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  • feedwordpress 10:00:07 on 2018/06/21 Permalink
    Tags: , Getting Back to Happy, , Marc and Angel Chernoff   

    “The Tiny Actions Were Manageable, and the Daily Ritual of Writing Helped Keep Us on Track.” 

    Interview: Marc and Angel Chernoff.

    Marc and Angel Chernoff are the creators of Marc & Angel Hack Life, which Forbes called "one of the most popular personal development blogs." Through their writing, coaching, and live events, they've spent the past decade sharing their ideas for how to get unstuck in order to find happiness and success.

    They're also the authors of the new New York Times bestseller Getting Back to Happy: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Reality, and Turn Your Trials into Triumphs.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Marc and Angel about happiness, habits, and productivity.

    Gretchen: Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    Marc and Angel: Just over a decade ago, we struggled to cope through the most painful season of our lives thus far — this was our lightning bolt — a season that included losing two loved ones to suicide and illness, family-related betrayal, job loss, financial instability, and more. And it all happened quickly, too, back-to-back. The pain of this season knocked us down hard for a couple pf years straight. At times, we felt like we had zero strength left to push onward. And that’s actually why we started writing on our blog in the first place. When we were at the lowest point in our lives, we used the blog as a public outlet and accountability journal. We wrote about our pain, our losses, the lessons we were learning, and the actions we knew we needed to hold ourselves accountable to, if we wanted to get through it all.

    As we navigated our new reality one day at a time, one blog post at a time — facing the pain and investigating it, instead of distracting ourselves from it — we stumbled across morsels of strength and wisdom that we began to collect and build on. We gradually learned how to catch ourselves in negative states of emotional turmoil, so we could overcome the emotions that had once overcome us. We literally pushed ourselves as hard as we could to take one tiny action step after another — one honest conversation, one 5-minute workout, one 5-minute meditation, etc., and then we’d write about it. It wasn’t easy, but the tiny actions were manageable, and the daily ritual of writing about them helped keep us on track.

    It was this painful season of our lives that ultimately changed the trajectory of our lives, gradually leading us into the personal development coaching and writing work we do today.

    What’s a simple habit or activity that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    More than one comes to mind, but the simplest and most effective one that has worked wonders in our lives over the past decade is a 5-minute evening gratitude journaling exercise.

    Every evening before you go to bed, write down three things that went well during the day and their causes.  Simply provide a short, causal explanation for each good thing.

    That’s it. Too often people spend tens of thousands of dollars on expensive electronics, big homes, fancy cars and lavish vacations hoping for a boost of happiness. This is a free alternative, and it really works.

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

    It took us quite a long while to figure out that discomfort can be a good thing — that discomfort can open great windows of opportunity. When we were younger we ran from discomfort constantly. We were in search of an easy life, and of course we never found it. We found the opposite.

    Over the years we’ve learned that the best things in life are often the hardest to come by, at least initially. And when you shy away from difficulty and discomfort, you miss out on them entirely. For example, mastering a new skill is hard. Healing from grief is hard. Building a business is hard. Writing a book is hard. A marriage is hard. Parenting is hard. Staying healthy is hard. But all are amazing and worth every bit of effort you can muster.

    If you get good at handling discomfort, you can do almost anything you put your mind to in the long run.

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

    We’ve literally implemented dozens of healthy habits over the years — daily exercise, daily journaling, daily meditation, and more. Adding and stacking these habits happened one at a time. Here’s the general steps we took with each.

    We picked one new habit at a time, and we started very small — just five minutes a day in most cases.
    We initiated social accountability and motivation through Facebook and asked friends and family to check in with us on a daily basis to make sure we were on track.

    We set up simple triggers for our habits — for example, a trigger might be walking into our home after work — and then we’d perform the new habit consciously every time the trigger happened.

    We tracked the tiny bits of progress we made each day by putting a checkmark on a wall calendar every single time we completed a daily habit. The goal was to never break the chain of daily checkmarks on the calendar.

    Once we felt comfortable with five minutes a day (perhaps after 30-60 days of doing the habit), we’d increase it to seven minutes a day, then ten minutes, and so forth.

    That’s really all there is to it — at least that’s the simplified baseline of how habit change has worked in our lives.

     Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)

    Marc and Angel: This is one of our favorite (self-created) morning reminders. We literally read this out loud at our breakfast table every morning. Doing so helps us keep things in perspective:

    Look around,
    And be thankful right now.
    For your health,
    Your family,
    Your friends,
    And your home.
    Nothing lasts forever.

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

    Marc and Angel: Attaching ourselves to our ideals. This is a negative habit that still brings significant stress and anxiety into our lives sometimes. We’ve gotten better at managing this over the years, of course, but it’s an ongoing practice.

    Truth be told, most of the things we as human beings desperately try to hold on to, as if they’re real, solid, everlasting fixtures in our lives, aren’t really there. Or if they are there in some form, they’re changing, fluid, impermanent, or simply imagined in our minds. Life gets a lot easier to deal with when we understand this.

    Imagine you’re blindfolded and treading water in the center of a large swimming pool, and you’re struggling desperately to grab the edge of the pool that you think is nearby, but in reality it’s not — it’s far away. Trying to grab that imaginary edge is stressing you out, and tiring you out, as you splash around aimlessly trying to holding on to something that isn’t there.

