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

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

    Interview: Suzie Pileggi Pawelski and James Pawelski.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “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: , Courtney Carver, , Interview, simplicity   

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

    Interview: Courtney Carver.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Interview: Melissa Nicholson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”) Or a quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful? Or a particular book that has stayed with you?

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

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

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

    Interview: Robin Benway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • gretchenrubin 13:00:04 on 2017/10/19 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Interview, , Tim O'Reilly,   

    The Future and Why We Should “Work on Stuff that Matters.” 

    Interview: Tim O'Reilly.

    Tim O'Reilly is the founder and head of O'Reilly Media. Of all the people writing and speaking about the interrelated issues of emerging technology, media, work, and government, he is one of the most thoughtful and far-sighed.

    His new book just hit the shelves. WTF: What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us is a combination of memoir, business strategy guide, and call to action related to the future of technology -- and the future of all of us.

    I was interested to hear his views on habits, happiness, productivity, and creativity.

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

    Tim: Every morning, before I plunge into work, checking my devices and getting pulled into the digital whirl, I do some yoga or go running, and do morning chores -- feeding my backyard chickens, emptying the dishwasher, hanging the laundry that I ran overnight, making tea for my wife and for myself. I treat morning chores as a kind of meditation. Hanging laundry on the line is especially like that for me. It's a wonderful practice that saves energy, makes clothes last longer, and gives me a chance to watch the sunrise over my back yard.

    The clothesline is also the subject of one of my favorite poems, Richard Wilbur's "Love Calls Us to the Things of This World" and one of my favorite thought pieces, Steve Baer's "The Clothesline Paradox." Back in 1970, Baer described how in our metrics-obsessed society, we ignore what we can't measure. When we put our clothes in the dryer, our collective electric bill goes a bit higher. When we put them on the line, we don't say "look, a win for renewable energy." It just disappears from our accounting.

    I've used this wonderful thought experiment over the years to talk about the economic value of open source software and internet enabled collaboration, and more recently, in my book WTF? What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us, as a way of talking about how we might get to a "caring economy" in which machines do more of the routine work, and what humans do to care for each other becomes more deeply valued.

    Lots of folks are worried about robots and the "jobless" future. I'm worried that we won't use the fruits of machine productivity to give people more freedom to spend their time caring for each other, being creative, and yes, getting work done (though not necessarily through the limiting 19th century construct of the job, as something provided by someone else.)

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

    Tim: There are a lot of things you learn as you get older, most of them having to do with the interrelated values of discipline and moderation. Irving Yalom once wrote "First will what is necessary. Then love what you will." This is incredibly good life advice. Decide what you need to do, make a habit of it, and come to love it rather than resent it. That applies to the habits of householding, to exercise and diet, to work, and to taking the time to reach out to friends and family. It is so easy to be full of resentment against the things that we feel are keeping us from our joy. Finding joy in what needs doing is magical.

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

    Tim: Being tethered to a phone or the internet. When I am out of cell range, or leave my phone at home, I feel unaccountably freer. I don't realize how much the simple presence of the device pulls on me until it is out of reach.

    I have been thinking more and more about setting out big blocks of time when I put it deliberately out of reach.

    I remember vividly when I first had this experience, around 1984. I had my first internet-connected Unix workstation in my home office. Unlike a PC, which you tended to turn off when you were done. This was always on, always connected. My office was in a converted barn next to my house, and I could feel it calling to me. Everyone now lives with devices all the time, and they are changing us in ways we don't entirely understand.

    Clay Johnson gave some good advice years ago in a book called The Information Diet, which turned out to be quite prescient. He urged his readers to manage their information intake, and to take the time to produce thoughtful content, rather than just mindlessly sucking it in.

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

    Tim: In addition to my aforementioned morning routine, probably the most important habit is one that I had dropped for some time in favor of time with my phone, but which has now regained its place in my life, with great results: reading books. Sustained time with another mind rather than constant media snacking is so important!

    Poetry is one of the joys of my life. There are more tools for living in a good poem than most people realize. When I was going through a midlife crisis, I found enormous guidance in T. S. Eliot's "East Coker," which is a poem about the necessity for things to be torn down so that something new can be built.

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

    Tim: I ran in high school, and at a few times after that, but I'd lost it as a regular habit. What brought it back was doing it together with my fiancé (now my wife). Working together to maintain good habits is incredibly powerful. 

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

    Tim: When I took the test, I came out as a Questioner, but I find myself with so many elements of the others. In my personal life, I'm a strong Obliger. In my public life, definitely a Questioner. In my business, a mix of questioner and upholder. I even find streaks of Rebel, which mostly comes out when I find myself "bitten to death by ducks"--beleaguered by constant requests for attention from my over-extended network. [Yes, this response absolutely confirms that you are a Questioner.]

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

    Tim: Travel definitely makes it harder to avoid eating too much, especially when it's coupled with business meals. One "hack" that my wife and I have used to reduce this burden is to share a single meal whenever possible. Restaurant portions are so large!

    As to exercise, it's important to make time for it even when you travel. So I always bring exercise clothes with me. And if it's possible, I try to incorporate exercise - and not necessarily vigorous exercise, but just movement - into my daily routine. On my recent trip to New York City, I used Citibike (bike share) or walking to get to all of my appointments. I try to do that at home as well. And if I can do a "walking meeting" that is almost always preferable to sitting around a table.

    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.?

    Tim: Absolutely. Around 2010, I read a line in a novel, Pascal Mercier's Night Train to Lisbon, that set off a mid-life crisis, and led me to change my life in major ways. "Given that we can live only a small part of what there is in us, what happens to the rest?" This really struck a nerve. When I was a kid reading science fiction, I thought that I would one day write a book that involved a character who was able to live out the consequence of different life choices, different branching futures, rather than being stuck with the consequences of a single choice. Living in another country for a while can give you this kind of completely new experience, or changing your job. It's so easy to get into ruts, and forget how to let go. The year before I read that, I kept having a line from the Tao Te Ching keep going through my head, but I didn't know what it meant: "Keep stretching the bow, you repent of the pull." I didn't realize how stretched thin I was by the constant demands of work, and this odd new compulsion to feed a social media following on Twitter. That was the beginning of my wrestling with the social media sickness that has pervaded so much of our society.

    Don't get me wrong. I love social media for the ways it lets me keep in touch with people. But in the same way that abundance of calories and a lack of exercise can make us fat, an abundance of empty social calories and lack of vigorous mental exercise and true social contact can make our minds and our feelings flabby and lacking in lustre.

