Tag Archives: habits

“I Physically Put My iPhone in a Different Room. Sometimes Under Lock and Key.”

Interview: Jeff Wilser.

I forget how I got to know Jeff Wilser, but when we met for coffee, he mentioned that he had an idea for a book about Alexander Hamilton — something fun, and also very informative. I told him that I thought his idea sounded terrific; this was even before I saw the Broadway show Hamilton, and now that I’ve seen the show — and loved it as much as everybody else — I think Jeff’s idea was even more terrific.

Well, he did write that book, and it just hit the shelves: Alexander’s Hamilton’s Guide to Life. It’s a book that manages to convey lots of information and big ideas with a light touch.

I was very interested in what Jeff had to say about Hamilton; I also wanted to hear what he had to say about habits and happiness.

Gretchen: Which habits are most important to you?

Jeff: Sticking to a reading schedule.  Everyone enjoys “reading,” but I’ve found that without a strict schedule, and without iron discipline, my reading habits quickly fade into oblivion. So I have a very concrete and nerdy plan: I aim to read a book a week. Sometimes two books in a week, sometimes three, sometimes 0, but at the end of the year, I need to have read at least 52 books. (I envy those super speedy readers who can devour books in one sitting; my speed is average at best.) The game of 52 books in 52 weeks becomes something of a puzzle, where to squeeze in, say, a 900-page biography, I’ll read maybe two short Graham Greene novels.  I’ve found that this habit—of obsessing over the schedule, even tracking it in a spreadsheet—keeps me focused on books and makes me a better reader.

What about writing habits?

I need to write first thing in the morning. I need to do this before I fuss around with anything else.  Before email, before housekeeping, before research, before tweaking my fantasy football lineup.  That’s how I wrote Alexander Hamilton’s Guide to Life.  First thing in the morning, every morning, I wrote for several hours and only then, later in the day, would I pivot to reading and research.

What gets in the way of your healthy habits?

I’m easily distracted. True, everyone says that they’re easily distracted, but in my case it’s so extreme it’s cartoonish.  Sometimes I can’t even read a single news article without re-checking twitter or my email 5 different times—not an exaggeration.  The siren song of the internet always gets in the way…especially when writing.  At times it’s crippling.

So what’s your hack for this?

I remove the internet from the equation. I use Freedom, a program on my Mac, to disable any connection to the internet. But that’s not enough—I also physically put my iPhone in a different room, sometimes under lock and key.

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

The morning cup of coffee. It’s essential.  When I traveled to India for two weeks, at the risk of being an Ugly American, I lugged pouches of instant coffee.  If I were ever sent to prison, this is the thing I would miss the most. (Besides not getting shivved.)

What about habits do you wish your 18-year-old self knew?

Ladies are not always super thrilled with the habit of playing video games.

What habits do you wish you had?

I wish I was in the habit of speaking on the phone. I broke the habit many, many years ago, and now when the phone rings, I panic.  It doesn’t matter who it is—my family, my best friends in the world—the phone trips me out.   I thought about creating a new habit where, every day, I had to place one outgoing phone call. But that seemed too daunting so I tweaked it to once a week…and that still seemed too daunting.  Someday soon I will try and instill this new habit. Maybe tomorrow. Or next week.

Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you changed a major habit very suddenly?

 This might count as cheating, but I’ve adopted some habits very quickly for writing assignments. And I LOVE IT. One time I ate only junk food for 30 days (and lost 11 pounds…the secret was calorie counting.) One time I went on a juice cleanse. Or went vegan.  Even if the habits don’t stick long-term, a sudden immersion into a new habit gives perspective, challenges your old norms, and gets you to recalibrate your life a little. I’m a big fan of Habit Hopping.

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

 Habits are what make me tick.  When I get on a good habit groove then I’m firing on all cylinders, and when my habits lapse everything else seems to crumble.  Inertia is a powerful thing.

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

I’ll have to go with the obvious one here: Alexander Hamilton.  It’s a cliche to hear that you need to work really hard, but that’s exactly what he did, from a very young age, and it’s my belief that these habits of his, more than genetics, are what made him great.  He made it a point to read every day. He constantly scribbled notes in a journal. He collected facts and quotes and useful arguments. It looks like genius from the outside, but really it was the result of hard work and, well, excellent habits.  That’s one of the entries in the book: “Turn Grit into Genius.”

