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  • feedwordpress 09:00:09 on 2018/10/18 Permalink
    Tags: , Can You Learn to be Lucky?, , Karla Starr, ,   

    “My Life Today Is the Sum Total of My Past Choices.” 

    Interview: Karla Starr.

    Karla Starr has written for O, The Atlantic, Slate, Popular Science, the Guardian, and the Los Angeles Times, and she received the Best Science/Health award from the Society of Professional Journalists. Her first book recently hit the shelves:  Can You Learn to Be Lucky? Why Some People Seem to Win More Often Than Others.

    Karla says, "The best way we can successfully deal with the unknown is by building our own character strengths: our flexibility, empathy, confidence, self-control, curiosity, self-esteem, humility, persistence, belief in our ability to improve, and the ability to simply show up. The key to maximizing luck is simply to maximize what you bring to the table, plug yourself into many outlets, and be open to whatever comes along."

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

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

    Karla: If I had to pick just one thing, it’s to get enough sleep. It’s the basis of physical and mental health, and I have no problems prioritizing it over everything else. When I go to bed early enough to wake up naturally, I have more energy, my brain works as well as it can, and I feel like a functional human.

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

    Karla: I knew nothing about happiness when I was 18; I just thought it was something for people who had summer houses, Ivy League scholarships, great wardrobes, and perfect test scores. But as it turns out, you can have all of those things and be miserable.

    Two people in the exact same situation can have completely different moods because of what they pay attention to and how they interpret it. Fortunately, we have complete control over those two things. Paying attention to something is what gives it power, which is why practicing gratitude is so important. I had no idea it was that simple.

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

    Karla: How much random, uncontrollable things influence our thoughts, behavior, and habits, which are entirely controllable.

    Small moments can alter our entire life’s trajectory by making us assume that it’s part of a larger pattern. For example, seeing someone try to cut in line at the grocery store can make us assume that they’re a jerk; if we see them later on, we’d probably ignore them or give them a look. But what if they were in a hurry to buy food for a sick friend, and felt awful about cutting in line? We never get a chance to find out if we’re wrong.

    Our brains love patterns, even though this means seeing regularities in the environment that may not actually exist.

    I was surprised to find out how easily this can happen when we get information about ourselves. If a grade school teacher tells us that we’re not cut out for music, we learn that we’re no good. So So we’ll never practice, get more flustered when we do, and assume that improving is harder for us than others—even though getting better takes time for everyone. More often, however, we’ll just quit. We don’t realize how many aspects of our life are self-fulfilling prophecies, and the lengths that people will go to in order to avoid being wrong about themselves and the world, even when it might lead to positive change.

    Our social environments play a huge role. Imagine someone with jaded friends who goes on a few dates that turn out to be bad. They might begin to think of dating as a pointless endeavor, and start acting distant or slightly hostile towards others—the very behavior that drives people away. Over time, they might conclude that they’re fated to be alone, stop giving new people a chance, or never meeting people. Guess what? That’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. You never learn that you’re wrong.

    Think of a story you might attribute to luck, like getting an offer for your dream job meeting the love of your life, getting your startup funded, or being accepted into your first choice school. We don’t see the lifetime of good habits that went into these moments, like attending networking events every week and keeping in touch with professional contacts for years, or staying positive after years of bad dates. No one posts on Facebook about living off of ramen and having tons of roommates while developing their app, or that they studied for a standardized test every weekend for two years.

    Actions that lead to larger rewards in the future often feel less rewarding in the present, and change itself can be difficult. It can take longer to see those larger fruits of beneficial habits than people realize. Doubting the value of good habits can make people inconsistent enough to never see change, or give up prematurely. Change takes time. Different habitual ways of responding to what happens to us create wildly different life trajectories over time.

    I was surprised to see how many aspects of life are self-fulling prophecies: when people become convinced that certain outcomes won’t happen, we never really try to make them happen. And guess what? We’re right—even if it started because of a random comment.

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

    Karla: I used to think that exercise was torture, and that being athletic just wasn’t in the cards for me. I used the research to turn it around: bit by bit, I made everything associated with a healthy lifestyle as positive and rewarding as possible. I found an activity that I really enjoyed and a coach I connected with. I started befriending people at the gym, got workout clothes that I loved, and focused on how good it felt to get better. My attitude towards health has done a complete 180. I even won a competition at my gym this past year!

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

    Karla: Absolutely no one who knows me will be surprised that I’m a Questioner! I researched my book for years and am obsessed with learning. I hate the feeling of being forced to do something just for the sake of doing it. But if I have a good reason, I have no problem moving time and space for something that I want to do.

    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?

    Karla: "One coin won’t make you rich, but the only way to get rich is by collecting coins." [Gretchen: This is one of my favorite teaching stories! Here's an episode of A Little Happier where I talk about it.] My life today is the sum total of my past choices. Each small action may feel inconsequential, but every one counts. Every smart decision you make adds value to your future self. Books are read and written one word at a time, well-being is improved one healthy decision at a time, relationships are strengthened one kind deed at a time, retirement accounts grow one dollar at a time, and marathons are finished one step at a time. Every extra minute of reading, writing, brownie-skipping, gym-hitting, hugging, thanking, saving, and stepping adds up over time. Everything counts.

    Gretchen: In your field, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?

    Karla: People think that personality traits and intelligence are static, but our brains are much more plastic and malleable than we realize, at any age. Personality traits also depend on the situation we find ourselves in: everyone becomes more conscientious when they’re about to finish a project they really want to complete, or more extroverted when they see a great friend they really want to catch up with. Our lifestyles and social environments shape what we think we’re capable of, especially the habits among people in your social circle. As the narrative we tell ourselves about our life starts to take shape over time, people settle into a story of who we are, and make a habit of putting ourselves in situations where we’re most comfortable.

    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.?

    Karla: Last year, when I was working on my last chapter on the importance and difficulty of open-mindedness, I had a health scare. One of my friends said she’d pray for me, and I replied that it wasn’t a good use of her time. After talking, I ended up testing the advice that I was giving in that chapter: what if I was wrong, and there was a divine presence in the universe? Why was I stubbornly refusing to even consider it? What was the worst that could happen if I was wrong?

