Podcast 33: Try a Boot Camp — and Have You Ever Experienced a “Lightning Bolt” Change in Habits?

It’s time for the next installment of  “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

Update: Elizabeth gets a gold star for going to bed early, which is a struggle for her. But she’s having trouble working on her young-adult novel. She’s going to try to do it for two days a week.

Also, you’ll hear us talk about our new (and we hope improved, though Elizabeth is doubtful) way of referring to previous episodes, so that you can easily find them here on my site. That’s happiercast.com/33 (or the number of whatever episode you’re looking for).

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Try This at Home: Try a boot camp for yourself. I mention Chris Baty’s book No Plot? No Problem! where he describes how to write a novel in a month. You can also join National Novel Writing Month. Have you ever done a boot camp — if so, what kind?

Better Than Before Habit Strategy: the Strategy of the Lightning Bolt. This Strategy is unique among the twenty-one strategies, because it’s not something you can do; it’s something that happens to you. How about you? Ever experienced this phenomenon? It’s puzzling, interesting, sudden.

The book that hit me like a lightning bolt was Gary Taubes’s Why We Get Fat.

Listener Questioner: Elizabeth in Tennessee: “Do you have any tips on finishing the little left-over things that need to be done after you’ve moved houses?”

Elizabeth and Gretchen’s Demerit:  We didn’t get a guest for the podcast. The timing didn’t work out. Shoot!

nyslstairsGretchen’s Gold Star: How I love, love, love the New York Society Library. One of my favorite New York City institutions.

Call for comments, questions, observations! We’re going to spend four weeks talking about my Four Tendencies framework for human nature. We’ve already had many thought-provoking responses, but we want more.


Please, send in our questions and comments by voicemail, email, etc. What’s your experience with yourself, spouse, child, patient, colleague, boss, friend, etc? We’re dying to hear from you.

1pixHappier with Gretchen Rubin #33

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Tell us — have you ever tried a boot camp, and if so what kind? Did it work? And share any tricks you’ve used to get yourself to put away those last items.

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Want to know what to expect from other episodes of the podcast, when you listen toHappier 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!

HAPPIER listening!

  • Penelope Schmitt

    Boot Camp? I am not sure if this qualifies, but I have just finished an at-home five-day ‘extreme sewing’ marathon. My fall retreat was postponed because of the recent coastal flooding, so I decided to use the time I had already set aside and prepared for to sew at home instead. Between Saturday and today (Wednesday afternoon) I completed three wall hangings, a quilt top, a small art project, a laundry bag, a lap quilt for a child, and two sets of placemats, and also started two table runners and another quilt top. I learned some new things, sharpened some basic techniques, and prepared some holiday gifts in the process. It was not as much fun as going with the group of 15 to the beach and enjoying seafood dinners as well as sewing, but it was pretty darned good. I have now decided to set aside time to do this twice a year (our usual retreats are in March and October, so January and July sound good to me). While the rain fell incessantly, I was perfectly well entertained indoors with my project pile growing!

  • Meredith Lindley Hodgson

    I have a suggestion for Elizabeth in Tennessee. I do this will ALL jobs, big and small, because I hate big jobs. First, a story: There was a farmer who had a large stack of wood for the winter, but it was way out by the outhouse and too far from his house. The stack of wood needed to be moved right next to the house so that during the cold winter months, he could just step outside and get what he needed without having to trek clear across the yard in the snow. The problem was that it was summer time and he was very busy with his crops and there was just no time for him to accomplish this big task of moving the whole wood pile. So he decided that every time he used the outhouse he would grab an arm load of wood when he was done and take it to the house. By the time the summer was over, he had moved the huge woodpile one trip to the outhouse at a time.

    I do this with every chore that I can because I hate cleaning and any kind of housework. I do one load of laundry a day, I wipe out the bathroom sink or swish the toilet while I’m waiting for the shower to get hot. I do dishes while I wait for the toast to pop and so on. I almost never do a big job all at once, but rather “trick” myself into getting things done one minute at a time.

    Although the bulk of Elizabeth’s unpacking is done, she could break the rest up into small, manageable bits. She could just put one or two things away while waiting for a pot to boil or talking on the phone or each time she goes from one room to another or whatever. Before she knows it, those last few boxes would be unpacked without a huge effort on her part.

