Tag Archives: habits

“I Really Dislike Traveling for Work…How Easily Travel Destroys What Makes Me Happy.”

Interview: Russ Laraway.

I’m thrilled that the Radical Candor podcast is one of the terrific new podcasts launching on The Onward Project, the family of podcasts about your life, made better brought to you by me (!). The Radical Candor podcast is about being a better boss, a better colleague, a better team member. Something that many of us aim for.

Russ has tackled many work environments: Company Commander in the Marines; launching his own company; Google; Twitter; and co-founder of Candor.

I was very intrigued to hear what Russ had to say about habits, happiness, health, productivity, and all the rest.

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

Russ: I have two.  First, I am committed to not allowing my career to interfere with being a good dad.  The easiest way to make this real is to prioritize my family, which means getting home at a normal hour to spend time with them.  I am maniacally disciplined about getting out of the office on time.  If there’s something happening that requires a late night, I’m there, but I’ve found that to be such a rare case.  This means dealing with and managing perceptions about “how hard you work.” I actually work very hard, but I reject that being present in an office for 12 hours a day is a good manifestation of that.  BUT so many people lazily ascribe your work ethic to your time in the office, that I end up battling perception.

Second, I work out nearly every day.  I carefully put my workout time to coincide with my normal afternoon energy lull.  Working out is a great way to relieve stress, but also a great renewal practice.  I often feel like a new guy and can fire my brain back up in the evening and be more productive than if I never worked out.

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

When you’re 18, or young in your career, you don’t really understand what prioritizing means or more precisely, you don’t really know how to do it.  You think that “Work Life Balance” is impossible or for lazy people.  My happiness is a direct function of my ability to prioritize what really matters: my health, my family, my work, the Philadelphia Eagles in that order.  At 18 you say the word prioritize, but you rarely mean it because you’re not comfortable setting your own boundaries or saying ‘no’ to people.  It’s not easy.

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

This will not sound realistic, but no. I have carefully developed routines and habits that help me manifest happiness, keep a positive mental state.

Now, not a habit, but I do occasionally fall asleep on the couch.  I wake up a bunch and won’t go to my bed because I don’t want to disturb my wife.

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

My daily workout at HomeGrown CrossFit. My wife and middle son are both also members, so we can integrate “family” and “health” habits – for example, we can connect on and discuss the “WOD” or workout of the day.  Sometimes we even do it together, as partners, which is awesome.  But also, the classes happen at specific times, which force me to step away from everything else, and then just go be in that moment.  CrossFit also has a certain intensity about it that makes it impossible for your mind to be anywhere else while you’re working out.  My gym is close to my home, so I can get home immediately after I work out and spend time with my family.  It all works together.

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

See my lightening bolt below answer below.  After a long slow decline in my physical health after the Marines, I needed to develop habits around being physically healthy.

I’ve done that.

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

I am a Questioner. For example, I am sitting here questioning if this is really a MECE [mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive] list of tendencies and in what context are they MECE if at all?  I am probably not the most aggressive flavor of questioner…. But WOW do I hate arbitrary practices, doing things because conventional wisdom says to, doing things because it’s how others do them, or because someone think that’s how it “should” be done. (I immediately think “should? by what standard?”) I’m actually getting a shot of adrenaline as I type this, getting irritated by conventional wisdom.

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

Not so much.  In truth, I lead a very simple life centered around the things I care most about.  The only times I get out of synch are when I’m allowing my carefully developed boundaries to get trampled because I feel like I’m being a “more reasonable” person to others.  An example, someone creates an urgent meeting at just the time I need to leave to go to my CrossFit class.  Most often, I can challenge whether this is truly an emergency (it rarely is), I can arrange to call in, etc., but sometimes, a person just really wants me there, possibly legitimately needs me there.  I will allow my boundary to be trampled, and it rarely (if ever), in hindsight, seemed worth it.

I really dislike traveling for work.  I do it, of course, but I try to minimize it, but you can see how easily travel destroys what makes me happy – I am usually away from family, and there is a ton of friction involved to exercising (I am a CrossFitter!) in other places – hotel gyms are mostly terrible.  I hate running, etc.  Over time, I’ve dialed in the exercise thing – you can drop in on any CrossFit gym anywhere in the world – and I do that, but still taxis, lack of familiarity with my surroundings, not having easy access to healthy food… it’s tough and takes a lot of effort.  There’s not a great solve for family when I’m traveling.   I don’t find Skype or Google Hangout calls to be particularly useful/meaningful/suitable substitutions for being fully present with my family at home. We actually don’t do them.  My wife and I catch up a little bit – she gives me small updates on the day, and I love that, but no good substitute to being around my boys.

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.?