    It felt so odd to challenge such a core belief, especially one I’d been writing about for years. But what if the universe wasn’t just made of chaos and randomness—what if coincidences were meaningful? A few days after my scare, I started to act “as if.”

    If you do everything in your power to make your future brighter, stay flexible about the outcome, and have patience that things will eventually work out, they will. Another word for luck is faith.

    can you learn

     
  • feedwordpress 09:00:37 on 2018/09/20 Permalink
    Tags: , , Lisa Kohn, ,   

    “I Just Have to Choose to Notice the Good and Allow Myself to Enjoy It.” 

    Interview: Lisa Kohn.

    Lisa Kohn had a challenging childhood. Her mother was a member of the Unification Church, founded by Sun Myung Moon, and her father was part of the life of New York City's East Village in the 1970s. She was caught between two wildly different worlds, and this shaped the way she saw the world, herself, and other people.

    She's written a memoir of her experience, and how she found the resiliency to surmount the difficulties in her upbringing, in to the moon and back: a childhood under the influence.

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

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

    Lisa: As simple as it might sound, when I actively, intentionally practice mindfulness in a way that makes me notice things that are soothing or joy-creating for me, I am happier. By that I mean when I actively look for the yellow birds that I love - each time I see them I am happier. When I pause and notice the breeze on my skin, or the beautiful day, or the flowers around me, I am happier. When I throw myself into the moment - as I exercise or talk with friends or laugh and play, etc. - any and all of this can consistently make me happier. I just have to choose to notice the good and allow myself to enjoy it.

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

    Lisa: When I was 18 years old, I didn’t even know that I was unhappy, and I didn’t know that I deserved to be, and could be, happy. Because I was raised in a cult - as a Moonie - and 18 was about the age when I started to pull away from the cult, there wasn’t a lot of happiness in my life (or mind or heart) at that point. It took years for me to realize that I could be happy and to figure out ways to allow myself happiness. (I also didn’t know that, at least for me, self-love and self-compassion are at the root of allowing myself happiness and being happy.)

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

    Lisa: I wouldn’t say that I have habits, as in something I do or don’t do every day, but I do have negative thought patterns, or thought habits, that get in the way of my happiness. I can be be a worrier and filled with irrational fears. I can be a people pleaser and lose myself in panic that others will be upset or disappointed. I can push myself too hard and be too strict and rigid with myself. All of these thought patterns get in the way of my happiness. (And all of them are at least somewhat manageable when I go back to questions #1 and 2 and allow myself happiness and find moments and mindfulness that will ease my negative thought patterns.)

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

    Lisa: I have a number of habits that are most important to me. My physical health habits - I exercise in some way nearly every day. I run, practice yoga, lift weights, and move as much as I can. My mental and emotional health habits - I practice yoga roughly three times per week, and I meditate nearly every day. I also make time to sit, notice, practice mindfulness, etc., and I make time for family and friends, because I love to be connected with and to people.

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

    Lisa: I am proud of the fact that I meditate regularly - generally every day. However, the way I was able to build that habit is, perhaps, a bit different from the norm. Because I was raised in unstable environments, I became a very rigid rule follower. (I also believe that is related to my anorexia when I was younger.) In order to build a meditation habit, I had to allow myself to meditate “my way” - not to follow set rules or strict guidelines. I’ve sat quiet at times, sat quiet with a timer at times, sat quiet with a cup of tea at times, and sat quiet with an app making “white noise” in the background, but in all of these, I’ve allowed myself to not be too rigid. If I get rigid, then I worry that my meditation didn’t count, because I somehow did it “wrong.” Allowing myself space and the possibility that there was no right or wrong way to meditate helped me to build my meditation practice/habit.

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

    Lisa: I am clearly an Upholder. I think I was more of an Obliger and also a bit of a Rebel for a while (most likely when I left the Moonies), but I do keep my promises to myself and to (most) others. [Note: from her description of herself in her answers, I wonder if Lisa is actually an Obliger who has figured out ways to meet inner expectations.]

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

    Lisa: I have let travel and others’ expectations and needs get in the way of keeping my habits, but I’ve learned to make my habits my priority, because I am so much happier and better when I do.

    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.?

    Five years ago I was knocked to my knees with insomnia, for longer than I care to admit. I fought it, long and hard, but finally reached a point where I accepted what was and decided that if the rest of my life was going to be just lying on a couch every day, because that was all that I could physically, mentally, and emotionally do, than I was going to be okay with that, and I was going to find a way to be happy, no matter what. The experience changed - and loosened - some of my rigidity and perfectionism/self-non-acceptance.

    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?

    Lisa: I did thoroughly enjoy The Happiness Project. (I’m not just saying that - I kept thinking, “yes, yes.”) Two books that helped me move on most recently are The Gifts of Imperfection (Brene Brown) and Radical Acceptance (Tara Brach). The saying I repeat to myself the most now, when I’m afraid or anxious or hard on myself, is “I choose love.” It eases my heart and mind. I read this anonymous quote years ago in O, and it stayed with me - “When you die God and the angels will hold you accountable for all the pleasures in life that you denied yourself.” And although it’s not a motto or saying, I’ve found that putting my hand on my heart is very, very soothing.

    Gretchen: Tell me about your new memoir.

    My memoir is entitled to the moon and back: a childhood under the influence. It tells my story of growing up in the Moonies (and also in the sordid East Village scene in the 1970s) and gives a glimpse into how I learned that I deserved happiness...and how I could find or build it.

    to the moon and back by Lisa Kohn

     
  • feedwordpress 12:00:07 on 2018/09/04 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Ingrid Fetell Lee, ,   

    “I Have a Phrase That I Come Back to Again and Again: ‘Remember What You Love.’” 

    Interview: Ingrid Fetell Lee

    Right now, I can't learn enough about color and scent -- I'm looking for anything I can read, see, touch, learn, or listen to on these fascinating subjects. Plus I'm always thinking about happiness and human nature.

