[1:03] Rachel: Hi, and welcome to another episode of the Yoga Girl podcast, “Conversations from the Heart.” I am so excited to introduce this week’s guest on the show, Gretchen Rubin. A five-time New York Times bestselling author, superstar podcaster, speaker, and leading expert on habits, happiness, and human nature, she’s here with us today to talk about how we can stick to healthy habits and how to truly make 2020 a happier year. Welcome to the show Gretchen!
Gretchen: Hello! I’m so happy to be talking to you [laughs].
Rachel: I’m so happy to talk to you! I feel like it’s so serendipitous that we’re recording this today because I…I read your book, The Happiness Project, but years…years ago. Did you just…you just had the ten year anniversary, is that true?
Gretchen: Yes, I did. That was exciting, yeah.
Rachel: Congratulations, that’s really big. But it was so long ago that I read it, and then it being January and everything, I’ve been cleaning out my house…
Gretchen: Oh yeah.
Rachel: And I found your book at the very top shelf — because it was a long time ago that I read it — and I started re-reading it, and then we booked this podcast, and I just feel like I’m very much in your energy right now…
Gretchen: Oh good, wonderful!
Rachel: …and I’m so happy that you’re here.
Rachel: So for anyone listening who maybe is totally new to that world of Gretchen, could you tell us a little bit about the history and sort of the philosophy of the Happier Movement?
[2:23] Gretchen: Yeah, so, I…as you said, ten years ago I wrote a book called The Happiness Project, which was an experiment that I did to see if I could make myself happier. I realized, you know, “what do I want from life anyway?” I thought, “well I want to be happier,” and I realized that I didn’t spend any time thinking about whether I was happy, or what could I do that…to make myself happier. So I decided that I would spend a year — because a year felt long enough that I could have real change, but not so long that it felt limitless — and I divided the year into twelve themes, a month for every theme, and I thought about the areas where I thought I could be happier. So like, January was energy because I thought, “well, if I have more energy, then all the other things will be easier.” And then there were, you know, friendship, and family, and work, and leisure, and reading, and all kinds of things. And then within each month, I found a handful of concrete, manageable resolutions to follow to see if I could make myself happier. So I was using myself as a guinea pig. And after that book came out, I just…I just…I was so enthralled and continued to be enthralled with the subject of happiness, and that led me to good habits, because a lot of times when we’re trying to make ourselves happier, we’re trying to adapt a habit, like we’re trying to have a regular yoga practice, or we’re trying to meditate every day, and we think “I know it makes me happier, so why am I not sticking to it?” So that got me really interested in habits, which I wrote the book Better Than Before, and then that led me to my book The Four Tendencies, which is about a personality profile that I realized, which is really at the heart of why people…form habits in a certain way, or do certain things, or struggle to do certain things, whether they’re an Upholder, a Questioner, Obliger or Rebel. And then I wrote a little book recently, just like a fun little book about Outer Order, Inner Calm because one of the, like, little things that I noticed in happiness is “why is it that getting outer order for so many people, gives them such a huge boost?” It’s like, it’s not a big deal to clean out your closet and yet, it makes people just feel….like they can change the world. Like a friend of mine said “I finally cleaned out my fridge, and now I know I can switch careers.”
Gretchen: And I thought “I know exactly how that feels like!” And, alongside the books, I also have a podcast, like you mentioned, “Happier with Gretchen Rubin,” where I talk about all these ideas in the podcast form.
Rachel: I think, I think it’s…it’s so funny that quote about “I can change careers” because…
Gretchen: Yeah [laughs].
Rachel: …I cleaned out my fridge, I know that feeling so well.
Gretchen: Yeah, yes!
Rachel: Even just a drawer…
Rachel: Like emptying the contents of that messy drawer in your house, and then cleaning that out…it makes you feel like you can take over the world. Why is that? Have you done enough research that you feel close to that answer? Why does cleaning out, or creating outer order…why does that give us such a boost?
[5:05] Gretchen: Well one of the…first I want to say most people feel this way, but not everybody feels this way. There really are…
Rachel: Oh, okay [laughs].
Gretchen: …people who are truly clutter-blind, and they don’t, you know, they don’t care. They’ll live in piles of unopened mail, and all the kitchen cabinets, drawers are open — my sister Elizabeth is like this — they don’t care. But for most people, like you and me, outer order does contribute to inner calm. I…you know, I think there’s a lot of things. I think part of it is that our surroundings do affect the way we feel, and when we feel like our surroundings are in order, we feel like ourselves are more in order, especially things like the kitchen, which feels very personal, or like, making your bed in the morning. There’s something that when you walk into your bedroom at night and the bed is made, you just feel like you’re more like…like your world just makes more sense, even though that’s kind of irrational. And then, of course, it’s just a lot easier to move through your day if you’re not looking for your keys, or you know, you can’t put a t-shirt back in the drawer because it’s so jammed full of t-shirts that you never wear. And we also…we project our identity into our environment, and so if your place is really messy, you might feel embarrassed to have people over, so you have…you know, you don’t see friends as much. Or maybe you feel really uncomfortable if, like, you have to have an emergency repair done, like on your kitchen sink and somebody has to come into your house and see what it looks like. It can make us feel bad if we feel like it doesn’t put out the identity into the world that we want to present to the world, or that we want to be to ourselves, because we see it too.
[6:36] Rachel: But so why are we so messy? I think this is so…so fascinating. I’m married to a…okay, I don’t want to say “hoarder” because I know there’s levels to that.
Rachel: But my husband literally will not let go of anything. So I continuously have to throw away, give away, clear out things without his knowledge, and he never asks again. It’s like, I’ve thrown away so many things over the years, he doesn’t even know, he never cares about that object, but if I ask, “hey you haven’t used this in five years,” and he goes “no, no, no, one day…
Rachel: “…one day, we’re going to live this life where we’re going to use all of these gadgets,” you know. Why are we, to different degrees, so messy? Why is it so hard to let go of stuff?
