Tag Archives: books

“I Have My Four ‘Go-To’ Habits: Go to the Gym, Go to Lunch, Go to Events, Go to Sleep.”

Interview: Tiffany Dufu.

Tiffany Dufu is the chief leadership officer to Levo, a fast-growing network for millennial women, and is involved with many endeavors related to making the world a better place. Her new book just hit the shelves, and with a title like that, I knew I couldn’t wait to check it out. How could I resist Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less? It’s a memoir and manifesto about “the ability to let go.”

I was eager to hear what Tiffany had to say about happiness, habits, achievement, and all the rest.

You can also join our Facebook Live conversation on March 3 on my Facebook page. Details about how to watch are here.

Gretchen: What’s a simple habit that consistently makes you happier?

Tiffany: Dancing to pop music all by myself in my bedroom.

In my head I’m in a music video. I used to do this when I was a little girl and I remember thinking that I never wanted to grow up because I wouldn’t be able to do it anymore. But I still do…every night. The only difference is that I used to blast Janet Jackson and now it’s Beyonce.

What’s something you know now about forming healthy habits that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

That the healthy part is forgiving yourself when you break them.

Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?

There is a chair in my bedroom where I habitually throw clothes after I take them off or when they come out of the dryer. I haven’t sat in the chair since I nursed my daughter in it when she was an infant. She’s seven. Every time I look at the pile of clothes (you can’t actually see the chair anymore) I’m unhappy.

Which habits are most important to you? (for health, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)

In Drop the Ball I write about my four Go To’s – habits that have helped me to flourish at work and in life. They include going to the gym (building my stamina), going to lunch (building my network), going to events (building my visibility) and going to sleep (building my renewal).

Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

I used to get about five hours of sleep a night. It wasn’t enough, but I felt sleep deprivation was par for the course for every working mother. In order to get more sleep, I basically had to get more office work done while I was still at the office so that I wasn’t up late at night checking off professional to-dos along with the personal ones.

I implemented three strategies to make it happen. The first was using a device to limit the time I spent at work in ad hoc conversations that were presented as “Hey do you have five minutes?” but would turn into thirty. Whenever someone would stop by my desk I’d confirm how much time they needed and I’d set the timer. You’d be surprised how quickly people can get to the point when the clock is ticking! The second strategy was to schedule meetings for 30 or 45 minutes instead of defaulting to an hour. The third was to ask in person or over the telephone, whenever someone sent me an email meeting calendar invite, “Are you sure you need me in this meeting?” Seventy percent of the time people would rescind their invitation and give me back the time. So often people send calendar invites without being thoughtful about which stakeholders need to be in meetings to achieve results. Unless I’m working on something major, I get eight hours of sleep now each night. And I’m much happier.

Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

Only an Upholder would need to write a book called Drop the Ball.

[Actually, Tiffany, that is much truer of an Obliger!]

Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits? (e.g. travel, parties)

Yes, my desire to delight my family. For example, I really should steer clear of gluten, but my family loves my buttermilk biscuits. Also, the morning is the best time for me to go to the gym, but on the weekends my family likes to snuggle on the couch and watch Star Wars Rebels. Resistance is futile.

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.?

Yes! A few years ago I was watching a Levo interview with Rory Vaden, author of Take the Stairs: 7 Steps to Achieving True Success. Through his interviews with successful leaders he had discovered that all of them have one thing in common: they’ve formed the habit of doing things they know they should be doing, even if they don’t feel like doing it. Our Levo offices were on the fourth floor and I always took the elevator. In fact, I didn’t even know where the stairwell was. That night, inspired by Rory’s video, I found the stairs, and I never went back to taking the elevator up or down.

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

Embrace. They’ve helped me to drop the ball on unrealistic expectations of myself. I can always go back and trace my progress. They make me proud of myself.

Has another person ever had a big influence on your habits?

My father. He’s a ritualist. He eats Kellogg’s Raisin Bran every morning. He reads “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” every Martin Luther King Day. He’s never lost a set of keys.

“Humans Are Primed to Love the Natural World, But We Still Have to Cultivate It.”

Interview: Florence Williams.

One of my happiness-project resolutions is toGo outside.” I get energy and mood boost from the light, the fresh air, the exercise –and from being around nature.

I’m very lucky, as a New Yorker, because I live near Central Park, which is a beautiful, beautiful place.

A new book by Florence Williams makes me all the more certain that my resolution to “go outside” is a good idea. Her fascinating new book is The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes us Happier, Healthier and More Creative.

