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  • Crystal Ellefsen 09:00:58 on 2018/11/01 Permalink
    Tags: , , ,   

    30 Tips I Use to Make Myself Happier, Right Now. 

    My book The Happiness Project came out almost ten years ago—wow, that’s hard to believe.

    One of the most important things I learned as part of doing that project, and an idea that I put into practice in my own life all the time, is that I can influence my happiness. Yes of course, sometimes terrible circumstances make it impossible for me to be happy, but it’s almost always possible to be happier, and often with just a few small steps, I can give myself a big boost.

    I try to recognize the fact that I’m feeling blue (oddly, this is often easier said than done) and take action to lift my spirits.

    Here are 30 things I do to make myself happier when I need an immediate boost:

    1. Do ten jumping jacks.
    2. Go outside and look at the sky.
    3. Pet my dog Barnaby. Then…
    4. Text a photo of Barnaby to my family.
    5. Re-read a few chapters of a children’s or YA book in a series I love: Graceling, Harry Potter, Narnia, Melendy Quartet, etc.
    6. Enjoy a beautiful smell.
    7. Do a small good deed for someone else.
    8. Clear some clutter (I can always find some).
    9. Look for a beautiful color in my surroundings.
    10. Call my sister Elizabeth.
    11. Take a minute to be grateful for some basic aspect of my life: elevators, space heaters, Wikipedia.
    12. Send a family update (to learn more about “update,” listen to episode 2 of the Happier podcast).
    13. Clean off my desk.
    14. Copy some quotations into my giant trove of quotations.
    15. Look at my TimeHop app.
    16. Make sure I’m not cold, hot, thirsty, hungry, need to go to the bathroom, or experiencing mild discomfort: in other words, treat myself like a toddler.
    17. Re-copy my to-do list, so it’s fresh and clean.
    18. Go to the library.
    19. Watch an episode of The Office (American version).
    20. Make the positive argument.
    21. Randomly read a few pages of Virginia Woolf’s A Writer’s Diary.
    22. Make myself a cup of coffee.
    23. Make a plan for some future fun: plan an outing, make a date with a friend, add a book to my library list.
    24. Re-read Winston Churchill’s eulogy for Neville Chamberlain.
    25. Tackle some small, nagging task that’s been weighing on my mind.
    26. Move with more energy, put a smile on my face. When I act happier, I’ll feel happier.
    27. Plan to go to bed early. I always feel better in the morning.
    28. Hug a member of my family (whoever’s available).
    29. Allow myself to do some quick research on a subject that has been fascinating me, but is unrelated to my work.
    30. Listen to Nina Simone sing “Feeling Good.”

    In my books—The Happiness Project, Happier at Home, Better Than Before, The Four TendenciesOuter Order Inner Calm, and My Color PilgrimageI write about why these small actions do make me happier.

    It’s great to have a long menu of choices to consult. Of course, everyone’s list is a bit different. My husband’s list would include “Do a crossword puzzle,” for instance.

    What’s on your list?

  • Crystal Ellefsen 10:00:22 on 2018/09/15 Permalink
    Tags: , , book recommendations,   

    15 Books That Not Everyone Will Love 

    Here is a round-up of some of my favorite eccentric picks.

    Now, looking at this list, you might ask, "Well, just how eccentric is a book like American Gods? It's a gigantically popular, best-selling book." By "eccentric," I mean that these books aren't for everyone. They suit my idiosyncratic tastes. Not everyone likes books that are fantasy-set-in-the-real-world. But I love it!

    People often ask me to describe the books I recommend. I don't like to do that, because weirdly I often find that when someone describes a book to me, I want to read it less. The best books often sound terrible. So I like to say, "Take it from me, this is a great book."


    1. American Gods by Neil Gaiman

    Buy from IndieBound; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    2. Revenge of the Lawn by Richard Brautigan

    Buy from IndieBound; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    3. Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf

    Buy from IndieBound; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    4. A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction by Christopher Alexander

    Buy from IndieBound; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    5. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud

    Buy from IndieBound; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    6. J. M. Barrie and the Lost Boys: the Real Story Behind Peter Pan by Andrew Birkin

    Buy from IndieBound; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    7. Crowds and Power by Elias Canetti

    Buy from IndieBound; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    8. Truth and Beauty: A Friendship by Ann Patchett

    Buy from IndieBound; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    9. The Golden Bough: a Study in Magic and Religion by James Frazer