Gretchen: Well, you know, I think there are a lot of reasons for that. That’s so fascinating about your husband. Do you feel like he’s one of these people who wants to be prepared for anything? Like, maybe…maybe they’ll be a snowstorm one day, and then we would need that….I mean, is it that he wants to be prepared for every eventuality, or maybe he hates buying things? Weirdly, some people are under-buyers, like I’m an under-buyer. People don’t like to buy things, so in a weird way they don’t like to let go of anything, because then they…if they let go of it, and then they would need it, then they would have to go out and buy it and they don’t want to do it, so they never want to let go of anything. Or do you feel like he was raised in a household where there was a lot of emphasis placed on using everything up? Where…where do you think it comes from? Because that…I don’t think most people are like that.
[7:59] Rachel: No, I think it’s…it’s a combination of this idea that one day, you know, his lifestyle will be different, sort of?
Rachel: Like, you know, you have this version of…he’s kind of like, um…especially with sports, he’ll throw himself into something, like free-driving…
Rachel: …and then for a year, he’s so into free-diving, he gets all the gadgets and all the stuff, and then he abandons it, and he goes over to…now he’s doing Iron Man.
Rachel: …and he’s biking, and he’s swimming, and then he has this idea that one day, he’ll be a free-diver again, so he’ll need all this stuff. Even when I say “hey, you stopped, you know, playing beach tennis,” or whatever, “that was a decade ago.”
Rachel: “That was a long time ago.” So it’s almost, I think, letting go of this version of yourself, you know, it becomes part of your identity that, “oh, I used to be that kind of person that did that.”
Gretchen: Yes. No, and I…
Rachel: It’s so intimate.
Gretchen: No, I think that you put your finger right on it, which is this sense of identity, and that it’s like as long as the stuff is there, then that identity is still active, and that, that possibility is still present, whereas it might feel very sad to let go of an identity, or to admit that it’s over. Sometimes, it can be helpful to think “I’m not using this right now, I’m gonna let this thing go out into the world where somebody else can use it right now, because this thing should be used.” And a lot of things kind of lose their value, like it’s a wetsuit that it’s going to kind of…the fabric isn’t going to stay good, or the technology is changing very fast, and so no one’s going to want to use this in ten years. This thing should be used now, so that it can be used productively, and then if I need it again, I’ll get the latest gadget. I’ll get the latest version, because if I wanted to get back into free-diving, I’m going to wanna get whatever the equipment is that people are using now. Because the idea that, like, put that stuff to use now, so that it can be used well, sometimes for that kind of person, it will help, because then they’re not denying the identity, they’re not saying “you don’t need it anymore,” they’re saying “you don’t need it right now, and so, why not let somebody else use it right now, and then you can get new stuff when you need it.” Because maybe you will need it.
Rachel: When you need it. If…yeah, maybe. [laughs]
[10:05] Gretchen: And then you never know…if he never does, then he never does. But it’s like, the stuff…
Rachel: Right. I know, and it’s so…and I don’t wanna pretend like I’m the most ordered person in the world — I’m definitely not — but I do really enjoy the process of keeping a clear space.
Rachel: And when I was reading your book just now, Outer Order, Inner Calm, and it struck me that I have this yoga space, you know, in our house that I keep completely clutter-free, you know, it’s so….clean and minimalistic, and simple, just because that brings me peace. But then I go to the rest of my house, where of course I spend the majority of my time, and there’s stuff everywhere. I mean there’s toys, and clothes, and gadgets, and kitchen, and you know, it’s just…and it just struck me how almost…hilarious it is that for this little piece of my life it’s like “here you can have peace,” and then the rest, it’s a mess. Do you have any advice for anyone who might be just like that? That, you know, looking for peace everywhere, but then somehow it feels like it’s a limiting…[laughs]…it’s like this limiting part of our lives, somehow. How can we create more peace in our outer world, everywhere?
Gretchen: Well, well part of it is you’ve got a really young child, and young children are, like…they grow out of stuff, but you are in kind of the season of stuff with your young child. But here’s the thing: it sounds like you and your husband thrive in different environments. And so it’s not that one of you is right and one of you is wrong. It’s not better to live in like…with very little things, and it’s not better to live in a crowded environment. Like, I talk about Simplicity Lovers and Abundance Lovers. So Simplicity Lovers are people like you and me; we like bare surfaces, and maybe not that much on the walls, and there’s not that much going on, and there’s like a lot of beautiful emptiness. And that’s how we thrive. But then other people, they like a lot of stuff going on; they like piles of stuff, they like collections, they like profusion, they like abundance, they like…you know, a lot of visual stimulation. And it sounds to me like your husband…is an Abundance Lover, and you’re a Simplicity Lover. And it’s not that he should learn to be the way you are, or that you should have to put up with what he wants, it’s the question of like, “well how do we have an environment where we both can feel comfortable?” So you have your place where it’s completely simple, and that’s a wonderful refuge, but it sounds like you’re yearning for a little bit less abundance and profusion in other parts of your household. So maybe…
Rachel: Yes! [laughs]
Gretchen: …there’s a way you can create more outer order in those common spaces. Like maybe he could have a room where he could have all his stuff any way he wants it and you just shit the door and don’t go in there, if you have a big enough house, I don’t know. Or maybe you could say something like “well, in the kitchen, it really…I really wish we could have clear counters. I just feel like…someplace I don’t care about having toys out, in this room it’s okay, but in this room, I would really like if we could do these specific things.” And really point to specific things like…“I really feel much more comfortable when all the cabinet doors are closed and the drawers are closed,” or “I really like when there’s just nothing on the kitchen table except for what we’re using to eat, and like, a bowl of oranges,” or “I don’t like, you know…can we keep the mail out of sight,” or whatever it is that’s particularly bothering you. To just sort of…or, like, “can we all agree to put our clothes away.” Or whatever it is that’s kind of bringing you down, and explain…and again, it’s not like you’re right and he should do what you say because you’re correct, it’s that this is what you prefer. And…you know, and then you probably are having…because it sounds like you’re already putting up with a lot more visual noise than you like. So the question is, can you bring it more into something that works for both of you?
[13:49] Rachel: Right.