    So when I got an advance copy of Ingrid Fetell Lee's new book, I couldn't wait to read it. Just the title was enough to spark my enthusiasm: Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness.

    Ingrid  is a Brooklyn-based designer and writer whose work focuses on the way that design affects our health and happiness.

    She gave a terrific TED talk called "Where joy hides and how to find it" and writes an excellent blog called The Aesthetics of Joy.

    She has more than twelve years of experience in design and branding, most recently as Design Director of IDEO's New York office, having led design work for Target, Condé Nast, Eileen Fisher, American Express, Kate Spade, Diageo, Pepsico, and the U.S. government, among others.

    About herself, she notes, "loves pancakes, polka dots, and rainbow sprinkles, and has an extensive repertoire of happy dances for any occasion."

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

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

    Ingrid: Happy dances! My husband and I often do a happy dance on Friday evenings to mark the start of the weekend. We also do them when one of us has good news. It sounds silly, but there’s science to suggest it works. Research shows that celebrating good news with someone else can deepen relationships by increasing our confidence that they will be there for us in hard times, not just in good ones. And dancing with other people can bring about a state that scientists call synchrony, which elicits feelings of unity, generosity, and a desire to be helpful. Not to mention that happy dances are silly and fun!

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

    Ingrid: That true happiness is really a sum of many smaller moments of joy. When I was younger, I associated happiness with large milestones or goals in life: getting into the right school, finding a good job, getting married, having children. Reaching some of these milestones has brought me happiness, and some I haven't reached yet — but now I understand that you can have all the “right” things happen in life and be unhappy, and you can have big disappointments and still be extremely happy.

    My research on joy has shown me that the small daily joys matter a lot more than we think. A picnic in the park with a friend, a deep belly laugh, or taking time to stop and smell the proverbial roses: these simple moments of delight have powerful effects that linger long after the moment has passed. Small sparks of joy can mitigate the physical effects of stress, open our minds, and connect us to others. They can even make us more resilient, by sparking positive feedback loops that promote long-term wellbeing. Though the moments themselves seem small, they have ripple effects that do end up influencing our happiness on a broader scale.

    The reason this is important is that while the big elements of happiness are often out of our control (we don’t always get the dream job, and we don’t know when we’ll meet “the one”), joy is always accessible to us. Turning our attention to the joys of the moment absorbs us in the present, focusing us on the parts of our lives that are good, not the ones we’d like to change. We notice more moments of joy — in fact, research shows that people in a state of joy are actually more attuned to positive stimuli on the periphery of their visual field — and begin to include others in our joy. When we focus on joy, happiness finds us.

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

    Ingrid: I've found that people are often surprised to learn just how deeply our physical environment affects our emotions and wellbeing. The field of psychology has historically focused almost exclusively on the internal factors that shape our emotional experience, in the form of thoughts, behavioral patterns, and neural chemistry. Almost no attention has been paid to environmental factors. So, if we are feeling sad or anxious, we’re conditioned to believe this is due to either our genetics or our learned responses. We never look around us and think that there might be something in our surroundings that is making us uneasy.

    Yet when you look at the research, there are many well-documented links between environment and emotional wellbeing. One example that has gained visibility in recent years is Seasonal Affective Disorder, which highlights the link between light and mood. But light therapy has actually been shown to be effective in treating non-seasonal depression too, so effective that in some studies the results are comparable to those achieved by anti-depressants. (We rarely hear about this research, perhaps because it's more lucrative for pharmaceutical companies to fund studies about drugs than about light.) Other research shows that employees with sunnier desks sleep better and are more physically active in and out of the office than those without windows, and that just changing the lightbulbs in a nursing home can reduce both depression and cognitive decline among Alzheimer’s patients.

    These effects can come from very subtle aspects of the environment, ones we may not be conscious of, such as symmetry and shape. For example, researchers at the University of Chicago have found that showing people pictures of visually disordered, asymmetrical environments increases the likelihood that they will cheat on a test. And fMRI studies have shown that when people are shown pictures of sharp, angular objects, a structure in the brain called the amygdala, associated in part with fear and anxiety, lights up, but stays quiet when people look at curved versions of the same objects.

    I've found that many people have an intuitive understanding of these effects but have been taught to tune them out. Or worse, made to feel that their impulses toward color and light, symmetry and curves are frivolous. What has surprised me most about this work is how validated many people, especially women, feel to know that these sensations are a real, measurable contributor to their wellbeing. I even heard from one woman who told me she cried with relief after watching my TED talk, because she had so often been judged as childish for her vibrant home and whimsical outfits. My hope is that as awareness rises of the role that environment plays in emotional wellbeing, more people will feel permission to seek out joy in their surroundings, and as a society we will recognize that mental health is a function of both what’s in us, and what’s around us.

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

    Ingrid: It’s not a motto, exactly, but I do have a phrase that I come back to again and again: “Remember what you love.” When I get overwhelmed by everything I need to do, or feel anxious about what I’m trying to say or how people might receive it, this phrase helps remind me that everything I do at root stems from the love I feel for this beautiful, diverse world, for the people in it and the extraordinary joy that can be found in even its ordinary corners. I do what I do because I want to share that love with others. When there’s a task I really don’t want to do, “remembering what I love” helps me see the bigger picture. An email or errand that normally might feel like a chore becomes an extension of that love; it enables it and is connected to it .

    This phrase also helps me conquer some of the anxiety I feel about speaking in public. If I focus on the idea that I have to stand on a stage and talk about my work, I get nervous. But if I "remember what I love," that feeling cuts through the anxiety and helps me see getting on the stage as an opportunity to share my excitement and joy with others. I think this phrase is one of the things that kept me working on Joyful for ten years, even during times when I was really unsure if I’d be able to finish it. Every time I felt lost, “remembering what I love” brought me back to the fundamental reasons why I wanted to write the book, and reinvigorated my desire to see it through.

