

If I splurge on linen cocktail napkins, but never have cocktail parties, I’m not going to be pleased with my purchase. If I tell myself I eat lots of fruits and vegetables, but actually eat lots of pizza and subs, I’m not going to fostering good health. If I insist that I love skiing, when in fact, I love staying inside reading, I’m not going to enjoy the vacation.

It can be hard to be myself, to acknowledge what I really enjoy — it can be easy to let lofty fantasies get in the way. Again, I ask, why is it so tough to Be Gretchen?

If I pretend to myself that I’m different from the way I truly am, I’m going to make choices that won’t make me happy.

* I’m a huge fan of the work of Bob Sutton, and always enjoy reading his blog Work Matters — “about all things related to management, workplaces, and organizations.”

* Would you like a copy of my Resolution Chart, for inspiration? The last page is blank, so you can use it as a template for yourself. Just email me at email me at gretchenrubin1@gretchenrubin.com.

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  • Kelpi

    ‘we’re happiest when our decisions most closely match our natures and our values’. Are ‘our natures’ and ‘our values’ not necessarily contradictory (this is why they are ones or the others) and so how can we possibly match our decisions to a contradiction?

  • Hahaha. I’ve never heard of SABLE – but it certainly describes me!

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  • Once an Ayurvedic practitioner was asked what is the secret of his long, healthy life. He replied in Malayalam: “patra”. I do not know Malayalam, but he was talking about “Discipline”. In other words, “Doing what is good for health every day”.

    My immediate reaction was “impractical”. I had developed a theory that “no one can be regular at anything”. If someone says they are – probably they are lying. This idea was based on my own experiences of doing something one or two days and then giving up, and then taking up again after several days, and so on.

    However, for the first time in my life, I have been practising many important things on a regular basis – thanks to “If Then” thinking. Example, “If” I wake up, “Then” I will do cat stretch (a body stretching exercise) for three times. Another would be: “If” I have tea/coffee, “Then” I will have them without sugar. In the kaizen (continuous improvement philosophy) way, I am becoming regular.

    I am yet to read your book, Gretchen but I thank you for titling your book with a powerful and important message: “What you do everyday matters more than what you do once a while.”

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