Mastering Habits with Gretchen Rubin
Do you have any bad habits? Do you wonder why so many successful Entrepreneurs are able to create habits that contribute to their success while others can’t seem to get them to stick? Well then you are in for a treat on today’s podcast.
The crazy, incredibly talented Gretchen Rubin in on to talk about that very thing! There was so much good information that our post today is the actual transcription from the show. I didn’t want you to miss a thing!
Today is a very exciting day. We have the very talented Gretchen Rubin on board. She’s going to be talking to us about changing habits, about understanding habits, about having a better life because of habits.
She’s so fantastic that she has allowed us to give you guys something very special, and that is a checklist for habit change. If you’re going to be successful, one of the first things you need to do is make sure that you’ve got a great checklist on how to do this.
Gretchen is the author of several books including the blockbuster New York Times bestsellers Better Than Before, The Happiness Project, and Happier At Home. Not only is she changing lives through her enormous readership, but she also is doing it on her popular weekly podcast Happier With Gretchen Rubin.
Gretchen, you are talking about stuff that is so near and dear to our hearts, which is how we can have a healthier happier life and doing it through the habit process.
I think there’s probably a lot of people that are currently listening thinking, “Okay, I’m really excited about this,” and probably some folks that are going, “Oh gosh. This is probably going to scare me a little bit,” because of bad habits.
Before we do that, I understand that you have a habit of self-medicating with the Harry Potter series.
That’s right. One of the things that I argue is that it’s really helpful to know yourself when you’re changing your habits, and for life generally, it’s really important to know yourself. One of the things that I noticed about myself is that I have a tell.
Just like in poker, I have a tell where you can tell if I’m really stressed out because I start reading children’s books because it calms me. When I realized that about myself, then I realized, if I need to calm myself if I’m doing something really stressful, I can go out and read children’s book medicinally.
I had a very stressful work period, so I allowed myself to re-read the entire Harry Potter series as a method of cultivating serenity.
That is a pretty fantastic habit. Is it because it gets your mind off of you?
Yeah. I think probably it’s that I’ve already read these books so I’m not anxious, like I know how it’s all going to turn out. I love them so it makes me happy and they’re very absorbing.
One of the things with happiness and habits, is to manage your own mind, to really think about the mood that you’re in or the way that you’re feeling and think about, “What can I do to fix this?
With my conscious thoughts and actions, how can I intervene?” Because we aren’t just these kites blowing in the wind. There’s things that we can do that can affect the way we feel.
Right. Today, we’re talking about Better Than Before. Tell us about the background, how you got into writing, and why you wrote this book.
I got into the subject of habits because I’ve been reading and writing and talking to people for years about happiness and I noticed a very striking pattern, which is that when I talk to people about habit, about a happiness challenge that they were facing, they very often pointed to something that, at its core, had to do with a habit.
Some people would say, “Well, my problem is I’m exhausted all the time.” That’s the habit of getting enough sleep. Or they’d say something like, “Well, I’ve been wanting to write a novel in my free time but I haven’t done anything on it in a year.”
It’s like, well, that’s about the habit of being able to make consistent progress. I’ve became increasingly intrigued by the role that habits could play in allowing us to have a happier, healthier, more productive lives.
You didn’t start out as a writer though. You had a successful career as a lawyer.
Yes. I went to Yale law school. I was clerking for Sandra Day O’Connor when I finally decided that I wanted to be a writer. That was many books ago. I think I’ve written … I needed to count. I think I’ve written seven or eight books now. I had to start all over from zero after having put all that time and energy and money into becoming a lawyer.
Did people think you were nuts for making a left-hand turn?
No, they didn’t. I think I’m really lucky that the people who are around me were very supportive. Nobody really said I was nuts. I think some people are like, “Well, good luck with that.”
Certainly my parents and my husband were very … My husband switched out of law the same time as I did, so that was great because we both just … We moved from Washington to New York and we’re like, “Okay, we’re not lawyers anymore.” You’re always a lawyer at heart.
When you take a look at those people that are closest to you, if they are not supportive, then making a change like that is not going to happen.
No. I was so lucky. I really was very fortunate and that they were very supportive. I think sometimes the people who are closest to us, out of deep love, they don’t want to see us fail. They don’t want us to risk rejection or failure. They want us to be safe.
