“I Formed a ‘Resolution Club’ with Three Friends. We Each Had Different Resolutions.”

Interview: David Lat.

I got to know David Lat through our connection as being combination lawyer/writers. He founded and is the managing editor of Above the Law, a site which covers law firms and the legal profession (in an edgy way).

David recently published his dishy first novel, Supreme Ambitions. It’s the story of a woman who graduates from Yale Law School and wants to clerk on the Supreme Court. As a Yale Law School grad who clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, you can see why this intrigued me.

I was curious to hear how David manages his novel-writing habits, work habits, and health habits.

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

David Lat: Procrastination. I postpone difficult, unpleasant, or challenging tasks until they can’t be postponed any longer. Running a widely read, commercial blog like Above the Law has been good for me because I can’t indulge my procrastination habit; I constantly need to be writing and editing. But procrastination was a major problem when I was trying to write my novel, Supreme Ambitions, which was a much more long-term project.

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

I managed to pick up a healthy habit (walk at least 15 miles a week) and break an unhealthy one (excessive consumption of desserts and sweets) by forming a “resolution club” with three friends. We each had different resolutions we brought to the group. Every Monday, we’d check in with each other: did we keep our resolutions over the prior week? Those who failed to honor their resolutions had to pay $20 to the other group members — and also had the shame of acknowledging failure. [If you’d like a “starter kit” for launching a group of people who work on their habits together, click here.]

Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?  [Readers, to learn more about this framework, or to find your own Tendency, look here.]

I’m definitely an “Obliger.” When I was in school, I would do assignments to meet the expectations of my professors. When I worked as a law clerk and then a lawyer, I would complete projects to meet the expectations of my bosses. Now that I basically work for myself, running Above the Law and doing outside writing, I struggle more with getting things done. When I was working on Supreme Ambitions, I would have a hard time sitting down and producing pages. I didn’t start making real progress until, acknowledging my “Obliger” personality, I told my editor Jon that I would send him some pages every Monday. He didn’t have to read them immediately, but I committed to sending them to him every Monday, which at least kept me writing so I could meet Jon’s expectations.

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

Travel interferes with my healthy habit of going to group fitness classes at my gym. I’ve been traveling a lot over the past few months on book tour. I try to exercise in other ways while on the road, but I do miss my classes. What’s great about classes is that they occur at fixed times, and I make an “appointment” with my friend and workout buddy Jen to go to certain classes, ensuring that I actually go. But when I’m traveling, that’s not possible.

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

Generally I resist habits. I enjoy spontaneity, novelty, and excitement; I like every day to be different. So I have relatively few habits, since I associate habits with routine, and routine with a lack of freedom. But maybe I’m overlooking the way that good or healthy habits “free us” to be our better selves.

Revealed! Book Club Choices for April.

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 the wonderful Brooklyn indie WORD, BN.com, Amazon (I’m an affiliate of all three), or your favorite local bookstore. Or visit the library! Drumroll…

An outstanding book about happiness or habits:

Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It by Gary Taubes

Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon.

An outstanding children’s book:

Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones

Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon.

An eccentric pick:

Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes

Buy from WORD; 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?

Lately, I’ve been doing some good reading on airplanes and in hotel rooms, while I’m on tour for Better Than Before. Right now I’m reading Andy Warhol’s POPism: The Warhol Sixties.

Things are going very well for Better Than Before: it was an instant bestseller, has received a lot of great attention in the press, and I’ve been able to talk with many readers as I’ve been on tour. Thanks as always, readers, for your enthusiasm and support.

If you like the book, and you have time chance, it’s a big help to me if you write a review or rate the book on the online bookselling sites. Readers really respect the views of other readers. As a big reader myself, I know that I often see what other readers have to say, before I head off to the library or bookstore or click “buy.”

Happy April, and happy reading.

Podcast #6: Try “Power Hour,” Consider Envy, Back Up Your Phone, and Enjoy the Process

My sister Elizabeth Craft and I are having so much fun with our new podcast,  “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been on my book tour for Better Than Before, and many people have told me that they’re enjoying it. Thanks so much, and thanks for listening! (If you like the podcast, we’re sheepishly asking people to rate and/or review it, if time and inclination permit; very helpful for a new podcast like ours.)