    Buy from WORD; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    10. Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar

    Buy from WORD; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    11. The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis

    Buy from WORD; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    12. Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes

    Buy from WORD; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    13. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein

    Buy from WORD; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    14. Forty-one False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers by Janet Malcolm

    Buy from WORD; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    15. The Official Preppy Handbook edited by Lisa Birnbach

    Buy from Barnes & Noble; Amazon

  • Crystal Ellefsen 12:00:30 on 2018/07/10 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , young adult books   

    A Selection of 9 Young-Adult Novels That I Read Over and Over 

    I love to read. And I love to read children's and young-adult novels. In fact, I'm in three (yes, three) book groups where we read only "kidlit."

    And I love to re-read. I'm sure I've read some of my favorite books at least twenty times.

    In case you're interested in reading some YA novels, here is a list of some of my favorites. I've read all of them at least twice, and some of them many more times than that.

    Now, I must add, this is a very haphazard list of my favorites. There are so many books that I've read and re-read. I wanted this list to include some very well-known books, and also some that are less well-known, for people who are looking for something they may not have known about.

    1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

    Buy from IndieBound; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    2. What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

    Buy from IndieBoundBarnes & Noble; Amazon

    3. Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones

    Buy from WORDBarnes & Noble; Amazon

    4.  Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp

    Buy from WORD; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    5. Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron

    Buy from WORD; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    6. Graceling by Kristin Cashore

    Buy from WORD; Barnes & Noble; Amazon.

    7. The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden

    Buy from Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    8. Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt

    (Wow, I really dislike the new cover; ignore that.)

    Buy from WORD; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    9. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

    Buy from WORD; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    What's the difference, you may ask, among a work of children's literature, a work of adult literature, and a work of young-adult literature? In my three children's literature reading groups, this question often comes up. And there's no clear answer.

    And the sorting of books changes over time. Catcher in the Rye and Jane Eyre are now often shelved with young-adult literature, though they started out as novels for adults.

    What books have you read over and over?

  • 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)

  • Crystal Ellefsen 21:30:58 on 2018/04/13 Permalink
    Tags: ,   

    Announcing: The Four Tendencies Course. 

    Big news! I’m doing something I’ve never done before. I’m launching an online learning class called "The Four Tendencies Course," and the enrollment window opens Monday, April 30th for a limited timeClick here to join the waitlist.

    Last year, my book The Four Tendencies hit the shelves. In it, I describe the “Four Tendencies”—Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, and Rebel—and how this personality distinction shapes every area of our lives.

    Since introducing this framework, I’ve been deluged with responses from readers and podcast listeners. It’s thrilling to hear how people are using the Four Tendencies to transform their health, work life, and relationships. Because the interest has been so intense, I decided to create an online course and community for people who want to dive deeper.

    I’m very excited about this course—and I had so much fun creating it. I hope you’ll join me when registration opens in a few weeks.

    In this course, you’ll identify your Tendency, and then learn how to use that knowledge to gain the self-insight that will clarify the practical changes you can make to create the life you want. And you’ll also learn how to appreciate other people’s Tendencies, and how to support them effectively, to cut down on stress, burn-out, conflict, frustration, and procrastination.

    If you’ve ever asked any of the following questions, this course is for you:

    • Why do others seem to be able to do things for themselves, but I can’t?
    • Why do I resist doing things that I actually want to do?
    • Why can’t people accept that I find comfort and freedom in my routine?
    • Why doesn’t everyone do the things they say they are going to do?
    • Why do I struggle with or become overwhelmed by making decisions?

    The Four Tendencies Course will include 5 weeks of instruction, 12 video lessons, reflection questions and exercises, exclusive live "Ask Gretchen Anything" calls, an online community built around the course, plus bonus materials including 10+ bonus videos and interviews, all for less than $100.

    If you’re interested in joining me to explore ways to create a happier, more fulfilled life, click here to join the waitlist. Once you join the waitlist, you'll get the opportunity to get an early-bird discount. Remember, registration opens April 30th for a limited time.

  • Crystal Ellefsen 12:00:11 on 2018/03/27 Permalink

    Today is The 12th Anniversary of This Blog 

    The days are long but the years are short – and I’m in shock to realize that today is the twelfth anniversary of this blog. Which I usually don’t even call my "blog" anymore, because that seems so dated; now I just refer to this destination as my "site."