    That’s “attaching.”

    Now imagine you pause, take a deep breath, and realize that there’s nothing nearby to hold on to. Just water around you. You can continue to struggle with grabbing at something that doesn’t exist, or you can accept that there’s only water around you, and relax, and float.

    That’s letting go.

    On a daily basis, when we feel our inner stress and anxiety levels rising, we challenge ourselves to consciously ask:

    What are you desperately trying to hold on to right now?
    How is it affecting you?

    Then we imagine the things we’re trying to hold on to don’t really exist.

    We envision ourselves letting go … and just floating.

    But again, this is a practice we have to work at persistently.

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

    Marc and Angel: We both took the quiz, and we’re both Upholders. Interestingly enough, though, both of us are convinced that we were once Obligers. The life experiences and “practicing” we sustained over the past ten years undoubtedly shifted us from the inside out. At least that’s how we see it.

    [Gretchen: For what it's worth, I think Marc and Angel are both Obligers who have created external accountability (such as their blog) that's so pervasive in their lives that they feel as though they're Upholders.]

    Getting Back to Happy by Marc and Angel Chernoff

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:44 on 2018/06/14 Permalink
    Tags: Grace Bonney, ,   

    “Volunteering Is the Most Powerful and Important Part of My Daily Life.” 

    Interview: Grace Bonney.

    I've followed Grace Bonney's career for a long time. She's the founder and editor-in-chief of the influential and ground-breaking site Design*Sponge.

    But that's not all -- she's done so many different things: written for many design magazines, written a design column, hosted a radio show, and written bestselling books In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs and Design*Sponge at Home.

    Now she's published the first issue of the new magazine Good Company.

    I couldn’t wait to talk to Grace about happiness, habits, and productivity.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple habit or activity that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Grace: Volunteering. Hands down, this is the most powerful and important part of my daily life. It positively impacts not just my well-being but the community’s as well. The more time I’m able to spend away from the internet (and actively working to support people in our community), the happier I am.

    Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Grace: That it’s not a final destination. I used to think that if I just worked hard enough and found the magic key, I’d unlock the door to always being happy--and never being stressed out. But the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve come to understand that moments of joy, and being fully present in them, is a more fulfilling goal.

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

    Grace: Oh yes. I have a tendency to be all or nothing--and it freezes me in place immediately. I’ve missed out on a lot of fun work opportunities and life moments because something didn’t feel 100% perfect. I’ve expected too much from life and myself. No one and no thing is perfect--I’m getting better at understanding that the ups and downs are part of happiness and not a sign that something isn’t worth trying.

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

    Grace: As a blogger, it’s been all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking my needs, my voice or my company are the most important priorities in my life. But they’re not. So every habit or activity in my life that has nothing to do with my needs (from taking care of our pets to volunteering to cook for others in our community) has reinforced over and over how important it is to connect to and support others. The more I’m able to de-center myself in my work and my life, the happier I am. It feels good to be a part of a chorus of voices and needs, rather than holding up the stage with my own.

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

    Grace: I have! I’ve finally committed to a physical health program that I’ve consistently attended for over two years. It took me 35 years to find a space where health and strength were prioritized over weight loss, so that has made all the difference. Like a lot of people, I spent a large portion of my life with an eating disorder and seeing physical activity only as a means to one end: weight loss. But when I turned 34 I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes and I needed to change everything: my activity level, the way I eat and how I take care of the inside of my body--not just the outside. I found an amazing local program in the Hudson Valley, called 30 Minutes of Everything, where a strong community of (mainly) women support each other in seeking strength and community--not just a “beach body”.

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

    Grace: I would have guessed that I’m a Questioner, but the quiz actually pointed me to Rebel. I think I’m someone who has a hard time with authority in general, unless it’s someone I deeply respect who has a long history of work/behavior that I trust. In my industry we’re constantly handed new “experts” to trust and follow without question and I have a hard time with that. I guess that’s why I run my own business--fewer bosses and people telling me what to do makes me feel happier and more open, creatively.

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

    Grace: Lack of sleep. 100%. On days when I sleep well, I feel like a completely different human being. The hardest part of being a business owner, for me, is finding a way to put aside the stress, responsibility and needs of the business (or people who work with me) when I go to bed. I find myself waking up at all hours worrying about ways to solve a problem or improve something that’s not where it needs to be.

    Gretchen: Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    Grace: Absolutely. When I was 30 years old, I felt my internal chemistry shift and I hit a huge breaking point. It was a difficult year in which I confronted my work life, personal life and everything else in between. I ended up coming out, getting divorced, moving out on my own and shifting my work to be less about design and more about the people behind the work and their stories. It took a few years to regain my footing after that and then when I turned 34 and was diagnosed with Type 1, it was yet another big life-changing reminder to enjoy and be present in my life and work, because good health can be fleeting.

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful?

    Grace: “Whatever works, until it doesn’t.” I read this in an interview with the actress Michelle Williams years ago and it’s rung truer to me than anything else. Life is a constantly evolving and ongoing process--what works for us and feels good to us during one time may not work or feel good down the road. And society can put a lot of pressure on people to come up with a “one and done” solution--and if that needs to change, we’re often made to feel like that was a failure. But as soon as I let myself understand that life and people are constantly changing and evolving, it allowed me to be happier in the now and more fully embrace things as they are and more freely let go and evolve when things need to.

