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  • gretchenrubin 16:00:00 on 2022/08/02 Permalink
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    A Question I’m Often Asked: How Do I Spark My Creativity? 

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    A question that I'm often asked is, "How do I spark my creativity?" I find it very helpful to consider this question, to make sure I keep doing the things that keep me sparked!

    These are the strategies that work for me; I'm also fascinated to learn about other people's methods of stoking their creativity and productivity.

    1. Reading. Reading is my tree house and my cubicle, my work day and my snow day.

    One of my favorite things about myself is that I often become intensely interested by certain subjects. I’ll do countless hours of reading about these subjects, sometimes over the course of years.

    For instance, my preoccupations have included: color, clutter, aphorisms and proverbs, the placebo response, the sense of smell, dogs, the Eleusinian Mysteries, Winston Churchill, cold reading, the nature of biography, the question of why owners would destroy their own possessions, happiness—and, very appropriately for this post, ways to spark creativity. (So if you have suggestions, send them my way!)

    2. Taking notes. When I read, I’m always looking for passages that I want to note. I mark them as I read—either by adding a sticky flag if I’m reading a library book, or by marking the page if I own the book. Then, when I’ve finished the book, I type my notes into my computer. I have many giant documents that hold various types of notes, and sometimes, one part of a giant document will split off and form its own book.

    3. Talking to people. I get many of my most important insights and examples from conversation. For instance, years ago, at lunch with a friend, she said, "I don't get it. I know I'm happier when I exercise, and when I was on my high-school track team, I never missed track practice. So why can't I go running now?" Our conversation haunted me, and pondering her question gave me a crucial clue in my understanding of what became my Four Tendencies personality framework.

    Back to #2—if I want to take notes during a conversation, I email myself.

    4. Watching documentaries, movies, TV shows, plays...more fodder! Ask me about the Get Back documentary. I can't stop thinking about it.

    5. Making a daily visit to the Metropolitan Museum. As part of my research for my book about the five senses, I do a "daily visit." I visit the same place every day—to see how the place changes over time, and how each of my senses reveals different aspects of it, and how making a daily visit changes me. I may visit the Met every day for the rest of my life.

    Also, when I go to the Met, I'm walking (research shows that walking is very good for creativity) and I'm also spending time outside as I make my way there and back (also good for creativity).

    6. Turning my ideas into some kind of written creation. This could be a book, like Better Than Before. Or a podcast episode of Happier with Gretchen Rubin. Or an entry in my "5 Things Making Me Happy" weekly newsletter or for my "Moment of Happiness" daily quotation newsletter. Or an entry in my Book of Aphorisms. Or an article like this one. To think through ideas, to organize my thoughts, to test my conclusions, I always need to put them into words.

    7. NEW: Creating physical objects. Inspired by my five senses, I've become increasingly drawn to the prospect of making tangible, visual creations. I write about one such project in my upcoming five-senses book (stay tuned! I love this project), and when my daughter Eleanor and I were in Paris together, she made an impassioned case for why I should put more energy into making things. The thing that surprised me was that once she suggested it, I knew what I wanted to create. Can I execute on my vision? I don't know. But I'm enthralled with the prospect.

    8. Tapping into my five senses. When I started my research, I predicted that tuning into my five senses would spark my creativity—and wow, that has happened. In fact, I'm a bit overwhelmed by how many more projects I'm working on or planning. (If you're thinking, "Okay, Gretchen, but how did you tap into your five senses?" never fear, that's what my next book is about.)

    9. Giving myself recess. To keep going, I need to let myself stop. As an Upholder, I can get very focused on my schedule and my to-do list, so I schedule time to goof off (as ridiculous as that may sound). For instance, going to the Met (#5) is one way to make sure I have time to wander.

    Also, because I'd read so much research about the benefits of a daily nap, I've been napping regularly as part of #Rest22in22. I'm a real fan of the short mid-day nap.

    10. Working steadily. I realized a long time ago that if I want to create, I need to work constantly. As one of my aphorisms (see #6) holds, "Pouring out ideas is better for creativity than doling them out with a teaspoon."

    I work just about every day—including weekends, holidays, and vacations. It might just be twenty minutes, but I sit down to work. For me, that practice works best. Relatedly...

    11. Suiting myself. I plan my work with my natural rhythms in mind. I'm a real morning person, plus I love the silence of the early morning, so when I'm doing original writing or tricky editing—my most difficult intellectual work—or other difficult tasks, I tackle them in the morning. As the day goes on, I turn to less taxing work. (Want to track your own energy patterns? Look here.)

    Nevertheless, while many experts say, "Never look at your emails first thing in the morning," and even though that's precious time for me, I know that for me, it's impossible to concentrate on anything until I've glanced through my emails to make sure there's nothing I want to answer. That works for me.


    In my study of happiness and human nature, I've learned something essential: there’s no magic formula, no one-size-fits-all solution for happiness, creativity, or anything else.

