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  • gretchenrubin 12:00:05 on 2018/06/26 Permalink
    Tags: , , cookbooks, Julian Barnes, , outer order,   

    Do You Like to Buy Cookbooks? Consider This List About How to Avoid Making Mistakes. 

    I'm not a cook myself, but I'm interested in the five senses, and I often choose library books very impulsively, so I recently picked up a little book by Julian Barnes, The Pedant in the Kitchen.

    In it, he writes a funny list about how to avoid making mistakes when buying cookbooks. Even though I myself don't have an issue with being tempted to buy cookbooks, I thought this was an amusing and helpful reminder of how we make mistakes in our purchases.

    He suggests:

    1. Never buy a cookbook because of its pictures. Nothing will look as good when you cook it.
    2. Never buy cookbooks with tricky layouts.
    3. Avoid cookbooks that are too general or too narrow. For instance, skip books like Great Dishes of the World or Waffle Wonderment.
    4. Never buy a cookbook written by the chef of a restaurant where you've just eaten. Barnes notes, "Remember, that's why you went to the restaurant in the first place—to eat their cooking, not your own feebler version of it."
    5. Never buy a cookbook focused on using a piece of equipment if you don't own that equipment.
    6. Resist anthologies of regional recipes bought as a souvenir.
    7. Resist books of famous historical recipes, especially in facsimile editions. (Gretchen: Always avoid facsimile editions! I've learned that the hard way.)
    8. Never replace a beloved old favorite with the new, updated, edition; you'll always use your original.
    9. Never buy a cookbook for a charity fundraiser. Give the cover price directly to the charity; they'll get more money, and you won't have to cull out the cookbook later.
    10. Remember that many cookbook writers have only one good cookbook in them.

    I'm working on my book Outer Order, Inner Calm, and one thing is clear—the best way to fight clutter is never to create it. If you're not going to make good use of a cookbook, it's easier to decide not to buy it than to figure out what to do with it once it's in your house!

    Do you love to buy cookbooks? My husband sure does. And they take up a lot of room.

    What further precautions would you add to this list?

     
  • gretchenrubin 10:30:32 on 2018/03/30 Permalink
    Tags: , , , identity, , southerner,   

    A Question I’m Often Asked: Why Did I List “Southerner” as a Possibly Negative Identity? 

    Since Better Than Before, my book about habit change, hit the shelves, I’ve received several emails from loyal Southerners asking me about my inclusion of the identity of "Southerner" in the following passage discussing identity.

    Better Than Before identifies the 21 strategies we can use to make or break our habits, and in my chapter on the importance of the "Strategy of Identity," I write:

    We can get locked into identities that aren’t good for us: "a workaholic," "a perfectionist," "a Southerner," "the responsible one." As part of the Strategies of the Four Tendencies and Distinctions, I’d worked to identify different personality categories to which I belonged, but these kinds of labels should help me understand myself more deeply, not limit my sense of identity. Someone wrote on my site, "Food and eating used to play a big part in my identity until I realized that my baking and being a ‘baker’ was resulting in being overweight. So I had to let that identity go."

    In this passage, I’m not suggesting that "Southerner" is necessarily a negative identity, but one that might be negative for a particular person – it might also be a positive identity; this just depends on a particular person. For some people, identifying as "the responsible one" might give them a sense of pride and purpose, and for others, identifying as "the responsible one" might feel constraining and burdensome.

    Now, why did I include "Southerner" in this list of examples? Well, because while I was writing this book – and, I must admit, unmercifully quizzing my friends about their habits – a good friend mentioned it.

    As I discuss at length in Better Than Before, I had many discussions with one friend whose identity as "Italian" had been in conflict with her desire to eat and drink more healthfully.

    Along the same lines, another friend told me that the identity of being "Southern" was tied up, for him, with the idea of sweet tea, fried foods, pie, and the idea that a polite person would never turn down food that was offered. He wanted to change his eating habits, and he realized he had to figure out, "How can I live up to my Southern identity in a way that allows me to eat more healthfully?" Once he was able to see how this aspect of his identity was making it hard to stick to the good habits he wanted to cultivate, he was able to find many ways to be a true Southerner, and honor his Southern traditions, with less sweet tea.