    “Remember what you love” is also really helpful in relationships. In the day-to-day of a marriage, a work partnership, or a friendship, it’s easy to let small disagreements or annoyances take over. When you remember what you love about the other person, it reconnects you to the reasons you chose to be in this relationship, and it becomes easy to let some of the small things go. I hadn’t thought about it until now, but this also applies to one’s relationship to oneself. As someone who can be quite hard on myself, I think it’s not a bad idea to occasionally balance out the critical voices by “remembering what you love” about yourself too.

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

    Ingrid: It’s not a habit exactly, but as a city dweller I’ve found that getting out into nature regularly is important to my sanity and wellbeing. When I’m in the city, this means taking a walk to Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park, an old pier that was converted a few years ago into a meadow. I sometimes bring a notebook and spend an hour there working on an essay or a talk. But I also enjoy getting out of the city as often as possible, to the beach or for a hike, or to go snowshoeing in the winter!

    Having houseplants brings a little of that nature into the house, and creates a new habit by necessity: watering once or twice a week. I find I really enjoy this task — checking on them all, dusting their leaves and removing spent flowers, and seeing what new growth has appeared. Even if I have a million other things to do, the plants need me, and that brings me back into connection with the natural world.

    Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee

     
  • feedwordpress 11:00:37 on 2018/08/31 Permalink
    Tags: , , , ,   

    What I Read This Month: August 2018. 

    For more than two years now, every Monday morning, I've posted a photo on my Facebook Page of the books I finished during the week, with the tag #GretchenRubinReads

    I get a big kick out of this weekly habit—it’s a way to shine a spotlight on all the terrific books that I’ve completed. It gives me the same satisfaction that I felt in grade school when we kept track of all the books we’d read on an “I’m a BookWorm” sheet.

    As I write about in my book Better Than Before, for most of my life, my habit was to finish any book that I started. Finally, I realized that this approach meant that I spent time reading books that bored me, and I had less time for books that I truly enjoy. These days, I now put down a book if I don’t feel like finishing it, so I have more time to do my favorite kinds of reading.

    This habit means that if you see a book included in the #GretchenRubinReads photo, you know that I liked it well enough to read to the last page.

    If you’d like more ideas for habits to help you get more reading done, you can read my post here.

    As an enthusiastic reader, I’m always trying to get ideas for new great books to try. For instance, I read the delightful British quarterly Slightly Foxed. Readers with the same challenge have asked me to create a list of the books I post, so that they can more easily read the titles and get ideas for books they may want to read.

    So, I'm trying this out. Let me know what you think. You can also follow me on Goodreads where I've recently started tracking books I’ve read—however, I must confess, I’m a bit scattershot about leaving specific comments there. You’ll also see that I have very eclectic tastes!

    If you want to see what I read in July 2018, the full list is here.

    August 2018 Reading

    My Several Worlds - Pearl S. Buck -- I'm on a bit of a Pearl S. Buck kick (see below)

    Sempre Susan - Sigrid Nunez -- I want to read more about Susan Sontag. From reading this memoir, I'm confident that she's a Rebel.

    Lord of Light - Robert Zelazny -- how had I never read this book before? Just my kind of thing.

    Letter from Peking - Pearl S. Buck -- more Buck!

    Spinning Silver - Naomi Novik -- Raced through this book. And if you haven't read Novik's novel His Majesty's Dragon, run don't walk; it's one of my very favorites. Speaking of the Four Tendencies, in His Majesty's Dragon the main character Captain Will Laurence is an Upholder, and the dragon Temeraire is a Questioner.

    Ranger's Apprentice: The Icebound Land - John Flanagan -- working my way through the whole "Ranger's Apprentice" series. A friend just gave me a Brotherband book as well.

    Anybody Can Do Anything - Betty MacDonald -- yes, this is the Betty MacDonald who wrote the brilliant Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books! Her adult memoirs are terrific, too; she's best known for The Egg and I. This is a fascinating, funny account of what it was like for her, as a woman, to look for work during the Depression.

    The River - Rumer Godden -- how I love Rumer Godden. This was shelved in my library in Adult Fiction, but now that I've read it, I think it's more YA.

    Hourglass - Dani Shapiro -- this was actually a re-read; I read the memoir when it was first published. So thought-provoking. (Yes, I include re-reads in my weekly lists.)

    My Ex-Life - Stephen McCauley -- can't wait to read more by McCauley. I loved this novel.

    How it All Began - Penelope Lively -- a very compelling novel. It was perfect for an airplane ride, and that's one of the highest compliments I can pay a book.

    What are you reading this month?

     
  • feedwordpress 09:00:21 on 2018/08/30 Permalink
    Tags: , , Mallika Chopra, ,   

    “I Realized I Was Being a Hypocrite: Talking About Being Present, While Being Completely Distracted.” 

    Interview: Mallika Chopra.

    I can't remember when or where I first met Mallika Chopra. At a conference, through a friend? I can't remember anything anymore. It was many years ago, I know that.

    Mallika Chopra is a writer, speaker, and entrepreneur who has a new book for children that's hit the shelves: Just Breathe: Meditation, Mindfulness, Movement, and More.

    I was eager to hear what she had to say about happiness, good habits, and human nature.

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

    Mallika: I meditate for about 20 minutes a day. My parents taught me to meditate when I was 9 years old and it was the greatest gift that I ever received. [Note: Mallika's father is Deepak Chopra, quite a teacher.] My meditation practice has been irregular over the last 35 years of my life -- I have gone through phases when I do it twice a day and years when I haven’t practiced at all. But, when I am meditating, I feel more calm, am able to focus more, naturally chose habits that make me feel healthier and more energetic, and feel more rested. I am also more creative as I step out of the automatic responses and daily grind of everyday.

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

    Mallika: For many years, particularly when I was in college and then when I first had my kids (in my 30s), I thought I was too busy to take time for myself mentally and physically to be happier and healthier. But, when I meditate, I am a better mom, spouse, and friend. And I feel more connected to who I am, what I want, and how I can serve.

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

    Mallika: My habits include drinking my tea every morning (which anchors me for my day), going for walks outdoors with my friend (to process life), and having dinner with my family (to connect). Recently, my husband and I began yoga twice a week, and I am eager to incorporate yoga into my daily routines, even if it is just a few sun salutations each day. When I am writing, I try to take walks in my neighborhood to give my mind some open space outside of staring at a computer!