Here’s what we discuss in today’s episode:

NothingIsAsExhaustingTask_124869Try This at Home: Try a weekly “Power Hour.” This is a habit that’s working very well for me; Elizabeth is intrigued.

Know Yourself Better: Ask yourself the uncomfortable question, “Whom do I envy?

Listener Question: Our first recorded listener question! “Is there any science behind the happiness we get happiness from helping others?”

Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth learns, the hard way, about the importance of backing up the data on your smart-phone. On the bright side, though, her Candy Crush account was wiped out! If you listened to episode #2, you know that Elizabeth was battling a serious Candy Crush habit. Now she’s free.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: I give a gold star to our father, who always remind us to “Enjoy the process.”

Thanks again to our advertiser, Framebridge — a terrific way to get your art and photos framed, in a super easy and affordable way. Use the code HAPPIER at checkout to get 20% off your first Framebridge order.

To listen to this episode, just zip to the bottom of this post and hit the red “play” button.

Or if you’re reading this post by email, click here to view online, to listen to the podcast from this post.

Want to know what to expect from other episodes of the podcast, when you listen toHappier 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).

Each week, we give  a “Try This at Home” suggestion, for some easy habit you can try, as part of your ordinary routine, to boost your happiness—something like setting an alarm to signal your bedtime, or using the one-minute rule, to help yourself stay on top of small nagging tasks.

We also suggest questions to help you “Know Yourself Better”—like “Whom do you envy?” and “Are you a Marathoner or a Sprinter in your work style?”—and explore “Happiness Stumbling Blocks,” those small, seemingly insignificant parts of daily life that drag us down—everything from the problem of the Evil Donut-Bringer to the fact that working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination.

We “Grill the Guest,” consider “Listener Questions,” and finally, we get even more personal, and each of us either gives ourselves a “Demerit” for a mistake we made that week, that affected our happiness, or awards a “Gold Star” to someone or something that deserves recognition.

We’re sisters, so we don’t let each other get away with much!

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. Instructions here.

Or for an amusing short how-to video made by Ira Glass of This American Life, click here.

If you want 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.

Tell us what you think! Drop us a line at @gretchenrubin, @elizabethcraft, Facebook, podcast@gretchenrubin.com, or call 774-277-9336. Or just add your comment to this post.

Again, be sure to subscribe and listen and subscribe on iTunes so you never miss an episode. And if you enjoyed it, please tell your friends and give us a rating or review. 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.)

Happy listening! Or I should say, HAPPIER listening!

Want To Change a Habit? These May Help.

Now that my book Better Than Before is out in the world, and people are starting to read it, I’m starting to see a lot of interest in certain resources that I offer.

So I wanted to make sure that everyone knows they’re available.

STARTER KIT: First, I’m getting more and more requests for the “starter kit” for people who want to launch a Better Than Before habits group.

One of the best ways to build good habits (and happiness) effectively – and also one of the most fun ways – is to join or start a group. I love joining or starting groups. At last count, I’d joined or started thirteen groups since I realized this fact, while writing The Happiness Project.

Better Than Before habits groups swap ideas, build enthusiasm, give energy and encouragement, and – most important – hold each other accountable. Think AA and Weight Watchers. Remember, most people find accountability helpful, but if you’re an Obliger — and many people are, this is a huge group — external accountability is the key to sticking to your good habits.  Crucial! Absolutely necessary! There are many ways to give yourself external accountability, but a group is one of the most effective. (Not sure if you’re an Obliger, or even what an “Obliger” is? Take this Quiz. More than 120,000 people have taken it.)