    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?

    Tim: There are so many. I am full of quotations that spring to mind on every occasion. But I want to share the goal that animates us at my company, O'Reilly Media: "Create more value than you capture."

    At a company management retreat around 2000, I remember telling the stories of several internet billionaires who'd told me they'd started their company with the aid of an O'Reilly technical book. We got $35, they got $Billions. That seemed like a wonderful thing -- that the work we did could have such an impact on other people's lives. Brian Erwin, then our VP of marketing, said our slogan ought to be "We create more value than we capture." We've been using it ever since, though as a call to action rather than a self-description.

    Another similar sentiment that I've use to shape my company has been widely posterized on the internet:  "Money in a business is like gas in your car. You don't want to run out, but your business is not a tour of gas stations." And of course that ties to another one of my mantras: "Work on stuff that matters."

    We really try to live by these principles in our business decision making at O'Reilly, and our economy would be better off if everyone did the same. In my book, WTF? What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us, I share lessons from the great technology platforms. There's a lot in there about how AI, and on demand networks, and other technologies are reshaping the business landscape, the economy, and the future of work, but there are also lessons about generosity that I've taken from watching the rise and fall of technology platforms. New waves of innovation that I've been part of -- the personal computer industry, open source software, the internet, the maker movement, even AI -- have been kicked off through a gift to the world. IBM published the specifications for their personal computer, and let anyone build one. Tim Berners-Lee put the web into the public domain. But then I've watched again and again as companies come along, gain control of the new technology, dry up the innovation, taking too much of the value for themselves and forcing entrepreneurs to go elsewhere. Right now, Google and Facebook and Apple are following in the footsteps of Microsoft, learning none of the lessons that brought Microsoft down from its peak of control over the industry.

    Those same lessons apply to our broader economy. Our financial markets have become extractive rather than a support for the real market of goods and services. "Investment" no longer means investing in people or factories. It means placing bets on stocks, and trying to manipulate them so they go higher, whether or not any value has been created. When Carl Icahn bought $3.6 billion in Apple stock, Apple didn't need his money. They had billions on hand. He was hoping to get them to do stock buybacks to artificially drive up the price, in fact extracting value from Apple rather than creating it.

    This is what's wrong with our economy writ large. "Investors" are not really investors. They are bettors in the financial market casino, while the world's great problems -- and the people who could be solving them -- are no longer seen as the proper focus for investment. We have told our companies to optimize for "the bottom line," while treating people as a cost to be eliminated. It doesn't have to be that way. We can build an economy that treats people as an asset to invest in.

    I think that we're in a wonderful teachable moment because of what is happening with Facebook. People can see that Facebook created newsfeed algorithms that didn't quite do what Mark Zuckerberg and his team expected. They thought that by showing people more of what they liked and re-shared with their friends, they'd create an engaging social platform that reinforced the connections between people. They didn't expect that it would increase hyper-partisanship, and that spammers and foreign governments would exploit the system. We can see that they need to fix their system. In a similar way, the economists whose theories shaped business and politics didn't mean to create an opioid epidemic, but they did. When, in 1970, Milton Friedman said that the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits, and when, a few years later, Michael Jensen began to preach the gospel of shareholder value maximization and the need to align executive compensation with rising stock prices, they didn’t mean to create the devastation they wreaked on the economy, but it’s time to recognize it.

    I believe that we can create an economy where people matter.

  • gretchenrubin 19:17:24 on 2017/10/05 Permalink
    Tags: , Chip Heath, Dan Heath, , Interview, ,   

    Agree? “Defining Moments Defining moments Are What Make Our Lives Memorable and Meaningful.” 

    Interview: Dan Heath.

    I've been a fan of the work of Dan Heath -- and his brother and co-author Chip Heath -- for years. They've written extraordinary books like Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard; Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work; and Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.

    Also, as someone who does a podcast with her sister -- the "Happier" podcast -- it's interesting me to see two brothers collaborating as writers so successfully.

    Their new book just hit the shelves. The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact is a fascinating book, on many levels. The book explains why certain brief experiences can elevate us, allow us to change, and stick in our memories -- and how we have the power to shape and create those extraordinary moments. I got so many insights from this book, ones that I will use both in my work life and in my personal life.

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

    Dan: That we shouldn’t wait for our “defining moments” to happen to us—we should be the author of them. We write about Eugene O’Kelly, who was 53 years old, a husband and father, and the CEO of the firm KPMG, when he learned that he had 3 golf-ball-sized tumors in his brain. There was no treatment. He had 3 months to live.

    In his memoir, Chasing Daylight: How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life, he wrote about how he approached the final summer of his life. He resolved to “unwind” the relationships in his life, to bring them to a satisfying closure, one by one. With acquaintances, he would share reminiscences via email or phone. With friends, he’d plan “Perfect Moments”: a walk through Central Park. A great meal. A drive out of the city. These weren’t sad moments, although of course there was sadness in the air—they were celebrations of the friendships they’d shared. And as the summer progressed, he spent more and more Perfect Moments with his family.

    Toward the end, he wrote: “I experienced more Perfect Moments and Perfect Days in two weeks than I had in the last five years, or than I probably would have in the next five years, had my life continued the way it was going before my diagnosis. Look at your own calendar. Do you see Perfect Days ahead? Or could they be hidden and you have to find a way to unlock them?”

    It’s a heartbreaking memoir, but O’Kelly didn’t write it to break our hearts. He wrote it to warn us not to wait until our dying days to start creating the most important moments of our lives.

    Ultimately, our conclusion is the same as O’Kelly’s: Defining moments are what make our lives memorable and meaningful, and they are ours to create. That’s what we hope people take away from The Power of Moments.

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

    That when things go wrong, it doesn’t really mean that things have gone wrong. We write about a woman, Lea Chadwell, who in her early 40s decided to pursue her fantasy of opening a bakery. And long story short, it made her crazy. The work stressed her out and made her realize that, “This fantasy is not a fantasy anymore. I don’t want this.” (When I talked to her, she used a phrase that made me laugh out loud: “It was like this albatross of butter around my neck.”)

    At age 18, if something like that happens to you, all you can see is the failure. You’re crushed. But later in life, you start to realize that it’s as valuable to know what you don’t want, and what you can’t do, as it is to know the opposite.

    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.? 