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

    Mallika: I am a lifelong sugar addict. Over the last few years, I have made a conscious effort to notice how my body feels after I overindulge in sugary sweets. My body has more aches and I feel more on edge. Being more aware of the after effects of a sugar binge, instead of just feeling guilty while I am quickly eating what I am not supposed to be eating, has helped me to more naturally resist that chocolate chip cookie.

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

    Mallika: It is easy for me to come up with excuses about why I don’t exercise or meditate - most of the time I justify it by being too busy. But, exercise always makes me feel better, and with my meditation, even if I do it for 5 minutes a day, I feel better. So, now I  really try - I've started to meditate while in the carpool line!

    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.?

    Mallika: One day I was speaking to an audience about the benefits of mindfulness and meditation when I realized that I was having a parallel conversation in my head that went like this: “I have to pick up the dry cleaning, buy dog food, and write that note for my investors.” On stage, I realized I was being a hypocrite - talking about the power of being present, while being completely distracted by thinking about other things. This was a turning point for me to return to my meditation practice and mindfulness habits and seek to understand what balance, happiness, and living with purpose truly means for me.

    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?

    Mallika: “Don’t take life too seriously” is the motto that my father, Deepak Chopra, taught my brother and me as young kids. It helped us laugh at ourselves, not hold onto criticism, and to generally seek out joy in our lives.

    Gretchen: You've just come out with a fascinating new book about mindfulness and meditation that's targeted for young people.

    Mallika: Yes, I am so excited to share my new book, Just Breathe: Meditation, Mindfulness, Movement and More. It’s an illustrated guide for kids, ages 8-12 years old, with simple techniques to help them find calm, be more focused, and be happier. Teaching me meditation was a precious gift my parents gave me when I was a child, and I have seen how simple mindfulness and motivational practices have positively impacted my daughters and their friends.

    Just Breathe by Mallika Chopra

     
  • gretchenrubin 11:00:32 on 2018/08/28 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , Stephen McCauley,   

    Have You Invoked Any of These Loopholes to Let Yourself Off the Hook? 

    I've very happy: I've discovered a new novelist whose work I love. I just finished Stephen McCauley's new book My Ex-Life, and I plan to work my way through all his novels. It's such a treat to discover a new writer.

    One of the many things that interested me in My Ex-Life was the depiction of the main character Julie's thoughts about smoking marijuana.

    Julie is getting a divorce from Henry, renting out rooms in her house on Airbnb, and the parent of a teenager. She smokes more pot than she should.

    As part of my work for Better Than Before, my book on how we make or break habits, I became very interested in the Strategy of Loophole-Spottinghow do we spot the loopholes that we invoke to let ourselves off the hook, when we want to indulge in a habit that we know we shouldn't?

    Julie is a master of loopholes. Do any of these justifications sound familiar?

    "She pulled out a joint. Anxiously awaiting for Henry to berate her wasn't doing anyone any good, and since she'd stopped smoking pot, it mattered less if she occasionally got stoned. Her slips were meaningless, parenthetical."

    "Rain was predicted for tomorrow, so why not enjoy the lovely evening in a calm frame of mind? Weather was a useful excuse for so many things in life."

    "She sat in the chair next to him...and pulled out a joint. 'Don't judge me,' she said. 'I stopped smoking a while ago, but I keep a little around to prove to myself I don't need it.'"

    The tricky thing about loopholes is that we often invoke them without even realizing it—we let ourselves off the hook so fast and with such confidence that we don't feel the pain of breaking our word to ourselves.

    By contrast, when we consciously realize that we're invoking a loophole, we're more able to resist.

    Eventually, Julie stops smoking pot.

    There are ten categories of loopholes, and most of us have a few favorites that we deploy most frequently.

    I most often invoke the false-choice loophole and the one-coin loophole. How about you?

    If you'd like to learn more about loophole-spotting, and about habit-formation in general, check out my book Better Than Before, where I describe the twenty-one strategies we can use to make or break our habits. (Can't resist mentioning: it was a New York Times bestseller.) You can learn more about the book here.

     
  • gretchenrubin 12:00:50 on 2018/07/24 Permalink
    Tags: , , knowledge,   

    25 Secrets of Adulthood that I’ve Learned the Hard Way. 

    With time and experience, life teaches us all lessons. I keep a running list of my "Secrets of Adulthood" -- the things I've learned, the hard way. (For instance, here are my Secrets of Adulthood for Habits.)

    I write about these in my books, I talk about them in my podcast "Happier," I think about them all the time. There's something about distilling an idea or observation into a proper "Secret of Adulthood" that makes it easier for me to remember.

    1. What I do every day matters more than what I do once in a while.
    2. For the most part, I'm very much like other people, but our differences are very important.
    3. Hell is other people; Heaven is other people.
    4. Every medicine can become poison. (Email, caffeine, social media, work, treats...)
    5. I manage what I monitor. So if something's important to me, I should figure out a way to monitor it.
    6. Never let myself get too hungry, too sleepy, or too cold. And never pass up the chance to use a bathroom.
    7. I bring my own weather to the picnic.
    8. Just because something is important to me doesn't mean that it's important to someone else.
    9. A stumble may prevent a fall. This relates to the Strategy of Safeguards in my book Better Than Before.
    10. One of the best ways to make myself happy is to make other people happy; one of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy myself. This is one of my Eight Splendid Truths of Happiness.
    11. Outer order contributes to inner calm. I'm finishing up a little book with this title. Stay tuned.
    12. I can't expect to be motivated by motivation. This realization was a big inspiration for my forthcoming book The Four Tendencies.
    13. It's easier to change my circumstances than to change myself.
    14. Things often get harder before they get easier.
    15. The things that go wrong often make the best memories. My mother told me this, to calm me down before my wedding weekend.
    16. Choose the bigger life.
    17. Turning a computer on and off often fixes a glitch.
    18. When I give more to myself, I can ask more from myself. This relates to the fun and helpful Strategy of Treats.
    19. What's fun for other people might not be fun for me--and vice versa.
    20. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Cribbed from Voltaire.
    21. Now is now. I write about this in the conclusion of my book Happier at Home -- which, I must say, is one of the best things I've written in my whole life.
    22. If I need to remember something, write it down. How many times have I regretted remembering this Secret of Adulthood?
    23. Working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination.
    24. There is no wizard. (I will explain this in an upcoming episode of "A Little Happier.")
    25. The days are long, but the years are short.