    We won’t make ourselves more creative and productive by copying other people’s habits; we must know our own nature, and what habits serve us best.

    In his fascinating book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, Mason Currey examines the work habits of 161 writers, composers, artists, scientists, and philos­ophers.

    His examples make it clear that while brilliant people vary tre­mendously in the specific creative habits they follow, they all know very well what habits work for them, and they go to enormous lengths to maintain those habits.

    If you'd like to stoke your own creativity, try my Creativity Jump-Start.

  • gretchenrubin 16:00:07 on 2022/07/19 Permalink
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    From My Recent Trip to Paris: My 11 Secrets of Adulthood for Travel. 

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    One item on my "22 for 22" list is to "Take a trip with my daughter Eleanor." And we did it! We just returned from Paris, where we had a wonderful time.

    After going so long without traveling, I still feel a bit out of practice. Before and during this big trip, I found myself reflecting on some of my most useful Secrets of Adulthood for Travel:

    1. Always leave plenty of room in the suitcase.
    2. Don't let anyone get too hungry, too tired, too hot, or too cold.
    3. Never pass up an opportunity to go to the bathroom.
    4. Never pass up an opportunity to charge your phone.
    5. Wear comfortable shoes.
    6. Keep a stash of back-up snacks (see #2).
    7. Pack a canvas tote bag (we didn't end up needing this bag, but on other trips, I've found it invaluable).
    8. No matter what the weather is outside, dress warmly for the airplane.
    9. Make a plan, but leave room for spontaneity.
    10. If something's important, don't put it in a checked suitcase. (This reminder turned out to be very important; my bag took eight days to arrive in New York City.)
    11. Remember, it's supposed to be fun.

    If you'd like to read more Secrets of Adulthood, they're here.

    If you'd like more travel hacks, episode 180 of the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast is dedicated to listeners' hacks—so many great suggestions.

    What Secrets of Adulthood would you add to this list? I'm always looking for more ideas.

  • gretchenrubin 16:00:48 on 2022/05/17 Permalink
    Tags: , , distinctions, ,   

    What’s the Secret to Happiness? 

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    I study happiness, good habits, and human nature, and people often ask me, “What the secret to happiness?”

    I would give different answers, depending on what perspective is taken.

    One answer, certainly, is relationships. To be happy, we need enduring, intimate bonds; we need to feel like we belong; we need to be able to confide; we need to be able to get support—and just as important, give support. Anything that deepens or broadens relationships tends to make us happier.

    Another answer is self-knowledge. Self-knowledge is key, because we can build a happy life only on the foundation of our own values, our own interests, our own temperament. When we know ourselves, we can take action based on our values and our nature, and that makes us happier.

    In reality, these two answers are intertwined, because it’s when we know ourselves that we can connect most deeply and harmoniously with others.

    It’s so easy to assume that’s what true for us is true for everyone—and vice versa.

    But the fact is, there’s a paradox: we’re more alike than we think, but the differences among us are very important. Or to put it another way, you’re unique—just like everybody else.

    By thinking through how people are different—how they have different preferences, need different strategies, and see the world in a different way—we can gain more compassion for others, and also for ourselves.

    Because when we don’t understand how people can be different, we can feel hurt, puzzled, resentful, or angry when they don’t do things our way. Or we can feel discouraged or frustrated with ourselves, when we can’t do things someone else’s way.

    To give just a few examples of differences:

    Morning people and night people. As a morning person, I used to think everyone could be a morning person if they just went to bed on time. But in fact, it’s largely genetically determined, and a function of age.

    Once we realize that some people are morning people, and some people are night people, we can use that understanding. A friend, a morning person, said to me, “I’m so frustrated with my husband. I’m racing around every morning, getting our two little kids ready for school, and he staggers out of bed, he’s useless. I end up doing everything.”

    I knew her husband well. I said, “He’s a night person. He can’t do anything for anyone in the morning! Why don’t you let him sleep late in the morning, and then he handles bedtime duties by himself, when you’re tired?” They sorted the responsibilities to suit their individual energy levels.

    Simplicity-lovers and abundance-lovers. Simplicity lovers are attracted by space, bare surfaces, lots of room on the shelves; abundance lovers are attracted by buzz, profusion, collections.

    Simplicity lovers and abundance lovers thrive in different environments—which is fine, unless a boss declares, “A cluttered desk means a cluttered mind,” and forces everyone to embrace simplicity. Or a boss declares, “Let’s really decorate for the holidays” and covers everything with twinkle lights and garlands for two months. The fact is, some people love simplicity, and some people love abundance—so how do we create an environment where everyone feels comfortable?

    Accountability. Some people need outer accountability, even to meet their expectations for themselves. If they want to exercise more, they need to work out with a trainer, work out with a friend who’s annoyed if they don’t show up, or raise money for a charity. But other people resist accountability: they don’t want someone looking over their shoulder, or tying up their schedule with appointments, and they do better when they do what they want, when and how they want to do it.

