“The Sweetest Things Become the Most Bitter by Excess.” Examples?

“The sweetest things become the most bitter by excess.”

–Democritus

Do you agree — and if so, can you think of examples? I’d suggest: technology, ambition, sugar, TV, habit (I consider habit a “sweet thing,” though of course not everyone agrees).

Maybe…generosity, sometimes. I’ll have to think about that.

Why This New Idea for a Book Group Is So Smart.

When I was in Kansas City a few weeks ago for my high school reunion, I heard a great idea for a book group.

A guy who had moved away from Kansas City had committed to coming home every six weeks or so, to spend time with his parents, who weren’t in great health. (I don’t remember his name, so call him John.)

Some friends who still lived in Kansas City decided to form a “pop-up book group.” They’re a book group that meets only when John comes to town.

I think this is a great idea, for many reasons.

First, I’m a big believer in forming groups as a way to stay closer to friends. It may sound strange to talk about efficiency and friendship, but friendships take time, and most of us don’t have much time. By meeting in a group, you see several friends at once; you cut down on time spent coordinating when to get together; if you miss one meeting, you’ll see everyone the next time.

Second, I’m sure it makes it much more fun for John to visit home. He sees friends, he feels part of the life of Kansas City. That little bit of fun may make it much easier for him to stick to his commitment to visit his parents, over the long run. As my Habits Manifesto argues, “When we give more to ourselves, we can ask more from ourselves.”

Third, I suspect that his parents may also enjoy his involvement in the group. It’s a little less time that he spends with them, true, but he hears news about what people are doing; he has his own independent life in Kansas City, he’s not just a constant visitor. It’s probably more fun to be around him.

Fourth, this is a very nice thing to do for a friend. I’m sure it makes John feel happy that they built the pop-up book group around him, and I’m sure it makes the members of the group feel happy, too.  Few things make us happier than the good we do for other people.

This group happened to form around books. I’m a huge fan of book groups — I’m in four book groups, myself, and they’re a huge engine of happiness for me. Huge.

But a group can be formed around anything.

You can start a Happiness Project group. Email me here if you want the “starter kit” for launching a group for people doing happiness projects together.

You could start a Better Than Before group, for people working on their habits together. (People don’t have to work on the same habit; it’s about the process of tackling a habit.) I’m working on the starter kit for that right now — stay tuned for that.

A friend is in a “fine baked goods” group. They take turns making fancy desserts for each other, and while they eat the desserts, they discuss baking.

My father-in-law was in a group (it only met once) where people talked about fly-fishing. They didn’t fish, they just talked about fishing.

Along the same lines, at my daughters’ school, one after-school club is “Sports Talk.” They talk about sports.

A friend told me, “I’d like to start a group where we discuss People magazine. I’d always be prepared, and I have a lot to say.” She still hasn’t started it, but apparently people are clamoring to get in.

Also, a “group” can be small. I’m in a terrific group that has only three members.

Are you a member of a book group, or something like a book group? Does it add to your happiness?

Avoid These 5 Traps that Can Destroy Your Good Habits.

Every Wednesday is List Day, or Tip Day, or Quiz Day.

Today: Avoid these five habit traps — they can destroy your good habits.

When we’re trying to master our habits, it’s important to be aware of the justifications or arguments that we sometimes invoke that interfere with keeping a good habit.

They slip in so easily and quickly, it can be hard to spot them. Be on the look-out for these five popular lines of thoughts:

1. Thinking, “Well, now that I’ve slipped up and broken my good habit, I might as well go all the way.”

I remind myself, “A stumble may prevent a fall.” Because of the colorfully named “what the hell” phenomenon, a minor stumble often becomes a major fall; once a good behavior is broken, we act as though it doesn’t matter whether it’s broken by a little or a lot. “I didn’t do any work this morning, so what the hell, I’ll take the rest of the week off and start on Monday.” “I missed my yoga class over spring break, so what the hell, I’ll start again in the fall.” It’s important to try to fail small, not big.

2. Thinking, “If I really beat myself up when I break a good habit, I’ll do a better job of sticking to it.”

Although some people assume that strong feelings of guilt or shame act as safeguards to help people stick to good habits, the opposite is true. People who feel less guilt and who show compassion toward themselves in the face of failure are better able to regain self-control, while people who feel deeply guilty and full of self-blame struggle more.