    What are your Secrets of Adulthood? I'd love to add many more to my list!

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:36 on 2018/07/19 Permalink
    Tags: , hormones, , Randi Epstein,   

    “It’s Important to Recharge My Inner Battery. To Be On-the-Go, I Need Down Time.” 

    Interview: Randi Hutter Epstein, M.D., M.P.H.

    I've known Randi for a long time; we're both members of a writers' group that has been a joy to me over the years. I remember when she first started talking about the idea for her current book, so I'm thrilled that Aroused: The History of Hormones and How They Control Just About Everything is now hitting the shelves. Metabolism, behavior, sleep, mood swings, the immune system, fighting, fleeing, puberty, sex...so many aspects of our lives are controlled by hormones. It's a fascinating, important subject.

    She also wrote the terrific book Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank.

    When she's not writing books, Randi Epstein is an adjunct professor at Columbia University and a lecturer at Yale University. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times and the Psychology Today blog, among others.

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

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

    Randi: For years, I’ve been running in Central Park. What used to be fast-paced is now slow and contemplative. But either way, it’s time to think. I don’t do the “To-Do lists” but allow myself time to just think big picture things. No headphones, rarely with partners, just silence and nature. And one little trick (that I’m embarrassed to admit): Sometimes I’ll sing a few lines from Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” in my head. I don’t know all the words, so I’m singing the same few lines over and over. It’s very empowering. I really should learn a few more phrases.

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

    Randi: It’s important to recharge my inner battery. In order to be on-the-go, I need down time, which can be a long bath or getting absorbed in a novel.

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

    Randi: I write about hormones, which is a relatively new field with huge advances. Think about this: When my grandmother was born in 1900, the word “hormone” didn’t exist. (We didn’t call hormones “hormones” until 1905.) By the time Grandma was diagnosed with her hormone ailment, doctors could spot her hormone defect and measure hormones down to the billionth of a gram. That’s an amazing leap in our understanding in a relatively short time span. (Grandma had Addison’s disease, same disease that John F. Kennedy had. It’s treatable with cortisone pills.)

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

    Randi: I’m a nibbler. So If I’m stressed (working on a chapter, etc.), I’ll keep crunchy foods around, but those calories and that feeling of being way too full adds up. I’m talking granola, nuts, chocolate, carrots.

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

    Randi: Exercising outside. There’s something about being in nature, looking up at the trees. It’s moving meditation, to get away from the onslaught of news and just remember to, well, smell the roses. Or really in my case, it’s not roses but the enormous big trees in Central Park. I also like cooking. I’m not sure if there’s anything productive about it, but I feel like I’ve accomplished something. Food, particularly dinner parties, make people happy. I love cooking for my family and friends. I’m not a gourmet chef by any means, but I enjoy trying new recipes and tweaking old ones. It makes me happy to bring together friends in a homey atmosphere. I love baking fun desserts for the famil .

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

    Randi: My kids think I drink too much. Water, that is. I think it’s important to be hydrated so I make sure I always have a water bottle filled with water in my backpack. I’ve also cut out soda—and now I don’t even like that taste.

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

    Randi: I would not have known but I’m an Obliger. Maybe that’s from raising for children and focusing on them. All mothers do that—we put our children’s needs first. [Gretchen: Randi, you and I can talk more about this later!]

    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.?

    Randi: This isn’t quite “health scare,” but a health glitch: I was diagnosed with “age-related knee degeneration,” a fancy name for saying my knees aren’t what they used to be—probably from years of long-distance running. So my knees are more like rusty hinges—and I want to avoid surgery or further deterioration. That’s forced me “listen” to my body. Exercise is more about quiet time than racing to a finish line.

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

    Randi: Laughter is the best medicine.

    Gretchen: Tell us a bit more about your recent book, Aroused: The History of Hormones and How They Control Just About Everything.

    Randi: I’m so proud of this book, not just because it has fun stories in the history of medicine and current advances, but because I think there is so much confusion about what’s real and what’s hype. I hope that readers will grab my book and feel more informed about making healthy decisions. That they will be able to distinguish hucksters from heroes. And I’d love to get their feedback about anything that surprised them as they dove into it.

    Aroused by Randi Hutter Epstein

     
  • feedwordpress 09:00:29 on 2018/07/17 Permalink
    Tags: announcement, audiobook, , , , recording   

    Announcement: I’ve Re-Recorded the Happier at Home audiobook 

    Announcement! I’ve re-recorded the audiobook of Happier at Home, and it’s available for order.

    Up until now, the Happier at Home audiobook was read by a professional reader, and over the years, many listeners have written to me to tell me—in no uncertain terms—that they thought that I should’ve read it myself.

    The fact is, back when Happier at Home was first being published, a writer friend argued very persuasively that listeners enjoy books more when audiobooks are read by professional actors. Writers, she said, have no experience or training in reading aloud and just don’t provide as good an experience as a trained professional.

    I found out later that she was married to an actor, which might have explained her view. In any event, since that time I’ve learned that with a memoir-style book like Happier at Home, most readers very much prefer to hear it read by the author.

    This is especially true now that people know my voice from the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast.

    Because I’ve heard from so many people on this issue, I asked my publisher if I could re-record it myself, and so I did.

    HAH recording 1

    I always enjoy the recording process. It’s interesting to go back through the book I’ve written and read every word aloud. One time, I got to sit in the studio recently occupied by the legendary Jim Dale when he’d been recording (under heavy security) one of the Harry Potter books.

    This recording session was particularly interesting, because it has been several years since I read Happier at Home.

