Tag Archives: tips

Want to View the World with Fresh Eyes? 13 Tips to See More Clearly.

I’ve recently developed an obsession with color — what a gorgeous, fascinating topic! It makes me so happy to learn about color.

One reason I love studying color is that it helps me notice the world. I tend to walk around very absent-mindedly; I hardly see anything around me. For me to be present in the moment, and to connect with the world, I need a hook.

Looking at colors is one great hook, and there are many others, too:

  1. Notice colors — I push myself to notice the color of the sky; the contrast between the orange cone and the gray sidewalk.
  2. Look in a mirror — things look different in a mirror.
  3. Look at a picture of an object. Jamaica Kincaid wrote “Why is a picture of something real eventually more exciting than the thing itself?” A question that haunts me. Related…
  4. Look at an object alongside a picture of it. I heard about this strategy as a way of appreciating art more. Buy a postcard of an artwork, then study the artwork while you hold up the postcard. I’m dying to try this.
  5. Pretend to be a journalist — journalists notice things in a different way. Similarly…
  6. Pretend to be a tourist. Look at the shop windows! How people line up for the bus! What are people wearing?
  7. Draw — this one doesn’t appeal to me, but many people swear by it.
  8. Go someplace new — I’ve lived in my New York City neighborhood for more than a decade, and still I sometimes stumble onto a street I swear I’ve never walked before.
  9. Return to a familiar place after a long time away — go back to your old school; stop into the grocery store where you shopped when you lived in your old house. Fascinating.
  10. Imagine that you have guests coming to stay for the weekend — a great way to see your home in a new way. Along the same lines…
  11. Imagine that you will sell your house — you see it through the eyes of a judgmental stranger
  12. Notice contrasts, when two worlds are juxtaposed –school-children on a sidewalk in front of a business;  a horse-and-buggy clopping down the highway
  13. Look with a child — it’s such a sentimental cliche to say it, but children really do see the world with fresh eyes.

What hooks do you use to help yourself see the world more vividly?

Do You Hate to Rush? 11 Tips for Getting Ready Faster in the Morning.

One small but annoying daily challenge? Getting ready each morning.

I very much dislike rushing or feeling pressed for time, and fervently agree with Thoreau, who wrote in Walden, “I love a broad margin to my life.”

By figuring out easy, quick ways to make it faster to head out the door, we can give ourselves a bigger margin of time.

Need some ideas? Here are eleven simple morning-related habits that may make your life easier.

11 Simple Morning Habits to Make Your Life Easier

  1. Put your alarm clock across the room, so you have to get out of bed to turn it off. No more snooze button!
  2. The night before, set an alarm to tell you that it’s time to go to bed. It’s a lot easier to get going in the morning if you’ve had enough sleep the night before. Also…
  3. Set an alarm to remind you when you’ve spent enough time in the shower.
  4. Buy several pairs of the same socks, so you never have to hunt for a mate.
  5. Decide your outfit while you brush your teeth to go to bed the night before, so you don’t have to take the time for inner debate in the morning. Or even better…
  6. Give yourself a work uniform, so you have very few choices to make when dressing. (I loved this piece by an art director,  “Why I Wear the Exact Same Thing to Work Every Day.”)
  7. Always put your keys, wallet, sunglasses, and cell phone away in the same place, so you don’t have to spend any time hunting for an important possession.  (Can’t find something? Here are 8 tips for finding misplaced objects. Bizarrely, I’ve found, these tips really do work.)
  8. The night before, gather everything you need for the next day–papers in your briefcase, exercise clothes in the gym bag, the book you’re returning to a friend at work.
  9. Always keep gas in the car.
  10. Drink the office coffee instead of stopping at a coffee place on your way to work.
  11. Convince everyone in your household to follow these same tips.

How about you? What tips and tricks do you use, to help yourself get ready faster each morning?

For Valentine’s Day: 7 Mistakes That I Keep Making in Romance and 5 Things I Do Right.

In writing The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, I thought a lot about what I can do to make my romantic life better.

In general, I’m a fan of using milestone days to prompt me to think about changes I might undertake to make myself happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative.

Certain days, such as January 1 or my birthday,  remind me to reflect on my life and my hopes for the future.  Recently, Inauguration Day prompted me to think about the highest ideals of the United States, and how I can live up to them, in my own life.

