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

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

    Interview: Joanna Coles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Interview: Tara Westover.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Interview: Danielle Town.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     
  • feedwordpress 17:52:53 on 2018/03/15 Permalink
    Tags: anna palmer, Interview, , politico   

    “A Good Nap Can Change a Person’s Whole Perspective.” 

    Interview: Anna Palmer.

    Anna Palmer is the senior Washington correspondent for POLITICO and the co-author of POLITICO's Playbook She’s also the co-host of the daily POLITICO morning podcast Playbook Audio Briefing (which she records at 4 a.m. every morning!) as well as host of the Women Rule podcast.

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

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

    Anna: WATER. I challenge myself to drink 90 oz of water a day – I really believe it bleeds into making similar healthy choices and keeps me peppy despite my early mornings and late nights!

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

    Anna: FOMO. I used to have a huge fear of missing out and that would mean I was going to all kinds of things on the off chance it would be something special and run myself ragged in doing so. I try to be much more deliberate and be present at the events I choose to attend.

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

    Anna: Sleep. I always want more but it's hard when we are all on the go. I got great advice a few years ago -- and that was to be comfortable taking a nap. A good nap can change a person's whole perspective.

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

    Anna: Regular workouts are a must to keep me sane -- it's easy to blame my schedule for my energy levels, but I know that a session with my trainer Keith will always turn things around. He's also refocused my energy from just doing cardio to really spending time with weights, squats and ab work. I love band workouts -- we are focusing on walking lunges and eliminating sugar (except my wine, a lady needs one outlet!).

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

    Anna: I used to love to stay up late. My hours made that impossible and I have found early to bed, early to rise is a much healthier, consistent way of living my life.

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

    Anna: Definitely an Upholder. I like to know what the expectations are from others and myself and then not only meet, but exceed them.

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

    Anna: I travel a lot for work and keep unconventional hours -- waking up between 3:30 AM and 4 AM Monday through Friday to write Playbook and record the Playbook Audio Briefing. At the same time, I am really focused on keeping up my close relationship with my friends and family. That can be challenging when traveling to the West Coast and getting up at 1 a.m. to do my job.

    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.?

    Anna: I made a promise to myself in my early 30s that I would try to travel abroad at least twice a year. I hadn't done much international travel at that time (mostly because I was working and a struggling journalist). It hit me that I needed to work hard, but also play hard -- and I have traveled the world, explored new cultures and come back reinvigorated in my career.

    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?

    Anna: There is no substitute for excellence. My mom Joyce -- or JMom as she calls herself -- repeated that a lot to us as kids. And I have even heard her say it as an adult. Without that internal north star, I wouldn't be writing my first book and still dragging myself to the treadmill in the mornings!

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

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

    Interview: Geneen Roth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Gretchen: Which habits are most important to you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     
  • gretchenrubin 10:30:03 on 2018/02/20 Permalink
    Tags: , elderly, Interview, John Leland   

    “Spend More Time with Friends, Spend More Time in Nature, and Remember that My Job Is Just My Job, Not My Identity.” 

    Interview: John Leland.

    John Leland is a longtime journalist who has been at The New York Times since 2000. He's covered a wide range of topics, among them, retirement and religion.

    He also writes books, and he has a new book that is just hitting the shelves: Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old.

    It's based on a yearlong series he wrote for the Times. If you want to read a great article to get a sense of his project, check out his piece "When Old News Is Good News: the Effect of 6 Elderly New Yorkers on One Middle-Aged Reporter."

    His book is a fascinating look at the lessons he learned about happiness from studying the lives of a group of the "oldest old" (age 85 and older). The people in this group had very different backgrounds and circumstances, but John Leland was able to divine certain lessons about how to be happier -- at any age.

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

    John: The biggest revelation was how much influence older people – and by extension, all of us – have over how we process the events of our lives. I don’t mean that we have control over them. At some point, bad things will happen to all of us. We’ll lose our jobs or our vision or our parents, we’ll suffer disappointments at work or in front of the mirror. But we have a choice: we can define our lives by these setbacks, or by the opportunities that are still available to us. One of my favorite lessons in the book is from Jonas Mekas, 95, who spent his 20s in Nazi slave labor camps and then UN displaced persons camps. “I don’t leave any space for depression to come in,” he said. “I gravitate more to neutral areas or to positive activities. I’m not interested to film some dark, depressive aspects. I’m more interested in where people come together, they’re singing and dancing, more happy aspects. Why? It’s my nature. I consider that maybe unconsciously I’m thinking that’s what humanity needs more.”