    I was particularly struck by the chapter for the month of March, "Family," when I wrote about how much I wanted to do some project in collaboration with my sister Elizabeth. I describe how we hoped to write a young-adult novel about the Eleusinian Mysteries. Well, we never did manage to write that novel (though I still think it’s a great idea), but we did manage to figure out a way to collaborate—in a big way. Our podcast Happier is a much bigger shared project than we’d ever envisioned as possible.

    I’d forgotten that I literally mention the example of the Satellite Sisterswho also have a podcast, and one of whom, Liz Dolan, has been a guest on our podcast! Full circle. I’ve experienced such a crazy fulfillment of that March resolution to "Collaborate with my sister."

    HAH recording
    The engineer showed me how my voice looks.

    Another part that I especially loved revisiting was the section in the chapter for February, "Body," when I wrote about the resolution to "Embrace good smells." My passion for the sense of smell and fragrance started at this time, and has only grown in the passing years.

    As painful as it is to realize, I’d sort of forgotten about how we always used to say "Eleanor has a heart full of love." Thank goodness I wrote that down, it’s in the book, so I know I’ll never forget that sweet memory.

    I could go on and on.

    Fun facts:

    It took me 15 hours in the studio to record Happier at Home.

    I held a pillow in front of my stomach the entire time, to muffle "stomach noises." (I was reassured by the fact that they had the pillow handy—I must not be the only one with this issue!)

    HAH recording 2

    As happens every time I record an audiobook, I learned that I’ve been unknowingly mispronouncing a lot of words, such as many people’s names, plus Eleusis, Eleusinian, minutiae, pomander, and—biggest surprise—tumult.

    I was interested to trace, again, how my motif runs through the book. In English class at school, you may have wondered, "Come on, do writers actually think about things like motifs?" Well, I do! Happier at Home has a blaring motif; if you’ve read the book, did you notice it? This motif appears on the first and last pages of the book, and is repeated many times. Hint: it’s the last word of the book.

    I love all my books equally, but my sister Elizabeth says that Happier at Home is her favorite of all my books.

    Want to know more about Happier at Home?

    You can read a description of the book here.

    You can watch the one-minute video "Ten Ways to be Happier at Home" here. Some are serious; some are a bit goofy. Can you guess which suggestion has proved most controversial?

    You might also enjoy the Behind-the-Scenes video or the Behind-the-Scenes extra (email me gretchenrubin1@gretchenrubin.com to request it). Yes, you can know the true story of "artisanal pickles." All is revealed.

    I know many book groups read Happier at Home, and if you’d like one-page discussion guide (also aimed at spirituality book groups, Bible study groups, and the like), email me gretchenrubin1@gretchenrubin.com to request it.

    Note: this new recording of Happier at Home is considered a different item, so if you already have the earlier version of the audiobook, you’d need to purchase this new version; the audiobook won’t automatically update.

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:14 on 2018/06/28 Permalink
    Tags: Alex Salkever, , , Vivek Wadhwa,   

    “Reading Is the Best Habit for Lifelong Learning, and It Helps with Other Skills like Concentration and Meditation.” 

    Interview: Vivek Wadhwa and Alex Salkever.

    Vivek Wadhwa is a Distinguished Fellow at Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering, has written several books and been a columnist for Fortune, the Washington Post and other noted publications.

    Alex Salkever is an author and technology executive who formerly served as technology editor at BusinessWeek and as a visiting researcher at Duke University. He advises technology companies on product, strategy and marketing and is a regular columnist for Fortune.

    The two paired up to write the book The Driver in the Driverless Car: How Our Technology Choices Can Change the Future.

    Now they've teamed up again to write a new book: Your Happiness Was Hacked: Why Tech Is Winning the Battle to Control Your Brain--and How to Fight Back.

    In it, they examine the question of how technology influences our thoughts and behaviors. They focus on the four key areas of Love, Work, Self, and Society and document problems caused by technology--and then suggest strategies to take back control of technology.

    I was eager to hear from Alex and Vivek about happiness, habits, and productivity.

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

    Alex: This may sound strange, but doing the dishes! It’s a structured activity and I have a specific way of doing it that gives me some comfort. Every dish type has its place. And I have a routine around washing dishes - the small spoons go in the same basket, the desert bowls fit into the upper rack on right. More conventionally, I love going walking or jogging in the redwood forest near my house. If I am close to an ocean, I try to go surfing to clear my head. It’s my passion. I sometimes get my best ideas out there. And I can honestly say I have never gotten out of the water less happy than when I got into the water. In general, it's a question I ask - do I feel happier and more fulfilled after I do something. If the answer is consistently “No” then I try to curtail that activity. If the answer is “Yes!” I try to do more of that activity.

    Vivek: For me, going for a hike and getting off the grid is really crucial in keeping me healthy and productive. I also meditate daily to slow down my brain, which naturally runs at a really high speed. I make sure to spend some time every week disconnected and on a trail. And there is the question of happiness: spending as much time as possible with family is the best route for me.

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

    Alex: Don’t beat up on yourself if you don’t succeed in building healthy habits. Establishing and maintaining healthy habits is very hard, really a lifelong process that never stops. But make sure the habits you prioritize the highest and work the hardest to fulfill are the ones that make you happiest. When I was living in Hawaii as a recent college graduate, I made it a priority to get in the water and go surfing at least five days per week. I was often busy building a writing career which eventually took me to BusinessWeek and into books. But come 4 pm, I was in the water and to this day some of my happiest memories are with me. That lesson - prioritize what is the most important - is something I wish I had known when I was very young. I would have worried a lot less and probably had more fun.

    Vivek: You should follow your heart. It is easy to follow your mind or your hunger, but that little voice inside guides you on practically everything if you listen to it. This comes into play the most in happiness, when you are having to make decisions about what is right and wrong. There are choices we have to make every day that need to be based on our values.

