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  • feedwordpress 10:00:18 on 2018/12/06 Permalink
    Tags: aging, , , How to Live Forever book, Interview, Marc Freedman, mentorship,   

    “Society Grows Great When Older People Plant Trees Under Whose Shade They Shall Never Sit.” 

    Interview: Marc Freedman

    Marc Freedman is the President and CEO of Encore.org, and is a renowned social entrepreneur, thinker, and writer.  I've been interested in his work for a long time. Among other things, he highlights the significance of harnessing the experience and talent of people past midlife as a way to make the world better.

    This is important, because in 2019, for the first time ever, the United States will have more people older than age 60 than younger than age 18.

    In his terrific new book, How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations, Marc Freedman examines how we can make a more-old-than-young society work for all ages. But not only that–he also emphasizes how we can find fulfillment and happiness in our longer lives by connecting with the next generation.

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

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

    Marc: Walking. I walk about five miles a day, up and down the hills of Berkeley, California. It clears my mind—and it’s good for my dogs, too!

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

    Marc: I learned in my research for this book that those in middle age or older who invest in nurturing the next generation are three times as likely to be happy as those who don’t. I wouldn’t have paid much attention to that at 18, but it’s hugely important to me now.

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

    Marc: Experience Corps, which I helped create more than 20 years ago, taps the time and talents of older adults to help 30,000 children in urban elementary schools learn to read every year. It’s a tutoring program, right? Well, not exactly. The conventional wisdom is that the relationships provide a foundation for the tutoring help. Today I think that formulation has it backward. The reading lessons are the scaffolding around which a rich array of bonds can take hold. And these connections aren’t just a means to an end; they’re an important end in and of themselves. In other words, I’ve realized that Experience Corps is actually a relationship program. You could say it’s helping to clear the market for love!

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

    Marc: I make no claim on healthy habits! I’m 60, travel all the time, and have three sons—ages 8, 10 and 12. I have tried to develop healthy sleeping and eating habits for decades and failed over and over again. I can say, in all seriousness, that my love of music and movies has served me well, leading to many relaxing moments, quality time with others, even creative insights.

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

    Marc: I used to eat any and all doughnuts. Now I only eat high quality doughnuts.

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

    Marc: I’d say I’m a Rebel/Obliger hybrid. I want to get the job done in a way that makes me proud, but I seem determined to do it on my terms and my timetable. So, as you might guess, I have a lot of trouble with deadlines. In college, I set what I think is still an intercollegiate record for incomplete classes. In my first three semesters, I racked up nine incompletes—impressive, considering that I’d only taken 12 courses and four of them were pass-fail. Things haven’t improved much since then, I’m afraid.

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

    Marc: Travel, stress, deadlines, kids, dogs, parties, doughnuts. I’d say everything interferes at one time or another.

    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.?

    Marc: I have had my share of health scares, and after each one, I expand my capacity for gratitude and renew my commitment to take better care of myself. I’m really quite religious about walking every day now. Knee troubles that threatened to make that impossible but have now thankfully vanished.

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

    Marc: I often quote a Greek proverb that reads, “Society grows great when older people plant trees under whose shade they shall never sit.” I see now that How to Live Forever has been all about planting seeds, irrigating them, letting life bloom. It’s ironic that my own great mentor in much of this was a man named (John) Gardner. It is our role as older people to plant those trees under whose shade we shall never sit. Our task is not to try to be young, but to be there for those who actually are.

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:21 on 2018/11/29 Permalink
    Tags: author interview, , , Erica Meloe, , Interview, physical therapy, Why Do I Hurt?   

    “The Relationship of Our Body to Our Mind Is More than Just a Tagline. It’s a Real Thing.” 

    Interview: Erica Meloe

    Fortunately for me, I've know Erica Meloe for years. From time to time, for no apparent reason, I start to have a lot of pain in my neck—or more rarely, shoulder. Usually this pain goes away on its own, but there have been occasions when the pain was bad and didn't seem to be on the mend.

    In those cases, I turn to the brilliant, super-effective Erica Meloe. She's a physical therapist who has made such a difference for me—and for my husband, father-in-law, and brother-in-law, among others.

    She really understands the body in an extraordinary way.

    She just wrote a terrific book, Why Do I Hurt? Discover the Surprising Connections that Cause Physical Pain--and What to Do About Them.

    I'm particularly interested in this book because I've developed a minor preoccupation with the subject of pain (a frightening subject, but interesting).