    Yes. Peter Singer’s book The Life You Can Save: How to Do Your Part to End World Poverty jolted me with its message that we have a moral responsibility to do more for the neediest people on the planet. (Experience the jolt yourself! Read this excerpt.) Causation is rarely so simple: A guy named Peter wrote some words on a page, and as a result of reading those words, my beliefs and behavior changed. Like, that same day. (And parenthetically, having had that experience as a reader gives me hope as an author that books can make a difference in people’s lives.)

    What's a simple habit that consistently makes you happier?
    NOT cherishing the moment. We’ve all heard the advice to “stay in the moment,” to “cherish the moment.” It sounded like good advice to me. So I resolved to really cherish the hell out of the good times. To wring the last drop of goodness out of them. But what I found was that all the cherishing made me anxious. I’d be having a terrific time, and then suddenly I’d have these doubts: Am I CHERISHING this enough? Am I really PRESENT right now? And somehow the hand-wringing would make me aware that: This moment is going to end. And suddenly I’d find myself SAD ABOUT A HAPPY MOMENT. That’s just dumb.

    As a result, I decided that I could not be trusted to “cherish.” These days, I am conscious about creating more “defining moments” while also trying to be more unconscious while they happen. In fact, what works for me, more than cherishing, is spending more time anticipating good times and more time reflecting on them. That extends the moment for me.

    What are 3 simple things people can do in the next week to create “defining moments” in their lives?

    (1) Write agratitude letterto someone who has made a positive difference in your life and, if possible, read it to them in person. Here’s how. Research shows that doing that can boost your happiness levels for as much as a month. There are many pleasures in the world that can spike your happiness levels for a few minutes or hours. Not many that last a month. (Not to mention the effect it has on the person you read the letter to!)

    (2) “Break the script” in some part of your life that has grown too routine. As an example, you might turn your usual Saturday routine upside down: Go for a hike, or eat out at a new restaurant, or visit some friends you rarely see, or do all three. Research shows that novel experiences make time seem to slow down—we savor them more. [I write a lot about how novelty and challenge boost happiness in my own book, The Happiness Project.]

    (3) Push beyond small talk with someone in your life. When someone asks you “How are you?”, and you’re just about to give the automatic answer, “Fine, how are you?”, take a breath. Then give the actual answer. Share something real—maybe something you’re struggling with. Trust that the other person will care and reciprocate with something real from their life. You may be amazed at how such a simple moment can deepen a relationship.

  • gretchenrubin 21:15:08 on 2017/09/28 Permalink
    Tags: , , craving, , , , Interview,   

    Conversation About the Four Tendencies with Dr. Judson Brewer, Expert in Habits, Mindfulness, and Addiction. 

    On August 11, 2017, Dr. Judson Brewer and I had a fascinating conversation about how he’s incorporating the Four Tendencies framework into his work, which focuses on helping people to master mindfulness, addiction, and habit change.

    I asked Jud to do this interview because I wanted to highlight the findings and insights he’s gained from using the Four Tendencies framework in his practice and research.

    My great hope is that when people learn about the Four Tendencies, they’ll be able to make their lives happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative. Jud’s work in this area shows the efficacy of the Four Tendencies framework—and he’s also begun to do the kind of research that’s needed to put the framework to the test.

    Yes, Questioners, I know you want that research and data to validate the framework! It's coming!

    I'm posting our lengthy conversation below. If you'd like a PDF version, to print it out more easily, just email me to request it.


    Gretchen: You’ve done so much interesting work on mindfulness, addiction, and habit change. What’s your focus these days?

    Jud: In both my startup company, which develops apps, as well as my lab, which does all the related research, we're focusing our energy on developing good tools for how to help people create change.

    In particular, in the “Eat Right Now” program, at the pilot level, we’ve started incorporating your Four Tendencies quiz to help us get a sense for how your Tendencies framework can help people engage better with our program and start a new habit of mindfulness related to eating.

    Our overarching theme is to understand how people's minds work, so we can better help them develop practices of awareness. Down the road, we aim to have a new program about unwinding anxiety. I'd like to bake the Four Rubin Tendencies right into the fabric of that program.

    Gretchen: Why do you think the Four Tendencies model could help make your tool more effective?

    Jud: I'm a very pragmatic guy. As a clinician, I always want to figure out what's going to optimize my patients’ engagement in treatment.

    A while back, one of my research coordinators gave me your book Better Than Before, about habit change. That's where I was first introduced to your Four Tendencies framework. I was a little skeptical at first, reading it, because I thought, “Who is this person talking about habit change? She’s not a scientist.” But I started reading it, and I was won over. I thought, “Oh wow, she knows what she's talking about. She's actually talking about people's real tendencies.”

    As I read your book, I immediately started thinking, “I wonder if people in my Eat Right Now program fall into these four categories. If they do, there are some pragmatic things that we could actually put to the test immediately to try it out.”

    Gretchen: What are the aims of the people who participate in your Eat Right now program? Are they trying to lose weight, trying to manage diabetes…?

    Jud: I would say 100% of them are trying to change their relationship with eating, and probably 70-80% are trying to manage weight loss or lose a few more pounds.

    Gretchen: For health or appearance or both?

    Jud: Some people come because their doctors told them they need to lose weight or they need to manage their diabetes, but most folks find this program on their own, because they've been fed up with other weight-loss programs.

    Gretchen: So, when you read about the Four Tendencies, and you began to think, “I can see how this model would apply to my program,” what were some ideas that rang true to you? Where you thought, “Wow, I know that kind of person. I’ve run into that behavior before.”

    Jud: I recognized all four of the Tendencies, actually.

    Gretchen: Oh, really?

    Jud: Yes. To give a bit of background on the program: I moderate a weekly check-in group—the Eat Right Now program is based around this. We have mechanistically-based training on how habits are formed and how mindfulness helps people break their habits.

    We present the information in bite-sized pieces; people get daily videos and animations and in-the-moment exercises.

    In the program, ideally people complete one module per day, and they start learning how to regulate and to change their relationship to eating. As they go through the 28 days, they might then return to the beginning and start again to hone their skills, or they might take a bit more time for each module and take a couple of months.

    We’re finding from our evidence that people need about 3-6 months to start changing their behavior. At that point, some stay with the program. Some, they've got the skills and they don't need it anymore.
    The main thrust is through app-based training. There's also an online community where people can interact with each other, as well as a weekly live group that I run via Zoom where people can ask questions and interact.

    When I talk to people in our live group, I see the Four Tendencies in action. I think, “Oh, here's this person with that Tendency.” It’s a person who keeps asking a bunch of questions, or who has described why they’ve been struggling with the program. Now I’ve got names for them. For example, the “Obligers,” who meet other people’s outer expectations, but don’t take time to take care of themselves.

