Tag Archives: work

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

Interview: Chris Bailey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast 49: Live from San Francisco! Travel without Tears, the Challenge of Public Speaking, and Special Guests.

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

Our live show! Boy, Elizabeth and I had a great time. Hear us live, at the Brava Theater in San Francisco. It was such a treat for us to get to record an episode in front of actual live listeners.

Usually, we do a Very Special Episode for every tenth episode. This is episode 49, but hey, close enough.

I mention one of my favorite episodes, episode 10, when we cleaned Elizabeth’s closet. Want to hear it? Listen here. Here’s a photo where you can see our special outfits.GretchenandElizabethPodcastLiveEventAfter (We’re standing in the amazing Walgreens in Union Square that Elizabeth mentions during the podcast.)

Try This at Home: Travel without tears. We talked about TSA pre-check in episode 11. I mention Nick’s Sticks. Yum.

Interview: Nir Eyal. Nir has founded and sold two technology companies, and he writes for a bunch of different places, teaches at places like Stanford, and consults to startups, venture capital firms, and incubators about the intersection of psychology, technology, and business. He has a great blog, Nir and Far, and he wrote Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. And he talks about being a Rebel. Fascinating. (Note: Henry had a little fun choosing Nir’s theme music.)

Nir’s Try This at Home: Burn or burn. A very Rebel Try This at Home.

Happiness Stumbling Block: Public speaking.

If you want to watch my interview with Matt Lauer (which I can’t bear to watch myself), you can see the whole thing here.

I mention Kelly McGonigal’s fascinating book, The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get at It.

Interview: Jake Knapp. Jake is a designer and facilitator here in SF. While working at Google, he created a “design sprint” — a five-day process to help teams answer big questions in just five days — used in the development of everything from Gmail to Chrome. Now Jake’s a design partner at Google Ventures, where he’s run more than 100 sprints with GV portfolio companies. He’s written Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days to explain how to do a sprint.

Jake’s Try This at Home: “Turn off the internet.”

Elizabeth mentions one of our very favorite podcasts, Start Up. If you want to listen to the episode where Jake and his team do a sprint with Gimlet, it’s #13, “Fake It Til You Make It.”

New Year’s Resolutions Booster for Two Audience Members:

Erin: Her New Year’s resolutions are to slow down, focus on family, and not sweat the small stuff.

Lauren: Her New Year’s resolution is to spend more time with her friends.

Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth used the loophole “I’m out of town!” to indulge in some bad eating habits.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: I give a gold star to my husband’s liver doctor, Dr. Leona Kim-Schluger. Such a brilliant, caring doctor. If you want to give yourself a gold star, and if you support organ donation, sign the organ-donor registry here or use the hashtag #organdonor on social media.

Thanks to the audience, for being so terrific. We had so much fun. If you enjoyed the podcast, please tell your friends and give us a rating or review. Click here to tell your friends on Twitter or share the image below on Pinterest. 

1pixHappier Podcast with Gretchen Rubin #49

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors:

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How to Subscribe

If you’re like me (until recently) you’re intrigued by podcasts, but you don’t know how to listen or subscribe. It’s very easy, really. Really. To listen to more than one episode, and to have it all in a handier way, on your phone or tablet, it’s better to subscribe. Really, it’s easy.

Want to know what to expect from other episodes of the podcast, when you listen to “Happier 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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7 Tips for Helping Someone Else to Change a Habit.

In my book Better Than Before, I write about the many strategies that we can use to make or break our habits. There’s a big menu of choices, which is great, because it means that we all have a variety from which to pull. Some strategies work for some people, but not others. Some strategies are available to us at certain times, but not other times.

In Better Than Before, I focus mostly on what we can do, ourselves, to change our habits. But it’s very obvious that each of us can have a lot of influence on other people’s habits.  And often we really, really, really want to help someone else to change a key habit.

So, if you want to help someone else to change an important habit (and I’ve certainly tried to do this myself, many times, in my loving habits-bully way), here are a few top strategies to try:

  1. The Strategy of the Four Tendencies. Figure out if the person is an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel. You can read about the framework here; take the online quiz here. This is a crucial step, because once you know a person’s Tendency, the approach that works with an Obliger might make things worse with a Rebel. Chiefly…
  2. The Strategy of Accountability. This strategy is helpful for many people, but it’s crucial for Obligers, and often counter-productive for Rebels. A key point about other people and accountability? If someone asks you to hold him or her accountable, do it — and if you don’t want to do it yourself (because it can be a lot of work to hold someone accountable), help that person find other mechanisms of accountability. If a person asks for accountability, it’s because that person knows that it’s important. Many people — Upholders like me, and Questioners, and Rebels — often resist holding others accountable, but it can be invaluable.
  3. The Strategy of Convenience. Make the habit more convenient. We’re powerfully influenced by how easy it is to do something. You can help by making a habit quicker and easier. Can you leave a pill out on a dish by the coffee machine, so your sweetheart takes it every morning? Can you keep a bowl of hard-boiled eggs in the fridge to be an easy, healthy snack? Can you pull out a pile of board books, clear off the sofa, and say, “Would it be fun for you to read to  the baby for a few minutes?” Can you allow a child to keep an instrument, music stand, and music out in the living room all the time, so all those things don’t need to be pulled out and put away with every practice session?
  4. The Strategy of Treats. Whether or not a person needs accountability (see #2), activities are often more fun when we do them with someone else. Will someone enjoy a walk more, if you go, as well?  Is it more fun for that person to cook if you’re in the kitchen, or you go shopping, too?
  5. The Strategy of Clarity. When it’s not clear exactly what we’re supposed to do, we often get paralyzed and do nothing. Can you keep track of the medication schedule or the physical therapy regimen for someone else?
  6. The Strategy of Safeguards. With our habits, it helps to plan for failure. You can help someone else to anticipate difficult circumstances, and to come up with an “if-then” plan of action — whether for the holidays, for the office party, for the vacation, for the bad weather, or whatever it might be. Research shows that people do much better when they have a plan for dealing with these kinds of stumbling blocks.
  7. The Strategy of Distinctions. We’re more alike, and less alike, than we think. One difference is the Abstainer vs. Moderator approach to strong temptation. Abstainers find it easier to give things up altogether; Moderators like to indulge in moderation. Say your sweetheart wants to cut back on sugar, but you want to keep ice cream in the fridge. You say, “Just have a small serving, learn to manage yourself.” Ah, that works for Moderators. But if your sweetheart is an Abstainer, he or she will find it far easier to have none — and it’s easier to have none if there’s no ice cream in the house. So, even if you don’t find it difficult to ignore that container in the freezer, your sweetheart might do much better if you go out for ice cream if you have a craving.

You might be thinking, “Well, the problem with these ideas is that I have to do something.” That’s right. Sometime we have to make an effort ourselves, to help someone else change a habit. And even if you think that these steps aren’t “your job” — but we can always choose to do something out of love, to help someone else.

Have you found a way to help someone else change a habit? We can all learn from each other.

Agree? There are 3 Main Avenues to Meaning in Life: Work, Love, and Rising Above a Fate We Can’t Change.

“There are three main avenues on which one arrives at meaning in life. The first is by creating a work or doing a deed. The second is by experiencing something or encountering someone; in other words, meaning can be found not only in work but also in love…

Most important, however, is the third avenue to meaning in life: even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing change himself.”

–Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Reading these lines reminds me of another post in which I quoted Frankl–which may be one of the best posts I ever wrote.

Five Very Big Things I’m Grateful for This Year.

Ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists agree: gratitude is a critical element to a happy life.

Research shows that people who cultivate gratitude get a boost in happiness and optimism, feel more connected to other people, are better-liked and have more friends, are more likely to help others—they even sleep better and have fewer headaches.

Nevertheless, I find it…challenging to cultivate a grateful frame of mind. I find it all too easy to fail to appreciate all the things I feel grateful for—from pervasive, basic things like democratic government and running water, to major, personal aspects of my life such as the fact that my two daughters rarely fight, to little passing joys, like a warm fall day. I get preoccupied with petty complaints and minor irritations, and forget just how much happiness I already have.

So for this Thanksgiving, I decided to take a moment to think about what’s happened in my life since last Thanksgiving, to set aside a moment for thankfulness.

And boy do I have a lot to be thankful for. So much!

1. My husband’s hepatitis C is cured!

First, and by far biggest: My husband’s hepatitis C is cured! I will never stop being thankful for that, I’ll never take it for granted. (Want to read about one of the happiest days of my life, and how he got it, and how he was cured? Read here.) This will be on my gratitude list for the rest of my life.

2. My new podcast with my sister

This undertaking has been so much fun. Working on Happier with Gretchen Rubin has given me a chance to spend more time with my sister, and to collaborate with her; it has given me a whole new way to connect with people on the subjects I find fascinating; I’ve made new friends and learned new skills.  That’s a lot of thankfulness birds with one stone.

3. Doing work I love

This year my latest book, Better Than Before, hit the shelves. I feel so, so lucky that I get to do the work I love, and explore the subjects that interest me, and talk to other people about them. And people seem interested! Every time I sit down at my laptop, which happens many times a day, I feel grateful for this.

4. Our new dog, Barnaby

Podcast listeners know that I really debated whether or not to get a dog. My two daughters wanted a dog desperately, but I wasn’t sure.  In the end, I decided to choose the bigger life, and get a dog. Now we’re all so happy that we have our puppy Barnaby.

5. You

Last but certainly not least, I’m thankful for you, my readers and listeners. I started writing books before the internet made it possible to be in touch with people so easily, and I constantly marvel at how wonderful it is — and how technology just keeps making it easier to connect, and in new and intriguing ways. My understanding of my subjects has been immeasurably deepened by the comments and questions I’ve received. Just on the Four Tendencies framework alone — I wouldn’t have nearly the grasp of it that I do (I think), if I couldn’t hear from various Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels, about their experiences. I so appreciate your support and enthusiasm.

The nice thing about feeling grateful is that it drives away negative emotions like annoyance, resentment, or anger. I really find this to be true. I just spent some time reflecting on the vastness of what I have to be grateful for, and as a result, the usual, petty annoyances of my day have vanished.

How about you? Do you make a special effort at Thanksgiving actually to give thanks? Does it change your frame of mind?