Podcast 84: Why It’s Easier to Do Something EVERY Day, Keep a Trash Bag in the Car, and How to Deal with a Tardy Friend.

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

Update: If you live near Seattle, please come to our live event! We’ll be recording an episode of the podcast live on stage at Seattle’s Town Hall on October 13, 7:30. Tickets are $25. More info and buy tickets here. Please come, bring your friends. We hope to sell t-shirts — cash only, if we do manage to pull it together.

In episode 76, we talked about manifestos, and if you’re coming to the Seattle event, we’d love to highlight a few manifestos from listeners. So send us your manifesto for work, life, parenting, marriage, exercise, clutter-clearing — whatever! And maybe we’ll talk about it with you on stage.

Try This at Home: It’s often easier to do something every day than to do it some days. I mention The Happiness Project One-Sentence Journal: A Five-Year Record. A lot of people have told me that this daily, manageable structure makes it easier to keep a journal.

Happiness Hack: Daphne suggests keeping a garbage bag in the car.

Happiness Stumbling Block: The “China Syndrome” — the fantasy that we’ll automatically become adults. (By the way, I’m having my book group over tonight, and I will use my wedding china.)

Listener Question: Jessica asks “How can I handle my annoyance with my good friend who is always late?”

Gretchen’s  Demerit: I rehearse angry thoughts in my head.

Elizabeth’s Gold Star: Elizabeth gives a gold star to her friend Karine for doing the research to find a vacation rental for their two families.

If you want easy instructions about how to rate or review the podcast, look here.

Remember,  I’m doing weekly live videos on my Facebook Page about the podcast. To join the conversation, check the schedule. 

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

Check out Olive and Cocoa. Surprise someone you love with a meaningful gift today. Go to OliveandCocoa.com/happier to see gift options specifically chosen for our listeners.

Also check out Texture. Get access to all your favorite magazines — including back issues and bonus video content — in one super-convenient place. Try the app Texture for free by going to Texture.com/happier.

Also check out Smith and Noble, the solution for beautiful window treatments. Go to smithandnoble.com/happier for 25% off window treatments and a free in-home design consultation.

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1pixHappier with Gretchen Rubin - Podcast #84

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How to Subscribe

If you’re like me (until recently) you’re intrigued by podcasts, but you don’t know how to listen or subscribe. It’s very easy, really. Really.  To listen to more than one episode, and to have it all in a handier way, on your phone or tablet, it’s better to subscribe. Really, it’s easy.

Want to know what to expect from other episodes of the podcast, when you listen toHappier with Gretchen Rubin?” We talk about how to build happier habits into everyday life, as we draw from cutting-edge science, ancient wisdom, lessons from pop culture—and our own experiences (and mistakes).  We’re sisters, so we don’t let each other get away with much.

HAPPIER listening!

An Interesting Accountability Solution from a Fantasy Novel: the Booth of Promises.

I love fantasy fiction, and I recently discovered the work of Sharon Shinn. I’ve been reading my way through all her novels.

I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of her novel Unquiet Land, which is the new addition to her Elemental Blessings novels.

These days, everything reminds me of my Four Tendencies framework, and Unquiet Land was no exception. (Don’t know about the Four Tendencies? Find out if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel here.)

One key aspect of the Four Tendencies is understanding the role that accountability can play. For Obligers, outer accountability is crucial; for other Tendencies, it may not be needed, and for some people, may even be counter-productive.

But because Obliger is the largest Tendency, accountability is a very important strategy. And Unquiet Land features a great accountability solution.

In the country of Welce, people can go to the Plaza of Men to visit the booth of promises. “Here patrons could swear, before witnesses and for all eternity, that they would accomplish specific tasks, and their vows were recorded in books kept by the booth owner and his family.” The promissor can choose whether to make a public recording that anyone can ask to read, or a private one that’s not released until he or she gives permission or dies.

In beautiful script, the promise is written in a record book and on a heavy sheet of paper. Both copies are signed and can be sealed, and one copy is given to the promissor.

An interesting method of holding yourself to a promise! Using the strategies that I outline in Better Than Before, a person commits in writing (Strategy of Clarity), decides whether that promise is more powerful when public or private (Strategy of Distinctions), and is creating accountability (Strategy of Accountability). Plus, the promise is made as part of a formal, elaborate ritual, which gives it extra strength (Strategy of First Steps).

