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  • 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.

     
  • gretchenrubin 12:00:06 on 2017/12/22 Permalink
    Tags: , , , review,   

    An Interesting and Useful Exercise: The Year-End Review with Myself. 

    In my book The Happiness Project, I describe how I belong to the three-person group "MGM" where we get together periodically to talk about issues, challenges, hopes, and frustrations related to our careers. I'm the "G" in the MGM, and the Ms are Michael Melcher and Marci Alboher.

    We've been meeting now for a long time -- at least ten years. Many things have changed in our careers, and it's great for each of us to talk in a group that has been following the long arc.

    Several years ago, Michael suggested that we do an exercise: the "Year-End Review, with Yourself." Marci wrote about this idea in this article in the New York Times.

    We did the review several years ago, and it was very helpful. But for whatever reason, we didn't do it again until this year.

    Yesterday, the three of us met for three hours. During that time, we each went through our 2017 calendars and wrote down accomplishments, frustrations, high points, and low points from both our personal and professional lives. We used colored markers, stickers, and great paper to make the exercise more striking.

    Several things jumped out at me from doing this exercise:

    • it's easy to forget how much happens in a single year
    • boy, I had a challenging year--a fun year, but a challenging year
    • writing things down really did allow me to see patterns that I hadn't seen before--for instance, in my case, I realize how much my sister is now integrated into my work as well as my personal life.

    On the "Happier" podcast, in episode 134, Elizabeth and I talk about the power of writing a "ta-da list"--if you're feeling overwhelmed by a to-do list, try making a ta-da list, to remind yourself of what you've already accomplished. Often, we get energy and insight from thinking about what we've already done.

    This is essentially an end-of-year ta-da list.

    Last month, I wrote a post about variations on the to-do list: the to-do list, the could-do list, the ta-da list, the to-day list -- all can be powerful, but different people respond better to different versions.

    After we creating our year-in-review pages, we each made a page for 2018. This was especially great for me, because I'd included this exercise in my "18 for 2018" that Elizabeth and I talked about in episode 147. So I checked that off my list.

    Do you have an exercise -- at work or at home -- to review what the previous year has held for you? For me, it was gratifying and surprising to look back.

    If you want to listen to Michael's terrific new podcast with Michael Terrell, you can find "Meanwhile"--"a podcast to improve your life"--here.

    If you want to read Marci's recent and hugely popular "Modern Love" column from the New York Times, "When Your Uber Driver Brings a Time Machine," it's here.

     
  • gretchenrubin 12:00:28 on 2017/12/21 Permalink
    Tags: , , Melissa Nicholson   

    Agree? “I Can’t Be the Only One Who Wants to Wear Color in Wintertime.” 

    Interview: Melissa Nicholson.

    The other day I posted about my color adventure in London: getting my colors analyzed. I'm doing everything I can think of to feed my obsession with color. I'm trying to follow that interest anywhere it leads, as a way to get myself to do the novel and challenging things that I know boost happiness.

    In the process, I had a such an interesting conversation with Melissa Nicholson that I asked her to do an interview. She's the founder of Kettlewell, a clothing company that makes clothes based on color analysis, and that reflects her own conviction that color can be a major driver of happiness, energy, and self-presentation.

    She had many fascinating observations and insights into the subject of color -- and also happiness, habits, and self-knowledge. For one thing, she has "perfect pitch" for color -- she can look at a color, and later in the day, exactly recall its hue. I can't imagine having that kind of memory for color.

    (She's British, as you will see from her spelling of color.)

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

    Melissa: Getting everyone together and dining with friends and family. It could be a Sunday roast at home or dinner out at a new restaurant. Nothing makes me happier.

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

    Melissa: When I was younger I was quite sensitive and easily hurt. Nowadays I don’t worry so much about what people think. I try to find the strengths in people, accept them for who they are, and work with them rather than have expectations that just can’t be met. I find you get a better response from people that way.

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

    Melissa: I tend to replay situations in my head – conversations I’ve had with people, things that have been said. I can be quite overenthusiastic and worry that, on reflection, I’ve shared too much.

