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  • feedwordpress 13:30:27 on 2018/04/19 Permalink
    Tags: Books, , Joanna Coles, ,   

    “Love Is the Food of Life. And We All Deserve to Eat and Love Well.” 

    Interview: Joanna Coles.

    Joanna Coles has had a very interesting career. Before her current position as the first Chief Content Office for Hearst Magazines, she was editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire. Plus, in addition to her significant positions in the magazine world, she's also very involved in the world of TV, in shows like So Cosmo, The Bold Type (a scripted series based on her life), Running in Heels, and Project Runway.

    As if that's not enough, she's just published a book: Love Rules: How to Find a Real Relationship in a Digital World. (I love the double meaning of this title.) It's all about how to find meaningful love in a world full of meaningless encounters. She gives fifteen rules or "love hacks" -- I always love a hack or a true rule! She uses the metaphor of the diet, of eating more healthfully, as a way to look at finding the right sweetheart.

    I couldn’t wait to talk to Joanna about happiness, habits, and relationships.

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

    Joanna: Whenever I take the subway or a cab in New York City, I try not to go on my phone and instead look around. I find it helps me notice things which leads to ideas. And sometimes when you are thinking about nothing in particular and you let your mind wander it's exciting where it will end up. And if I see someone standing alone at a party or looking awkward on their own, I will try and go up and say "Hi" because walking into a room on your own can feel terrifying, and it makes you feel good to make someone else feel welcome.

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

    Joanna: That friends and partners should always be treated with respect, even when you least feel like it! And that its always better to have a conversation about whatever is going wrong with them, than to ignore it or pretend you don’t care. Good communication is the key to everything. It’s hard but it’s almost always worth it. At work, at home, at play.

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

    Joanna: Harvard began a longitudinal study in 1938, during the Great Depression, that tracked 268 sophomores to study what made people happy. Now 80 years later, what they found is that good relationships were essential. Robert Waldinger, the director of the study, said in a recent press release, "The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health. Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too." This is why finding finding someone to love who loves you back is so vitally important—your health and happiness depend on it.

    The other research I found fascinating, and grim, is the negative impact of binge drinking on women, and how closely it is tied to sexual assault in this country. Getting drunk is an accepted part of our culture today, for women and men, but the ramifications of getting black out drunk are so costly for women. It is the one area where women should not want equality—our bodies have more fat which means we process alcohol more quickly then men. The National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) defines binge drinking for women as four drinks in two hours, where for men it is five. And yet, binge drinking has risen 17% for women between 2005 and 2012 versus 4.9% for men. The other stat that ties in to this, also by the NIAA is that half of all sexual assaults involve alcohol. This is why Rule #8 is, Know Your Limits.

    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?

    Joanna: I end Love Rules with a snippet from a story Ian McEwan wrote for The Guardian following 9-11. It still brings me to tears. In the piece, McEwan writes about about a husband who misses the last panicked call from his wife who is in the Twin Towers that day. She was calling to say goodbye. He wrote, "There was really only one thing for her to say. Those three words that all the terrible art, the worst pop songs and movies, the most seductive lies, can somehow never cheapen. I love you. She said it over and over again before the line went dead."

    Love is the food of life. And we all deserve to eat and love well. That is why I wrote Love Rules--I felt there was no guide book out there as to how to find it. It nourishes and feeds us, it is the key to happiness. It makes us feel we are alive and without it, little else matters.

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

    Joanna: I have a scalding hot bath every night. I still have the apartment’s original porcelain bath from 1908, it’s very deep and very long and I sink up to my neck and exhale. I love Epsom salts, oils, bubbles, and I lie there in silence and inhale the steam and think through the day. Heaven.

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

    Joanna: Of course! Late nights with friends mean I cancel too many early morning yoga lessons, always set up with the best intentions and promise that this time I won’t cancel. But as much as I love yoga, nothing is better for your long-term health -- not even a restorative headstand -- than a good evening with family and friends.

     
  • feedwordpress 09:30:26 on 2018/04/05 Permalink
    Tags: Books, , , , Tara Westover   

    “I Feel Like I’m Never Alone…I Am with My Phone, and Because of That, I Am with Everyone.” 

    Interview: Tara Westover.

    You've probably either read this book, or read about it, because it has sparked a giant amount of buzz and favorable attention. Tara Westover's memoir Educated is a#1 New York Times bestseller that has received rave reviews -- for instance, it was called the "best-in-years memoir about striding beyond limitations of birth and environment" by USA Today.

    Tara Westover was born in Idaho, and because her father opposed public education, she never attended school, but spent her days working in her father's junkyard or helping her mother, a self-taught herbalist. It wasn't until she was 17 years old that she first got to a classroom -- and from there, she excelled brilliantly at BYU, Cambridge, and Harvard.