    I’ve seen this difference crop up among writers I know. Non-fiction writers usually sell a book after they’ve written a few chapters. One writer I know wrote his whole book before he tried to sell it. He told me, “I wrote the book because I felt like writing it. If I had an editor telling me that I had to finish a certain chapter by a certain date, I wouldn’t want to write it anymore.” By contrast, I know two writers who meet on Zoom. They mute themselves, sit there, and do their own writing. They both benefit from being accountable to each other. (To learn more about the key factor of accountability, check out my Four Tendencies personality framework and take the quiz to find out if you're an Obliger, Rebel, Questioner, or Upholder.)

    When we understand that people are different, instead of trying to convince each other that “I’m right,” feeling bad when thinking “You’re right,” or arguing about the “best” or “right” way of doing things, we can focus instead on creating an environment where everyone can thrive. After all, what's the best way to cook an egg?

    By knowing ourselves, we can grow closer to others.

  • gretchenrubin 16:00:11 on 2022/04/25 Permalink
    Tags: , calendar of catalysts, good habits, , , minor holidays, resources,   

    For Happiness and Good Habits—More Dates for the Calendar of Catalysts! 

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    I'm a big fan of any reminder to stop to consider what changes could make our lives happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative—whether that prompt comes from the New Year, a birthday, Valentine's Day, a significant anniversary, or official "days" like "Earth Day."

    Some people (Questioners!) often object to using a date like January 1, because they consider the date arbitrary. It's true, it is arbitrary—and why wait? Now is always the best time to begin.

    External dates can be valuable reminders to reflect. In the tumult of everyday life, it's hard to remember to step back, reflect, and think about what changes we'd like to make.

    For that reason, I've been working on a Calendar of Catalysts—a menu of dates to use as reminders to stop,  evaluate, and plan. I want to offer a range of choices, because different dates will appeal to different people.

    I added a bunch of dates, then asked people for more suggestions—so have added a few more.

    General dates:

    March 21—3-2-1 is a great day to "blast off" on a project or undertaking you've been meaning to start

    March 25—National Waffle Day is a day to make any decision you're "waffling" about

    May 23—May 23 is the 143rd day of the year, which has been declared "1-4-3 Day" in honor of Fred Rogers and is a day for acts of kindness and neighborliness. "Mr. Rogers" used the numbers 1-4-3 to stand as a code for "I love you" (based on the number of letters in each word), and the number also had significance in his personal life—for instance, he weighed 143 pounds for thirty years.

    August 8—8/8 is a day to evaluate your eating choices, and consider making healthy changes

    October 10—10/10 is a day to celebrate everything that's going right

    Ideas? I'm trying to think of a way to use the number "1729"—a Hardy-Ramanujan number or taxi-cab number—but I haven't figured out a way. This could be a day to remember that the curious, engaged mind can find the world to be a fascinating place, and to push ourselves to learn something new.

    For personal dates:

    A date that might be meaningful is your "Name Day." I learned about name days from one of my favorite works of children's literature, Jennie Lindquist's wonderful The Golden Name Day (Amazon, Bookshop). In that novel, Wendy is sad that her non-Swedish name isn't listed in the Swedish Name Day calendar; these days, however, it looks like you can find many names online. I learned that "Gretchen" day is June 10—though more traditionally, as a diminutive of "Margaret," it might be May 23 or January 25. I have options!

    I also like the idea of using a date based on your street address to remind you to make repairs, buy necessary supplies, clear clutter, consider a move, or complete delayed household projects. For instance, if I still lived in one of my childhood homes, I could use the date of April 21, because our street address was 421. (This won't work for every address, however.)

    If you'd like to hear my sister Elizabeth and me talk about the Calendar of Catalysts on the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, we discuss it in episode 364.

    If you'd like to download a free, updated PDF of the Calendar of Catalysts, it's here.

    Thanks to the readers and listeners who sent along their suggestions! And keep them coming! Creating the calendar has been such a fun and useful exercise. Also, I'd love to hear if you've found this calendar useful, as a catalyst for making change in your life.

  • gretchenrubin 09:00:45 on 2019/05/07 Permalink
    Tags: , , frustration, guilt, , , persistence, ,   

    A Happiness Question: What Should We Do if We Feel Like We’ve Fallen Behind or Fallen Off the Wagon? 

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    When we're trying to make our lives happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative, we often find ourselves in a frustrating situation: we fall behind or we fall off the wagon.

    What to do? Here are some useful points to consider:

    1. Don't beat yourself up.

    Although some people assume that strong feelings of guilt or shame act as safeguards to help people stick to good habits, the opposite is true. People who feel less guilt and who show compassion toward themselves in the face of failure are better able to regain self-control, while people who feel deeply guilty and full of self-blame struggle more.

    Often, when we feel bad about breaking a good habit, we try to make ourselves feel better by...indulging in the bad habit! A woman told me, "I felt so bad about breaking my diet that I ate three orders of french fries." This is the cruel poetic justice of bad habits.

