Interview: Mary Carlomagno.
I met Mary years ago…now, I can’t even remember why. But she told me something, in a very off-hand way, that led to a big, exciting undertaking on my part.
This is a good example of how sometimes, even the most casual comment by someone else can spark a big effort by someone else. Or it can lead to a significant habit change, which is what I call the “Strategy of the Lightning Bolt” as described in Better Than Before, my book about habit change.
In my case, Mary mentioned that she was writing a novel in a month by following the program in Chris Baty’s No Plot? No Problem: A Low-stress, High-velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days.
I was instantly enchanted by this idea. I went straight from the coffee shop where we were meeting to a bookstore to buy the book.
I did indeed write a novel in a month, as I discuss in my book The Happiness Project. It’s not an undertaking that everyone would enjoy, but it was sure fun for me!
Mary has a new novel that’s just hitting the shelves: Best Friend for Hire. It’s about a woman in New York who, after getting fired from her dream job at a publishing company, creates a career as a “best friend for hire.” In the end, she realizes she needs to become her own best friend.
Because Mary had such a large (if unintentional) influence on my habits, I wanted to ask her about her habits.
Gretchen: What’s a simple habit that consistently makes you happier?
Mary: The “organizing mom” part of my life is all about order. I love to make sure my house is as tidy as possible before I go to bed. Dishwasher loaded and running, laundry in. Most mornings are devoted to getting the kids to school and exercise so I like to feel ahead of the day the minute I get up.
What’s something you know now about forming healthy habits that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
I was raised in a fastidious household which created a consistency for my adult life. What I did not realize when I was young was how hard it is to break a bad habit like coffee which I have kicked successfully now for over a year after many failed attempts…
Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?
The Lindt Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Bar consistently gets in the way of my weight loss goals, but I love it so…
Which habits are most important to you? (for health, for creativity, for productivity for leisure, etc.)
Consistent creativity, I am either writing, painting and refinishing furniture, organizing and designing and reading, every day!
Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?
My first book Give it Up was all about habit forming and breaking. It is based on the idea of releasing one bad habit a month to achieve awareness and appreciation. Studies say it takes four weeks to make or break a habit which is why I chose one habit a month. But the key learning of the book was that I learned how to change. I do tell my clients that organizing is a ritualistic behavior that must be practiced on a daily basis to take hold.
Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?
Probably a combination of Upholder and Questioner.
Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits? (e.g. travel, parties)
I am the type of person that has to set a goal so I work hard hard hard during the day and then when evening comes, I am ready to make a hard stop, unwind, eat chocolate and have a glass of wine with my husband.
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.?
Well, I did have an overstuffed shelf of my own shoes hit me squarely on the head. Some need a subtle message, mine was less than subtle. I am recovering shopaholic, an urge I fight against every day, even right now I am thinking about that Free People top I should have bought last week.
Do you embrace habits or resist them?
Has another person ever had a big influence on your habits?
Yes, my husband has encouraged me to write the novel. After three non-fiction books, I had shelved my novel, Best Friend for Hire, for ten years. He said to me, you don’t want to be the person who leaves the book in a drawer! He literally pushed me to work on it and then eventually publish it–thank goodness.