    Her story reminds me of a passage that I love from one of my favorite writers, Samuel Johnson. He remarked:

    “A desire of knowledge is the natural feeling of mankind; and every human being, whose mind is not debauched, will be willing to give all that he has to get knowledge.” Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson

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

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

    Tara: Being alone. Increasingly, I feel like I'm never alone, not really. I am with my phone, and because of that, I am with everyone. Left to wait for a few minutes in a waiting room, I used to observe more, think about a strange accent I'd heard, or analyze the interactions between the couple opposite me. Now I type messages. And receive messages. None of which add up to much. I'm trying to break that habit and go back to a time when the person I spent the most time with was myself. That's when thinking happens. I know I sound very old-fashioned and analog, but it's what I need to live!

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

    Tara: Working intensely for shorter bursts is more effective in the-long run than pushing yourself to the limit. Cognitive capacity is like sobriety. It declines, but because of it's decline, you lose the ability to perceive it. You think you're still working at 100%. My advice: don't work drunk, and don't work tired.

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

    Tara: My relationship with my phone. Sometimes I feel like Doc Octopus: I look down and there is this mechanical thing seemingly built into my arm. I've no idea how it got there. I put it down and walk away, then a minute later, there it is again.

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

    Tara: Sleep, food, journaling, walks, and friends.

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

    Tara: I'm a believer in thinking through what your behavior is, and trying to understand what's causing it. I've talked a lot about wanting to break the unconscious link between me and my phone, and inasmuch as I've succeeded in doing that, I think it was by asking myself what was causing me to reach for it so often, then taking steps to counter that. Here are a few things I did.

    1)I realized that I often look at my phone to check the time, but then I get distracted by emails or other notifications. The solution to this was easy. Wear a watch, and buy clocks for all my rooms.

    2) I often check my phone to see if I have notifications of any sort, rather than checking anything in particular. Then I toggle back and forth between them seeing if anything new came in while I was checking the other. The solution for me was to centralize all my communication in my email (tell people I would not be responding to messages on Facebook). I also disabled all my notifications. Now, barring texts (which I rarely send or receive), my phone only shows me whether I've missed any calls. As a phone should.

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

    Tara: Seemingly everything is always trying to. Whether any particular thing succeeds is a question of whether I let it.

    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.?

    Tara: I don't think so. My ideas tend to start as germs, then grow into tiny slugs, then worms....you get the idea. It's always gradual.

    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?

    Tara: I don't normally like slogans, but I do find myself sometimes muttering the phrase "Live boldly." Maybe because I am always trying to get myself to do things I feel slightly unable to do, and I need to convince myself to do them anyway.

     
  • feedwordpress 09:00:20 on 2018/03/29 Permalink
    Tags: Books, Danielle Town, , , wealth   

    “Money Certainly Cannot Buy Happiness, But It Can Buy Comfort, Choices, and Freedom.” 

    Interview: Danielle Town.

    The relationship between money and happiness is one of the most complex and emotionally charged topics within the larger subject of happiness.

    Danielle Town has written a memoir that takes the reader through her efforts to gain greater control over money and investing -- and with it, a sense of greater control of her life. Over the course of a year (I do love any one-year project!) she teaches herself how to invest wisely.

    This memoir is just hitting the shelves: Invested: How Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger Taught Me to Master My Mind, My Emotions, and My Money (with a Little Help from My Dad).

    Many of us don't even like to think about money, but Danielle Town explains why we're happier if we confront our fears, anxieties, desires, and habits related to saving, spending, and investing.

    I couldn’t wait to talk to Danielle about the relationships among happiness, habits, money, and relationships.

    Gretchen: You’ve written a wonderful memoir about learning investing that is, in many ways, really about happiness. For many people, money problems are huge obstacle to their happiness. Do you connect money and happiness? Do you think money can buy happiness?

    Danielle: Money certainly cannot buy happiness, but it can buy comfort, choices and freedom. Which, for a lot of us, would feel like a lot like happiness. It's funny how wealth is like health - when you don't have it, it's all you think about; when you do have it, life is just easier. Feeling free financially removes stress and creates the space to focus on the important things that actually do create real and lasting happiness: the choice to work part-time, the ability to support wonderful charities, the peace of knowing your student loans are paid off or your kids have college covered – whatever financial freedom looks like for each of us. And I was forced into learning about financial stuff, so I know it’s not a happy topic for many of us, but it turned into a source of happiness for me.

    Gretchen: You’ve gone through a fascinating journey and education. What has surprised or intrigued you – or other people -- most?