In addition to writing The Nature Fix, Florence is also a contributing editor at Outside Magazine and a freelance writer for the New York TimesNew York Times MagazineNational Geographic, among other places, and she’s a fellow podcaster — she’s the writer and host of the Audible Original series, Breasts Unbound. A fellow at the Center for Humans and Nature and a visiting scholar at George Washington University, her work focuses on the environment, health and science.

I was eager to hear what she had to say about happiness, habits, and nature.

Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What’s the most significant thing you’ve concluded? 

Florence: The big takeaway is that spending time is a necessity, and not just a luxury, in order for humans to be our best selves. We’ve become disconnected from the natural world by accident – we’re busy, we need to live in cities, we’re increasingly tempted by fun and addicting technology. Now we need to put some intention into regaining the connection, for ourselves and our families, because it will help us be happier, healthier and sharper, and it will, ironically, help us build stronger bonds with each other.

What’s a simple habit that consistently makes you happier?

I make it a priority to walk outside at least 30 minutes a day. If it has to be on a street, I try to pick the route with the most trees. And while I’m out there, I remind myself to notice the beauty around me – to hear the birds, look at the pattern of branches against the sky, watch the buds coming in. This boosts my mood and helps my attention span for the whole day.

You say that short walks in nature cause measurable changes in our physiology. Have you found that different natural environments yield different benefits?

Definitely. Humans are primed to love the natural world, but we still have to cultivate it, and cultivate it early. Because of how and where we do this, I think there’s a lot of variation in what people respond to emotionally. For some, it’s the ocean. For others, the ocean freaks them out and it’s a sunset over a city skyline. Because I grew up in New York City, my heart starts to sing when I enter Central Park. I also love the desert and a big river rolling through it. Think about where you were happiest outside as a child, and chances are you will feel joy in landscapes that are similar.

Which habits are most important to you? (for health, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)

In addition to the 30 minutes minimum of walking, I have another one that I’ve become very attached to, and that’s walking again,  a little bit, with the dog, in the dark before bedtime. It’s quiet and dark, and I look for the moon and say hello. I’m convinced this helps me sleep better (recent studies suggest darkness before bed resets your circadian rhythm and titrates the proper release of melatonin from your brain), and it certainly makes my dog happy.

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

Ah, I have to admit, I’m a bit of resister. I embrace intuition rather than proscription, and then feel a bit smug about it, but that’s probably self-delusion. Fortunately, my intuition is to take good care of myself, and that means embracing healthy habits. But I allow myself wiggle room and I’m not hard on myself for messing up. Sometimes I think there’s a reason for not keeping a promise, and it’s worthwhile to dig around for that.

Has another person ever had a big influence on your habits?

Yes, My dear sister-in-law, Lisa Jones, who lives in bucolic Boulder, Colorado and who hikes literally hours every day when she’s not writing brilliant books. Lisa inspires me to take bigger, longer, more bad-ass hikes, and she convinces me this will help my creativity and problem-solving in the long run. Plus she passes along cool dietary advice, like: Eat Rye!

America has a long tradition of people writing about walking in nature, from Thoreau to Bill Bryson. Where do you see yourself within this spectrum of American nature writing?

I don’t really consider my work nature writing, which can lean a bit too romantic for my taste. I have a journalist’s eye, and I like finding connections that are sometimes obscure. I’ve always been interested in the intersection of humans and the environment. I like putting people into the equation, and I like to think I bring a balance of humor and serious science and social questions about why we feel and think the way we do.

A Little Happier: One of My Favorite Images for Letting Go of Grief

I’ve been haunted — and comforted — by this passage from Ruth Ozeki’s wonderful novel, A Tale for the Time Being.

In the novel, Nao, who’s a teenage girl in Japan, is very worried about several serious problems, and she’s reflecting on a conversation she’d had with her great-grandmother, who is a Buddhist nun:

It’s the cold fish dying in your stomach feeling. You try to forget about it, but as soon as you do, the fish starts flopping around under your heart and reminds you that something truly horrible is happening.

 

[Great-grandmother] Jiko felt like that when she learned that her only son was going to be killed in the war. I know, because I told her about the fish in my stomach, and she said she knew exactly what I was talking about, and that she had a fish, too, for many years. In fact, she said she had lots of fishes, some that were small like sardines, some that were medium-sized like carp, and other ones that were as big as a bluefin tuna, but the biggest fish of all belonged to Haruki #1, and it was more like the size of a whale. She also said that after she became a [Buddhist] nun and renounced the world, she learned how to open up her heart so that the whale could swim away.