Rachel: And I love how you share that in the book also, that it’s such a personal…
Rachel: …process. Because I feel a lot of these movements of de-cluttering, it’s almost like an all or nothing…
Rachel: …kind of thing.
Rachel: I tried the Marie Kondo way and…
Rachel: …she’s so sweet, and I liked her books too, but at the end of it, I felt like I failed because I felt like “it’s supposed to be this way, I’m supposed to be minimalistic, I’m supposed to get rid of more…”
Rachel: You know, and then I didn’t…
Rachel: …and I like your way of, “okay, it’s very personal.” So for my husband it’s different…
Rachel: …and, you know, for me it’s different, and for someone else, maybe it’s totally minimalistic.
Rachel: But that we can all find out own…our own way to show what outer order means to us.
Gretchen: Yes, exactly. I think that’s…that’s so true, is that for each person, you kind of have to find what’s that right place for you. Or if you’re living with other people, you have to say, like, “how do we find something…how do we all kind of meet, where…where it all works.” Whenever people say like, “this is the way to do it,” I’m like “well,” because… “do it first thing in the morning,” I’m like “yeah, some people like to do it at night, some people like to do it alone, some people need a friend.” I’m constantly trying to get my friends to let me come over and help them clean their closets, because I love to do it…
Gretchen: …and some people really can do it much better when there’s somebody there keeping them company. And then other people are like “there is no way I would let you come over and do it.”
Gretchen: “I wanna do that by myself.” I’m like, “okay, whatever works for you.”
Rachel: Oh, my God.
Gretchen: “But I’ll come over if you want!” [laughs]
Rachel: You have a standing invitation…
Gretchen: Oh, I will!
Rachel: …to come to Aruba and help me clean. [laughs]
Gretchen: Okay! Nothing could give me more pleasure, I am not exaggerating.
Rachel: What is your home like? Is it…is it totally clutter-free?
[15:21] Gretchen: You know, if you walked around my apartment, you would not say like “oh, this is crazy orderly.” It’s not like it looks like a Pinterest board with, like, every…and I don’t care about things like “do all the spice jars match,” you know. Some people are really into the thing where you take the flour, and the sugar, and the rice, and the oatmeal, and you take it out of the packages so it’s all in this, like, perfect jars. That doesn’t matter to me, but what…what I really value is, I like to know where everything is. I really get annoyed when I have to look for something. So everything in my house, it’s like…I know where everything is. And if it’s not where it’s supposed to be, then it’s not there, because there’s nowhere else it would be. If it’s a hammer, or my passport, or a stamp, or AA batteries, or you know, my daughter’s kindergarten birthday party invitation, like, I know where all that stuff is. Because I like to know where stuff is. And then I do try — and it takes constant effort — to just get rid of the stuff that we’re not using. I’m constantly giving things away, like books that we’re not going to read, or that we already read and are never going to read, or clothes that aren’t going to be worn again, or kitchen…I found…just the other day, I found two garlic presses. I’m like “we don’t even use one garlic press, why do we have two garlic presses?” It’s probably been in there for ten years and finally I noticed it. I’m like “what are we doing with these garlic presses? Get these out of my kitchen!”
Rachel: [laughs] Oh, my God. I have three! [laughs]
Gretchen: Right? Like how does this happen? You know, somebody gives you one as a gift, and you get the other one as a freebie. So…so, I think walking around you wouldn’t think “oh, this person’s really clutter-free,” but I really do make a lot of effort to make sure, like, if there’s a coat in our coat closet, it’s because somebody actually does wear that coat. Or, you know, those shoes, somebody…those shoes fit somebody. I got rid of a lot of toys of my daughters’, like as soon as I knew they’d kind of outgrown them, I really picked like the special things to keep and got rid of…and that’s hard, you know, it’s hard to get rid of toys because they’re so sentimental.
[17:09] Rachel: So what about if we have that one thing, you know, say we’re in the process right now, it’s January, I know a lot of people are in the process of de-cluttering, maybe an area or maybe their whole house…
Rachel: …if I have this one thing, and it’s…because I have several of those, especially in my closet, things that I…every time I do a clear-out, it comes back up, you know, as this like “ooh, I don’t know.”
Rachel: And then it’s sentimental, or I used to love it, or…and somehow it sticks with me…
Rachel: …you know. Do you have some tips for someone, or for when we get, you know after this podcast we immediately are gonna feel inspired to go clear something out. How can we get rid of objects that are hard to get rid of?
Gretchen: So, it depends on why that is. So, if it’s something of very, like, very serious sentimental value, one thing to think about is taking a picture of it. I’ve taken pictures of a lot of things because I just want the memory. I’m never going to wear the thing again, but I just want the memory, so I take a picture of it. Another thing is, like, a lot of times people will have something of sentimental value, but they’ll have many, so like maybe you have ten t-shirts that you wore in college. Well, can you pick your one or two favorites? Because then you still feel like “okay,” or…you have five black cardigans. Well pick the best one, or the best two, because you don’t need all of them. And if you are…we talked earlier about identity, sometimes it’s hard to let go of an identity, like maybe you had fancy work clothes because you, like, worked at a law firm and you wore really…you wore these, like, slick business suits but you don’t do that anymore. It can be hard to let go of those things because it’s really relinquishing an identity. Or this comes up with like, clothes that used to fit but that don’t fit anymore, and you’re like “am I really going to give them away and kind of admit that that’s not who I am, even though I don’t wear them anymore?” Or, maybe, these were like dresses “when I was like young and fabulous and went out until like four in the morning all over New York. And, like, am I now, like, a fuddy-duddy and I don’t need these clothes anymore?”