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

    Melissa: I start each day with 15 minutes of Pilates. It started after a bout of pneumonia to help with my breathing, and it has now become a part of my daily routine, making me more focused and ready to face the day. I also make sure I drink a large glass of water as soon as I wake up. It’s one of the easiest, quickest things you can do for your health.

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

    Melissa: When I was ill I discovered I had an intolerance to wheat, so I resolved to cut it out of my diet. Consequently, I have less bloating and far fewer colds and weight fluctuations.

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

    Melissa: I’m an Obliger. I like collaboration; I feed off other people. I’m very much a team player.

    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.?

    Melissa: One cold December day, 15 years ago, I was out clothes shopping in London, trying to find something to wear to a Christmas party, and all I could find was black. Having recently had my colours analysed, I suddenly thought, “I can’t be the only one who wants to wear colour in the wintertime,” and went back and told my husband John that I had an idea for a new business. A year later we had moved the family out of London and set up Kettlewell Colours in the West Country.

    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?

    Melissa: Coco Chanel once said: “The best colour in the world is the colour that looks good on you.” I stand by that motto. It underpins everything we do at Kettlewell: we provide the colour choice to enable people to discover their true colours.

     
  • gretchenrubin 12:00:37 on 2017/12/16 Permalink
    Tags: , , ,   

    Use the Four Tendencies to Tackle Your New Year’s Resolutions (Or Not). 

    Because I study happiness, good habits, and human nature, I've done a lot of thinking about New Year's resolutions.

    In fact, when I was identifying the Four Tendencies -- my framework that divides the world into Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels -- thinking about various reactions to New Year's resolutions gave me an important insight into how people see the world differently.

    So how do the Four Tendencies respond to New Year's resolutions? How can they meet any challenges they face?

    Obligers:

    Obligers often say, “I don’t make New Year’s resolutions anymore because I never manage to keep them—I never make time for myself.” They're discouraged because they've tried and failed in the past.

    The solution is easy: Create outer accountability. Want to read more? Join a book group. Want to exercise? Join a class, work out with a trainer, meet a friend who expects company, think of the duty to be a role model for other people...there are hundreds of ways to build outer accountability. And that's what Obligers need. It's not a matter of motivation, setting priorities, putting themselves first; they must have outer accountability to meet inner expectations.

    Questioners:

    Questioners are good at keeping resolutions that they set for themselves, but they usually start them whenever the time seems right. Often, they won't wait for the New Year, because they object that "January 1 is just an arbitrary date. And it's not efficient to wait to do something that I could start now."

    If Questioners struggle, it's usually because they're not convinced that this resolution is the best, most efficient way for them to meet their aim -- or they don't trust the judgment of the person encouraging them to make a change.

    To do a better job of keeping a resolution, they should do their research, get clarity on why they're pursuing a certain aim in a certain way, and reassure themselves that this approach makes the most sense. Questioners sometimes face "analysis-paralysis," when they want perfect information before moving ahead. It's helpful for them to remember, "At a certain point, it's not efficient to keep researching. To get the benefit of my resolution, I need to get started without more delay."

    Rebels:

    Rebels generally don't bind themselves in advance, so a New Year's resolution might not appeal to them. They want to do what they want, in their own way, in their own time -- not because they promised themselves they'd do it.

    On the other hand, some Rebels love the challenge of a New Year's resolution: "My family thinks I can't give up sugar for a year? Well, watch me!" or "Starting January 1, I'm going to work on my novel, and I'm going to finish by December 31st."

    Upholders:

    Upholders often make and keep New Year's resolutions. Upholders are great at this sort of thing.

    People often ask me, "Is it a good idea to make New Year's resolutions?"

    The fact is, there's no one-size-fits-all solution for happiness and good habits. If making a New Year's resolution appeals to you, try it. If you dislike the idea, don't. There's no special magic to it. I think it's great to have milestones that remind us to consider our lives and how we could be happier, and January 1 is a great opportunity for self-reflection, but whether that's the New Year, your birthday, an important anniversary doesn't matter. It's whatever works for you.