    Here's a link to my very first entry: The blog begins. I wish I could see it the way it was formatted back then. It has gone through many renovations since that time. And I’ve written more than 3000 posts since I began.

    When I started this blog, I had no expectations for it; I started it as a way to test the happiness finding that novelty and challenge bring happiness. What could I do that was novel and challenging? I decided to try starting a blog.

    It’s funny to look back and realize that I started my blog before I started using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, podcast, my newsletter, my "Moment of Happiness" daily email, the Better app...any of that. I’m sure that my happy experience with my blog made me more open to the possibilities of using other social media.

    I remember that all those twelve years ago, I was very nervous about putting my words out into the world directly -- and I comforted myself with the thought that it didn't matter what it looked like because no one would ever read it. I fully expected to give my blog a good honest try, and then to abandon it, just as I did my gratitude journal. But my blog changed my life.

    It's unnerving to reflect on how flippantly I undertook this project. I might well have tried something else novel and challenging, like learning the ukulele. It's unnerving because now this blog is a major engine of happiness in my life.

    Bonus: it’s been so fun to hear from many people about how they’ve started their own blogs, after reading about my experience of doing so in my book The Happiness Project.

    If you’d like to read highlights from this site, check out the ebook, The Best of The Happiness Project Blog: Ten Years of Happiness, Good Habits, and More, which features my favorite posts from the first ten years of this site.

    Having this site gives me creative freedom—I can put my words out into the world directly and immediately, with no editor or publisher to accommodate. It gives me the ability to think more deeply—only through writing do I learn new subjects or have original ideas, and I often test a new idea by writing about it here. It gives me an identity—just as the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast has given me new friends, new knowledge, new affiliations, new conferences to attend, so has this site. And it gives me a way to shine a spotlight on the work of other people—something that gives me great joy.

    Best of all, having this site gives me a way to engage with others on fascinating issues. Readers, your comments here have done so much to deepen my understanding of my subject—which, at the core, is human nature. Thank you. I so appreciate your enthusiasm, your support, and your brilliant, thought-provoking insights, examples, and questions. It makes me so happy.

  • Crystal Ellefsen 13:00:53 on 2018/02/22 Permalink
    Tags: , , , ,   

    A Question I’m Often Asked: What’s My Process for Taking Notes? 

    One of my favorite things about myself is that I often become obsessed with certain subjects. I’ll do countless hours of research to learn more about these subjects, sometimes over the course of years.

    For instance, some of my obsessions have included: color, clutter, the placebo response, the sense of smell, dogs, the Eleusinian Mysteries, Winston Churchill, the question of why owners would destroy their own possessions, and happiness.

    Some of these preoccupations turn into books; some burn themselves out. But whatever happens, I love discovering a new passionate interest – all of a sudden, an unfamiliar area of the library becomes extremely important to me.

    When I read, I take notes. Many people have asked about my process, so here it is:

    When I read, I’m always looking for passages that I want to note. I mark them as I read – either by putting in a sticky flag if I’m reading a library book, or by marking the page if I own the book. Side note: for books I own, I mark them up a lot – it’s faster, plus if I’m looking through a book later, those marks help me find the passages that I found most notable.

    Then, when I’ve finished reading the book, I go back and copy the notes into my computer.

    If it’s a particularly beautiful or thought-provoking passage, I copy it into a document called "Quotes2006+." This is a giant trove of my favorite passages – favorite either because they’re beautifully written, or because they capture an idea that I want to record.

    If it’s a passage that also happens to relate to happiness or human nature, I add it to the list of passages that I use in my free "Moment of Happiness" email newsletter, where each day, I send out a great quotation. (If you’d like to get the Moment of Happiness each day, sign up here.)

    If it’s a passage that relates to a subject that interests me enough to deserve its own notes document, I’ll copy that passage there. My notes documents include "happiness," "color," "Winston Churchill," and something called "Essential Placebo." (Long story; stay tuned.)

    As I’m taking notes on a subject, I don’t worry about organization. That comes later, when I’m ready to outline a book.

    I depend on the "search" function to find what I need. To help organize my thoughts later, and to find what I’m looking for, I tag a passage so that I can "search" to find it. So, for instance, if I’d copied a passage that related to an interesting accountability strategy that an Obliger used to help himself take medicine regularly, I might type "Obliger accountability health medicine" after it, so that later, if I’m looking for health-related material, I can find it.

    As I take notes, I also add any question that occurs to me, or any conclusion that I think I might forget.