Gretchen: It can be hard to relinquish that identity. So then you sort of have to sit down and just really…think to yourself, like, “well maybe I’ll take a picture of this, and remind me of this. But it’s not my life anymore. And if I needed this again, I would get what worked for me now, because these are really from the past.” But I think you have to really…I think sometimes people are very dismissive, they’re like “this, like…just get rid of it all! It’s just a bunch of junk, like, live in the present.” It’s like…but our past is important, our memories are precious, and often our possessions really do hold, like, a piece of us, and so I think you need to pay attention to that, and…and let yourself kind of, you know, maybe sit with something and really hold it, and really look at it, and really reminisce with it. And some things are just irreplaceable. If you feel like “I just literally can’t give this up,” then okay, fine, you have room in your heart for that, and in your home for that. You don’t have room for fifty of those things…
Gretchen: …so decide if this is really the one thing. I had a friend who had a boyfriend who died very early of cancer, it was very, very sad, and they used to go to all these fabulous parties together, and she had all these fancy dresses, and she kept all of them. Just because of the memory of him, she didn’t wear them any more. And I was like “could you give away all but one?” So she gave away all but one. And then like a year later she said, “well, I realized that I had a picture of me and Paul in that…when I was wearing that dress, and I realized I just needed the picture.” So then she got rid of all of them. But she wasn’t able to do it right away, she had to kind of go through the stages of relinquishment. But she didn’t need ten…
Rachel: And I think if you have a lot of that, it’s also true that if you have a lot of things that are nostalgic from one area of your life, or one part of your life, if you keep just a few or just one, then that object suddenly holds more value.
[20:46] Gretchen: Yes, no, and that’s a huge…that’s a very, very important point, because that’s the thing, if you want something to hold memories, it’s better when it’s the best thing, and there’s just one or two and they’re like easy to manage. If you have boxes and boxes of things, you’ll never look at them! If you have five boxes of your kids’ toys, or like ten boxes of their school work, you’ll never look at it, because it’s just too burdensome and boring and it’s all kind of undifferentiated. If you pick, like, if you have like one file box that’s all the most wonderful stuff your kid created in school for ten years, you could actually sit down and look at that, that would be fun. Or if you, like, one memory box of all your children’s favorite things from their childhood, that’s fun to look at. Ten boxes is no fun.
Rachel: No, ten boxes is no fun, that gives me heart palpitations [laughs] to think about.
Gretchen: Yeah! It’s like no, you know, it gets dusty, everything gets broken, a lot of it is kind of meaningless anyway. But if you really curate, you know, choose, select, then the stuff, it actually serves its function better, is holding those memories, because it’s more distilled.
[21:49 - Commercial Break]
[23:24] Rachel: So speaking of habits, I mean it being…we just had New Years pass, a lot of people out there are trying to commit to new, healthier habits, “new year, new me,” all of this. I know you’re a little bit of a, of a habit expert, is that true?
Rachel: Do you feel like you’re really good? [laughs]
Rachel: Yeah? So, what do you think is the biggest obstacles as to why people can’t commit to a habit? Because I know, a couple of weeks from now, most people out there who have set a big resolution, “I’m gonna work out so and so many times a week,” or “I’m going to do this, or make this change,” and then a couple of weeks pass and then, you know, it’s out the window. What do you think is the big obstacle as to why it’s so hard for us to stick to those habits?
[24:07] Gretchen: You know, I think one big reason is that people don’t set themselves up for success for themselves. They’re like “oh, this worked great for Rachel, I’ll do that.” Or “this worked great for my sister-in-law, I’ll do that,” and they don’t think about tailoring something to themselves. For instance, when it comes to facing a very strong temptation, some people are Abstainers and some people are Moderators. So Abstainers are people like me, where I’m kind of all-or-nothing. I can have no cookies or I can have ten cookies, but I can’t have one cookie, I can’t have half a dish of ice cream, because that’s a strong temptation. I can have half a glass of wine, because I don’t find wine very tempting. But when it comes to a strong temptation, it’s easier for me to have none than to have a little bit. Now then there are Moderators; I’m an Abstainer, but Moderators are people where they do better when they have something a little bit, or they have it sometimes. Every day or so they’ll have a square of fine chocolate and that’s all they want, and so they get kind of panicky and rebellious if they’re told they can never have something, so they’re better off having a little bit. Now, it’s very important to know if you’re and Abstainer or Moderator, because if you’re facing a strong temptation, it’s gonna be much easier for you to do it by abstaining or by being moderate depending on just your nature, and I can say as an Abstainer, people are constantly telling me I’m doing it wrong. They say, “you shouldn’t be so strict, you shouldn’t take certain foods off the table, you should follow the 80:20 Rule, you should give yourself a cheat day.” And iIm like “it doesn’t matter to me what you think I should do, this is what works for me.” I quit sugar. I never eat sugar, that’s so easy for me. If I was trying to eat a little bit of sugar every day, it would completely consume my mind. So I’m doing it in a way that’s right for me. Similarly, something like accountability. For many people — this is my four tendencies framework where I divide people into Upholders, Questioners, Obligers and Rebels — the biggest group of people is Obligers, and Obligers need outer accountability. They must have outer accountability. You wanna exercise more, join a group, take a class, exercise with a friend who’s going to be annoyed if you don’t show up, take your dog for a run, volunteer to raise money for a charity by doing a fun run…whatever it is, you need outer accountability. Other people, like Rebels, they don’t like accountability; they don’t like the feeling that someone’s looking over their shoulder, they don’t wanna be told when and where to show up. They do better when they do what they feel like, when they feel like doing it. So it’s like, do you need accountability or not? Don’t let somebody tell you that you do, “oh, you should just…if this is important to you, you’ll do it on your own, you don’t need…just go for a run on your own, you don’t need to sign up for your class.” No. If you need accountability, get accountability. But if people are telling you “you have to have accountability,” and that makes you crazy, well then just say “no, that’s not right for me.” If people want to take a quiz…
Rachel: So before we set those goals…
Gretchen: …if people wanna take a quiz, if you go to quiz at gretchenrubin.com, you can find out if you’re an Upholder, a Questioner, Obliger or Rebel and kind of know what that means in terms of having information. Because I think a lot of times people don’t understand why they succeed with some things and then struggle with other things, and so then they’re not good at figuring out how to set themselves up for success because they don’t really analyze the problem correctly.
[27:10] Rachel: Right, and then I think…I think people are really quick to choose a goal, or a resolution, or “here is a change I’m gonna make,” but without actually breaking it down…
Rachel: …into actionable steps.
Gretchen: One hundred percent.