    2. Remember that what you do most days matters more than what you once in a while.

    If you're pretty good most days, don't get too upset if you don't have a perfect record. Don't let yourself start to think, "Gosh, I haven't exercised in ten days, what's the point of starting now?" Sure, you wish you'd exercised those ten days, but if you get back in the habit, those lost days aren't a very big deal.

    And fail small, not big. Once a good behavior is broken, we sometimes act as though it doesn’t matter whether it’s broken by a little or a lot. “I didn’t do any work this morning, so what the heck, I’ll take the rest of the week off and start on Monday.” “I missed my yoga class over spring break, so what the heck, I’ll start again in the fall.” Pick yourself back up right away!

    3. A stumble may prevent a fall.

    If you've fallen behind or fallen off the wagon, remind yourself of the valuable proverb: "A stumble may prevent a fall." Sure, you've gone through a rough patch, but you can use this experience to learn more about yourself and your challenges. Maybe you fell behind while traveling, or when you had family visiting, or when you were in a tough stretch at work. How can you use this experience to set yourself up for more success in the future?

    Let's say you were eating very healthfully, then you spent a weekend to a hotel where you ate too much of the wrong food at the all-you-can-eat buffets. So now you've learned, "I shouldn't pick the buffet option. I should order off the menu. That way, I'll know exactly what food I'll get, in a set portion." Studies show that we tend to eat more when faced with a bigger variety, and when it's self-serve, we can serve ourselves a lot! Remind yourself, "I learned this lesson the hard way. Next time, I'll make a different choice."

    4. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

    When we're making resolutions, it's easy to set big ambitious goals, and sometimes it's tough to meet them. We plan to train for a 5K, or get the basement cleared out, or write a rough draft of a novel by the end of the year. Then, we fail to make progress, it's easy to get discouraged and accuse ourselves of laziness.

    Remember, any progress is better than no progress! You may not have finished a full draft, but you have an outline of your novel. You haven't switched careers yet, but you've started thinking about next steps.

    Some people find it helpful to keep a ta-da list. A to-do list reminds you of what you need to get done; a ta-da list reminds you of all you've accomplished already. A ta-da list can be a tremendous source of energy and reassurance.

    5. Consider your Tendency.

    Often, when we fail to make progress, it's because we haven't taken our Tendency into account. For instance, if you're an Obliger, you must have outer accountability. You must! That's what works for Obligers! If you see that a particular form of outer accountability isn't working, trying a different form. If paying for a trainer doesn't get you to go to the gym, try working out with a friend who's very annoyed when you don't show up. If that doesn't work, teach a class. If that doesn't work, think of your duty to be a role model for someone else. If that doesn't work, join a group on the Better app where you tell each other, "I'm counting on you to count on me. If none of us hold each other accountable, none of us will succeed."

    If you're a Rebel, don't try to lock yourself into a to-do list or a schedule. That often doesn't work for a Rebel. Think about what you want, and how you want to live up to your identity.

    If you're a Questioner, really examine your reasons. Why are you doing this, in this way? Is it the best, most efficient way, and is it tailored to suit you specifically? When Questioners struggle, it's usually because they're fundamentally unconvinced by whatever they're trying to do.

    If you don't know your Tendency—whether you're an Upholder, Obliger, Questioner, or Rebel—you can take the free, quick quiz here.

    6. Are you giving yourself healthy treats?

    When we give more to ourselves, we can ask more from ourselves. If you're asking a lot of yourself these days, make sure you're helping yourself feel energized and cared for by giving yourself healthy treats, whatever that might be for you. For me, it's reading children's literature.

    But make sure these are healthy treats. You don't want to try to make yourself feel better by indulging in something (wine, impulse purchases, sweets, messiness) that will make you feel worse in the end.

    7. Remember, it's easier to keep up than to catch up.

    Sometimes, when we're creating a healthy habit or practice, we need to catch up. We need to clear out a lot of clutter before we can maintain good order. We need to adjust to life without the morning doughnut. This is hard, but remember that once we're caught up or accustomed to a new way, it gets easier. It may take a few tries to get over the initial hurdle, but remember that the situation will get easier once it's more ingrained.


    Stay the course! Don't give up! My book Better Than Before examines the 21 strategies that we can use to make or break our habits, and one of the most helpful strategies is the Strategy of Safeguards. It's all about how to anticipate challenges, and how to deal with it when we run into trouble.

    It's a very common frustration.

    Have you found any great ways to stay on course, even when you feel as if you're falling behind?

  • gretchenrubin 09:00:33 on 2019/04/23 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , motherhood, ,   

    Need a Gift for a Mother in Your Life? Some Suggestions. 

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    In the United States, Mother's Day is coming up on May 12.

    I’m a big fan for using dates as milestones, as prompts for reflection or action. People sometimes complain that Mother’s Day is a Hallmark-driven, consumerist holiday—but I think it’s nice to be reminded to think about my mother, and to remember everything she’s done for me, and to send a token of my appreciation.