    Danielle: It surprised me how much old childhood emotions around money shaped how I think about my finances to this day. Every single person has a framework of money and wealth from their childhood; every one of us, regardless of how much or little we and our family had, had an experience with money growing up. However, we probably didn’t realize or notice it until we got older, because it’s only once we’re older and see how other people handle money that we have any perspective on our own experience. Once I was several months into learning investing, I just couldn’t quite fully imagine myself as a successful investor, and I couldn’t figure out why. Finally, I realized it was because I didn’t completely trust my dad. Which is, on its face, ridiculous: my dad is a well-respected investor who has been investing for thirty years. So I looked deeper, and it went back to when I was a kid. My parents divorced when I was eleven, and my experience was that my dad left and took the money with him, and it was awful. But he came back, and we repaired our relationship, and until I started learning investing from him I would have told you that the childhood trauma was all in the past. It wasn’t. It forced us to talk about it, and for the first time in my life, I heard his perspective on the situation and, as an adult, I could see his point of view and his choices in a way I couldn’t have when I was a kid. Working through it released me from some of its effects, while at the same time, that was my experience and I will always need to be aware of how it’s affecting me as an investor.

    Usually as soon as I start talking about childhood experiences with money with people, they flash back immediately and they know exactly what shaped them. It’s extraordinary how it’s right there, present, but we avoid it for years because it’s uncomfortable or painful – which is completely logical, actually, to avoid something that brings pain. However, by avoiding it, we’re compounding the pain by bringing money stress on ourselves, and I believe we have to think about it, transform it, and go forward with that information about ourselves to take our power back.

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

    Danielle: When I initially read Better than Before, I thought I was a Rebel because I absolutely love the feeling of not doing something I’m expected to do. It used to give me huge amounts of pleasure to, for example, cut class in school – but only when it was a class I knew was unnecessary and skipping it wouldn’t hurt. However, at the same time, I really care about the expectations of others and don’t want to let anyone down, right up until it gets to be too much and then I tend to shut down. So I wasn’t quite sure how I fit into the framework. But then, when I read The Four Tendencies, and discovered that you had identified a subset of Obliger that is also a Rebel, I felt seen. I distinctly remember reading your book on an airplane and, when I read that section, I flashed back to when I started looking into my Investing Practice – I think I was deep in Obliger-rebellion, overwhelmed at work, and trying to find a way out while still being able to pay my bills.

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

    Danielle: I didn’t know inflation was destroying my savings without me doing anything wrong! Finding that out changed everything, and pushed me towards building the habit of my Investing Practice, which has created so much happiness in my life. It probably sounds ridiculous to those who are aware of it, but did you know that inflation reduces the buying power of your savings? I didn’t know that, because I had never connected inflation to my own personal money like that. I thought savings were incredibly safe, but they’re not safe from inflation.

    Inflation on average is 3% per year. Which means that just to stay even, just to keep my money and not lose it, I have to get 3% per year on my money. No one had EVER told me that. It still blows me away. Why don’t they teach this stuff in school? And I have a father who is a long-term value investor, and I didn’t know. So when I found that out, I knew had to do something with my money simply to not lose it, and I still hemmed and hawed and tried to avoid learning how to invest. I’m such a reluctant investor. Investing is often scary, volatile, and emotional. Of course it is - we get virtually no financial education but live in an incredibly complex financial world. But now my practice of investing - which I treat as a practice, just like yoga or meditation – has, surprisingly, become such a wonderful part of my life because it’s not really about making money. Money is a nice byproduct. But the real reward is in the learning, studying, and appreciating knowing so much more about my world around me, and then getting to make a difference by voting for my values with my investing dollars.

    Gretchen: How does bringing your values into your Investing Practice make you happier?

    Danielle: It makes me feel like a joyful warrior – who knew investing could do that? My money is a vote, and if it’s in the market, it’s being voted – even if I didn’t choose the companies my money supports. That vote still counts. Which means that if I’m not choosing the companies my money supports because it’s in a fund or index, it probably is literally helping companies do things I hate – polluting, hurting animals, treating employees poorly, just to name a few things that are important to me to avoid. Once I took my power back and started voting my money myself in wonderful companies for the long-term, it made the process of learning about investing in the markets so much more interesting, because now it’s personal. We little investors control so much of the market that, if we all voted consciously with our money, we literally could change the entire market. If we took our money out of companies doing terrible things, those companies would change or die, quickly. They really would. Within a year, probably. We have so much power, and we have the skills, we just need a bit of knowledge about how to use it. It makes me happy to use it for good.

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

    Danielle: Meditating. I’ve practiced Transcendental Meditation since I was ten years old, and it consistently reduces my stress and gives me an experience of stillness that I draw on in many situations outside of meditation. Knowing that I have that experience inside me, no matter what, gives me the groundedness to be brave and take leaps like quitting my law firm job and moving to another country.

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

    Danielle: Staying up late is a terrible habit of mine. Lack of sleep really negatively affects me. After a string of days of little sleep, I get pessimistic and down and start feeling depressed. Someone called out that connection between sleep and getting pessimistic for me a few years ago, and it was really helpful to be made aware of it. Now, I try to notice those negative thoughts instead of being consumed by them, and review whether I’ve been sleeping enough, and I almost always haven’t been. It’s pretty amazing how much rosier the world looks in the morning after a night of great sleep.