After getting out of the Marines, I allowed myself to get on a slow unhealthy decline over the course of 7-10 years.  When I moved to California, I got a horrible case of poison oak.  New to the area, I went for the first time to my new doctor knowing I needed a steroid shot, and she said, “Sure, sure, a steroid… but I want to talk about your blood pressure.”  I was surprised.  She said, “It’s 140/104, which is very high.  Are you doing anything about that?”  She inquired about medication and I gave her a bunch of crap about how I didn’t like medicine and would solve it with some running, etc. I waved my hand, dismissing her concerns.

She paused, looked at me, and said, “OK, let me tell you about the trade-off you’re making.  You ‘don’t want to make medicine’ (she used highly sarcastic tone of voice and air quotes which I can still see vividly in my mind’s eye 10 years later), and that means you’re almost certainly going to have a stroke before you’re 40.”  Yeah.

I got on medicine, but set a goal to be healthy enough to be off of it.  Built a fitness habit out of that.  [This is such a Questioner story that I’m laughing out loud.]

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

EMBRACE.  Routine and habit are critical to my positive mental state.

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

No, unfortunately, these have been developed through trial and error over years.

“The Habit of Daily Exercise Was Probably the Most Important and Unexpected Thing I Learned at Business School.”

Interview: Kim Scott.

I’ve known Kim for many years. She and I (and my husband Jamie, too) worked at the Federal Communications Commission together. After that job, I switched to being a full-time writer, and she worked in a bunch of different places, including three failed start-ups, Google, and Apple, and wrote novels.

I’m thrilled that with her co-host Russ Laraway, she’s heading the terrific new Radical Candor podcast on The Onward Project family of podcasts that I’ve just launched — podcasts about your life, made better. The Radical Candor podcast is about being a better boss, a better colleague, a better team member.

I love talking to Kim about workplace issues. She has such interesting things to say about how to be a terrific boss or colleague who has high standards, and who can help people grow and improve, but also be kind. It can be a tough balance.

Her book Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity comes out in a few months — a terrific books, with fascinating stories from her own life (including mistakes and failures, always my favorites), practical suggestions, and profound insights.

As a side note, I thought of Kim when I read this line by Gertrude Stein in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, as she described her friend the poet Apollinaire:

“The death of Guillaume Apollinaire at this time made a very serious difference to all his friends apart from their sorrow at his death. It was the moment just after the war when many things had changed and people naturally fell apart. Guillaume would have been a bond of union, he always had a quality of keeping people together, and now that he was gone everybody ceased to be friends.”

I’ve never known exactly how she does it, but Kim also has this quality of “keeping people together” to help them be friends. I’m going to ask her to about this on the Radical Candor podcast! How does she do it?

Naturally I wanted to quiz Kim about her habits.

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

Kim: I declared 1999 the Year of my Fantasy. I quit my job and did only the things that I wanted to do. It turned out that not having a job was enormously productive: I wrote a novel, I worked at a pediatric clinic in Kosovo, and I started Juice Software. The reason I was able to do so many things that year was not because I wasn’t working, but because I started the year out focusing on how to be happy. I found three habits were responsible for keeping me happy:

  1. Sleeping 8 hours a night
  2. Exercising 45 minutes a day
  3. Having a real conversation with somebody I love every day.

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

I had no idea how bad sugar is, how much of it is snuck into our food, or how much we need a little fat to deal with the sugar that’s in foods we don’t think of as sugary (milk, Cheerios, etc). I learned this only when I got gestational diabetes, and the experience of checking my blood sugar levels after every meal really changed my eating habits for the rest of my life.

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

I like to have a glass of wine with dinner. I prefer two glasses. And unless I focus on not having that third, I reach for it. That much alcohol interrupts my sleep, which affects my happiness.

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

Sleeping 8 hours a night is probably the most important habit I have for health, creativity, productivity, and for enjoying leisure.

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

I quit drinking altogether for about 18 months to break my 3 drinks a day habit. Here were the things that helped:

  1. Having a ritual of a seltzer with a splash of cranberry juice and a lime
  2. Eating dinner earlier–often I was hungry and had a drink rather than eating something
  3. Eating food I really looked forward to eating
  4. Arriving at parties late

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

I am definitely a Rebel!

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

I have twins who are seven years old and go to bed at 8:00. The temptation to crawl under the covers with them as they are falling asleep is often overwhelming. When I succumb to it, I fall asleep too. Then I wake up around 11 with a crick in my neck and am unable to go back to sleep till about 3 am. It’s a disaster for healthy sleep habits!

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.?

I never exercised regularly until I got to business school. I went to Harvard, where they really stressed the importance of daily exercise, and put their money where their mouth was. They spoiled all business school students with a beautiful gym and free personal trainers. Developing a habit of daily exercise was probably the most important and unexpected thing I learned at business school.