    Most identities have both positive and negative sides. In my observation, the problem arises when we don’t see how an identity is influencing our habits; if we don’t see this factor, we can’t think through it and possibly alter the habits that flow from it. We can embrace an identity, yet shape that identity.

    As with me. My identity as a "real book-lover" made me assume that I had to finish every book I started, even if I found it boring. Which is what I did, for decades. But after studying the Strategy of Identity, I realized that I could alter my definition of what it meant to be a "real book-lover," with the thought, "If I stop reading a book I don’t like, I’ll have more time to read the books I do enjoy. That habit allows me to be a ‘real book-lover’ in a different way." My identity is the same; I just found a different habit to honor it.

    Usually, when we address the Strategy of Identity for ourselves, we don’t wholly let go of an identity – it was unusual for the "baker" let go of that identity totally – usually, we re-shape the expression of the identity, or decide to let one narrow aspect of that identity go, while holding on to the aspects that we want to keep. I can absolutely remain a real book-lover without finishing every book I start.

    Speaking of the Strategy of Identity, I can’t help but mention one of my favorite examples, which I write about in Better Than Before,. In their fascinating book Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath describe how an anti-littering campaign successfully changed the littering habits of Texans, after messages such as "Please Don’t Litter" and "Pitch In" failed. For the campaign, famous Texans such as George Foreman, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Willie Nelson, and various sports figures made TV spots with the message "Don’t mess with Texas." The campaign convinced people that true Texans—proud, loyal, tough Texans—protect Texas. During the campaign’s first five years, visible roadside litter dropped 72 percent.

    Our habits reflect our identities. We all have many identities. And we can shape how we honor those identities, so we can create the lives we want.

    Have you experienced this? Is there an area in your life where an important identity made it hard to follow a habit that you wanted to keep?

     
  • gretchenrubin 11:55:19 on 2018/02/24 Permalink
    Tags: , Francoise Gilot, Matisse, , ,   

    Secret of Adulthood: I’m Unique, Just Like Everyone Else. 

    In her memoir Life with Picasso, Francoise Gilot quoted Matisse:

    As Matisse said, "When I look at a fig tree, every leaf has a different design. They all have their own manner of moving in space; yet in their own separate ways, they all cry, 'Fig tree.'"

    It's one of my Secrets of Adulthood: I'm unique, just like everyone else.

    Do you have any favorite memoirs to recommend? I'm in the mood to read a really terrific memoir. Maybe I'll finally read James Boswell's London Journal.

     

     

     
  • gretchenrubin 10:30:03 on 2018/02/20 Permalink
    Tags: , elderly, , John Leland   

    “Spend More Time with Friends, Spend More Time in Nature, and Remember that My Job Is Just My Job, Not My Identity.” 

    Interview: John Leland.

    John Leland is a longtime journalist who has been at The New York Times since 2000. He's covered a wide range of topics, among them, retirement and religion.

    He also writes books, and he has a new book that is just hitting the shelves: Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old.

    It's based on a yearlong series he wrote for the Times. If you want to read a great article to get a sense of his project, check out his piece "When Old News Is Good News: the Effect of 6 Elderly New Yorkers on One Middle-Aged Reporter."

    His book is a fascinating look at the lessons he learned about happiness from studying the lives of a group of the "oldest old" (age 85 and older). The people in this group had very different backgrounds and circumstances, but John Leland was able to divine certain lessons about how to be happier -- at any age.

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

    John: The biggest revelation was how much influence older people – and by extension, all of us – have over how we process the events of our lives. I don’t mean that we have control over them. At some point, bad things will happen to all of us. We’ll lose our jobs or our vision or our parents, we’ll suffer disappointments at work or in front of the mirror. But we have a choice: we can define our lives by these setbacks, or by the opportunities that are still available to us. One of my favorite lessons in the book is from Jonas Mekas, 95, who spent his 20s in Nazi slave labor camps and then UN displaced persons camps. “I don’t leave any space for depression to come in,” he said. “I gravitate more to neutral areas or to positive activities. I’m not interested to film some dark, depressive aspects. I’m more interested in where people come together, they’re singing and dancing, more happy aspects. Why? It’s my nature. I consider that maybe unconsciously I’m thinking that’s what humanity needs more.”

