Podcast 202: Use the “Checklist for Habit Change,” How to Encourage Conversation with a Child, and Dealing with the Work of Office Birthdays


Thanks to all the listeners who offered suggestions for Elizabeth’s messy closet.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of my book The Happiness Project, so I decided to do something people have asked me to do for years – create a happiness project video course. It’s done! Learn more here.

“The Happiness Project Experience” gives structure and ideas to participants who want to create their own happiness projects. Over twelve months, with video lessons, live calls, expert interviews, and more, this tool helps you identify the resolutions that will bring more happiness to your life—and then helps you keep those resolutions.

Try This at Home

Use the free one-page PDFChecklist for Habit Change.” 

Here’s a quick list of my 21 strategies for habit change:


  • The Four Tendencies: To change your habits, you have to know yourself, and in particular, your Tendency. (Are you an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel?)
  • Distinctions: Knowing yourself is so important that it’s not enough to know your Tendency, you must also recognize your Distinctions. (For instance, are you a Marathoner or Sprinter? Under-buyer or over-buyer? Finisher or Opener? Novelty-lover or Familiarity-lover?)

Pillars of Habits

  • Monitoring: You manage what you monitor, so find a way to monitor whatever matters.
  • Foundation: First things first, so begin by making sure to get enough sleep, eat and drink right, move, and un-clutter (this last element inspired me to write my book Outer Order, Inner Calm).
  • Scheduling: If it’s on the calendar, it happens.
  • Accountability:  You do better when you know someone’s watching–even if you’re the one doing the watching. This is crucial for Obligers; it can be counter-productive for Rebels.

The Best Time to Begin

  • First Steps:  It’s enough to begin; if you’re ready, begin now.
  • Clean Slate: Temporary becomes permanent, so start the way you want to continue. Elizabeth mentions the book by David Sedaris, When You Are Engulfed in Flames.
  • Lightning Bolt: A single idea can change the habits of a lifetime, overnight. (Enormously powerful, but not possible to invoke on command.) 

Desire, Ease, and Excuses

  • Abstaining: For some of us, moderation is too tough; it’s easier to give up something altogether. (Works very well for some people, and not at all for others.)
  • Convenience: Make it easy to do right and hard to go wrong.
  • Inconvenience: Change your surroundings, not yourself.
  • Safeguards: Plan to fail. Remember, a struggle may prevent a fall, so learn from your mistakes.
  • Loophole-Spotting: Don’t kid yourself. (The funniest strategy. I love collecting loopholes.)
  • Distraction: Wait fifteen minutes.
  • Reward:  The reward for a good habit is the good habit, and that’s the reward to give yourself.  (The most misunderstood strategy.)
  • Treats: It’s easier to ask more of yourself when you give more to yourself. (The most fun strategy.)
  • Pairing:  Only do X when you’re doing Y. (Simple but surprisingly effective.) Only listen to the Happier podcast when you’re out for a walk.

Unique, Just like Everyone Else

  • Clarity: The clearer you are about what you want, the more likely you are to stick to your habits. This is a particularly useful strategy for Questioners.
  • Identity: Your habits reflect your identity, so if you struggle to change a particular habit, re-think your identity. This is particularly useful for Rebels.
  • Other People: Your habits rub off on other people, and their habits rub off on you.

Happiness Hack

To encourage conversation (especially with kids), use rapid-fire questions to make the conversation feel like a game.

Listener Question

What’s a good way fairly to distribute the work and expense of office birthdays? As with all things, there’s an allusion to this issue on The Office.

Gold Stars & Demerits

Elizabeth’s Demerit: Repeat demerit: Elizabeth hasn’t yet planned Jack’s birthday party.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: I give a gold start to the company Pantone, for everything they do to highlight the beauty of color and to inspire people with their color system. I love color! (Figuring out what to do with my little book My Color Pilgrimage is on my “19 for 2019” list.)

You can read about the color of the year, “Living Coral.”

Graphic designer Andrea Antoni matches the colors of landscapes to Pantone color swatches. Gorgeous!

Artist Angelica Dass photographs people and matches each subject’s skin tone to hues from the Pantone color chart.

A thoughtful friend (who also loves color) gave me the cookbook Pantone Foodmood—a cookbook that takes its inspiration from Pantone colors and even the distinctive design of the color chips.


  1. If you pre-order my forthcoming book Outer Order, Inner Calm, I’ll send you the pre-order bonus materials when they’re ready. Thank you to all who pre-order! It is such a big help to me. 
  2. Want to exercise more in the new year? (Many people want to do this!) Download a free PDF “Exercising Better Than Before.




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