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Podcast 19: Enjoy the Fun of Failure, an Interview with TV Anchor Dan Harris, and Plane-Ticket Pain.

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

First, a quick digression: do you try to say “Rabbit, rabbit,” on the first day of the month? I do, and today I remembered. Yay.

Thanks again to everyone who contacted us with a comment for our next episode, the Very Special Episode where we’ll feature our listeners. It has been so fun to pull this episode together. Stay tuned for next week.

This week…

Update: I report on my encounter with the Dalai Lama.

Try This at Home: Enjoy the fun of failure. That’s right, the fun. Send us your stories!

Interview: Dan Harris. Dan is an ABC News correspondent, an anchor for Nightline, and co-anchor for the weekend edition of Good Morning America — and the author of 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story. (I love that title.) In this interview, we discuss how did he tame the voice in his head.

To see the on-air panic attack that Dan describes, view it here. To see the scene from the movie Broadcast News that Elizabeth mentions, view it here (the sweating part starts at 4:10).

Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth procrastinates about buying plane tickets for the family trip to Kansas City. (Maybe it’s a family thing; I also hate to buy plane tickets.)

Gretchen’s Gold Star: I love the strange, brilliant book, A  Pattern Language: Towns, Building, Construction. Child caves! Half-hidden garden! Cascade of roofs! And, my favorite, Secret place.

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors. Visit Framebridge.com — a terrific way to get your art and photos framed, in a super easy and affordable way. Use the code HAPPIER at checkout to get 20% off your first Framebridge order.

Also check out Little Passports, www.littlepassports.com/happier. Keep your kids busy this summer 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.

We’d love to hear from you: have you ever enjoyed the fun of failure, — and if so, how?

Comment below. Email: podcast@gretchenrubin.com. Twitter: @gretchenrubin and @elizabethcraft. Call: 744-277-9336. Here’s the Facebook Page.

To listen to this episode, just zip to the bottom of this post and hit the red “play” button.

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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, Disagree? “It’s Better To Be Alone Than Lonely with Someone.”

Interview: Tamsen Fadal.

I was introduced to Tamsen Fadal through a mutual friend. Tamsen is an Emmy-award winning journalist who anchors the nightly news for a New York City TV station. She’s also just written a book, The New Single: Finding, Fixing, and Falling Back in Love with Yourself After a Break-Up or Divorce.

Handling a big break-up is a major happiness challenge, of course. It’s also a major habit challenge, because our habits are shaken up — for better and for worse — whenever we go through a major life transition. The Strategy of the Clean Slate is the strategy to help us make good use of such transitions.

Gretchen: Given your experiences, what’s the most significant thing you’ve concluded on the subject of habits?

Tamsen: Habits are essential. In fact, habits are equivalent to the dedication it takes to move forward after a major life change and achieve goals.

This is true because after a break-up or divorce, moving forward is a scary prospect. Getting out of bed in the morning can be difficult enough. That’s why forming habits and staying dedicated to them – things like being committed to exercise and healthy diet, decluttering your life, and keeping a regiment of positive self-talk are all essential to survival and success.

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

My weekends are essentially habitual, in the greatest possible way. And that’s because my weekdays can be so frenetic; I’m always on the go, Monday through Friday. So, my Saturdays look like this—religiously, without fail, as long as I am not traveling. If I am, I simply change the day. I get up and head right to Starbucks and I treat myself to my favorite drink, an Iced Americano. Then, I pack up my yoga mat and go to my favorite yoga class. This is the one sacred time in my week that my phone is off. Totally off. For someone like me, that is not an easy feat, but it is one that allows my mind to wander and my heart to remember what I am truly passionate about.

After ninety minutes in yoga—I head to my favorite juice bar and continue my day with thirty-two ounces of Kale Lemonade. You might think this is an acquired taste, but I love it. Next stop, the A train to the West Village. While I am downtown, I go in and out of shops, I check out a new restaurant or I have lunch at a sidewalk café. I spend time with me. At the end of the afternoon, I put myself back on the radar. I am refreshed. Renewed. And rewarded by the fact this builds my self-confidence.

