Blog Posts by Gretchen Rubin

  • Why Can’t You Exercise Regularly? One Reason: Convenience

    Running ShoesRight now, I'm editing my next book, Before and After, an examination of the most interesting subject in the world: how we make and break habits. (My editor is reading the draft for the first time right now, in fact, so wish me luck.)

    In the book, I identify multiple strategies that we can use to make it easier to foster good habits. One of the most familiar, and most effective, is the simple, straightforward, powerful Strategy of Convenience. And its counterpart, the Strategy of Inconvenience.

    We're far more likely to do something if it's convenient, and far less likely to do something if it's inconvenient, to an astounding degree. For instance, in one cafeteria, when an ice-cream cooler's lid was left open, thirty percent of diners bought ice cream, but when diners had to open the lid, only fourteen percent bought ice cream, even though the ice cream was visible in both situations. People take less food when using tongs, instead of spoons, as serving utensils.

    We can use

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  • Further Secrets of Adulthood — for Habits

    GardenSnailI collect axioms, paradoxes, maxims, teaching stories, proverbs, and aphorisms of all sorts, because I love to see complex ideas distilled into a few words.

    For years, I've been writing my "Secrets of Adulthood," which are the principles I've managed to grasp as I've become an adult.

    Right now, I'm hard at work editing my next book, Before and After, about how we make and break habits - really. This is the most fascinating subject ever - though it's true, I say that about all my books. (If you want to hear when Before and After goes on sale, sign up here.)

    Many of my latest Secrets of Adulthood relate to habits:

    • We're more like other people than we suppose, and less like other people than we suppose.
    • A slight delay is the easiest way; no delay is the easiest way.
    • Prioritize prioritizing.
    • Well begun is half done.
    • Don't expect to be motivated by motivation.
    • Practice makes permanent.
    • Things often get harder before they get easier.
    • What we
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  • Can You Add to This List of Famous Upholders, Questioners, Rebels, and Obligers?

    GirlsI continue to be preoccupied with refining the framework of the Rubin Tendencies. In a nutshell,

    • Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations (I'm an Upholder, 100%)
    • Questioners question all expectations; they'll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense (my husband is a Questioner)
    • Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike
    • Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves

    To help clarify the categories - and to help us all understand ourselves better - I'm devising a reading list.

    I want to provide examples of the Rubin Tendencies from well-known movies, TV shows, and literature, or from memoirs, autobiographies, or biographies.

    I just started looking for these examples, and I could use many more suggestions. I highly recommend everything on this list, by the way, even aside from the light they shed on the Tendencies.

    Upholder:

    -Book: J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter books -

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  • What Are Your Treats? Do You Have Any that Don’t Look like Treats?

    shovelsI've asked this question before, but I'm asking again, because I find it so fascinating: Do you have any "treats" that don't look like treats? What are your treats?

    In my forthcoming book, Before and After, about how we make and break habits - really - I identify a bunch of strategies we can use to change our habits. Perhaps the most delightful one is the Strategy of Treats. (To be notified when the book is available for pre-order, sign up here.)

    What exactly counts as a "treat?" A treat is different from a reward, which must be justified or earned. A treat is a small pleasure or indulgence that we give to ourselves just because we want it.

    Treats give us greater vitality, which boosts self-control, which helps us maintain our healthy habits. When we give ourselves treats, we feel energized, cared for, and contented, which in turn boosts self-command. When we don't get any treats, we feel depleted, resentful, and angry, and we feel justified in self-indulgence. We start to

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  • Do You Find it Hard to Turn Off the Light, Even when You Need the Sleep?

    unmadebedpillowsBecause I'm working on Before and After, my new book about habit-formation, I constantly talk to people about their habits, and as I heard about people's sleep habits, something puzzled me.

    For me, sleep is a self-reinforcing habit; I feel so much better when I get enough sleep that I find it fairly easy to respect my bedtime.

    Often, however, people tell me that they're painfully, chronically exhausted-yet when I suggest that they go to bed earlier, they become angry and resentful. Usually, these folks desperately need the sleep. So why do they get so upset at the thought of moving up their bedtime?

    As I talked to more and more people, I began to understand. In most cases, these are folks who schedule very little time for themselves. They race around, weekdays and weekends alike, without a break, and their only open time comes at night, when nothing more can be expected of them.