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

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

    Erica: I have been doing a lot of Spinning at Soul Cycle these days and I have never felt more exhilarated! I believe that movement in whatever form, is good for your body, mind and soul. I get an enormous amount of inspiration from exercise. Whether it is the community, the movement or just the feeling of sweating through a good workout, it stirs up my creative juices and I feel more alive. Another habit that I do almost every night is read. I am a huge Jane Austen fan, and try to read something from the Regency period fairly often. It really grounds me.

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

    Erica: This is a great question! The first thought that comes to mind is, “That it doesn’t just happen to you, you have to create your own happiness." I think that our definition of happiness changes, as we grow older. And one of the biggest lessons for me is that what I think will make me happy, actually doesn’t make me happy.

    We think if "we get or achieve" certain things or goals, that is the ultimate in happiness. And what I have found, is that it is the little things that make me happy and fill me with gratitude. For example, going to see “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” with my niece, learning something new, or going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the “Versailles” exhibit, this is what makes me happy.

    Professionally, helping a patient to problem solve their persistent pain and get them moving better is so rewarding. And even more recently, seeing my book Why Do I Hurt? finally published!

    Making beautiful memories is what happiness is all about for me.

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

    Erica: What continues to intrigue and motivate me to search for more evidence is that the relationship of our body to our mind is more than just a tagline, it is a real thing. The body has amazing healing powers if we only tap into our own internal resources.

    As a physical therapist, I see so many people affected by persistent pain as is evidenced by the rising rates of consumer opioid abuse. When someone has persistent pain, more often than not, the source of that pain lies somewhere other than their symptomatic body part. Our bodies are such great compensators, that long after an injury or painful part has healed, there are some people who still experience pain.

    What surprises many of my patients is the fact that we also need to treat at least one or two other regions of the body in order for them to achieve any long lasting change. That is the epitome of treating the source versus just treating the symptom.

    What I also find extremely fascinating is that when you give someone a diagnosis, in my field for example, like a “herniated disc” or “your hip or knee is bone-on-bone,” this can be seen as a placebo or alternatively as a nocebo, which can be detrimental. The delivery of a diagnosis to a patient is the most important piece in health care delivery.

    I will stick to physical therapy, as it is my scope of practice, but think about this: “You have bone-on-bone in your hip which is seen on your most recent x-ray and you need a hip replacement." Versus, "You have some degenerative changes in your hip which are very common as you grow older. We call them the 'kisses of time.' You can rehab this or at some point in the future, you may choose to have a very common surgical procedure called a hip replacement. Your CHOICE."

    I believe the first one is a nocebo and the second one is a placebo. Being given a choice versus being told what to do has an enormous impact on how we process pain and ultimately in how we manage it. A health care professional’s words matter.

    Gretchen: What advice do you find yourself giving over and over? If you could wave a magic wand so that just about everyone followed certain habits or practices, what would you choose?

    Erica: I constantly find myself telling people that our body makes unconscious choices in how we move. We resort to old movement strategies or habits that our body sees as “normal.” Our bodies take the path of least resistance until we run out of options. We run a certain way (and we have been running that way for years) until we change something, like our environment, our shoes, our running pattern, and then breakdown occurs. It can manifest as fatigue, pain or lack of endurance as examples.

    Our old habit or strategy that has reached it’s “buckle point” as I like to call it, is now something that needs to be re-patterned or re-trained. I always tell my patients that we need to develop a new habit or a new normal. And that changes depending on the amount of load, stress or activity that we put on our bodies.

    Being open minded to developing new movement patterns, practices or habits is what makes us unique. If I could wave a magic wand (and I would use Hermione’s wand!) it would be to develop many habits or practices. The body responds really well to variance in the sense that if we vary our movements, positions and activities and make that a habit, our bodies would thank us!

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

    Erica: I thought I would be an Upholder when I took the quiz but my results showed that I am an Obliger! I am working at meeting my inner expectations and learning how to say “no,” more often! I do believe that when you work with patients and are in a healing profession, there is a tendency towards meeting others’ needs ahead of your own.

    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?

    Erica: “Faith and Courage” and more recently, “Bring the Joy.”

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

    Erica: As an Obliger, I tend to over-commit and take on too many obligations. Often times, I find myself saying no to certain things because of a deadline or expectation on my part that I have to get something done.

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

    Erica: Yes, thank you! The biggest misconception is that physical therapy is a uniform profession. That is, the same results will be achieved with any physical therapist. This is simply not true.

    Practices, techniques, and philosophies differ. I have heard many stories where patients have not gotten the results they wanted from a medical provider, but have achieved noticeable benefits when they see a good PT who looks at the body differently from a holistic and integrated perspective.