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

This has simply been THE most important thought in my life. When I was twenty-three years old, packing up my car and heading off to my first job in television news in Oak Hill, West Virginia, my father gave me some love advice. He told me, “It’s better to be alone than lonely with someone.” Quite frankly, the sentence made no sense to me. It wasn’t until I was coming out of my divorce did I realize exactly what my father was talking about. At the end of my marriage, even when my former husband and I were together, I had been absolutely lonely standing next to someone else.

So many people, my younger-self included, stay in unhealthy relationships because we are afraid to be “alone.” The idea of walking into a restaurant and having to approach the hostess with “Just one, please” is a daunting, terrifying, and depressing thought for many of us.

The difference between then and now is having learned to cherish my own company. I truly value my alone time. I make time for myself. I do yoga, I go for walks, I have dinners alone, I feel totally comfortable traveling by myself, and I know I’m more than happy to take an entire Saturday or Sunday for self-reflection.

I am a firm believer that you cannot and will not find the right person if you are not the right person already. You have to know who you are and what you want and what you need before you can ever find the person who will be right for you.

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

I am, by my own admission, a recovering people pleaser. I have had a habit of trying to make sure everything is perfect and everyone is happy, often at the expense of my own happiness. But I am also cognizant of the fact that pleasing other people before yourself does not lead to sustainable, long-term happiness.

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

 As I previously mentioned, I do yoga almost every day.   It makes me happy, healthy, and reduces stress. Yoga has allowed me to take that time I needed for myself. To unplug, without apology and to focus on the poses and on my mantra each class. Meditation is now something I try to do daily – so that it becomes a habit. A part of my life and something I do without thinking about it.

Also, I like making lists. I always have, and even more so now because many people over the years told me they were a waste of time. I know that they are not. They are exactly what I need to be doing in my time.

I make countless to-do lists that help me stay organized and help me form new habits based on my needs. I use lists to guide and encourage me through my days, while moving forward rather than look back over my shoulder. And even today, list making helps me remain focused on meeting my own physical and emotional requirements.

And, to that end, another important habit to me is positive self-talk. I am a big believer that everything starts from within. Despite the fact that I built my career in front of the camera, I truly believe that if you don’t have internal peace and happiness and come from a good place, your inner discontent will always come to the surface.

My self-talk in the months following my divorce was extremely negative. Over time, though, I realized that my self-talk was self-destructive. It was filled with excuses and denial, both ways to protect myself from the truth about my new life. So, I decided to take control of my negative self-talk by composing a list of the positive things I should be saying. Including points like “Protect myself” and “Don’t settle. Ever” and “Go after it, 100%.”

I really do loving making lists and positive, sexy self-talk. Because, I believe, that before you love yourself, you must like yourself.

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

Simply put, I’m not the best cook. I like cooking, but I’m not opening a restaurant anytime soon. With that being said, I also have come to understand that there are plenty of foods that help reduce stress and amp up my energy level. I just feel better when I eat the right foods, and on an appropriate schedule. So, as much as being in the kitchen doesn’t always come naturally to me, I’m learning to love the way it makes me feel to prepare myself a healthy meal or snack.

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

I’m a total obliger. That’s because I’m a people-pleaser. It’s an internal struggle I constantly work through every day. The good news is, I’m aware of it.

Just a couple of days ago, I found myself helping a friend make decisions on how to move his own career and creative passions forward. Really specific details on who to make contact with, how to make connections, basically how to jump-start a company. A few days later, I realized: “why wasn’t I giving myself that advice? I know how to do all of those things and the right people, so why was I more worried about someone else’s projects?” It’s a struggle for me to not be an obliger, but I’m working on it.