Everyone in the group doesn’t need to be working on the same habit; what’s necessary is the accountability. I heard about one (small) group, where one Obliger wanted to be held accountable for working on a writing project, and the other Obliger, unconventionally, wanted to be held accountable for things like getting a massage! This may sound silly, but is actually very wise. We need treats (that’s the Strategy of Treats), and Obligers may have trouble giving themselves treats — and so the answer is external accountability.  If they’re pushed too far, Obligers may burn out — or develop Obliger-rebellion, which can be very destructive.  They often need accountability to help them be kind to themselves.

So, if you’d like help launching a group for people doing a Better Than Before habits groups together, request it here.

DISCUSSION GUIDES: I’ve also heard from people who are talking about Better Than Before in a group.

Some, in a traditional book group. I love book groups. I’m in four, myself.

Some want to talk about it with people from work — there’s a  lot in the book about habits in the workplace, such as the discussion in the “Strategy of Distinctions” about the difference between Marathoners vs. Sprinters, Abstainers vs. Moderators, Simplicity-Lovers vs. Abundance Lovers; also the “Strategy of Other People,” the “Strategy of Convenience,” and so on. And of course, the Four Tendencies is quite helpful to consider at work.

Some want to discuss Better Than Before in a spiritual context — at a Bible study group, at a spirituality book group, for clergy, and the like.  Habits have enormous influence over our spiritual lives, as well as our work life, family life, health, etc. For one thing, as Flannery O’Connor noted, “The things that we are obliged to do, such as hear Mass on Sunday, fast and abstain on the days appointed, etc. can become mechanical and merely habit. But it is better to be held to the Church by habit than not to be held at all. The Church is mighty realistic about human nature.”

I’ve created a discussion guide for these three types of groups. You can download them here.

BetterThanBeforeBookplateinBookSIGNED BOOKPLATES: I’ve heard from a lot of people who want to give Better Than Before as a gift, to help someone they know who is struggling with a habit. I’ve also heard from many people who want to give away stacks of the book, to clients, patients, etc. An impulse which I very much appreciate. If you’d like free signed bookplates to make the gifts more special — or if you want a bookplate for your own book! — request them here. U.S. and Canada only, sorry–mailing costs.

CHECKLIST FOR HABIT CHANGE: To my regret, I didn’t think to create this checklist in time to include it in the book. Maybe I can add it to the paperback. Anyway, I created a one-page “Checklist for Habit Change.” At the top, you note the habit you want to master, then use the checklist to see how many of the 21 strategies you can use to change it. (This checklist is probably only useful if you’re reading the book.) Download it here.

I also have one-pagers for Eating Better Than Before, Exercising Better Than Before, Working Better Than Before, and Reading Better Than Before — I expected that the one about reading would be the least popular, but I think it may be the most popular. I guess a lot of people love to read as much as I do.

Are there other resources that you’d like to have?I truly do believe that it’s possible for us to change our habits — even when we’ve failed before. It’s not that hard — when we know what to do.

What’s Your Favorite Quotation About Coming Home?

When the fiddle had stopped singing Laura called out softly, “What are days of auld lang syne, Pa?”

“They are the days of a long time ago, Laura,” Pa said. “Go to sleep, now.”

But Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa’s fiddle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods. She looked at Pa sitting on the bench by the hearth, the firelight gleaming on his brown hair and beard and glistening on the honey-brown fiddle. She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting.

She thought to herself, “This is now.”

She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the firelight and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.

— Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods (last paragraphs)

This is one of my favorite passages in all of literature. I think of it often, especially when I come home after a trip. “This is now.

I was just away for ten days for my book tour — which may be the longest time I’ve been away from my family at a single stretch. I’m home for the weekend, then I leave again.

It’s a good example of how habits affect us: when I’m home, I take all the little things for granted, but when I come home after a trip, I feel everything keenly, for a time.

While I was traveling, my older daughter had a birthday and my younger daughter got a retainer.  I love getting the chance to talk to readers, but I do miss being home. Nothing happens, and everything happens. The days are long, but the years are short. (Of everything I’ve ever written, I think this one-minute video resonates most with people.)

Does some passage from literature, or some song, or something else, remind you of home? A friend says that every time he returns from a trip, he thinks of the scene from The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy is repeating, “There’s no place like home.”