    Some use that time to try to catch up on work-to knock off a few emails, to read through a

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  • Want to Read About Writing? Here Are My Five Favorite Books About Writing

    onceuponatimeIt's not easy to write a book about writing that's also a pleasure to read. Here are my favorites:

    1. William Zinsser, On Writing Well. I've read this book several times, and I'm due for another re-reading soon. It's full of invaluable advice, and so beautifully written that it's a joy to read. My favorite chapter may be "Humor," which includes Zinsser's example of his own magazine piece about women and their hair curlers-brilliant. I'd quote it here but you really have to read the whole thing to get the proper effect.

    2. Virginia Woolf, A Writer's Diary. I've read this many, many times. Virginia Woolf kept a diary for twenty-seven years, and after her death, her husband drew from those diaries to create A Writer's Diary, which includes the entries that refer to her own writing, that comment on the books she was reading, and that touch on the scenes and ideas relevant to her work. Extraordinarily rich and powerful.

    When I was writing Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill,

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  • Want to Know Yourself Better, to Shape Your Habits Better? Take This Quiz

    self-reflectionDid I mention that I'm working on a book about habit-formation? Oh right, maybe I did. It's called Before and After (sign up here if you want to hear when the book goes on sale.)

    One of the themes of the book is this: If we want to foster habits successfully, we must know ourselves. People often assume that the same approach will work for everyone, that the same habits will work for everyone, and that everyone has the same aptitude and appetite for forming habits, but from my observation, that's not true.

    For instance, it was to try to understand the varieties of human nature that I came up with the four Character Tendencies. (Formerly known as the Rubin Tendencies, until some folks objected-still trying to come up with a better name-suggestions welcome.)

    It's hard, however, to know ourselves. And it's hard to know the aspects of our nature that are relevant to how we might form habits.

    I came up with a list of questions to help me understand myself better. Consider for

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  • My New Habit for Tackling Nagging Tasks: Power Hour

    hourglassI'm working on Before and After, a book about habit-formation, so I constantly ask myself, "What are the issues in my life that bug me, and how can I tackle them through habits?

    One problem: nagging tasks. It's a Secret of Adulthood: Nothing is more exhausting than the task that's never started. I knew this, but nevertheless I'd accumulated a lengthy list of small, mildly unpleasant tasks that I kept putting off-in many cases, for months. Maybe years.

    These tasks weren't urgent (which why they didn't get done), but they weighed on my mind and sapped my energy. As I walked through my apartment, or sat at my desk, the accumulation of these little chores made me feel overwhelmed.

    But how could I form a single habit to cover a bunch of non-recurring, highly diverse tasks?

    I hit on an idea. Once a week, for one hour, I'd steadily work on these chores. An hour didn't sound like much time, but it was manageable.

    With this hour, I'd tackle only tasks where I had no deadline,

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  • The Habits We Most Want to Foster, Or, the “Essential Seven.”

    seven-columnsMy current writing project is a book that will be called Before and After, about the most fascinating subject ever, the subject of habits. How do we make and break habits-really? (To be notified when the book goes on sale, sign up here.)

    It was my interest in happiness that led me to the subject of habits, and of course, the study of habits is really the study of happiness. Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life, and a significant element of happiness. If we have habits that work for us, we're much more likely to be happy, healthy, productive, and creative. Or not.

    When I talk to people about their happiness challenges, they often point to hurdles related to a habit they want to make or break.

    Last week, I posted about the "Big Five," the areas into which most people's desired habits fall.

    I asked for reader advice about two questions: had I overlooked any areas, and was there a better name than "Big Five"?

    Thank you, readers! I got very helpful answers

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  • What Habit Would Add the Most to Your Happiness? Does it Fall in These Five Categories?

    hand_printMy current writing project is a book that will be called Before and After, about the most fascinating subject ever, the subject of habits. How do we make and break habits-really? (To be notified when the book goes on sale, sign up here.)

    It was my interest in happiness that led me to the subject of habits, and of course, the study of habits is really the study of happiness. Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life, and a significant element of happiness. If we have habits that work for us, we're much more likely to be happy, healthy, productive, and creative. Or not.

    When I talk to people about their happiness challenges, they often point to hurdles related to a habit they want to make or break.

    When I think about the habits that I wanted to cultivate, or talk to people about their happiness challenges, it seems as though just about every habit that people seek to make or break falls into the "Big Five":

    1. Eat and drink more healthfully

    2. Exercise

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