Tag Archives: temptation

Podcast 28: Don’t Interview for Pain, Face the Challenge of Shared Work, and Whether to Keep Ice Cream in the Freezer.

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

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Happier with Gretchen Rubin: Episode 28

Update: Elizabeth is an Obliger, and we’re holding her accountable for writing her novel — she explains why, in fact, she has not yet started.

Try This at Home:  Don’t interview for pain.

I’m quoting from Michael Thompson and Catherine O’Neill Grace’s terrific Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children. I love this book.

Here’s the passage I read:

I believe that we live the story we tell ourselves–and others–about the life we’re leading…If you constantly interview your child for pain, your child may begin to hear a story of social suffering emerge from her own mouth. Soon she will begin to believe it and will see herself as a victim….


Please understand that I am not advising you to disbelieve our children, nor am I saying that you should not be empathic…But…don’t interview for pain, don’t nurture resentments, and don’t hold on to ancient history. Kids don’t.

Happiness Stumbling Block: Navigating the challenges of shared work.  This is a very common stumbling block!

Listener Questioner: “My husband loves to have ice cream in the freezer, but I find myself in the kitchen with a spoon at 10:00 a.m. because I just cannot get the ice cream out of my head.” To hear the Abstainer vs. Moderator discussion, it’s in episode 2.

Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth was so stressed about her family being on time for the first day of kindergarten that they showed up too early.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: I love my special drawer. Can you think of a better name? Special drawer is a little…generic.

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Tell us — have you ever found yourself interviewing for pain?  In what circumstances? Also, please send dog advice and dog reading suggestions!

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Like Gollum, Do You Have Something Precious–That Isn’t Good for You?

As I mentioned the other day, to give myself some comfort food for my brain as I gear up for the publication of Better Than Before next week, I’ve been re-re-re-re-re-re-reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings books.

These days, everything reminds me of habits, because I’ve been thinking and writing about habits for so long. And The Lord of the Rings is no different.

In case you’re not quite as familiar with the story as I am, one of the book’s main characters is Gollum, who for many years carried the One Ring, an evil ring of supreme power.  The ring extended Gollum’s life but turned him into a pitiful creature.

In the book The Hobbit, Gollum loses the ring, which is found by the hobbit Bilbo, who later gives it to Frodo, etc., etc.

How does this relate to habits? Bear with me.

Whenever Gollum refers to the ring, he calls it “my precious.” “Losst it is, my precious, lost, lost! Curse us and crush us, my precious is lost!

And when the wizard Gandalf goes to research the history of the ring, he finds an account by King Isildur, who, in the distant past, had won the ring from the evil Sauron. Isildur writes of the ring, which he refuses to destroy, “It is precious to me, though I buy it with great pain.”

So again, that word “precious.” Once the ring comes into the various people’s possession, they hate to give it up.  They become enslaved to the ring, though it’s precious to them.

I’m haunted by the way, through the books, Gollum mourns for “my precious.” And if you watch the movies, you see the way he hisses out, “my precioussss.” (You can watch a 10-second clip here.)

Here’s the tie to habits: I’ve noticed that many people have a habit that makes them unhappy — one that they know drains them, isn’t good for them, causes them grief. And yet, at the thought of giving it up, they protest, “No! It’s my precioussssssss!”

A friend told me that she was uncomfortable about how much wine she was drinking every night, but when I said, “Do you think you’d like to stop drinking the wine?” she became very agitated, saying “No, no! I don’t want to do that.”

Or when another friend told me that she felt bad about her weight, and I said that I felt so much better after I gave up sugar, she said, “Oh, that’s ridiculous. I could never give up sugar.”

And I talked to a friend from law school who felt lousy because he was exhausted all the time; when he told me that he gets four hours of sleep each night, I said, “Maybe you could go to bed earlier?” In a furious voice, he said, “If I went to bed earlier, that would mean my firm would get more of me! That time at night is the only time I have to myself!”

Each time, I was reminded of Gollum and Isildur. “It’s my preciousssss! It’s precious to me, though I buy it with great pain.”

We’re grown-ups. We can do what we want. I’m not saying that giving up wine, or sugar, or leisure time is necessarily the right thing for those folks to do. But as my Habits Manifesto holds, “We should make sure the things we do to feel better don’t make us feel worse.

It’s precious…but perhaps we’d be healthier, happier, and more productive if we think about tossing it away.

Whenever I start to get that feeling in my life, when I feel myself starting to hiss, “But it’s my precioussssss!” I pay attention. Am I being mastered by something that’s not good for me?

greekyyogurtFor a while, I had this feeling about — of all things — Greek yogurt. Oh, how I love Greek yogurt! I was eating it two or three times a day, instead of other foods. Which I knew wasn’t a healthy course for me. And if some other member of my family ate the last carton of yogurt, I was furious.