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

    John: The simplest: say hello to people I pass on the streets in the morning. It’s almost literally the least I can do, and it always starts the day off well. Give money to people who need it, and say thanks to anyone providing services, even if they’re just stopping me on the bike path or checking my ID to get into the building at work.

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

    John: I spent my early years not just thinking the glass was half empty, but outraged that the glass wasn’t bigger. I thought this dissatisfaction was the creative force driving my work. And this attitude got me pretty far. But it was a beast that always needed more food, and what it was feeding on was me. I’ve since learned that I’m more productive and creative, not to mention happier, when I’m working collaboratively with others rather than competing with them, trying to serve people’s needs rather than vanquishing injustice. Often that amounts to the same thing, but for different reasons and with a different orientation. It can be a great rush trying to make the bad guys lose. But it’s more rewarding – and more effective – trying to help the good guys win.

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

    John: Years ago I came up with three guidelines to right me when things get rocky: Spend more time with friends; spend more time in nature (loosely defined – a city park does the trick); and remember that my job is just my job, not my identity. I’ve added a few since then, the most helpful of which is not to over-react to things that haven’t happened yet. So many of the things we lose sleep over never come to pass. Or when they do, we discover we can handle them. If you can’t be happy until there’s no longer a storm brewing somewhere, you’ll never be happy. Live your life, have a picnic, and on those days when the rains actually come your way, find a dry spot and some friends to share it. You’ll be surprised by how much coleslaw you can squeeze in.

    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.?

    John: Most of my life I’ve been hearing about the value of gratitude, but I never understood what that meant. Then I met Fred Jones, one of the six elders in my book. Fred was 87 at the time, and struggling to manage the stairs to his walk-up apartment. He grew up poor and black in the South, and over the course of our interviews lost two toes to gangrene. Yet Fred always found reasons to give thanks. When I asked his favorite part of the day, Fred never hesitated: “My favorite part of the day,” he said, “is waking up in the morning and saying, Thank God for another day.” That attitude floored me. I didn’t see what Fred had to be thankful for. Why was he, with all his problems, always in such a good mood, hoping for another 20 or 30 years of life?

    But gradually I got it. Gratitude, for Fred, wasn’t being happy for that new toy he just got or that helping hand when he needed it. Gratitude was how he saw the world: as a place that was always doing things for him – providing warmth and light, food that nourished him, colors to delight him, sounds that soothed. Sex! It meant that he was never lonely because he was always surrounded by benign forces that were working in his favor. Roads! Bridges! Pringles! It was a revelation. Life wasn’t just a battle I had to fight on my own: it was also a bounty I was lucky to receive, hands I was lucky to have supporting me. Life itself was reason to give thanks. And once I understood this, everything became so much easier.

     
  • gretchenrubin 11:00:00 on 2018/02/17 Permalink
    Tags: , Anton Chekhov, , ,   

    Anton Chekhov’s Letter to His Brother about the 8 Conditions for “Civilized People.” 

    In 1886, Russian playwright and short-story writer Anton Chekhov wrote a letter of advice to his beloved older brother Nikolai, a talented painter and writer who suffered from severe alcoholism.

    Chekhov writes:

    To my mind, civilized people ought to satisfy the following conditions:

    1. They respect the individual and are therefore always indulgent, gentle, polite and compliant. They do not throw a tantrum over a hammer or a lost eraser. When they move in with somebody, they do not act as if they were doing him a favor, and when they move out, they do not say, "How can anyone live with you!"...

    2. Their compassion extends beyond beggars and cats. They are hurt even by things the naked eye can't see. If for instance, Pyotr knows that his father and mother are turning gray and losing sleep over seeing their Pyotr so rarely (and seeing him drunk when he does turn up), then he rushes home to them and sends his vodka to the devil....