    People are even commenting in their online community journals about their Tendencies. I gave them your quiz, then wrote some very simple suggestions for the program based on what their responses were, and then asked people to comment on whether that was helpful or not. This was an early experiment to see if your Tendencies fit well with this population, and whether people could benefit.

    Gretchen: Let me pose an initial question before we dive deeper. People sometimes ask me, “Is it a bad idea to give people a label? To tell them, ‘You're an Obliger, I'm a Rebel.’”

    Do you think that this vocabulary somehow limits people’s sense of possibility for change? In my view, I think these kinds of “types” are helpful, because they may shine a spotlight on hidden patterns in behavior that we can then work to address. Because maybe you didn't understand why some approach wasn’t working well for you, and now you can try something that suits you better.

    That’s my view—but how do you view it? Is it okay that someone thinks, “Oh yeah, I'm an Obliger?”

    Jud: I think that’s absolutely okay.

    I think of an analogy from sports. Say somebody wants to become a sprinter. Genetically, some people have more fast-twitch muscle than slow-twitch muscle. For people like me who have slow-twitch muscle, we’re going to be more distance runners. If a distance runner really wants to be an Olympics-level sprinter, that person might get a biopsy to see what his or her fast-twitch potential is. Not knowing that fast-twitch potential isn’t going to suddenly make them an Olympics-level sprinter, but knowing it might help them say, “Why don't I focus on distance running?”

    Gretchen: Right. This information about yourself helps you direct your energies most effectively.

    Jud: Of course, it can do that only if it’s useful information. I think your Tendencies are actually useful. That's what really got me hooked.

    Gretchen: Excellent! That’s great to hear. Explain more about how you’ve seen the Tendencies appear in your work.

    Jud: For starters, I tallied up the number of people who answered your quiz. In our group, we’ve got about 8.9% Upholders, Questioners at 33.3%, Obligers at 37.8%, and Rebels at 20%.

    Gretchen: Interesting. Generally, Obliger is the biggest Tendency, and Questioners are right behind them. Rebel is the smallest Tendency, and the Upholder Tendency is only slightly larger. Because Upholders are less likely to need the kind of program you offer, it makes sense that you don’t have many Upholders.

    Jud: Because Upholders are going to meet outer and inner expectations fairly easily.

    Gretchen: Yes, a lot of different strategies work for Upholders. If people are coming to you saying, “I've tried this, I've tried that, nothing is working,” they’re unlikely to be Upholders. For the Upholders, probably the first thing they tried worked.

    Jud: That makes sense. That fits quite well. We’ve got some selection bias with the program, and that’s exactly what we would expect to see.

    Gretchen: You have a very high number of Rebels compared to the population, but again, that’s predictable, because many popular strategies that work for other people—such as monitoring, scheduling, and accountability—often don’t work for Rebels. If they really want to change their relationship to food, they’re more likely to struggle with conventional advice.

    If you have a disproportionate number of Rebels, you’d really want to take that into account. A lot of things that work for the other Tendencies don’t work for the Rebels. Your program has the challenge that one strategy could work really well for your Obligers but might actually be unhelpful for your Rebels.

    Jud: Right. Absolutely.

    Gretchen: How have you seen these differences play out?

    Jud: I’ll give you an example of the suggestions I gave to the people in the program based on your framework. We’ll update these as we learn more, but this is the first stab at it.
    First, we give participants a brief description of the Four Rubin Tendencies. I also encourage them to read your books. Then based on their Tendency, we give them a one-liner description of that Tendency and then suggest a tip.

    For Upholders, we say, "Watch out for taking on too much at once, etc." Then we give some suggestions on how to optimize their personality type to engage with the program. For instance, if you don’t make a to-do list of all the exercises and all the check-ins every day, don’t beat yourself up for not having done everything.

    Then I would give this little intrinsic motivation. Look to see where you’re aiming or angling for control instead of suffocating yourself by trying to force yourself to be in control. Simply notice when you feel like you’ve mastered something. We bring in a mindfulness practice around the motivators.

    For Questioners, the tip was to take time to clarify what elements of the Eat Right Now program make the most sense, and use those as the foundation upon which to build. The intrinsic motivator was to foster your curiosity, because that’s a key element of the eating program.

    For Obligers, a tip was to find a way to hold yourself externally accountable for using the program. That’s key for Obligers. The intrinsic motivation is “Working with others on a team feels good, no? Look to see where you can find the satisfaction of working with others as you go through this program.” Whether it’s the online community, finding a buddy or a family member, etc.

    For Rebels—this has really been a fascinating category for me. Because they resist all expectations, the tip is, “You're the decider. Find ways that you do the program on your own terms. Don’t try to tell yourself to do an exercise. Instead, see if you can find ways in which you decide when you’ll watch the module each day, and you decide when to do check-ins.” The intrinsic motivation would be find personal meaning in pursuing a goal that's difficult, but not impossible. Look for the challenge in the program each day to see if you can meet it.

    Gretchen: It’s fascinating how you put the Tendencies into action.

    Jud: I pulled a couple of their comments, and I’d be very curious to hear your responses.

    One Questioner said, “The key for me here as a Questioner was to realize that I had to see the evidence for myself.”

    Evidence is an element that I emphasized in the program as I wrote it. I'm a Questioner myself, so I wrote it from that perspective of, “Here’s the information, pay attention. Just look for yourself to see what works for you.”

    Gretchen: That message really appeals to Questioners. They’re attracted to customization. They like thinking, “This is what works for me. I’m doing this because this is the most efficient, sensible thing for me.”

    Jud: Exactly.

    Another Questioner wrote about how she hadn’t previously noticed the importance of curiosity for her, and she reported that the tip about fostering curiosity for intrinsic motivation has been really helpful. In the program, I’d shared a quotation from James Stevenson, who said, “Curiosity will conquer fear more than bravery will.” She wrote, “This is certainly something that I don't think ever occurred to me before. I have a lot of anxiety. I’m noticing how that feels in my body. Seeing that curiosity relieves the symptoms.”

    I think fear and curiosity are like fear and faith. It’s hard to experience both deeply at the same time.

    Gretchen: That’s fascinating. I need to think through that idea. That is such an interesting and powerful observation: Curiosity can overcome anxiety.

    Jud: Yes.

    Gretchen: Again, that’s an appeal to the fundamental values of the Questioner.

    Jud: Exactly.

    Gretchen: To succeed, it helps if we go straight to the heart of that Tendency strength we have.