    Philosophers, religious leaders, and contemporary scientists all agree that gratitude is a key to happiness. Studies show that consistently grateful people are happier and more satisfied with their lives; they even feel more physically healthy and spend more time exercising. Gratitude brings freedom from envy; when you’re grateful for what you have, you’re not consumed with wanting something different or something more. That, in turn, makes it easier to live within your means and also to be generous to others. Gratitude fosters forbearance—it’s harder to feel disappointed, angry, or resentful toward someone when you’re feeling grateful toward him or her.

    Mother's Day is an occasion for gratitude.

    I'm very grateful that I have such a wonderful mother! I don't want to take her for granted, or neglect to show her my appreciation -- so I think it's very helpful to get a nudge at least once a year.

    If you want to read about one of my happiest memories of my mother, look here.

    If you'd like to hear my story about why I'm lucky to have a mother who's lucky, you can listen to this two-minute "A Little Happier" here.

    We can express gratitude in many ways. Phone call, letter, email, text...or we can give a gift.

    If you're looking for a gift for a mother in your life, read on!

    From what I've heard, of the things I've created, these are the most popular gifts:

    1. The Four Tendencies course. This course is something I've created fairly recently, but people seem to love to give it as a gift. I think that's because when you see that someone's Tendency is a big factor in their lives—and perhaps in ways that they don't recognize or that are causing conflict or frustration—it seems like a great gift.

    In this course, you identify your Tendency—whether you're an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel—and learn how to use that knowledge to make practical changes to create the life you want. And you 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.

    For people who wouldn't take the course, there's also the book The Four Tendencies.

    2. The Gift of a Podcast.

    Give the gift of a podcast! Go to giftofpodcast.com to download the "gift certificate" and the cheat-sheet of instructions. This makes it easy to give a podcast to someone you know will love it. It's a gift that's free; it's easy; it's an experience not a thing; and there's no limit to the great content in the world of podcasts.

    3. The One-Sentence Journal for Mothers.

    This small journal makes it easy to write one sentence every day, which is a manageable, realistic way for a busy mother to keep a journal. What's surprising is that one sentence is enough to bring back floods of memories, and to capture those little moments we never want to forget.

    On book tour, many people show me their journals and ask me to sign the entry for the day—so fun!

    4. The Happiness Project

    I can't resist mentioning, this book was a #1 New York Times bestseller and stayed on the list for two years. It's all about (spoiler alert) how to be happier.

    5. Happier at Home

    And I can't resist mentioning this book was also a New York Times bestseller. It's all about happiness through the lens of home which, for most people, is at the very core of a happy life. I love all my books equally, but my sister Elizabeth says that this is her favorite book of everything I've written.

    6. The Happiness Project Mini Posters: A Coloring Book.

    If you know a mother who loves to color, here's a fun book!

    7. Personalized, signed bookplate

    Speaking of my books, if you'd like to make your gift more special and personalized, sign up here, and I'll send you a bookplate that's personalized for the recipient and signed by me. Think how happy you'll be to cross some gift-giving tasks off your list! Feel free to ask for as many as you like, but U.S. and Canada only—so sorry about that (mailing costs).

    I can be a little slow, so to make sure that neither of us has to worry about whether you'll receive the bookplates by Mother's Day on May 12, request as soon as possible.

    If you'd like to listen to me talk about my mother, you can listen to this two-minute episode of a "A Little Happier": I'm Lucky to Have a Mother Who Is Lucky.

    Do you observe Mother's Day?

  • gretchenrubin 09:00:25 on 2019/04/16 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , paper, , , records   

    Dealing with One of the Most Challenging Forms of Clutter: Paper Clutter. 

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    Paperwork is one of the toughest forms of clutter to vanquish. Often, it’s much more anxiety-provoking and draining than going through a clothes closet or a desk drawer.

    To decide what to keep and what to toss, ask:

    • Do you actually need this piece of paper or receipt? What specific use does it serve?
    • Have you ever used it? If you've never referred to a category of paperwork, apparently you don't need it.
    • Will it quickly become dated—like travel or summer-camp information?
    • Does the internet mean that it’s no longer necessary? For instance, the instruction manuals for most appliances are now online.
    • What’s the consequence of not having it if you do need it?
    • Was it once necessary but is now related to a part of your life that’s over? This can be hard to recognize. Do you need that sheet of home phone numbers for the members of a team that you left two years ago?
    • Could you scan it, so that you have a copy if you need it?
    • At work or at home, does someone else have a copy of this information?
    • Look in your paper-organizing gizmos. When I look at people's work spaces, I notice that they often have file stands, wall-mounted paper organizers, stacked shelves and in-boxes...all full of old papers that no one ever looks at. Unless you're actively moving papers in and out, empty out those units, and get rid of the units altogether! They're often just clutter magnets.
    • Have you verified your assumptions? For instance, when you took your current position, your co-worker told you, "I always keep these receipts," so you assumed that you need to keep them, too. But maybe you don't.