    3. They respect the property of others and therefore pay their debts.

    4. They are candid and fear lies like the plague. They do not lie even about the most trivial matters. A lie insults the listener and debases him in the liar's eyes. They don't put on airs, they behave in the street as they do at home, and they do not try to dazzle their inferiors. They know how to keep their mouths shut and they do not force uninvited confidences on people. Out of respect for the ears of others they are more often silent than not.

    5. They do not belittle themselves merely to arouse sympathy. They do not play on people's heartstrings to get them to sigh and fuss over them. They do not say, "No one understands me!" or "I've squandered my talent on trifles!" because this smacks of a cheap effect and is vulgar, false and out-of-date.

    6. They are not preoccupied with vain things. They are not taken in by such false jewels as friendships with celebrities, handshakes with drunken Plevako, ecstasy over the first person they happen to meet at the Salon de Varietes, popularity among the tavern crowd....

    7. If they have talent, they respect it. They sacrifice comfort, women, wine and vanity to it....

    8. They cultivate their aesthetic sensibilities. They cannot stand to fall asleep fully dressed, see a slit in the wall teeming with bedbugs, breathe rotten air, walk on a spittle-laden floor or eat off a kerosene stove. They try their best to tame and ennoble their sexual instinct...

    And so on. That's how civilized people act. If you want to be civilized and not fall below the level of the milieu you belong to, it is not enough to read The Pickwick Papers and memorize a soliloquy from Faust. It is not enough to hail a cab and drive off to Yakimanka Street if all you're going to do is bolt out again a week later.

    You must work at it constantly, day and night. You must never stop reading, studying in depth, exercising your will. Every hour is precious.

    Agree, disagree?

    I love lists, manifestos, personal commandments. If you'd like to see my personal commandments, it's here.

     
  • gretchenrubin 19:39:13 on 2018/01/25 Permalink
    Tags: , , , loss,   

    “Physical Movement, Especially in a Beautiful Place, Will Unstick Your Brain.” 

    Interview: Rebecca Soffer and Gabi Birkner

    A common happiness stumbling block is that it's hard to talk candidly about grief -- often, we just don't know what to say or what to do. In recognition of that difficulty, several years ago, Rebecca Soffer and Gabi Birkner launched the website Modern Loss.

    Now their new collection of essays Modern Loss: Candid Conversation About Grief. Beginners Welcome has just hit the shelves. This volume includes essays from more than forty contributors, including Brian Stelter, Dr. Lucy Kalanithi, and of course, themselves. Rebecca and Gabi both lost parents as young adults, and they recognized the need to change the way we approach grief.

    The book has generated tremendous buzz and interest. If you're intrigued, here's a great excerpt from the book in the New York Times Sunday Review.

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

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

    Rebecca: Playing with my kids. Things have been pretty hectic since we launched the Modern Loss website four years ago, exactly three weeks before giving birth to my first child. Playing is a simple habit but consciously making space for it feels so complicated. I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself to be productive, be silly, be nurturing, get a modicum of sleep, oversee the logistical madness of a family, and do so without being able to schedule each of those activities into neat little time blocks.

    So I’ve developed the near-daily habit of putting my phone in another room and just being with my kids: building a Magna-Tile spaceship or baking with my four-year-old, or tickling the baby just so I can see that beautiful little smile that looks so much like my mother’s did. These are the times when I notice the new little quirks, moves, and turns of phrase they’ve developed; ones that might take me longer to notice during the typical rush of our days. And honestly, it just feels good to laugh with them, because they always make me laugh. It certainly releases those endorphins, and since I can’t break away to exercise every day, I’ll take whatever endorphins I can get!

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

    Rebecca: For creativity and productivity (not to mention for mental sanity), getting outside regularly. Luckily, I live in the middle of New York City, so I get outside regularly whether I like it or not! If I’ve ever had a frustrating phone call or feel like my energy is flagging or need to creatively think through a roadblock, I take the elevator downstairs. It really is incredible how energetically renewed you can feel after taking a walk around the block. Of course, what I really prefer is getting outside in nature as much as possible. The majority of my own essays for Modern Loss were written in my head during solitary hikes up Monument Mountain in the Berkshires; a lot of those pieces were ones I had trouble with while simply staring at my computer screen. There’s just something about getting to do physical movement, especially in a beautiful place, that will unstick your brain.

