Podcast 51: What to Do If You Can’t Remember a Name, Why We Should Plan to Fail, and Adult Coloring Books.

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

Update: Elizabeth is in her new office in the old Animation Building on the Disney lot. As promised, here’s a photo of the Seven Dwarfs building. If you want to see the trailer for Elizabeth’s new show, The Family, watch here.sevendwarvesbuilding1pix

We got a huge response to episode 48, when we talked about the “Sunday Blues” or “Sunday Dreads.” Listeners suggested many thoughtful solutions for dealing with them.

Try This at Home: Disguise the fact that you can’t remember something important about someone—such as that person’s name. Lots of strategies—and we’re asking for more!

Better Than Before Habits Strategy: The Strategy of Safeguards. It helps us to plan to fail.

Listener Question: Terry from Walnut Creek: “How do I keep up with phone calls and voice mails from family members?” Terry mentions that she’s an “Obliger” in the Four Tendencies framework. If you want to learn more about the Four Tendencies, and take the Quiz to find out your Tendency, go here.

Elizabeth’s Demerit: Despite the fact that Elizabeth lost all her photos when her phone died many months ago, she still doesn’t back up her phone. Bonus demerit: I don’t back up my phone either! Yikes.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: Adult coloring books! I’m going to buy one for myself. Are you a fan?

Bonus: Check out Quiet, the new podcast by Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, about being the parent of introverted children.


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  • Rachel

    If you already have Amazon Prime or a Google account, it’s so easy to back up photos. Their apps automatically do it for you when you’re connected to wifi!

  • Mimi Gregor

    Regarding forgetting people’s names: I, too, have difficulty remembering people’s names, and have trouble even recognizing people if they are out of their usual context. I get around this by always interspersing addressing them by name (when I actually remember it!) with a term of endearment. (My preference is “Sweetie”.) The funny thing is, I notice when people have been hanging around me for a while, they start calling people “Sweetie” too. It amuses me that this little verbal affectation can infect other people I come into contact with. The great thing about “Sweetie”, as opposed to “dearest” or “love”, is that it can be shouted with enthusiasm (“Sweetie! How good it is to see you again!”), thereby conveying how glad you are to see this person, while glossing over entirely the fact that you do not remember their name.

    • Amelia Titus

      This is such a great idea, and I personally love being called pet names. I’m sure your warm personality rubs off on other people (many happiness researchers say good will is infectious)!

  • carolie_king

    I realized while listening to this podcast that because I share a famous person’s name, I am at a distinct disadvantage — almost nobody forgets my name, but I forget others’ names regularly! Also as a teacher I find it much easier to remember kids’ names than those of their parents.

  • Andrea Lammon Katolin

    The question from Terry made me think of an app I just discovered called Voxer. It’s like texts and phone calls had a baby. You leave a voice text so you can still have a real conversation but you can get listen and respond whenever like texts.

    • LoriM

      I was going to recommend Voxer, too. I’m still figuring it out but I think it’s better than voice mail because you don’t have to listen to a menu to hear/send your messages and you can see them visually on your phone. You can also combine texts with messages and you can build groups – a family “update” group would be awesome.

    • LoriM

      Thought I responded here. I just discovered Voxer too. I think I like it better than voice mail because you have a visual cue that you have a message, and you can build groups with it – great for family updates!! YOu can also mix voice messages with texts and even photos.

  • Erin

    I got hooked on coloring books by using my daughter’s MindWare Mystery Mosaics books. I love them because, as a recovering perfectionist, there are no decisions to be made on colors and what would look pretty, etc. It’s color by number but better because it’s a “mystery” as to what you are coloring until you near the end. Some may find that dull or not creative, but the less thought I have to put into it, the more relaxing and therapeutic it is (for me.)

    • gretchenrubin

      Great suggestion!

  • Trish Meiser

    Coincidentally, I was coloring while listening to your podcast. I love the book “Color Me Calm” by Lucy Mucklow. I recommend using Prismacolor colored pencils rather than markers. They come in 150 different colors and you can find color charts on Pinterest to help with color combinations. I love your podcast. Thanks for helping me to be happier.