    So I would encourage all patients to try a new physical therapist if they have not gotten the results they wanted. Their experience may be vastly different with someone else.

    why do I hurt? cover

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:49 on 2018/11/20 Permalink
    Tags: Alice Robb, , , , Interview, , Why We Dream   

    “What You Think Is Existential Angst Might Actually Be a Lack of Sleep.” 

    Interview: Alice Robb

    Alice is a writer who lives here in New York City, in Brooklyn. She's written for many publication, including The New Republic and The Cut.

    She has a book that just hit the shelves: Why We Dream: The Transformative Power of Our Nightly Journey.

    Throughout history, people have been fascinated by dreams—why we dream, what dreams mean, and if you're my husband, how do you stop having the same bad dream over and over? (He dreams that he didn't study for an exam).

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

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

    Alice: When I started freelancing a few years ago, I realized how important it is to find ways to divide the day between work and leisure; no one is going to say, “Good job, go home,” at 6 o’clock. At the end of the day, when I’ve decided I’m done working, I make a list of everything I’ve left unfinished. This helps me switch gears; I don’t have to worry that I’ll forget what I was in the middle of or lose momentum the next day. I save it in a draft email in my inbox, and I wake up with my to-do list already made. Most of my projects are ongoing—I was working on the book for years—and I’m not always at a natural breaking point when I need to stop.

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

    Alice: What you think is existential angst might actually be a lack of sleep.

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

    Alice: Most of us have been taught to ignore our dreams; many people I’ve spoken to say things like, “I never dream.” But even if you don’t often remember your dreams, you’re still having them. And it’s easy to improve your dream recall—just by spending a few minutes during the day thinking about dreams, deciding you want to remember them, or making a habit of writing them down when you wake up. You might even find that you remember your dreams tonight, after reading this interview.

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

    Alice: One of the great things about freelancing is that I can structure my routine around what makes me feel and work best. I used to struggle to fit it in exercise in the morning; by the time I got to work, I felt like I was already halfway through the day. Now, I exercise in the early afternoon, and it helps me break up the day and avoid that afternoon slump; it also feels very luxurious to go to the gym or bike around the park when most people are at the office.

    Another habit that’s important to me is keeping a dream journal. I became diligent about writing down my dreams several years ago, and I was amazed at the level of detail I quickly became able to reconstruct. Apart from the psychological and creative value of this exercise, it’s become a part of my writing routine; writing a couple hundred of words first thing in the morning—words that take no effort—helps me transition into writing that’s more challenging.

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

    Alice: I used to think of procrastination as a terrible habit, but I’ve come to accept it as a part of my process. My productivity is always going to skyrocket in the run-up to a deadline; I’ve pretty much always worked best with time pressure. So, rather than torturing myself and feeling guilty long before I’m actually going to do anything about it—opening the Word document and then just opening Twitter on top of it—I clear my schedule for the time leading up the deadline and plan to take advantage of that period when I’ll be most productive. [Gretchen: In Better Than Before, I explore the difference between "marathoners" and "sprinters," and Alice is clearly a sprinter.]

    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.?

    Alice: I read Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea when I was in college, and I was astonished; it was the first time I’d read a reported book of non-fiction that was as gripping as any novel. That was the book that made me realize I wanted to be a non-fiction book-writer.

    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?

    Alice: “Sometimes there is writing, and sometimes there is typing.” A very kind editor said this to me when I was struggling with a piece. When you’re blocked, you can start to feel like you’re never going to write again; it’s helpful to remember that everyone gets stuck sometimes, and that if you push through and don’t put too much pressure on yourself—just keep typing!—you’ll eventually start writing again.

    why we dream

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:18 on 2018/11/15 Permalink
    Tags: Dan Schawbel, digital connections, Interview, , remote work   

    “We Asked Workers What Brings Out Their Creativity and They Said ‘Other People.’” 

    Interview: Dan Schawbel.

    I first connected with Dan years ago, but we only recently met in person. Which is ironic, because his first book, Me 2.0, was focused on building digital connections. Now he has a new book that's just hitting the shelves -- Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in an Age of Isolation that urges us to have more face-to-face interactions.

    This is the second interview I’ve done with Dan.

    Dan has recently entered the podcast world as the host of 5 Questions with Dan Schawbel, where he interviews interesting people, asking them five questions in ten minutes.