    Also for productivity, my husband and I have come to swear by the Wunderlist app. I have about a billion apps on my phone but really only use a few of them regularly, and this is one. It’s basic, functional, and sure beats my former method of reminding myself to do things: emailing them to myself and overloading my inbox.

    For leisure, I love reading (which I write wistfully, as I don’t last more than a couple of pages before falling asleep these days), going to a great show, and cooking alone (operative word: alone!) Those activities at once relax and inspire me.

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

    Rebecca: Giving myself permission to be in bed at 9:30 pm some nights without feeling lame. I used to be a total night owl; it’s not only when I got my best work done but it’s also when some of the most fun parties and concerts and comedy shows take place. All of these things are still really tempting. But having kids is is such a reality check. It basically forces you to make a judgment call about how much you can realistically burn the candle at both ends. Sure, you can still go to sleep at 1 am, but like it or not, you’re still getting up at 5 am!

    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?

    Rebecca: I have a couple. The first: “It is what it is.” I’ve dealt with adversity just like anyone else has. The majority of the toughest situations I’ve faced to date have stemmed from profound loss -- my mother died in a car accident when I was 30 and my father had a fatal heart attack when I was 34. I can’t tell you how much energy I spent over those early years of grieving imagining the “if onlys.” It was not only completely draining physically and emotionally but also really preventing me from taking a good look around and working with what I did have, which was the opportunity to still build a meaningful life. Eventually, I found the right team to help me move through my losses (the right therapist, the right friends, the right understanding colleagues) and really glommed onto the pragmatism of “it is what it is.” Of course, I wish it weren’t. But it is. And that’s freed up all that wasted energy to keep moving through it.

    The second: “Work the problems.” That one’s courtesy of Ms. Jackson, my middle school algebra teacher. I shudder to think how little I probably remember about algebra itself, but I never forgot that phrase. Her message was probably primarily meant for our 7th grade level of understanding; like, “solve this rational equation.” But she said it enough that it really stuck, and so in adulthood, it’s taken on a whole new meaning for me. Like any good New York Jew, I’m given to a bit of functional anxiety and can get overwhelmed when I think about the enormity of a certain, complex task. So I repeat this mantra and start wading through the problem, step by step.

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

    Gabi: There's no such thing as the perfect job. When you're just starting out, it's hard to differentiate between a good job (with normal stressors and challenging personalities) and a truly toxic situation. So the first few times you come up against your own limitations, or someone else's, the first few times you're tasked with something that makes you want to reach for brain bleach, it's easy to convince yourself that quitting is the answer. It might be — if, say, you're being harassed, abused or belittled, or the position is harmful to your physical or emotional well-being. But if not, and if it's a job you like 80% or more of the time, and you're just dealing with more benign annoyances (be they tasks or co-workers), pause. Take some time to assess, speak with a professional mentor, vent candidly with friends — not with said mentor — before you make a decision whether to grow in place, while addressing real structural problems with your manager, or whether it's really the time to move on.

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

    Gabi: I wish I could say travel and parties. But it's far more mundane: childcare, work commitments, household maintenance, and all the other little things that I (sometimes ill-advisedly) put on my to-do list above "exercise" and "breathe" and "breakfast."

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

    Gabi: I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, which (like, totally) affected my speech patterns. Into my 30s, I peppered my language with constant fillers — my worst offender being "like," followed closely by "you know." It wasn't so much an unhealthy habit, as it was a habit that got in my way. I was once on a very important conference call, when a colleague instant messaged me to say something along the lines of: What you're saying is very smart, but you're making it sound very dumb with all the "likes." That was a turning point. In the few years since I've worked really hard to eliminate fillers: I joined Toastmasters, worked a little with a speech coach, and was generally more conscious of how I was communicating. I'm far from perfect — once a Valley girl, always a Valley girl — but the situation has improved dramatically.

     
  • gretchenrubin 11:00:23 on 2018/01/18 Permalink
    Tags: , , , relatonships,   

    Want to Be Happier in Romance? “Focus on What’s Going Right in the Relationship, Rather than Dwelling on What’s Going Wrong.” 