    If you want to keep a resolution -- for the New Year, or at any other time -- knowing your Tendency can help you stick to it. This knowledge provides important clues for how to address any challenges that might come up.

    If you're an Obliger, spending a lot of time focusing on motivation won't help. If you're a Rebel, signing up for a class probably won't work. If you're a Questioner, you're not going to follow someone else's program without questions.

    Has understanding your Tendency changed the way you approach New Year's resolutions? I'd love to hear examples about the Four Tendencies in action. If you want to learn more about the Four Tendencies, get a copy of my latest New York Times bestseller, The Four Tendencies.

     
  • gretchenrubin 17:54:54 on 2017/12/14 Permalink
    Tags: , , Robin Benway   

    “When Writing, I Procrastinate for Weeks, Then I Write a Huge Chunk in a Few Days.” 

    Interview: Robin Benway.

    I've written many times about how I'm a huge, raving fan of children's and young-adult literature. I read these books as a child, and I continue to read them as an adult. I'm in three (yes, three) book groups where we talk about kidlit. (If you want to see my list of my 81 favorite works of children's literature, it's here.)

    The other night, I attended the National Book Awards party, where Robin Benway won the 2017 prize for Young People's Literature for her book Far from the Tree. She's written several other popular, award-winning novels for young adults.

    I have my copy of Far from the Tree, and I'm saving for my most delicious holiday reading -- can't wait to dive in.

    Because I'm such a fan of YA literature, I wanted to hear what Robin had to say about happiness and good habits.

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

    Robin: Walking my dog in the morning and afternoon. I think I enjoy it more than he does! As a writer, it's easy to stay inside in front of the computer all day, but with Hudson, I get to go out and chat with my neighbors, see what's going on in the neighborhood, get the gossip, etc. I also talk to my mom most mornings, either via phone or text, and she always makes me laugh. I look to her as a model for being a happy person because she just wakes up ready to go each morning. It takes me about 90 minutes and two cups of coffee to get to that point.

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

    Robin: I was such a people-pleaser at 18 years old, and I cared so much about what people thought about me, which could be so exhausting! I turned 40 this year and I don't know if it's age or just getting sick of worrying about it, but I'm much more selfish now, in a good way!

    When I was working on the book that eventually became Far From the Tree, I kept missing deadlines because I just couldn't get the book to work. I finally called my editor and said, "I don't have any ideas, I need to start over." Missing a deadline (or two...or, ahem, three) would have been unfathomable to me 20 years ago, but it was the right thing for the book. It would have been so much worse to deliver a book that I knew wasn't working. I've learned to protect myself and my work almost like a mama bear, and I think we're both better for it.

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

    Robin: For health, water, sleep, sunscreen, and Vitamin D supplements. I also cook most of my meals at home. I'm a Type 1 diabetic, so knowing that I have healthy food waiting for me erases a lot of anxiety, so when I know I'm heading out for a few weeks of travel, I make a big batch of soup or turkey meatballs to freeze so I can walk in the door and have an actual meal. I also take a photo of the inside of my refrigerator before I leave so I can remember what to buy at the grocery store on the way home.

    For productivity, running to-do lists on my Gmail account. I make a draft email and constantly update it so I can access it from anywhere. It keeps me from waking up at 3 am worrying about all of the things I have to do. (Most nights, anyway.) I've tried so many organizational apps, but the email draft is the thing that works best for me.

    For creativity, I meet friends for writing dates in coffee shops around Los Angeles. It's like having a workout buddy, but instead we just sit and write. When I was working on Far From the Tree, those dates were crucial because I was doing everything in my power to not write the book given how much I was struggling with it early on. I knew friends were waiting for me to show up, though, and I would drag myself out of the house and end up writing a few thousand words with them.

    For leisure, I truly love making up stupid songs to sing to my dog. Again, this is something that I enjoy way more than he does.