Rachel: So, “okay, right, I wanna…I wanna do this, I wanna do more yoga,” or “I wanna…”
Rachel: “…go for a run three times a week,” or “I want so-and-so,” and then “okay, what’s that gonna look like…
Rachel: “…in my actual life, like what day? Where am I going? Who’s coming with me?” You know, “who’s taking care of my kids?” Like all those steps that actually have to be a part of that too.
Gretchen: Yeah I think, I find…
Rachel: But then I find…
Gretchen: … that they’re so vague, it’s kind of like yeah…
Gretchen: How…what does that even mean…what would that look like and how would you pull that off? Yeah. The more specific, the better. Absolutely.
Rachel: Yes. And then do you ever find that the motivation behind wanting to make a change, that that affects the outcome of it?
[27:57] Gretchen: No. I don’t believe…I never expect to be motivated by motivation. Motivation, I think, is almost irrelevant. There’s so many people…
Gretchen: …who are so powerfully motivated, and they will look you in the eye and they will say “nothing is more important to me than this,” and then nothing changes. So it can’t be their motivation, because they have tremendous motivation. But they’re not following through.
Rachel: Yeah, that’s…
Gretchen: To me, the key thing is what…what means…what makes change actually happen. And your desire for change…really…I mean, that was one of the reasons that I wrote my book Better Than Before, I was so puzzled by that. Because it couldn’t be motivation. Because people were obviously highly motivated to do things that they were not doing at all. You know…
Rachel: Right, and everybody…everybody has…yeah.
Gretchen: “…nothing’s more important to me than losing 50 pounds and getting my blood sugar under control. Nothing is more important to me than that.” And it’s like okay, but then why is nothing in your life…but that’s not affecting anything. That’s just…it’s not happening in the world. So I think it’s very distracting to think about motivation, and especially — we were talking about the Four Tendencies — I think especially Obligers; they feel like if they whip themselves into a frenzy of motivation and desire, that’s how they will act. But it doesn’t work, and so then they become increasingly frustrated but…and they they also feel like a failure, because they feel like “well, I’m not doing it, so I’m letting myself down, why am I breaking my promises to myself? What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I grow up?” And then, by the way, other tendencies, like Upholders and Questioners and Rebels, will say very unhelpful things like, “you just need to get clear on what you want!”
Rachel: [laughing] Yeah, that does not help.
Gretchen: And it’s like no, that doesn’t work for Obligers. That works…
Gretchen: …that works for some of the other Tendencies. So I think it’s not that helpful to think about…I think it’s more…I think there are other ways to frame it that make it easier for people to follow through with specific actions that lead to the outcomes that they desire so much.
[29:46] Rachel: Do you ever think about…because sometimes for me I can look at the original motivation behind wanting to make a change, whether that comes from a loving place or a judgmental place. And I feel, at least for me, that that usually affects a lot in terms of how I follow through with my own commitments. So, say you wanna make a lifestyle change for whatever reason, and if that motivation comes from not liking yourself the way you are, or hearing that judgmental voice in the back of your head all day telling you “you should be thinner, you should be skinnier, you should be something that you’re not,” versus “okay, I wanna make a lifestyle change because this is going to make me healthier, or make me live longer, or give me more energy,” you know…
Rachel: …which I feel like comes from a more positive place. It’s easier to…what do you think about that in terms of the deep motivation, in terms of why we want to change in the first place?
[30:36] Gretchen: Well that’s interesting, because in Better than Before, I talk about the twenty-one strategies that we can use to make or break habits, and one of the strategies is the Strategy of Distinctions, and that’s understanding how people frame things differently. So like, some people are Abundance Lovers and some people are Simplicity Lovers. And some people are Abstainers and some people are Moderators. And what you’re talking about, I would frame as the difference between Yes Resolvers and No Resolvers. So No Resolvers are people like me who feel very comfortable saying no. They don’t mind saying things like, “I’m going to quit sugar.” “I’m going to turn off the light at 10:30.” You know, “I can say no to myself.” And they don’t…they’re not really bothered by that. But then many people — sounds like you are one of them — where it needs to be a Yes. It needs to be “I’m going to…get back in touch with my body and raise my energy.” Or, “I’m gonna feed my body healthy, unprocessed food,” that feels like a yes. Now, a lot of times a habit can be formed as a yes or a no depending on how you frame it, so you can say “I have to turn off the light at 10:30,” which is saying no, or I could say “I wanna get a more restful sleep,” and that’s saying yes. So it’s really about how we frame it for ourselves, and so it can be really helpful to think about “how can I frame this.” Now, my sister Elizabeth is a good example of this, where I’m a No Resolver, I find it easy and almost kind of fun to say no, but she needs to say yes to herself. And…but she also realizes that…like, her kryptonite is french fries, and she’s a Type 1 diabetic, and she really wanted to stop eating french fries, and she did, and I said to her, so, I said, “but Elizabeth, you always have to say yes to yourself, how can you say yes to quitting french fries?” And she said, “well…now I think I’m free from french fries.” And I thought…
Gretchen: “…that’s beaut…” right? “I’m free from french fries.” So that’s a way to say yes. So I think…
Rachel: I like that.
Gretchen: …just reframing things using the vocabulary that appeals to us can be very, very powerful. I used to not understand how important it was to find the language that resonates. But I don’t think that it’s always the case that people have to have one kind of language, or one kind of message, or one kind of frame. It really comes back to…like, I quit sugar, and I loved quitting sugar, and some people are like “I don’t like that, it sounds like addiction,” or “why should you give…” and I’m like “I’m just telling you I love quitting sugar. Like I like that phrase.”
Rachel: I am in awe of you.
Rachel: I have a…my best friend, her dad quit sugar like twenty-something years ago, never looked back.
Rachel: And I’m just…wow [laughs]. Yeah, that to me seems like an insurmountable thing.
[33:09 - Commercial Break]
[34:24] Rachel: What about the…the connection between…because I feel…it’s so important that we we…at least it definitely is, I know, for everyone listening in the Yoga Girl community, we talk so much about self-love, and self-acceptance, and being okay the way we are, and I know a lot of people struggle with that balance between “okay…”
Rachel: “…so if I love myself the way I am…
Rachel: “…but still I wanna improve,” right?