    If I do decide to write a book about a subject, I go through my notes repeatedly and think about my own analysis about what I’ve learned. I begin to see where I disagree with others, where I think that certain points haven’t been emphasized enough, where I think new vocabulary is needed, how I would present a subject to make it clearest.

    For almost all my books, the structure was very, very difficult to create. Which isn’t obvious from looking at those books – if you look at The Happiness Project, say, you’d think, "What could be a more simple and straightforward structure?" And yet it took me several false starts to come up with that framework. Structure is so, so, so important – and the structure must serve the meaning. So I can’t figure out my structure until I know what I want to say, and I don’t know what I want to say until I’ve amassed hundreds of pages of notes.

    One advantage of this form of note-taking is that when I start a book, I never start with a blank screen. I start with hundreds of pages of notes to inspire me.

    I love taking notes, but while it might seem like a passive, easy task, but it’s actually very challenging. One benefit of note-taking is that it forces me to review all the most important parts of a book, and to decide what’s worth copying out. That takes concentration. This process helps me remember what I’ve learned, and find that information later, and for that reason, it takes a lot of time and mental energy.

    I often think I should print out my troves of notes in some attractive way, so that I could leaf through them for pleasure. I do love looking over my notes from previous projects, but I also find it exhausting. I can’t help but analyze, process, and criticize all over again.

    I always type my notes, because my handwriting is terrible, and I can type so much faster than I can write.

    Do you take notes while you read – and if so, how do you organize them?

  • Crystal Ellefsen 15:09:47 on 2018/02/01 Permalink
    Tags: , , inteview, Morten Hansen, , ,   

    “The Data Revealed a Big Surprise: Top Performers Do Less.” 

    Interview: Morten Hansen.

    Morten Hansen is a management professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He was the co-author with Jim Collins of the book Great by Choice and also the author of Collaboration, and he has a new book that's just hitting the shelves, Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More.

    Morten has done a lot of thinking about how people do their best work and live their happiest lives, so I couldn't wait to hear his insights about happiness, habits, and productivity.

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

    Morten: One of the things I have always done is to celebrate milestones, even the small ones, with my wife and kids. When I got an academic paper accepted in a prestige journal, I would open a bottle of champagne with my wife and have a toast, to mark the milestone but also to give thanks for her support. When I finished my last book, I took my family out to dinner and thanked them. We do this for their milestones too. Some of these are small markers, perhaps, but it’s great to pause for a moment in our hectic lives, celebrate a bit, and express gratitude. I believe we don’t celebrate enough at work. It’s an easy thing to do.

    You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you – or other people -- most?
    In my new study published in my book Great at Work, I set out to answer a deceptively simple question: why do some people perform better at work than others? I developed a data set of 5,000 managers and employees from across corporate America to find answers. The data analysis revealed a big surprise to me and to many others; top performers do less. We live in a world where we strive to do more to succeed: we take on more assignments, go to more meetings, fly around, network more, get online 24/7, and so on, yet we don’t pause to ask, is this the best way to work? It turns out, it isn’t. That’s an uncomfortable piece of news to many, including myself: I do more and stress to get it all done, believing it is the road to success—yet it isn’t. Of course, the good news is that we can change that and perform better, and have better lives, too.

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

    When I started out working, I joined the Boston Consulting Group in London as a 24-year old. I had no real prior experience, so I came up with a great formula to succeed: I would work crazy hours. I put in 70, 80 and even 90 hours per week. I did rather well, being promoted up the ranks of the company. I discovered that some colleagues who also did well (and some better than me) worked fewer hours, but I just couldn’t figure out what they did, so I brushed it off and kept those long hours. Of course, it took a toll on my relationship with my fiancée (who, luckily, stuck with me). Now, a few decades later, I have discovered how foolish I was. I had fallen into the trap of believing that each extra hour worked improves output, and that’s not the case.

    The results from my new research show that the relationship between hours worked and performance is an inverted U: you perform much better when you go from 30 to 50 hours per week on average (slacking off at 30 is no good), performance only goes up a little bit by going from 50 to 65 hours, and it DECLINES from 65 hours onwards. So my “brilliant” strategy of piling on 70 and 80 hours a week was most likely a dismal failure. Uggh. It hurts even today to think back on all that wasted time (and life). But I have learned from my data. I have created what I call the “50-hour work week” rule: Work about 50 hours per week (which is hard work), but no more. My true lesson for a good work habit: it’s HOW you work—and not how hard—that matters.