Out of love, they try to scare us at a particular direction, but in the end, there is no safety. I think if there’s anything in that last ten years has shown it’s like, “There’s no one safe place to be.” Then a lot of times, people burn out or they circle back to what they would have done in the first place.
I’ve talked to a lot of people who, eight, ten years later are like, “You know what, actually I’m going to go back to my first idea.” You’re like, “Yeah, okay. Well, you went to grad school,” or whatever in the meantime. I think it can be hard if people around you are really trying to get you to do something. Even if their intentions are good, they’re not helpful.
All right, so jumping in to habits. The first thing I want to ask you because there’s something that so many of us have heard forever, and that is that it takes twenty-one days to create a habit. What I would love to know is what your thoughts are on that and what are some of the biggest myths about habits?
Well, unfortunately that is one of the biggest myths about habits, which I expect you knew. Mere repetition is not enough to make something a habit, and we all know that from everyday life because there’s things that you can do hundreds of times and it never really quite becomes a habit, and there are things that you do three times and then it’s a habit that seems to lock in with iron strength.
Yeah, mere repetition won’t do it. I think the biggest myth and that’s sort of one face of it, the biggest myth is that there’s one magic solution. There’s a one size fits all solution, and if we could only identify what it was, then everybody’s habits would be fixed. Do it first thing in the morning.
Works for you, works for me, works for everybody. Just get up early and do that first thing, that thing that’s your priority to do it first thing, then all your troubles will be over.
Well, that works sometimes for some people. It doesn’t work all the time for everyone. Like night people, there really are night people. Night people, they’re more creative and productive later in the day. For them to say, “Oh, I’m going to wake up early and go for a run.
I’m going to get up early and write that novel,” that is not going to set themselves up for success because they’re night people, so the morning is not a good time for them to be doing anything that requires self-command.
Just over and over, I see with habits, I’ve talked to people and even people who are very discouraged about a habit that they’ve tried and failed to make or they feel unable to change. A lot of times, I think you really haven not given this a shot that reflects what’s true about you.
I think if you think about yourself and what you need to have a habit work, I think you’re going to have a much better life ahead of success. Fortunately, I’ve talked to many people as I’ve gone out with these ideas, and many people were like, “Oh man, now that I know XYZ, I’m able to quit sugar.
I’m able to go to bed on time.” It’s usually not some big thing. It’s some little thing but it’s the right thing for them. That’s the thing, it has to be the right thing for each of us because if it worked for Steve Jobs, if it worked for my sister-in-law, that doesn’t mean it’s going to work for me.
That is the biggest myth is that there’s a right habit that everyone should follow and it will work for everyone.
How do you go about, and I want to get in to the four different personality styles that you talked about, but how do you go about discovering what that right thing is? Because it’s so funny, as you’re saying this, I’m thinking of a conversation that I had a couple of days ago. I’m talking with a friend.
I’m exercising at night and work sometimes just cuts into it. It just doesn’t happen, so I’m looking at, okay, I’m going to go back to putting it in the morning. I’m not excited about exercising in the morning.
I just know that I can do it, but as I was talking to a friend, my friend’s just like shaking their head, “Yes, it’s the absolute best time for you to be doing this.” I catch myself thinking, “That’s exactly what Gretchen is talking about.”
Like, “Oh, that’s the best time for you to be working out.” Well, that’s the best time for you to be working out, I would prefer doing it later on if I didn’t have such a crazy schedule. What are your thoughts on how do you find the right way to go about doing your habit?
I tried to pose a million different questions that will help shed a light on different aspects of people’s personalities so that they get a sense of how to think about what kind of habits will work for them, what approach?
The example that you just gave is an excellent example of one of the best questions that you can ask yourself is, when have I succeeded in the past? When have I done this well?
Because if you look back and you’re like, “Well you know what, I’m not that excited about exercising early in the morning, but when I’ve done it in the past, I’ve been really much, much more consistent.”
It’s like, “Well then that seems to be the habit that works for you.” Maybe part of the reason that you like exercising in the afternoon is that you let yourself up to hook a lot more. You bring in the loophole, I have a whole chapter on loopholes.
Or you might say to yourself, “Look, if I look at it, I might think that I’m missing a lot of exercise but actually I’m more consistent doing it in the afternoon when I feel more into it, when I feel more energetic.
I actually do a better job in the afternoon than I do in the morning, even though it seems like the morning makes more sense, for me I actually do a better job.” Really think about when have you done it in the past?