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

As a Rebel I resisted anything that looked like habit or routine from 1967-1999. Then, in an act of rebellion, I found that having a few habits made me so much happier and left me with so much more energy for other more important rebellions that I adopted a few 🙂

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

You have been a huge influence on habits–both breaking them and adopting them. [Awww, thanks Kim!]

In 1998, I realized that I was in a habit of hating my work. I started talking to people about quitting my job so that I could break this habit, and you were one of the people I talked to. But, I wasn’t making any moves to actually quit. I kept coming up with reasons to delay quitting. Most people, nervous about the idea of my unemployment, reinforced my habit of staying in jobs I hated. But you looked at me one day and said, “Don’t forget to quit!” Your words rang in my ears over and over, and were a big part of what propelled me on the Year of My Fantasy.

You also helped me with a more mundane habit: flossing. Like you I hate to floss. You suggested toothpicks, and I took your suggestion. I now have toothpicks at my desk, in my bag, in my car. My dentist is pleased, and I feel virtuous!

Podcast 98: Have a Quest, an Interview with Gary Taubes about the Case Against Sugar, and Why I Love My Uniqlo Vest.

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

We’re coming up on our Very VERY Special Episode — Episode 100. Hard to believe. For this episode, send us questions about anything, whether related to happiness or not. Email us or call us at 774-277-9336.

Also, to start the new year in a happier way, we’re doing a fun project on Instagram. Every day, for the month of January, Elizabeth and I are posting a photo on Instagram of something that makes us happier (giving us a boost, helping us stick to good habits, reminding us to feel grateful, etc.).  Join in! Use the hashtag #Happier2017 and tag us — I’m @gretchenrubin and Elizabeth is @lizcraft. It has been so fun to see the photos people are posting.

Try This at Home: Have a quest (which is different from having a mission, which is slightly different).

bluebirdchristmastreeHere’s my bluebird tree, the result of my mother’s quest to find bluebird ornaments for my little tree.

Happiness Hack: How I love my Uniqlo vest! Light, easy to pack, warm, fits under my clothes, and has a vertical pocket that securely holds my phone. I wear it every day, throughout the winter. Uniqlo isn’t an advertiser; I just love my vest so much.

Interview: Acclaimed science writer Gary Taubes talks about his new book, The Case Against Sugar. In my book about habit change, Better Than Before, I write about the “Strategy of the Lightning Bolt” and how reading Gary’s book Why We Get Fat utterly changed my eating habits, overnight.

If you want to read my interview with Gary about his new book about sugar, get it here. If you want to read more about Abstainers vs. Moderators, I post about it here. I’m an Abstainer, 100%, and realizing this aspect of my nature has been a huge relief to me.

Demerit: I give myself a demerit for dropping all my forms of work to do nothing but focus on the edits on my draft of The Four Tendencies book.  To hear when The Four Tendencies becomes available, sign up here.

Gold Star: Elizabeth gives a gold star to Eliza for dealing with the college application process.


Elizabeth’s young-adult romance Flower just hit the shelves! She and Shea Olsen have written a novel that combines love, temptation, secrets, ambition, celebrity…delicious.

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 to continue the conversation from the podcast — usually on Tuesdays at 3:00 pm ET. To join the conversation, check the schedule.

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

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1pixHappier with Gretchen Rubin - Podcast #98

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Want to Keep a New Year’s Resolution? How to Make It Right for YOU.

Many people make New Year’s resolutions, and many people get frustrated and abandon their New Year’s resolutions.

A common mistake? Setting up the resolution in the wrong way. We think we “should be able to” do it first thing in the morning, or we think we should imitate a resolution that works well for someone else.

But there’s no one, correct way. It’s just whatever works for us.

I know this, because I used to try to indulge moderately in sweets — but I’m an Abstainer. And I used to try to do difficult writing in the afternoon — but I’m a Lark. And I use to hold myself back from buying too much at one time — but I’m an Under-buyer. Etc. Now that I set up resolutions to suit my nature, I succeed much more often.

As you set up your resolutions, be sure to consider these distinctions, as outlined in the “Strategy of Distinctions” in my book Better Than Before, which is all about the multiple strategies we can exploit to change our habits.

Before you decide on the resolution you’ll make, consider…

-are you a Lark or Owl?

are you a Marathoner or Sprinter?

are you a Simplicity-lover or Abundance-lover?

are you a Finisher or Opener?

are you an Abstainer or Moderator?

-are you an Under-buyer or Over-buyer?

As you’re thinking about these distinctions, it can be helpful to ask, “When have I succeeded with this resolution in the past?” If there was a time when you exercised regularly, cooked frequently, got enough sleep, etc., that might hold clues for how you might be able to do a better job in the present.