    Some additional conversations...

    Whenever we clear cutter, it's useful to ask, "If I had to replace something I've tossed or given away, how hard would it be?" This question can help with papers. If you shred a bank statement but end up needing it, you can get the statement online or call your bank. If you toss your diary from high school, you can't get it back. So think harder about the diary than the bank statement.

    Beware of binders! For some reason, I've noticed that many people have an urge to put papers in binders. But do you really need those papers at all? One of the biggest wastes of time is doing something well that didn’t need to be done at all.

    Along the same lines, I got an email from a teacher who complained about how much time she’d spent shredding old lessons plans and student essays. Why do those papers need to be shredded at all? I talked to a guy who was planning on putting all his papers in chronological order in binders (binders!), then realized that most of the paperwork was related to pet insurance, and he could access his account online. He didn't need to save those papers at all.

    Some people worry about regret—that they'll sort through the papers, get rid of a lot of it, then wish they'd kept some of it. In my observation, this is rarely a problem. However, if it's a real stumbling block for you, create a holding box. Put papers in that box for six months—or even a year, if you're really worried—and see if you ever need to retrieve anything from that box. If you don't, get rid of the box—and importantly, don't re-open it first! Or you'll re-ignite the whole problem of uncertainty.

    We want to get organized, but not too organized. Don't make files so specific that you can't find anything later, or so that you spend all your time labeling files.

    I've come up with a system that works really well for me. I have a folder for every month of the year, and any information related to that month goes into that file, whether it's a party invitation, agenda for speaking at a conference, information about a school event for my daughter, or notes for one of the live shows that Elizabeth and I are planning. That makes it easy to know exactly where to find timely information, no matter what part of my life it relates to, and easy to see when paperwork is no longer necessary.

    Bonus: To make those files more fun to maintain, years ago, I bought bright, well-designed folders and had my then-little daughter Eleanor write the days of the month on them. It's still fun to see her childish handwriting when I grab a folder.

    This kind of paper clutter is difficult, but so rewarding! Think of how great you'll feel when you get that pile of files off the floor, or clean out that curled up, yellow papers. It's tremendously free and energizing to clear out that stuff.

  • gretchenrubin 09:00:51 on 2019/04/12 Permalink
    Tags: Binge Mode, , , , , Game of Thrones   

    In Honor of “Game of Thrones” Season 8, I Apply My “Four Tendencies” Framework to the Principal Characters. 

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    Like many people, I'm a huge raving fan of Game of Thrones. I've twice read the books by George R.R Martin, and I've twice watched the HBO TV series. I love it!

    And I can't wait for the final season of television to begin on April 14. (And I can't wait for George R.R. Martin to publish another book, but that may be a long wait.)

    I also love the podcast Binge Mode, where co-hosts Mallory Rubin and Jason Concepcion do deep dives into the entire canon of Game of Thrones and Harry Potter series. In a recent episode, they sorted the main characters from Game of Thrones into the Houses of Hogwarts—yielding a surprising number of Slytherins, by the way.

    So, inspired by that effort, I decided to apply my Four Tendencies framework to the main characters of Game of Thrones. Who's an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel?

    If you want to know your own Tendency, you can take the quick, free quiz here. (More than two million people have taken the quiz.) Or read the book The Four Tendencies.

    For this exercise, I'm referring to the TV show, because I've seen the show more recently than I've read the books.

    For some characters, the Tendency is fairly easy to decide. For instance...

    Stannis Baratheon is an Upholder. Consider: When Stannis and his men were besieged during war, they were saved when smuggler Davos Seaworth brought supplies through the blockade. After the war, Stannis knighted Davos for his act—but he didn’t forgive Davos’s earlier crimes; he enforced the law by chopping off the tips of the fingers on the outlaw’s left hand.

    Later, when his older brother King Robert Baratheon dies, Stannis believes the crown should pass to him, as the next-oldest male in line. So he fights to assume his rightful place, and sacrifices everything he values along the way—even though he doesn’t even seem to want to be king.

    Tyrion Lannister is a Questioner. Of everyone in the show, he is the person who asks questions like, "Why are things the way they are? How could they be done better? How could we make change to make society run more effectively?" He's seen doing research, investigating the world, finding out how different cultures do things differently.

    Jaime Lannister is an Obliger.

    Cersei Lannister is a Rebel. Note that this pair exhibits the pattern that's so often seen: when one member of a pair is a Rebel, almost always the other member is an Obliger.

    Daenerys Targaryen is an Obliger.

    Jon Stark is an Obliger.

    To determine people's Tendencies, it's not enough to see what they do; we have to understand how they think. For instance, the fact that a person is leading a "rebellion" doesn't necessarily indicate Rebel. That person might lead a rebellion against the current ruler because he or she wants to hold fast to a higher law; or because a system is arbitrary, corrupt, or inefficient; or to save the people; or because that person wants to run things in his or her own way.

