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  • feedwordpress 09:00:09 on 2018/10/18 Permalink
    Tags: Blog Post, 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 11:00:58 on 2018/10/16 Permalink
    Tags: analysis-paralysis, article, Blog Post, , , Julie Payette, Questioners, Rebels,   

    Can You Spot the Tendency of Canada’s Governor General? 

    I love seeing the Four Tendencies framework at work in the world.

    A thoughtful reader sent me a link to this fascinating article from Canada’s National Post, “Failure to launch: Inside Julie Payette’s turbulent first year as Governor General” with the note that judging from the article, she figured that Julie Payette was a QUESTIONER/Rebel, and did I agree?

    After reading the article, I absolutely agree.

    Julie Payette was the Canadian Space Agency’s former chief astronaut, former chief operating officer of the Montreal Science Centre, and an engineer—plus she speaks six languages and is a skilled pianist. She’s now in a very different professional role, as Canada’s Governor General. (If you don’t know what this role entails, it becomes very clear in the article.)

    So what kinds of behavior and patterns do we expect to see from Questioners? A drive for efficiency and justification. A love of research and information. A resistance to anything arbitrary. A disdain for arguments like “We’ve always done it this way” or “Because this expert says we have to do it.” A belief in their own judgments. A willingness to stick to their convictions about the best way to do something, even if that means conflict with outer expectations.

    We might also see a dislike for answering others’ questions or providing justifications. We might see analysis-paralysis.

    The article makes a crucial point, and one that we all know from our own experiences: someone can be outstanding in many respects, and yet not suited to a particular role. In my observation, when the core value of a person’s Tendency conflicts with the values of their role, that’s a big problem. If an Upholder works in a place that demands a lot of flexibility and tacit rule-bending, that might be tough. If an Obliger works in a place that requires being a self-starter, that might be tough. If a Rebel works in a place that requires a lot of oversight, coordination, and direction from the top, that might be tough.

    And if a Questioner is working in an environment that’s heavily influenced by tradition and is expected to observe and enforce rules that are somewhat arbitrary, that will be tough.

    The framing paragraph for the article reads: “Payette is perfectly suited to be an astronaut, but much less so for a job defined by strict adherence to convention, and which comes with constant public scrutiny.

    Here are some key passages from the (very long) article:

    “Payette called senior officials within the government, sources said, upset over the expectation she rearrange her schedule to accommodate the ceremony and questioning whether she actually had to be there. Could a Supreme Court justice preside instead?”

    “Payette has been locked in a year-long battle with the expectations and restraints that come with being governor general: demands on her personal time, expectations of how she should dress, what she can say in public and how she should work with politicians, diplomats and bureaucrats.”

    “Payette does not take kindly to the idea of simply rubber-stamping bureaucratic decisions. Unlike her predecessors, she questions much of the advice she receives and the papers put on her desk for signature, they said. It has sometimes been difficult to get timely sign-off from Payette on matters such as approving the awarding of honours like the Order of Canada.”

    “Michael Cox, president of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, said, “We simply got an email saying Her Excellency could not accommodate us this year.” The organization, which minted brand-new medals this year with a design symbolically representing the royal connection, did not receive any explanation, according to Cox.”

    “Some of the tension in the vice-regal community comes simply from Payette’s tendency to question why she should adhere to rules that she considers asinine, and that those surrounding her consider sacrosanct.”

    “In late May, Payette wore her NASA Exceptional Service Medal for an international symposium on honours and heraldry at Rideau Hall. In doing so, she appears to have contravened an Order-in-Council setting out what Governors General can display on their person — what some say is a technical violation of the law, and in a room full of the very people who care more about such rules than anybody else in the world.”

    “The space medal incident, which has become infamous in Canada’s small circle of honours experts, may seem trivial beyond that community. Given that the entire essence of Payette’s job as governor general is ceremonial, her purpose to uphold protocol, to some observers such transgressions raise the question of why Payette accepted the job in the first place.”

    “As remarkable and accomplished as Payette undoubtedly is, it is possible her particular skills, priorities and personality were always going to make her a difficult fit for the role.”