A lot of people are like, “I have this roommate in college and we did XYZ.” Okay, well, what was different about it then? Or, “Before my kid went to school, I did XYZ.” Okay, well, what was different then?
Because there’s a lot of clues in there about you specifically when you think about your own past because as circumstances change, maybe it’s that your gym used to be right across the street from your office so it was so much more convenient and that’s what made you go.
Maybe you went with a friend and that sense of accountability or that fun made you go. Maybe you went to a huge gym that had tons of options and so you never got bored and you always felt like you could choose what you wanted to go and that helped you go.
There’s all different factors that could influence whether someone found it easier or harder to keep their habit of exercise. An important clue is, when have you succeeded and when have you failed?
Yeah. That was definitely the deciding factor for me was knowing I have done this successfully. I didn’t care for it, but I’ve been successful at it and that’s what’s worked out.
The morning works better for you. Usually morning is good for people because it’s more regular, it’s more predictable, and things haven’t had a time to crop up, but just because it works for most people doesn’t mean it’s going to work for everybody.
Absolutely. It is the smartest choice for me, because of the way things happen in a day. I mean it could be a fantastic day and I definitely want to go out exercise. It could be a horrible day and it’s the last thing I can even think about. Talk about the four different personality styles or different styles. I absolutely know which one I am.
Excellent! I’ll describe them and then I want to hear about you. I love hearing about people talking about their tendencies. These are the four tendencies. I’m going to describe them where most people can get it just off of the brief description, but there is a quiz on my site GretchenRubin.com for people who want to quiz which will tell you an answer.
I developed this framework because as I was studying habits, I was very struck by the unspoken assumption in just about everything I read that we all have the same aptitude for forming habits and we all have the same attitude towards habits. That just seemed to me obviously incorrect.
It’s clear that some people find it easier or harder to form habits than most people. Some people love habits, some people hate habits. Then there’s also a few in between.
How do you measure people against each other? How do you create a framework for understanding the patterns that we see? This thing almost melted my brain, it was so hard to grasp. I realized that when it comes to habits, people fell into four very striking patterns. I divided all of humanity into four.
It has to do with how you meet and you respond to the idea of an expectation. We all have outer expectations that’s like a work deadline or request from a spouse coming from the outside. Then we also have inner expectations, our own desire to keep a New Year’s resolution, our own desire to start playing guitar again. It’s an inner expectation.
There are upholders, questioners, obligers, and rebels.
Upholders readily meet outer and inner expectation alike. They meet a work deadline, they keep a New Year’s resolution without much fuss. They want to know what’s expected of them and to make that expectation, but their expectation for themselves is just as important as the expectations of others.
Then our questioners. Questioners question all expectations. They’ll do something if they think it makes sense. They hate anything arbitrary or irrational or inefficient. They want to know, “Why am I listening to you anyway while you get to tell me what to do?”
Once they decide that they’ve accepted an expectation then they have no trouble following through with it. In a way, they make everything an inner expectation because they have to endorse it before they meet it.
Then obligers. Obligers readily meet outer expectations, but they struggle to meet inner expectations. My insight into this came from a friend who said to me at lunch one day, “You know I’d be happier if I exercise and I can’t.
The weird thing is when I was in high school, I was on the track team and I never miss track practice, so why can’t I go running now?” I thought, “Well why not? Same person, same behavior. At one time it’s effortless, now she can’t do it. Look at her past. What’s different?” I realized she’s an obliger.
When she had a coach and a team waiting for her or a like a boss or a deadline or a trainer or some form of external accountability, when she had an outer expectation, no trouble. But when it’s only her own inner expectation, then she struggles.
Then the final category are rebel. Rebels resist all expectation, outer and inner alike. They want to do what they want do in their own way. If you ask or tell them to do something, they’re very likely to resist. They don’t even like to tell themselves what to do.
Like if they think, “I’m going to take … I always wanted to learn how to woodwork, I’ll take a woodworking class at 2:00 on Saturday.” Then they’ll be like, “I’m not going to woodworking class at 2:00 on Saturday. I’m not going to buy-in myself.
No one can tell me what to do.” They don’t even want to tell themselves what to do. These are the four tendencies. Now, come on Chris, what are you?
No doubt I’m a questioner.
Why did that ring through?
See, here’s one thing. We deal a lot of personality styles and we deal a lot with values as well. Something about me is I’m what’s called a high economic. I am huge about having a return on my investment.