I love this line…she learned how to open up her heart so that the whale could swim away.

Not to overcome grief, or forget grief, or leave grief behind, but to release it into the great depths.

Listen to this mini-podcast episode by clicking PLAY below.

Check out Yogi Tea. When it comes to enjoying life, little moments — like drinking a delicious cup of tea — can make a big difference.

Want to get in touch? I love hearing from listeners:

 

Happier listening!

A Little Happier: A Reminder about Happiness from 1662.

Here’s the passage that I read:

“This day by God’s mercy I am 29 years of age, and in very good health, and like to live and get an estate; and if I have a heart to be contented, I think I may reckon myself as happy a man as any is in the world, for which God be praised. So to prayers and to bed.”

Diary of Samuel Pepys, February 1662

(That phrase “And so to bed” was a signature sign-off for Pepys, a seventeenth-century version of Cronkite’s “And that’s the way it is” or Ryan Seacrest’s “Seacrest…out!” or my “Onward and upward” at the end of each episode of the Happier podcast.)

I love this passage, and it inspired the resolutions for the month of November in The Happiness Project. I resolved to “Keep a contented heart,” because I realized that no matter what’s happening in my life, I’m going to be happy only if I “have a heart to be contented.”

One of my most frequent faults is fretfulness — annoyance and complaints about minor inconveniences or little mistakes or oversights by others.

One of my main aims is to remember how happy I already am. Do you struggle with this?

I have Eight Splendid Truths about happiness, and the Fourth is: You’re not happy unless you think you’re happy.

Of course, many argue the opposite case. John Stuart Mill, for example, wrote, “Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.” I disagree; I think most of us don’t spend enough time thinking how whether we’re happy or how we could be happier (at least I never did, which is why I wrote The Happiness Project). What do you think?

Check out Yogi Tea. When it comes to enjoying life, little moments — like drinking a delicious cup of tea — can make a big difference.

Want to get in touch? I love hearing from listeners:

 

Happier listening!

Revealed! Three Book Club Choices for January. Happy Reading.

Because nothing boosts happiness more than a great book, each month, I suggest:

— one outstanding book about happiness or habits

— one outstanding work of children’s or young-adult literature–I have a crazy passion for kidlit

— one eccentric pick–a widely admired and excellent book that I love, yes, but one that may not appeal to everyone

Shop at IndieBound, BN.com, or Amazon (I’m an affiliate), or your favorite local bookstore. Or my favorite, visit the library!

For all the books I choose, I love them; I’ve read most of them at least twice if not many times; and they’re widely admired.

Bonus book this month: with Shea Olsen, my sister Elizabeth Craft has a new young-adult novel, Flower. The tag line? “She had a plan, then she met him.” Romance, temptation, secrets, and celebrity...how well I remember the phone call when Elizabeth first told about her idea for this book. And now it’s hit the shelves! Check it out.

Now, for the three book-club choices. Drumroll…

A book about happiness, good habits, or human nature:

Absent in the Spring by Agatha Christie

I don’t read many mysteries, but for some reason I felt like reading Agatha Christie’s wonderful Autobiography. In it, she discusses the writing of Absent in the Spring — an unusual book for her, because it isn’t a crime mystery (in fact, Christie wrote it under a pseudonym, Mary Westmacott). It’s about a woman who’s stuck by herself for a few days while traveling, and with that opportunity for self-reflection, she realizes the fundamental ways that she’s misunderstood herself and the people around her. It’s a short, quick, very thought-provoking book.

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon.

 

An outstanding children’s book:

The Secret Language by Ursula Nordstrom

Nordstrom was an enormously brilliant, influential editor of children’s books. I’ve read Dear Genius, her terrific book of letters,  three times. She wrote this one children’s book herself, and she wasn’t satisfied by it — which is a shame, because I love it. It’s about Victoria, a young girl who goes to boarding school and makes a best friend there. How I love boarding school books,

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon.

 

An eccentric pick:

All About Colour by Janice Lindsay

I’ve become obsessed with the subject of color. All about Colour is one of the most accessible, amusing, and thought-provoking discussions that I’ve read– many books about color are surprisingly dry. Lindsay has a very strong point of view (for instance, she objects to the popularity of white paint) which makes the book fun to read.

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon.

 

If you want to make sure you never miss a month’s selections, sign up here for the book club newsletter.

Remember, if you want to see what I read each week, I post a photo of my pile of completed books on my Facebook Page every Sunday night, #GretchenRubinReads.

What books are you excited to read in 2017? I’m always looking for great books to add to my reading list.