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

I have a secret fear of success. Obviously I want to succeed, but sometimes I find myself (subconsciously) failing to live up to my own potential. It’s easier for a lot of us to get comfortable rather than move forward. So, sometimes I’ll distract myself with other projects (or other people’s projects) rather than focus on the biggest goal in front of me. I’ll find “something else” to do. All of these nasty little negative habits can poison my positive habits in the face of big, potentially life-changing success.

But I’ve also learned to be self-aware. Which is why I’m such a big proponent of making lists, setting goals, and positive and smart self-talk. Positivity overcomes negativity and leads to maintaining healthy 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.?

The night before Thanksgiving of 2007, I read Rory Freedman’s diet book, Skinny Bitch.   It changed my life, and really opened my eyes to healthy eating and the way our animals are treated. I immediately committed to vegetarianism, THE NIGHT BEFORE THANKSGIVING!

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

I embrace habits as an essential element to success and happiness.

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

Sure, a few people have had a big impact on my personal habits. I get up early every day, and I stay up late every night. That’s thanks to Norman Vincent Peale, the author of The Power of Positive Thinking. He said, “The more you lose yourself in something bigger than yourself, the more energy you will have.”

I also like to work with my hands. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t pay for assembly when I buy a cabinet. I do it myself. Thomas Moore had an impact on me in that regard. He taught me that using your hands and doing things like washing dishes can be therapeutic.

And one more, very recently. I’m learning from watching what seem to be the habits of successful people that I admire. In this case, Arianna Huffington. She always answers her emails. My inbox gets jam-packed and sometimes it’s easier to put the replies off until later. But I noticed how quickly Arianna responds to her emails and it really made me turn up my game.

“Getting a Good Night’s Sleep Is a Top Priority, and a Bath Is a Delightful Habit.”

Interview: Michelle Segar.

I was excited to get my copy of motivation scientist Michelle Segar’s new book, No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness. She and I are interested in so many of the same things — in particular, the big question of how we can stick to healthier behaviors.

Her work is especially interesting to me, because she focuses on “motivation,” which is a term that I generally don’t use.  I was curious to hear what she had to say.

Gretchen: You have a new book being published this month called No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness. In your view, how do habits and motivation intersect?

Michelle: That’s such a good question, and it gets to the heart of my book, my research – my life, really. I’m all about creating sustainable behavior change: How can we get motivated to permit ourselves to make our own self—care a priority, and how can we stay motivated to keep it that way? Because I think everyone has had the experience of saying, “Oh, I have to get off the couch and get some exercise or …..“Yeah, I did really well for a while, I was going to the gym every day, but my life just came crashing in on me . . . “I’m so lazy. . .” But I refuse to believe that we are “lazy” or “bad” or “hopeless” when we have had troubling adopting new habits.

In my research I’ve been especially interested in why we fail to adopt behaviors and habits, even those that we desperately want to change and end up spending big bucks for special clothes, programs, gym memberships. I’ve found that our cultural context —— “Exercise will make you thin.” “Do it ‘till it burns” and “No pain, no gain” —— plays a huge part. There’s even a new message now, “Exercise is medicine.” Through socialization, these become our beliefs about exercise, especially how exercising will benefit us. But many of these beliefs actually poison our motivation and prevent us from sticking with it over time. So as much as we try to break our “bad exercise habits,” we fail over and over again and just end up feeling bad.

My research and other science suggests that our primary reason for initiating a new healthy habit, like exercise or dietary change, strongly influences our motivation and ultimately our ability to stick with it over time. If our motivation feels like a “should” – we should try to lose weight because our doctor said so, or we should go for a run because we need more exercise —— we start off feeling under pressure and that’s a recipe for short-term motivation.

So if the wrong kind of motivation just doesn’t last, what does science show is the best motivator for a lifetime of fitness?

In general, on a day-to-day basis, we are not motivated long-term by logic, or at least not for very long. So you can tell yourself that you need to exercise to lose weight, for your appearance, for your health, because your mom said so, whatever – but that’s not going to keep you going to the gym forever, sweating off the pounds, especially if you don’t like high—intensity exercise or you hate to sweat. Logic often motivate us to start, but for many of us, these pragmatic or pressurizing purposes for exercise are not compelling enough to maintain.