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

    John: The simplest: say hello to people I pass on the streets in the morning. It’s almost literally the least I can do, and it always starts the day off well. Give money to people who need it, and say thanks to anyone providing services, even if they’re just stopping me on the bike path or checking my ID to get into the building at work.

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

    John: I spent my early years not just thinking the glass was half empty, but outraged that the glass wasn’t bigger. I thought this dissatisfaction was the creative force driving my work. And this attitude got me pretty far. But it was a beast that always needed more food, and what it was feeding on was me. I’ve since learned that I’m more productive and creative, not to mention happier, when I’m working collaboratively with others rather than competing with them, trying to serve people’s needs rather than vanquishing injustice. Often that amounts to the same thing, but for different reasons and with a different orientation. It can be a great rush trying to make the bad guys lose. But it’s more rewarding – and more effective – trying to help the good guys win.

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

    John: Years ago I came up with three guidelines to right me when things get rocky: Spend more time with friends; spend more time in nature (loosely defined – a city park does the trick); and remember that my job is just my job, not my identity. I’ve added a few since then, the most helpful of which is not to over-react to things that haven’t happened yet. So many of the things we lose sleep over never come to pass. Or when they do, we discover we can handle them. If you can’t be happy until there’s no longer a storm brewing somewhere, you’ll never be happy. Live your life, have a picnic, and on those days when the rains actually come your way, find a dry spot and some friends to share it. You’ll be surprised by how much coleslaw you can squeeze in.

    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.?

    John: Most of my life I’ve been hearing about the value of gratitude, but I never understood what that meant. Then I met Fred Jones, one of the six elders in my book. Fred was 87 at the time, and struggling to manage the stairs to his walk-up apartment. He grew up poor and black in the South, and over the course of our interviews lost two toes to gangrene. Yet Fred always found reasons to give thanks. When I asked his favorite part of the day, Fred never hesitated: “My favorite part of the day,” he said, “is waking up in the morning and saying, Thank God for another day.” That attitude floored me. I didn’t see what Fred had to be thankful for. Why was he, with all his problems, always in such a good mood, hoping for another 20 or 30 years of life?

    But gradually I got it. Gratitude, for Fred, wasn’t being happy for that new toy he just got or that helping hand when he needed it. Gratitude was how he saw the world: as a place that was always doing things for him – providing warmth and light, food that nourished him, colors to delight him, sounds that soothed. Sex! It meant that he was never lonely because he was always surrounded by benign forces that were working in his favor. Roads! Bridges! Pringles! It was a revelation. Life wasn’t just a battle I had to fight on my own: it was also a bounty I was lucky to receive, hands I was lucky to have supporting me. Life itself was reason to give thanks. And once I understood this, everything became so much easier.

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

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

    Interview: Melissa Dahl.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Melissa: TWITTER! Oh my god!

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:37 on 2018/02/06 Permalink
    Tags: Anya Kamenetz, Interview, ,   

    “I Can Be Critical, Yet Also Defensive (I Can Dish It Out, But I Can’t Take It.)” 

    Interview: Anya Kamenetz.

    I got to know Anya Kamenetz through a writers' group to which we both belong. Among other subjects, such as education and student debt, she writes about something that's of deep interest to just about everyone in the world today -- how to use technology to make our lives happier, healthier, more productive and more creative, and not to let it get in the way of those aims.

    Technology is a good servant but a bad master -- so how do we master it?

    Her new book just hit the shelves: The Art of Screen Time: How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media and Real Life.

    This is an issue many parents face -- how to think about and manage children and screens. One of her great conclusions for how to think about screens: "Enjoys screens. Not too much. Mostly with others."

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

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

    Anya: I think we're going to look back on this first decade-plus of the smartphone era and it's going to be like smoking, or riding in the car without a seatbelt, or drunk driving. Like, WHAT were people thinking? And there's going to be a massive citizen movement, public health interventions, and maybe some litigation before things get better.

