Podcast 43: “You Can’t Make Me, and Neither Can I.” Listener Round-Up of the Four Tendencies.

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

Update: Remember, if you live in the Bay area:  Elizabeth and I are doing our first live recording of the podcast! January 21, Brava Theater, we hope to see you there. Info and tickets here.  We’ll have two excellent guests, Nir Eyal and Jake Knapp. They’re both brilliant and fascinating, so that will be terrific. Plus Elizabeth and I have planned special little treats, and you also get a copy of Better Than Before with your ticket.

And loyal sister that she is, Elizabeth gave a plug for the paperback of Better Than Before, which came out yesterday.  Yay! You can see me talk about it in this little video. I’ve extended the bonus offer, the free email package of “21 Days, 21 Strategies for Habit Change,” until January 1. But act fast. Info here.

Four Tendencies: Listener Questions & Observations

This episode is a round-up of listener questions and observations about the Four Tendencies. If you need a quick reminder about the definition of Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels, you can find it here, as well as the the online Quiz.

Try This at Home: Reach out to other members of your Tendency, to talk about possible strategies to manage the limitations of your Tendency–and also to compare notes about how you see the world.

Four Tendencies Mottos:  Yowza, I loved hearing the mottoes that people suggested for the Four Tendencies. Brilliant.

Listener Questions and Insights: “Rebels learn best when they experience the consequences of their decisions, so you may have to allow your Rebel child to suffer the consequences of their actions.”

“How can a family of Upholders get along with Rebel?”

Here’s one I found particularly fascinating: “It seems like Questioners don’t like to be questioned. Have you noticed this?” I hadn’t — but in fact, my husband is a Questioner, and he hates to answer questions. Has anyone else noticed this?

“I’m a personal trainer. What are your favorite examples, specific to each Tendency, about eating higher quality food?”

Gretchen’s Demerit:  I forgot to tell my husband that I was leaving early for Philadelphia until late the night before.

Elizabeth’s Gold Star: Elizabeth gives herself a gold star for planning a friends’ weekend away.


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Happier with Gretchen Rubin #43 - Listen at Happiercast.com/43


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Today Is a Big Day for Me!

Warning: Blatant self-promotion to follow. You’ve been warned!

Yesterday was my birthday, so I’m very happy that today is the release date for the paperback of Better Than Before. A wonderful kind of birthday marker.

I’m so lucky. Every book I write has been absolutely fascinating to me. I mean, that’s why I’ve picked these subjects! When I choose a subject, I have to expect that I’ll be happy to think about it, constantly, for years.

And I’ve been lucky, too, with the last several books, the way they’ve led naturally to each other. The Happiness Project — what a joy to write. Then I went deeper into happiness, with Happier at Home. Ah, how I loved writing that book.

And all that thinking about happiness made me eager to understand the crucial role that habits can play in allowing us to make our lives better than before — happier, healthier, and more productive. And I loved writing Better Than Before so much — though I do think that of all my books, it was the toughest to write, because of the sheer mass of material to organize and analyze and perceive and present. And I say that as someone who wrote a biography of Winston Churchill.

If you want to change your habits, you have to know yourself.

This is the essential point about habits that I identified in  Better Than Before. 

You have to change your habits in the way that’s right for you. This is the secret. This is the answer. This is the key to habit change! And in Better Than Before, I explain how to do that — how to understand yourself, and act on that understanding.

It’s very exciting for me when my book goes out into the world for the first time, because I love hearing from readers. And it’s great when the paperback comes out, because there’s a second wave of response. Plus many people prefer to buy paperbacks, so there are even more readers.

After reading the book, many people write to ask for the “starter kit” for Better Than Before Habit Change Group. For many people (i.e., Obligers), accountability is a crucial element of habit change, and being in a group is a great way to create accountability. If you’d like to get the starter kit, request it here.

Many of my readers have written that they want to buy Better Than Before to show their support—a “thank you” for everything I do for free, like this blog, and the podcast, and the book club, and the daily quotation email. This is an impulse that I very much appreciate.

