Video: For Habits, the Strategy of Foundation.

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 Scheduling — one of my favorite strategies (yes, I do have favorites, I must confess.) This is an Upholder favorite, and one of the least favorites of Rebels.

This week is the Strategy of Foundation.


To sum up, from my observation, the four Foundation habits are:


How about you? Do you find that when your Foundation is strong, it’s easier to stick to other habits?

If you’re reading this post through the daily email, click here to join the conversation. And if you’d like to get the daily blog post by email, sign up here. You can ignore that RSS business.

  • Penelope Schmitt

    Immensely important.

    I would say that this issue of ‘clutter’ also includes MENTAL clutter–having such a jumble of thoughts and un-mindfulness going on in your head that you are unable to get clear focus on whatever is before you. If you are churning with resentment about the past, or on a hamster wheel of anxiety or overcommitted to too many things and people and money issues and unaddressed tasks that, too, is CLUTTER. This is a good reminder to me to try to keep my mental ‘IN’ box clearer even as I try to keep my surroundings in better order.

    • Giuliana

      Dear Gretchen, thank you so much. I am gradually decluttering my mental and physical life, thanks to your great job. I would add, among my Foundation Habits: breath, hug, smile.

      • Debora

        Wonderful additions to the foundational list!

    • Judy

      I love your comment, Penelope. I would be interested to know what practices you use to deal with mental clutter.

  • Jenny

    This is what I’ve learned: I must get some exercise to get good sleep. I must get good sleep to make everything else happen. If I stop exercising, I stop sleeping well, and then everything else starts falling apart.

  • Natalie

    Arg! This morning I was just getting over feeling sorry for myself that I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep for 14 years (injury, two children, injury, sleep apnoea, now a new puppy) and you remind me again that I should be getting more sleep. I would if I could! I wish I wish I wish. It’s not like I choose this, I’m not staying up late partying! Sometimes it’s just not under my control.

  • Mimi Gregor

    I completely agree on your choice of the four foundation habits. Just getting them into place makes life go so much more smoothly. Someone said that it was impossible to get more sleep. Nothing is impossible — merely inconvenient. For instance, my husband works nights, and it takes him a bit of time after he gets home to wind down. Yet he doesn’t want to sleep late and miss the most productive part of the day. So every day after lunch, we have nap-time. Just like in The Mediterranean. Even though neither one of us gets a full eight hours, it makes a HUGE difference. Also, since I must get up early, the only way for me to get extra sleep is to go to bed early. Don’t resist an early bedtime! If I’ve had a rough day and I’m pooped, I’ve been known to go to bed at 9! Sleep is more important than whatever is happening on TV.

    The hardest habit for me was giving up alcohol. I found that it depressed me, yet once I had one drink, I seemed unable to resist the siren call of yet another. I had to give it up entirely, and my mood improved drastically from that. When I go out, I sip on Pellegrino mineral water, and for me it has taken on the image of a “festive” thing to drink. I have even started getting it for at home, so that at times when I am tempted to have a drink to “relax”, instead I break out the bottle of “festive” water and that calms me because I associate it with good times out.

    • statmam

      I used to sleep like a rock for 8 hours a night and took that daily blessing for granted. Then perimenopause arrived with all the concomitant sleep disruptions, and now I’m lucky if I can accumulate more than 5 hours a night. The new normal is alternating sessions of sleep and audio book listening (the soothing voice of the narrator acts as a lullaby, and if sleep just won’t return, the story distracts my mind from fretting). One can finish a lot of books in 3 hours a night, but sleep was definitely better.

      • Carolyn

        I feel your pain but what a great idea! I am menopausal now and things just got worse with hot flashes and odd little hormonal anxiety attacks. Love this idea though and am going to figure out how I can make it work for me. Thanks!

  • Lynne Taylor

    I think your Foundations are great. I would add a spiritual and social component.

  • Penelope Schmitt

    I would say mindfulness is my biggest helper.

    “You don’t KNOW” is the mantra that I repeat over and over to myself when I see myself starting to have an ‘anxiety attack’ (imagining the worst outcome in an elaborate scenario that I viscerally believed to be TRUE is the hallmark of bad thinking for me). I just keep repeating ‘You don’t KNOW’ and turning my mind to whatever is in front of me until it stops.

    Regret and sadness, again, I try to find something to focus on that will fill the screen completely so that I can’t ruminate on bad things past. For me, butterfly watching and quilting have been the beautiful activities that have filled up the screen with happy color.

    And of course ‘chop wood, haul water’ (and be totally present with and mindful of those tasks) is the best advice of all.

    I am currently trying to overcome a tendency to put more time in on the pleasant screen-filling activities than I should, because my caregiving is becoming more difficult as my Mother’s dementia and infirmity increases. So I need to get back with some more chopping and hauling!

    • DB

      Thanks – I really needed to read this today – just catching up with Gretchen
      after “internet vacation”

  • Agnes

    One unfortunate thing is a habit many people are hoping to acquire is permanently eating too little to keep them going. Then they wonder why that’s so difficult, or why it brings so many problems in other areas.

  • Lori Robinson

    I agree with your four foundations Gretchen but would add another. To get outside, into nature. When I’m walking in a park or hiking in the hills, the solitude, and lack of human noise, and chittering from the birds and squirrels clears my mind more than all the de-cluttering could ever do. Lori from

    • Gillian

      I entirely agree – nature, silence, nurturing the soul form the fifth foundation.

  • Sleeping and external order are key for me to even approach exercise and dietary considerations. For years I cultivated the worst exercise and dietary habits and now, if I do not maintain the sleeping and external conditions – I revert to the other bad habits.

  • BeccaB

    Yes! I absolutely agree that these are the essentials.
    As an extrovert (who lives alone), I also need to spend a at least a little time connecting with someone else every day, and I find that time outdoors in the sunlight is also very important — so I try to make sure the exercise occurs outdoors.

    But here is the big question about habits that I can’t seem to shake — How do you make time for each of these? I have yet to have a week during which I’ve achieved all of these things, which makes forward progress on other habits very difficult (it’s sort of a Maslowian dilemma).

    The difficulty is that all the habits I NEED to cultivate for happiness just can’t happen during my workday — I cannot sleep, exercise, clean my apartment or prep tomorrow’s meals between the hours of 7am-6pm, M-F.

    After accounting for daily grooming, that leaves about 12 hours each day to maintain each of the foundations… and even without kids, I can’t seem to make the math add up! I can usually keep up on 3 out of 4, but then one of them just goes to pieces!

    This dilemma is something I hope you talk at length about in your book. I love so many of your ideas, but then I fall short on time when I try to put them into practice. (I tried “Power Hour,” but after an hour I was surrounded by dozens of piles of sorted paperwork, which required another 45 minutes to clear off of the floor.)

  • NJ Darling

    As an entrepreneur and independent contractor (real estate) I need some kind of Foundation that involves getting things done: prospecting and lead follow up, daily painting (art biz) and blogging. I totally agree on the other 4. I need to work on Move and De-clutter. Maybe my scheduling dilemma could fall under De-clutter?

  • Holly Higbee-Jansen

    Thank you Gretchen. Glad to have found you on LinkedIn. My foundation has been an almost daily yoga practice that influences the rest of my daily life. I have been doing yoga for about 15 years, but not daily. This increase in my practice has profoundly affected my life. This increase in my practice is still pretty new to me, so I am continually marveling at the positive effects. It keeps me clear and centered and an overall nicer person. I am fortunate to have found a yoga community close to me that practices on the beach and only requires a donation as a financial obligation. I live in Southern California so am grateful for the warm weather that allows me to practice there on a regular basis.