    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.?

    Danielle: I am extremely introverted, which means that people pull energy from me instead of giving energy to me. Not a bad thing, just how it is. I had always felt uncomfortable about being introverted, but reading Susan Cain’s book Quiet was a life-changing lightning bolt that made me realize it was ok to be me – or, as you would put it, to Be Danielle. Her research proves it’s not only ok to be introverted, it’s beneficial in many ways. Our world is not particularly conducive to introversion, though. I remember being called ‘shy’ in a derogatory way when I was a kid and being constantly pushed to be around people. My respite after a long day at school was to come home and get to read alone in my room, and I remember one afternoon my mom asked me, “Why don’t you make plans to play with your friends after school?” All at once it occurred to me for the first time that that was something the other kids did, so I was different, and also, I didn’t want to do that at all. After all, I had just spent all day with those friends. But I tried to be “normal” and more social and carried that effort with me my whole life. So reading Quiet, as a 35-year-old attorney, taught me more about myself than I could have imagined. I understood why I went into law – because I loved getting to spend long hours thinking out an agreement or problem – and why I was miserable in my legal practice – because we didn’t have long hours to think; work had to be done quickly and while being constantly pulled away to answer emails within a few minutes of them arriving and juggle clients. I realized that’s probably why many lawyers are unhappy. We go into it for the intellectual challenge and deep thought, and come out of it into a peripatetic job managing the constant needs of others. The two don’t match up. I started thinking seriously about my future and how to structure my life so that it fit me, instead of me trying to fit it.

    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?

    Danielle: I remind myself to be thankful for my problems. I struggle with gratefulness practice because it feels a bit forced to me, and I don’t like that feeling. But noticing my problems and being thankful for them – that they’re not bigger, that there might be a silver lining to them, that they show me what’s important to me – is simply noticing reality and shifting perspective a little bit. There was an investor in Japan, Wahei Takeda, who was often called the Warren Buffett of Japan, and he actually required that the companies he invested in have thankfulness as an institutional practice. If they refused, he pulled his money out. I think it showed him whether the people running those companies shared his values or not, and he didn’t want to be supporting a company of people who didn’t share his values. And neither do I.

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:11 on 2018/03/08 Permalink
    Tags: Books, Geneen Roth,   

    “I Made a Decision to Stop Complaining. About Anything.” 

    Interview: Geneen Roth.

    Geneen Roth is a bestselling writer of many books who, in her work, examines the relationships among identity, food, spirituality, body image, money, and other aspects of our everyday lives. That is, some of the most some complex and charged issues within the larger subject of happiness.

    She has a new book that has just hit the shelves: This Messy Magnificent Life: A Field Guide.

    I love the idea of a "field guide" to life.

    I couldn’t wait to talk to Geneen Roth about happiness, habits, spirituality, and productivity.

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

    Geneen: When I wake up every day, within the first five minutes, I counter [what I fondly call] my marriage to negativity by asking myself: What’s not wrong right now? Then I list five things. They could be as simple as: “I woke up today. It’s another day on planet earth! I have eyes to see, ears to hear, a partner sleeping next to me, an irrepressibly silly dog”…and I make sure to not just list those things but to take them in, to feel them, to experience the goodness of them so that I’m not just reciting a checklist. Then, as silly as this sounds, I remind myself to smile right there, right then, not at anything or anyone but just because -- and I notice how that amplifies joy. It always amazes me that the littlest things make the biggest difference.

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

    Geneen: That happiness is not meant for a special few (of which I am not one). That it is possible to cultivate happiness and joy, and that if one’s nervous system is geared toward vigilance about sensing danger instead of noticing beauty or what’s good, it is still possible to develop the capacity for everyday joy. But/and, building a new habit takes consistency and willingness to do it, even when I don’t feel like it. When I want to whine or muck around in how awful it all is, I have to be (and most of the time, I am) willing to stop myself in the middle, to remember what I want more than I want to whine, and to live as if what I’m aiming for—joy, in this instance—is already true. Sometimes living as-if is the best I can do. And that’s good enough.

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

    Geneen: My default orientation to what’s wrong. And so, many times a day—after I do the five minutes in bed as described above—I ask myself, “Am I okay right now?” And since the answer is almost always yes, my nervous system and hyper-vigilance relax. Over and over, for as many times as it takes. As an extension of this habit of focusing on wrongness, I’ve also noticed that I blame myself when things don’t go as planned—or when, according to my mind, they have gone wrong. I have a friend who says he wakes up every day with this mantra: “Something’s wrong and who’s to blame!” I have to pay close attention to this in myself as well. Attention changes everything for me because it makes a separation between what I am seeing and who I am. When I see something, I immediately realize that that which is doing the seeing is not the pattern itself. I realize there is something bigger that exists than this poor, little moi—that I am not my history, but am instead the awareness that is noticing my history--and this cheers me up immensely.