     
  • feedwordpress 09:00:32 on 2018/06/12 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , Father's Day, ,   

    My Father’s Advice for Being Happier and Forming Habits 

    Here in the United States, Father’s Day is coming up on Sunday, June 17.

    I’m a big fan for using dates as milestones, as prompts for self-reflection or for action. People say Father’s and Mother’s Days are Hallmark-driven, consumerist holidays—but I think it’s nice to be reminded to think about my father, and to remember everything he’s done for me.

    Ditto with Valentine’s Day, January 1, spring cleaning. I find it very useful to be prompted to take a moment to celebrate the people I love, and to take stock of how my life could be made better.

    As I was thinking about my father, I reflected on all the good advice he’s given me over the years—both for helping me to be happier at home and at work, and helping me to develop good habits, especially the habit of exercise (which doesn’t come naturally to me at all).

    Some highlights:

    1. "If you’re willing to take the blame when you deserve it, people will give you the responsibility." This advice from my father is the best advice for the workplace I’ve ever received. I think about this all the time.
    2. "As a parent, at some point, you have to switch from being an advisor to cheerleader." (If you want to hear me talk about this advice, you can listen to this short episode of "A Little Happier.")
    3. "Alas, there are no wizards." My father reminded me that it can be tempting to believe that if I could just find the right helper, the right adviser, the right person to do a job, all my problems would magically be solved, and I wouldn’t have to be worried or involved with a project any more. But while there are smart and capable people, if something’s important to me, I have to stay involved. I can’t just delegate to some wizard.
    4. "Energy." My father always stresses the value of energy. In large part because of this, the first chapter of my book The Happiness Project is devoted to energy. (Here are nine tips for giving yourself an energy boost in the next ten minutes.)
    5. "Enjoy the process." My father always emphasizes that if we can enjoy the process, we’re less concerned about outcomes, and we’re less devastated if our efforts end in failure or frustration. That's a big help in the world. It also makes for a much happier, more mindful life.
    6. "All you have to do is put on your running shoes and let the front door shut behind you." Back in high school, when I was first trying to get myself in the habit of daily exercise, he gave me this advice. It’s an excellent mantra for all couch potatoes trying to pick up an exercise habit. Just put on your shoes and step outside! It’s one of my Secrets of Adulthood: It’s enough to begin.
    7. "Go to the library." When I was growing up, my father—and my mother, too—often suggested making a visit to the library. This family habit meant that I always had plenty of books to read, of whatever kinds of books I wanted at the time. Many of my happiest and most vivid childhood memories involve the Kansas City Plaza library. But more than giving me good advice to visit the library, my father also set a good example by reading books all the time, himself. Example is more persuasive than precept.

    Speaking of books, if a father in your life might enjoy a book for Father’s Day, might I suggest my short, unconventional biography, Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill? Judging from the emails I receive in the weeks following Father’s Day each year, I’ve concluded that many people give it as a Father’s Day gift.

    Or if a father in your life is working on an important habit, consider my book Better Than Before, which explains the 21 strategies we can use to make or break our habits. It turns out that it’s not that hard to break a habit, when you do it in the way that’s right for you.

    Fun fact: in book publishing, Father’s Day is a major event, because so many people give books as Father’s Day gifts.

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:02 on 2018/06/07 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , Pam Lobley, , ,   

    “Let’s Take the Pressure Off, and Enjoy the Passage of Time.” 

    Interview: Pam Lobley.

    Pam Lobley has been a columnist and writer for many publications, including the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Huffington Post, BlogHer, and others.

    She's also the author of the book Why Can't We Just Play?: What I Did When I Realized My Kids Were Way Too Busy.

    Pam Lobley's work reminds me of my one-minute video about "The days are long, but the years are short." You can watch it here.  It also reminds me of my resolution in my book Happier at Home, to "guard my children's free time."

    I couldn't wait to talk to Pam about happiness, habits, and productivity.

    Gretchen: What’s something you know now about building healthy habits or happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Pam: When I was 18, I figured happiness would be found in grand adventures, success, and accomplishments. But I have found that my deepest happiness has come not from the extraordinary days, but from the ordinary ones. Big accomplishments and milestones do bring happiness, but they can also bring stress, change and pressure. A new job or a book publishing deal are wonderful, but they also can mean taking on new and difficult tasks and pressures. A fancy vacation is delightful, but the expense, scheduling and unexpected disappointments can diminish the joyful feeling - like the time we took the kids to Disney and they weren’t that interested in the rides. They just kept asking when could we go back to the hotel and swim in the pool!

    Running into a good friend while I’m walking the dog or driving to the orthodontist with my son and talking about his day ... these regular moments bring me so much happiness, notably because they are built in to my life and occur naturally. Realizing that they make me happy leads me to another realization - my life is a happy one! This kind of appreciation of the present moment would not have been possible for me to understand at age 18.

