Tag Archives: fitness

7 Tips for Helping Someone Else to Change a Habit.

In my book Better Than Before, I write about the many strategies that we can use to make or break our habits. There’s a big menu of choices, which is great, because it means that we all have a variety from which to pull. Some strategies work for some people, but not others. Some strategies are available to us at certain times, but not other times.

In Better Than Before, I focus mostly on what we can do, ourselves, to change our habits. But it’s very obvious that each of us can have a lot of influence on other people’s habits.  And often we really, really, really want to help someone else to change a key habit.

So, if you want to help someone else to change an important habit (and I’ve certainly tried to do this myself, many times, in my loving habits-bully way), here are a few top strategies to try:

  1. The Strategy of the Four Tendencies. Figure out if the person is an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel. You can read about the framework here; take the online quiz here. This is a crucial step, because once you know a person’s Tendency, the approach that works with an Obliger might make things worse with a Rebel. Chiefly…
  2. The Strategy of Accountability. This strategy is helpful for many people, but it’s crucial for Obligers, and often counter-productive for Rebels. A key point about other people and accountability? If someone asks you to hold him or her accountable, do it — and if you don’t want to do it yourself (because it can be a lot of work to hold someone accountable), help that person find other mechanisms of accountability. If a person asks for accountability, it’s because that person knows that it’s important. Many people — Upholders like me, and Questioners, and Rebels — often resist holding others accountable, but it can be invaluable.
  3. The Strategy of Convenience. Make the habit more convenient. We’re powerfully influenced by how easy it is to do something. You can help by making a habit quicker and easier. Can you leave a pill out on a dish by the coffee machine, so your sweetheart takes it every morning? Can you keep a bowl of hard-boiled eggs in the fridge to be an easy, healthy snack? Can you pull out a pile of board books, clear off the sofa, and say, “Would it be fun for you to read to  the baby for a few minutes?” Can you allow a child to keep an instrument, music stand, and music out in the living room all the time, so all those things don’t need to be pulled out and put away with every practice session?
  4. The Strategy of Treats. Whether or not a person needs accountability (see #2), activities are often more fun when we do them with someone else. Will someone enjoy a walk more, if you go, as well?  Is it more fun for that person to cook if you’re in the kitchen, or you go shopping, too?
  5. The Strategy of Clarity. When it’s not clear exactly what we’re supposed to do, we often get paralyzed and do nothing. Can you keep track of the medication schedule or the physical therapy regimen for someone else?
  6. The Strategy of Safeguards. With our habits, it helps to plan for failure. You can help someone else to anticipate difficult circumstances, and to come up with an “if-then” plan of action — whether for the holidays, for the office party, for the vacation, for the bad weather, or whatever it might be. Research shows that people do much better when they have a plan for dealing with these kinds of stumbling blocks.
  7. The Strategy of Distinctions. We’re more alike, and less alike, than we think. One difference is the Abstainer vs. Moderator approach to strong temptation. Abstainers find it easier to give things up altogether; Moderators like to indulge in moderation. Say your sweetheart wants to cut back on sugar, but you want to keep ice cream in the fridge. You say, “Just have a small serving, learn to manage yourself.” Ah, that works for Moderators. But if your sweetheart is an Abstainer, he or she will find it far easier to have none — and it’s easier to have none if there’s no ice cream in the house. So, even if you don’t find it difficult to ignore that container in the freezer, your sweetheart might do much better if you go out for ice cream if you have a craving.

You might be thinking, “Well, the problem with these ideas is that I have to do something.” That’s right. Sometime we have to make an effort ourselves, to help someone else change a habit. And even if you think that these steps aren’t “your job” — but we can always choose to do something out of love, to help someone else.

Have you found a way to help someone else change a habit? We can all learn from each other.

The Answer to a Question People Keep Asking Me: What Do I Eat Every Day?

Assay: People keep emailing to ask me what I eat, so here’s the answer.

But before I respond, I want to say a few things.

First, I do indeed eat a very low-carb diet. If you want to know why and how I came to do that, I describe it in my book Better Than Before and in episode 33 of the podcast.  Nutshell version: more than three years ago, while on vacation with my family, I read Gary Taubes‘s book Why We Get Fat. I experienced a “Lightning Bolt,” and all my eating habits changed — overnight, effortlessly, and permanently.

Not everyone would want to eat this very-low-carb way, and even people who more or less eat this way (like my father) might not want to be as strict as I am. I prefer to be super-strict. Hey, everyone needs a hobby!

Second, I want to say that after thinking and learning about nutrition for several years, I’ve concluded this: what we don’t eat is more important than what we do eat. People can be healthy and vigorous eating wildly different things. We can argue about whether it’s a good idea to eat burgers or brown rice. But as far as I can tell, no one argues that a healthy diet features sugar or refined carbs. And if you don’t eat (or drink) sugar or refined carbs, you’re likely to get a big boost in health. So that’s a place to start.

For me, cutting out carbs all together has been enormously freeing. No more sweet tooth! No more inner debate–one, two, three? now, later? does this count? All that noise has gone away. I’m much less hungry, and much happier with the way that I eat.  But what works for me isn’t the best choice for everyone.

For one thing, I’m a hardcore Abstainer. For me, bright-line rules are easy to follow, while moderation is too demanding. Again, not true for everyone! Not everyone is an Abstainer! For more about Abstainers vs. Moderators, read here or listen here.