    “The Globe and Mail reported last week that Payette has ruffled the feathers of her security detail, which feels she has put her own safety at risk by keeping them ill-informed of her whereabouts.”

    “In the first six months, I was like, ‘I want her to succeed,’ ” said one long-time observer of the office. “She looks great on paper, her resume says she should be a great success at this, and be able to connect in a way in which other people have not been able to. But it’s been—it’s just the wrong personality for this job.”

    What do you think? To me it sounds like a brilliant Questioner—in a position that cuts against the Questioner Tendency.

    If you want to take my short, free quiz, to find out if you’re a Questioner, Upholder, Obliger, or Rebel, take it here. Almost 1.7 million people have taken it at this point.

    If you want to dive deeper into the Four Tendencies and learn how to harness the strengths and manage the weaknesses or you Tendency, take my new video course.

     
  • feedwordpress 09:00:31 on 2018/10/04 Permalink
    Tags: Blog Post, , , KJ Dell'Antonia, ,   

    “Worrying About Something You Fear Doesn’t Prevent It; It Does Keep You from Enjoying What You’re Doing Right Now.” 

    Interview: KJ Dell'Antonia.

    I've known KJ for many years. We first met when she was the editor of Motherlode, the New York Times online section devoted to "adventures in parenting" -- a section that  evolved into Well Family, where she was also a contributing editor.

    While she was there, KJ was my editor when I did a short Motherlode series about my love of picture books -- ah, what a joy it was to write about my favorite picture books! You can read what I wrote about Little Bear, Blueberries for Sal, The Little Engine That Could, or about the picture books that fill me with dread. And after my commentary, you can read KJ's commentary.

    Along with writer, teacher, and education expert Jessica Lahey, KJ also is the co-host of a terrific podcast #AmWriting, all about writing and getting things done. (My sister Elizabeth was a guest on an episode, and so was I.)

    As if all this weren't enough, KJ just published a terrific book: How to be a Happier Parent: Raising a Family, Having a Life, and Loving (Almost) Every Minute.

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

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

    KJ: I’m a planner. For example, I write every day. I plan when I’ll write the day before (it’s usually first thing after I drop my kids at school in the morning which isn’t really first thing in the morning). If I can’t write then, I decide when I can write. I do the same thing with exercise (I don’t do much but I do it every day). I even block in space for little tasks. Right now, I need to decide how much my car is worth as trade-in. That’s minor and not really work, but it has to get done, and it won’t get done unless I plan a time to do it and then do—so I do.

    Possibly the most relevant side effect of this is that if I don’t plan a time to do something, it probably wasn’t important to me in the first place.

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

    KJ: I didn’t know anything about being happy when I was 18 years old! I thought you found happiness in other people, which, not surprisingly, never, ever worked. So the list of things I know now that I didn’t know then is long, but here’s a favorite—worrying about something you fear doesn’t prevent it, and it does keep you from enjoying whatever you’re doing right now. Plus, when things do go wrong, all we ever want is to be back in our nice cozy ordinary lives again—the ones we spent worrying about things that might go wrong! So, don’t do that.

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

    KJ: My research is in the area of what makes parents happier, or less happy, and most people are surprised by what a consensus there is around what we most hate doing—which is disciplining our kids. Enforcing the rules, getting them to do chores, dealing with them when they screw up—we don’t like that, and we also don’t feel like we know how (which always makes people less happy). I don’t think our own parents felt that way.

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

    KJ: I stew. I pick something I’m worried about and then I worry it to death, or just go over it and over it and over it, especially on a long drive. I just soak in it. I had one setback, two years ago now, that I will STILL sometimes stew over when my brain just needs something to grab onto. Knowing I do it helps, but not enough.

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

    KJ: I plan our entire week every Sunday. I have four kids, I work 30-40 hours a week and I help to manage our horse barn, so our weeks tend to have a lot of moving parts. Planning what’s going to happen when, who’s going to get who where and what we’re going to have for dinner every weeknight is key to my happiness. I’ve learned that I hate it when I feel rushed or harried, and I always feel harried without a plan. That said, it has to be MY plan. Unless I’ve already taken a deep breath and made a decision to just go along with it, I don’t usually like other people’s plans. My plans are better.