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

    Anya: I don't regularly meditate, but I stop and take deep belly breaths throughout the day, especially before I pick up the phone, go into a situation that makes me anxious, or go to bed at night.

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

    Anya: You don't have to be friends with people who don't make you feel good. The world is full of plenty of wonderful people who will love you and want to spend time with you.

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

    Anya: A habit I started after doing research for The Art of Screen Time was to keep my phone out of the bedroom. Sleep researchers believe that some of the worst problems we see in children and adults in connection with technology, from obesity to anxiety, stem from excess exposure to blue light interfering with melatonin production. I also watch less TV than I used to, limiting my screen time overall.

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

    Anya: I'm a Questioner all the way.

    Gretchen: Have you figured out any strategies to help harness the strengths of your Tendency – or to offset the weaknesses or limitations of your Tendency?

    Anya: I have to do tons of research before I commit to a strategy for self-improvement, and it also helps if I have others with whom I can discuss ideas for positive change--not necessarily to hold each other accountable but to stay inspired.

    Gretchen: What’s a complaint that others often make about you? What’s your response to that? (e.g., you’re too rigid, you ask too many questions, you never take time for yourself, you never listen.)

    Anya: I can be critical, yet also defensive (I can dish it out, but I can't take it.) What often seems to help is to shift the conversation into a problem-solving mode, so that it's less about blame for what's happened in the past and more about how we can both make it better in the future (whether that's a hug or a new family or work habit to follow).

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

    Anya: Since 2016 the biggest interference has been an adorable baby girl who gave me insomnia as a fetus, didn't sleep through the night as an infant and as a toddler likes to start her day at 4 or 5 in the morning.

    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.?

    Anya: I was a week overdue with the aforementioned baby, completely miserable, watching the runners of the New York City Marathon stream by in my neighborhood in Brooklyn. I suddenly said to myself, "Next year, you'll be running that course!" And, I did!

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

    Anya: I want people to know that they don't have to feel guilt or shame about their own or their kids' tech habits, but it's important to start talking about what is and isn't working so we can make changes.

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

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

    Interview: Morten Hansen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     
  • gretchenrubin 19:39:13 on 2018/01/25 Permalink
    Tags: , , Interview, loss,   

    “Physical Movement, Especially in a Beautiful Place, Will Unstick Your Brain.” 

    Interview: Rebecca Soffer and Gabi Birkner

    A common happiness stumbling block is that it's hard to talk candidly about grief -- often, we just don't know what to say or what to do. In recognition of that difficulty, several years ago, Rebecca Soffer and Gabi Birkner launched the website Modern Loss.

    Now their new collection of essays Modern Loss: Candid Conversation About Grief. Beginners Welcome has just hit the shelves. This volume includes essays from more than forty contributors, including Brian Stelter, Dr. Lucy Kalanithi, and of course, themselves. Rebecca and Gabi both lost parents as young adults, and they recognized the need to change the way we approach grief.

    The book has generated tremendous buzz and interest. If you're intrigued, here's a great excerpt from the book in the New York Times Sunday Review.

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

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

    Rebecca: Playing with my kids. Things have been pretty hectic since we launched the Modern Loss website four years ago, exactly three weeks before giving birth to my first child. Playing is a simple habit but consciously making space for it feels so complicated. I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself to be productive, be silly, be nurturing, get a modicum of sleep, oversee the logistical madness of a family, and do so without being able to schedule each of those activities into neat little time blocks.

    So I’ve developed the near-daily habit of putting my phone in another room and just being with my kids: building a Magna-Tile spaceship or baking with my four-year-old, or tickling the baby just so I can see that beautiful little smile that looks so much like my mother’s did. These are the times when I notice the new little quirks, moves, and turns of phrase they’ve developed; ones that might take me longer to notice during the typical rush of our days. And honestly, it just feels good to laugh with them, because they always make me laugh. It certainly releases those endorphins, and since I can’t break away to exercise every day, I’ll take whatever endorphins I can get!