    • gretchenrubin

      Thanks for the recommendations!

    • gretchenrubin

      What a coincidence! Now I crave those pencils – 150 colors, wow.

  • Anne Schmitt

    My trick to remembering names is asking the new person how to spell his/her name. For example, I will say..”Nice to meet you Cathy! How do you spell that with a C or a K?” I often then try to connect their name with another person I know like ” My best friend from college is named Cathy. She spells it with a C.” I try to say their name a few times just to cement their name in my brain. If I see someone who I can’t remember their name, I come out right away and say, “I’m so sorry I can’t seem to think of your name” then when they tell me I say, “That’s right! How could I forget! I’m Anne… Anne with an e”

  • meliors

    I keep a colouring book of postcards on my desk at the call centre where I work. I colour while I’m on hold, or taking a call which doesn’t require me to be typing, and it has really added to my enjoyment of my job. The postcards are great because they are much quicker to complete than a big picture (fast gratification, more variety) and when I finish each postcard I send it to someone who I know will appreciate the snail mail.
    I prefer colouring with fine markers over pencils for the brilliant intense colours. I’d also recommend being very picky about which colouring in book you buy because there are a lot of very poor quality available. Choose a book with thick smooth paper and a single artist whose style you really like (I’m a Basford fan). Think about whether you would prefer to colour abstract patterns or more representational images. My mother-in-law (who is in early stages of dementia) experiences repeating patterns as much more stressful than freeform or representational images. My (recently widowed) sister-in-law finds geometric mandalas to be the most soothing.

    • gretchenrubin

      Great way to use coloring to enhance enjoyment and connection – and great advice about what to keep in mind while coloring.

    • LoriM

      Can you share the name of the postcard coloring book? I love this idea!

  • Jessica

    I looked at so many adult coloring books before I chose Four Seasons: A Coloring Book by Aiko Fukawa. If you love the rhythm of the seasons, OR, if you like having your choices limited by season (I’m choosing only to color winter pictures right now) I’d recommend this one.

    • gretchenrubin

      Thanks for the suggestion —

  • JMW

    For coloring books, I love the Angie Grace coloring books, specifically “Balance” and “Centered”. They’re all different patterns, which sounds boring, but I find it relaxing and enjoy picking out different color patterns. I prefer coloring with markers, so I use Crayola Pip-Squeak Skinnies.

  • Emily Simmer

    When I can’t remember someone’s name, I say something like, “I know we met before, I’m Emily from XYZ, Karen’s friend,” or whatever the connection is (if I can remember the connection!) I flip it to them because they probably forget my name too, so it just gets the elephant straight out of the way.

  • MaggieRose59

    I have been coloring for almost 20 years. Long before so-called “adult” coloring books came along. I don’t like them because they are almost exclusively repetitive patterns. BORING! I have found many Dover coloring books that have quality paper and beautiful pictures of national parks, horses, wildlife, flowers and other interesting subjects. There have been a few other companies out there too that have published detailed meaningful pictures on high quality paper. You just have to shop.

  • Christine

    I asked for and received my 1st adult coloring book for Christmas and was so “happy” to hear this segment. I have 3 books that I like and am trying different kinds of markers and pencils. I appreciate the Prismacolor pencils recommendation from Trish Meiser. I like Sharpie markers and Staedtler fineliners but the Sharpies bleed through the paper. I have 1) Charlie Harper (illustrator of nature, animals and insects with geometric shapes), 2) Day of the Dead – yes! celebratory skulls and designs that I color wildly and 3) Secret Paris – charming pages of dresses, kitchen utensils, pastries, shoes and dresses and fancy underwear, wallpaper and of course iconic Parisian architecture.

  • LoriM

    I have solved the photo backup dilemma with autobackups to Flickr AND Google AND the new Facebook “Moments” app – all VERY easy to set up. As a new gramma who gets lots of time with the littles, I have TONS OF PHOTOS. I used to back them up on my laptop, but I don’t use that laptop much anymore, so I’m still a little concerned that I don’t have a “hard” copy anywhere, but with three different places to find them, I’m worrying less and less about that.

