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.

Today I Overcame One of My Annoying Habits. Here’s How.

One of my worst habits — or, I should say, one of my most self-annoying habits — is that I hate to make appointments.

I dislike using the phone. I dislike adding commitments to my calendar. I dislike getting my haircut or my teeth cleaned. Etc. So I find it very, very difficult to make myself pick up the phone and call to make appointments.

I know this perfectly well about myself. So while I was on vacation in Kansas City last week, I vowed that I would use the Strategies of Monitoring, Scheduling, and Clarity to make a bunch of necessary appointments.

In my book Better Than Before, I describe how I use  “Power Hour.Each weekend, I make a list of chores that I’ve been putting off, and I dedicate an hour to completing them — but Power Hour doesn’t work for appointments, because most places are only open during the week.

So I used a special installment of my weekly “Power Hour” to get myself to tackle this dreaded task. At 6:30 a.m. this morning, I made a list of all the appointments I needed to make. And at 10:00 a.m., when I figured that everyplace would be open, I called.

Within the hour, I made appointments to:

— get nasal flu vaccines for my daughters and me (I’ve tried to do this before, but they kept running out)

— get my hair cut

–get a dentist appointment

— get an eye doctor’s appointment for my daughter (this required two calls, and I was very impressed with myself that I made the two calls, back to back)

–get an annual check-up for my daughter

Well, I must say, this list doesn’t look terribly impressive, now that I type it up, but it took every ounce of my strength and habit-formation knowledge to do it.

Phew! Funnily enough, I dread making the appointments more than keeping them — even something like going to the dentist.

Those little tasks, left undone, drain my energy — and even though I know that, still I delay.

It does come in handy that I wrote a whole book, Better Than Before, that covers how to form habits, how to fight procrastination, how to adjust for myself and my quirks, etc. But still: physician, heal thyself. Even if I know what to do, I still have to do it.

How about you? Do you struggle to complete some simple, ordinary task that other people seem to find easy?

 

Podcast 44: Drew Barrymore Gets Personal. And Happier.

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

Update: The paperback of Better Than Before just hit the shelves. You can see me talk about it in this short video. If you’ve ever wanted to change a habit, all is revealed.

Try This at Home: Have an end-of-the-year ritual. Let us know your ideas. We’re looking for good suggestions.

Interview: Drew Barrymore. Yowza! It was so much fun to meet her. Her new book is Wildflower. What a fascinating conversation.

As we discuss, Drew Barrymore’s sister-in-law is writer Jill Kargman, who created and stars in the TV show Odd Mom Out.

One of many highlights — Drew’s point about maternal instincts, when she wondered, “When these maternal instincts kick in, are they going to be overarching, like a rainbow that comes across me, or more like Skittles on the floor?” Rainbow or Skittles — a great metaphor for a complex point.

In our discussion of Drew’s personal symbol of “flower,” I couldn’t resist mentioning my spiritual master, St. Therese, who describes herself as a “little flower” in her memoir, The Story of a Soul. Note that in the image below, Drew is indeed decked out in flowers.

We discuss the Four Tendencies framework. Drew revealed that she’s an Obliger — which is what I thought, from reading Wildflower. If you want to take the quiz to find out if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel, take it here.

Drew’s Try This at Home: Drew writes in a journal to her daughters every day; she also suggests writing letters to your children on important days — and also ordinary days — keeping them in a box, and giving the box to your children when they turn eighteen. Such a great idea.

I was so thrilled to hear that my book The Happiness Project had struck such a chord with Drew. So gratifying.

By the way, the clip we play is from the movie The Wedding Singer. You can watch here.

Elizabeth’s Demerit:  Elizabeth hadn’t taken out her Christmas decorations yet, because a plastic sheet was covering the door of the closet — even though she could easily get through the plastic.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: I love temporary tattoos. So fun, so cheap, so easy, so delightful.

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. Info and tickets here.  We’ll have two outstanding guests, Nir Eyal and Jake Knapp. Plus Elizabeth and I have planned special little treats, and you also get a copy of Better Than Before with your ticket.

 

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

Check out Little Passports, www.littlepassports.com/happier. Keep your kids busy with this award-winning subscription for kids — they get a monthly package in the mail that highlights a new global destination. To save 40% on your first month’s subscription, enter the promo code HAPPY.

Also 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.

Happier with Gretchen Rubin #44 - Listen at Happiercast.com/44

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

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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.

How to Get Your Habits Fix over the Holidays.

This morning, I posted a video of some of my favorite Christmas ornaments. I have one table-top tree (pictured here) where I hang my collection of blue-bird ornaments — bluebirds are my personal symbol, because they’re a symbol of happiness. On another tree, I have the ornaments I collected in childhood, and on yet another tree, I have my fabulous collection of Alice in Wonderland ornaments. My parents give me a new ornament each year.

I’m in the holidays spirit, because my family and I leave tomorrow for Kansas City. Yay! I love going back to my hometown for the holidays.

So I won’t be posting much next week. Except — on Wednesday, watch out for the post about the latest podcast episode. Elizabeth and I will be interviewing a fascinating guest — and if you look at my weekly photo of the books I’ve read that week, on my Facebook Page, maybe you can guess; I hinted at it.

If you don’t want to miss this special episode of Happier, make sure to subscribe to the podcast

Also, because so many people have requested the “21 Days, 21 Strategies for Habit Change” email package, I’ve decided to keep offering it for free until January 1. Request it here.

If you want some ideas about how to do a better job of sticking to your New Year’s resolutions this year, check out this post and this post.

If you’re thinking, “But Gretchen, how can I learn more about habits and happiness while you’re on vacation?” you’re in luck! You can…

 

Here’s to your greater happiness and better habits in 2016. Onward and upward!