Tag Archives: interview

“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.

“Zombie Mode Is Not Nearly as Delicious as Diving Deeply into Fully Living Life Every Day.”

Interview: Judson Brewer.

I was very pleased to get the chance to talk to Judson Brewer, because he and I are interested in so many of the same subjects.

He’s a leading figure in the “science of self-mastery” — oh, self-mastery! How I love that subject; it so appeals to my Upholder side.

He wears many hats and has many balls in the air (to mix metaphors horribly): Director of Research at the Center for Mindfulness and associate professor in Medicine and Psychiatry at UMass Medical School; adjunct faculty at Yale University; research affiliate at MIT.

One of his specialties is using mindfulness programs to address addiction. He’s developed and tested novel mindfulness programs for habit change, including both in-person and app-based treatments (e.g. www.goeatrightnow.com, www.cravingtoquit.com). He has also studied the underlying neural mechanisms of mindfulness using standard and real-time fMRI.  In 2012, he founded Claritas MindSciences to move his discoveries of clinical evidence behind mindfulness for eating, smoking and other behavior change into the marketplace.

In just a few weeks, his new book will hit the shelves — The Craving Mind: From Cigarettes to Smartphones to Love, Why We Get Hooked and How We Can Break Bad Habits.

I was so interested to hear what Jud had to say about habits.

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

Jud: I’ve been blown away by how habits are the basis for so much of our lives – from smartphones to romantic love to getting caught up in our own thinking to even how we judge “right” and “wrong” in the world. Now I understand more where the phrase “we are creatures of…” comes from. And it’s amazing how much our modern scientific tools such as probing people in their natural environments via smartphone technology and detecting brain changes using fMRI machines have helped fill in the picture of what’s going on. All of these seem to repeatedly point to the same end: that we are tapping into a very evolutionarily conserved process that was set up for survival (trigger, behavior, reward).

Perhaps the most fascinating part of my research and clinical work was a paradoxical discovery: that we can tap into this natural reward-based learning process and by simply paying careful attention to different habit loops, we can learn to step out of them (paying careful attention to the “reward” is critical here).

In our clinical and brain studies, my lab has found that simple mindfulness trainings to help us pay attention and build awareness around our habits can have big effects on changing them (e.g. smoking, stress and emotional eating); our research has shown that these practices can not only help us quit smoking and change eating habits but literally change how our brains fire and wire.

What are some simple habits that consistently make you happier?

Practicing simple acts of kindness. Being curious. Smiling.

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

That changing habits is less an act of force or will than focusing on seeing the “reward” more clearly. I’ve also learned that curiosity is a key ingredient here.

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

Judgment (of myself and others).

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

Being kind. Listening carefully and completely when in conversation with someone. Exercising (running, mountain biking).

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

Eating healthfully. Looking back, I think the roots of this started to grow when I was racing BMX bikes in junior high school. I started noticing that when I ate donuts and drank soda before a race, I’d quickly run out of steam – which I later learned was probably due to getting a sugar rush and subsequent crash. As an adult, I’ve really started noticing how my body and mind feel after eating junk food (especially refined sugar) as compared to healthy food. It’s amazing how much wisdom comes from simply paying attention to the process! I couldn’t maintain a “don’t eat ice cream because it’s bad for you” mindset (which was totally cognitive/thinking in nature), but now when a craving comes on to pig out, can more easily remember what it felt like last time I ate an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s. This helps me stop with a small serving, while at the same time enjoy what I’m eating even more because I’m not mentally leaning in for the next bite.

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

Definitely a Questioner!

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

Both – it is wonderful that we don’t have to relearn how to tie our shoes every day, and also great to pay attention to how much of our lives we spend on “autopilot” so that we can step out of old habits that no longer serve us, or may get in the way of really embracing life. I know that sounds hokey, but its true. Zombie mode is not nearly as delicious as diving deeply into and fully living life every day, no matter what is happening.

If you’d like to hear more from Jud Brewer, you can watch his TED talk, “A simple way to break a bad habit”:

“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!