Gretchen Rubin

“The Incremental Improvements We Make Become Dramatic and Powerful over Time.”

“The Incremental Improvements We Make Become Dramatic and Powerful over Time.”

Interview: Tasha Eurich.

As someone who values self-knowledge, I was intrigued by Tasha Eurich's new book, Insight, about self-awareness. Her research shows that we are remarkably poor judges of ourselves and how we're perceived by others, and it's rare to get candid, objective feedback from colleagues, employees, and even friends and family.

In my own life, I've found that responses from others have helped me better to understand myself and how I come across. My daughter Eleanor recently made me see myself in an entirely new light. And through my discussions with Elizabeth on the Happier podcast, I've come to understand better how my Upholder ways may sometimes rub people the wrong way. What, I'm being rude when I send that work email over the weekend?

In Insight, Tasha tells stories of people who've made dramatic self-awareness gains, and offers secrets, techniques and strategies to help readers do the same -- and therefore improve their work performance, career satisfaction, leadership potential, relationships, and more. I was curious to learn about her habits.

Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What’s the most significant thing you’ve concluded on the subject of habits?

Tasha: I love this question because my research on self-awareness relates so nicely to your enlightening work on habits. I’ve spent the last three years researching what self-awareness is and how we can improve it to be more successful and confident at work (and at home). Part of that involved studying people who’ve dramatically improved their understanding of who they are and how they’re seen by others. Interestingly, I didn’t find any consistent patterns by gender or by job type or even by age—what they all had in common was a belief in the importance of self-awareness and a daily commitment to it.

In a way, self-awareness was the habit they cultivated. Whether they spent time each evening reflecting on what went well and what didn’t or regularly questioning their assumptions about themselves by getting feedback from people they trusted, or daily mindfulness meditation, each person made it a habit to reflect on their self-knowledge.

What I love about this is that it shows that often there is no big moment or epiphany for most people, rather, it’s something we can chip away at each and every day. Added up, the incremental improvements we make do become dramatic and powerful over time.

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

Most recently my adopted dog Fred! She’s a five-pound poodle and puppy mill survivor, from the National Milldog Rescue (an incredible organization!!). I’ve taken to bringing her with me to lots of the places I go—to restaurant patios, to friends’ houses, and even on some of my business trips. Whenever I’m taking Fred somewhere, I’ll announce to her that we’re about to go on an adventure, and her ears perk up and she runs towards the door. It’s a small thing but I think any day that I get to practice that habit is a day that we both feel more relaxed, happy, and at peace. We are each other’s emotional support animals!

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

About three years ago, I joined Orange Theory Fitness, a gym that does high-intensity interval training. I’d literally never run a mile in my life—I was the awkward kid who sat out in gym class because of my asthma. I started going once or twice a week, and not only did I find it surprisingly enjoyable, I was actually sad on the days I didn’t go! I joke that I wrote most of my book while running on the treadmill at the gym. I’ve found that there’s no better way for me to get unstuck—intellectually and emotionally—than high impact exercise.

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

Based on the quiz, I think I’m an Upholder and I am very goal and rule oriented. But I also care about others’ expectations of me. The day my first book hit the New York Times bestseller list, I literally turned to my husband and said “Well, I guess it’s time to start the next book!” He was horrified and dragged me to a celebratory dinner. I’ve always had pretty unreasonably high expectations for myself and while it’s helped me achieve many of my goals, it wasn’t always healthy. I’ve found myself worried about whether I’m meeting others’ expectations—am I being a good consultant? A good wife? A good friend? A good daughter? Most days, asking these questions is healthy, but I have to make sure that my own needs are not getting lost in the shuffle, which is a little Obliger-y. [From Gretchen: These views are absolutely consistent with Upholderness. Upholders respond both to outer and inner expectations.]

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

I’ve always craved novelty in my day-to-day life. It’s so interesting being married to someone who has worked for the same company for 22 years—my husband loves having the same routine every day and finds comfort and excitement in it. For me, though, one of the reasons I was less-than-fulfilled when I worked in the Fortune 500 world was showing up to the same office in the same place with the same people every day.

But that’s also why I love what I do now—I go from being locked in my office or a coffee shop writing one day to getting on a plane and flying to work with a consulting client or do a keynote. No two days are the same, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

That said, I don’t think that an ever-changing routine necessarily precludes one from developing habits—for example, if anyone messes with my airport check-in/security routine, I get pretty stressed. These habits just might not be as apparent to outside observers as they are to me!

One of the things I hope people learn from my new book Insight is that self-awareness allows you to acknowledge the things that are important to you—not what you think should be important but what actually is—and design your life (and by extension, your habits) around them. I can have both novelty that I crave and habits that create healthy order.

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