    Dan is an introvert who prefers to work remotely, yet maintains a very large network. He emphasizes that while for many people, it’s easy to get addicted to the technology devices that we carry around with us,  we should remember the value in human connections.

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

    Dan: Since 2012, I’ve led 45 research studies surveying a total of nearly 90,000 people from twenty different countries. I’m passionate about research because it’s how I pushed back against ageism when I was younger, and it’s the best way for me to provide unique value to my industry. For Back to Human, I worked with Virgin Pulse to survey over 2,000 managers and employees from ten countries and discovered that employees who work remotely are much less likely to want a long-term career at their company. The reason why this is both fascinating, and important, is because we’ve always talked about the positive side of remote work, which includes freedom, flexibility and the reduction of commuting costs. This research shows that there’s a “dark side” to working remote, which is the feeling of being isolated, lonely and having less team and organizational commitment due to a lack of face-time. 

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

    Dan: Chapter 3 in Back to Human is called “Practice Shared Learning” and my motto in that chapter is “when I learn I share.” In order to keep up in today’s fast-paced business world, and stay competitive, we have to share what we know with others instead of keeping it inside our heads. The average relevancy of a learned skill is just five years and all industries are facing constant disruption. We have to rely on each other if we want to stay relevant and informed in our careers. When I come across an article, a piece of research or a contact that could benefit someone else, I share it with him or her or make an introduction. By getting in the habit of sharing with your teammates, you make their lives easier and they will reciprocate, thus creating a culture of learning in your organization. 

    Gretchen: Which habits are most important to you? 

    Dan: The most important habit I’ve had for over a decade is reading for an hour in the morning. I power through numerous industry related articles and bookmark the most interesting ones to use in future presentations, books and discussions. Reading for an hour gives me the ideas, news, case studies and research that I can talk about in client calls, meetings and in speeches. This habit keeps me extremely relevant on a given day. The time I spend bookmarking the best articles is time saved when I’m putting together articles, books, presentations or workshops. This habit also guides my research because I can see what’s already been published about topics I want to cover in future studies.

    Running is another daily habit that has reduced my anxiety, increased my health and brought out my creativity. I’ve been running three to five miles a day now and it’s given me time to myself where I can reflect and focus on what’s important in my life.  

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

    Dan: I wish I knew that starting or breaking a habit needs to happen one day at a time. Also, that you shouldn’t try to break or start multiple habits at once because that’s overwhelming. For instance, when I first moved to New York City, I found myself working in isolation, without much human contact. In order to break out of isolation, I created the habit of scheduling coffee dates, dinner parties and attending Friday night Shabbats. I also paid for events because paying would give me more incentive not to come up with a last-minute excuse not to attend.  

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

    Dan: I enjoy having walking meetings because they get me out of my home office and I’m able to bounce ideas off of other people. In a research study I led a few years ago, we asked workers what brings out their creativity and they said “other people.” When I’m walking and talking, I’m able to be more creative and solve more complex problems. When I walk with friends, I feel a deeper connection with them than I would have if we were sitting in a coffee shop. There’s something special about movement that brings people closer together. 

     
  • feedwordpress 09:00:09 on 2018/10/18 Permalink
    Tags: , Can You Learn to be Lucky?, Interview, Karla Starr, ,   

    “My Life Today Is the Sum Total of My Past Choices.” 

    Interview: Karla Starr.

    Karla Starr has written for O, The Atlantic, Slate, Popular Science, the Guardian, and the Los Angeles Times, and she received the Best Science/Health award from the Society of Professional Journalists. Her first book recently hit the shelves:  Can You Learn to Be Lucky? Why Some People Seem to Win More Often Than Others.

    Karla says, "The best way we can successfully deal with the unknown is by building our own character strengths: our flexibility, empathy, confidence, self-control, curiosity, self-esteem, humility, persistence, belief in our ability to improve, and the ability to simply show up. The key to maximizing luck is simply to maximize what you bring to the table, plug yourself into many outlets, and be open to whatever comes along."

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

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

    Karla: If I had to pick just one thing, it’s to get enough sleep. It’s the basis of physical and mental health, and I have no problems prioritizing it over everything else. When I go to bed early enough to wake up naturally, I have more energy, my brain works as well as it can, and I feel like a functional human.

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

    Karla: I knew nothing about happiness when I was 18; I just thought it was something for people who had summer houses, Ivy League scholarships, great wardrobes, and perfect test scores. But as it turns out, you can have all of those things and be miserable.

    Two people in the exact same situation can have completely different moods because of what they pay attention to and how they interpret it. Fortunately, we have complete control over those two things. Paying attention to something is what gives it power, which is why practicing gratitude is so important. I had no idea it was that simple.