  • Mimi Gregor

    I, too, had a lightning bolt hit when I read Gary Taub’s book. I read other books on Real Food, such as MIchael Pollen’s books and Nina Planck’s. I drastically reduced the amount of carbs that we eat, introduced more vegetables and fruit, and — most importantly — started buying organic. It wasn’t difficult at all and my husband and I both can see and feel the results of this change.

    I found myself smiling and nodding at your enthusiasm, Gretchen, over your local library. I, too, dearly love my library branch — it’s my version of a trip to Disney World. I’m among people… and yet alone. I can borrow and read any book I want (and if they don’t have it, they will get it from another branch!) without spending a dime. I love to sometimes sit there and read magazines for an hour or so, leaving with an armload of books and a smile on my face, feeling serene and yet recharged just from being in the building.

  • Courtney

    I grew up in a military family, so we moved a lot. My mom always hosted a party (small or big, new friends or old ones coming to visit us in our new location, as long as a few people were coming over) no more than a month after we’d moved in to a new house. She says the pressure of hosting motivated her to get the little things done. I’ve tried this trick several times and it does work, especially for an Obliger.

  • Ana Isabel Canhoto

    This is a suggestion for Elizabeth (the sister, not the listener 🙂 ) – If you can not dedicate 1 hour per day to your novel, what about 15mns? Anyone can carve 15 minutes out of their day to do something. And in those 15 mns maybe we can make a mind map about the structure of the novel, or make some notes about a character, and so on. It is not really about what you do in those 15 mns, but that it keeps the novel in your mind, and it makes you feel that something is happening.

    The other thing Elizabeth could try, is to ‘talk’ about the book, instead of writing it. The trick is to record this ‘writing out loud sessions (on her mobile phone, for instance). Then, she can put that through a dictation software (to type it out), and, suddenly, it becomes about editing and improving on something, rather than starting from fresh, which is always so much harder.

  • cindy

    Re Lightning Bolt Habit Change

    When I first met my husband, 23 years ago, I was getting fed up with alcohol. I had tried to give it up, but would alway go to some social event and ‘need’ that first drink. We know where that leads. In the morning I would have the worst hangover, owing to the facts that: I wasn’t a regular drinker, I was in my late thirties and I always stupidly tried to keep up with the regular drinkers. We decided together to go to India for Christmas and would have a no alcohol rule for November. It was difficult, but we managed (the power of love).

    In India we mostly drank weak beer. When we returned we went to one of our favourite haunts for dinner, ordered a nice bottle of red. I took one sip, pushed it away and said ‘It’s lovely, but you finish it. I just can’t do it any more’ and that was it for 19 years. Marriage, two kids and lots of normal life dramas and celebrations followed. New friends met, some drinking friends by the wayside. Best thing ever.
    Howevere, after those 19 years I started drinking again one Christmas, with mulled wine. Delicious! Now I’m happier I can totally recognise that I don’t ‘need’ a drink, and any event that makes me feel that pressure doesn’t have to be attended. I enjoy a glass of wine with friends occasionally, and at the weekend with my hubby, who still wishes I’d had my lightning bolt 15 minutes earlier, all those years ago, before he ordered that expensive bottle!

  • ebrasse

    I’m another of the Gary Taubes’ Why We Get Fat lightning struck persons… I cannot imagine ever going back to eating as I did before reaching the midpoint of reading this book. I’d almost say it can’t be classed as a lightning bolt, as it almost seems to be a trend, but for the fact that none of my other family or friends who consequently read the book were so changed.

    Meanwhile, best wishes to Elizabeth on finding a way forward with her novel. Every week I hope to hear she’s made progress.

  • I’m definitely in a bootcamp now. I’m participating in a blog challenge where you have to pick a topic and write a post every day in October. It’s only day 8 but it’s been one of THE best things I’ve ever done as a blogger. I’ve always had a really hard time just sitting myself down and writing but now, with this new kind of accountability, and community of other participants it’s been the greatest experience so far.

