Tag Archives: focus

Video: A Great Strategy To Fight Temptations? Distraction.

I’m doing a video series in which I discuss the various strategies that we can use for habit-formation.

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 forthcoming book, Better Than Before, describes the multiple strategies we can exploit to change our habits. To pre-order, click here. (Pre-orders give a real boost to a book, so if you’re inclined to buy the book, I’d really appreciate it if you pre-order it.)

Today, I’m talking about the Strategy of Distraction.


Whenever I’m tempted to break a good habit (or indulge in a bad habit, two sides of the same coin), I say to myself, “I can leave my desk—in fifteen minutes.” The delay of fifteen minutes is often long enough for me to get absorbed in something else. If I distract myself sufficiently, I may forget about a craving entirely.

When we distract ourselves, we purposefully redirect our thoughts, and by doing so, we change our experience.

Of course, it’s not enough to be distracted; we must distract ourselves in the right way. Checking Pinterest isn’t a good distraction for the person who wants to break the habit of late-night online shopping; reading a mystery would work better.

Also, making a purely mental shift can be difficult, so distraction works best when it involves some physical activity: walking around the block, woodworking, or cleaning out the kitty-litter box. Of course, if it’s an enjoyable distraction, such as playing catch with a child, so much the better.

Using the Strategy of Distraction doesn’t mean trying to suppress an unwelcome thought, but rather deliberately shifting attention. When we try to squash a particular thought, we may trigger the “ironic rebound,” so that paradoxically, we think about it all the more.

Although people often assume that cravings intensify over time, research shows that with active distraction, urges—even strong urges—usually subside within about fifteen minutes.

On a different subject, in the video, I mention that readers can request free, signed, personalized bookplates to put in their books. If you’d like to email me your request, for you or for gifts, click here. U.S. and Canada only — sorry about that.

Do you use the Strategy of Distraction to help you master your habits?

Tap into Your Senses: Go Outside.

2011 Happiness Challenge: For those of you following the 2011 Happiness Project Challenge, to make 2011 a happier year — and even if you haven’t officially signed up for the challenge — welcome! Last month’s theme was Self-control, and last week’s theme was to Beware the licensing effect. Did you try that resolution? Did it boost your happiness?

his month’s theme is the Five Senses, and this week’s resolution is to Go outside.

Go outside.

You’ll notice the loudness of New York City!

If you want to read more about this resolution, check out…
Need a quick, easy happiness boost? Go outside.
Anne Frank: “Go outside; enjoy the sun and all nature.”
16 tips for feeling happier at work.

Have you found that just going outside lifts your mood? Have you noticed whether the time of day, or being in nature, has any additional effect?

If you’re new, here’s information on the 2011 Happiness Challenge. It’s never too late to start! You’re not behind, jump in right now, sign up here. For the Challenge, each week I’ll post a video suggesting a resolution for you to consider. For more ideas for resolutions to try, check out the archives of videos here.

* At the Mighty Summit a few weeks ago, I met Sarah Bryden-Brown, who told me about her e-book, Welcome To My World, with essays by mothers in various circumstances. Looks fascinating.

* Want to get my free monthly newsletter? It highlights the best of the month’s material from the blog and the Facebook Page. Email me at gretchenrubin1 at gretchenrubin dot com, or sign up here.

Need a Quick, Easy Happiness Boost? Go Outside.

This proposed happiness resolution is easy. Go outside.

Go outside into the sunlight; light deprivation is one reason that people feel tired. Research suggests that light stimulates brain chemicals that improve mood and increase motivation.

For an extra boost, get your sunlight first thing in the morning.

Now, I’m the kind of person who loves to sit around the house in my pajamas. If I can manage it, I enjoy the occasional day when I never step foot out of my apartment. But even though I love staying in, there’s nevertheless something slightly oppressive about being inside all day.

And going from your front door, to the car door, to the office door, and then in reverse, isn’t much better.

At least for me, unscientifically speaking, spending time outside gives a feeling of freedom, of connecting with the seasons (even when the weather isn’t ideal), of breathing fresh air, of not being so trapped by a schedule that I can’t be out in the world.
Plus, if you use your time outside to go for a walk, you’ll get a double benefit for mood and energy. Because I live in New York City, I get a lot of opportunities to walk around outside, and I know it boosts my spirits.

If possible, push the directive to “Go outside” a little further, and try to build some more outdoor time into your life. Go hiking, go birdwatching, get a dog, walk to work.

People in industrialized countries spent about 93% of their time inside; don’t forget how energizing and cheering it can be to go outdoors.

What about you? Do you love to go outside, or do you have to prod yourself to make sure you do it?