For me, I question things consistently of, what’s the value here? I will absolutely pour my life out to change somebody’s life in our of our events or in something or just a conversation with somebody who’s going through something painful, but if I’m talking to somebody who is not going to do anything with the information, I’m done, I don’t want to do this. I do that. I question stuff all that time.
There’s so many things I could be doing with my energy and that’s right now and it’s slam time, is this something I should be doing? What I do know, oh absolutely, okay, go. I have no problem whatsoever.
But I feel like I’m also a quasi obliger to an extent. I feel like I’m definitely a questioner but also an obliger in some aspects, from the external, meaning the outer expectations. As I read through that, I was laughing at myself going, “Yup, that is definitely me.”
It’s true that we all have a little bit of questioner because nobody likes to do something that’s totally irrational or that’s arbitrary. We all want to be mindful of our energy and our time and everything.
Also, we all have this phenomenon called reactants which is if people, if we feel too controlled, if we like people are telling us too much what to do, then we push back. All of us, most people, external accountability is something that people feel aware of and that makes it, you know, is an influence on their behavior.
The tendencies really are like, what is your impulse? What’s your first instinct? What’s your default? Why do you do what you do? Because we can’t look at somebody from the outside and know what their tendency is in manners because you can have people do the same thing from all four different tendencies framework but their thinking about it would be wildly different.
Let’s say are you actually a questioner or are you actually an obliger? This matters for habits because for a questioner, if a questioner needs to stick to habits, usually the thing that they need is more justification.
They need to really accept the fact that this is the thing that’s going to make the difference. I’m listening to you because I trust your judgment and I respect your authority. I’m doing it this way because this is the right way, this is the efficient way. I’ve done my research. I’ve read up on it.
Now, if I’m taking a drug, I’m taking it at this dosage at this time and it’s this brand and I’m listening to this doctor. The obliger, very different thing needs to be plugged in. For an obliger, the key if they have an inner expectation that they’re having trouble meeting, the key isn’t more information the way it is for questioners.
The key is external accountability. Obligers needs external accountability in order to meet an inner expectation.
In my case no, I’m not.
Yeah. That’s the crucial thing. If you feel like, “Oh, I can meet other …” Like a very obliger thing to say, “Promises to other people can’t be broken, but promises to yourself can be broken.” I was like, “That’s an obliger way of thinking about things.”
The secret is make a promise to someone else for something that’s our own inner expectation. It’s been hilarious to hear the brilliant ingenious strategies that obligers come up with to give themselves outer accountability for inner expectations. They’re ingenious and it works and then they have no trouble meeting it.
Do you have an example off the top of your head?
Oh, I’ve got a million. One of my favorites, I thought this was hilarious. This was a woman who lived alone and wanted to get up at 8:15 in the morning. You think, how can you create an outer accountability for getting up in the morning when you are by yourself?
What she did is she used Hootsuite to make a really embarrassing Facebook post. Then, that post everyday automatically at 8:15 unless she gets up in advance and disables it. That’s really ingenious.
I talked to two people, they were two friends at work and they both had been commiserating about the fact that they’ve just ate fast food for lunch everyday and they kept vowing to start bringing in a healthy lunch pack at home and they would save money and be healthier but then they never did.
They just never could do it, never could do it. They decided what they would do is they would do a salad swap. Half the days, one would cook and half the days the other friend would cook. When they would do it, one would have to cook or the other wouldn’t have anything to eat.
When the other friend cooked, the other had to eat because her friend had gone to all this trouble to make lunch. The obliger said, “The thing is, I could never justify shopping and looking up healthy recipes,” and all this one, it was just for me because I’m like, “Oh no, I’ll just pick up something at work tomorrow.”
But when they knew that someone is expecting me to bring lunch, then they felt completely justified and looking through recipes and going to buy the right ingredients and it’s actually fun but I could just never get myself to do it. That again is, by using outer expectations. A lot of times people use coaches, right?
All kinds of coaches, because coaches hold you accountable and that is a great thing. Now, sometimes people don’t want to pay for a coach or they want to do something different. What you can do is use an accountability group.
There’s a starter kit on my site GretchenRubin.com to give you ideas for how to start a group. The people in the group don’t have to be holding each other accountable to the same aim. It’s like, you don’t all have to be trying to exercise. It’s the accountability.