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

    Pam: I hate to admit this, but I am not that organized. I think I am, and I always have a to-do list, but in reality everything takes longer than I think it will, I let stuff slide left and right, and then I end up late and rushing. Rushing kills my joy every time. That feeling of being behind and trying to finish a few things before time runs out is so distracting and defeating. The rushing itself makes me unhappy, then it compounds itself because I tend to make bad decisions or feel irritation when I am rushed - and that leads to further unhappiness.

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

    Pam: I need 7+ hours of sleep a night, I exercise several times a week, I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, and I get outside for some time every day. Without these things I am super cranky and definitely not creative.

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

    Pam: Questioner! Questioning the conventional wisdom of raising children today is what led me to write my book Why Can't We Just Play? What I Did When I Realized My Kids Were Way Too Busy. I asked myself, "Why is our family life so overscheduled, and when did parenting get to overwrought and frantic?" I answered it by removing all our activities for an entire summer, and letting my sons, ages 8 and 10 at that time, "just" play. Because we had NO scheduled activities, no camps, no classes - nothing but play and free time - I wryly referred to that summer as "a summer from the 1950s" and read and researched that era as the weeks went by. Adopting the 1950s mindset offered sharp perspective of current family values. Was that decade a better time to raise children? Well, it certainly was a simpler time. People did not check emails at midnight or enroll their 12 year olds in travel baseball leagues with 4 games a week.

    We think of the 1950s as a time when conformity reigned supreme, but there is plenty of conformity in this era as well. The pressure to control and improve your children, and to micromanage their days is true for the vast majority of middle class families. Once I got off that merry-go-round, I saw my kids more clearly. They needed tremendous amounts of down time, and they were growing up in a world which provided almost none. In addition, I became aware that the more we rushed around, the faster I felt they grew up, and the less time I had to enjoy simply being with them. Being a Questioner is the reason I had the idea, and then the stamina, to carry out that experiment.

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to "Be Gretchen.") Or a quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful? Or a particular book that has stayed with you?

    Pam: I love that line from the James Taylor song, "The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time..." I’m somewhat obsessed with the passage of time. I am constantly aware of how precious our time on earth is, how quickly kids grow up, how life can change in an instant, of how memories we create are kept alive. Resisting the urge to do more, building free time our family’s schedule is something I strive for daily, though not always successfully. Savoring days when the kids are growing up is especially important to me, but every stage of life has its treasures and opportunities, and I don’t want to blur past them. A phone call with my sister, planning a party with my husband, shopping with my teen for his prom tux ... rather than pressing through those tasks, I remind myself to take my time. Let those moments be ones of happiness. Let things take longer. Let’s take the pressure off, and enjoy the passage of time.

    Why Can't We Just Play? by Pa m Lobley

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:39 on 2018/05/31 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Laura Vanderkam, , ,   

    “Small Things, Done Consistently, Add Up to Big Things in the Long Run.” 

    Interview: Laura Vanderkam.

    Laura Vanderkam and I have been friends for many years. We first got to know each other through our related subjects -- I love her work on understanding how we use time, and how to get more happiness from our time. As she always says, "Spend more time on things that matter, and less on the things that don't."

    Reading her work always reminds me of one of my most important Secrets of Adulthood: I have plenty of time for the things that are important to me.

    I'm a huge of her books 168 Hours: You Have More Time than You Think; What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast; and I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time.

    Because she's so good at making the most of her time, she also has a terrific podcast, Best of Both Worlds, with co-host Sarah Hart-Unger. It's all about managing work life, family life, and personal life (Laura has four children, so she has thought a lot about this).

    Once I came up with my Four Tendencies framework, I realized that Laura is a fellow Upholder. She's a textbook Upholder. In fact, if you read my book The Four Tendencies, one of my funniest Upholder stories came from her (see below).

    Now she's written a new book: Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done. It's full of insights, practical tips, current research, and funny stories about how to make the most of our days.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Laura about happiness, habits, and productivity.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple habit or activity that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Laura: There’s a great phrase from Ovid that "dripping water hollows the stone." Small things, done consistently, add up to big things in the long run.

    I write about this mindset a lot in my books, and I try to adopt it in my own life as well. One example: In January of this year, I decided to start writing 500 words of fiction every work day. That’s really not much. Most of us have written that many words in emails by 10 a.m.! And so I don’t feel any resistance to cranking those words out. Sometimes I’m writing a real scene, sometimes I’m just sketching ideas that might become something. I can often get those 500 words done in 15-20 minutes. But all these little spurts add up. As of May, I’ve got about 50,000 words of material to work with, and I’ve figured out aspects of a novel I’m writing that never would have come to me if I hadn’t committed to doing the work.

    Despite making my living as a writer, I’m continually amazed how many other professional obligations can get in the way of writing! Doing my 500 words a day helps me feel more creative. I’m not just sending emails about contracts. I’m still practicing my craft too!

    Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you – or your readers -- most?

    Laura: I write most often about time management and productivity, so I’ve had thousands of people track their time for me over the years. I love seeing where the time really goes. Indeed, I’ve tracked my own time for 3 years straight! No one else has to do that, but it has been enlightening for me.