    Now I just have to delete them off my phone every once in a while to make room for more stuff! I still kinda spot check to make sure they’re on Flickr and I wish there was a quicker way to select batches (like sorting them by day?) to delete, but it’s working well, so far.

    I’m also trying to get in a habit of sending the best ones to Costco to print for various family members, including ourselves. Really enjoying building a couple different seasonal collages a la Gretchen’s idea. So even if I lost photos in the Flickr/Google/Facebook cloud (highly unlikely) they would exist in perpetuity in hard copy in several places.

    • LoriM

      Flickr offers a terabyte of storage – for free. (“How many photos can fit in a terabyte? Over 500,000”) Most amateur photogs will never use that up.

      Just checked – I have 21,908 photos uploaded (!!!! grandchildren were born in 2012) – and am using 5.43% of my 1 Terabyte. I expect the photos will drop off as they get older and less cute – haha.

  • LoriM

    I would love to find the wedding coloring books I loved as a child in the 60’s. Has anyone seen those?

  • Ramona

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the “training” comment. In a relationship where two people have different style – say a parent or someone who doesn’t know how to text and prefers the phone, and a busy person who prefers text – who wins out in training the other to communicate in the method of their preference? How does it not devolve into a case of first come first served or someone dominating the relationship by forcing their preferred method?

  • Ramona

    Also, yes there is a lot of research to show that activities such as coloring help focus the brain. As a bonus, for women leisurely rhythmic repetitive motion such as washing dishes or knitting build oxytocin. It is something still misunderstood so people in conferences or classes are viewed as rude when they doodle or knit when in fact it helps them listen.

  • Rachel Stansberry

    I keep a list of names for the schools where I work and glance over it before I enter. For serious word finding help, the work of Diane German is stellar and her book It’s on tHe Tip of My Tongue and her website wordfinding.com are both great resources.

  • LaraSnows

    Tons of adult coloring books at Dover Publications dot com. Includes nature stuff like butterflies, history, abstract designs or mandalas, stained glass, etc.

  • So funny – I was working on a coloring book design while listening to your podcast today! Johanna Bashford is the queen of coloring book designs. Her work is phenomenal!

  • Katherine

    Hi Gretchen & Liz, I’m a big fan of the podcast and listen to it on my way to work. This morning, you referenced the job held by Roman slaves who had to remember names/faces for a king. It sounded like “nomenclature” but I haven’t been able to find anything yet online to match my search. Did I hear that correctly? Thank you!

    • gretchenrubin

      Here’s a link to “nomenclator” from Wikipedia:


      • Katherine

        Thank you! That’s awesome and very much appreciated. I have to admit the reason I’m behind by a few weeks is that I enjoy the podcast so much that I only listen to it on the way to work (not both ways) to give myself a morning treat/motivator. Thanks again!

  • Janet Lancaster

    This is OT, but Elizabeth’s health will be much better off if she has a glass of wine instead of a Diet Coke. Aspartame is an excitoxin and VERY bad for you.

  • Dana Baluk

    I loved your line, “What’s keeping you busy these days?” I’ve been a ‘trailing spouse’ for all of my married life, most times not working, and the question, “What do you do?” used to produce much embarrassment, anxiety and even diminish my self-worth. Even if I was working at the time and had a pat answer I didn’t feel it was fair of others to use this information to form a first impression and put me in a certain slot – I’m so much more than my job! I began to dread meeting new people just because I didn’t know how to adequately answer that question. For that reason I don’t like to ask it either. If people asked instead “What keeps you busy?” it would offer so much more freedom to the askee to present themselves however they wanted and the asker might actually find out something real about the person they decided to chat up in the first place. Love this! Let’s tell everybody in the world to scratch ‘What do you do?’ from their repertoire and only use ‘What keeps you busy?’

  • Natalie

    Dot-to-Dot is one of my favorites. It’s extremely complex connect the dots for adults.