    And I have to say, I was thinking about National Novel Writing Month for Elizabeth as y’all were discussing her novel and then Gretchen mentioned it! I think it’s really cool that you (Gretchen) participated! I know you (Elizabeth) are reeeeally busy but you don’t necessarily have to do the recommended word count. If you commit to something like 500 words on your computer draft or some notes longhand in a notebook during the fringe moments of your day, you’ll be making progress and that’s one of the points of NaNoWriMo. My 31 Days challenge this month gave me the guts to commit to NaNoWriMo next month. This is my 3rd attempt, I’ve never won it, but now I’m addicted to the consistency I’ve been building up and I don’t want to lose momentum as a writer.

    Good luck!! I loooooooooooooove the show!! And Gretchen, your dog is absolutely adorable 🙂

  • Heather

    Here is a suggestion for Elizabeth the Listener. If you can tolerate the curse word: http://www.unfuckyourhabitat.com/. The idea is actually the opposite of bootcamp. It is meant for people who have problems motivating themselves to clean their houses, but I think it works for a lot of tasks. The idea is stay on task for 20 minutes and then take a 10 minute break. After the break, you do another 20/10 cycle. For some people it is too much to blitz their way through tasks, especially for cleaning which has to be re-done regularly.

    I have adapted it to work at work, especially to clean out my office. I don’t feel like I have enough time to clean out the office totally, but dust and junk accumulates. At least once a week I spend 20 minutes cleaning something, anything and then go back to work. I did the top of a bookshelf near my computer yesterday. Even though all of the other shelves need to be cleaned off, I keep looking at the clean top and think about how nice it is to declutter. As they point out in the site, cleaning the thing you see all of the time will make you feel better. Next week I will work on the next shelf.

    My husband and I are actually painting our house interior like this right now. Almost every room needs paint, but we do a few walls a weekend and that is it. While it means we will be painting probably for weekends, we only spend 2-4 hours/weekend painting. It seems manageable. We even put all of the painting stuff away so that it doesn’t look like we are living in a construction zone. Plus, the house is looking better already and that is reinforcing our desire to paint a few walls and keep going. The last time I painted my rental property I painted the entire thing over the course of a week. All 1100 sq feet…room after room after room. It took a week. I took the week off of work and just painted. It was the worst week of vacation ever. My body hurt so bad that I was happy to go back to work and sit all day. When I knew we needed to paint our house, all I thought about was the drudgery and drop cloths everywhere for days. Ugh. This way is working a lot better.

  • suzanne brown

    I had a lightening bolt moment 5 years ago. I had been trying to lose weight unsuccessfully using every method I could think of and nothing was working. One day I was walking in the mall and passed by a Lane Bryant (a plus size store) and started walking over to check it out. IT HIT ME. I thought no. I will not ever go into this store for clothes. I am not going to be plus size anymore. Over the course of the next 6 months I lost 25 pounds and went from a size 12 to a 6. And I looked great! But that’s not the end. Because over the last 3 years I have steadily gained the weight back and I can’t figure out how to get back into the mindset that put me on the other path. I need another lightening bolt! Help! I feel so stuck.

  • Maike

    I’ve developed the habit of doing a kind of kitchen cleaning “mini boot camp”/power hour every week and your podcast helps me to actually enjoy it. Quite unconsciously at first, I started using the strategy of pairing to do the dishes and clean my kitchen while listening to the latest episode of Happier. Listening to the podcast makes this usually boring chore so much more enjoyable! Nowadays I schedule a cleaning session (usually) for Wednesday evenings (I live in Germany, so I know that the postcast is definitely going to be online when I come home) and when the episode is over, my kitchen is clean. Most of the time, I cook dinner afterwards while re-listening the previous week’s episode.
    That’s what I call my Happier mini boot camp 🙂

  • Marti Dyer-Allison

    Elizabeth, you might not like this idea, but: When my son was an infant, I woke up at 5 am every day to sew for an hour before I got ready for work from 6-7. He woke up at 7 (yes! every day!) and we left for work at 7:30. I got an amazing amount done in that “quiet hour.” Maybe you could get up an hour earlier one day a week and dedicate that time to writing your novel.