    So for some characters, I can't pinpoint the Tendency.

    Arya Stark: is she a REBEL/Questioner or a QUESTIONER/Rebel? It's often very hard to decide where someone falls in this combination. For instance, it took me a long time to decide which description fit Steve Jobs (QUESTIONER/Rebel). I lean toward deeming Arya a REBEL/Questioner.

    Tywin Lannister: he could be an Obliger, but I have to say, I pick up an Upholder vibe from him—probably because he so often expresses the thought, "Why can't people around here just get things done?" which is a very typical sentiment for an Upholder.

    I've thought a lot about some of my favorite characters, but we just don't know enough about the thoughts of Sansa Stark, or Varys, or Petyr Baelish, or Margaery Tyrell.

    Agree, disagree?

    Speaking of Game of Thrones, I got a big kick out of this scene between Jaime and Cersei—it reminded me of my own "The days are long but the year are short."

    If you want to read more examples of the Four Tendencies from books and movies, here's a list.

  • gretchenrubin 09:00:37 on 2019/04/09 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , tidiness   

    Need Some Easy Steps to Start to Tackle Spring Cleaning? Try These Simple Tips. 

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    We often hear about "spring cleaning," and I have to say, I really understand why it's a tradition.

    For me, when the days become longer, the temperature becomes warmer, and all of nature is being renewed, I get the urge to sweep through my home and office and get rid of the junk. Everything outside my personal space feels so fresh, I want to re-create that feeling indoors.

    This impulse reminds me of a quotation I love, from Jules Renard:

    “Oh! Old rubbish! Old letters, old clothes, old objects that one does not want to throw away. How well nature has understood that, every year, she must change her leaves, her flowers, her fruit and her vegetables, and make manure out of the mementos of her year!” - Jules Renard, Journal

    However, it's easy to feel the urge to do spring-cleaning, but it's a lot tougher actually to begin.

    In the United States, spring is here, and if you want to create outer order as part of the new season, consider these manageable steps:

    1. Focus on one area.

    Some people get overwhelmed if they imagine spring-cleaning their entire surroundings. If that's your issue, focus on just one area.  Tackle clothes, or papers, or books, or toys. Often, once we start, it's easier to keep going—and even if you create outer order in just one area, that's a gain in any event. And while you're at it...

    2. Fix whatever is bugging you the most.

    Some experts argue that we should all start to clear clutter in a specific area, such as clothes. I disagree. I think we should fix the biggest nuisance.

    Most of us have many areas of clutter, but one particular area causes the most irritation. For me, it's the pile that accumulates in a corner of our bedroom. For someone else, it's the kitchen counter; for someone else, the front hallway.

    On the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, my sister Elizabeth sometimes calls me a "happiness bully" because if I see an opportunity for someone to become happier, I can get pretty insistent. As part of this aspect of my personality, I recently convinced my friend Michael to let me help him create more outer order in his apartment. For him, the biggest problem was the top of a long chest of drawers in his bedroom. A massive pile had accumulated there, and although the rest of the room was in good order, that mess made the whole room feel chaotic. Fixing that area gave a disproportionate boost.

    In the office, it's often a window sill. Gosh, we love to jam stuff onto our window sills! The benefit of clearing a window sill is that not only does it create more order, it even creates more light, because the window isn't blocked up.

    3. Resist the urge to "get organized" by buying set of containers, matching jars, hangers, files, binders, or other supplies.

    Often we buy stuff that allows us to jam more clutter into place. Instead, use my favorite test with all your possessions: Ask "Do I need it? Use it? Love it?" If you don't need it, use, or love it, you should relinquish it. And when you've eliminated everything that you don't need, use, or love, you probably don't need to "organize" much. You can just put things away.

    It can be very fun to buy organizing items—they're so enticing! They make it seem like we could organize every aspect of our lives. Remember, it's harder to use these things than to buy them. Best case scenario is that you don't need any special gizmos at all.

    4. Make it fun to get the job done.

    How can you make this process more fun? Might you listen to a podcast, listen to your favorite music, invite a friend to keep you company, set yourself challenges like "I'm going get this entire closet cleared out in 45 minutes!"

    5. If the idea of doing "spring cleaning" doesn't appeal to you, because you don't want to dedicate an afternoon or weekend to clearing, try very small steps.

    Follow the one-minute rule.

    Observe Power Hour.

    Go shelf by shelf.

    My new book (can't resist mentioning that it's a New York Times bestseller) Outer Order, Inner Calm has more than 150 ideas for creating outer order. But these will get you started!

    A strange, almost paradoxical thing happens when we clear clutter: when we get rid of things we don't need, don't use, and don't love, we often feel like we end up with more. It's very common for people to remove two giant bags of clothes from  their closet, and then exclaim, "Now I feel like I have so much more to wear!"

    The process of creating outer order makes us more engaged with the things we keep, and so our lives feel more abundant, even though we've removed a layer of stuff. This is another reason that spring cleaning makes our surroundings feel more energized and vibrant.