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

    Karla: How much random, uncontrollable things influence our thoughts, behavior, and habits, which are entirely controllable.

    Small moments can alter our entire life’s trajectory by making us assume that it’s part of a larger pattern. For example, seeing someone try to cut in line at the grocery store can make us assume that they’re a jerk; if we see them later on, we’d probably ignore them or give them a look. But what if they were in a hurry to buy food for a sick friend, and felt awful about cutting in line? We never get a chance to find out if we’re wrong.

    Our brains love patterns, even though this means seeing regularities in the environment that may not actually exist.

    I was surprised to find out how easily this can happen when we get information about ourselves. If a grade school teacher tells us that we’re not cut out for music, we learn that we’re no good. So So we’ll never practice, get more flustered when we do, and assume that improving is harder for us than others—even though getting better takes time for everyone. More often, however, we’ll just quit. We don’t realize how many aspects of our life are self-fulfilling prophecies, and the lengths that people will go to in order to avoid being wrong about themselves and the world, even when it might lead to positive change.

    Our social environments play a huge role. Imagine someone with jaded friends who goes on a few dates that turn out to be bad. They might begin to think of dating as a pointless endeavor, and start acting distant or slightly hostile towards others—the very behavior that drives people away. Over time, they might conclude that they’re fated to be alone, stop giving new people a chance, or never meeting people. Guess what? That’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. You never learn that you’re wrong.

    Think of a story you might attribute to luck, like getting an offer for your dream job meeting the love of your life, getting your startup funded, or being accepted into your first choice school. We don’t see the lifetime of good habits that went into these moments, like attending networking events every week and keeping in touch with professional contacts for years, or staying positive after years of bad dates. No one posts on Facebook about living off of ramen and having tons of roommates while developing their app, or that they studied for a standardized test every weekend for two years.

    Actions that lead to larger rewards in the future often feel less rewarding in the present, and change itself can be difficult. It can take longer to see those larger fruits of beneficial habits than people realize. Doubting the value of good habits can make people inconsistent enough to never see change, or give up prematurely. Change takes time. Different habitual ways of responding to what happens to us create wildly different life trajectories over time.

    I was surprised to see how many aspects of life are self-fulling prophecies: when people become convinced that certain outcomes won’t happen, we never really try to make them happen. And guess what? We’re right—even if it started because of a random comment.

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

    Karla: I used to think that exercise was torture, and that being athletic just wasn’t in the cards for me. I used the research to turn it around: bit by bit, I made everything associated with a healthy lifestyle as positive and rewarding as possible. I found an activity that I really enjoyed and a coach I connected with. I started befriending people at the gym, got workout clothes that I loved, and focused on how good it felt to get better. My attitude towards health has done a complete 180. I even won a competition at my gym this past year!

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

    Karla: Absolutely no one who knows me will be surprised that I’m a Questioner! I researched my book for years and am obsessed with learning. I hate the feeling of being forced to do something just for the sake of doing it. But if I have a good reason, I have no problem moving time and space for something that I want to do.

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

    Karla: "One coin won’t make you rich, but the only way to get rich is by collecting coins." [Gretchen: This is one of my favorite teaching stories! Here's an episode of A Little Happier where I talk about it.] My life today is the sum total of my past choices. Each small action may feel inconsequential, but every one counts. Every smart decision you make adds value to your future self. Books are read and written one word at a time, well-being is improved one healthy decision at a time, relationships are strengthened one kind deed at a time, retirement accounts grow one dollar at a time, and marathons are finished one step at a time. Every extra minute of reading, writing, brownie-skipping, gym-hitting, hugging, thanking, saving, and stepping adds up over time. Everything counts.

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

    Karla: People think that personality traits and intelligence are static, but our brains are much more plastic and malleable than we realize, at any age. Personality traits also depend on the situation we find ourselves in: everyone becomes more conscientious when they’re about to finish a project they really want to complete, or more extroverted when they see a great friend they really want to catch up with. Our lifestyles and social environments shape what we think we’re capable of, especially the habits among people in your social circle. As the narrative we tell ourselves about our life starts to take shape over time, people settle into a story of who we are, and make a habit of putting ourselves in situations where we’re most comfortable.

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

    Karla: Last year, when I was working on my last chapter on the importance and difficulty of open-mindedness, I had a health scare. One of my friends said she’d pray for me, and I replied that it wasn’t a good use of her time. After talking, I ended up testing the advice that I was giving in that chapter: what if I was wrong, and there was a divine presence in the universe? Why was I stubbornly refusing to even consider it? What was the worst that could happen if I was wrong?