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

    Robin: When I travel, I cut myself some slack for healthy habits. I once heard a great piece of advice that said there are three main aspects to health: diet, exercise, and sleep, and to try to maintain two of the three when traveling, so that's what I try to do. If I'm running on 4 hours of sleep, I'll get the salad and walk around in the airport. And then of course there are days when all three things go out the window!

    When I’m writing, I will procrastinate for weeks on end, and then I'll write a huge chunk within a few days. For Far From the Tree, I wrote the last two-thirds of the book in roughly two weeks, which obliterated any and all of my healthy habits. It didn't even feel like writing, it felt like I was channeling the characters, and I was afraid that if I stopped writing, their voices would be gone. So I just didn't stop!

    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.?

    Robin: At one point, I was working on a book idea that just wasn't going anywhere, and I truly thought my career was over. I couldn't make the idea work, no matter how many times I reworked it. I told my editor I needed to step back and figure out my next move. It's hard to look back now and think about how heartbreaking that time was. Writing has been my friend, my comfort, since I was eight years old, so to lose that connection AND feel like it might never come back was so painful. I felt like I was the biggest failure. I couldn't even talk about it with my friends, I felt so ashamed.

    Then a week or so after saying that I needed to step back for a while, I was in the car and heard the opening lyrics of a Florence + the Machine song. I instantly —I mean, INSTANTLY— knew that I wanted to write a book about three siblings who had been separated as babies and placed for adoption. I had such a clear vision of the middle sister, Grace, getting pregnant and putting her own daughter up for adoption, and how that loss leads her to look for her birth family. I knew all of the characters' names, their stories, everything. To this day, I have no idea how or why that happened. There's a very strange alchemy when it comes to creativity, and I think it was one of those moments that's truly inexplicable, especially given everything that's happened with the book and how well people have reacted to it. It recently won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature, which is an honor beyond anything I could have imagined for my career. I feel very grateful that I get to keep writing books, and that people still want to read them.

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

    Robin: My driver's ed teacher gave me the best piece of I've ever heard. In the driving simulator, he used to say "Look there, get there." He meant, "Pay attention to the road so you don't mow down a pedestrian," but I think it's a great rule to live by. If you want something, aim in that direction and go for it. Take the class, take a chance, do the thing. No one gets what they want or achieves a goal by accident. Even Powerball winners have to buy the ticket.

     
  • gretchenrubin 22:06:09 on 2017/12/08 Permalink
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    Looking for Holiday Gifts? Consider These Suggestions. (Warning: Blatant Self-Promotion!) 

    'Tis the season to buy presents, and most of us can use some good suggestions. So be warned, I’m going to make a plug for my various creations -- books, journals, calendar, coloring book, and even mugs.

    The Happiness Project was a #1 New York Times bestseller, on the bestseller list for more than two years, translated into more than 30 languages, and was even a question on the quiz show Jeopardy! (Which was quite surreal, I must admit.) I spent a year test-driving the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific research, and lessons from pop culture to figure out how to be happier.

    Happier at Home is about how to be...you guessed it...happier at home. Of everything I've ever written, this book is my sister Elizabeth's favorite. Time, possessions, neighborhood, clutter (of course), the sense of smell -- I got to write about so many great subjects in this book. Also a New York Times bestseller.

    Better Than Before is all about how to make or break habits -- so if you know someone who's planning to make 2018 a happier, healthier, more productive year, this book might be a big help. It turns out it's not that hard to change your habits -- when you know how to do it in the way that's right for you. Also a New York Times bestseller.

    The Four Tendencies is my newest book, and is all about a personality framework I discovered. When you know if you're an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel, many things in life become much clearer. And when you know other people's Tendencies, that's a big help as well. Great for health-care professionals, managers, colleagues, teachers, parents, sweethearts. Also a New York Times bestseller.

    Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill -- ah, what a joy it was to write that book! I wrote it thinking, “I want to write an accessible, manageable book about Churchill so that people can learn enough about him to want to tackle the giant biographies.” I wanted everyone to be as interested in Churchill as I was. What I've learned, however, is that the people who enjoy my book most are the people who already know a lot about him. So if you know someone who is a big Churchill fan, he or she might enjoy it. Also a bestseller.