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

    KJ: I run a mile every day. I hate running. I hate mandatory exercising, really. I hate having to do anything physical, I hate having a plan to meet someone to work out or a scheduled class. I get bored with nearly every physical activity in about 25 minutes. But obviously I need to do something.

    My husband has a treadmill, and I ‘d been reading about interval training, and I thought, well, I’ll run for three minutes four times with a minute in between. Anybody can run for three minutes, right?

    That turned out to be about a mile, and after a while, the walking minutes in between started dragging the whole thing out. So I decided the mile was my goal. That was a little over two years ago, and now I’m a little compulsive about it. I get up every day and just do it first thing, and then I’m done for the day—and even if I don’t get out of my chair for the whole rest of the day I’ve got that going for me.

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

    KJ: I’m a Rebel, although because I’ve held down jobs (maybe for not very long) and obviously I can get my writing done, it took me a while to figure that out—but nothing else fit. Then I remembered how, even as a kid, I would say to myself “I don’t have to do that (homework, show up to class, not steal stuff). I just choose to, because I don’t want the consequences.” And once I knew, it was so clear—and it really does help me to know. Now, when I actually want to do something, I make sure to remind myself I don’t have to, and I usually don’t set a time. I also use the strategy of making it part of my identity—and I also rebel by defying other people’s expectations that I can’t or won’t do certain things.

    I credit my dad for helping me be a successful Rebel. He’s one himself (with a big Questioner bent), and he’s always setting out to prove people wrong. You say I can’t put myself through college? The hell I can’t! Say I’m not good enough for that job? The hell I’m not!

    It’s kind of a combative approach to life but it works for him. I’m less combative about it, but it works for me, too.

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

    KJ: If I don’t run first thing in the morning, it’s hard for me to do it at all. (If I’ve planned on a time, I usually can, but if there’s no plan beyond “I’ll do it later” it’s not happening. Similarly, If I don’t meditate right after I run, I almost certainly won’t. Clearly pairing works well for me!

    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.? 

    KJ: In one of Laura Vanderkam’s early books, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, she reminds us that most of what we do every day involves some kind of choice. You’re “too busy” to chaperone the field trip but not “too busy” to drive 5 hours round trip to pick up a kitten your family has been waiting for—because you choose the kitten, but not the field trip. (That might just be me.)

    So I stopped saying I was “too busy,” ever—because I’m not too busy. If I want to do it, I’ll find time. If I don’t, I won’t. For the most part, with some exceptions, it’s that simple—and recognizing that changed how I looked at my time, which I think changed my life.

    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?

    KJ: “Decide what to do, then do it.” That’s one of my mantras for parental happiness, from my book How to Be a Happier Parent—but I find it generally applicable. I often feel frozen at the beginning of a project or when faced with a lot of choices. “Decide what to do, then do it,” reminds me just to pick a road or a topic or a small piece of the job and start. You can nearly always change course, but you won’t get anywhere if you don’t start.

    How to be a Happier Parent

     
  • gretchenrubin 11:00:21 on 2018/10/02 Permalink
    Tags: , Blog Post, , , , , Obligers, , self care,   

    A Question I’m Often Asked: “How Can I Make More Time for Self-Care?” 

    People often ask me, "How do I make more time for myself? How do I put myself first?"

    And when I hear that question, I think: OBLIGER!

    Obligers think that everyone struggles with this question, but in fact, it's a much bigger challenge for Obligers than it is for Upholders, Questioners, or Rebels. Each of these other Tendencies benefits from its own safeguard.

    (Don't know what I'm talking about with those terms—Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, Rebel? Take my quick, free "Four Tendencies" quiz here or read about my personality framework here.)

    Sometimes this Obliger challenge takes the form of "I'm so busy putting other people first, I don't have time for myself."

    Sometimes it looks more like "I give 110% to my patients, I can't possibly find time to exercise" or "With my grueling travel schedule, there's no way I could eat healthier."

    However this issue is framed, it boils down to the Obliger pattern: meeting outer expectations but struggling to meet inner expectations.