    One of my most surprising findings has been that most people — including very successful people — get enough sleep. There’s this story out there that in our busy, busy world, people are increasingly sleep-deprived. There’s also a story that for women, in particular, attempting to build a career while raising a family will turn you into a sleep-starved mess. None of this is true. I once did a time diary project that looked at 1001 days in the lives of women with big jobs and kids at home. I found that these busy women averaged 54 hours of sleep per week, or about 7.7 hours per day. Sure, there were some bad nights. But there were plenty of good nights too!

    There are 168 hours in a week, so it turns out it is quite possible to work full-time, spend plenty of time with loved ones, and get enough sleep as well.

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

    Laura: I am definitely an Upholder. Who else would set a goal — in January — to write 500 words a day? I’m pretty sure the Upholder tribe includes anyone who writes about productivity and habits. Any meeting of such writers scheduled at 10:00 a.m. may as well start at 9:50 a.m. My podcast co-host for Best of Both Worlds,/// Sarah Hart-Unger, is also an Upholder. We schedule a recording at 1 p.m. and we are inevitably both on by 12:55 p.m.

    I am the sort of person who, while in the throes of labor with my fourth child, told my husband not to speed on the way to the hospital, and insisted he park in the correct lot. Fortunately, we made it (barely). [Gretchen: this is a story that I love, and I included it in The Four Tendencies.]

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

    Laura: I travel a lot for speaking engagements, so I’ve decided to view travel more as a challenging logistical puzzle I need to solve, rather than an excuse to drop my habits. I run every day (at least a mile — sometimes only a mile! — but at least a mile), so when I’m traveling it’s really just a matter of looking at the schedule and figuring out where that mile goes. Sometimes that means waking up at 4:30 a.m. and running in a hotel gym. I don’t enjoy waking up at 4:30 a.m. and running in a hotel gym, but that’s when the Upholder tendencies kick in.

    I will admit, though, that I wish my Upholder tendencies kicked in a bit more with healthy eating. I love food. It’s not so much parties that are the problem, but if someone decides to offer me a chocolate chip cookie...the whole thing is getting eaten. I stopped shopping at Trader Joe’s because the dark chocolate covered caramels were becoming a bigger part of my life than I wished them to be.

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to "Be Gretchen.")

    Laura: In Off the Clock, I talk about the importance of this mantra: Plan it in, do it anyway.

    As we think about time, it’s important to remember that the "self" is really three selves: the anticipating self (who looks forward to things on the calendar), the experiencing self (who is here in the present), and the remembering self (who thinks back on the past). Philosopher Robert Grudin once wrote that we "pamper the present like a spoiled child," and I think there’s something to this. The anticipating self thought it would be fun to go to the art museum on Friday night, when there’s live music and a bar, and the remembering self will look back fondly on the experience, but the experiencing self just got home from work. She is the one who has to brave the rain and the Friday night traffic. So she throws a tantrum, and we wind up indulging her whim to spend hours scrolling through Facebook posts from people we didn’t like in high school anyway.

    The way to combat her tyrannies? Plan it in, do it anyway. The experiencing self is trying to deliver a monologue in what should be a three-actor play. In most cases, if your anticipating self wanted to do it, you’ll be happy you went, and probably the experiencing self will enjoy it too once she gets over the initial resistance. We draw energy from meaningful things. So I repeat this mantra to myself a lot!

    Off The Clock by Laura Vanderkam

     
  • feedwordpress 16:33:10 on 2018/05/22 Permalink
    Tags: , choices, , , , , know yourself better, ,   

    A Question I’m Often Asked: “How Do I Make This Tough Decision?” 

    One common happiness stumbling block is the need to make a tough decision. To decide between apples and oranges, to weigh pros and cons, to think about what we will need and want in the future, to understand our real values...it’s tough.

    People often write me emails to explain their situations and ask for my thoughts. I can’t give advice to a particular person, but here are some mantras and questions I use when I’m facing a difficult decision in my own life.

    When I’m trying to make a tough choice, I say to myself, "Choose the bigger life." In a particular situation, people would make different decisions about what the "bigger life" would be, but when I ask myself that question, it always helps me see the right answer, for myself.

    For instance, as a family, we were trying to decide whether to get a dog. My daughters desperately wanted a dog, but I kept thinking about the commitment, inconvenience, errands, and all the downsides. The pros and cons list felt equally balanced. But when I thought, "Choose the bigger life," I realized that the bigger life for my family was to get a dog. That wouldn’t be true for everyone, certainly. But it was true for us. And we’re so happy we have our dog Barnaby!

    If you’d like to listen to a discussion of this, I talk about it in episode 27 of the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast.

    Another question to consider: Is this decision likely to strengthen my relationships with other people? Strong relationships with other people are a key—maybe the key—to happiness, so decisions that help build or strengthen ties are likely to boost happiness.

    Of course, sometimes we make decisions, such as to move to a new city or switch to a new profession, that put us in a place where we have few relationships. That can be worthwhile, absolutely, but it’s worth considering the time, effort, and energy needed to create new relationships.

    I also ask myself, "Does this decision help me to follow my personal commandment to Be Gretchen?" (Of course, everyone should substitute their own names!) I want to shape my life to reflect my temperament, interests, and values. I ask myself: Am I making this decision to "Be Gretchen," or because I want to impress other people, please someone else, pretend that I’m different from the person I actually am, or deny a truth about myself?