Rachel: “Still I wanna change something,” how can we connect those two things so that they make sense?
[34:52] Gretchen: Yes. This is something we talk about on the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast all the time, and the way I think of it is is “I want to accept myself and expect more from myself.” And part of self-love is having aims for yourself, and wanting to grow, and wanting to push yourself out of your comfort zone. But each of us has to decide for ourselves what is the right way to do that. And what’s the right way for us. But, it isn’t the case that just to accept yourself means that you just accept yourself as you are and without any expectation of growth or change, but then you don’t want to just expect so much from yourself that you lose track of who you actually are. I saw this with myself because, like…I’m not that into music. Like, other people love music. I mean, I like a song here and there, but I kept thinking “oh, maybe if I learned to play an instrument, or I listened to new music more, or I went to concerts, or I read a lot of books about it, or I just listened to more music, I’d get more and more into it.” And then finally I’m like, “you know what? I got a lot of things I’m interested in, I’m just not that into music. Like, let it go, accept yourself, this is not…” But then there’s other things where I really do wanna expect more from myself, and I wanna push myself, and I wanna learn. I remember that with starting a podcast, and I’m sure you went through it too, and you’re like, “this is a whole new thing. Am I gonna ask myself…ask this of myself? Am I gonna set this as an aim? Am I gonna risk…”
Gretchen: “…failure? I’m gonna feel stupid, and I’m not going to know what’s going on, and it could be embarrassing, and it could be a big waste of time, and, like, is anybody gonna…” I mean, there’s a million things. And then you’re like “but is this something that’s right for me?” And I felt like “this is something that’s right for me. I wanna accept myself but expect more from it. And accept more from myself.”
[36:36] Rachel: Yeah, like self-acceptance doesn’t mean we surrender to stagnation.
Rachel: You know, that forever and ever we’re just gonna be…be where we are. But then I think, it’s that continuing process of continuing to accept ourselves and love ourselves when we fail, after we’ve tried new things…
Rachel: …and also knowing that it’s a part of, I think, definitely should be part of that self-love, is that we continue to grow.
Gretchen: Well, and I think a helpful…
Rachel: Which is…
Gretchen: …way to frame that, also, is like, this…so in Better Than Before, one of the strategies is this strategy of…is the idea that…it’s an English proverb that I love, and it’s “a stumble may prevent a fall.” You know, so sometimes the little slip-up saves you from a bigger slip-up. So I think sometime, like…if you kind of screw things up, or like maybe you wanted to keep a resolution and you haven’t been perfect, you can say to yourself “well, a stumble may prevent a fall,” and like, “I learned my lesson. I learned my lesson, like okay, well I need to have a plan when I travel for work, I went…I didn’t have a plan, now I know I need a plan. Because if I don’t have a plan, I’m not going to follow through and then I’m gonna feel bad about it later.” So, I think sometimes just saying “okay, I’m going to have a small failure, that doesn’t mean that I failed totally or that I have to have a big failure. A stumble can prevent a fall.”
Rachel: I love that.
Rachel: I love that. Especially for people, I think like me, who are really hard on themselves [laughs]. I don’t like to fail, small or big. I love that, “small stumble,” that’s beautiful.
Gretchen: What we do most days matter more than what we do once in a while. And it kind of works both ways. Because it’s like…if most days you do yoga, if you don’t do yoga every day, that’s okay. But it’s also the case that, you know, if you almost never do yoga, the fact that you do three hours of yoga once day every six months…eh, that’s not going to make such a difference either. What we do most days matters more than what we do once in a while.
Rachel: So how important are forming healthy habits when it comes to the overarching theme of happiness in our lives?
[38:28] Gretchen: Habits are freeing and energizing because they get us out of the draining, difficult business of using our self-control and making decisions. And so, the more that…if there’s something that you wanna do regularly in your life because you know it’s going to make you happier, healthier, more productive or more creative, the more you can make it into habit, the more that’s just going to be an automatic pilot and it’s just gonna happen automatically and it’s not going to take a lot out of you. I’m sure you see this with, like, yoga. Some people are like “should I go today? Maybe not today.” “Should I go in the morning? No, I should go in the afternoon.” “Oh, but I went yesterday, maybe I should have today off.” “Oh, I’m gonna go tomorrow. Maybe I should have today off.” “Should I go? Maybe tomorrow…I’ll have more energy tomorrow.” “It’ll be better if I start on a Monday.” “Oh, I’ll wait until after my birthday.”
Gretchen: It’s like you’ve had this whole thought, you’ve drained yourself, and you never even went to yoga in the first place. If you’re like “oh, it’s Tuesday, I go to my 8 am yoga class,” it’s like, I’m up, I’m out the door, I’ve got my mat under my arm, I’m there, “hey! Fine!” Because it’s a habit. It’s just like, I don’t have to think about it, I don’t have to decide, I don’t have to use my willpower, it’s just a habit. So if there’re things that even…you know, we brush our teeth on habits. Do you decide every day “is today a day I’m going to brush my teeth, or am I going to give myself a break?”
Gretchen: No! The more you do something regularly, the more easily it just comes, and then often with many habits, like, they grow on themselves. The more you do them, you more you gain from them, and the more they sort of, like, slip into your life. One really helpful tip for people is if you are trying to form a new habit, a great time to form a habit is whenever you’re going through a transition, if you’re moving…especially if you’re moving. Like, when they look at people who successfully quit smoking, many of them did it when they moved from one place to another. A new job, a new relationship, you’ve got a new puppy, and your bus route changed. Any time that you go through a transition, all your old habits are wiped away, and so it’s much easier for a new habit to form. So you want to do the right habit right away. So let’s say you start a new job, you might think to yourself, “you know what, I don’t wanna exercise for the first couple weeks because I’m going to be really tired starting a new job, I wanna settle into my routine then I’ll start going.” No. Don’t do that. Start the way that you want to continue. Because if you’re…if you get up and you go a half an hour early every day because you’re going to go to this class before work…if you do that the first couple weeks, that’ll just feel like your regular day. It’ll…it’ll solidify as a habit, it’ll be much easier to keep up because it’s already set in the concrete of what the habit of that new job looks like. So any time you go through a transition, take advantage of it, because sometimes we kind of miss the window, because we don’t go through transitions that much, but they’re a wonderful opportunity. You know, it’s sort of like…let’s say there’s…let’s say your…you’re always…you’re like…crazy for cupcakes. And you move to…you change to a new job. You’re like “I’m not going to walk around and figure out the best bakery to buy cupcakes, I’m just not going to find that out, and so then I’m not thinking about cupcakes because I don’t know that there’s a great cupcake bakery five blocks from here, because I never went to look for it. So I don’t, you know, now I’m not in the habit of walking by there because I’m in this new job.”