Sidenote: with Better Than Before, it’s interesting — so many people have mentioned how much they’ve marked up their copies. When I love a book, I mark up it up a lot myself, so it’s great to hear that other people are inspired to do the same with this book.

If you’re thinking, “Yes! I’m intrigued! But, Gretchen, how can I learn more about Better Than Before?” well, you’re in luck. You can…

read the opening chapter

listen to a clip from the audio-book (yes, that’s me reading)

download the one-page book-club discussion guide, or the guide for spirituality book clubs, Bible study groups, and the like; or the guide for people at work.

download the one-page guides for Exercising Better Than Before; Eating Better Than Before; Working Better Than Before; and (my personal favorite) Reading Better Than Before.

Thank you as always, dear readers, for your enthusiasm, ideas, and support. You make me very happy. 

A Fun Way to Make a New Year’s Resolution: Choose a One-Word Theme for 2016.

I love New Year’s resolutions – and I’m not the only one. Some 44% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions.

I love resolutions,, and as I wrote about in my book Happier at Home, for the last several years, I’ve identified one idea, summarized in just one word, as an overarching theme for the entire year.

My sister Elizabeth often does this kind of resolution, too. Last year her theme is “Novel.” One year was the year of “Free Time,” another, “Style,” another “Hot Wheels” — that year, she got a car and started driving; she and I have both struggled with a fear of driving, which was much tougher for her, given that she lives in Los Angeles and I live in New York City.

Another friend of mine does the same thing. One year, I remember, was “Dark,” another was “Make.”

For 2015, I chose “Upgrade.” In this post from January 2, I wrote, “I want to take many areas of my life to the next level. ”

And I’m happy to say, that this year, I did upgrade in a big way. With my new podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin! This podcast is a whole new adventure for me and Elizabeth, my co-host sister. New people, new skills, new challenges, new fun. And as I’d hoped, that feeling of “upgrade” made me feel energized and gratified. We’re especially excited today, because we just found out that iTunes named us one of the “Best of 2015” podcasts. Yowza!

And of course, my book Better Than Before came out in 2015, too. I’ve written lots of books, but it’s exciting every time, and every time, a new world opens up, afterward. It’s so thrilling to put ideas out there, to see what people say.

For 2016, I’m cheating a little, and allowing myself two words: “Lighten up.”

This isn’t a new aim of mine. I have Twelve Personal Commandments, and “Lighten up” is actually #9.

I tend to get intense and worked up, and I take myself too seriously. I want to remind myself to take things lightly, keep a sense of perspective, and see the funny side of things.

To inspire myself to lighten up, I just watched that scene from the movie Stripes: “Lighten up, Francis.” And I re-read one of my favorite lines, from G. K. Chesterton: “It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light.”

I’ve heard so many great ideas: Adventure, Renew, Energize, Bestow, Grace, Travel, Free, Rest, Finish.

Have you ever tried this choose-a-theme approach? What did you pick — or what might you pick, for 2016?

If you’d like to read more about choosing one-word themes for the year, I talk about it with my sister in episode 26 of our podcast, and I write about it in my book Happier at Home.

Agree? “I Sometimes Feel Like I Have a Brain Issue Around Understanding How Long Things Will Take Me.”

Interview: Laurie Berkner.

I have Twelve Personal Commandments, and the first commandment, and the most important, is to “Be Gretchen.”

In some ways, it makes me sad to “Be Gretchen,” because it means admitting my limitations. And one of my limitations? I don’t have much appreciation for music.

I mean, sure, I like a song here or there, but I don’t have the passionate interest and enjoyment of music that so many people have. On the upside — more time to read!

That’s why it’s all the more surprising that I love the music of Laurie Berkner.  Her band is the Laurie Berkner Band, and she has lots of terrific albums, she regularly appeared on Nick Jr. and Sprout, she’s written children’s books, she gives huge concerts, and so on.

She’s best known as a writer and performer of music for children, but I love her music as an adult. She has many songs I love.