Everybody could be working on different stuff but the idea is we’re going to get together and hold each other accountable. A lot of times, people form accountability partners. The only problem with this is if one person loses interest or wanders off or gets distracted, then the other person is left hanging.
Many obligers who’ve tried this have said to me, “I get really frustrated because over and over, I get into it and then the person lets me down and I then I just crash to a halt.” If you have a group, there’s more energy and consistency to a group.
If a couple people wander off, we may be able to get a couple of people to join and it’s fun to be part of a group. There’s just an energy and you get ideas from being part of a group. People do this on Facebook. You can meet face to face. There’s all different ways to do it. It’s just this idea that someone’s looking over your shoulder.
With the different types, are there some that are better? I assume yours is because I believe if I remember correctly, you’re an upholder. Are there some that are better at creating habits?
Well, it’s interesting. It definitely is the case that upholders. They tend to have very positive associations with habits. They really love habits and they do find it pretty easy to form habits. It comes pretty easily to them.
The other tendencies, it can also be easy depending on if they go about it in the way that takes advantage of the strength of their tendency because all these tendencies have strengths and weaknesses. So, the challenge for each of us is to take advantage of the strengths and counterbalance the weaknesses so we can get ourselves to the place we would want to be.
A questioner can have no trouble forming habits but they have to get themselves into that place like you described of inner buy-in. They have to really power buy-in to it and then they’ve had to problem, so then they would find it easy to form a habit once they’re convinced.
Obligers, once they have that external accountability, similarly, they are incredibly consistent. Rebels can also form habits but they have to do it in the rebel spirit which means tying it to their identity and their sense of authenticity and also the sense of themselves choosing to do something.
I find that for me, if it has to do with muscle memory, I can do it in a heartbeat. If it’s something that I can very quickly go, “Oh, if I create this habit, I don’t have to think about that thing,” done. That is super easy. I don’t even have to do a ton of research on that.
But it is so funny because there are so many things that I will spend hours researching, is this the absolute best thing depending upon the value of it in my life, then create that habit going forward.
In fact, you’re pointing out something that is often questioners find to be an issue that they have to grapple with which is sometimes they can drain themselves or drain other people by doing too much research.
One questioner said, “Well, I get analysis paralysis where I want perfect information,” but often the world doesn’t give us perfect information or it’s just too much time to be devoting to something.
If you’re a questioner or you’re managing a questioner your round one, it can help to say something like, “We need to make a decision by the end of the week,” or “You can interview five people but not ten people,” or “This is what works for that team, we’re going to do that.
We’re not going to question it any further because they’ve had a good experience with it is as much research as we need.” Because it can be draining, too much questioning.
Both for the questioners themselves and also for the people around who sometimes are like, “Man, we made this decision. It is time to move on.” The questioner’s like, “Wait a minute. There’s lots that we haven’t considered.”
We’ve got a ton of leaders. We got about forty percent of our audience is entrepreneurs, about forty percent are leaders. Leading people in the different types, in leadership, obviously, you have to set expectations.
If you’re going to have incredible communication, one of the greatest things you have to do is set clear expectations. How do you know? Like, do you set the expectations for your team members differently? How would you do that?
This is a very important question because let’s say you’re managing a rebel. They often like a challenge and they like having something like, “You Chris, you’ve got the chops to do this. Show me what you can do. You’ve got six months, blow me away.” Then they can do it in their own way.
The more you try to micromanage them, the more you ignite their spirit of resistance. A lot of times, rebels need something, like they need the energy of having something to push against. “You’re telling me to do this?
Well, I’m going to tell you what, I’m going to do it my own way and it’s going to be better and I’m going to ignore all your instructions, but here I’m going to go off and do it.” That’s one with rebels.
Now, I should note that rebel is by far the smallest tendency. Very, very few people are rebels. Obliger is the largest tendency. Most people are obligers. Questioners close behind. Those are the two. Rebels and upholders are like the extreme wings. They’re very small number of people in there.
Obliger, it’s very important for managers to understand this. There is a pattern among obligers of obliger rebellion, where obligers will meet, meet, meet, meet, meet expectations and then all of a sudden it’s like they snap and they will put their foot down and almost arbitrarily refuse to do something.
This can be real problem in the workplace because sometimes it’s small and funny, but sometimes it can be very, very destructive.The thing about obligers is they feel like other people take advantage of them, and they are correct. In fact, the other two tendencies definitely exploit obligers.