3. Thinking, “Sure, I’m not sticking to the habit that’s meant to keep me productive, but look how busy I am.”

Working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination.

4. Thinking, “Of course I usually stick to my good habits, but in this situation, I can’t be expected to keep it up.”

We’re all adults, and we can mindfully make exceptions to our good habits, but alas, everything counts.  Loopholes like “It’s my birthday,” “I’m sick,” “It’s the weekend,” “I deserve it,” “I’ve been so good,” “You only live once,” are loopholes, meant to excuse us from responsibility. But nothing’s off the grid. Nothing stays in Vegas.

5. Thinking, “I love my good habit so much, and I get so much satisfaction from it, that now it’s okay for me to break that habit.”

One danger point in habit-formation is the conviction that a habit has become so ingrained that we can safely violate it: “I love my morning writing sessions so much, I’d never give them up,” “I stopped eating cereal two years ago, so now it’s okay for me to eat it.” Unfortunately, even long-standing habits can be more fragile than they appear, so it pays not to get complacent.

What have I missed?

As I’ve mentioned before, my forthcoming book, Better Than Before, describes the multiple strategies we can exploit to change our habits. Habits–the most fascinating subject ever. To pre-order the book, click here. (Pre-orders give a real boost to a book, so if you’re inclined to buy the book, I really appreciate it if you pre-order it.)

Video: One Easy Way to Fight a Bad Habit? Make It Inconvenient.

I’m doing a video series in which I discuss the various strategies that we can use for habit-formation.

Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life, and a significant element of happiness. If we have habits that work for us, we’re much more likely to be happy, healthy, productive, and creative.

My forthcoming book, Better Than Before, describes the multiple strategies we can exploit to change our habits. To pre-order, click here. (Pre-orders give a real boost to a book, so if you’re inclined to buy the book, I’d really appreciate it if you pre-order it.)

One of the most familiar, and most effective, is the simple, straightforward, powerful Strategy of Convenience. And its counterpart, which I talk about today, the Strategy of Inconvenience.

 

We’re far more likely to do something if it’s convenient, and far less likely to do something if it’s inconvenient, to an astounding degree. For instance, in one cafeteria, when an ice-cream cooler’s lid was left open, thirty percent of diners bought ice cream, but when diners had to open the lid, only fourteen percent bought ice cream, even though the ice cream was visible in both situations. People take less food when using tongs, instead of spoons, as serving utensils.

We can use this tendency to help strengthen our habits.

Have you ever made an activity less convenient, and in that way, strengthened a habit meant to help you control it?

What Appeals to You? Ditch Day, Catch-Up Day, or Mandatory Vacation Day?

When we’re tackling our habits, word matter.

Research shows that people who use language that emphasizes that they’re acting by their own choice and exercising control (“I don’t,” “I choose to,” “I’m going to,” or “I don’t want to”) stick to their habits better than people who use language that undermines their self-efficacy (“I can’t,” “I’m not allowed to,” or “I’m supposed to”). There’s a real difference between “I don’t” and “I can’t.”

For instance, I don’t eat sugar; I can eat sugar, but I don’t. In fact, I love not eating sugar!

Also, in my own mind, I try to replace “I have to” with “I get to” whenever possible. “I get to go the library today.” “I get to go to a parent coffee tomorrow.”

The very words we choose to characterize our habits can make them seem more or less appealing. “Engagement time” sounds more interesting than “email time.” “Playing the piano” sounds more fun than “practicing the piano.” And what sounds more attractive, a “personal retreat day” or a “catch-up day” or a “ditch day” or a “mandatory vacation day”? (People of different Tendencies might choose different terms.)

Would a person rather “take a dance class” or “exercise”? Some people like the word “quit,” as in “I’ve quit caffeine”; some are put off by its overtones of addiction. A woman told me, “I try not to use the words ‘forever’ and ‘never,’ but I like the word ‘permanent.’ ”

Do you make choices about the vocabulary you use, to help you master your habits?

To read more about this, check out Better Than Before, my book about when and why we change our habits. You can pre-order here — and if you’re inclined to buy the book, it really helps me if you pre-order. Don’t worry, you won’t be charged until it ships.