    It felt so odd to challenge such a core belief, especially one I’d been writing about for years. But what if the universe wasn’t just made of chaos and randomness—what if coincidences were meaningful? A few days after my scare, I started to act “as if.”

    If you do everything in your power to make your future brighter, stay flexible about the outcome, and have patience that things will eventually work out, they will. Another word for luck is faith.

    can you learn

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

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

    Interview: KJ Dell'Antonia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    How to be a Happier Parent

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

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

    Interview: Bradley Tusk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     
  • feedwordpress 09:00:37 on 2018/09/20 Permalink
    Tags: , Interview, Lisa Kohn, ,   

    “I Just Have to Choose to Notice the Good and Allow Myself to Enjoy It.” 

    Interview: Lisa Kohn.

    Lisa Kohn had a challenging childhood. Her mother was a member of the Unification Church, founded by Sun Myung Moon, and her father was part of the life of New York City's East Village in the 1970s. She was caught between two wildly different worlds, and this shaped the way she saw the world, herself, and other people.

    She's written a memoir of her experience, and how she found the resiliency to surmount the difficulties in her upbringing, in to the moon and back: a childhood under the influence.

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

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

    Lisa: As simple as it might sound, when I actively, intentionally practice mindfulness in a way that makes me notice things that are soothing or joy-creating for me, I am happier. By that I mean when I actively look for the yellow birds that I love - each time I see them I am happier. When I pause and notice the breeze on my skin, or the beautiful day, or the flowers around me, I am happier. When I throw myself into the moment - as I exercise or talk with friends or laugh and play, etc. - any and all of this can consistently make me happier. I just have to choose to notice the good and allow myself to enjoy it.

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

    Lisa: When I was 18 years old, I didn’t even know that I was unhappy, and I didn’t know that I deserved to be, and could be, happy. Because I was raised in a cult - as a Moonie - and 18 was about the age when I started to pull away from the cult, there wasn’t a lot of happiness in my life (or mind or heart) at that point. It took years for me to realize that I could be happy and to figure out ways to allow myself happiness. (I also didn’t know that, at least for me, self-love and self-compassion are at the root of allowing myself happiness and being happy.)

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

    Lisa: I wouldn’t say that I have habits, as in something I do or don’t do every day, but I do have negative thought patterns, or thought habits, that get in the way of my happiness. I can be be a worrier and filled with irrational fears. I can be a people pleaser and lose myself in panic that others will be upset or disappointed. I can push myself too hard and be too strict and rigid with myself. All of these thought patterns get in the way of my happiness. (And all of them are at least somewhat manageable when I go back to questions #1 and 2 and allow myself happiness and find moments and mindfulness that will ease my negative thought patterns.)

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

    Lisa: I have a number of habits that are most important to me. My physical health habits - I exercise in some way nearly every day. I run, practice yoga, lift weights, and move as much as I can. My mental and emotional health habits - I practice yoga roughly three times per week, and I meditate nearly every day. I also make time to sit, notice, practice mindfulness, etc., and I make time for family and friends, because I love to be connected with and to people.

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

    Lisa: I am proud of the fact that I meditate regularly - generally every day. However, the way I was able to build that habit is, perhaps, a bit different from the norm. Because I was raised in unstable environments, I became a very rigid rule follower. (I also believe that is related to my anorexia when I was younger.) In order to build a meditation habit, I had to allow myself to meditate “my way” - not to follow set rules or strict guidelines. I’ve sat quiet at times, sat quiet with a timer at times, sat quiet with a cup of tea at times, and sat quiet with an app making “white noise” in the background, but in all of these, I’ve allowed myself to not be too rigid. If I get rigid, then I worry that my meditation didn’t count, because I somehow did it “wrong.” Allowing myself space and the possibility that there was no right or wrong way to meditate helped me to build my meditation practice/habit.

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

    Lisa: I am clearly an Upholder. I think I was more of an Obliger and also a bit of a Rebel for a while (most likely when I left the Moonies), but I do keep my promises to myself and to (most) others. [Note: from her description of herself in her answers, I wonder if Lisa is actually an Obliger who has figured out ways to meet inner expectations.]

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

    Lisa: I have let travel and others’ expectations and needs get in the way of keeping my habits, but I’ve learned to make my habits my priority, because I am so much happier and better when I do.

    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.?