Here’s the basic example: You want to lose weight, so you go on a strict diet. But eventually, you find that you really want that bag of chips. So you think you’ll just try one, but it’s so good you eat the whole bag. Then, of course, you feel like a failure. But wait, here’s what’s really happening, and how you can use it to your advantage.

We tend to make decisions on the basis of how things make us feel in the moment, and we especially respond to immediate positive reinforcement: If it’s supposedly “good” for us but we don’t see the result for months or years, we lose steam. If it makes us feel amazing right now, if we enjoy it in the moment, our brains flood with happiness chemicals and we’re going to keep coming back for that great experience again and again.

Apply this to doing exercise that feels good versus working up a sweat because you think you should, and Voila! You’ve changed your behavior for the long term. I detail the full method I use with my clients to achieve this shift in No Sweat.

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

Well, spending a summer with my cousin many years ago actually helped me develop the habit of flossing every night! But as an adult I would say my husband has influenced me the most. When I get deeply involved in a large project or many smaller projects, I make piles of materials and papers all over the floor. I am a very visual person and I want to see all the resources that I’m using for any given project. That makes for a very messy office, which can leak into the rest of our house. My husband has done a great job of helping me become more aware of when I do this so I can course correct and not reinforce this habit with more piles.

I am a big believer in setting up systems to support and maintain our desired behaviors, and in taking a step back to understand the undesired behavior so you can overturn it. So, in talking to my friend about this challenge, we came up with a new system for me. I now have magazine racks across the walls of my office, which supports the visual—based approach that works for me but also keeps my papers neatly organized, vertically, instead of all over my floor.

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

That’s an interesting question! In my personal life I’d say that I rely on being able to negotiate the challenges that arise more than I do habits. I call it “dancing with my challenges.”

Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits?

You might be surprised by this, given the focus of my work, but scheduling regular bouts of physical activity is not one of my habits. My schedule varies wildly day by day — sometimes I’m in the office, sometimes I’m teaching, sometimes I’m attending a seminar out of town, sometimes I’m working at home. So I can’t just decide that Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I’m going to take a 45-minute walk, even though that’s what really replenishes me.

Instead, I do what I tell my coaching clients to do, and what I suggest in my book: I aim to move for a reasonable amount of time, not necessarily all at the same time, on most days of the week. At the beginning of the work week, or even at the beginning of the day, I preview when I can fit my walk in, but I never count on it — I know that life is likely to throw a curve ball and my plans will get challenged. So I always leave room to improvise by doing less, or doing it a different time or place, or even giving myself permission to miss that planned walk if there really is no time for it. And there’s no guilt because I’m in it for the long haul, so missing one or a few walks every now and then simply doesn’t matter.

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

As soon as you asked this question one of my favorite things popped into my mind: My nightly bath! It’s a ritual that helps me relax and quiet my mind so I can transition into sleep mode. In my book, I talk about how important sleep is for me, what I refer to as my “foundational self—care behavior,” the one thing that helps fuel me for all the other things I do in my daily life. (My husband’s foundational behavior is his early morning high intensity workout, but that’s another story!) For me, doing whatever it takes to get a good night sleep is a top priority, and a bath is a pretty delightful habit to have. I take a bath every night, no matter what time I start to wind down, even if I get back from a party at 1 a.m. (not something I do often these days, with a seven year old at home.) My baths feel like a gift I give myself every night.

“I Can Be More Effective If I Don’t Overcommit; There Are Few Truly Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunities.”

Interview: Kamy Wicoff.

Years ago, I got to know Kamy when we met through common acquaintances, and she started inviting me to her monthly Salon for Women Writers. It was terrific — not only did I get to know Kamy, but I met several other people who are still close friends, and I learned a lot about writing.

Partly based on the experience of hosting the Salon, Kamy launched She Writes, a terrific resource for women at every stage of writing.