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

* I was part of a very interesting discussion for Frank Faulk’s CBC radio documentary, Say No to Happiness, with my pal Todd Kashdan, Daniel Polish, and Jordan Peterson.

* Want to launch a group for people doing Happiness Projects together? Email me at gretchenrubin1 at gmail dot com for the starter kit. Want to see if a group already exists in your area? Look here. Want to talk to people about starting a new group? Start a discussion here. I’m thrilled by all the interest in starting Happiness Project groups! Keep me posted!

Eleven Tips for Boosting Your Sense of Quiet Focus.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: eleven tips for boosting your sense of quiet focus.

We all know the feeling of being overwhelmed, of being beset by distractions.

The problem is – too many things are clamoring for your attention. People are trying to reach you, by phone, email, text, Twitter, IM, or old-fashioned yelling up the stairs. There are the interesting subjects you want to learn more about, on the TV or the internet or the newspaper. Noises in the background occasionally catch your ear, from the TV or radio. Your kids all talk at the same time. Colleagues interrupt. You need to update, check in, post, or ping. Ads jump at you from the most unlikely places. Devices buzz, ring, chirp, and vibrate.

It’s enough to drive you crazy. You lose your train of thought, you forget what you’re doing, you have trouble re-engaging in a task, you feel besieged.

But there are steps you might consider to quiet the buzz in your brain – even if you don’t want to take up meditation.

In addition to feeling calmer and more focused, you’ll probably be more efficient, too. Turns out that people aren’t very good at thinking about two things at once. One study showed that when people were interrupted to respond to email or IM, it took about fifteen minutes for them to resume a serious mental task. So consider taking steps like these, at least occasionally:

1. If you keep the TV, radio, or music turned on in the background – while you’re getting dressed, say – turn it off.

2. I have a sticky note in my bedroom that reads, “Quiet mind.” Whenever I see it, I drop my shoulders, relax my jaw, and try to smooth out my thoughts. It actually works.

3. During family time, divide up your children among adults. If possible, have one child per adult. And don’t check your emails or the internet while you’re with your child!

4. Cut down on the multi-tasking. Don’t talk on the phone while you’re doing dishes, don’t check your email while you listen to a conference call, don’t sort the mail while your child explains the school project that’s due next week.

5. Turn your cell phone ringer off. Hearing your cell phone ring – or even imaging that you’re hearing it ring – is a big source of jumpiness.

6. Take a break from doing errands. Keep a list, but don’t try to cram them in throughout your day.

7. Only use the internet to look up specific pieces of information; no jumping from link to link, no browsing.

8. Turn off your email for some parts of the day.

9. Twyla Tharp had an interesting approach: occasionally, for a week, she’d “stop counting.” She avoided looking at clocks, contracts, bank statements, bathroom scales, or anything to do with numbers, in order to let the other part of her brain take over.

10. Exercise. I find that if I don’t exercise regularly, I’m too jumpy and restless to sit still and concentrate. I keep popping up and down. It’s true that taking regular breaks is good for focus — but within limits!

11. Flee temptation. I find it hard to work in my home office, because my family, the phone, my email, and the internet constantly beguile me away from my work. So when I have serious writing to do, I go to a library near my apartment which has a study room with a strict rule of silence.

It’s important to have space in which to think. Yesterday, I overheard someone complain, “I left my Blackberry at home, so I was so bored during my cab ride home. I just had to sit there.”

There are few things that I love more than looking out the window of a car, train, or bus. One day, when I was gazing out of a bus window, I was struck by a thought: “What do I want out of life?” “Well,” I thought, “I want to be happy.” It occurred to me that I never thought about whether I was happy or not, or how I could be happier, or even what it meant to be happy. “Zoikes,” I thought, “I should have a happiness project!”
If I’d been checking my emails, I might never have had the idea for the happiness project.

What other strategies have you found to help you keep a quiet focus?

* Gratitude is extremely important to happiness, and keeping a “gratitude journal” is an oft-recommended exercise, but my gratitude journal never had much effect on me. I just found it annoying, and my journal was very dull. On this charming site, Thxthxthx, however, the writer manages to be very funny and engaging — and also show genuine gratitude.

* It’s Word-of-Mouth Day, when I gently encourage (or, you might think, pester) you to spread the word about the Happiness Project. You might:
— Forward the link to someone you think would be interested
— Link to a post on Twitter (follow me @gretchenrubin)
— Sign up for my free monthly newsletter (about 39,000 people get it)
Buy the book
— Join the 2010 Happiness Challenge to make 2010 a happier year
— Put a link to the blog in your Facebook status update
— Watch the one-minute book video
Thanks! I really appreciate any help. Word of mouth is the BEST.