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

    I am a “do more” type of person. By that I mean that I take on many assignments, say “yes” to too many things, and then I work hard—and stress—to get it all done. Many people work like that. First off, it doesn’t lead to the best results, as I said. But it also makes me less happy: that stress to get it all done means I am working at night when I should be with my family, and it’s also stressful to coordinate all kinds of priorities. I don’t feel burned out (yet!), but working this way clearly increases the risk of that. I know this from my data. We asked our study participants whether they felt burned out at work and about a fifth strongly agreed they felt burned out, and another quarter agreed somewhat. Those are big numbers and it’s hard to feel happy when you’re burning out working. The solution is to “do less”: cut priorities and zoom in on what matters the most.

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

    Yes! On January 1, 2017, I set the goal of getting in shape. Like so many others, I signed up with a trainer at a health club. And like so many, I have had this New Year’s resolution every year! I am a former competitive track and field athlete, so I thought this was going to be easy, but alas, I succumbed like so many others. But this year I succeeded and here’s how. I applied the idea of “20-mile march” from my book Great by Choice (co-authored with Jim Collins): the idea is to set a periodic goal (say monthly and weekly) and then set an upper and a lower bound (that’s crucial). I told myself: the goal is to exercise 3 times a week, and the lower bound is 1x, and the upper bound is 4x. My motto was: stick to the bounds, no matter what. The bounds made all the difference: I would reach my goal even if I just exercised a paltry 1 time a week. This is very different from what I used to say to myself: exercise 3 times a week, and everything below that is a failure (and sure enough, after 6 weeks in 2016 I failed and then I had, in my mind, broken my new year resolution). Now, why an upper bound? The reason is, if I exercised too many times in one week, my legs would be sore from running and so I had to rest the next week. Pacing yourself like that works really well in forming a habit, I found.

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

    I am a Questioner, absolutely. Particularly at this point in my life I notice that I question many things. Of course, I can be annoying at times, like when I ask flight attendants why we board by zones that don’t make any sense (“because that’s the way it’s done, duh.”). They are not especially impressed (or interested) when I tell them that research shows there is a better way. In my research, I found that a number of people kept asking fundamental questions about why work was done in certain ways, and that allowed them to find new and better ways. A high school principal asked his faculty, “Why do we send kids home with homework?” which challenged a 300-year old model of teaching in school. This question prompted the school to switch to a better method, where they “flipped” the classroom—homework at school, lectures via video clips at home—and results soared. It would be great to include a measure of The Four Tendencies in a study like the one I did for my book to see how work practices relate to performance. I can see why Questioners like me and the high school principal have some strengths, and yet weaknesses too (my bosses don’t especially like it when I question everything they ask me to do….oh well).

  • Crystal Ellefsen 22:10:27 on 2017/09/21 Permalink

    “You don’t have to be the victim of your environment. You can also be the architect of it.” 

    Interview: James Clear.

    If I remember correctly, I met James Clear at Chris Guillebeau’s terrific yearly conference, World Domination Summit. We’re interested in so many of the same things – in particular, habits.

    Because he’s spent so much time thinking and writing about habits, I was curious to hear how James would answer these questions.

    For me, it’s especially interesting to see how someone else approaches the issues that I often ponder—how someone else thinks of it, what vocabulary is used. In brackets in James’s answers, I’ve added the corresponding terms that I use in my book, Better Than Before.

    Habits, happiness, human nature—such endlessly fascinating subjects!

    Gretchen:  What is a simple habit that consistently makes you happier?

    James: For at least five years, when we sit down for dinner at night my wife and I will say one thing we are grateful for that happened during the day. This habit provides some insight into the types of events that actually cause happiness. For example, over time, you realize that most of the things you are grateful for are things that cost little or no money like "getting in a good workout" or "getting to see my sister this weekend" or "making dinner together." It's an incredibly simple habit, but I'm sure that it helps us maintain a sense of perspective and increases our general feelings of gratitude and happiness.


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

    Physical environment is one of the most overlooked drivers of habits and behavior change. I certainly had no idea how important it was when I was 18.

    Your environment can have a profound impact on our daily actions. For example, if I walk into the kitchen and see a plate of cookies, I'll eat one (or ten) even if I'm not hungry. [Try the Strategy of Abstaining! But only if you’re an Abstainer.] The way your environment is designed can have a big impact on which options you choose. For example, I previously wrote about one study that found people drank 25% more water and 11% less soda when more water bottles were placed throughout the cafeteria. The researchers didn't talk to anyone. They just changed the environment and the behavior changed as well.