I wish we had something like a booth of promises — but of course, we probably do. I’m sure there’s an app that does the same thing!

If you want to read the first book in the Elemental Blessings set, get Troubled Waters. So good.

Do you think that you’d be better able to stick to a good habit if you made a promise in a booth of promises?

Podcast 83: Are You A Hedgehog or a Fox? and Read 3 Unfamiliar Magazines

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

Update: If you live near Seattle, please come to our live event! We’ll be recording an episode of the podcast live on stage at Seattle’s Town Hall on October 13, 7:30. Tickets are $25. More info and buy tickets here. Please come, bring your friends.

In episode 76, we talked about manifestos, and if you’re coming to the Seattle event, we’d love to highlight a few manifestos from listeners. So send us your manifesto for work, life, parenting, marriage, exercise, clutter-clearing — whatever! And maybe we’ll talk about it with you on stage.

Try This at Home: Read three magazines that you don’t usually read. I tried this creativity exercise as part of writing my book The Happiness Project.

Happiness Hack: Doug suggests using the reminders app in your smart-phone to remind yourself to any tasks you need to complete.

Know Yourself Better: Are you a hedgehog or a fox? We refer to the enigmatic line from Archilocus: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” According to the understanding of that line that Elizabeth and I share, we’re both hedgehogs.

Listener Question: Daniel asks “I’m now working freelance, and I struggle to create habits, because my schedule changes all the time. How can I built my habits?”

Elizabeth’s Demerit: She and Adam neglected to get their son Jack back into an earlier sleep schedule before school started.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: The musical Hamilton! Such a fresh, beautiful way to think about American history.

If you want easy instructions about how to rate or review the podcast, look here.

Remember,  I’m doing weekly live videos on my Facebook Page about the podcast. To join the conversation, check the schedule. 

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

Check out Olive and Cocoa. Surprise someone you love with a meaningful gift today. Go to OliveandCocoa.com/happier to see gift options specifically chosen for our listeners.

Also check out Smith and Noble, the solution for beautiful window treatments. Go to smithandnoble.com/happier for 25% off window treatments and a free in-home design consultation.

Also check out Stamps.com. Want to avoid trips to the post office, and buy and print official U.S. postage for any letter or package, right from your own computer and printer? Visit Stamps.com to sign up for a 4-week trial, plus a $110 bonus offer — just enter the promo code HAPPIER.

1pix

1pixHappier with Gretchen Rubin - Podcast #83

We love hearing from listeners:

 

To sign up for my free monthly newsletter, text me at 66866 and enter the word (surprise) “happier.“ Or click here.

If you enjoyed the podcast, please tell your friends and give us a rating or review. Click here to tell your friends on Twitter.

Listeners really respect the views of other listeners, so your response helps people find good material. (Not sure how to review? Instructions here; scroll to the bottom.)

How to Subscribe

If you’re like me (until recently) you’re intrigued by podcasts, but you don’t know how to listen or subscribe. It’s very easy, really. Really.  To listen to more than one episode, and to have it all in a handier way, on your phone or tablet, it’s better to subscribe. Really, it’s easy.

Want to know what to expect from other episodes of the podcast, when you listen toHappier with Gretchen Rubin?” We talk about how to build happier habits into everyday life, as we draw from cutting-edge science, ancient wisdom, lessons from pop culture—and our own experiences (and mistakes).  We’re sisters, so we don’t let each other get away with much.

HAPPIER listening!

Research shows that September Really IS the Other January.

I’ve written many times about how for me, September is the other January — a clean slate, a fresh start, a chance to use new pencils, fresh notebooks, and begin again.

In fact, in my book Happier at Home, I did a happiness project that stretched from September to May, to take advantage of September’s clean slate.

So I was fascinated to read a piece in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, “Now Is the Real New Year” by Anne Marie Chaker.

Some interesting points about why people make resolutions in September:

  • with the start of school, families get back into routines, and that helps people get organized and set goals
  • January is a tough time for resolutions, because of post-holiday exhaustion
  • summer efforts can get derailed because of vacation
  • September is one of the biggest months for enrolling in weight-loss programs, going to the gym, and cooking at home
  • people often change their hair style in September
  • people often take steps to change careers in September, and work on household budgets
  • September is now bigger than June as a time to get married; it’s second only to October

 

How about you? Do you feel like September is a time for a fresh start?