In The Happiness Project, in a discussion of why children boost happiness, I wrote:  “Left to my own devices, I wouldn’t…pore over Baskin-Robbins cake designs, memorize Is Your Mama a Llama?…I wouldn’t watch Shrek over and over or listen to Laurie Berkner’s music…Nevertheless, I honestly do enjoy these activities with my children. I don’t just enjoy their pleasure…I also experience my own sincere enjoyment of activities that I would otherwise never have considered.”

So here’s the beauty of Twitter. Laurie Berkner herself tweeted me a message! Saying how much she liked The Happiness Project and that she got a kick out of seeing her work mentioned.

I was so excited. I went running to my family and said, “You’ll never guess who just sent me a message on Twitter!” They were very impressed.

I actually got to have coffee with Laurie Berkner, and of course, ply her with questions about her habits. I was dying to hear what she said.

Gretchen: What’s a simple habit that consistently makes you happier?  

Laurie: Going to the farmers’ market on Sundays to drop off our compost and buy food for the week.  I like saying hi to all of the people who sell there, running into friends, knowing I put a little less garbage into a landfill and discovering what is in season. It’s my treat to myself whenever I’m not working on a Sunday morning.  Plus, we make it into a family affair when everyone is home.  We even bring our dog, Winston.

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

That I’m much happier forming habits for myself than for someone else. Also, that I am often not very good at forming habits in a long term way.  It takes a lot of work for me.  I start with good intentions, enjoy them, but I often lose track of the things that make me happy.  It’s as if I forget the effect they have on me, and I only remember those good feelings once I convince myself to do them again. It’s also easier to convince myself now that I’ve had many more years to experience how good the good habits can feel—I can at least recall them intellectually.

Sometimes I even use images to remind myself.  For example, going to sleep before 11 pm is very challenging for me. Recently I’ve been able to do it pretty consistently for one of the first times I can remember. I remember visiting my brother and sister-in-law a few years ago (they are both great at getting to bed early), and I saw her climb in bed, pull the covers up to her chin, and close her eyes with a look of pure contentment on her face just before she called out “goodnight!”When I find myself putting off getting in bed, I conjure up that image of my sister-in-law and it helps me remember how good I feel once I pull the covers up and am lying down myself.

Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?

Misjudging time. It sometimes feels to me as if I have a brain issue around understanding how long things will take me.  I never leave enough time for things that will take a while, and I leave too much time for short tasks. It also means I’m late, a lot.

Which habits are most important to you? (for health, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)  

It’s funny, while being creative is really important to me, I don’t have a lot of habits around it. I just tend to be creative when I feel like it. But habits are really important for me for my physical and emotional health. Exercising, getting enough sleep, eating well, spending time outside and in nature, meditating (that I one I have the hardest time maintaining), are all really important habits for me. Actually these habits all help everything I do. They help my health, my creativity, my productivity, my happiness, and my relationships.

Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger? 

I took the test on your site and it said I was a Questioner.  I wasn’t at all sure what it would say I was.  I feel like I can see myself dip into Rebel and Obliger as well.

Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits? (e.g. travel, parties, too much performance)  

It’s funny, traveling when I’m performing actually often helps me keep my healthy habits.  I make sure to go to bed early, I don’t snack before bed, I make time to practice, and I get things on my to-do list done that I’ve been putting off. I think being away from home and not feeling the pressure of all the things I do as a mom makes me feel like I have more time to do things that I would otherwise squeeze out of my schedule.

And the thing that interferes with my ability to keep healthy habits the most is when I have a lot going on at work. It spills into my personal life and time.

Do you embrace habits or resist them?  

Hmm, I’m not really sure.  I think I resist them more than I embrace them – but I’m drawn to the idea of having good habits.  It just seems like there is never enough time for all of them.

Has another person ever had a big influence on your habits?

Yes.  I had a therapist for almost 20 years who taught me a lot about making time for myself.  It helped me enormously in feeling okay about making time to cook my own meals, see an acupuncturist and a chiropractor regularly, and take the time I need in order to finish projects and feel good about them.

How do you feel about answering questions about habits?