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

    Rebecca: For creativity and productivity (not to mention for mental sanity), getting outside regularly. Luckily, I live in the middle of New York City, so I get outside regularly whether I like it or not! If I’ve ever had a frustrating phone call or feel like my energy is flagging or need to creatively think through a roadblock, I take the elevator downstairs. It really is incredible how energetically renewed you can feel after taking a walk around the block. Of course, what I really prefer is getting outside in nature as much as possible. The majority of my own essays for Modern Loss were written in my head during solitary hikes up Monument Mountain in the Berkshires; a lot of those pieces were ones I had trouble with while simply staring at my computer screen. There’s just something about getting to do physical movement, especially in a beautiful place, that will unstick your brain.

    Also for productivity, my husband and I have come to swear by the Wunderlist app. I have about a billion apps on my phone but really only use a few of them regularly, and this is one. It’s basic, functional, and sure beats my former method of reminding myself to do things: emailing them to myself and overloading my inbox.

    For leisure, I love reading (which I write wistfully, as I don’t last more than a couple of pages before falling asleep these days), going to a great show, and cooking alone (operative word: alone!) Those activities at once relax and inspire me.

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

    Rebecca: Giving myself permission to be in bed at 9:30 pm some nights without feeling lame. I used to be a total night owl; it’s not only when I got my best work done but it’s also when some of the most fun parties and concerts and comedy shows take place. All of these things are still really tempting. But having kids is is such a reality check. It basically forces you to make a judgment call about how much you can realistically burn the candle at both ends. Sure, you can still go to sleep at 1 am, but like it or not, you’re still getting up at 5 am!

    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?

    Rebecca: I have a couple. The first: “It is what it is.” I’ve dealt with adversity just like anyone else has. The majority of the toughest situations I’ve faced to date have stemmed from profound loss -- my mother died in a car accident when I was 30 and my father had a fatal heart attack when I was 34. I can’t tell you how much energy I spent over those early years of grieving imagining the “if onlys.” It was not only completely draining physically and emotionally but also really preventing me from taking a good look around and working with what I did have, which was the opportunity to still build a meaningful life. Eventually, I found the right team to help me move through my losses (the right therapist, the right friends, the right understanding colleagues) and really glommed onto the pragmatism of “it is what it is.” Of course, I wish it weren’t. But it is. And that’s freed up all that wasted energy to keep moving through it.

    The second: “Work the problems.” That one’s courtesy of Ms. Jackson, my middle school algebra teacher. I shudder to think how little I probably remember about algebra itself, but I never forgot that phrase. Her message was probably primarily meant for our 7th grade level of understanding; like, “solve this rational equation.” But she said it enough that it really stuck, and so in adulthood, it’s taken on a whole new meaning for me. Like any good New York Jew, I’m given to a bit of functional anxiety and can get overwhelmed when I think about the enormity of a certain, complex task. So I repeat this mantra and start wading through the problem, step by step.

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

    Gabi: There's no such thing as the perfect job. When you're just starting out, it's hard to differentiate between a good job (with normal stressors and challenging personalities) and a truly toxic situation. So the first few times you come up against your own limitations, or someone else's, the first few times you're tasked with something that makes you want to reach for brain bleach, it's easy to convince yourself that quitting is the answer. It might be — if, say, you're being harassed, abused or belittled, or the position is harmful to your physical or emotional well-being. But if not, and if it's a job you like 80% or more of the time, and you're just dealing with more benign annoyances (be they tasks or co-workers), pause. Take some time to assess, speak with a professional mentor, vent candidly with friends — not with said mentor — before you make a decision whether to grow in place, while addressing real structural problems with your manager, or whether it's really the time to move on.

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

    Gabi: I wish I could say travel and parties. But it's far more mundane: childcare, work commitments, household maintenance, and all the other little things that I (sometimes ill-advisedly) put on my to-do list above "exercise" and "breathe" and "breakfast."

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

    Gabi: I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, which (like, totally) affected my speech patterns. Into my 30s, I peppered my language with constant fillers — my worst offender being "like," followed closely by "you know." It wasn't so much an unhealthy habit, as it was a habit that got in my way. I was once on a very important conference call, when a colleague instant messaged me to say something along the lines of: What you're saying is very smart, but you're making it sound very dumb with all the "likes." That was a turning point. In the few years since I've worked really hard to eliminate fillers: I joined Toastmasters, worked a little with a speech coach, and was generally more conscious of how I was communicating. I'm far from perfect — once a Valley girl, always a Valley girl — but the situation has improved dramatically.

     
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