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“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.

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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.

“As Long as the Good Habits Outnumber the Bad Ones, I’m Ahead of the Game.”

Interview: Frank Bruni.

Frank Bruni has written several books and is an op-ed columnist for the New York Times. His brand-new book is a bestseller that has received a huge amount of buzz: Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania. It’s a thought-provoking look at how the college admission system works–and a fresh, reassuring reminder of what really matters in the college experience (as I wrote in my blurb for Frank’s book!).

Also, when I was researching Better Than Before, I read Frank’s fascinating memoir, Born Round: A Story of Family, Food, and a Ferocious Appetite, because I was reading everything I could find that I thought might touch on the subject of habits.

I knew Frank would have some interesting insights — and he did.

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

Frank: There are three that come to mind, and they may stretch the definition of habit, in that they don’t all occur with daily or weekly or even monthly frequency, but I still think they qualify. And they’re of a piece, as they all relate to family.

My family—my father, my siblings, their spouses, their kids, my partner and I—are all very close, and there have been times in the past when, as a result of that closeness, we took actual time together for granted. But we’ve now ritualized certain things, which is another way of saying that we’ve turned them into habits, so that we’re guaranteed to see one another often, and this brings me enormous happiness. In fact a column I once wrote about it, called “The Gift of Siblings,” was by far the most widely read and shared column I’ve ever written for The Times.

One week every year, all 21 of us pile into a beach house somewhere in the Caribbean or Mexico or such, always in the summer, when it’s off season and less crazily expensive. And every time one of us adults has a milestone birthday—something ending in a zero—we adults do a special weekend away. My 50th, for example, was in late October of last year; we all spent three days in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, which is wine country.

And I no longer let more than a four or five days go by without talking with my father, either in person or on the phone. That wasn’t always so: my mother, who died years ago, was the talker, the one who wanted and even demanded to communicate; Dad was the silent rock, or maybe the plant that needed no watering. Sometimes my conversations with him are just five minutes, but five minutes is everything. Me hearing his voice, he hearing mine: It’s an enormous comfort. I know it won’t last forever—he’s about to turn 80—but thanks to this habit, maybe, just maybe, it will last forever, and more indelibly, in memory.

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

That habits are like muscles; they get stronger with repeated exercise. You force yourself to do something the first time. You force yourself the second and the third and the fourth. And then, with each subsequent effort, there’s less force required. What was intense effort becomes unthinking reflex or at least something close to that. You just have to trust in that trajectory at the outset. You have to tell yourself at the beginning, when so much will is required, that you’re not always going to need that reserve, that you’re moving toward a destination where everything becomes so much easier.

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

Before I write, I need to read. I’ve seen time and again that I write better in the morning if I’ve read at night; I write better in the mid-afternoon if I paused midday to read. I’m astonished at how long I fought this, because I was sometimes lazy or tired or the reading seemed like procrastination, like a luxury. I finally stopped fighting. This was a habit begging to be developed, and yet still I resisted. It’s funny: habits are like commitments, until they become reflexive. And in the same way you can be a commitment-phobe, you can be a habit-phobe.

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

Yes. I have never lost the enjoyment of eating late at night and especially of indulging in a guilty food pleasure late at night. And though I’ve improved on this front, I still give in to this temptation and tendency—this habit—far too often. But you know what? In my life I’ve quit smoking. I’ve cut way back on drinking. I’ve remained a steady exerciser. So I don’t beat myself up about it. I see habits as a balance sheet. As long as the good ones outnumber the bad, and as long as the list of good ones grows faster than the list of bad ones, I’m ahead of the game. I’m OK.

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

I think I straddle two of these. I’m two-thirds Obliger, one-third upholder. Though I hope—I pray—I have a dollop of rebel in there somewhere. [Note: this combination means that Frank is an Obliger.]

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

Yes. The first personal trainer I ever saw. I used to get out of healthy habits by telling myself that if I couldn’t commit to them 100 percent or didn’t execute them perfectly then I might as well stall and wait until such (possibly mythic) moment when I could. He really hammered into me that doing at least some of what you intend to and doing it imperfectly is better than taking a pass on the whole shebang—and that it’s also the beginning of the path toward doing it really well, toward making the habit stick. I think he was and is right about that. I thank him for sharing that perspective with me. For haranguing me, really.

Secret of Adulthood: Give Myself Limits to Give Myself Freedom

From Further Secrets of Adulthood.

