Tag Archives: interview

Agree, Disagree? “Forming New Habits Can Actually Be Fun.”

Interview: Chris Bailey.

I learned about Chris’s fascinating work through a mutual blogger friend, the wonderful Neil Pasricha. Chris has a blog, and he’s written a book about the project he did, to spend a year experimenting on himself to figure out to be more…productive. So of course I was intrigued! His book, The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy, recently hit the shelves.

It was very interesting for me to hear his views, because in so many ways we took different approaches to changing our habits — which is a great example of my core belief about habits, that to change our habits, we must all figure out what works for us. For instance, I changed my eating habits completely, overnight; for Chris, making small, incremental changes worked. And of course I abandoned meditation! Which is his most essential habit.

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

Chris: Like you, I see forming new habits as a way of leveling up to become more productive automatically. Of course, habits take energy and willpower to form. But when we form the right habits for the right reasons, all of that effort becomes worthwhile.

So much of my work focuses on which habits make us the most productive. In the short-run, productive habits can be a challenge to implement, but in the long-run they pay incredible dividends.

What’s the one habit you couldn’t live without?

By a wide margin, my daily meditation ritual. Right next to the desk in my office, I keep a meditation cushion, and meditate for 30 minutes every day—I’ve had this practice for years, since starting university.

Hardly any habit allows me to become more productive than my daily meditation ritual—despite how strange that may sound on the surface.

I think the connection between meditation and productivity is simple. Meditation has been shown to help you bring more focus to what’s in front of you in the moment, and resist distractions and temptations, and this lets you get the same amount of stuff done in less time. I’m personally not a fan of the word “efficiency” as far as productivity is concerned; I think it reduces it down to something that feels cold and corporate. But there’s really no better word here: when you bring more focus to your work, you accomplish more in less time. Meditation helps you spend your time more efficiently. You can easily make back the time you spend meditating in increased productivity, especially if your work requires a lot of brainpower.

I don’t think productivity is about doing more, faster—I see it as spending time on the right things, and working more intentionally, so you can accomplish more. This is what makes meditation, and mindfulness for that matter, so powerful. I wouldn’t trade the practice for anything!

What other habits are most important to you—that you’ve found indispensable for your creativity and productivity?

One of the most exciting parts about my productivity project was how I got the chance to play around with so many habits, to see which ones led me to accomplish more (regardless of how difficult they were to implement at the time!) On top of my meditation ritual, a few I wouldn’t give up for anything are:

  • Defining three daily intentions. My favorite daily productivity ritual is to, every morning, step back and consider what three main things I’ll want to have accomplished by the time the workday is done. It’s a simple ritual, but setting these intentions gives me a guiding light for when $%* hits the fan throughout the day, which it often does. It also lets me step back, if only for a few minutes, to think about what’s important. I see intention behind our actions as like the wood behind the arrow. I maintain a to-do list, too, but this simple rule helps me work that much more intentionally, and flip of autopilot mode for a few minutes to consider what’s most important.
  • Disconnecting from the internet. Whenever I want to hunker down on something important, I almost always disconnect from the internet. This was hard at first, but the habit has paid incredible productivity dividends with time. I also wrote most of my book while disconnected from the internet, which I think is one of the main reasons I was able to ship it six weeks ahead of schedule! One study found that we spend an average of 47% of our time on the internet procrastinating. I’ve found totally disconnecting to be another great way to accomplish more in less time.
  • Single-tasking. Doing just one thing at a time is a less stimulating way of working compared to multitasking. But the research on multitasking is conclusive: we totally suck at it, and multitasking invariably makes us less productive. I don’t see productivity as how busy we are—I see it as how much we accomplish. That’s what we’re left with at the end of the day. Just because you’re busy doesn’t mean you’re productive, and this is especially the case with multitasking. Even though I prefer to multitask, I work on just one thing at a time most of the day, because the practice lets me get so much more done. It’s not even close!