    Another way to think about "Being Gretchen" is to remind myself, "I want to accept myself, and expect more from myself." Is a particular course of action allowing me to expect more from myself—meaning it’s scary in a positive way, that will allow me to grow? Or does this course of action mean I’m not accepting myself—meaning it feels wrong for me in a way that I should respect?

    It can also be helpful to consider whether, when I contemplate a particular course of action, do I feel energized or drained? Sometimes it’s great to push ourselves to do something novel, challenging, or scary. But sometimes, a bad feeling is an indication that a decision doesn’t sit right with us. Unfortunately, it’s often very hard to tell the difference between those two feelings. This takes a lot of deliberation.

    I try to avoid false choices. Often, we try to make difficult decisions seem easier by boiling down our choices to two clear paths, when in fact, there may be many paths from which to choose. If you’re thinking of giving yourself a choice between two options—"Should I stay in my current job full time, or should I quit to write the novel I’ve always to write?"—ask, are those the only two options? Are there other options that I haven’t considered?

    Relatedly, when appropriate, I reassure myself, "There’s no wrong choice here." When I’m facing two good options, I remind myself that a choice becomes the right choice as we live it—as we have good experiences, make new relationships, go down a particular path.

    And here’s one last strategy.

    As I mentioned, I often get emails from people saying, "Here’s my situation, here are my choices, what should I do, how do I choose?" And it’s quite clear to me, from reading what they’ve written, that they know what choice they want to make. So I write back, "I can’t give advice, but it sounds to me as though you already know what you want to do."

    The way they explain the situation and the decision absolutely tips their hand. And that’s fine.

    So if you’re not sure what you want to do, try drafting an email to explain the situation, send the email to yourself, wait a week, then read it. Maybe you know what you want, more than you’ve admitted to yourself.

    Several fascinating books explore the question of making better decisions.

    1. Chip and Dan Heath’s Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work. The title and subtitle say it all—why it’s hard to make decisions, how to test your assumptions, how to figure out what’s most important to you, how to make a better decision.
    2. Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness. This book includes many interesting ideas, but one stands out: one very effective way to judge whether a particular course of action will make you happy in the future is to ask people who are following that course of action right now if they’re happy, and assume that you’ll feel the same way. Going on a family trip to Disneyworld. Living near your family. Getting a hamster. Learning to use Instagram. Working as a paralegal. Volunteering. Moving to a place that lengthens your commute. In evaluating the likely consequences of a decision, other people’s experiences of happiness—or lack thereof—can be very instructive for me.
    3. Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. Schwartz explains why we find decision-making so taxing, and why having more choices can actually make us more stressed and less satisfied with our decisions.

    What do you do when you need to make a tough choice?

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:33 on 2018/05/10 Permalink
    Tags: Alison Green, , , careeer, , ,   

    “You Can Be Direct Without Being Rude and You Can Be Assertive Without Being Disagreeable.” 

    Interview: Alison Green.

    Alison Green runs the very popular site Ask a Manager, where she answers questions from readers about office and management issue, and she also writes "Ask a Boss" on the site The Cut. She's been called "the Dear Abby of the work world."

    If you want to get a quick sense of her advice, here are some of her favorite posts on various workplace issues. Fascinating!

    She just published a new book called Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work. Her advice and observations are insightful, funny, grounded in real experience, and highly practical. (And what a great subtitle, right?)

    I couldn’t wait to talk to Alison about happiness, habits, and productivity.

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

    Alison: Taking time to be very deliberate about gratitude. I try to regularly reflect on the things I have to be grateful for, and it really does make me more appreciative and happier. I especially try to do it when something less-than-ideal has happened. If I make a conscious effort to think about all the ways in which things are still okay (or could be much worse), it really changes my mindset.

    Gretchen: What’s something you know now about building healthy habits or happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Alison: It took me a while to learn that one secret to a happy life is being really honest with yourself about what makes you happy and what doesn’t. Sometimes the things that make us happy aren’t the things that we wish made us happy – whether it’s a particular romantic partner or the books we like to read or a specific career track. And other times we just don’t pay close enough attention to realize what does and doesn’t bring us joy. I’ve tried to really prioritize figuring out what brings me happiness – even if they’re things that aren’t entirely aligned with the self-image I want to have -- and then try to arrange my life accordingly. It’s worked well so far! I’m pretty happy.

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

    Alison: I’m a worst-case-scenario thinker. If something could go wrong, chances are high that I’ve thought of it and I’m worried it’s coming. At some level, I figure that by thinking through what I’d do in the event of worst-case scenarios, I’m prepared should any come around, and I’ll never be blindsided by them! But in reality, staying mired in worst-case thinking is probably too high a price to pay just to avoid the small chance that one day I’ll be blindsided by something. So it’s a bad habit, and I’d like to get out of it.

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

    Alison: I wish my answer here was “jogging” or “knitting beanies for neighborhood children,” but the reality is that I adore doing nothing. I suppose “nothing” isn’t quite accurate – but lolling about with no responsibilities when I can just read or go down internet rabbit holes or otherwise do things that aren’t terribly productive. My work schedule tends to be too crowded on most days, and so when I get blocks of time where there’s nothing I need to be doing, I take full advantage of that. There’s something about getting to have brief periods of laziness that is incredibly refreshing and leaves me feeling much more centered and happy.