Everybody does. Because if you want somebody to do something for you, you’re going to go to the person who’s going to most likely to say yes. An upholder’s going to be like, “I’m sorry I can’t help you out. I got my own deadline.”
The questioner’s like, “Why should I help you?” The rebel’s like, “I don’t feel like doing that.” The obligers, they’re amazing team members. They’re amazing bosses. They’re the rock of the world.
I know somebody who was managing an obliger and he said everybody wanted this woman on their team because she made everything look good. He said at her annual review, he said, “You’re doing too much work too well, and I mean that as a sincere criticism.”
What can happen with obligers is they can get to the point of rebellion and then you get this extreme resentment. You get burn out. You’re going to get destructive behaviors like people just often quitting, people just dropping the ball. Like, “I can’t do anything.
I can’t do it, so instead of dealing with the fact that I have too much work, I’m just going to let something completely slide, and maybe not tell you about it because I feel bad about the fact that I’m not meeting an expectation, so I’m just going to drop this ball.”
When are we going to figure out the consequences of that?
The exact wrong time.
Exactly. If you manage an obliger or you are an obliger, you want to look for burnout. You want to look for resentment. You want to look for people taking advantage of them, and build in safety measures. “I know how many vacation days you’re taking and I expect you to take all of them.
I see that somebody’s added you to their team, that is their problem, not your problem. You got your own problems. I don’t want to see you helping these people. Everybody’s going to do their copy on this report.” Whatever it is to help them build in those limitations so that they can do their great work.
You really would, as a manager or as a leader, want to be thinking about how to speak in the language. Probably you have a little bit of everything.
If you want to get people on board, you need to provide ample justification and take the time to answer questions. Sometimes that can feel like someone’s undermining your authority or questioning your judgment, but a questioner just needs to have those reasons in order to get on board.
The obliger needs external accountability. Now, I have to say as an upholder, I was just talking to an upholder leader and a problem with being an upholder leader is that we don’t like to have to hold other people accountable.
We feel like everybody should be like us and just do what’s expected of them without any really reminders or supervision. That’s not very realistic, by the way, upholders. Most people are not like that.
He said that it was very hard for him to manage people who were not like him. Very few people are like him. He’s managing mostly people who are not like him and so even though it went against his nature to have things like deadlines and supervisory meetings and check-ins and all those kind of thing, it was important because that’s what he needed to do in order to lead his team and to get the best work out of that team.
Now, if it was rebel, that kind of stuff could backfire. You really do have to know what you’re dealing with.
Makes sense. I can totally see that. As an upholder, do you believe that rules are made for a reason and they should be followed?
That is my instinct. My instinct is to accept a rule and my instinct is to follow it. That is one of the great weaknesses of upholders is they too readily follow the rules and meet expectations.
That can get us into trouble in a lot of different ways. With age and wisdom, hopefully all of us can counterbalance the negatives with tendency.
I’m married to a questioner. My husband’s a questioner. That’s been really helpful for me because it’s just a model of like even if my impulse is to do it, I can stop myself and say … I have to take a step.
It doesn’t happen automatically but I have to take a step and say, “Wait a minute. I don’t have to do that. I’m a grown-up. I can choose what I do. Do I want to do that or not?” For you, that’s probably the first thing you think. That’s just flying out of your head.
I have to remind myself to take that step. I’ve learned the hard way that I need to do it or else I’d spend a lot of time meeting expectations that I don’t need to or in the end I wish I hadn’t bothered to.
Right. All right. So much on good habits, so much on bad habits, that I would love to ask. I guess the question to jump in that direction is, is there a more important way to go about it? Is it more important to create good habits or more important to change bad habits?
That’s interesting. In my book, I identified twenty-one strategies that we can use to master our habits. We use the same twenty-one strategies whether we’re making them or breaking them, because usually with a habit, you could put it either way.
You can say, “Well, I’m going to quit sugar,” or “I’m going to start eating more healthily.” “I’m going to stop staying up late,” or “I’m going to go to bed early.” That’s one of the distinctions that I draw that it can help people to know, do you gravitate more to something where you’re going to get a benefit?
We’re you framing it as a positive? Or do you gravitate more to it, does it have more power for you if you think about how you’re all setting a potential negative because people respond differently.
I don’t think the making or the breaking is the key thing, but I think it’s what it is, is to have very clearly in your mind what exactly it is that you want to change? What are you expecting of yourself?