    Interview: Suzie Pileggi Pawelski and James Pawelski.

    Suzie Pileggi Pawelski and James Pawelski are the co-authors of a new book, Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts

    They're both positive psychology experts, and they're also married to each other -- very fitting, given their subject! In their book, they use the principles of positive psychology to help people figure out how to create thriving romantic relationships.

    I was very interested to hear what they had to say about happiness, habits, and making more loving relationships.

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

    James: Reading together quietly or playing family games with our adorable seven-year-old son Liam.

    Suzie: Tackling -- or ideally completing -- the New York Times crossword puzzle.

    Gretchen: You’ve highlighted fascinating positive psychology research in your book Happy Together and your Romance & Research workshops you’ve conducted across the world. What has surprised or intrigued you the most?

    In most areas of our lives we understand that it takes hard work to achieve our goals. For example, we don’t just land a job and sit back coasting along thinking it’ll turn into our dream job without effort. Or we don’t buy a gym membership and only go once expecting to have a fitter and more toned body overnight. Instead, we work hard by taking training classes to excel in our career, and training at the gym to help strengthen our body. Yet when it comes to our romantic relationships we seem to think that after meeting our special someone and committing to him or her that “happily ever after” just happens. That’s not the case, except in fairy tales. It’s healthy habits that helps build love over the long term.

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

    Suzie: For optimal health, creativity and productivity having a daily routine that consists of exercise and spending time in nature is crucial for me.  It calms my nerves and helps me to focus better. While I can get by without them, I find that I don’t thrive without these two key habits.

    James: Having a regular sleep schedule and waking early and starting my day with meditation is what makes me feel focused, creative, and productive. These habits are life-fueling. They energize me and provide me with the clarity that I need throughout the day to make the best decisions at work and at home.

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

    One ongoing challenge we have is James’s teaching and speaking schedule. Every few weeks, he teaches weekend classes in the masters program he directs, and he travels frequently to give talks and attend conferences. In light of this schedule, we try to be flexible and plan in advance to figure out how we are going to maintain our healthy habits like regular exercise, reading time, and meditation. One thing we do is try to stay at hotels with gyms or access to outdoor running paths, and we optimize our air time by reading and meditating.

    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.?

    We discovered after getting together that we both had a very similar lightning bolt moment after reading Marty Seligman’s fascinating book Learned Optimism. The book talks about how we have the ability to teach ourselves to choose healthy thoughts, thereby enabling us to choose happiness. The book was what lead each of us on our own individual journey to delve into the science of positive psychology. And it’s what brought us together.

    Gretchen: What is one of the most important habits you recommend in your book to people on how to be “Happy Together?”

    We recommend couples focus on what is going right in the relationship, rather than dwelling on what’s going wrong.  One way to do that is to focus on our partner’s strengths and see your relationship through a lens of strengths. Positive psychology researchers have identified 24 strengths that have been valued across time and cultures that each of us possess to varying degrees. Things like: creativity, zest, love of learning, leadership, kindness, etc. It’s what make us unique. We invite readers to find out what their top five strengths are by taking the free Via Survey that is here on our website.

    Gretchen: How can people actively practice using their strengths every day?

    Once people have discovered their top 5 strengths, commonly referred to as one’s “signature strengths,” we recommend they practice using them in new ways. First, select one of your signature strengths. Next, brainstorm some ways you can use this strength more in your life, and write down a list of specific steps you could take for applying this strength in healthy ways. Use this strength in a new way every day for the next week. Each day, choose a different activity from your list or you could come up with a new idea. The point is to experiment with seven new ways you can use this strength over the course of the week.

    Gretchen: Can you suggest one healthy habit couples can do together to help practice using their strengths?

    We suggest couples go on a “strengths date.” A strengths date is where you pick a top strength of yours (say, zest) and one of your partner’s (say, love of learning). And you organize a date that will enable you each to use your strength. A personal example from our own lives is that we rented Segways to do a guided tour of the historical part of Philadelphia. At the end of the date Suzie’s sense of adventure, or strength of zest, was sated and James’s love of learning was fulfilled.  A mutually satisfying date for both of us! Remember to take turns arranging the dates (or plan them together) -- and the important thing is to have fun while connecting in new ways.