    What are some of your favorite tips for spring cleaning?

  • gretchenrubin 16:42:15 on 2019/04/02 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , questions, tour   

    Report from My Book Tour! Some Observations and Insights from the Road. 

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    I'm visiting many cities across the United States as part of my book tour for Outer Order, Inner Calm. Many writers don't like to go on tour, but I love it. I really enjoy getting to meet book readers and Happier listeners, and I'm very interested to hear what people have to say on the subject of outer order.

    Some observations:

    I'm noticing that many people apparently buy the book as a helpful resource, or possibly a gentle nudge, or possibly outright pointed commentary, for someone else. I'm often asked to inscribe a book with sentiments such as "You can do it!" or "You got this!".

    It's interesting to me that many book clubs are reading this book. I wouldn't necessarily have thought it would be a candidate for a book group, but there's indeed much to discuss.

    I've been struck by how many people who attend book events come through the Happier podcast.  It's tremendously fun to see the two strands of my work coming together.

    I've been surprised by how many people have told me that of all the books I've written, Better Than Before is their favorite. I love all my books, and I love Better Than Before, so I don't know why that's a surprise. Maybe because it's about a subject—how to make or break habits—is often considered a challenge.

    Speaking of Better Than Beforepeople often bring their old books for me to sign, so my life flashes before my eyes as I see the various covers and editions of my previous books. That's fun, especially when a book is very dog-eared or marked-up. I love to see a much-read book. I really mark up  books when I read (except library books of course).

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    When I speak, my favorite part is always the question-and-answer, because I'm so curious to hear what's on people's minds.

    A few questions keep coming up over and over:

    • "Because of a death or downsizing in my family, I've inherited a bunch of stuff. How do I manage it?"
    • "How can I teach a child the value of outer order?"
    • "How can I use the Four Tendencies framework to get myself, or someone else, to do a better job of maintaining outer order?"
    • "How do I manage my emotions? I want to create more outer order, but it's very hard for me to relinquish things that have sentimental value."
    • "How do I manage digital clutter?"
    • "What should I do with my photos?" Once a woman started crying as she asked her question, because she was so overwhelmed by her photos.

    Fortunately, the book Outer Order, Inner Calm tackles all these issues! It would be discouraging if I found out that I hadn't addressed issues that were pressing on people's minds.

    One funny question: a Happier podcast listener asked if I'd been sticking to #10 on my "19 for 2019" list. I'd added the item: "On my book tour, read children's literature instead of watching HGTV before-and-after shows, which for some reason is what I want to do when I'm alone in a hotel room."

    Yes, I've kept this. I realized that as an Abstainer, it would be easier for me to follow through if I watched no TV. So I haven't turned on the TV once! I've been reading adult literature as well as children's literature, but I accept that as within the spirit of the resolution.

    Speaking of "19 for 2019," many people included "Go to a Gretchen Rubin event" on their lists. Several people even asked me to sign a copy of their lists—so fun to see.

    I'm sure no one else noticed, but I thought it was funny when someone introduced me by saying that I'd "walked hand-in-hand with the Dalai Lama" instead of "arm-in-arm." A big difference!

    Another question often raised by audience members—and journalists—is how my approach differs from that of Marie Kondo. It's so different!

    I love the work of Marie Kondo. I read her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up as soon as it came out, years ago, and I binge-watched Tidying Up as soon as it was available on Netflix. I see tremendous value in her approach.

    But the fact is, Marie Kondo has a very specific, structured way to approach outer order. On the TV show, the specificity of her approach is softened somewhat, but in the book, it's clear: to do it right, follow the KonMari way.

    From my observation, there's never just one way to achieve an aim. There's no magic, one-size-fits-all solution that's "best" or "most efficient" or "right." People are different, and different approaches work for different people. So while I love Kondo's work, and have followed some of her suggestions, I don't think there's one best way.

    Marie Kondo is a simplicity-lover, but many people are abundance-lovers.

    Marie Kondo says to do clutter-clearing in one big effort, but many people prefer to tackle it a little bit at a time, with strategies like the "one-minute rule" or "power hour."

    For some people—like me—it would be a waste of time and energy to follow her advice to unpack my bag every night, put things away, and re-pack the next day.

    You can read more about my thoughts on Marie Kondo's work here.

    In my observation, the problem arises when a certain system (like KonMari, David Allen's Getting Things Done, minimalism, etc.) doesn't work for people, and they get discouraged and think that their situation is hopeless, because they've failed with a specific approach.

    My own view is that if one way doesn't work or doesn't appeal, just try something else until you find what works for you. If something doesn't work, that's still helpful, because you've learned value information about what does and doesn't work for you, so now you can try something different.

    One last note: It has been great to meet so many people who are doing The Happiness Project Experience this year, and to hear how the program is going for them. I've been very gratified to learn that people are really enjoying it.

    Thanks to everyone who came to an event! I so appreciate the enthusiasm and support.

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