    Five years ago I was knocked to my knees with insomnia, for longer than I care to admit. I fought it, long and hard, but finally reached a point where I accepted what was and decided that if the rest of my life was going to be just lying on a couch every day, because that was all that I could physically, mentally, and emotionally do, than I was going to be okay with that, and I was going to find a way to be happy, no matter what. The experience changed - and loosened - some of my rigidity and perfectionism/self-non-acceptance.

    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?

    Lisa: I did thoroughly enjoy The Happiness Project. (I’m not just saying that - I kept thinking, “yes, yes.”) Two books that helped me move on most recently are The Gifts of Imperfection (Brene Brown) and Radical Acceptance (Tara Brach). The saying I repeat to myself the most now, when I’m afraid or anxious or hard on myself, is “I choose love.” It eases my heart and mind. I read this anonymous quote years ago in O, and it stayed with me - “When you die God and the angels will hold you accountable for all the pleasures in life that you denied yourself.” And although it’s not a motto or saying, I’ve found that putting my hand on my heart is very, very soothing.

    Gretchen: Tell me about your new memoir.

    My memoir is entitled to the moon and back: a childhood under the influence. It tells my story of growing up in the Moonies (and also in the sordid East Village scene in the 1970s) and gives a glimpse into how I learned that I deserved happiness...and how I could find or build it.

    to the moon and back by Lisa Kohn

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

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

    Interview: Chris Bailey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Hyperfocus by Chris Bailey

     
  • feedwordpress 12:00:07 on 2018/09/04 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Ingrid Fetell Lee, Interview,   

    “I Have a Phrase That I Come Back to Again and Again: ‘Remember What You Love.’” 

    Interview: Ingrid Fetell Lee

    Right now, I can't learn enough about color and scent -- I'm looking for anything I can read, see, touch, learn, or listen to on these fascinating subjects. Plus I'm always thinking about happiness and human nature.

    So when I got an advance copy of Ingrid Fetell Lee's new book, I couldn't wait to read it. Just the title was enough to spark my enthusiasm: Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness.

    Ingrid  is a Brooklyn-based designer and writer whose work focuses on the way that design affects our health and happiness.

    She gave a terrific TED talk called "Where joy hides and how to find it" and writes an excellent blog called The Aesthetics of Joy.

    She has more than twelve years of experience in design and branding, most recently as Design Director of IDEO's New York office, having led design work for Target, Condé Nast, Eileen Fisher, American Express, Kate Spade, Diageo, Pepsico, and the U.S. government, among others.

    About herself, she notes, "loves pancakes, polka dots, and rainbow sprinkles, and has an extensive repertoire of happy dances for any occasion."

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

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

    Ingrid: Happy dances! My husband and I often do a happy dance on Friday evenings to mark the start of the weekend. We also do them when one of us has good news. It sounds silly, but there’s science to suggest it works. Research shows that celebrating good news with someone else can deepen relationships by increasing our confidence that they will be there for us in hard times, not just in good ones. And dancing with other people can bring about a state that scientists call synchrony, which elicits feelings of unity, generosity, and a desire to be helpful. Not to mention that happy dances are silly and fun!

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

    Ingrid: That true happiness is really a sum of many smaller moments of joy. When I was younger, I associated happiness with large milestones or goals in life: getting into the right school, finding a good job, getting married, having children. Reaching some of these milestones has brought me happiness, and some I haven't reached yet — but now I understand that you can have all the “right” things happen in life and be unhappy, and you can have big disappointments and still be extremely happy.

    My research on joy has shown me that the small daily joys matter a lot more than we think. A picnic in the park with a friend, a deep belly laugh, or taking time to stop and smell the proverbial roses: these simple moments of delight have powerful effects that linger long after the moment has passed. Small sparks of joy can mitigate the physical effects of stress, open our minds, and connect us to others. They can even make us more resilient, by sparking positive feedback loops that promote long-term wellbeing. Though the moments themselves seem small, they have ripple effects that do end up influencing our happiness on a broader scale.

    The reason this is important is that while the big elements of happiness are often out of our control (we don’t always get the dream job, and we don’t know when we’ll meet “the one”), joy is always accessible to us. Turning our attention to the joys of the moment absorbs us in the present, focusing us on the parts of our lives that are good, not the ones we’d like to change. We notice more moments of joy — in fact, research shows that people in a state of joy are actually more attuned to positive stimuli on the periphery of their visual field — and begin to include others in our joy. When we focus on joy, happiness finds us.