She Writes started its own press, and published a novel by — Kamy! It just hit the shelves. Wishful Thinking is a terrific novel about a woman, divorced with two kids, who always wishes she could be more than one place at the same time; a physicist installs a miraculous time-travel app called Wishful Thinking that allows her to do just that. It’s a funny, tender, perceptive novel — I whipped through it.

I know Kamy has done a lot of thinking about habits, happiness, and creativity, so I was eager to hear what she had to say.

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

Kamy: Every night at dinner I have a ritual with my boys: we each share three things about our day. (I used the “three things” motif to write about Wishful Thinking once, too.) Oftentimes we don’t get to three things, because the boys are so voluble and elaborate in telling their stories that dinner is over before we’ve gotten through them all. But all three of us look forward to “three things,” and when we sit down and I say, “Who wants to start?”, the floodgates open. It’s helped us form the habit of truly talking to one another over dinner, which I love.

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

The things I didn’t know when I was 18 are so numerous I cannot begin to count them. But one of the main things I lacked was, unsurprisingly, the long view. It was hard to be patient, to focus on one thing at a time, something I value so highly now. I know I can be more effective if I don’t overcommit, and that there are very few truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. I don’t have to do everything in order to avoid missing something—and in fact if I try to do everything, I won’t do anything well.

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

I have a hard time starting my writing day until I have gone through my email and answered everything I can. It drives me crazy to have lots of unanswered emails hanging over me, but at the same time it just isn’t possible to clear that inbox out every day before doing other things that need to get done! Not only that, but it’s an exercise that often causes me to start the day feeling like a failure, because I’m always behind. But I have not yet succeeded in scheduling one block of time a day for email, which is what I should do.

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

I’ll start with my weirdest one: I blow my hair out almost every day. It takes twenty minutes, which I can’t believe I am confessing here. I know it sounds like a completely vain waste of time, and yes I am embarrassed, but the truth is I’ve done it so many times now I could do it in my sleep, so it’s very meditative. During that time my mind is free to wander, to think about the day, to create; it’s like built-in daydreaming time. I have had some of my best ideas while blow-drying my hair.

I also love to read aloud to my children. My mom read to us almost every night, well into middle school, and I still remember all the accents she did when she read The Secret Garden. (I’m trying to do my best British accent while reading Paddington right now and am glad no one is recording me.) I think a large part of my aptitude as a writer came from listening to my mother read aloud. It’s how you develop an ear, just as you do for music, and it creates an unforgettable experience of the book itself. My boys were just rapt when we recently read The Trumpet of the Swan.

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

I would say it’s challenging to form the habit of writing every day. I was in the habit when I wrote my first book, but that book came out eight years ago (my god), and in between, as I started a community for women writers, a publishing company, and focused on my very young boys—my writing fell largely by the wayside. Then the idea for Wishful Thinking came to me (kind of like the proverbial lightning bolt), and the inspiration was enough to fuel me for several weeks. I was on fire; I wrote and wrote. And then it hit me: this is a novel (I’d never written a novel before), and it is going to take a long time to write it. That realization sobered me up, especially since the initial frenzied energy I’d had was gone by then. That was when I knew I needed to consciously work to re-instill my old writing habit. I had been writing at home, but I was struggling, so I decided to join a writing collective walking distance from my apartment in Brooklyn. It’s a great model—members grab any open desk when they arrive, and there’s a small kitchen in the back where you can eat and/or talk (quietly). It was just what I needed. I had somewhere to go every day, for a certain number of hours, and by treating those hours like a job, I got my good habits back, and was able to finish the second half of the book at my desk at home.

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

I’m a Questioner, but I was raised by an Upholder, and sometimes I feel uncomfortable going with my natural tendency to question things, because I can just feel my mother’s disapproval! (She used to get mad at me if I opened a magazine I wasn’t going to buy while waiting in line at the grocery store. According to her it was unethical. I’m not so sure.) Occasionally I slip into Obliger mode, prioritizing what other people need me to do over my own needs, but for the most part I’m very internally motivated.