    Your habits are often triggered by what is obvious, easy, or available to you in your current environment. Walk into most living rooms. Where do all the couches and chairs face? We watch so much TV because our rooms are designed for it. Drive down any major road. It is no surprise we eat so much fast food when we are surrounded by it. It's hard to resist the pull of what engulfs us. I've never seen someone consistently stick to positive habits in a negative environment.

    There is good news: You don't have to be the victim of your environment. You can also be the architect of it.

    If you want to practice guitar more frequently, then place your guitar stand in the middle of your living room. If you want to read more, then put a book on top of your pillow when you make your bed each morning. Read a few pages when you go to bed at night. [In Better Than Before, I call this the Strategy of Convenience.]

    Here's a personal example: For a long time, I would buy apples and forget to eat them because they were tucked away in the crisper at the bottom of my fridge. I never saw them. Then I bought a large bowl, set it in the middle of the kitchen counter, and put the apples in it. Now I eat one each day simply because it's highly visible and easy to remember. You want to make good habits obvious. I call this process environment design and the core idea is to put more steps between you and bad habits and fewer steps between you and good habits.

    The same principles apply to your digital environment. I hide all social media apps on my phone in a folder three swipes away from my home screen. The idea is to increase the friction between me and mindless social media browsing. [The Strategy of Inconvenience.]

    I've written a lot about this topic. If you're interested in more on how your environment influences your habits, this article is a good place to start: Motivation is Overvalued. Environment Often Matters More.


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

    Not all habits are created equal. There are certain habits that deliver a much higher "rate of return" in life than others.

    In my life, exercise has easily been one of the habits with the highest rate of return. Improved health and extra years of living are obvious benefits, but there are mental improvements as well. I often joke that without exercise I wouldn't have a business. I need a way to physically blow off steam so that I can keep my mental sanity and handle the rollercoaster ride of entrepreneurship.

    Sleep is another crucial habit for me. One of my cardinal rules is that I never cheat myself on sleep. I typically get 8 to 9 hours per night. I'm sure this extra rest keeps my sharp and helps be do more productive work during the day. [These are two of the four habits discussed in my chapter on the Strategy of Foundation.]


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

    I had a two-year period during grad school where I did very little exercise. Fast forward to today and I've been training 3 to 5 days per week for nearly a decade. The shift in exercise habits came not from making one change, but from making several related changes. I joined a gym that had a weightlifting team, which gave me a group of people I could be friends with and get to know better. As I developed friend at the gym, my motivation to go increased. [Strategy of Accountability; Strategy of Other People.] I also moved to an apartment that was very close to the gym (within five minutes). I started tracking my workouts, which helped me realize how often I was actually exercising and gave me a bit of motivation to beat my numbers from the week before. [Strategy of Monitoring.] After a few months, I signed up for a weightlifting competition, which gave me some additional motivation and something to shoot for. [Strategy of Distinction.]

    I think layering small improvements on top of each other is one of the best ways to build a habit that sticks. You can't expect habits to sustain themselves if you only change one thing. Instead, you need redundancies, backup plans, and additional layers of reinforcement.


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

    There are a variety of forces that drive our habits and one of the biggest is social culture. The people you are surrounded by have a major influence on your behavior. For example, if you move to a new neighborhood and see all of your neighbors setting out their recycling bins on Tuesday night, then you think, "Oh, we need to sign up for recycling. That's what people in this neighborhood do." [Strategy of Identity.]

    In other words, social pressure and a desire to belong can really influence our habits. I find this to be a very strong force in my own life. It usually comes up when I'm getting drinks with friends. I'm not a big drinker and I can often go months without having beer in the house. But when I am out with friends, I am easily compelled to drink alcohol even though I would actually prefer water. It's like the desire to belong with the group overpowers my preference for a drink I would enjoy. I'd imagine many people feel similarly about how the habits of those around them shape their behavior in various contexts. [Strategy of Other People.]


    Do you embrace habits or resist them?

    I mostly embrace them. Most of my writing is focused on how to build good habits and how to use little routines as a way to spark productive work, initiate deliberate practice, and stay focused on what matters. [Strategy of Clarity.]