So I’m not saying that everyone should adopt my eating habits. But many people are curious, so here’s what I eat:

  • eggs — lots of eggs, often scrambled with butter, or in other forms, like frittatas
  • hamburger, bacon, turkey, tuna, salmon, chicken, steak, pepperoni (yes, I saw the article about processed meats causing cancer, but I’m not worried by that study, for reasons explained here)
  • cheese — I eat cheese as an ingredient (in a salad, on a burger if I’m very hungry) but I usually don’t eat a piece of cheese on its own
  • broccoli, cauliflower, string beans, lettuce
  • Greek yogurt — occasionally
  • almonds — great snack
  • Nick’s Sticks —  One reason that eating low-carb is healthy is that just about all processed foods are eliminated, and you’re stuck with the kind of food that needs to be cooked, eaten at a table with cutlery, and goes bad quickly.  Which is the healthiest kind of food. I do keep a few Nick’s Sticks in my backpack and in my suitcase when I travel, in case I get hungry.
  • coffee, tea, diet soda — I use almond milk, when I can get it, or cream when I can’t, or half-and-half when I can’t get cream
  • avocados — I keep meaning to eat more avocados. Also olives.

Also I eat items that are a mix of those things. For instance, I love  quiche (no crust) or a Cobb salad.

As you’ll notice, there’s not a lot of variety here. My whole life, I’ve tended to eat the same foods every day. Again, that’s not true for everyone, but it’s true for me.

There are items that I’ll eat in small amounts, if they’re served to me, say, at a restaurant. For instance, I might eat some berries, some peppers, etc., but I don’t generally go out of my way to eat them.

I’m  a huge zealot for this way of eating, because it has been such a happy change for me. My father, too. And it has been thrilling to hear from so many people, since Better Than Before was published, who have told me how much better off they are eating this way.

And I understand why people might disagree, and why they might make different choices. Absolutely. The way that we eat raises all kind of complex scientific issues, as well as ethically- and morally-charged choices — such as whether or not to eat meat.

Which brings us back to the importance of the Strategy of Clarity for changing habits. No matter what our beliefs might be, if we want to change our eating habits, the more clear we are about why we want to eat a certain way, and the habits that we want to adopt, the easier we’ll find it to follow through.

I have my reasons. Others will have their own reasons. But for most of us, it’s possible to do better than before, according to our own lights.

Have you ever made a major change to your eating habits that gave you a big happiness boost? What did you do?

Video: Why Having Clarity of Values and Clarity of Action Helps Us Keep Our Habits.

I’m doing a video series in which I discuss the various strategies that we can use for habit-formation. I posted videos for the other twenty strategies a while back, but somehow, I never posted about the Strategy of Clarity! A very important strategy. So, voila.

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, Better Than Before (can’t resist adding, bestseller) describes the multiple strategies we can exploit to change our habits.

I spend a lot of time thinking about questions such as, “How do we change?” “Why is it so hard to make ourselves do things that we want to do?” ( for instance, why is it so hard to make myself go to bed?) and “How can we stick to our resolutions?“

I realize now that a big challenge is clarity. Often, if there’s something that I want to do, but somehow can’t get myself to do, it’s because I don’t have clarity. This lack of clarity often arises from a feeling of ambivalence–I want to do something, but I don’t want to do it; or I want one thing, but I also want something else that conflicts with it.


Lack of clarity, and the paralysis that ensues, seems to be common. Here’s a list of aims in conflict that I’ve heard. Do any ring a bell for you?

  • I want to eat healthfully. It’s wrong to waste any food.

    I want to give 110% to work. I want to give 110% to my family.

    I want to work on my novel. I want to exercise.

    I want to spend less time in the car. I want my children to participate in many after-school activities.

    Making money is not important. Making money is important.

    I want to be very accessible to other people. I want time alone to think and work.

    I want to be a polite guest. I want to avoid sugar.

    I want leisure time when I come home from work. I want to live in a house that’s clean and well-run.


Have you experienced this — a paralysis that comes from conflicting values?

I have to admit, I’d been researching and thinking about habits for a long time before I grasped the significance of the Strategy of Clarity. It’s very, very important.

Video: “What’s One Cupcake?” and the One-Coin Loophole.

In my latest (bestselling) book, Better Than Before, I identify the twenty-one strategies of habit-formation, and one is the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting.

I’m doing a video series in which I discuss the ten categories of loopholes. I love studying loopholes, because they’re so funny. And ingenious! We’re such great advocates for ourselves — in any situation, we can always think of some loophole to invoke.

What is a “loophole?”

When we try to form and keep habits, we often search for loopholes, for justifications that will excuse us from keeping this particular habit in this particular situation. However, if we catch ourselves in the act of loophole-seeking, we can perhaps reject them.

In Better Than Before, I describe all ten categories of loopholes; in this video series. I’ve described them, one by one.

The final loophole: The one-coin loophole. This is a very dangerous loophole, because it always applies, and it’s always true! Beware!


I haven’t worked on that project for such a long time, there’s no point in working on it this morning.


One beer won’t make a difference.


What difference does it make if I spend this afternoon at the library or at a video arcade?


Why work on my report today, when the deadline is so far away?


Why should I bother to wear my bike helmet today?

If you want to know why it’s called the “one-coin loophole,” I explain in the video. Here’s the book I mention: a footnote in Erasmus’s Praise of Folly.

Do you find yourself invoking this all-too-applicable loophole? In what context?

It’s dangerous because it’s true.

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).

Plus, if you’d like to get an email alert every time we release a new episode, you can sign up here.

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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