Then go through all the twenty-one strategies and think, how can I use every possible strategy to help me make this important change? Because sometimes with habits, people would say things like, “I want to get rid of the habit being so stressed out.” What does that even mean?
I mean, they can get stressed out because they have conflict with their boss. They can be stressed out because they can’t pay their bills. They can be stressed out because they have a horrible work community. They can be stressed out because their refrigerator’s on the blink.
They can be stressed out because they are having a fight with a friend. They can be stressed out because … There’s a million reasons you could be stressed out, but just saying you’re stressed out doesn’t suggest a solution.
If you say to yourself, “I’m stressed out because I really know that I need to switch careers and I just haven’t taken any steps.” Okay, that’s something that can be addressed like behavior. We can work on that. What would the habits be that will help you switch careers? “I want the habit of networking.
I want the habit of doing consistent research even though it makes me anxious to do this.” Use the habit of scheduling. Use the habit of monitoring. Use the strategy of other people. There are strategies that you can use.
It’s really about knowing exactly what you want to change and then thinking about strategies that can help you do that because I think for a lot of people, there’s a lot of stuff … It’s not rocket science, like you read it and you’re like, “Oh man, I totally know about that.” It just hadn’t occurred to you to use it.
You’ve described the strategies, is there a best time to begin creating or changing?
The best time to begin is now. Yes. I mean, you don’t want to pick a bad time, like when you got the flu. Most times when we think, “Well, you know I’m going to start in the fall because then everybody will be back on schedule. I’m going to start in the summer because everything’s going to come down.
I’m going to start after the holidays.” I mean, you can do this all year long for decade after decade. That’s tomorrow logic which is to think that for some reason, it’s going to be easier tomorrow. Tomorrow Chris. Tomorrow Gretchen. They are going to have an easy time with this.
But tomorrow, as little orphan Annie says, “Tomorrow is always a day away,” so really, you want to begin now.
We experienced two New Years. I’m assuming you experienced that as well. There’s always the January 1st as a New Year. Everybody’s changing. Everybody’s trying to create habits. I think eighty percent are dropped within the first couple of weeks or something like that.
We see that a ton. We like to say it’s after Labor Day, but once your kids get into school, you have let go during the summer. You’ve done whatever and now it’s, “All right. I’m going to get back on track.” It’s so funny because it’s like if you were doing the habit in the first place, there wouldn’t be another New Year.
There wouldn’t be New Years, it would just be a process as you go along. That’s one of those things that is always so apparent in our business but it’s something that I try to battle in my own life. Don’t get stuck to the same way that everybody else does it.
Keep your habits going forward so that you don’t have to solve a health problem because you’ve destroyed yourself through Christmas. What if habits of other people affect you in a negative way? What do you there?
That’s a hugely important topic. One of the strategies of the twenty-one strategies is called the strategy of other people, because as your question rightly points out, other people have enormous influence on our habits and we have enormous influence on other people’s habits.
Even sometimes with the drive-by comment. I was very struck when I talked about my own habits and talked to people about their habits. Sometimes people would just make an offhand comment or be like, “Oh yeah, I read this is interesting book.” People will just pick it up and run with it.
This stuff is coming to you all the time and of course you are very much influenced by the habits of the people around you. It’s hard when they’re not helpful.
Sometimes they’re not helpful because they’re not being helpful. Sometimes they’re actually undermining, because your new good habit could cause other people to feel uneasy. It could make them feel judged because you’ve changed what you’re doing.
You’re doing something different from them. It might make them feel guilty because they know they should make that change but they haven’t, and so they feel bad. It makes them feel bad to think about what you’re doing. It might be inconvenient for them.
They’re like, “You know, now that you’re getting up and going for a run at 9 a.m. on Saturday, I got to get breakfast for the kids. I actually prefer to sleep in so I don’t want you to exercise in the morning.” You know what I mean? All these things come into play.
I think the best response is a different strategy which is the strategy of clarity. The strategy of clarity comes back to this idea that the more clearly we know what we’re asking for results and why, the easier it is when other people aren’t supportive. It still matters.
It’s still hard and you really want to be very aware of what people are doing and how that could be influencing you, but you want to be very clear. Then there’s the strategy of safeguards which is thinking about failure.
What happens if you slip up? How are you going to get back in the saddle? How are you going to avoid slipping up? What’s you’re if-then planning?