    Like everyone, I also have bad habits, but I find that they best way to defeat them is to reduce exposure to the triggers that cause them. Once a habit is formed in the mind, it is very hard to extinguish. The neural pathways have already been laid down and reinforced (that's how it became a habit) and if the opportunity to act arises then you'll likely fall back into your old habits once again.

    Habits usually occur mindlessly and automatically, which means monitoring your bad habits is often a difficult task. By the time you realize what you've done, it's too late. Trying to "pay attention" and "act better" is not an effective long-term strategy. Even if you can manage to remember to not bite your nails or maintain good posture or avoid cigarettes for a little while, as soon as something else grabs your attention, you'll forget to monitor your bad habits.

    As a result, I generally think it's better to not worry about resisting your habits and instead pour your energy into creating a system and environment where good habits are more likely to emerge naturally and bad habits are less likely to be triggered. Your job isn't so much to make success happen as it is to create an environment where success is more likely to happen. [Strategy of Safeguards.]


    How can people read more about your work?

    People can sign up for my free email newsletter, where I share self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research. Readers are also welcome to browse my best articles.

  • Crystal Ellefsen 15:33:12 on 2017/09/14 Permalink
    Tags: Anne Bogel,   

    “There’s Something Magical About the Combination of Movement, Fresh Air, and a Useful Task.” 

    Interview: Anne Bogel.

    I first got to "know" Anne Bogel (in a virtual way) through her popular website, Modern Mrs. Darcy. (If your Jane Austen is a bit rusty, Mr. Darcy is the hero of Jane Austen's masterpiece Pride and Prejudice.) There, she writes about a broad range of subjects of interest to women. And she writes a lot about books and reading.

    Anne also has a terrific podcast, "What Should I Read Next?" which is a great resource for people who, like me, are always on the hunt for a new book to read.

    She has a new book that I cannot wait to read: Reading People: How Seeing the World Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything. It's about how understanding personality frameworks -- such as Myers-Briggers, StrengthsFinder, the Enneagram, and others -- can help you understand yourself and others better. I do love a great personality framework! (Although I must confess, I'm particularly partial to my own framework, the Four Tendencies.)

    Because we share so many interests and preoccupations, I was very interested to hear what Anne had to say.

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

    Anne: Walking the dog, especially if I leave my earbuds at home. There's something magical about the combination of movement, fresh air, and a useful task. The shower gets all the credit for good ideas, but mine come to me on the city sidewalks.

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

    I've learned that if I wait until I know exactly how to do something, I'll never get started, so don't wait. It's okay to learn by doing.

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

    Upholder. I love streaks, am motivated by momentum, and hate to break the rules—even the silly ones. I wish that last part wasn't true about myself, but understanding my Tendency has helped me understand why I feel that way.

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

    Absolutely. When my husband and I were newly married, we had a hard time figuring out how to work through our inevitable disagreements. We didn't know how to argue in a constructive way. I've always been interested in personality frameworks, and during that first year of marriage, I happened to pick up a book on personality types and how they affect romantic relationships. The author described how my husband and I would probably handle conflict based on our personality type, and his portrayal was so accurate it was spooky.

    That paragraph didn't change anything practically—we still didn't know how to fight. But it transformed my outlook. Before I read that passage, I'd thought we had a big problem on our hands. But the author convinced me (and rightly so) that we weren't facing an extraordinary problem, but an ordinary one. We had to figure out the details, but the situation was no longer fraught; it was wonderfully normal.

    Do you embrace habits or resist them?

    For a long time, I didn't understand that I was an Upholder, because I'm not always eager to adopt new habits. They feel limiting, and I like to keep my options open. (I don't always like this about myself, but it's true.) But I've also seen time and time again that even though I don't always think I want the structure that habits provide, I am so much happier when I embrace them.

    That being said, I embrace them carefully. A new habit feels like a big commitment, and my tendency is to wait until I'm certain before I commit—whether to myself, or to someone else. But once I decide to adopt a new habit, I'm all in.

    Has another person ever had a big influence on your habits?

    Does my puppy count? I didn't realize how much she influenced my daily routine until she stayed at the trainer's an extra day after we returned from vacation. I skipped my short early morning walk without even realizing it. I didn't chat with the neighbors on the sidewalk like I usually do. I forgot to take walk breaks during the day, and my shoulders were achy from too much typing. We've almost had her a year, and I didn't realize how much she affected my daily rhythms until I spent a day at home without her.

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