    Fascinating. What did Obligers have to say?

    Jud: This Obliger said, “I understand that as an Obliger, I need to be held accountable, otherwise the cards are stacked against me for success with this program. The problem is I don’t want any family members or friends knowing yet what I'm doing.” I think her concern is that that she doesn’t want people to know that she’s trying to lose weight.

    Gretchen: Yes, that's very common.

    Jud: She continued, “My other issue is getting myself to journal--whether in my own personal journal or through the community journal. I put that last on my list of things I need to do. Therefore, I rarely journal.” I think her idea is that she’s putting other people in front of herself.

    Gretchen: Hmmm, in my framework, I don’t characterize the issue in that way, as “putting others first.” That’s a value judgment. It also suggests that if others made no demands on her, she would readily meet her demands for herself, which in my observation doesn't happen for Obligers.

    For Obligers, it’s really all about that outer accountability. For Eat Right Now, you have the group around the program. Does she feel accountable to that group? I would say, “Forget about your family and friends, keep your privacy, rely on the Eat Right Now group for accountability.”

    Jud: That’s what we had encouraged. We’ve got this closed online community that’s very supportive. That’s something that I can suggest to her, absolutely.

    Gretchen: Relying on family can be tricky. Sometimes, too, it doesn’t feel like outer accountability, it feels like inner accountability, because they’re so close to you. This is especially true about spouses.

    Also, with family members, an Obliger can also start feeling very resentful, and that triggers Obliger-rebellion. The advantage of your program is that it comes with a built-in accountability group. I would suggest that engaging deeply with this group could be the key for this Obliger’s success.

    Also, about the journaling. She feels bad about that. Does the journaling really matter? What kind of journal is it, is it for writing down everything you eat, is it an emotional journal? Keeping a journal could be really burdensome for some people, I would imagine.

    Jud: It’s not a food-tracking journal. It’s a personal journal so somebody can track their own progress, and they can also get feedback from community moderators if they feel like they’re struggling. It’s more to record “Here's what I noticed today.”

    Gretchen: For what it’s worth, in my observation, health is an area where Obliger-rebellion very often sets in. It happens because no one has control of your body and what you do or don’t do with your body. In this area, the Obliger-rebellion affects only the Obliger themselves, so it’s a very easy place—and often a destructive place—for Obliger-rebellion to play out.

    To me, this Obliger sounds like she’s at the end of her rope, and feeling very resentful. It sounds like she’s thinking, “They’re asking too much of me. I can't do it.” That kind of feeling can lead to an Obliger-rebellion explosion.

    I would consider telling her, “The journal is meant to be a tool to help you. It sounds like it’s not working for you. So why don’t you just not worry about that? You’re doing a lot already. Stay with the group, let them help you stay on board. If the journal isn’t helpful, let that go. You’re already working hard.”

    Jud: That’s a great idea.

    Gretchen: If it's meant to be a tool that’s helpful, there’s no point in doing it if it’s not helpful. It sounds like it might be hampering her because it’s making her feel put upon and overwhelmed.

    Jud: Great.

    Here’s another comment from an Obliger.

    “Obliger, at your service! (I must have also a Questioner part in myself, though, because I ask lots of questions, and I need to decide first from myself if something is worthy that I “oblige” to it.) Still, I didn’t believe it at the beginning. But then, I started looking back at my previous weight loss experiences, and realized… it’s true. Many times I had failed because I had set a goal only to myself, and then inevitably at the first discomfort I had let all go. But I was ashamed of myself and of this addiction I had, that I didn’t want anybody to know! Now, I had just started Eat Right Now, and I wasn’t gonna let this end like the rest. So I gathered all the strength and courage I had (and believe me, I needed a lot!), and called the friend I trust the most, and told him about my condition and this program I started. And he was very comprehensive, and understanding, and told me I was doing the right thing, and encouraged me to keep going, and accepted what I asked him: which is that every day I need to call him and tell him what I did related to food (if I binged or not, what I ate, if I exercised, if I did the lessons, etc.); and that if for some reason I don’t tell, he needs to ask me specifically (cause I know myself too well, unfortunately). But all this, not in a hard way, to beat me if one day I couldn’t make it. I told him: in a gentle way, to keep me accountable, also when it doesn’t go so well, but knowing that I am learning, and that I’ll grow stronger. It’s been 5 days, I’ve been doing this every day, and it’s working!”

    Gretchen: What a terrific story. It’s great to hear that she’s been able to use the knowledge of her Obliger need for accountability to get such great success with the Eat Right Now Program.

    Her comment reminds of an important point: people often think, “Oh, I must be part Questioner because I love reasons, or I always ask ‘why,’ etc.”

    Remember, the Four Tendencies looks only at your response to expectations. That is, why do you act, why don’t you act. I have a friend who is a doctor, highly educated, intensely curious, inhales research, always probes for more information—and she’s an Obliger. Because she meets outer expectations and struggles to meet inner expectations.

    Like the commenter above. That person is 100% Obliger. One hundred percent.

    Jud: Here, I’ve got a comment from a Rebel, who said, “I’ve definitely been doing the program on my own terms, but realize this even more now. I might even pretend that someone told me not to do the program.”

    Gretchen: Yes! The Rebel spirit of resistance!

    Jud: I thought that was classic.

    Gretchen: Classic. You know, for the program you might consider messages that appeal to the Rebel desire to be free and unchained. Like, “You're not a slave to food. You don’t want to be addicted to sugar. Those big food companies can’t fool you with their crinkly packages and their big ad campaigns. You’re not going to fall for that. They can’t take your money.” Rebels want to be free.

    Jud: That's great.

    Gretchen: Sometimes a Rebel thinks, “Oh, I feel free because you’re telling me that I'm not supposed to eat fast food, but look, watch me do it.” The answer is, “Hah! You think you're free? Eating that fast food, you’re doing just what those fast food joints want you to do. They've got their hooks deep into you, you’re addicted to that stuff.”

    Jud: They’ve got you, right.

    Gretchen: So, judging from people’s early responses and comments, do you see that the Four Tendencies framework is striking a chord with them?

    Jud: This is very preliminary research, but it does seem that so far, everybody who answered the questions did very much identify with one Tendency or another. That piece seems pretty solid. Some of them have even started sub-categories of discussion topics, where one of the topics was “Any other Obligers out there?” They formed this little huddle where they could support each other and give each other tips as a way to help each other go through the program.