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

    I do a lot of writing, and I used to procrastinate horribly when I didn’t feel like writing something. I finally realized that when I procrastinated on a project, I was introducing an outsized amount of negative emotions into my life – days and days of feeling the thing hanging over me and knowing that I should be doing it and feeling guilty that I hadn’t, plus knowing that I’d need to sit down and start it at some point. But if I just did whatever it was and got it out the way, I didn’t have all those days of vague dread, and I also got the relief and triumph of having it done. And truly, I think there is no better feeling than “done” for writers! So I started focusing on that feeling as a way to motivate myself to get things finished – and it’s actually completely cured me of procrastination. Similar to the way other people tell themselves they’ll have some chocolate or a beer after they finish something they’re putting off, I tell myself I’ll get to have that great feeling of having the damn thing finished – and I won’t have it hanging over me. And that’s enough to motivate me to do it.

    That’s led me to a place where now I’m really disciplined about work. I have a written schedule for what I need to get done each day, and I stick to it. Doing that feels so great that it’s been very self-reinforcing, and at this point, I don’t know how I’d get things done any other way.

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

    Alison: I’m a Questioner through and through.

    Gretchen: What made you want to write your new book?

    I wrote my new book, Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Workbecause in eleven years of writing Ask a Manager, one theme that I’ve seen over and over again is that people end up less happy – both at work and in the rest of life – because they hesitate to speak up about what’s important to them. They worry that they’ll cause drama, or they’ll say the wrong thing, or that they’ll cause tension or awkwardness with people they have to see regularly. And so as a result, they stay quiet about things that often have significant impacts on their day to day quality of life, and sometimes even on their paychecks.

    As a work advice columnist, I’m always trying to show people that most of the time, you actually can speak up about things that are bothering you at work – whether it’s as small as a co-worker who annoys you by playing her music too loudly or as big as a hyper-critical, micromanaging boss. And if you do, you can significantly improve your happiness level at work.

    What I’ve tried to do in the new book is to walk people through exactly what those conversations can look like, to show that you can be direct without being rude and that you can be assertive without being disagreeable. It’s a book about work, but I think a willingness to jump in and have hard conversations will usually increase your happiness in all realms of life.

     
  • feedwordpress 09:00:01 on 2018/05/03 Permalink
    Tags: , Ben Feder, , ,   

    “It’s Not True that We Can’t Change Our Outlook or that We’re Stuck Being Whomever We Think We Are.” 

    Interview: Ben Feder.

    At a time in his life when he was playing leading roles in big business, Ben Feder realized that he was losing touch with everything that had sustained him during his career. He became determined to re-order his priorities and spend time on the people and activities that meant the most to him -- so, with his wife and four kids, Ben Feder set off for Bali on a "sabbatical year" to focus on everything that was most important. This is the kind of adventure that many people fantasize about, but few people actually do.

    He's written a book about his experience, and it's just hitting the shelves: Take Off Your Shoes: One Man's Journey From the Boardroom to Bali and Back.

    Having written The Happiness Project, about my year-long experiment of happiness with myself as guinea pig, I love reading any book of self-experiment, especially one that's in the form of a "year of ___"

    I couldn’t wait to talk to Ben about happiness, habits, and productivity.

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

    Ben: I have three: meditation, yoga, and painting. Meditation centers my mind. Yoga does the same and adds body movement to the dialogue. Painting allows me to express creativity and appreciate beauty. And it brings me unimagined joy.

    Gretchen: Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    Ben: One day, a few years ago, I arrived home from work to discover my oldest son, Sam, then in 8th grade, barricaded in his room doing homework. I noted that lately his conversations with me had morphed to monosyllabic grunts as he sequestered himself ever more deeply. Suddenly, I realized that between his going off to a highly competitive high school and my travel schedule (I was CEO of a company with global operations), I was about to miss out on an important relationship. In a flash, I realized that this is where it happens. This is where men turn into the husbands and fathers they never intended to be. If I didn’t make a radical choice, my son would enter high school and then college and the time to connect more deeply would be lost forever. I couldn’t put off any longer what I had long dreamed about; to take an extended time off with my young family. So, I decided to take myself out of the game temporarily in order to explore, renew, and deepen the relationships with the people that mattered most to me. My wife, Victoria, and I pulled our four kids out of school and decamped to Bali, Indonesia, for a sabbatical. It was during this sabbatical that I began to gain a challenging healthy habit—learning to be still. And I learned to break an unhealthy habit—the mindset that I needed to continually notch up another achievement to find happiness. While it is nice to record another success on life’s imaginary scoreboard, I find it doesn’t on its own lead to growth and well-being.

    Gretchen: What’s something you know now about creating happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Ben: It turns out that happiness is a learnable skill. It’s not true that we can’t change our outlook or that we are stuck being whomever we think we are. Scientists have learned that the brain is vastly more plastic than long had been thought. By being mindful of our thoughts and deliberately turning them around to be more positive and optimistic, we can, over time, create new neural pathways so that our overall disposition is happier. In short, happiness is an inside job. Once you realize that happiness is a trainable skill, it becomes obvious that it is also a choice we make to be more happy or less. I definitely wish I knew this when I was 18, but it probably requires a little more self-awareness than most 18-year-olds are wired for.