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

    Ingrid: I've found that people are often surprised to learn just how deeply our physical environment affects our emotions and wellbeing. The field of psychology has historically focused almost exclusively on the internal factors that shape our emotional experience, in the form of thoughts, behavioral patterns, and neural chemistry. Almost no attention has been paid to environmental factors. So, if we are feeling sad or anxious, we’re conditioned to believe this is due to either our genetics or our learned responses. We never look around us and think that there might be something in our surroundings that is making us uneasy.

    Yet when you look at the research, there are many well-documented links between environment and emotional wellbeing. One example that has gained visibility in recent years is Seasonal Affective Disorder, which highlights the link between light and mood. But light therapy has actually been shown to be effective in treating non-seasonal depression too, so effective that in some studies the results are comparable to those achieved by anti-depressants. (We rarely hear about this research, perhaps because it's more lucrative for pharmaceutical companies to fund studies about drugs than about light.) Other research shows that employees with sunnier desks sleep better and are more physically active in and out of the office than those without windows, and that just changing the lightbulbs in a nursing home can reduce both depression and cognitive decline among Alzheimer’s patients.

    These effects can come from very subtle aspects of the environment, ones we may not be conscious of, such as symmetry and shape. For example, researchers at the University of Chicago have found that showing people pictures of visually disordered, asymmetrical environments increases the likelihood that they will cheat on a test. And fMRI studies have shown that when people are shown pictures of sharp, angular objects, a structure in the brain called the amygdala, associated in part with fear and anxiety, lights up, but stays quiet when people look at curved versions of the same objects.

    I've found that many people have an intuitive understanding of these effects but have been taught to tune them out. Or worse, made to feel that their impulses toward color and light, symmetry and curves are frivolous. What has surprised me most about this work is how validated many people, especially women, feel to know that these sensations are a real, measurable contributor to their wellbeing. I even heard from one woman who told me she cried with relief after watching my TED talk, because she had so often been judged as childish for her vibrant home and whimsical outfits. My hope is that as awareness rises of the role that environment plays in emotional wellbeing, more people will feel permission to seek out joy in their surroundings, and as a society we will recognize that mental health is a function of both what’s in us, and what’s around us.

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

    Ingrid: It’s not a motto, exactly, but I do have a phrase that I come back to again and again: “Remember what you love.” When I get overwhelmed by everything I need to do, or feel anxious about what I’m trying to say or how people might receive it, this phrase helps remind me that everything I do at root stems from the love I feel for this beautiful, diverse world, for the people in it and the extraordinary joy that can be found in even its ordinary corners. I do what I do because I want to share that love with others. When there’s a task I really don’t want to do, “remembering what I love” helps me see the bigger picture. An email or errand that normally might feel like a chore becomes an extension of that love; it enables it and is connected to it .

    This phrase also helps me conquer some of the anxiety I feel about speaking in public. If I focus on the idea that I have to stand on a stage and talk about my work, I get nervous. But if I "remember what I love," that feeling cuts through the anxiety and helps me see getting on the stage as an opportunity to share my excitement and joy with others. I think this phrase is one of the things that kept me working on Joyful for ten years, even during times when I was really unsure if I’d be able to finish it. Every time I felt lost, “remembering what I love” brought me back to the fundamental reasons why I wanted to write the book, and reinvigorated my desire to see it through.

    “Remember what you love” is also really helpful in relationships. In the day-to-day of a marriage, a work partnership, or a friendship, it’s easy to let small disagreements or annoyances take over. When you remember what you love about the other person, it reconnects you to the reasons you chose to be in this relationship, and it becomes easy to let some of the small things go. I hadn’t thought about it until now, but this also applies to one’s relationship to oneself. As someone who can be quite hard on myself, I think it’s not a bad idea to occasionally balance out the critical voices by “remembering what you love” about yourself too.

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

    Ingrid: It’s not a habit exactly, but as a city dweller I’ve found that getting out into nature regularly is important to my sanity and wellbeing. When I’m in the city, this means taking a walk to Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park, an old pier that was converted a few years ago into a meadow. I sometimes bring a notebook and spend an hour there working on an essay or a talk. But I also enjoy getting out of the city as often as possible, to the beach or for a hike, or to go snowshoeing in the winter!

    Having houseplants brings a little of that nature into the house, and creates a new habit by necessity: watering once or twice a week. I find I really enjoy this task — checking on them all, dusting their leaves and removing spent flowers, and seeing what new growth has appeared. Even if I have a million other things to do, the plants need me, and that brings me back into connection with the natural world.

    Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee

     
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