Let’s say you know you’re going to work and you don’t want to eat sugar anymore, and you have a co-worker who you know is just like, my sister calls this the evil doughnut bringer. The person who’s constantly bringing in treats and trying to get people to eat them.
What are you going to say to that person? You might say to that person, “Oh you know that looks great but not right now. It’s not that I never eat, I’m just not going to have one right now.” The person says, “Oh come on, you lost so much weight.
Life’s too short not to eat a cupcake. What? You’re scared to eat one cupcake?” What are you going to say? Have a plan in your mind, like what are you going to say to that person? What’s your response going to be?
When you have that plan in your head, then you’re much better able to figure out what to do in the heat of the moment. A lot of the things that people say or do, it’s predictable. Like, we know how Aunt Sally is going to behave. We know how our husband or wife, what they’re going to do.
We can think about it in advanced, how can I take that into account? How can I have a plan?
I love it. That was something that was a difficult thing for me when I was in the much larger corporate workplace, some people bringing in stuff and it’s like, “Please stop. I don’t want this.” Then it’s that one time that you actually do want it, they’re like, “Oh, you haven’t wanted it up till now.”
Yeah. It’s funny because you mentioned I have a podcast now, Happier With Gretchen Rubin, and I deal with my sister who’s a TV writer. TV writers, I mean, oh my gosh you cannot believe the food. Like it’s in their contract.
I think they have this giant store of goodies and you just get anything you want, plus people are bringing stuff in all the time. My sister is a Type I diabetic so for her this stuff really matters. She said, like she just has to say to people like, “I’m not going to eat it. I don’t want to see it. I don’t want you to bring it in. You’re not doing me any favors. Don’t kid yourself.”
The thing about the podcast is a lot of people responded saying, “Oh my gosh that’s so mean. You’re so selfish.” Like, “I bring in those doughnuts and everybody loves it.” It’s just like, “Do you really think that you’re …” I mean, you think you’re making people happier because they’re all crowding around and getting excited and eating the cupcakes, but in the longer, is that making them happier and healthier?
In the long run, is that really what they want? Sometimes a happier, healthier, more productive life means that we have to say no to ourselves in the moment or deny ourselves something. I mean, that is just the fact.
The people in the organization and of course the organization itself, the rules of the organizations can have tremendous influence on your habits because of the kind of stuff that they put in place. That’s the strategy of convenience and inconvenience too.
We’re much more likely to do something that’s convenient. We’re much less likely to do something that’s inconvenient. If your office puts in a gym, that’s good. If they put in a giant candy dispenser where you can go up anytime of the day or night and help pour yourself a giant bag of candy without even measuring it, that’s not good.
All these decisions, they’re all acting on you all day long.
It’s so difficult when so many people get validation or get self-worth by, you know, “Let me include you in this,” and “Oh, you enjoyed it? You liked it?” The person who’s saying no is a bad person.
If you were to go back to a young Gretchen, what is the one thing that you would tell her?
Well, I have twelve personal commandments. My first commandment is to be Gretchen. That’s what I would tell my younger self because we can build a happy life only on the foundation of our own nature, our own interest, our own temperament, our own values.
When I think back, it’s when I know most what I want, what’s true for me, what’s true for Gretchen. Not my fantasy self. Not what other people wish I were like. Not what I assume is true or what I actually know is true about me and for me. That’s when I’ve made the decisions that made me happiest.
Absolutely. I love it. We have barely scratched into this thing and gotten some pretty phenomenal information. It’s such great stuff. How can people get more of you? How can they get the book? How can they get more of you?
On my site, GretchenRubin.com, you can find out more about habits and happiness than you would ever want to know. I have links to buy my books, to my podcast, Happy With Gretchen Rubin. I’ve got all kinds of resources for discussion guides and checklist and how to start a group and all these things and more.
Then I post there almost everyday something about my adventures and happiness habits and human nature. I’m on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest and YouTube and LinkedIn, all that, under my name Gretchen Rubin.
There’s way more than anybody would ever want to see. I love to hear from people. I love to hear your own experiences, your habits, what’s worked for you, what’s not worked for you, your challenges, what you’ve done for your happiness. I love hearing from people.
Thank you so much for doing this. It is such a pleasure to have you on and it is so great getting information to help people that are out there trying to lead their lives, lead their teams, and obviously lead the businesses as well.
Thanks for coming and doing this!