    We envision that in the future, we’ll give people your quiz right as they get on-boarded with any of our programs. Then ultimately down the road, the program would algorithmically shuffle the way they get the training or the timing etc. based on their personality type.

    But even at the beginning, the program can start by just giving them a brief synopsis and say, “This is the result of your Rubin Four Tendencies quiz. Here's a brief summary. We recommend that you use the program this way as you go through the program.”

    Maybe each week we check in with them automatically. For example, they might get a message, “Are you noticing an inclination to resist? You might try this tip, this tip, this tip.” Right at the beginning or somewhere early on, I’d encourage them to read your books so they can really dive into what their personality type is.

    Gretchen: So interesting!

    To change topics, one issue for anybody designing a program, framework, app or anything like that is that it’s very easy to overweight our own Tendency.

    Take Questioners. To them, it’s crucial to have clarity about why you want to do something. So often, when Questioners try to help others, they emphasize that it’s all about inner expectations, about getting very, very clear on what's important to you and why a certain action makes sense, and what you want, and the most efficient ways to achieve those aims. And this approach just doesn’t always work very well for the other Tendencies.

    You’re a Questioner. As you’ve worked with others, has knowing about the Four Tendencies helped you to think, “I would think about this challenge in this way, but someone else might think about it a different way or need a different set-up to succeed?”

    Jud: This is an area where my psychiatric training has been helpful. I try not to let my view dominate, and I really strive to put myself in someone’s shoes so we can approach it from their personality rather than the questioner’s.

    But I very much appreciate what you’re saying. We aim not to approach this challenge from my point of view, but as much as possible, from their point of view.

    Gretchen: It’s great that you have the training to help you see the world from many perspectives. So many people give the advice that would work for them, and they’re puzzled and frustrated—and often judgmental—when that advice doesn’t work for others. I’ve certainly struggled with that myself.

    Jud: That’s why we do the research, to see what works for whom, and why. Our next step is to systematically categorize these folks, ultimately even do a randomized study, where we can have some people get the tips and suggestions based on their Tendency, while others go through the program as usual. We can see how well those Tendency-specific suggestions bolster simple things like adherence to the program.

    Gretchen: For what you’re doing, and what so many other people are trying to do, we need a simple, cost-effective tool to communicate more effectively. For eating more healthfully, for taking medication consistently, so many other things.

    To be effective, such a tool would need to be easy to use, widely applicable, and something that doesn’t require extensive training to understand or implement. I’ve got to say, I think my Four Tendencies framework is a tool like that. For one thing, once you know the Four Tendencies, they’re very easy to spot. Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels look quite different from each other, and that it's easy to tell one person’s Tendency from the other.

    For instance, as you were reading those comments from your participants, if you’d read a comment and asked me to guess the commenter’s Tendency, I think I would have guessed correctly each time. It’s obvious that these folks have different perspectives.

    It was fascinating to hear all the ways you suggested that a person might adapt the recommendations for your program to the Tendencies. It’s not as if you had to develop a gigantic apparatus within your program to suit each Tendency. It’s as simple as some tweaking of messaging, and reminding people of how they can think about the program in their own ways.

    Do you feel that in your program, it’s pretty easy to see, “I can see why different approaches work better for different people?”

    Jud: Yes. It’s about getting information to them in a way that’s accessible and reminding of that information until they have internalized it. For example, with the Rebels, first they take the quiz so they know that they’re Rebels. Now they have that information, and the program can take that into account.

    It’s awareness training. Everybody knows how to be aware to some degree, and everybody can improve at being aware to a degree as well.

    The question is: “How do we personalize medicine?” I think your Four Tendencies framework is a great way to personalize a training delivery: “Let's do the quiz, figure out your Tendency, give you that information, and then help you use that information so that you can utilize the available training in a way that’s personalized for you.”

    This is really personalizing medicine in a broad scale, if we think of medicine including behavioral training, which we certainly do these days.

    Gretchen: I was struck by an interesting lesson about Duolingo, the language-learning app. Several Rebels have told me when the app sends reminders and notifications, these messages made them turn away from the app. Obligers do well with that kind of accountability and monitoring, but Rebels think, “Even though I want to learn Italian, I refuse to do what this app is telling me to do.” Of course, the solution for a Rebel is to turn off those notifications. This is an important thing to know about yourself, as you’re setting up the app: Do you want to get notifications, or not? What would be more helpful to you?

    I think many people assume, “Notifications are great. Accountability is good.” Not for everyone.

    Jud: You’ve just described personalized training beautifully. It doesn’t take that much to do it. It’s about knowing what the Tendency is and then knowing the pieces that you want to tweak. For example, with our program, we have notifications. People can turn on or off the notifications. If they’re a Rebel, they can set the notifications for whenever they want. They’re in control. They’re the decider.

    Gretchen: You might even point that out to them: “For this Tendency, we’ve found that notifications are very helpful. We’ve found that maybe for this Tendency, notifications may not be useful. Ponder that, then set yourself up accordingly.”

    Jud: Right.

    Gretchen: For a Questioner, you could say, “Experiment. You could try it for a couple weeks on, a couple weeks off. See what works. Customize it for you. You might find that it’s effective.” Then they think, “Yes, I'm doing it in the way that’s most effective for me.”

    Jud: I’m imagining the seat position in a new car. Car companies set the standard seat position based on average driver height, and when you buy the car, you use the seat controls to adjust the seat to suit your own individual body type. Using the Four Tendencies works the same way.

    Gretchen: I think that is a perfect analogy. When the car comes off the assembly line, it’s not going to be customized for you, it has to be something that works for everybody. In the same way, your Eat Right Now program encompasses all Tendencies, so each individual has to customize it. “This program includes a body of tools, and we’ll customize the program for you. That’s just part of the process, because of course you’re not going to be able to drive the car comfortably until you move the seat around. Maybe you’re going to experiment. Maybe you’ll try the seat a little closer, or a little further away, until you find what suits you.”

    We know the people who are 6’6 are not going to want a seat adjusted the same way as for the person who’s 5’2. When we know someone’s body type, we can predict many of the adjustments that will make that seat more comfortable. Same thing with the Four Tendencies. When we know your personality type, we can predict what tools will help you succeed.

    Jud: It works extremely well when you just tweak it a little bit.

    Gretchen: I think this tweaking may be particularly important for Obligers. Obligers feel a lot of frustration because they’re able to meet expectations for others, but not for themselves. They put a lot of emotions around it. “I'm sacrificing for others. I always put the client/patient/customer first. I can always take time for other people, but I can’t take time for myself. I have low self-esteem.” They have a lot of value judgements, to which I say, “No, let all that judgment fall away. It’s really just about accountability.”