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

One thing I still struggle with is the feast and famine rhythms of being a divorced mom, something I wrote about recently for the Huffington Post. It feels kind of schizophrenic: one minute you are in full frenzied parent mode; the next you are a single woman, essentially, with time on your hands. Married people are always saying to me that it must be great to have that time, but I always reply that 1) sure, it would be nice to have a day off when I felt like it, but it is not nice to be forced to separate from my children when I don’t want to; and 2) it makes it difficult to form daily routines when your routine changes so drastically so often.

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.?

Honestly, reading your book and realizing my younger son was a Rebel had an immediate impact on me. I realized that every time I asked him to practice violin, I was setting off a whole chain of resistance that made it ten times harder for him to do it. Now we have a system where he has agreed to do it every afternoon, and I am not allowed to breathe a word about it. It was very hard to break the habit of nagging, but I forced myself to trust him and let go, and it’s been transformative. So thank you!

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

I think I’m an embracer, not a resistor. (Are those on the Rubin Index?) I have been making the same smoothie for breakfast for years, and as I assemble the ingredients—frozen blueberries, frozen banana, almond milk, nonfat vanilla yogurt and kale—I am overcome with a feeling of well-being and calm. I love the routine. That being said, I’m not a creature of habit; I can make changes pretty easily if I need to. I even put peach yogurt in my smoothie yesterday. (But it tasted weird.)

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

My children have had a huge impact on my habits. I live more consciously when I’m living by example, and they make me think about the way I live in ways big and small—from carefully reading the labels of the food we by at the grocery store to discussing how to respond to a panhandler on the subway. I am grateful for their witnessing, for their questioning, and also for the forgiveness they always show me when I don’t get it quite right. They are very kind to me that way.

Tom Rath and Gretchen Rubin Talk about Habits That Create Well-Being.

From Gretchen Rubin I got to know Tom Rath because we’re both members of the Silicon Guild, though of course, I’d known Tom’s work for years. He has written five bestsellers, including his blockbuster StrengthsFinder 2.0. I read his fascinating book, Eat Move Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Change, with particular interest when I was working on my habit-change book, Better Than Before, because it has a lot of relevance for habits.

Tom has a terrific new book that just hit the shelves: Are You Fully Charged? The Three Keys to Energizing Your Work and Life. (Spoiler alert: the three keys are meaning, interactions, and energy.)

GretchenRubinHeadshotBlueTiedThis really caught my attention, because I’ve been thinking a lot about energy lately. My father has always emphasized the idea of “Energy!” and I remember about that often.

I couldn’t wait to ask Tom about his views and experiences with habits. It turned out that he had some questions for me, so here, we interview each other.

Habits that Create Well-being

A conversation with Tom Rath and Gretchen Rubin —  the first in a series of brief conversations between best-selling authors and thought leaders, brought to you by Silicon Guild.

Tom Rath: As I read Better Than Before, what struck me were all the strategies about building better default choices into your daily routine, so we are less dependent on our limited supply of willpower. What are the best willpower-conserving strategies you have uncovered?

Gretchen Rubin: You’re absolutely correct: one of the easiest ways to conserve willpower is to make a behavior into a habit. When something is a habit, we don’t have to use -control or make decisions; we’re on automatic pilot. I don’t use willpower to get up at 6:00 or to skip dessert or to post to my blog or to wear my seat-belt. Those are habits, so they happen without any conscious effort on my part.

Some people say to me, “I want to learn to go through my day making healthy choices.” And I answer, “No, you don’t!” Every choice is an opportunity to make the wrong choice. Every choice is a struggle that requires willpower. Choose once, then stop choosing. Make important behaviors into habits, and save your willpower for complex, urgent, or novel situations.

Then the question becomes: Okay, how do we make or break a habit?

The (annoying, I know!) answer is: It depends. Working on Better Than Before taught me one thing: there’s no magic, one-size-fits-all solution for habit change; we all have to think about what works for us.