    Happiness Project One-Sentence Journal -- a one-sentence journal is a manageable, realistic way to keep a journal. Writing one single sentence is something that most people can manage, and one sentence is enough to hang on to memories.

    Better Than Before Day-by-Day Journal -- this journal is designed to make it easier to stick to your good habits. There are tips, quotes, trackers, "don't break the chain" boxes, and everything else to make it easier to achieve what you want.

    Happier 2018 Page-a-Day Calendar -- this calendar one page for each day of the year, with a strategy, tip, quotation, or reminder. I like formats that let me read one item a day; it makes it easy to digest information and put it to use. (Some people have asked if the content differs from the 2017 calendar. Yes, it does.)

    Happiness Project Mini Posters: a Coloring Book of 20 Hand-lettered Quotes to Pull Out and Frame -- I love the trend of adults returning to the love of coloring books -- meditative, creative, fun, and also makes it harder to snack. As someone who is obsessed with color, I love any excuse to pull out my colored pencils or fancy markers.

    Mugs! For a fan of the Happier podcast, I have a "Happier" mug. And for fans of the Four Tendencies, I have a mug for Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, and Rebel -- each one featuring my favorite motto for that Tendency. For instance, the Rebel motto is, "You can't make me, and neither can I."

    What's the most memorable book you've received as a gift?

     
  • gretchenrubin 14:00:32 on 2017/11/17 Permalink
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    The Surprising Truth About Why Your To-Do List May Be Failing You. 

    The most important thing I've learned about happiness, habits, and human nature? There's no one magic, one-size-fits-all solution that works for everyone.

    We've all heard the expert advice: Do it first thing in the morning! Do it for 30 days! Start small! Give yourself a cheat day!

    But here's the thing: those approaches work well for some people, some of the  time. They don't work all the time for everyone.

    The most important thing is to know ourselves, and what works for us.

    One place where I've seen this issue arise? With to-do lists.

    Over and over, I see the advice, "Write down your to-do list, set your priorities, work your way through the items, this is the way you'll get things done most successfully."

    But I've been talking to people about this advice, and I've discovered that to-do lists just don't work for many people. They make them, they try to use them, they fail.

    And they often think, "Something's wrong with me, I have no will-power, I can't stick to a list, why can't I use this simple tool that works so well for so many people, what's my problem?"

    To which I say: "There's nothing wrong with you. How could we tweak the tool, to see if there's a way to make it more effective for you?"

    Since I've started looking for new approaches to the to-do list, I've found several versions that work for people:

    To-do list:

    If the classic to-do list works for you, terrific. I make them all the time myself, and find them very helpful. That's no surprise: Upholders tend to do well with a to-do list. But if it doesn't work...

    Could-do list:

    A Rebel told me that the minute she made a to-do list, she wanted to resist it (the very term "to-do list" is not Rebel-friendly). So she changed the vocabulary. She explained,

    ‘To-do’ lists almost never get done by me, because as soon as I have to do something, it’s the last thing I want to do. A ‘could-do’ list, however, reminds me that I can choose whether or not I complete the task.”

    Brilliant.

    Variation: the Might-could list: I'd never heard this term until an audience member used it during my book tour. I love it! It's not a to-do list; it's a might-could list.

    Ta-da list:

    In episode 134 of the "Happier" podcast, for our weekly "Try This at Home" tip, Elizabeth and I suggested making a ta-da list. Make a list of everything you've already accomplished. You're often pleasantly surprised and energized to see how much you've done, and giving yourself credit for your efforts often make it easier to keep going.

    To-day list:

    It's easy to feel overwhelmed at the sight of all the errands, tasks, and aims that require our attention. If you can't bear to contemplate the complete list, try making a to-day list. Just list the things that you'd like to get done today.

    We're told that "everybody" should use to-do lists, and that "everybody" finds them useful. Nope, not in my observation.

    How about you? Are you a fan of to-do lists, or have you found another version that works for you?

     
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