This is one of my Secrets of Adulthood, absolutely, and I used to think it was true for everyone, but now I know that not everyone has the same view about limits and discipline that I do.

I’m an Upholder. And an Abstainer. And an Under-buyer.

For all these reasons, and others, too, it seems right to me that discipline brings freedom. But now I understand that other people may have different perspectives. For instance, Rebels! I should have made the Secret of Adulthood, “Give myself limits to give myself freedom.”

For instance, as I describe in Better Than Before, in the chapter on the “Strategy of the Lightning Bolt,” my eating habits are very limited. For me, observing those limits is tremendously freeing and energizing — but that doesn’t mean that everyone feels the same way.

I remind myself, as always to Be Gretchen — and also to remember one of the entries on my Habits Manifesto: We’re not very different from other people, but those differences are very important.

How about you? For you, do limits give you freedom?

While traveling for my  book tour for Better Than Before, I’ve had the chance to to talk to so many interesting people and groups.

If you’re interested, you can…

watch my talk at Google, in conversation with Logan Ury

watch my interview on the BBC about how habits affect happiness

–check out the special page that iTunes created for me, which lists both my podcast and my books. I can’t resist quoting what they say about my work–zoikes!

“We’re major fans of Gretchen Rubin, bestselling author of The Happiness Project. Rubin’s fascination with human behavior–as well as her sincere believe that we can make our lives more fulfilling and joyous–shines through in her podcasts, blog, and books. Her new book, Better Than Before, looks at how we form and break habits and is packed with her trademark warmth, wit, and down-to-earth intelligence.”

–listen to the Washington Post podcast “On Leadership” or read it here

watch a clip on Big Think

I love getting a chance to talk about habits with readers, but boy it’s nice to be home for a few days. This year, for once, I remembered well in advance to get out the Easter decorations.

“I Formed a ‘Resolution Club’ with Three Friends. We Each Had Different Resolutions.”

Interview: David Lat.

I got to know David Lat through our connection as being combination lawyer/writers. He founded and is the managing editor of Above the Law, a site which covers law firms and the legal profession (in an edgy way).

David recently published his dishy first novel, Supreme Ambitions. It’s the story of a woman who graduates from Yale Law School and wants to clerk on the Supreme Court. As a Yale Law School grad who clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, you can see why this intrigued me.

I was curious to hear how David manages his novel-writing habits, work habits, and health habits.

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

David Lat: Procrastination. I postpone difficult, unpleasant, or challenging tasks until they can’t be postponed any longer. Running a widely read, commercial blog like Above the Law has been good for me because I can’t indulge my procrastination habit; I constantly need to be writing and editing. But procrastination was a major problem when I was trying to write my novel, Supreme Ambitions, which was a much more long-term project.

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

I managed to pick up a healthy habit (walk at least 15 miles a week) and break an unhealthy one (excessive consumption of desserts and sweets) by forming a “resolution club” with three friends. We each had different resolutions we brought to the group. Every Monday, we’d check in with each other: did we keep our resolutions over the prior week? Those who failed to honor their resolutions had to pay $20 to the other group members — and also had the shame of acknowledging failure. [If you’d like a “starter kit” for launching a group of people who work on their habits together, click here.]

Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?  [Readers, to learn more about this framework, or to find your own Tendency, look here.]

I’m definitely an “Obliger.” When I was in school, I would do assignments to meet the expectations of my professors. When I worked as a law clerk and then a lawyer, I would complete projects to meet the expectations of my bosses. Now that I basically work for myself, running Above the Law and doing outside writing, I struggle more with getting things done. When I was working on Supreme Ambitions, I would have a hard time sitting down and producing pages. I didn’t start making real progress until, acknowledging my “Obliger” personality, I told my editor Jon that I would send him some pages every Monday. He didn’t have to read them immediately, but I committed to sending them to him every Monday, which at least kept me writing so I could meet Jon’s expectations.

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

Travel interferes with my healthy habit of going to group fitness classes at my gym. I’ve been traveling a lot over the past few months on book tour. I try to exercise in other ways while on the road, but I do miss my classes. What’s great about classes is that they occur at fixed times, and I make an “appointment” with my friend and workout buddy Jen to go to certain classes, ensuring that I actually go. But when I’m traveling, that’s not possible.

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

Generally I resist habits. I enjoy spontaneity, novelty, and excitement; I like every day to be different. So I have relatively few habits, since I associate habits with routine, and routine with a lack of freedom. But maybe I’m overlooking the way that good or healthy habits “free us” to be our better selves.