Strangely stressed out.  I feel aware of how hard it is for me to stay consistent in most areas of my life.  I feel like I keep habits in phases.  I will loyally do something for a period of time, then I’ll forget about it and start doing something else loyally for the next period of time and then find a third and maybe a fourth thing and then rediscover the first one and start all over again.

What are you currently working on?

I have a new double album out of traditional kids’ songs called Laurie Berkner’s Favorite Classic Kids’ Songs.  In early 2016, I’m launching an online training of my “me and my grown-up” type curriculum for music teachers called Laurie Berkner’s The Music In Me.  You can hear me talk about ways to incorporate music into daily family life every day on SiriusXM’s Kids Place Live with “The Music In Me Minute.” I’m also making new videos every month on the Official Laurie Berkner Band YouTube page, we have a very active Facebook page with fun crafts, and I’m always performing and would love for people to know about my shows and come see them! People can sign up for our fan list at www.laurieberkner.com to be notified about performances in their area and anything else I’m up to.

Determined to Keep Your 2016 New Year’s Resolutions? Here’s How.

I love making New Year’s resolutions. Yes, January 1 might be an arbitrary date, but I think it’s good that we all have a cue to ask ourselves, “What would I like to change about my life? How could it be better than before?”

Most of us have a list of things we’d like to do better — and very often, those things involve habits. Exercise, sleep, fun, eating, relaxing, and so on.

In my book Better Than Before, I list all twenty-one strategies that we can use to make or break the habits that shape our lives. All the strategies are powerful and effective, but some are more universal than others. Here are some of the most popular ones, to start you thinking.

1. Be specific.

Don’t resolve to “Eat more healthfully.” That’s too vague. What are you really asking of yourself? Resolve to “Eat breakfast,” “pack a lunch,” “stop eating fast food,” “cook dinner at home,” or “no more sugary soda.” That’s the Strategy of Clarity.

I did this with reading. I love to read, but I wasn’t spending enough time reading. So I resolved to “Quit reading a book I don’t like” (which changed my life), “Do ‘study’ reading on the weekend,” and I also monitor my reading — see below.

2. Monitor your resolution.

If we monitor something, we manage it much better. Just simply tracking how much you are — or aren’t — doing something will push you in the right direction. That’s the Strategy of Monitoring. With reading, I’ve started to post a photo on my Facebook page every Sunday night to show what books I’ve read that week. I find this very fun and satisfying, and I have to say, it also helps me push myself to find more time to read.

3. Figure out your Tendency.

There are Four Tendencies: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. Take the quiz here.  This is the Strategy of the Four Tendencies.

4. Give yourself external accountability. 

Now that you know your Tendency, if you’re an Obliger, to keep a resolution, give yourself external accountability. This is key. Tell other people about your resolution, work out with a trainer, take a class, do something with a friend, hire a coach.

Or start a Better Than Before Habits Group, where people hold each other accountable. Everyone can be working on different resolutions — what matters is that they’re holding each other accountable. To get the “starter kit” for people launching an accountability group, request it here. This is the Strategy of Accountability.

Note: the Strategy of Accountability can also be helpful to Upholders and Questioners — but it’s often actually counter-productive for Rebels.

5. Treat yourself!

This is the most fun way to strengthen your resolutions. When we give ourselves healthy treats, we boost our self-command — which helps us keep our resolutions. When we give more to ourselves, we can ask more from ourselves. But make sure they’re healthy treats. Food and drink, shopping, and screen time are often unhealthy treats. This is the Strategy of Treats.

6. “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Thank you, Voltaire.  If you break your resolution today, try again tomorrow.  Try to use your slip-up as a lesson in how to do better next time. 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. This is the Strategy of Safeguards.

7. Sign up for the 21 Days, 21 Strategies for Habit Change.

To thank people who pre-order the paperback of Better Than Before, I’m giving them this email package for free. Each morning for twenty-one days, I’ll send you an email that describes a different strategy that you can harness to master your habits. If you’re determined to keep a New Year’s resolution this year, I hope you’ll get lots of ideas about how to do that.

What else? What are some strategies you’ve discovered, to help you stick to your New Year’s resolutions?