    If you’re an Obliger, the people around you may say, “If you keep talking about something and saying it’s important to you, why can’t you follow through? Why don’t you keep your promises to yourself? Why did you say ‘yes’ if you didn’t want to do it?” That’s very judgmental. With the Four Tendencies, there’s less judgment, it’s just, “This is a person who needs outer accountability. Let’s give this person the outer accountability they need, and then they’ll be fine. They just need that system in place.”

    Jud: Right. Helping them see the difference between the judging versus just holding themselves accountable could be huge for somebody.

    Gretchen: Yes. And by the way, the Obliger Tendency is the Tendency that includes the largest number of people. So, to Obligers, I always say, “Lots of people are exactly like you! There’s nothing wrong with you, or exceptional about you. This is a common problem. There’s no shame or weakness in it, you just have to know how to tackle it.”

    Jud: That makes a lot of sense.

    Gretchen: It’s interesting that you have a lot of Questioners in your program. Do people often ask for a lot of data and research justifications?

    Jud: To some degree, but we’ve also built the program with those explanations included. Probably as a Questioner myself, I’ve built those answers to those questions right into the program.

    Gretchen: Interesting. They get their questions answered as they go.

    Jud: I say, “You might be wondering why we’re doing this today. This is why.”

    Gretchen: That’s brilliant. That way they feel like they have all the information that they need. They’re not asked to do anything arbitrarily; every suggestion is justified by sound reasons.

    Jud: Right.

    6196189096 Jud, it has been fascinating to hear how you’re applying the Four Tendencies framework to your Eat Right Now program. It’s so exciting to think that my personality profiles could help people find success in a challenging area of their life.

    As your research and experimentation continues, I can’t wait to hear what you learn.

    Jud: Great to talk to you. I look forward to more conversations.

    Gretchen: Onward and upward!

    If you'd like to read my interview with Jud Brewer, about his own habits and happiness, it's here.


    Judson Brewer, MD PhD, is one of the leading minds in the field of habit change and the “science of self-mastery.” He has published numerous peer-reviewed articles and book chapters, trained US Olympic coaches, and his TED talk has received eight million views. A psychiatrist and internationally known expert in mindfulness training for addictions, Brewer has developed and tested novel mindfulness programs for habit change, including both in-person and app-based treatments, such as www.goeatrightnow.com, www.cravingtoquit.com. He founded Claritas MindSciences to move his discoveries of clinical evidence behind mindfulness for eating, smoking and other behavior change into the marketplace. He is the author of The Craving Mind: from Cigarettes to Smartphones to Love -- Why We Get Hooked and How We Can Break Bad Habits.

  • Crystal Ellefsen 22:10:27 on 2017/09/21 Permalink
    Tags: Interview   

    “You don’t have to be the victim of your environment. You can also be the architect of it.” 

    Interview: James Clear.

    If I remember correctly, I met James Clear at Chris Guillebeau’s terrific yearly conference, World Domination Summit. We’re interested in so many of the same things – in particular, habits.

    Because he’s spent so much time thinking and writing about habits, I was curious to hear how James would answer these questions.

    For me, it’s especially interesting to see how someone else approaches the issues that I often ponder—how someone else thinks of it, what vocabulary is used. In brackets in James’s answers, I’ve added the corresponding terms that I use in my book, Better Than Before.

    Habits, happiness, human nature—such endlessly fascinating subjects!

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

    James: For at least five years, when we sit down for dinner at night my wife and I will say one thing we are grateful for that happened during the day. This habit provides some insight into the types of events that actually cause happiness. For example, over time, you realize that most of the things you are grateful for are things that cost little or no money like "getting in a good workout" or "getting to see my sister this weekend" or "making dinner together." It's an incredibly simple habit, but I'm sure that it helps us maintain a sense of perspective and increases our general feelings of gratitude and happiness.


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

    Physical environment is one of the most overlooked drivers of habits and behavior change. I certainly had no idea how important it was when I was 18.

    Your environment can have a profound impact on our daily actions. For example, if I walk into the kitchen and see a plate of cookies, I'll eat one (or ten) even if I'm not hungry. [Try the Strategy of Abstaining! But only if you’re an Abstainer.] The way your environment is designed can have a big impact on which options you choose. For example, I previously wrote about one study that found people drank 25% more water and 11% less soda when more water bottles were placed throughout the cafeteria. The researchers didn't talk to anyone. They just changed the environment and the behavior changed as well.

    Your habits are often triggered by what is obvious, easy, or available to you in your current environment. Walk into most living rooms. Where do all the couches and chairs face? We watch so much TV because our rooms are designed for it. Drive down any major road. It is no surprise we eat so much fast food when we are surrounded by it. It's hard to resist the pull of what engulfs us. I've never seen someone consistently stick to positive habits in a negative environment.

    There is good news: You don't have to be the victim of your environment. You can also be the architect of it.

    If you want to practice guitar more frequently, then place your guitar stand in the middle of your living room. If you want to read more, then put a book on top of your pillow when you make your bed each morning. Read a few pages when you go to bed at night. [In Better Than Before, I call this the Strategy of Convenience.]

    Here's a personal example: For a long time, I would buy apples and forget to eat them because they were tucked away in the crisper at the bottom of my fridge. I never saw them. Then I bought a large bowl, set it in the middle of the kitchen counter, and put the apples in it. Now I eat one each day simply because it's highly visible and easy to remember. You want to make good habits obvious. I call this process environment design and the core idea is to put more steps between you and bad habits and fewer steps between you and good habits.

    The same principles apply to your digital environment. I hide all social media apps on my phone in a folder three swipes away from my home screen. The idea is to increase the friction between me and mindless social media browsing. [The Strategy of Inconvenience.]

    I've written a lot about this topic. If you're interested in more on how your environment influences your habits, this article is a good place to start: Motivation is Overvalued. Environment Often Matters More.


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

    Not all habits are created equal. There are certain habits that deliver a much higher "rate of return" in life than others.

    In my life, exercise has easily been one of the habits with the highest rate of return. Improved health and extra years of living are obvious benefits, but there are mental improvements as well. I often joke that without exercise I wouldn't have a business. I need a way to physically blow off steam so that I can keep my mental sanity and handle the rollercoaster ride of entrepreneurship.

    Sleep is another crucial habit for me. One of my cardinal rules is that I never cheat myself on sleep. I typically get 8 to 9 hours per night. I'm sure this extra rest keeps my sharp and helps be do more productive work during the day. [These are two of the four habits discussed in my chapter on the Strategy of Foundation.]