I’ve identified 21 Strategies that we can use to make and break our habits. Some Strategies work well for some people, but don’t work at all for others (e.g., Strategies of Scheduling, Accountability, and Abstaining). Some Strategies are available to us only at certain times (e.g., Strategy of the Clean Slate and the Lightning Bolt).

We’re all different, so different habits will suit us. For instance, we often hear, “Do that important habit first thing in the morning.” That’s a great idea—if you’re a morning person. But a night person, who feels most creative and energetic later in the day, might be better off scheduling that habit for a different time. It will take less willpower to form and maintain the habit, if it suits that particular person’s nature.

Start small. Give yourself a cheat day. Do it for 30 days. These are all strategies that work for some people, some of the time. But they don’t work for everyone, or all the time, and there are many more strategies that also work. What works depends on us.

Tom Rath: I have been on a bit of a crusade over the last few years to get people moving around more throughout the day, instead of sitting in chairs for 5-10 hours. In your latest book, you talk about how much measurement helps, given how easy it is to quantify how many steps we take each day. But what would you recommend for people who are resistant to tracking their daily activity?

Gretchen Rubin: It’s true; some people resist tracking. Here are some other movement-promoting habits I follow:

I run down the stairs, instead of walking – it gives a big energy boost, just to get my feet off the ground.

I make a point of getting up every 45 minutes or so, to walk around.

I stand up and pace whenever I’m on the phone. This is highly effective.

I wish I could have a treadmill desk, but as a New-York-City-dweller, my office is too small. So I did the next best thing: I gave my sister Elizabeth Craft a treadmill desk! She’s a TV writer in L.A., and she walks between 5-7 miles each day, while working. (I have a new podcast with my sister, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, and you can listen to her describe her treadmill desk here; see a photo here.)

Getting a dog is a great way to get more exercise. A big commitment, however — obviously.

As my “Four Tendencies” framework explains, “Obligers” have trouble keeping an inner expectation (such as exercising) without external accountability, so for them, the key is to create external accountability. That might mean working with a trainer, exercising with a friend, taking a class, or joining an accountability group. (If you want to know your “Tendency,” whether you’re an “Upholder,” “Questioner,” “Obliger,” or “Rebel,” take this quiz.)

Obviously, all these solutions won’t work for everyone. The key is to think about what could work for you.

Tom Rath: Of all the tweaks you have made to your own daily routine over the years, which one has created the most net well-being for you?

Gretchen Rubin: Tough question. I have lots of habits that I love. But if I had to pick a single one, I think it’s the change I made to my eating habits.

More than three years ago, while on vacation, I read Gary Taubes’s book Why We Get Fat. I was utterly convinced by Taubes’s arguments about nutrition, and overnight, I changed almost everything about the way I eat. (This is an example of the habit-change “Strategy of the Lightning Bolt.”)

Now I’ve become one of those low-carb people. I don’t eat sugar, flour, rice, grains, starchy vegetables. I almost never eat fruit. And I love it.

In the past, I struggled with my tremendous sweet tooth, and my love of snacking, I felt hungry all the time, and I fussed a lot about what I ate. Now that I eat low carb, all that noise is gone. I’m much less hungry, I find food very satisfying but not distracting, and I’ve seen great health benefits.

Not everyone would want to give up carbs the way I have. But I’ve found that for many people, it’s easier to resist a strong temptation (whether that’s chocolate, wine, or espn.com) by giving it up altogether rather than trying to indulge in moderation. Abstaining sounds harder, but for some people – who are “Abstainers,” like me – it’s easier. That’s the “Strategy of Abstaining.” By contrast, “Moderators” do better when they indulge a little bit, or sometimes.

There’s no right way or wrong way, just what works for a particular person. I’ve discovered that I’m such a hard-core Abstainer that abstaining from most carbs works for me.