So I stopped eating it altogether for a while (that’s the Abstainer way).  Now I eat it just once a day, and am finding that manageable.

But for a while there, I had that feeling of “this isn’t good for me/but it’s precious to me/so I’m going to refuse to give it up.”

How about you? Have you ever had this feeling about something, “It’s my precioussssssss!” How did you master it — if you have?

In a future podcast of Happier with Gretchen Rubin, you’ll hear my sister Elizabeth talk about her precioussss: Candy Crush.

Do You Want the Tenth Bite of Ice Cream More than the First Bite, or Less?

I’ve been continuing to ponder the abstainers vs. moderators distinction.

In case you haven’t been breathlessly following this line of argument: in a nutshell, when facing a temptation, abstainers do better if they abstain altogether, while moderators do better if they indulge a little bit, or from time to time.

The other day, a friend who is a true moderator told me, “I got a sundae from my favorite ice cream store, and it was so, so good. But after the tenth bite or so, I could hardly taste it anymore. I had a few more bites, then it turned into a puddle, and a friend of mine finished it for me.”

To me, this is a very foreign way of acting. The difference between my friend and me made me wonder if this is a distinction between abstainers and moderators, and I’d love for you abstainers and moderators out there to weigh in on this question.

Moderators, does your desire often  diminish as you eat? Does it drop off in intensity? Or have you not noticed this phenomenon?

Abstainers, do you experience this? Or do you find that your desire for the last bite is just as strong as for the first bite? Or does desire actually gain momentum from the first bite, so you want the next bite even more?

Perhaps this is another pattern that distinguishes abstainers and moderators. Or perhaps not.

If you want to read more about abstainers and moderators, I write about it in Happier at Home, chapter 5. You might also be interested in the post–I must say, one of my favorite posts of all time–about my sister’s experience when she decided to be “free from French fries.”

Story: “Now I’m Free From French Fries.”

For the weekly videos, I now tell a story. I’ve realized that for me, and I think for many people, a story is what holds my attention and makes a point most powerfully.

This week’s story: Now I’m free from French fries. It relates to one of my favorite subjects: the abstainer/moderator split.


Can’t see the video? Click here.

If you want to read more along these lines, check out…

Want to be free from French fries? Or, why abstaining may be easier than you think.

Are you an Abstainer or a Moderator?

Trying to resist holiday temptations? 7 tips for abstainers and moderators.

You can also read more about this in Happier at Home, chapter six.

Find the archives of videos here.  More than 1.3 MILLION views. Don’t forget to subscribe!

Abstainers and Moderators, I’d Love To Hear Your Answers to a Few Questions.

Last week, I posted Want to be free from French fries? Or, why abstaining may be easier than you think.

The comments were so fascinating that I want to post some follow-up questions to you Abstainers and Moderators out there. (If you need to catch up on the whole abstainer/moderator split, or figure out what category you’re in, read here.)

I’d love to hear your responses:

If you’re in a relationship with someone who’s in the other category, how do you manage it? Conflict around this issue seems to be a common source of tension within couples.

If you’re a moderator, do you have a general sense of what is “moderate,” or do you follow rules that you’ve set for yourself? Examples of rules might include “I’ll have one small square of excellent chocolate at lunch every day” or “I never eat dessert at home but do order dessert in a restaurant.”

If you’re an abstainer, do you abstain narrowly or broadly? E.g., do you abstain from the chocolate-chip-and-butterscotch cookies served every afternoon at work, or do you abstain from sugar? I’m a broad abstainer not a narrow abstainer, myself.

Moderators: Would you say that having a little bit of something makes you want it less? Abstainers, would you say that having a little bit makes you want it more? I definitely want things more when I have them; when I don’t have them I don’t want them.

For both categories: Do you find temptation to be a matter of availability–or not really? Do you have trouble managing temptation only when an item is right there in the cupboard, or would you just as readily go out and buy that tempting thing? I’m very swayed by availability. Follow up: do you consider a restaurant to be a place where something’s very available or not available? For me, the hurdle of making a purchase makes something far less available than when it’s freely available (this is true even though the added purchase is just added to the main meal, so no more difficult to pay; illogical I know). Probably part of my under-buyer mentality.

For both categories: Do you find yourself trying to convince other people to resist temptation the “right” way? For instance, might you say, “You should learn to eat moderately,” “You should go cold-turkey,” “You shouldn’t be so rigid with yourself,” “You shouldn’t keep that stuff in the house,” “You’ll just fall off the wagon and stuff yourself later, if you try to be so strict.”