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

    Alex: Oh, definitely. Compulsively checking texts. In the book, I write about how I almost killed a group of cyclists while texting and driving on this dangerous coastal highway north of San Francisco. It was the stupidest thing. How could I risk so much just to read a text? But I’m not that different than tens of millions of people. (I’ve since set a new habit of putting my phone away when I get behind the wheel). I get distracted by shiny objects on the internet and have to work hard to stay focused. I struggle to not check email and read random news on the internet (usually on Hacker News). And I have to work hard to put down the smartphone and leave it alone, or in a drawer. I can honestly say my technology addiction is my worst bad habit - it pushes me towards doing the “urgent” or tackling the “noisy” task rather than working on what’s really important. I never met anyone who said they wish they had spent more time answering emails or looking at pictures on Facebook. And I personally find the less time I spend with technology, the more happy I am (to a certain point - I need technology to earn a living, of course).

    Vivek: I’m like Alex. I had a heart attack a few years ago driven in part by my technology-induced stress levels (I write about that in the book). So I have to work hard to disconnect and not feel like I need to respond to things quickly. I’ve gotten much better at it, though, and have built some systems around it. Like I don’t even bother to check voice mails a lot of the time and I post to social media but I don’t read that much on social media; it’s not the best use of time. Technology really is an addiction, that you have to manage--and overcome!

    Gretchen: Which habits are most important to you?

    Alex: Spending time with my children. I try to do it every day, for at least a few hours. Usually playing sports or talking. Reading is next. I think that reading is the best habit for lifelong learning and it helps with other skills like concentration and meditation.

    Vivek: Meditation and mindfulness.

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

    Alex: A healthy habit I started a year ago that has stuck is running in the morning when I wake up. It was a hard one to get going. I like running but am not really a morning person. I also have a bad habit of staying up late to read and sometimes I get creative inspiration at night. I’m not a night owl but I’m not a lark, either. I did a few things. First, I started laying out my running clothes - socks, shorts, shoes, t-shirt - every evening before I went to bed. That removed a mental barrier which may seem insignificant but actually was a key obstacle. I am a time counter so if it took me five minutes to gather my clothes, in my mind I would subtract five minutes from my running time and sometimes that took me below the threshold of where it was worthwhile to run. Second, I would write down a mini activity diary for the next day and would list in the “Exercise” section the run I planned. This was both an affirmation and a commitment. Third, I switched my running routine to places where I love to run. There are a few trails near my house that go through forests of oak, laurel and redwoods and one stunning trail down to the Pacific Ocean past hills of wildflowers. It takes a few minutes extra to drive to those trailheads. I don’t have enough time to get to them by running and get to work. But running in those beautiful places makes it so much more pleasurable that it feels like a real reward. Lastly, after my run I would stop at my favorite coffee shop and buy an Americano, my favorite coffee drink. By putting these pieces together - planning and reward - it helped me turn a resolution into a pretty robust habit that’s stuck for a year.

    Vivek: I try to switch off all technology by 9 PM and get to bed by 10 PM. And then I wake as early as I can. It is easy to watch late shows and stay connected, but early to bed and early to rise is the best habit of all.

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

    Vivek: According to the quiz, I am a Questioner. I won’t dispute this!

    Alex: The quiz results describe me as a “Questioner” and parts of that definitely make sense. I crave perfect information and am a perfectionist in many realms. I also think I have parts of Rebel and Obliger in me. I really don’t like getting bossed around and told what to do. I definitely resist external expectations and relish the role of non-traditionalist. I have trouble working for people I don’t respect. But I am an “Obliger” too in that sometimes I struggle to advocate for myself and I may coddle my children and my employees to much. I respect and prioritize my duties to others over what might make me happier and saner. But at least with family, I think that’s the only way to live - family comes first.

    Gretchen: Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or to stay happy?

    Alex: I would say lack of sleep is the biggest problem. Everything else breaks down when I get less than six hours and less than seven is not great either. You can ask my wife. I am more likely to get angry, to get depressed, to say silly things. I am less patient. I have trouble eating healthy and sticking to exercise regimes. Sleep is the linchpin. I only realized this, ironically, after I left a heavy-duty job as a vice president at Mozilla, where I was expected to be always on. That meant never enough sleep. Once I left and took some time off, for the first time since college I made it a point to get enough sleep. It was like a light went on. I could actually feel the difference between six and seven hours, and see how negatively it affected my day.

    Vivek: It is always sleep that is the problem!

    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?

    Vivek: I’ll take this one. I was on a family vacation, a cruise in Mexico. I was a startup CEO and constantly checking in on work via email. On the cruise I couldn’t get any internet access and it was killing me! Literally, I found out. I started to get some chest pains. At first I ignored them. As I climbed the pyramid of Chichén Itzá, in the Mayan ruins on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, the pains became increasingly severe, and I began to feel nauseous. The views were stupendous. People dreamed for their whole lives of visiting this location and walking up these steps. Yet, amid the majesty of one of the greatest civilizations ever, my mind was on….when I can check my email? On the flight home, the chest pains and nausea turned into a shooting electric current in my left arm. My wife Tavinder insisted we go straight to the doctor. I said, no, I needed to go home and check email. Fortunately, my wife prevailed. We landed and drove straight to the hospital. I literally blacked out as he entered the emergency room, and sat propped up in a wheelchair while they registered me. My next memory was of waking up after lifesaving surgery for a massive heart attack. Had I waited another hour or two, my doctors said, I would have been dead. None of my emails would have mattered. That day woke me up and I decided to leave the world of startups and become an academic and teacher - to teach and assist others rather than try to make money as my primary goal. It was the best decision I have ever made.

    Alex: My story pales next to Vivek’s. For me, it was reading a website that tallied up how many times you will see your parents before they die. The number was a lot less than I had imagined it would be - my parents live on the East Coast. And I started doing the math on how many times I would see all my dear friends. It was very sobering. I vowed from that day to prioritize relationships and spending time with people over anything else in my life. I bailed on corporate America (I may go back, but only on my terms) and created a life where I spend time every day with my children and my wife, and see my parents and friends more. I’ve been much happier since I made these changes.

    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?

    Alex: “Put yourself in their shoes.” It helps me focus on empathy and stop thinking about myself.

    Vivek: Always give more than you take.

     
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