    And the solution is always the same: create outer accountability for meeting inner expectations.

    This is the answer. This is crucial. Don't work on motivation, priorities, clarity, will-power, none of that! Work on creating outer accountability.

    Creating Outer Accountability for Self-care

    So, how might an Obliger create outer accountability for "self-care" type activities? Or how might someone around an Obliger help that person to do that?

    Want to read more? Join a book group; read what your children are reading in school so you can have family discussions.

    Want to exercise more? Work out with a trainer; take a class; go for a walk with a friend who will be annoyed if you don't show up; take your dog for a walk and remind yourself that your dog really benefits from the exercise.

    Want to eat more healthfully? Think of how disappointed your future-self will be if you keep eating junk food; think of how much healthier others will be if you don't bring junk food into your home or office.

    Want to give yourself a treat, like a massage or a tennis lesson? Remember, "If I give more to myself, I can give more to others. If I let myself get too drained and exhausted, I won't be able to be a good family member/colleague/employee/boss/friend. I need to put my own oxygen mask first."

    Want to quit smoking? Think of your duty to be a role model for others; think about the fact that by smoking, you're pouring money into the pockets of the tobacco companies who will use that money to get more people addicted to cigarettes; think of how others depend on you to be healthy.

    Want to make time to see friends? Create a regular appointment (have lunch every first Monday of the month) so that people expect you to show up at a certain time; tell your family or friends "I'm making a commitment to spend more time with friends" so that you feel an obligation to follow through—even if only to model the behavior for others that it's important to keep our promises to ourselves.

    Want to work on your novel? Join a writing group where every member holds each other accountable for a certain amount of writing; tell your kids, "You have your work, I have my work. If you don't see me working on my novel, you don't have to do your homework."

    Note that these strategies might not work very well with other Tendencies.

    As an UPHOLDER/Questioner, I resist ideas like, "I need to take care of myself so I can care for others." I care for myself because that's what I want and need—not because of others.

    Likewise, a Rebel might resist the idea of having a regular meet-up with friends. Typically, Rebels don't like to feel constrained by a calendar.

    If you want to go deeper into the Four Tendencies, read the book The Four Tendencies or take my online video course.

    If you need outer accountability—for self-care or for anything—you can also launch or join an accountability group on my free app, the Better app. It's a place for questions, discussions, and observations about the Four Tendencies, and also a place to create an accountability group for whatever aim you're trying to reach.

    I'm astonished by the ingenuity and imagination that Obligers use in creating outer accountability for themselves. Brilliant solutions! It's really not that hard to do, once you realize that outer accountability is what's necessary.

    Have you come up with any great ways to give yourself outer accountability?

     
  • feedwordpress 15:20:07 on 2018/09/28 Permalink
    Tags: , Blog Post, , , ,   

    What I Read This Month: September 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.

    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, read this post or download my "Reading Better Than Before" worksheet.

    You can also follow me on Goodreads where I've recently started tracking books I’ve read.

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

    September 2018 Reading

    Turn: The Journal of an Artist by Anne Truitt - artist Anne Truitt wrote three brilliant memoirs; this is the third. I highly recommend all three.

    A Little Love Song by Michelle Magorian - by the author of Goodnight, Mr. Tom, a book I discovered recently. I really enjoyed this novel.

    Red, White, Blue by Lea Carpenter - Lea is a friend, so I couldn't wait to read her novel—and it's excellent.

    In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden - this is my second time reading this book, which I love. I love books about a spiritual consciousness.

    A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler - a great story, told beautifully, very thought-provoking. I sense an Anne Tyler phase coming on.

    True Enough by Stephen McCauley - I just discovered McCauley's work. I really enjoyed this novel.

    Property by Lionel Shriver - I love the work of Lionel Shriver. LOVE. I don't usually read short stores, but loved this book, especially the first and last stories.

    The Emigrants by W. G. Sebald - an unusual, fascinating way to approach a novel. I wish I could take a class in which we discussed it.

    Inheritance by Dani Shapiro - couldn't put this memoir down, read it in one or two days. And so timely! The widespread availability of DNA information has personally affected so many people I know.