  • JaneInAZ

    Boot camp! A few years ago I had reluctantly agreed to consolidate our two houses into the one whose location I preferred less. (We live six months in the desert, six months in the mountains.) When it was time to return to the desert I went ahead by myself for two weeks to do my self-imposed boot camp. I made sure to get up each day at 7:30 (not the usual hour or two later), ate breakfast, then immediately went through bookshelves and closets deciding what possessions would go to the other house and which would be donated. The books and clothes which were keepers I labeled and boxed up. (The local library got 5 copier paper sized boxes of books.) I decided which dining room table, which bedroom set, which tables, chairs, lamps to keep. I had a few lunches w/friends already scheduled (I’d been gone for six months), but other than that it was all working on “the (big, sad) move.” I got an awful lot done in “just” two weeks. Happy ending? When my husband got down from the mountains, he didn’t evaluate or pack up any of his books, clothes, hobby possessions in the ensuing six months. We still have two houses, and still spend half the year at each. But I can attest to the power of a boot camp, even for work that results in achieving a goal you don’t really want to be achieved.

  • Laura

    I thing that the strategy of the Lightening Bolt and the strategy of Identity are linked, because the Lightening Bolt changes your Identity. For example; I have an aunt with multiple medical issues who has been through many, many surgeries and other painful medical procedures. One day, she told me that gum surgery was THE most painful procedure that she has ever experienced. I instantaneously became a flosser. I now floss twice a day and am very proud of my healthy gums. I now Identify as a flosser.

  • Amy Thompson

    You gave me a lightening bolt in this episode!! ⚡️ I had my little girl 5 months ago and have been so dreading going back to work and couldn’t imagine how I am going to cope. But then you gave me the answer! Raise the bar! I was thinking as you started that thread hell no I need to lower the bar. But no I can expect more of myself, I can do it and I will be a succesful working mum! It fits me! Thank you xx

  • M M

    My lightening blot was also a book, Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. I picked it up to read simply because I love his fiction writing. By the end of the book, I had stopped eating meat completely. It was something I had no intentions of doing, but, as you discussed so well in this episode, it was incredibly easy; the thought of changing back to my previous diet seemed crazy. Now, several years later, I do eat some meat, but only after thoroughly researching its origins. This means I tell people I’m a vegetarian at restaurants and parties, as I REALLY have to know many details before I’d even consider any beef/chicken/lamb etc. I should mention that prior to reading Eating Animals, I had seen the relevant documentaries like Food, Inc., and they absolutely did not affect me the same way. It seems like that makes the book even more of a lightening blot, similar topic that hit at just the right time, in the right format . . .

    • Barb Wilson

      I had a similar lightning bolt experience after reading Jon Robbins: May All Be Fed. I made the split decision to be 100% vegan. I went through my house gathering up anything with wool, silk, feathers, leather, and gave those things away. I was vegan for 2 years and have been a vegetarian for an additional 12 years. The reason the change worked was that I held a strong belief. Anytime I would think about ‘cheating’ I would remember the animals and how they don’t have a choice. I think that is the key to any lasting change: having a touchstone belief that you can return to and hold on to.

  • Faith Raider

    I had a lightening bolt change of habits recently. It was kind of gradual at first, like storm clouds gathering, then lightening hit and I vmchanged my mind about how I eat.
    I found out that I was pregnant with our 6th at the beginning of this year and I was determined to do everything I could to make this pregnancy less miserable than my last (I had a big problem with my hands and feet swelling) so I tried to be really mindful of what I ate – if it made me feel sick later: gas, headache, heartburn, whatever – I wouldn’t eat that food any more.
    Then my husband and I had a big fight about gluten-free diet. Some of my friends follow a gluten-free diet, he made fun of them and sent me a link to an article that proved it was silly to be gluten free unless you have celiac. Then I sent him about half a dozen articles about gluten intolerance, which is something that I have. It’s not an allergy – so I don’t always avoid it. But I realized in that moment that I should. That this is more serious than an occasional headache or upset stomach and has far-reaching effects on my mood and mental clarity. Since then I have made a major effort to follow a gluten-free diet. I went into labor naturally for the first time in almost 14 years, which I take as a sign that it is working.

  • I like the idea of a bootcamp though I find it hard to commit to it on my own. I thought of doing something like that for our grad school thesis! Thanks for the idea

  • Pamela

    Here’s a boot camp I just realized my husband and I need to do…which goes along with the difficult conversation topic you mention in podcast 34: a will/POA/healthcare directive bootcamp! We’ve recently decided we need to change our wills, update them, re-do our healthcare directives, etc. What better way for us to not procrastinate but just “get ‘er done” (a Canadian expression) than to have a boot camp together? We’re on it!

  • Melissa Dart