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.

Revealed! Book Club Choices for February. Happy Reading!

Because nothing boosts happiness more than a great book, each month, I suggest:

  • one outstanding book about happiness or habits
  • one outstanding work of children’s or young-adult literature–I have a crazy passion for kidlit
  • one eccentric pick–a widely admired and excellent book that I love, yes, but one that may not appeal to everyone

Shop at IndieBound, BN.com, or Amazon (I’m an affiliate), or your favorite local bookstore. Or my favorite, visit the library! Drumroll…

A book about happiness, good habits, or human nature:

Here Is New York by E. B. White

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon.

 

An outstanding children’s book:

Baby Island  by Carol Ryrie Brink

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon.

 

An eccentric pick:

Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon.

 

Some readers have said that they wished that I’d describe and make the case for my book choices, instead of just providing links. I’ve noticed that many times, when someone describes a book to me, I want to read it less. And often, weirdly, the better a book is, the worse it sounds.

Nevertheless, because so many readers have requested it, I’ve decided to give a bit more context for these choices in the book-club newsletter. So if you’d like to know more about why I made these selections, check there. To get that free monthly book-club newsletter, and to make sure you don’ t miss any recommendations, sign up here.

In any event, I assure you that, for all the books I choose, I love them; I’ve read them at least twice if not many times; and they’re widely admired.

If you read last month’s recommendations…what did you think?

Always Late? 9 Tips for Overcoming Chronic Lateness.

If you’re chronically tardy, how do you start showing up on time?

Many people have the habit of constantly running late — and they drive themselves, and other people, crazy.

Now, I have the opposite problem — I’m pathologically early, and often arrive places too soon. This is annoying, as well, but in a different way. As I write this, I’m realizing that I assume that chronic earliness is very rare. But maybe it’s not. Are you chronically early?

In any event, more people seem bothered by chronic lateness. Feeling as though you’re always running twenty minutes behind schedule is an unhappy feeling. Having to rush, forgetting things in your haste, dealing with annoyed people when you arrive…it’s no fun.

If you find yourself chronically late, what steps can you take to be more prompt? That depends on why you’re late. As my Eighth Commandment holds, the first step is to Identify the problem – then you can see more easily what you need to change.

There are many reasons you might be late, but some are particularly common. Are you late because…

1.You sleep too late.

If you’re so exhausted in the morning that you hit the snooze alarm five times, it’s time to think about going to sleep earlier. Many people don’t get enough sleep, and sleep deprivation is a real drag on your happiness and health. Try to turn off the light sooner each night.

2. You try to get one last thing done.

Apparently, this is a common cause of tardiness. If you always try to answer one more email or put away one more load of laundry before you leave, here’s a way to outwit yourself: take a task that you can do when you reach your destination, and leave early. Tell yourself that you need that ten minutes on the other end to read those brochures or check those figures.

3. You under-estimate the commute time.

You may tell yourself it takes twenty minutes to get to work, but if it actually takes forty minutes, you’re going to be chronically late. Have you exactly identified the time by which you need to leave? That’s what worked for me for getting my kids to school on time. As I write about in Happier at Home, we have a precise time that we’re supposed to leave, so I know if we’re running late, and by how much.

4. You can’t find your keys/wallet/phone/sunglasses.

Nothing is more annoying than searching for lost objects when you’re running late. Designate a place in your house for your key items, and put those things in that spot, every time. I keep everything important in my (extremely unfashionable) backpack, and fortunately a backpack is big enough that it’s always easy to find. If you still can’t find your keys, here are some tips for finding misplaced objects.

5. Other people in your house are disorganized.

Your wife can’t find her phone, your son can’t find his Spanish book, so you’re late. As hard as it is to get yourself organized, it’s even harder to help other people get organized. Try setting up the “key things” place in your house. Prod your children to get their school stuff organized the night before — and coax the outfit-changing types to pick their outfits the night before, too. Get lunches ready. Etc.

6. Your co-workers won’t end meetings on time.

This is an exasperating problem. You’re supposed to be someplace else, but you’re trapped in a meeting that’s going long. Sometimes, this is inevitable, but if you find it happening over and over, identify the problem. Is too little time allotted to meetings that deserve more time? Is the weekly staff meeting twenty minutes of work crammed into sixty minutes? If you face this issue repeatedly, there’s probably an identifiable problem – and once you identify it, you can develop strategies to solve it — e.g., sticking to an agenda; circulating information by email; not permitting discussions about contentious philosophical questions not relevant to the tasks at hand, etc. (This last problem is surprisingly widespread, in my experience.)