    Stories of my Life by Katherine Paterson - how I love the work of Katherine Paterson. Odd fact: she and Pearl S. Buck were both the children of missionaries in China.

    Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright - I've read this book about fifty times. I never tire of it. So good.

    Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson - this novel has been on my library list for years, really enjoyed it.

    Pearl S. Buck: A Cultural Biography by Peter Conn - Pearl Buck phase continues. What a life!

    Return to Gone-Away by Elizabeth Enright - see above. So, so, so, so, so good.

    Weetzie Bat by Francesca Block - this short YA novel isn't quite like anything I've ever read before. Very interesting.

    The Child Who Never Grew by Pearl S. Buck - more Pearl Buck. This short book, originally published in Ladies' Home Journal if I remember correctly, was ground-breaking. At the time, few parents publicly discussed their children with special needs. Buck was a tireless advocate for this community.

    Who is Rich? by Matthew Klam - I really enjoyed this novel, especially because it was a brilliant portrait of the Four Tendencies. The main character is an Obliger who goes into classic, full Obliger-rebellion. (I wrote more about Rich's Obliger-rebellion in this post.)

    The Fixer: My Adventures Saving Startups from Death by Politics by Bradley Tusk - Bradley is a friend, and it's always especially interesting to read a memoir by someone I know. This is a great one. You can listen to his interview on the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast here.

    The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman - my husband had checked this novel out of the library and highly recommended it, so it was delivered into my hands. Very enjoyable. I've been meaning to read Rachman for a while.

    What are you reading this month?

     
  • feedwordpress 09:00:12 on 2018/09/27 Permalink
    Tags: Blog Post, Bradley Tusk, , ,   

    “I Get So Focused on Whatever I’m Doing That I Wake Up at 3 a.m. Just to Check My Email.” 

    Interview: Bradley Tusk.

    Through my husband, Bradley and I have been friends for several years  -- plus we also had the chance to work together briefly on an issue related to organ donation. Bradley has an unusual combination of qualities: he's highly thoughtful and contemplative, highly effective, and extremely comfortable with conflict.

    He's had a very colorful career. Among other roles, he was Deputy Governor of Illinois, campaign manager for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, worked with startups like Uber and Lemonade, and is the founder and CEO of Tusk Holdings, a multi-faceted platform that includes multiple businesses. I knew some of the highlights of his history, but I was excited to learn more of the details by getting my hands on my copy of his new book The Fixer: My Adventures Saving Startups from Death by Politics.

    Because he's thought so much about happiness, habits, and productivity, I couldn't wait to interview Bradley on these subjects.

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

    Bradley: I never end a workday without having finished the day’s to-do list, made the next day’s list and returned or at least dealt with every incoming call, text and email. It’s not like things automatically stop happening once I do those things but it makes it a lot easier to enjoy the evening.

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

    Bradley: That the cliché about “it’s the journey, not the process” ended up being right. I spent way too long chasing specific achievements and then wondering why I wasn’t happier when each one happened. I still have a pretty ambitious list of goals but I now get that the work we do to achieve them is far more interesting, fulfilling and important than that one moment at the end when you check the box. Writing my book – The Fixer: My Adventures Saving Startups From Death By Politics – also helped me figure this out since it forced me to look back at my life and career and lay out how things happened.

    Gretchen: You’ve had fascinating experiences. What experience surprised or intrigued you – or your readers – most?

    Bradley: That nothing comes easy – and that there’s no secret book of knowledge or answers. Everyone’s mainly making it up as they go along and doing their best. The people who put the most into it, take the most risk, are willing to have the biggest ideas, and are willing to be held accountable tend to be the people who succeed. That was true even when I worked for Mike Bloomberg as his campaign manager. Mike’s a genius but it wasn’t like he inherently just knew everything. He put the work in. Every single day.

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

    Bradley: My kids – like all kids – never got ready for school when they were supposed to. I’d ask nicely half a dozen times and then start yelling. That never actually moved anything along, it just made everyone really upset. I realized what I was doing, spent a lot of time thinking about it, a lot of time working on it in therapy, a lot of time reminding myself and eventually, I stopped doing it altogether. They’re still usually late for school.