 

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

That forming new habits can actually be fun. Like so many people, as I’ve tried to shoehorn habits into my life in the past, I just became harder on myself in the process. But that idea runs counter to why we form new habits in the first place: most of us make new habits to turn ourselves into a better, more productive human beings, and being hard on ourselves in the process runs counter to that. The kinder I’ve become on myself while forming new habits, the more they’ve stuck. I’ve had some fun with this, and over time have started to do things like:

  • Reward myself, usually with a tasty meal of some sort when reaching a milestone with my goals.
  • Find social support when making big changes (like finding workout buddies).
  • Shrink habits so they’re not as intimidating. For example, if the thought of working out puts me off, I’ll shrink how long I’ll go for until I’m no longer intimidated by the habit. (E.g. Can I work out for 60 minutes today? Naw, the though of it puts me off. 45 minutes? Nope, still not going to do it. 30 mins? That actually isn’t so bad—I’ll only hit the gym for 30 minutes today.)
  • Making an actual plan to form a habit, so I’m not trying to shoehorn it into my life. I realize that this is pretty lame advice, because on some level everyone knows they should do this, but yet hardly anyone does. For me, the only habits that have stuck have been the ones I’ve thought through in detail. But this could also be because I’m a pretty big Questioner

 

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

My biggest weakness is definitely food—out of all of the things in the world, food is one of my favorites. From the time I wake up to the time I go to bed, I’m thinking about it. I’m even thinking about it as we’re chatting right now. But in my experimentation I’ve found that what we eat can have a profound affect on our energy levels and productivity—especially when we eat too much, or we eat too much processed food. (Most of us have experienced that feeling of having almost no energy in the afternoon after a massive, unhealthy lunch.)

The best way I’ve found to change my habits around food that were so ingrained—like eating too much, eating too much processed food, and eating when I was stressed out— has been to chip away at these habits over time.

In my opinion, the best diet in the world is the exact one you have already, but with one small, incremental improvement. Making incremental improvements is one of the best ways I’ve found to become healthier; because the changes are small, they won’t intimidate you once your initial motivation runs out. I’ve found this to especially be the case with habits so ingrained. Changes become habits so much faster when they’re not intimidating!

One of my favorite quotes is from Bill Gates, who said that we have the tendency to “overestimate what we can do in one year, and underestimate what we can do in ten years.” I think this holds true for our habits, and our productivity, too. Over time, incremental improvements add up.

Podcast 44: Drew Barrymore Gets Personal. And Happier.

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

Update: The paperback of Better Than Before just hit the shelves. You can see me talk about it in this short video. If you’ve ever wanted to change a habit, all is revealed.

Try This at Home: Have an end-of-the-year ritual. Let us know your ideas. We’re looking for good suggestions.

Interview: Drew Barrymore. Yowza! It was so much fun to meet her. Her new book is Wildflower. What a fascinating conversation.

As we discuss, Drew Barrymore’s sister-in-law is writer Jill Kargman, who created and stars in the TV show Odd Mom Out.

One of many highlights — Drew’s point about maternal instincts, when she wondered, “When these maternal instincts kick in, are they going to be overarching, like a rainbow that comes across me, or more like Skittles on the floor?” Rainbow or Skittles — a great metaphor for a complex point.

In our discussion of Drew’s personal symbol of “flower,” I couldn’t resist mentioning my spiritual master, St. Therese, who describes herself as a “little flower” in her memoir, The Story of a Soul. Note that in the image below, Drew is indeed decked out in flowers.

We discuss the Four Tendencies framework. Drew revealed that she’s an Obliger — which is what I thought, from reading Wildflower. If you want to take the quiz to find out if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel, take it here.

Drew’s Try This at Home: Drew writes in a journal to her daughters every day; she also suggests writing letters to your children on important days — and also ordinary days — keeping them in a box, and giving the box to your children when they turn eighteen. Such a great idea.

I was so thrilled to hear that my book The Happiness Project had struck such a chord with Drew. So gratifying.

By the way, the clip we play is from the movie The Wedding Singer. You can watch here.

Elizabeth’s Demerit:  Elizabeth hadn’t taken out her Christmas decorations yet, because a plastic sheet was covering the door of the closet — even though she could easily get through the plastic.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: I love temporary tattoos. So fun, so cheap, so easy, so delightful.

Remember, if you live in the Bay area:  Elizabeth and I are doing our first live recording of the podcast! January 21, Brava Theater, we hope to see you. Info and tickets here.  We’ll have two outstanding guests, Nir Eyal and Jake Knapp. Plus Elizabeth and I have planned special little treats, and you also get a copy of Better Than Before with your ticket.

 

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

Check out Little Passports, www.littlepassports.com/happier. Keep your kids busy with this award-winning subscription for kids — they get a monthly package in the mail that highlights a new global destination. To save 40% on your first month’s subscription, enter the promo code HAPPY.

Also check out Stamps.com. Want to avoid post-office pain, 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 no-risk trial, plus a $110 bonus offer — just enter the promo code HAPPIER.

Happier with Gretchen Rubin #44 - Listen at Happiercast.com/44

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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!

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Agree? “I Sometimes Feel Like I Have a Brain Issue Around Understanding How Long Things Will Take Me.”