    Gretchen: Which habits are most important to you?

    Geneen: When I am writing a book, the habit of getting to my studio every day is crucial. Otherwise, I putter around in the house, procrastinate, call friends and schmooze on the phone. So I have a sign in my kitchen (since I walk out the kitchen door to my studio) that Nora Roberts has on her desk: Ass in chair. And even though I am dragging and kicking and feeling sorry for myself as I open the kitchen door and head to my studio (because I am certain that all my friends are making plans to go out to lunch at pretty restaurants with potted red geraniums), I am resolute about getting my ass in the chair.

    There are other habits, other routines or disciplines I follow almost every day because I find that structure (i.e., habits) are helpful to my somewhat chaotic mind. (Okay, very chaotic mind). I go to bed by 10 pm, I move my body every day, preferably outside, and I remember, many times a day, to come out of my mind and into my body. To sense my arms and legs, feel my feet on the floor, and to look up and around me. To be, as the Tibetans say, “like a child, astonished at everything.”

    Gretchen: Have you ever managed to break an unhealthy habit?

    Geneen: The hardest habit to break has been to stop listening to what I call “the crazy aunt in the attic:” the voice that blares continually, day in and day out, about how I’m not good enough, did it wrong, should have done better. When I notice that I suddenly feel small, diminished, incapable, disappeared, I’ll track back and ask myself what triggered it and what I am telling myself. I’ve gotten very good at seeing that the crazy aunt is having her way with me. Then, I tell her to go out on the lawn, drink tequila and leave me alone. Or simply, that I am walking out of the attic and into the rest of the house (that is my body, my life) and so she can keep blaring on but I am not listening to her. I disentangle myself from her clutches and realize that she is not telling the truth.

    The second hardest habit that I have broken, and I realize you only asked about one, but I can’t help myself from mentioning this, is complaining. When I realized two years ago that most of my conversations were (very nice) rants against what was happening that I didn’t want to be happening (i.e, the weather, what someone just said, the politicians, being tired or sick, etc) and that there was nothing to do about it since it already happened, I made a decision to stop complaining. About anything. I gave myself three choices: accept the situation, leave the situation, or do something to change the situation, period. Although I often wanted to complain about not complaining, the truth is that my resolve has had a profound affect: there was an unexpected and almost magical lightness to the days. And there still is.

    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.?

    Geneen: When we lost every cent of our savings in 2008, my immediate reaction was terror and self-blame, fear and hopelessness. My husband and I were never going to get back the money we’d made from thirty years of being self-employed, and I felt despair, shame and totally overwhelmed. Luckily, I had good friends who told me that “Nothing of any value has been lost,” and although I responded that “this was not the time to be spiritual," I realized that if I was going to make it through the night without being frozen with fear, I was going to have to be vigilant NOW about re-focusing my mind on what I did have, not what I didn’t have. On what I could find, not what I had lost. And I realized, almost instantly, that there was goodness and beauty, love and chocolate in abundance. These things had always been there to see, take in, but that I had been disregarding them as I went through the regular day-to-day activities. Within a week, I was happier than I’d ever been. This process taught me something I will never forget: that no situation, no matter how awful it first appears, is unworkable. And just as important, that it is not the situation itself that is causing my suffering, but the stories I am telling myself about it. Radical.

     
  • feedwordpress 10:30:47 on 2018/02/15 Permalink
    Tags: Books, , melissa Dahl,   

    “I Love Running More for the Mental Clarity It Provides Than Anything Else.” 

    Interview: Melissa Dahl.

    Melissa is a senior editor at New York Magazine, and I got to know her work because I've been a long-time fan of Science of Us, a site that has now joined The Cut. The sites cover mental health, human behavior, personality, relationships, work, health, wellness -- all subjects that I love to read about.

    Melissa is also the author of new book about a fairly unconventional topic: Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness. She looks at the situations that make us feel awkward, and argues that such moments -- although, well, awkward -- have great value. Fascinating!

    I couldn’t wait to talk to Melissa about happiness, habits, relationships, and productivity.

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

    Melissa: 
It’s funny — when I would tell my friends and colleagues what I was writing about, a lot of them had the same reaction: “You don’t strike me as particularly awkward!” Which, first of all, thank you, I will take the compliment.

    But that response kind of encapsulates what ended up interesting me (and surprising me) about this subject. I became somewhat obsessed with the idea of understanding awkwardness as an emotion, not a personality trait. I mean, it can be both of those things — there are certainly “awkward people” out there. But to me, it’s also a feeling. I may not seem “awkward” from the outside, but I feel it almost constantly! I’m always sure I’m saying or doing the wrong thing; I’m always convinced that people are staring or talking about me after I’ve said or done the wrong thing.