When we know ourselves, we can set up a resolution in the way that’s right for us. It’s not that hard to keep our resolutions, and to change our habits — when we know what to do.

9 Tips if You’re Making Work-Related New Year’s Resolutions.

The new year is here, and for many of us, that means new year’s resolutions. And many of us make resolutions related to our work lives.

Now Questioners, I know you object to the arbitrariness of the January 1 date; Obligers, I know you may have given up making resolutions because you’ve struggled in the past; and Rebels, I know you may not want to bind yourself in advance. But some people do want to make resolutions. (Don’t know where you fit in the “Four Tendencies” framework, i.e.,  if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel? Look here.)

For instance, some common work-related resolutions include “I want to broaden my horizons,” “I want to do a better job with record-keeping,” “I want to network,” “I want to find a mentor,” and “I want to expand my skills.”

One key to consistent progress is to make a behavior into a habit. Habits are freeing and energizing, because they save us from the difficult, draining business of making decisions and exercising our self-control.

Habits matter, because research shows that about 40% of everyday life is shaped by habits. If we have habits that work for us, we’re far more likely to be happier, healthier, and more productive.

In my book Better Than Before, I discuss the twenty-one different strategies that we can use to make or break our habits. I know, twenty-one sounds like a lot to manage — but it’s helpful that there are so many, because some of these strategies work for some people, and not others. But we all have a big menu from which to pick.

So how might you make a habit of actions that will help you succeed at work? Consider these strategies:

1. Use the Strategy of Clarity, and be specific about what you’re asking of yourself.

Resolutions like “network more” or “research new opportunities” are too vague. Put your resolution into the form of a concrete, measurable, manageable action, such as “Every month, go to at least two events with networking opportunities” or “Spend one hour every Friday afternoon updating my time sheets and expenses.” Being specific helps you figure out what to do, and it also makes it possible to…

2. Use the Strategy of Monitoring, and monitor your habit.

Monitoring is almost uncanny in its power. Research shows that simply by monitoring a behavior, we tend to do a much better job of it, whether that’s how fast we’re driving, how much we’re eating, how many cold calls we’re making, or how many instructional videos we’re watching. Keep track, and you’ll push yourself in the right direction.

3. Use the Strategy of Scheduling, and schedule time for your habit.

Something like “Research that company this week” is a goal that can keep getting pushed to the bottom of the to-do list. Even if it’s important, it’s just not urgent. So schedule a specific time for research, for learning, for following up, and give it a slot on your calendar. But it’s crucial to remember that…

4. Working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination.

When you schedule time to do certain work, you should do that work, and nothing else. No filing, no cleaning, no research, no checking emails. Do that work, or stare at the ceiling. Otherwise, you may work and work and work, and never get around to doing the very thing you set out to do.

5. Use the Strategy of Distinctions, and take time to think big.

In the rigors of everyday life, it can be hard to step back and see what matters most.  Where do you want to be in two years? How could you develop your skills to make your work more interesting and yourself more valuable? Some people prefer to do this kind of thinking alone, with just a pad of paper; others prefer to talk it out, with a few trusted co-workers or an old friend; others might hire a coach. Or…

6. Use the Strategy of Distinctions, and take time to think small.

Sometimes people get overwhelmed when they try to make grand plans or ask huge questions; it’s also useful to focus on small, manageable steps that you can incorporate into your life immediately.

7. Use the Strategy of Clarity, and ask yourself: Whom do you envy?

Envy is an uncomfortable emotion, but it’s instructive. If you envy someone, that person has something you wish you had. Do you envy your friend who gets to travel all the time—or the friend who never has to travel? Do you envy your co-worker who’s taking night class toward getting an MBA, or who gets to make lots of presentations? Envy can help show us how we want to grow and change.

8. Use the Strategy of Other People, and spend time with people who have the habits  that you want to emulate.

Studies show that we tend to pick up habits from the people around us, so choose your company wisely. If you know that some of your co-workers cultivate habits that help them succeed at work, go out of your way to spend time with them, and you’ll more easily pick up those habits, yourself.

9. Use the Strategy of the Four Tendencies and the Strategy of Accountability, if it works for you.

If you’re an Obliger — that is, if you readily meet other people’s expectations, but struggle to meet your expectations for yourself — the answer, the solution, the key element is external accountability. Rebels, on the other hand, often do worse when they’re being held accountable. Figure out your Tendency and plug in accountability as necessary.

The most important thing to remember about habit change? We must shape our habits to suit ourselves—our own nature, our own interests, our own strengths. When we understand ourselves, we can apply the twenty-one strategies with the greatest success, and we can also help other people to change their habits.

It’s not hard to change your habits, when you know what to do. And it matters. When we change our habits, we change our lives.