And Valentine’s Day is a great reminder to think about my romance!  My husband Jamie is the love of my life, but sometimes I don’t treat him with courtesy or interest. I have to remind myself — don’t be nicer to a stranger on the street than I am to my own husband. (In fact, research shows that married people often show more consideration to others than they do to each other.)

For instance, I make these relationship mistakes over and over, even though I know I shouldn’t. In the scheme of things, they’re fairly minor (which I’m quick to point out), but they are annoying. And in marriage, it’s good not to be annoying, whenever you can avoid it; marriage is a long, long road.

7 Mistakes That I Keep Making in Romance

  1. Even though I know it’s rude, I will often read my emails while I talk to my husband on the phone.
  2. I leave my clothes in a heap in a corner of our bedroom, even though I know it gets on his nerves.
  3. I give him a smart-alecky answer when he absent-mindedly asks me the same question more than once, even when it’s just some little thing I could easily answer.
  4. I leave empty diet soda cans scattered around the apartment.
  5. Months ago, for his birthday, he asked if we could get the carpets cleaned as his present, and I told him I’d organize that as my gift, and I haven’t done it.
  6. I haven’t made a doctor’s appointment for myself, even though he really wants me to get a check-up.
  7. I “snap” at him and speak sharply when I get anxious about something — when I fear that we’re running late, when I’m worried about whether we’re following the right parenting strategy, when I’m concerned about some work issue.

But it’s true that with time and effort, I’ve learned to do a better job in some ways.

As I write about in Better Than Before, my book about habit change, what we do most days matters more than what we do once in a while. I’ve managed to cultivate these good habits:

5 Things I Do Right

  1. I give him a warm, attentive “hello” and “good-bye” every time he comes home or leaves the apartment.
  2. I spend a few minutes clearing clutter in the early morning, right before I walk our dog Barnaby, so the apartment looks at least superficially tidy when he emerges in the morning.
  3. I text him funny or interesting updates during the day — pictures of something I see on the street, or Barnaby asleep in my office, or “Five years ago today” “One year ago” photos of our family (I do this so he doesn’t assume that every text or call from me involves an annoying logistical question).
  4. I’ve learned that as a Questioner (as opposed to an Upholder, Obliger, or Rebel), he doesn’t like being questioned, so I refrain from asking many questions that I’d like to have answered: “Where are we going for dinner?” “What time do we need to leave?”
  5. I make the bed on the days when he doesn’t make the bed. I love having the bed made, and so does he.

Ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists agree: a key to happiness is strong relationships, and if we’re in a romantic relationship, it has a big influence on our happiness.

How about you — what romance mistakes do you repeat, and what good habits have you cultivated?

Want to Keep a New Year’s Resolution? How to Make It Right for YOU.

Many people make New Year’s resolutions, and many people get frustrated and abandon their New Year’s resolutions.

A common mistake? Setting up the resolution in the wrong way. We think we “should be able to” do it first thing in the morning, or we think we should imitate a resolution that works well for someone else.

But there’s no one, correct way. It’s just whatever works for us.

I know this, because I used to try to indulge moderately in sweets — but I’m an Abstainer. And I used to try to do difficult writing in the afternoon — but I’m a Lark. And I use to hold myself back from buying too much at one time — but I’m an Under-buyer. Etc. Now that I set up resolutions to suit my nature, I succeed much more often.

As you set up your resolutions, be sure to consider these distinctions, as outlined in the “Strategy of Distinctions” in my book Better Than Before, which is all about the multiple strategies we can exploit to change our habits.

Before you decide on the resolution you’ll make, consider…

-are you a Lark or Owl?

are you a Marathoner or Sprinter?

are you a Simplicity-lover or Abundance-lover?

are you a Finisher or Opener?

are you an Abstainer or Moderator?

-are you an Under-buyer or Over-buyer?

As you’re thinking about these distinctions, it can be helpful to ask, “When have I succeeded with this resolution in the past?” If there was a time when you exercised regularly, cooked frequently, got enough sleep, etc., that might hold clues for how you might be able to do a better job in the present.

When we know ourselves, we can set up a resolution in the way that’s right for us. It’s not that hard to keep our resolutions, and to change our habits — when we know what to do.

9 Tips if You’re Making Work-Related New Year’s Resolutions.

The new year is here, and for many of us, that means new year’s resolutions. And many of us make resolutions related to our work lives.