    Another thing that surprised me as I was studying this odd little emotion: I have a few first drafts of chapters floating around in my Google docs somewhere, which are all about how to totally ward yourself off from this feeling — with science! This book was initially going to be about how to “overcome awkwardness”; I actually just the other day looked at my book contract with Penguin, and that’s the description of the book that’s in there! But I didn’t end up writing about that at all. In the end, it became more about accepting awkwardness, and even appreciating it. It became a way of finding joy in the absolute absurdity of the human experience.

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


    Melissa: TWITTER! Oh my god!

    I mean, on the one hand, it’s great. I’ve connected with so many cool people through Twitter — it has brought genuinely good things to my life. I’ve made offline, IRL friends through idle chitchat on the site, and I’ve met editors and writers in my field who I’ve ended up working with. Sometimes it helps spark story ideas, or alerts me to some new psychology research that I’m able to cover before anyone else does. Actually, now that I think about it, I practically owe this book to Twitter: Years ago, I started chatting about running with another writer, who eventually connected me with her literary agent, who eventually sold Cringeworthy to Penguin!

    But on the other hand! Oh, the other, terrible hand. I waste so much time on the site, first of all. I know I need to download one of those apps that limits the time you spend on time-waster websites, but I think part of me doesn’t want to give it up. (Also, I tried doing this years ago, and just found ways to get around the blocks I set up for myself — I downloaded the app to Chrome, so after a while, I just started to go to Firefox to get on Twitter. Gah!) It’s also starting to feel almost unethical to stay on the site — I read something somewhere once (maybe on The Awl? RIP!) that compared it to eating meat: It’s something most of us ethically, logically, know we mayyyyybe should give up, or at least limit, but we just … don’t … want to.

    Can you quit a habit that part of you doesn’t really want to quit? I don’t know. But I do know this is getting ridiculous; I checked Twitter twice while writing this answer.

    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 in the final stages of writing Cringeworthy, a lot of my healthy habits disappeared as I desperately tried to finish this, the biggest project I’ve ever attempted. The last few days were particularly ridiculous: me shunning my perfectly functional desk for an Ikea Poang chair, surrounded by half-drunk cans of energy drinks and various open bags of chips and cookies. (All the greats are said to have had their idiosyncratic writing rituals; I was sad to discover that this, apparently, is mine.)

    It really wasn’t that hard to clean my diet back up, but during this time, I’d also totally fallen out of the habit of running, something I’ve done most days of the week for the past 10 years or so. There are obvious physical benefits to running, or cardio in general, but I’ve always loved the activity more for the mental clarity it provides than anything else. I always have some new race on the horizon, which usually helps keep me motivated. But for some reason, I just couldn’t get back into it! I would sign up for races and then fail to train adequately, so I would end up skipping them. I was even supposed to run the NYC Marathon this fall, but had to skip that, too, because — again — I hadn’t kept up with the training.

    So I tried something new: a run streak. The rules are simple. You run every single day, for at least one mile. And … it worked! I’ve run every day for the last seventy days, even in the rain, even in the snow. (Okay, sometimes I take it indoors, but still. It counts!) I know you’ve written, Gretchen, on how the small things we do every day sometimes matter more than the big things we do once in a while, and that feels so true to me in this experience.

    I don’t know how long I’ll keep it up. One hundred days seems like a nice goal. Only 30 days away at this point! But at the same time, I’ve sort of decided I’m free to abandon it whenever I feel like it. The point of this whole thing was to get back into the habit of running, and that’s certainly happened.

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


    Melissa: Honestly, I sometimes struggle with feeling like a total pain, or a killjoy! I want to eat healthy, but if everyone else is ordering fries, I feel like I’m letting them down, somehow, if I order a salad. People comment on it, you know? Or if I’m on vacation, and I get up to go running, people comment on that too. It’s those little comments that bug me more than they should. Sometimes I brush them off, but sometimes even anticipating them is enough to make me drop my habit for the duration of the dinner out, or the group vacation, or whatever.

    I’m getting better at sticking to my healthy habits, anyway, though. Maybe it’s just a matter of growing up a bit, and feeling more comfortable in my own dorky Upholder skin.

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

    Melissa: As I mentioned earlier, I lean Upholder, for sure. It’s usually not difficult for me to keep outer and inner expectations — well, with the exception of Twitter, I guess? Ha. But, yeah — I run marathons for fun, I wrote this book on top of having a full-time job. I floss.