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

    Bradley: According to this, a Rebel, which is a relief since I work in technology and am supposed to disrupt things.

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

    Bradley: Boredom is the biggest problem. If I’m really busy and focused on whatever I’m trying to do, I’m usually good. But if I’m bored, that’s when I start causing the kind of trouble that’s counter-productive (although sometimes fun). The other is obsession. I get so focused on whatever I’m doing that I’ll wake up at 3am every morning just to check my email. That’s not healthy – whatever’s on there will still be there at 5am.

    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.?

    Bradley: I spent four years as Deputy Governor of Illinois. My boss was the now incarcerated, frequently insane Rod Blagojevich. About halfway through, I couldn’t take it anymore. I flew home to New York for a week with every intention of never going back. My friend Rob Galligan and I spent around three hours walking through Central Park, talking about why I hated Rod so much. And by the time we were done, I realized the job wasn’t about Rod. He was just an impediment. The job was about the ways we could help people and do things differently and what I could learn from it. Not shockingly, Rob went on to become a very successful therapist.

    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?

    Bradley: There’s a sign on the wall of my kids’ school that says “Character is what you do when no one is watching.” Whether it’s going home to get more bags and then back outside to pick up our dog’s poop off the street or making the extra effort to recycle or tipping every Uber driver even though the trip is over, you’re out of the car and will never see them again, I think about that sign — and do things I don’t really feel like doing — all the time.

    Gretchen: Has a book ever changed your life – if so, which one and why?

    Bradley: When I was in elementary school, I read a novel about politics called Advise and Consent by Alan Drury. The minute I finished the book, I knew I wanted to work in politics. Most of real life in politics wasn’t as exciting as the book but enough of it was that I’m grateful to the librarian who handed it to me.

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

    Bradley: As a venture capitalist, people outside the field tend to focus on the capitalist part and assume the point of the job is to just make as much money as possible. That’s obviously part of it, but every good VC I know cares far more about building new companies, launching new ideas and disrupting the status quo than just making a good return. You don’t become a VC to get rich. You become a VC because you like blowing things up.

     
  • feedwordpress 11:00:28 on 2018/09/25 Permalink
    Tags: Blog Post, , , , Matt Klam, , , , Who is Rich?   

    A Novel Depicts an Obliger in Deep Obliger-Rebellion (He Has an Affair and Spends All His Money) 

    On a recent trip to Texas, I finished Matt Klam’s novel Who Is Rich? This novel came out in 2017 and got a lot of buzz.

    It’s about the once-famous cartoonist Rich who has stalled out in his career. Every summer, he teaches a week-long class at an arts conference in a beachside town. He’s married with two children, and has also been carrying on an affair for a year with Amy, another teacher at the conference. The novel focuses on what happens during the week of the arts conference when Rich and Amy are there together again.

    I enjoyed the book very much, and I was especially interested to see the Four Tendencies in action. I’m always on the hunt for the Tendencies! This story involves two Obligers: Rich and Amy. Rich’s wife Robin may also be an Obliger, but we don’t see enough of her to judge.

    Rich is definitely an Obliger. He’s having Obliger thoughts and facing Obliger challenges; he shows Obliger strengths and weaknesses. He’s spinning out in major Obliger-rebellion.

    I won’t give away everything that happens, but his Tendency shows most clearly in a few places.

    For instance, he reflects, "People make you do things you don’t want to do." Now of course, all Tendencies have to do things they don’t want to do; this is true for everyone. But it has particular bite for Obligers.

    Rich’s wife Robin is always telling him they need more money; he doesn’t earn enough; they must scrimp and cut back. In an act of deep Obliger-rebellion, Rich buys Robin a $3,000 bracelet, a dollar amount that he knows will wipe out the checking account of their cash-strapped family. He thinks: "From this distance, Robin couldn’t do anything to stop me. I’d worked hard to earn these precious funds to buy a gift she didn’t want or need, to signify my love."

    Then, in further Obliger-rebellion, Rich doesn’t give the bracelet to his wife, but instead gives it to his lover Amy—who, by the way, is a multi-multi-millionaire. (For instance, to play in a softball game, she wears a pair of diamond earrings worth more than $220,000).