Another very recent habit change: I started a podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, with my sister Elizabeth Craft. We talk about how to live happier, healthier, more productive lives. We draw from cutting-edge science, ancient wisdom, pop culture—and our own experiences! We’re sisters, so we don’t let each other get away with much.

Having a weekly podcast meant a big change in my habits. I need to come up with ideas, brainstorm with my sister, record the episodes, post information on my site, and spread the word about the podcast. I’ve been using many of my 21 Strategies of habit change, to help me keep up with this new activity.


Gretchen Rubin: As you were writing the new book — Are You Fully Charged? — and considering the question of what aspects of life are most important to allow us to feel “fully charged,” what surprised you most?

Tom Rath: The realization that there are much more important (and practical) questions about well-being than what I had focused on in the past. Most of the research I have conducted and written about on well-being was based on asking people broad questions, usually about their satisfaction over a lifetime. But in the last few years, new research has upended my thinking on this topic. I am now convinced that daily well-being (what researchers call “daily experience”) is far more important than how we evaluate our lives when reflecting on years and decades.

The findings from this work suggest you do not need to live in a wealthy country or be rich to experience high daily well-being. In fact, four of the top five countries in the world on these measures of daily experience are in the bottom half of the list of the world’s richest countries. What was even more interesting to me is that, when you look at the central elements of daily well-being, these are far more practical changes people can make on a daily basis.

Gretchen Rubin: I imagine that many readers will find themselves nodding vigorously in agreement with your persuasive arguments in Are You Fully Charged?– but nevertheless will find it hard to change their behavior. They know you’re right, but somehow can’t follow through. What are your suggestions for people like that?

Tom Rath: This is a great question and gets at the heart of what I’m always trying to do, which is narrow down from all of the amazing research at our disposal today to basic shortcuts we can keep in mind. The title of this most recent book, Are You Fully Charged?– was an attempt to give people a very simple way to think about whether their daily actions are making a positive contribution or not. If someone reads a book of mine, remembers one thing, or changes a single behavior, that makes it worth the effort for me.

My first suggestion is to simply think about your actions throughout the day and ask whether they are adding a positive charge for yourself or others. The three specific elements I found that lead to engagement at work and daily well-being: meaning, interactions, and energy. It starts with doing a little meaningful work that makes a difference for another person in the moment). Then having far more positive than negative interactions (at least 80% positive) throughout the day. The third element is having the physical energy you need to be your best tomorrow, which starts with eating right, moving more, and sleeping better. When we ask people questions about this, for example, just 11% of people say they had a lot of physical energy yesterday. We can do much better.

Gretchen Rubin: As you’ve talked to people about the ideas in Are You Fully Charged?, what seem to be the ideas that are most exciting and helpful to readers? Is it what you expected – or not?

Tom Rath: The part that most readers are unaware of is all of the great research on how we can use money to create well-being. I mentioned before that you don’t need to be rich in order to have consistently great days. But you do need enough money to cover basic needs like food, shelter, and safety in order to avoid worrying and having stress on a daily basis. However, once you can meet your basic needs and have some discretionary financial resources, the way you spend money matters a lot.

On average, those of us who live in the United States do a poor job of estimating how our spending can improve well-being. We spend far too much on material things like clothing, cars, and housing. In contrast, we don’t take enough vacation time or spend on experiences with other people. A lot of the research that I talk about in this new book explains why we get so much more out of experiences, from going out to dinner to athletic events to more elaborate vacations, compared with spending on material goods where the effect wears off almost immediately.

The other piece that resonates with readers are the sections about how practical it can be to create meaning. Many people have a concept of meaning, mission, or purpose as some grand thing that descends from the heavens. As a result of this thinking, meaning often seems too overwhelming to pursue today.

But if you go back to some of the earliest thinking on this topic or look at the latest research, meaningful work is something that occurs on a moment-by-moment basis. The big challenge for a lot of us is to be more conscious of that fact, so we can see how small actions eventually improve the lives of another human being. If you do something today that improves another person’s well-being, this creates an upward spiral and continues to grow when you are gone.