[41:20] Rachel: And is there such a…is there a certain amount of days, you know how they say it’s twenty-one days to form a new habit, is that true?
Gretchen: No. No. Unfortunately not true.
Rachel: No? It’s not?
Gretchen: No, no. Because, like, some habits will…you know, you stop and have a donut three times…and three mornings in a row and you will find that that habit is completely formed and almost impossible to break…
Gretchen: …and then there are other habits where you could do it for months and months and it would really…it would…it would really, you know, you would really still need to safeguard that habit, it would be hard…. And the thing about a lot of habits too is that it’s easier for habits to set when they are always the same, like when they happen in exactly the same way every day. Like I get up and walk my dog every morning, that’s a habit because it’s literally like the second thing…I get up, put my contacts in, brush my teeth and take my dog out. But something like exercising, it kind of has to move around depending on my day. Like, do I have an early morning meeting, do I…am I traveling? If I’m in the habit of exercising but it’s not as regular because it has to have more flexibility, so that makes a habit a little trickier. Or something like eating, it’s like well, every time you eat in a restaurant it’s kind of a different set of…challenges. And so for some people, depending on what kind of habits they’re trying to form, that can be easier or harder depending on how much, kind of customization there has to be depending on a certain kind of circumstance. The more consistent a habit is, the easier it is to form, but some complex habits, they can only be made so consistent, they can’t be made totally consistent the way wearing a seatbelt or brushing your teeth is.
[42:52] Rachel: Right. I find this so…so fascinating because I was looking back at the really healthy habits that I have in my own life that are just easy. Like yoga is one of them. There was definitely a time in my life where I didn’t have yoga, you know, where yoga wasn’t a part of my routine…
Rachel: …wasn’t a habit, and I was trying to distinguish what makes yoga so different from running, for instance.
Rachel: I would love to be a runner. Like I, I pick up running couple times a year, my husband’s a runner, I like the idea of it, it feels freeing, there’s just something about it that pulls at me all the time. And then, inevitably, couple weeks later, I fail, I lose it, and then I…you know, six months later I haven’t gone for a single run. What is that differentiator between…
Rachel: …why some things are so easy for us and others aren’t? Have you had any…any answers that that?
Gretchen: Yeah. Well, here’s my question: when you’re doing yoga, are you doing it with other people? Or are you doing it by yourself?
Rachel: No. I’m…I’m alone.
Gretchen: You’re alone, interesting.
Rachel: Yeah, even though I’m an Obliger, taking your test…
Rachel: …for me yoga is…it’s kind of the one thing where I’m…yeah, it’s just me [laughs].
Gretchen: That’s interesting. Is there ever…has there ever been any time in your life when you did run? Successfully?
Rachel: N…successfully…not really. No. I go through phases of it and then I don’t know why…suddenly it’s fun and it’s easy. Maybe it’s because I get into it with my husband and he’s going, and he helps motivate me. But then something happens, and I stop and then, you know…and then it gets hard again. Three months later I haven’t had a single run and it’s like “ugh,” [laughs] “starting at the bottom.”
Gretchen: And why do you wanna run?
Rachel: I love the idea of…how freeing it feels.
Gretchen: Well you love the…you…you’ve said that a couple times, you like the “idea” of it, that doesn’t…
Gretchen: …that sounds like…the fantasy self.
Rachel: Is it? Maybe. It is. [laughs] It’s just this idea I have of people who run, that they have this, I don’t know, this simple…like, “me and nature,” you know? I don’t know, maybe it’s just the person that I’m not kinda that person, but I wanna be, and that’s why I keep trying? [laughing] I don’t know.
Gretchen: What about walking in nature?
Rachel: Yeah, that’s…that I can do. I mean I walk my dogs every day, but there’s something about that kind of…I don’t know.
[45:00] Gretchen: But I think it just sounds like you just like the idea of it. Like, I like the idea of going fly fishing, because I’m like “what’s not to like about fly fishing? It’s peaceful, there’s like a whole culture around it, it takes you to beautiful places, you meet interesting people….” But I have no interest in fly fishing, whatsoever.
Gretchen: I like the idea of fly fishing, because everything about it appeals to me, except actual doing of it. So it sounds to me like you don’t actually even like running.
Rachel: No! I don’t like running. At all.
Gretchen: Yeah, so there you go.
Rachel: I’ve shared this on my show…
Rachel: …so many times. But then I start back up again and people go “hey, what’s…what’s wrong with you?” [laughing]
Rachel: “What are you doing?” So maybe some…some longings, or some goals that we have we should evaluate a little more before we kill ourselves trying to commit to something that we’re just not…is that true also? That some habits, or some goals we have we should just put aside?
Rachel: Like should I stop trying to run?
Gretchen: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s like, do you actually want it? Because you don’t actually say that you want to run, you just say you like the idea of running, that was they way you framed it both times.
Gretchen: So, that’s different, I think? But also, I think a lot of times people have red herring habits where people around them are telling them they should have a habit, so then they will say they want the habit, but they don’t actually want the habit. Like, I remember talking to a guy and he’s like “oh yeah, my wife and my kids keep telling me to exercise, my doctor keeps saying how great it would be for me and I’m totally gonna start exercising.” And I’m like “you’re totally not gonna start exercising because you haven’t…you…you’re just saying that to get everybody off your back.”
Rachel: Oh, my God, yes. Yes.
Gretchen: You know.
Rachel: I think a lot of us fall in that category.