    When Obligers enter a state of Obliger-rebellion, they often feel that they’re acting out of character. They’re puzzled by their own actions. As he buys the bracelet, Rich thinks, "I attempted to interpret my irrational action. Had I ever done this kind of thing before? No. A life in the arts requires vigilance and restraint. Was my behavior out of character? Yes, technically, and also terrifyingly, although it was possible that this was merely the culmination of a period of interior deadness and anger, that something had been building for months, or years, that the recent and ongoing stresses had pushed me over the edge."

    Obliger-rebellion is mysterious and important. It blows up a situation—which can be beneficial, absolutely, but can also be destructive.

    Many people have emailed me with examples of the Four Tendencies they’ve spotted in books, TV, and movies. Keep them coming!

     
  • gretchenrubin 10:00:48 on 2018/09/18 Permalink
    Tags: Blog Post, , , , , workshop   

    You Asked for It: You Got It: Announcing the Four Tendencies Workshop! 

    Ever since I first introduced the idea of the Four Tendencies, people have asked me for more and more information.

    After I created the free Quiz to tell people whether they're Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, or Rebels, people wanted more information.

    When I wrote Better Than Before, my book about how to make and break habits, I devoted the very first chapter to the Four Tendencies. But people wanted more.

    So I decided to write a whole book about the Four Tendencies, called (spoiler alert) The Four Tendencies. But people wanted more.

    So I created a free app, the Better app, where people can post questions, create accountability, swap strategies, and generally commiserate about the Four Tendencies. But people wanted more.

    So I created a video course for people who wanted to go deeper into the nuances of the Four Tendencies. But people still wanted more!

    I keep hearing from readers and listeners who want to hold workshops about the Four Tendencies.

    Some people are excited about the framework and want to spread the information to their team, clients, or employees.  They know that by taking the Four Tendencies into account, they can communicate more effectively, end procrastination, understand resistance, and generally get things done more easily.

    So...here it is! The Four Tendencies Workshop.

    This workshop is for you if you’d like to present an in-person workshop with a group of adults to teach them about my Four Tendencies personality framework.

    This workshop is designed for small-to-large groups of adults who want to learn how the Four Tendencies can help them improve their relationships with clients, co-workers, patients, students, trainees, friends, or family—as well as prevent conflict, improve procrastination, address burnout, promote understanding, and persuade effectively.

    Rather than just presenting the information from The Four Tendencies book, this workshop offers scenarios and opportunities to practice applying knowledge in pairs or small groups. It's a fun, high-energy, and very engaging experience.

    To facilitate this workshop, you don’t need expertise—only a knowledge of the participants and their goals, and a willingness to explore with them the applications of the Four Tendencies.

    Whether you’re a health-care professional, an in-house educator at a large corporation, an independent consultant helping small organizations with team building, a coach, pastor, teacher, or manager, this workshop provides all the materials you need to lead your group through a 1-, 2-, or 3-hour workshop about the Four Tendencies framework.

    Click here to learn more or register now.

    Note: If you're looking for a way to dive deeper into the Four Tendencies framework as an individual, then you'll want to consider my Four Tendencies video course (now open for enrollment!); this workshop was created for in-person group facilitators.

    I'm so happy to be able to offer this resource for people. And, I will give myself a gold star: this launch means I can cross another item off my "18 for 2018" list. #15 is accomplished!

    I hope you and your group find the workshop useful.

     

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

    15 Books That Not Everyone Will Love 

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

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

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

     

    1. American Gods by Neil Gaiman

    Buy from IndieBound; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    2. Revenge of the Lawn by Richard Brautigan

    Buy from IndieBound; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    3. Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf

    Buy from IndieBound; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

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

    Buy from IndieBound; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    5. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud

    Buy from IndieBound; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

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

    Buy from IndieBound; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    7. Crowds and Power by Elias Canetti

    Buy from IndieBound; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    8. Truth and Beauty: A Friendship by Ann Patchett

    Buy from IndieBound; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

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

    Buy from WORD; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    10. Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar

    Buy from WORD; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    11. The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis

    Buy from WORD; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    12. Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes

    Buy from WORD; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

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

    Buy from WORD; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

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

    Buy from WORD; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    15. The Official Preppy Handbook edited by Lisa Birnbach

    Buy from Barnes & Noble; Amazon

     
  • feedwordpress 09:00:31 on 2018/09/06 Permalink
    Tags: attention, Blog Post, Chris Baily, distraction, focus, , ,   

    “I’m One of the Laziest People You’ll Ever Meet—and That’s What Drives My Productivity.” 