    What I’ve really appreciated from your writing about the Four Tendencies is something that you’ve said yourself, Gretchen — correct me if I’m wrong, but I seem to remember you saying that people have asked you things about the changes you made while writing books like The Happiness Project like, “How did you get yourself to do that?” And your response was something like, “I just … did it?” That’s mostly how I operate, too. I decide to make a change, and it doesn’t take a whole lot of inner or outer cajoling to make it happen. (I guess with the run streak and the Twitter debacle I’ve described my exceptions to this rule! But generally, when I decide to do something, I do just … do it.) I grew up going to church, and my favorite verse even when I was a little kid encapsulates this tendency of mine. I like the old-timey King James Version: “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”

    Anyway! What I’ve really appreciated about this notion of “tendencies” is the grace it’s reminded me to give other people. Not everyone functions the way I do — and that’s fine! It’s helped me so much at work and in my personal life, as a gentle little reminder that different people are different, and not everyone sees and responds to the world in the same way I do.

    Gretchen: I would also, of course, shine a spotlight on anything that you’d particularly like to bring to readers’ attention.

    Melissa: This sort of builds on that last question, of reminding yourself that your way of seeing the world is not the only way of seeing the world. It gets at what I’ve started to call Cringe Theory.

    I think that the moments that make you cringe are the moments when you realize that there is a difference between the way you perceive yourself and the way that others perceive you. Something that really helped me understand the feeling, actually, was a piece I wrote a couple years ago for Science of Us, about why so many of us cringe at the sound of our own voices. Briefly, here’s an explanation for why our voices sound so different to us when we hear them played back: When you speak, you hear your own voice through your ears, but you’re also sort of hearing it through the bones of your skull. Bone conduction transmits lower frequencies than air conduction; if you’ve ever heard a recording of your own voice and been surprised at how much higher-pitched you sound, this is why.

    So, okay, that helps explain why your recorded voice sounds so different. But why does that make you cringe?

    This turns out to be a pretty perfect metaphor for my understanding of cringe theory. I think we cringe — so, we feel awkward, in other words — when the version of ourselves we think we’re presenting to the world meets the version of ourselves the world is actually seeing. We like to pretend those two are one and the same, and that the way you perceive yourself is the way others are perceiving you, too. Sometimes that’s true. But when it isn’t — when you see the way your self-concept isn’t measuring up to others’ concept of you — I think that’s when we cringe at ourselves.

    It’s when we cringe at others, too — when we can see the self that someone else is trying to present to the world, and we can also see that they’re not quite succeeding.

    So, looked at in this way, awkward or embarrassing moments are moments that force you out of your own perspective and into someone else’s. They remind you that your way of looking at the world is not the only way. I’ve come to genuinely love them for that. It’s nice to get a break every once in a while from your own point of view.

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:12 on 2018/02/10 Permalink
    Tags: , Books, , ,   

    My 5 Favorite Novels About Relationships 

    Given that Valentine’s Day is approaching, if you’d like to read a novel about relationships, here are some of my favorites.

    Never fear, each one stands on its own, and is well worth reading even if you’re not particularly interested in the subject. If you’re looking for a compelling, page-turning novel, choose any one of these:

    1. Crossing to Safety, Wallace Stegner – A beautiful account of love as it unfolds over the years. Fun fact: Justice O’Connor told me this is her favorite book.
    2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen – of course! One of the most purely enjoyable novels of all time, with a great hero and heroine.
    3. Happy All the Time, Laurie Colwin – a happy story of new love, with all its delights and anxieties.
    4. The Enchanted April, Elizabeth von Arnim – four very different women, strangers to each other, rent a castle in Italy for a month, which has unexpected consequences in their lives.
    5. Gilead, Marilynne Robinson – love comes to a minister, very late in his life. One of my favorite novels, ever.

    What’s your favorite book about relationships?

     
  • Crystal Ellefsen 15:09:47 on 2018/02/01 Permalink
    Tags: Books, , inteview, Morten Hansen, , ,   

    “The Data Revealed a Big Surprise: Top Performers Do Less.” 

    Interview: Morten Hansen.

    Morten Hansen is a management professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He was the co-author with Jim Collins of the book Great by Choice and also the author of Collaboration, and he has a new book that's just hitting the shelves, Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More.

    Morten has done a lot of thinking about how people do their best work and live their happiest lives, so I couldn't wait to hear his insights about happiness, habits, and productivity.

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

    Morten: One of the things I have always done is to celebrate milestones, even the small ones, with my wife and kids. When I got an academic paper accepted in a prestige journal, I would open a bottle of champagne with my wife and have a toast, to mark the milestone but also to give thanks for her support. When I finished my last book, I took my family out to dinner and thanked them. We do this for their milestones too. Some of these are small markers, perhaps, but it’s great to pause for a moment in our hectic lives, celebrate a bit, and express gratitude. I believe we don’t celebrate enough at work. It’s an easy thing to do.