Interview: Laurie Berkner.

I have Twelve Personal Commandments, and the first commandment, and the most important, is to “Be Gretchen.”

In some ways, it makes me sad to “Be Gretchen,” because it means admitting my limitations. And one of my limitations? I don’t have much appreciation for music.

I mean, sure, I like a song here or there, but I don’t have the passionate interest and enjoyment of music that so many people have. On the upside — more time to read!

That’s why it’s all the more surprising that I love the music of Laurie Berkner.  Her band is the Laurie Berkner Band, and she has lots of terrific albums, she regularly appeared on Nick Jr. and Sprout, she’s written children’s books, she gives huge concerts, and so on.

She’s best known as a writer and performer of music for children, but I love her music as an adult. She has many songs I love.

In The Happiness Project, in a discussion of why children boost happiness, I wrote:  “Left to my own devices, I wouldn’t…pore over Baskin-Robbins cake designs, memorize Is Your Mama a Llama?…I wouldn’t watch Shrek over and over or listen to Laurie Berkner’s music…Nevertheless, I honestly do enjoy these activities with my children. I don’t just enjoy their pleasure…I also experience my own sincere enjoyment of activities that I would otherwise never have considered.”

So here’s the beauty of Twitter. Laurie Berkner herself tweeted me a message! Saying how much she liked The Happiness Project and that she got a kick out of seeing her work mentioned.

I was so excited. I went running to my family and said, “You’ll never guess who just sent me a message on Twitter!” They were very impressed.

I actually got to have coffee with Laurie Berkner, and of course, ply her with questions about her habits. I was dying to hear what she said.

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

Laurie: Going to the farmers’ market on Sundays to drop off our compost and buy food for the week.  I like saying hi to all of the people who sell there, running into friends, knowing I put a little less garbage into a landfill and discovering what is in season. It’s my treat to myself whenever I’m not working on a Sunday morning.  Plus, we make it into a family affair when everyone is home.  We even bring our dog, Winston.

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

That I’m much happier forming habits for myself than for someone else. Also, that I am often not very good at forming habits in a long term way.  It takes a lot of work for me.  I start with good intentions, enjoy them, but I often lose track of the things that make me happy.  It’s as if I forget the effect they have on me, and I only remember those good feelings once I convince myself to do them again. It’s also easier to convince myself now that I’ve had many more years to experience how good the good habits can feel—I can at least recall them intellectually.

Sometimes I even use images to remind myself.  For example, going to sleep before 11 pm is very challenging for me. Recently I’ve been able to do it pretty consistently for one of the first times I can remember. I remember visiting my brother and sister-in-law a few years ago (they are both great at getting to bed early), and I saw her climb in bed, pull the covers up to her chin, and close her eyes with a look of pure contentment on her face just before she called out “goodnight!”When I find myself putting off getting in bed, I conjure up that image of my sister-in-law and it helps me remember how good I feel once I pull the covers up and am lying down myself.

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

Misjudging time. It sometimes feels to me as if I have a brain issue around understanding how long things will take me.  I never leave enough time for things that will take a while, and I leave too much time for short tasks. It also means I’m late, a lot.

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

It’s funny, while being creative is really important to me, I don’t have a lot of habits around it. I just tend to be creative when I feel like it. But habits are really important for me for my physical and emotional health. Exercising, getting enough sleep, eating well, spending time outside and in nature, meditating (that I one I have the hardest time maintaining), are all really important habits for me. Actually these habits all help everything I do. They help my health, my creativity, my productivity, my happiness, and my relationships.

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

I took the test on your site and it said I was a Questioner.  I wasn’t at all sure what it would say I was.  I feel like I can see myself dip into Rebel and Obliger as well.

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

It’s funny, traveling when I’m performing actually often helps me keep my healthy habits.  I make sure to go to bed early, I don’t snack before bed, I make time to practice, and I get things on my to-do list done that I’ve been putting off. I think being away from home and not feeling the pressure of all the things I do as a mom makes me feel like I have more time to do things that I would otherwise squeeze out of my schedule.

And the thing that interferes with my ability to keep healthy habits the most is when I have a lot going on at work. It spills into my personal life and time.

Do you embrace habits or resist them?  

Hmm, I’m not really sure.  I think I resist them more than I embrace them – but I’m drawn to the idea of having good habits.  It just seems like there is never enough time for all of them.

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

Yes.  I had a therapist for almost 20 years who taught me a lot about making time for myself.  It helped me enormously in feeling okay about making time to cook my own meals, see an acupuncturist and a chiropractor regularly, and take the time I need in order to finish projects and feel good about them.