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

    Ben: International travel is necessary to fulfill my ambitions and career goals, and in many ways I enjoy the cultural and commercial adventure that comes with international business travel. That said, if it’s too frequent, it does tend to get in the way of healthy living. With rare exceptions, none of us can live some ideal life. We are all human. We all have obligations and responsibilities, and some of us are deeply ambitious. So, I try to strike a healthy balance.

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”) Or a quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful? Or a particular book that has stayed with you?

    Ben: There is a quote I once heard that was attributed to the Dalai Lama, though I have not been able to find it online. Nonetheless, it’s a good one: “If you are unhappy with your life situation...change your mind.”

     
  • feedwordpress 12:00:14 on 2018/04/24 Permalink
    Tags: , book list, book recomendations, , , , favorite books,   

    My Favorite Books About Parenting. 

    Mother’s Day is coming up, so in honor of the holiday I decided to make a list of my favorite parenting books. I’ve read many parenting books, but there are a few that really stand out to me – in many cases, I’ve read these books several times.

    One thing I've discovered is that when a parenting book is truly excellent, its advice is just as helpful for dealing with adults as with children. Children and adults are more alike than we sometimes assume. For instance, when I was researching habits for Better Than Before, my book about habit change, I did a fair amount of research on the design of pre-school and kindergarten routines.

    So after reading these books about parenthood, I’ve applied most of what I learned to my adult relationships, with equal success:

    1. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.

    How I love this book! It has helped me tremendously as a parent – and in every other aspect of my life. In fact, I probably think more about its lessons in the context of adult interactions that I do of child interactions. I've read it at least five times. It’s very wise, and it’s also a very fun read.

    One of the most important lessons I learned from this book? Make people feel happier by acknowledging that they’re not feeling happy. When we acknowledge the reality of other people’s feelings, they know they’re being heard. Instead of denying feelings like anger, irritation, fear, or reluctance, we do better to articulate the other person’s point of view. It turns out that when people’s bad feelings are acknowledged, those feelings dissipate more easily.

    This was a giant revelation to me. It really, really works. If you’d like to read a post I wrote on this subject, it’s here.

    2. I also love Faber & Mazlish’s book Siblings Without Rivalry.

    3. Practical Wisdom for Parents: Raising Self-Confident Children in the Preschool Years by Nancy Schulman and Ellen Birnbaum.

    I love this book, in part because it’s a terrific book and in part because it was written by two people whom I really like and respect. In fact, as I describe in my book The Happiness Project, I played a small role in the book’s inception. (You can also read that story here.)

    If you want to listen to a two-minute episode of "A Little Happier" where I describe one of the many wise things that Nancy Schulman said to me, it’s here.

    4. Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children by Michael Thompson.

    I’m a giant raving fan of Michael Thompson’s work. It’s practical, realistic, and insightful, plus it’s written in a very engaging way.

    Here’s a post I wrote about a passage from the book about why it’s a bad idea to "interview for pain." Again, this principle is just as true for adults as for kids.

    5. I also love Thompson’s book Mom, They're Teasing Me: Helping Your Child Solve Social Problems. If you want to hear "A Little Happier" episode where I talk about one of the most important lessons I gleaned from that book, it’s here.

    6. The Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel.

    This is a very useful book that emphasizes why it’s important to let children make mistakes, suffer consequences, handle disappointment, and deal with boredom as part of their growing up.

    What are your favorite books about parenthood? I’d be especially interested in any recommendations aimed at parents of twenty-something children. My older daughter isn’t twenty yet, but she will be, before I know it. The days are long, but the years are short.

     
  • Crystal Ellefsen 20:20:52 on 2018/04/22 Permalink
    Tags: , reader stories, testimonials,   

    Do You Want to Share the Story of Your Happiness Project? I’d Love to Hear About It. 

    I love any before-and-after story. Whether it’s in a book, magazine, TV show, movie, play, or wherever I might come across it, once I hear the “before,” I’m hooked; I have to see the “after.”

    In fact, the working title of my book Better Than Before was Before and After.

    Because of my love for these stories of transformation, it has been thrilling for me to hear reports about how my book The Happiness Project has helped people go from before to after. Ever since The Happiness Project hit the shelves, people have told me stories of how they’ve done their own happiness projects, in their own ways, and how these projects have changed their lives.

    If this has been your experience, I’d love to hear about it – whether you’ve been in touch with me before, or whether this is your first time telling me about your before-and-after.

    The tenth anniversary of The Happiness Project is coming up (how is it possible ten years have passed?), and I’m working on material for the Tenth Anniversary edition. I’d love to include some stories from readers or listeners about their own happiness projects. These stories might be included in the book, discussed on the Happier podcast, or featured on my site.

    It’s fascinating to hear what people tried, what worked for them, and with what result. We can all learn from each other.

    So if you have a story to share, please let me know! Email me and tell me about your happiness project.

    If you have already written your story on your blog or somewhere else, feel free to leave a link in the comments.

    (Featured image photo credit: Kennedy from Elanest.com)

     
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