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

    I had a two-year period during grad school where I did very little exercise. Fast forward to today and I've been training 3 to 5 days per week for nearly a decade. The shift in exercise habits came not from making one change, but from making several related changes. I joined a gym that had a weightlifting team, which gave me a group of people I could be friends with and get to know better. As I developed friend at the gym, my motivation to go increased. [Strategy of Accountability; Strategy of Other People.] I also moved to an apartment that was very close to the gym (within five minutes). I started tracking my workouts, which helped me realize how often I was actually exercising and gave me a bit of motivation to beat my numbers from the week before. [Strategy of Monitoring.] After a few months, I signed up for a weightlifting competition, which gave me some additional motivation and something to shoot for. [Strategy of Distinction.]

    I think layering small improvements on top of each other is one of the best ways to build a habit that sticks. You can't expect habits to sustain themselves if you only change one thing. Instead, you need redundancies, backup plans, and additional layers of reinforcement.


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

    There are a variety of forces that drive our habits and one of the biggest is social culture. The people you are surrounded by have a major influence on your behavior. For example, if you move to a new neighborhood and see all of your neighbors setting out their recycling bins on Tuesday night, then you think, "Oh, we need to sign up for recycling. That's what people in this neighborhood do." [Strategy of Identity.]

    In other words, social pressure and a desire to belong can really influence our habits. I find this to be a very strong force in my own life. It usually comes up when I'm getting drinks with friends. I'm not a big drinker and I can often go months without having beer in the house. But when I am out with friends, I am easily compelled to drink alcohol even though I would actually prefer water. It's like the desire to belong with the group overpowers my preference for a drink I would enjoy. I'd imagine many people feel similarly about how the habits of those around them shape their behavior in various contexts. [Strategy of Other People.]


    Do you embrace habits or resist them?

    I mostly embrace them. Most of my writing is focused on how to build good habits and how to use little routines as a way to spark productive work, initiate deliberate practice, and stay focused on what matters. [Strategy of Clarity.]

    Like everyone, I also have bad habits, but I find that they best way to defeat them is to reduce exposure to the triggers that cause them. Once a habit is formed in the mind, it is very hard to extinguish. The neural pathways have already been laid down and reinforced (that's how it became a habit) and if the opportunity to act arises then you'll likely fall back into your old habits once again.

    Habits usually occur mindlessly and automatically, which means monitoring your bad habits is often a difficult task. By the time you realize what you've done, it's too late. Trying to "pay attention" and "act better" is not an effective long-term strategy. Even if you can manage to remember to not bite your nails or maintain good posture or avoid cigarettes for a little while, as soon as something else grabs your attention, you'll forget to monitor your bad habits.

    As a result, I generally think it's better to not worry about resisting your habits and instead pour your energy into creating a system and environment where good habits are more likely to emerge naturally and bad habits are less likely to be triggered. Your job isn't so much to make success happen as it is to create an environment where success is more likely to happen. [Strategy of Safeguards.]


    How can people read more about your work?

    People can sign up for my free email newsletter, where I share self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research. Readers are also welcome to browse my best articles.

  • Crystal Ellefsen 15:33:12 on 2017/09/14 Permalink
    Tags: Anne Bogel, Interview   

    “There’s Something Magical About the Combination of Movement, Fresh Air, and a Useful Task.” 

    Interview: Anne Bogel.

    I first got to "know" Anne Bogel (in a virtual way) through her popular website, Modern Mrs. Darcy. (If your Jane Austen is a bit rusty, Mr. Darcy is the hero of Jane Austen's masterpiece Pride and Prejudice.) There, she writes about a broad range of subjects of interest to women. And she writes a lot about books and reading.

    Anne also has a terrific podcast, "What Should I Read Next?" which is a great resource for people who, like me, are always on the hunt for a new book to read.

    She has a new book that I cannot wait to read: Reading People: How Seeing the World Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything. It's about how understanding personality frameworks -- such as Myers-Briggers, StrengthsFinder, the Enneagram, and others -- can help you understand yourself and others better. I do love a great personality framework! (Although I must confess, I'm particularly partial to my own framework, the Four Tendencies.)

    Because we share so many interests and preoccupations, I was very interested to hear what Anne had to say.

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

    Anne: Walking the dog, especially if I leave my earbuds at home. There's something magical about the combination of movement, fresh air, and a useful task. The shower gets all the credit for good ideas, but mine come to me on the city sidewalks.

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

    I've learned that if I wait until I know exactly how to do something, I'll never get started, so don't wait. It's okay to learn by doing.

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

    Upholder. I love streaks, am motivated by momentum, and hate to break the rules—even the silly ones. I wish that last part wasn't true about myself, but understanding my Tendency has helped me understand why I feel that way.

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

    Absolutely. When my husband and I were newly married, we had a hard time figuring out how to work through our inevitable disagreements. We didn't know how to argue in a constructive way. I've always been interested in personality frameworks, and during that first year of marriage, I happened to pick up a book on personality types and how they affect romantic relationships. The author described how my husband and I would probably handle conflict based on our personality type, and his portrayal was so accurate it was spooky.

    That paragraph didn't change anything practically—we still didn't know how to fight. But it transformed my outlook. Before I read that passage, I'd thought we had a big problem on our hands. But the author convinced me (and rightly so) that we weren't facing an extraordinary problem, but an ordinary one. We had to figure out the details, but the situation was no longer fraught; it was wonderfully normal.

    Do you embrace habits or resist them?

    For a long time, I didn't understand that I was an Upholder, because I'm not always eager to adopt new habits. They feel limiting, and I like to keep my options open. (I don't always like this about myself, but it's true.) But I've also seen time and time again that even though I don't always think I want the structure that habits provide, I am so much happier when I embrace them.

    That being said, I embrace them carefully. A new habit feels like a big commitment, and my tendency is to wait until I'm certain before I commit—whether to myself, or to someone else. But once I decide to adopt a new habit, I'm all in.

    Has another person ever had a big influence on your habits?

    Does my puppy count? I didn't realize how much she influenced my daily routine until she stayed at the trainer's an extra day after we returned from vacation. I skipped my short early morning walk without even realizing it. I didn't chat with the neighbors on the sidewalk like I usually do. I forgot to take walk breaks during the day, and my shoulders were achy from too much typing. We've almost had her a year, and I didn't realize how much she affected my daily rhythms until I spent a day at home without her.

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