    Interview: Chris Bailey.

    Chris Bailey is a writer who thinks a lot about productivity -- he literally wrote the book on it, The Productivity Project.

    He has a new book that just hit the shelves: Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction. It turns out that when you're trying to be productive, it's important to know how to keep your focus.

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

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

    Chris: My latest project is my book Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction, which is a deep dive into the research on how our attention works—how we can sharpen our focus, better relax our attention to recharge, and how we can resist falling victim to distraction (long story short, being distracted isn’t our fault, but there are also science-backed ways we can manage our attention better).

    One common theme kept recurring as I connected the research: that the state of our attention determines the state of our lives. If we’re distracted in each moment, these moments accumulate, day by day, week by week, year by year, to create a life that’s distracted. When we focus on what’s meaningful and productive in each moment, these moments accumulate to create a life that’s filled with those same qualities.

    This surprised me. I went into the project thinking I was writing a productivity book. But the more research I explored, the more I realized that managing our attention isn’t only a way to squeeze more productivity out of our day. It’s a way by which we can live a more meaningful life, and even increase our happiness.

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

    Chris: I spend around half of my year on the road. This is totally fine, but last-minute travel can really trip up my healthy habits.

    I make sure to plan ahead if I see a heavy bout of travel in my calendar. I stay at hotels with gyms (and bathtubs!), look for healthy take-out options nearby, and schedule time to meditate and talk to friends and my fiancée, all of which ground me and make me happier. Obstacles are a piece of cake—provided we deal with them in advance. Last-minute trips make this planning a lot more difficult.

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

    Chris: Yes: that laziness is a bad thing. I’m one of the laziest people you’ll ever meet—and that’s precisely what drives my productivity. My laziness motivates me to look for shortcuts (ones that don’t diminish the quality of my work), and also forces me to carve out room so I can think more deeply about what I’m doing and creating. Setting aside this time for idle thinking is one of the best things we can do for our productivity.

    Looking at the state of our attention, we spend so much time responding in autopilot to the tasks that come our way. It’s in the space between doing tasks—when we let our attention rest and wander in these periods that sometimes come across as lazy—that we choose what to do next (we think about our goals 14x more when our mind is wandering versus when we’re focused). This is also when our best ideas strike.

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful?

    Chris: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”

    The source of this proverb is unknown, but it’s one of my favorites. I’ve found it to be true across pretty much every part of my life. For example, a lot of people assume that putting out a book is a solo project. But speaking from personal experience, the cumulative work of everyone else on the team is likely far greater than my own. Between editing the book, pitching it to media outlets, marketing it, designing the cover, creating translations, and so on, publishing a book (at least in the traditional way) is a team sport.

    At work, at home, and everywhere else, our happiness, productivity, and success is intertwined with the happiness, productivity, and success of the people surrounding us. If you think it isn’t, you’re not living up to your full potential.

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

    Chris: I practice Buddhism, and one of its central tenants is that happiness is nothing more than coming to terms with how things change. We can do this by managing our expectations—that’s meant a mental shift where I now believe things never truly go wrong, they just go differently than I expected.

    Truthfully, these ideas took a while for me to internalize. Once I did, my stress levels plummeted. This is not to say I don’t strive for success, especially by more traditional measures (money, recognition, and so on). But today, when I notice my happiness is being batted around by external circumstances, I make sure to check what expectations I had in the first place.

    When doing so, I often find there’s something I felt entitled to that I shouldn’t have, or some uncomfortable truth that I’m not willing to face about myself or the situation. It’s always worth running towards discomfort.

    Hyperfocus by Chris Bailey

     
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