How do you feel about answering questions about habits?

Strangely stressed out.  I feel aware of how hard it is for me to stay consistent in most areas of my life.  I feel like I keep habits in phases.  I will loyally do something for a period of time, then I’ll forget about it and start doing something else loyally for the next period of time and then find a third and maybe a fourth thing and then rediscover the first one and start all over again.

What are you currently working on?

I have a new double album out of traditional kids’ songs called Laurie Berkner’s Favorite Classic Kids’ Songs.  In early 2016, I’m launching an online training of my “me and my grown-up” type curriculum for music teachers called Laurie Berkner’s The Music In Me.  You can hear me talk about ways to incorporate music into daily family life every day on SiriusXM’s Kids Place Live with “The Music In Me Minute.” I’m also making new videos every month on the Official Laurie Berkner Band YouTube page, we have a very active Facebook page with fun crafts, and I’m always performing and would love for people to know about my shows and come see them! People can sign up for our fan list at www.laurieberkner.com to be notified about performances in their area and anything else I’m up to.

Can’t Get Enough of Podcasts? Here’s a List of Interviews.

My sister and I are having so much fun with our new podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin. We’ve had more than 4.2 million downloads, just since March! Zoikes. Thanks, listeners.

And I’m lucky, because in addition to doing that podcast, I’ve also had the chance to be the guest on many other people’s podcasts — which has been terrific. It’s been fascinating to get the chance to talk to so many interesting people.

It’s been an education, too, to see how different people, and different podcasts, approach my material and the podcast format. I’m always intrigued by the different directions that the conversations go in — and I often find myself taking notes as the interview is unfolding, because I don’t want to forget some important new point that the interviewer has brought to my attention.

If you’re thinking, “Gretchen, listening to your podcast isn’t nearly enough for me, I want to hear an interview with you on another podcast,” well, thank you! Here’s a menu to choose from.  As you’ll see, they cover a wide range of perspectives, so you can listen to a discussion focused on health, entrepreneurship, creativity, productivity, general happiness…

 

I’m sure I’ve forgotten to add some terrific podcasts to this list.

Speaking of podcasts, what are some of your favorite podcasts? There is so much terrific material to listen to, it can feel overwhelming. But exciting.

5 Things Oprah Taught Me about How to Give a Good Interview.

One of the biggest thrills in my professional life was being interviewed by Oprah herself, for her amazing Super Soul Sunday series. Yowza!

The interview airs on November 8, at 7 p.m EST/PT on OWN (find your station here.) Please watch. I’ll be live-tweeting while it airs.

Doing the interview was exciting on many levels, but among other things, I learned a lot about the interview process. Oprah is the master, and it’s always a rare privilege to learn from a true master.

1. Oprah was extremely prepared and referred to my work several times.

This is an obvious point for an interviewer, but still it was a good reminder of how important that is, to the interviewee.

2. She really listened — it felt like a real conversation, a real exchange.

I know from experience that when doing an interview, it’s all too easy to refer to a list of questions, and to move to the next question no matter how someone answers.

3. She talked herself.

There’s a tricky balance for interviewers — you don’t want to talk too much yourself, but perhaps counter-intuitively, if you talk too little, an interview can fall flat.

4. She made me feel like I surprised and intrigued her.

When I’m interviewing someone, I want to have a moment of genuine connection and learning. That often means surprising or puzzling another person. Oprah has heard it all, and she’s read my books, yet she made me feel like I was saying things that genuinely intrigued her.

5. She was in control.

The first time I went on the Today show, to talk about my book Power Money Fame Sex, to be interviewed by Matt Lauer, I was so nervous. An established writer said, “Don’t worry about this interview. He’s the best at that job, and he’s the best prepared — this will be one of your easiest interviews.” And that was true. (You can watch the 2000 interview here. I can’t bear to watch, so have never actually seen it!)

Same thing with Oprah. A friend who had been on Super Soul Sunday said, “Relax. Oprah is the master, she’s the best, so just think about being yourself and answering from the heart. Don’t feel like you have to be in charge of the conversation.” And that was true. I really enjoyed the conversation — so much, that I forgot to be nervous.

I was also a lot calmer, because my sister Elizabeth was with me — that made the whole adventure much more relaxed and fun. Here we are taking a selfie before leaving the hotel to go to the recording. Note Elizabeth’s excellent hair — no hair or make-up for me yet.

I hope you’ll watch! Sunday, November 8, OprahElizabethandGretchenSelfieHotelOWN channel, at 7:00 ET/PT. Be sure to join me on Twitter during the show.