7. You haven’t considered how your behavior affects someone else.

A friend was chronically late dropping off her son at sports activities until he said, “You’re always late dropping me off because it doesn’t affect you, but you’re always on time to pick me up, because you’d be embarrassed to be the last parent at pick-up.” She was never late again.

8. You’re rushing around in the morning before you leave the house.

Consider waking up earlier (see #1 above). Yes, it’s tough to give up those last precious moments of sleep, and it’s even tougher to go to bed earlier and cut into what, for many people, is their leisure time. But it helps.

9. You hate your destination so much you want to postpone showing up for as long as possible.

If you dread going to work that much, or you hate school so deeply, or wherever your destination might be, you’re giving yourself a clear signal that you need think about making a change in your life.

What are some other strategies that work if you suffer from chronic lateness?

 

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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:

Check out Stamps.com. Want to avoid post-office pain, and buy and print official U.S. postage for any letter or package, right from your own computer and printer? Visit Stamps.com to sign up for a no-risk trial, plus a $110 bonus offer — just enter the promo code HAPPIER.

Also check out Boll and Branch. They offer luxurious bedding at outstanding prices. Go to BollandBranch.com and enter promo code HAPPIER to get 20% off your first entire order.

And check out Audible.com. Audible has more than 180,000 audio-books and spoken-word audio-products. Go to Audible.com/happier to get a free 30-day trial. Audible was also our live event sponsor, so special thanks, Audible!

We love hearing from listeners!

 

To sign up for my free monthly newsletter, text me at 66866 and enter the word (surprise) “happier.“ Or click here.

If you enjoyed the podcast, please tell your friends and give us a rating or review. Click here to tell your friends on Twitter.

Listeners really respect the views of other listeners, so your response helps people find good material. (Not sure how to review? Instructions here; scroll to the bottom.)

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!

HAPPIER listening!

Why Doing a Live Show for Our Podcast Made Elizabeth and Me Happier

Last week, my sister Elizabeth and I did something that felt very new and bold — we recorded an episode of our podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, live in front of a whole theater full of people.

And I was reminded of the importance of an atmosphere of growth.

As I discuss in The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, I’ve identified Eight Splendid Truths of Happiness. (I was enchanted by all the numbered lists in Buddhism, so wanted to do my own numbered list.)

My First Splendid Truth is: To be happier, you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.

It makes us happier to feel that we’re growing — that we’re learning, that we’re helping, that we’re making something grow, or fixing something that’s not working, or teaching someone, or improving ourselves.

For instance, my father was a great tennis player and played a lot when I was growing up. At some point, he started playing golf, and over time, gave up tennis. I asked him why. “My tennis game,” he explained, “was gradually getting worse, but my golf game is gradually improving.”

For Elizabeth and me, doing this live event was a major episode of growth. We’d never done anything like it before; the theater was sold out (yay!), so the stakes were high; we had a lot to remember and say and do.

We were both very anxious leading up to it, and that’s the uncomfortable thing about the atmosphere of growth: growth often means feeling anxious, frustrated, embarrassed or incompetent. There are often false starts, failures, and mistakes.

But then comes the atmosphere of growth, and it’s so satisfying.

One thing that made it easier? We had a terrific audience — quick to laugh and friendly, one that was on our side.

And Elizabeth and I had so much fun! We’d love to do it again! As we told ourselves backstage, “Tonight is the only time that we’ll be doing a live recording for the first time.”

Putting up with discomfort is sometimes part of the price for the atmosphere of growth.

How about you? Have you ever pushed yourself to do something that made you anxious — then felt great, afterwards?

 

Curious about the other seven Splendid Truths? Here they are:

Second Splendid Truth
One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy;
One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.

Third Splendid Truth
The days are long, but the years are short. (Click here to see my one-minute movie; of everything I’ve written about happiness, I think this video resonates most with people.)

Fourth Splendid Truth
You’re not happy unless you think you’re happy.
[Many argue the opposite case. John Stuart Mill, for example, wrote, “Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.” I disagree.]

Fifth Splendid Truth
I can build a happy life only on the foundation of my own nature.

Sixth Splendid Truth
The only person I can change is myself.

Seventh Splendid Truth
Happy people make people happy, but
I can’t make someone be happy, and
No one else can make me happy.

Eighth Splendid Truth
Now is now.