     
  • gretchenrubin 20:43:41 on 2018/01/11 Permalink
    Tags: , Greer Hendricks,   

    “When I Dread a Task, I Remind Myself, ‘The Only Way Past It Is Through It.’” 

    Interview: Greer Hendricks.

    Greer Hendricks is one of my favorite people, and someone who had a huge influence on my life as a writer: she was the first editor to buy one of my books. She and I worked together to publish Power Money Fame Sex: A User's Guide. What a joy it was to write that book -- and what a joy to work with Greer! We were both early in our careers, and it was such a happy experience.

    She had a long run as a highly successful and respected editor, with more than two decades at Simon & Schuster -- and now she has switched positions, and become the author.

    With her co-author Sarah Pekkanen, she wrote the new psychological thriller, The Wife Between Us. Even before it hit the shelves, this novel generated a huge amount of buzz and excitement, with starred reviews, a movie deal, and comparisons to Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. I just got my copy, and I can't wait to dive in!

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

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

    Greer: Exercise.  I work out first thing in the morning usually seven days a week -- a mixture of running, interval weight training and yoga (which I do with my husband on Sundays).  I find that no matter what curveballs are thrown at me during the day I am much better equipped to handle them if I’ve moved my body.

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

    Greer: I think most 18-year-olds probably think habits = boring, but I now believe that structure can set you free.  If you have habits or an infrastructure in place then you don’t have to spend time making decisions.  For example, my husband and I have coffee together outside the home every Saturday morning.  We devote this time to going over our calendars (with two working parents, two teenagers and two dogs scheduling can be tricky) and various other logistical details -- which ice hockey program seems best for our daughter, how much do want to donate to a particular charity, should we enroll our son in an innovative, but time-consuming allergy study.  I can’t say I look forward to these meetings, but they help our home run more smoothly.  And if we aren’t scrambling around at the last minute to sort out mismatched schedules we have more time for fun things like sneaking in a movie or a boozy brunch.

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

    Greer: Checking social media. After editing a lot of bestselling authors, I’ve now flipped roles: My first book, The Wife Between Us, co-authored with Sarah Pekkanen, one of my former authors, is about to be published, and I found that I was on Facebook and Instagram many times a day. I finally deleted the apps from my phone because they were becoming too distracting.  If I  need to check them I can go to my laptop (strategy of inconvenience).

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

    Greer: I am a firm believer in getting at least 7 hours of sleep, exercising daily and eating fairly healthily.  I think if you have these foundational elements in place it’s easier to be creative productive and happy. I also feel less guilty about the vices I do indulge in pretty regularly: a sweet treat during the day, and a glass of wine or two at the end of the night.

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

    Greer:I think I was actually one of the beta testers on your quiz.  In fact I remember a lunch with you where you asked me a bunch of questions and diagnosed me as an Upholder. I’ve since taken your quiz multiple times and indeed I am an Upholder  Although a part of me still wonders if I’m an Obliger who has just figured out how to uphold my commitments by being accountable to others. I have a writing partner, and we block out a huge chunk of the day to devote to our novels. I have a personal trainer and I plan most of my runs with friends.

    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.?

    Greer: Before I started writing I had been an editor at Simon & Schuster -- as you know since I edited your first book! When I landed my first job I remember asking a more seasoned editor how he got over losing books he wanted to acquire. I simply couldn't imagine that kind of devastation.  As I approached my 20 year anniversary I participated in a heated auction to acquire a new author and the author chose another editor. I was upset, but then I realized part of my dismay wasn’t for the right reasons. I was sad because the selection had bruised my ego, not simply because I felt distraught that I wouldn’t have a chance to edit and publish the book.  That’s when I realized that although I loved my colleagues and many of the authors I’d edited through the years, I needed a change. The joy I had felt for nearly two decades was no longer as vibrant and while I am sure there are many editors who can do their job without that kind of passion, I didn’t want to. I talked over the decision with my husband and gave notice a few weeks later.

    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?

    Greer: The only way past it is through it.  When I dread a task -- filling out tricky insurance forms, a challenging rewrite or a difficult conversation -- I remind myself of these words and forge forward.