    You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you – or other people -- most?
    In my new study published in my book Great at Work, I set out to answer a deceptively simple question: why do some people perform better at work than others? I developed a data set of 5,000 managers and employees from across corporate America to find answers. The data analysis revealed a big surprise to me and to many others; top performers do less. We live in a world where we strive to do more to succeed: we take on more assignments, go to more meetings, fly around, network more, get online 24/7, and so on, yet we don’t pause to ask, is this the best way to work? It turns out, it isn’t. That’s an uncomfortable piece of news to many, including myself: I do more and stress to get it all done, believing it is the road to success—yet it isn’t. Of course, the good news is that we can change that and perform better, and have better lives, too.

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

    When I started out working, I joined the Boston Consulting Group in London as a 24-year old. I had no real prior experience, so I came up with a great formula to succeed: I would work crazy hours. I put in 70, 80 and even 90 hours per week. I did rather well, being promoted up the ranks of the company. I discovered that some colleagues who also did well (and some better than me) worked fewer hours, but I just couldn’t figure out what they did, so I brushed it off and kept those long hours. Of course, it took a toll on my relationship with my fiancée (who, luckily, stuck with me). Now, a few decades later, I have discovered how foolish I was. I had fallen into the trap of believing that each extra hour worked improves output, and that’s not the case.

    The results from my new research show that the relationship between hours worked and performance is an inverted U: you perform much better when you go from 30 to 50 hours per week on average (slacking off at 30 is no good), performance only goes up a little bit by going from 50 to 65 hours, and it DECLINES from 65 hours onwards. So my “brilliant” strategy of piling on 70 and 80 hours a week was most likely a dismal failure. Uggh. It hurts even today to think back on all that wasted time (and life). But I have learned from my data. I have created what I call the “50-hour work week” rule: Work about 50 hours per week (which is hard work), but no more. My true lesson for a good work habit: it’s HOW you work—and not how hard—that matters.

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

    I am a “do more” type of person. By that I mean that I take on many assignments, say “yes” to too many things, and then I work hard—and stress—to get it all done. Many people work like that. First off, it doesn’t lead to the best results, as I said. But it also makes me less happy: that stress to get it all done means I am working at night when I should be with my family, and it’s also stressful to coordinate all kinds of priorities. I don’t feel burned out (yet!), but working this way clearly increases the risk of that. I know this from my data. We asked our study participants whether they felt burned out at work and about a fifth strongly agreed they felt burned out, and another quarter agreed somewhat. Those are big numbers and it’s hard to feel happy when you’re burning out working. The solution is to “do less”: cut priorities and zoom in on what matters the most.

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

    Yes! On January 1, 2017, I set the goal of getting in shape. Like so many others, I signed up with a trainer at a health club. And like so many, I have had this New Year’s resolution every year! I am a former competitive track and field athlete, so I thought this was going to be easy, but alas, I succumbed like so many others. But this year I succeeded and here’s how. I applied the idea of “20-mile march” from my book Great by Choice (co-authored with Jim Collins): the idea is to set a periodic goal (say monthly and weekly) and then set an upper and a lower bound (that’s crucial). I told myself: the goal is to exercise 3 times a week, and the lower bound is 1x, and the upper bound is 4x. My motto was: stick to the bounds, no matter what. The bounds made all the difference: I would reach my goal even if I just exercised a paltry 1 time a week. This is very different from what I used to say to myself: exercise 3 times a week, and everything below that is a failure (and sure enough, after 6 weeks in 2016 I failed and then I had, in my mind, broken my new year resolution). Now, why an upper bound? The reason is, if I exercised too many times in one week, my legs would be sore from running and so I had to rest the next week. Pacing yourself like that works really well in forming a habit, I found.

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

    I am a Questioner, absolutely. Particularly at this point in my life I notice that I question many things. Of course, I can be annoying at times, like when I ask flight attendants why we board by zones that don’t make any sense (“because that’s the way it’s done, duh.”). They are not especially impressed (or interested) when I tell them that research shows there is a better way. In my research, I found that a number of people kept asking fundamental questions about why work was done in certain ways, and that allowed them to find new and better ways. A high school principal asked his faculty, “Why do we send kids home with homework?” which challenged a 300-year old model of teaching in school. This question prompted the school to switch to a better method, where they “flipped” the classroom—homework at school, lectures via video clips at home—and results soared. It would be great to include a measure of The Four Tendencies in a study like the one I did for my book to see how work practices relate to performance. I can see why Questioners like me and the high school principal have some strengths, and yet weaknesses too (my bosses don’t especially like it when I question everything they ask me to do….oh well).

     
  • gretchenrubin 11:00:23 on 2018/01/18 Permalink
    Tags: Books, , , 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: Books, 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 12:00:35 on 2017/12/28 Permalink
    Tags: Books, Courtney Carver, , , simplicity   

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

    Interview: Courtney Carver.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Gretchen: Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     
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