Now Questioners, I know you object to the arbitrariness of the January 1 date; Obligers, I know you may have given up making resolutions because you’ve struggled in the past; and Rebels, I know you may not want to bind yourself in advance. But some people do want to make resolutions. (Don’t know where you fit in the “Four Tendencies” framework, i.e.,  if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel? Look here.)

For instance, some common work-related resolutions include “I want to broaden my horizons,” “I want to do a better job with record-keeping,” “I want to network,” “I want to find a mentor,” and “I want to expand my skills.”

One key to consistent progress is to make a behavior into a habit. Habits are freeing and energizing, because they save us from the difficult, draining business of making decisions and exercising our self-control.

Habits matter, because research shows that about 40% of everyday life is shaped by habits. If we have habits that work for us, we’re far more likely to be happier, healthier, and more productive.

In my book Better Than Before, I discuss the twenty-one different strategies that we can use to make or break our habits. I know, twenty-one sounds like a lot to manage — but it’s helpful that there are so many, because some of these strategies work for some people, and not others. But we all have a big menu from which to pick.

So how might you make a habit of actions that will help you succeed at work? Consider these strategies:

1. Use the Strategy of Clarity, and be specific about what you’re asking of yourself.

Resolutions like “network more” or “research new opportunities” are too vague. Put your resolution into the form of a concrete, measurable, manageable action, such as “Every month, go to at least two events with networking opportunities” or “Spend one hour every Friday afternoon updating my time sheets and expenses.” Being specific helps you figure out what to do, and it also makes it possible to…

2. Use the Strategy of Monitoring, and monitor your habit.

Monitoring is almost uncanny in its power. Research shows that simply by monitoring a behavior, we tend to do a much better job of it, whether that’s how fast we’re driving, how much we’re eating, how many cold calls we’re making, or how many instructional videos we’re watching. Keep track, and you’ll push yourself in the right direction.

3. Use the Strategy of Scheduling, and schedule time for your habit.

Something like “Research that company this week” is a goal that can keep getting pushed to the bottom of the to-do list. Even if it’s important, it’s just not urgent. So schedule a specific time for research, for learning, for following up, and give it a slot on your calendar. But it’s crucial to remember that…

4. Working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination.

When you schedule time to do certain work, you should do that work, and nothing else. No filing, no cleaning, no research, no checking emails. Do that work, or stare at the ceiling. Otherwise, you may work and work and work, and never get around to doing the very thing you set out to do.

5. Use the Strategy of Distinctions, and take time to think big.

In the rigors of everyday life, it can be hard to step back and see what matters most.  Where do you want to be in two years? How could you develop your skills to make your work more interesting and yourself more valuable? Some people prefer to do this kind of thinking alone, with just a pad of paper; others prefer to talk it out, with a few trusted co-workers or an old friend; others might hire a coach. Or…

6. Use the Strategy of Distinctions, and take time to think small.

Sometimes people get overwhelmed when they try to make grand plans or ask huge questions; it’s also useful to focus on small, manageable steps that you can incorporate into your life immediately.

7. Use the Strategy of Clarity, and ask yourself: Whom do you envy?

Envy is an uncomfortable emotion, but it’s instructive. If you envy someone, that person has something you wish you had. Do you envy your friend who gets to travel all the time—or the friend who never has to travel? Do you envy your co-worker who’s taking night class toward getting an MBA, or who gets to make lots of presentations? Envy can help show us how we want to grow and change.

8. Use the Strategy of Other People, and spend time with people who have the habits  that you want to emulate.

Studies show that we tend to pick up habits from the people around us, so choose your company wisely. If you know that some of your co-workers cultivate habits that help them succeed at work, go out of your way to spend time with them, and you’ll more easily pick up those habits, yourself.

9. Use the Strategy of the Four Tendencies and the Strategy of Accountability, if it works for you.

If you’re an Obliger — that is, if you readily meet other people’s expectations, but struggle to meet your expectations for yourself — the answer, the solution, the key element is external accountability. Rebels, on the other hand, often do worse when they’re being held accountable. Figure out your Tendency and plug in accountability as necessary.

The most important thing to remember about habit change? We must shape our habits to suit ourselves—our own nature, our own interests, our own strengths. When we understand ourselves, we can apply the twenty-one strategies with the greatest success, and we can also help other people to change their habits.

It’s not hard to change your habits, when you know what to do. And it matters. When we change our habits, we change our lives.