    Also, one of my favorite mottos is one I learned from you: accept yourself, and expect more from yourself.  Over the years I have learned to accept that I don’t like to ski or that I am not great with numbers, but to also expect more - to work on making my relationships stronger, to try and conquer some of my fears (driving, for example), and to write a book, which has been a lifelong goal.

     
  • gretchenrubin 19:01:53 on 2018/01/06 Permalink
    Tags: , , , ,   

    Agree: Even One Task Fulfilled at Regular Intervals…Can Bring Order into Life as a Whole. 

    "Even one task fulfilled at regular intervals in a man's life can bring order into his life as a whole; everything else hinges upon it. By keeping a record of my experiences I live my life twice over. The past returns to me. The future is always with me."

    -- The Journal of Eugene Delacroix

    Agree, disagree?

    How I love this book!

     
  • gretchenrubin 12:00:35 on 2017/12/28 Permalink
    Tags: , Courtney Carver, , , simplicity   

    “I Will Not Say ‘Yes’ When My Heart Says ‘No.’” 

    Interview: Courtney Carver.

    I love the subject of clutter-clearing. So, of course, I'm intrigued by the work of Courtney Carver -- her site declares: "Are you overwhelmed with clutter and busyness? It's time to create a life with more clarity, ease, and joy." Wonderful.

    Her new book, Soulful Simplicity: How Living with Less Can Lead to So Much More is just hitting the shelves.

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

    Courtney: Sugar! I’m so much happier without it but I love it. When I’m in a sugar rut, I’m moodier. When I quit sugar for long periods of time, I'm much happier. Like you, Gretchen, I'm an Abstainer when it comes to sugary treats:  it's easier for me to have none than one. When I've intentionally quit sugar for a period of time, I don't crave it or think about it that much after the first day or two. I love that feeling of not having to decide how much is too much because when I am eating sugar, I don't want one cookie, or one bite of dessert. I want it all. Why do I go back? Just thinking about it makes me less happy.

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

    Courtney: My morning routine fuels better health, creativity, and productivity. It includes some combination of writing, meditation, reading, yoga and walking. Whether I practice my morning routine for 5 minutes or 3 hours, it always allows me to move through the day with more purpose and focus.

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

    Courtney: I created my morning routine through habit stacking, and it has stuck with me for more than 10 years. I started with 5 minutes of yoga. After a week, I stacked 5 minutes of writing. The next week I added 5 minutes of meditation. From there I raised the time of each activity by a minute each week. Once I had a 30-minute routine, I was able to easily swap in new activities or extend the time spent on certain activities.

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

    Courtney: At first I thought I was an Upholder but after taking the quiz, I discovered I’m a Questioner.

    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.?

    Courtney:  In 2006 after months of debilitating vertigo and fatigue I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. After learning how stress can cause MS exacerbations, I decided to quit stress and simplified my entire life. While the changes I made took many years, my decision to prioritize love and health was immediate. I share more about my lightning bolt moment, and the changes MS inspired in my life in my new book, Soulful Simplicity. From changing my diet to becoming debt-free, clutter-free, changing careers and downsizing from a big house to a small apartment, simplicity was at the heart of every change. Living with less has given me the opportunity to create more health and love in my life.

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

    Courtney: I will not say yes when my heart says no.

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

    Courtney: Writing down anything on my mind first thing in the morning makes me happier. It’s my way of clearing mental clutter before starting the day. I don’t share or read what I write so it’s more about the action than what ends up on the page

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

    Courtney: Consistency is more important than intensity. The all or nothing, weekend warrior approach to incorporating healthy habits usually results in burnout. Showing up regularly, even if it's only for a few minutes at a time contributes to creating long-lasting habits. I'm a big fan of habit stacking. For instance, when I created my morning routine, I started with 5 minutes of yoga. After a week, I added 5 minutes of meditation and 5 minutes of writing. Then, I added a minute a week to each activity. It took me weeks to build up to a 30 minute routine, but the method worked. The slow build resulted in a meaningful morning routine that I've been practicing for more than 1o years.

     
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