[46:28] Gretchen: But I think there is, also, like, things sound so nice but that’s not the same thing as doing it. But it’s also interesting — I’m going back to your husband and stuff — he’s interesting because a lot of people love to buy the stuff but then they never actually do it, but you said he would actually do something for a year or so. So he’s actually doing it. But I had a roommate one time where…she’d buy everything to go rollerblading; she’d buy the outfits, she’d buy the knee pads, she’d buy the rollerblades, and then she would never need…rollerblade. And then she got into yoga, and she bought the yoga clothes, and she bought the yoga mat and never did yoga. I mean, she just did this over and over. She just liked buying stuff. I’m like “you have no…”
Rachel: [laughing] just like my husband!
Gretchen: “…intention of doing it.”
Rachel: [laughs] No, and I tell my husband that a lot, I said “before we get all this stuff, start doing…”
Rachel: “…the thing…”
Gretchen: Yes! Yes!
Rachel: …you know. So he, when I was like, my last running episode, last year…
Rachel: …I went for one run, and then I came home and he’d gotten me a new like heart rate, like, band…
Gretchen: Yes, right.
Rachel: …for my waist, and a clip for my shoe, some new app…
Rachel: …and I was like “dude, I’ve done this one time!” [laughs]
Gretchen: Oh, my gosh.
Rachel: And then I felt pressured…
Rachel: …so then I’m like “no, no, no, no, no, I don’t wanna do it anymore.” [laughs]
Gretchen: Yeah. Yeah. Well the nice thing about running is that you can…if you feel like it, you can just go do it, just don’t beat yourself up if doesn’t…if it’s not consistent. It might just be the kind of thing that it’s, like, in certain moods you feel like doing it. Awesome! I mean, it’s only good, you know, go for a run if you feel like it.
Rachel: You run, right?
Gretchen: No. You know, I ran for years and then I just like, one day I was like, “I am so sick of this, I’m never going to do this again.” So now I go for like, long walks in Central Park. And I do high intensity weight training.
Rachel: Ah, okay, well that’s good too.
Gretchen: And yoga. Yeah.
Rachel: So…and yoga!
[48:02] Rachel: Amazing. Just to kind of swerve back a little bit, or get back to happiness a little bit; with all the things — and I know this is a very general question — but with sort of the state of the world, and, and where we’re at, you know, environmentally, politically, you know, all across the world, how important is it that we form healthy habits and that we focus on our own happiness considering the state of the world we live in right now? I got a question on social media saying “whenever I focus too much on my own happiness, I end up feeling guilty.”
Rachel: Have you found a connection between caring for the world and our own happiness, that it goes hand in hand?
Gretchen: Absolutely, and many people like the person who you saw on social media, there’s kind of a bad reputation for happiness, and people feel like “well, if I’m worried about my own happiness, then I’m either complacent or smug or…or lazy,” and some people think, like, “well, with everything that’s going on in the world today, is it even morally appropriate to seek to be personally happier?’’ But what’s interesting is the research shows — and I think common experience confirms this — that happy people are more interested in the problems of the world, and they’re more interested in the problems of the people around them, and they’re more effective when they try to do something. They make better team members and better leaders, they make better friends and family members and co-workers, they give away more money, they’re more likely to vote, they have healthier habits…. When we’re unhappy, we tend to become isolated and defensive and preoccupied with our own problems, and when we’re happy, we turn outward and think about the problems of other people and the problems of the world. So sometimes people are like “well if you just think about…sit around and think about how to be happy, you’re just going to drink piña coladas on the beach all day,” and I’m like “that’s not what happens! People start worrying about distributing malaria nets,” you know, “that’s where their mind goes.” And so really, being happy yourself really is something that gives you the emotional wherewithal that then allows you to go out into the world, and I think that this is particularly important when you feel like there is a lot of pain in the world, because I think if you’re unhappy, sometimes you’re like “I can’t bear it. I can’t read it, I can’t look at it, I can’t think about, so I’m going to turn away from it.” Or, for some people, they get drawn to it and they can’t escape it and they get whipped into this emotional frenzy because they can’t tear themselves away from cable news, or from Twitter, or whatever, and they’re in this state of agitation, and yet that agitation does not lead to productive action. So what you wanna do is look at the world and be like “oh, my gosh, this…we can’t put up with this,” and then you want to do something in your life to bring a change, whether that’s as small as donating to a cause, or voting in an election or whatever, or, you know, starting a whole huge organization, or donating a huge amount of your time, or volunteering, or whatever it might be. You want your…you want that to translate into action. And really, when people are happier, they are more able to do that, and they’re more effective when they do that. That kind of…it…you really don’t serve the world better kind of by draining yourself or neglecting yourself. And so, in a way, if it is selfish to want to be happier, we should be selfish if only for selfless reasons, because that’s what’s really going to help us be active participants and constructive participants in the world.
[51:20] Rachel: Yes. And if you have one, one piece of advice, or if you can leave our listeners with one piece of advice to really make 2020 a happier year, what would that be?
Gretchen: You know, ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists agree that if you had to pick one thing for happiness, probably that thing is relationships. So I would say to all your listeners, if there’s one…if you could think about either how to deepen relationships, or broaden relationships, something in 2020 that is probably going to make you happier —whether you’re going to have a standing date with your three best friends to have lunch once a month so that you know that you see them, or you’re going to start a book group so that you make more friends, or you’re going to commit to having a reunion once a year with some people who are spread out who need to get together, or you’re just going to send a funny picture every day to the members of your family just so that you have this little cute, quick touchpoint just so that you all feel more connected — whatever it is, if you can pick a concrete, manageable thing that’s gonna either deepen existing relationships or broaden relationships, that is probably something that by the end of 2020 really is going to boost your happiness.
Rachel: I feel so motivated to go really meet one of my goals for this year, which is to have a standing date night with my husband every single week, no matter what.
Gretchen: There you go! That’s fantastic!
Rachel: Yeah! It is. And I’m gonna go clean out my kitchen.
Rachel: As soon as this podcast is done.
Gretchen: I wish I could come help you, I love doing that.
Rachel: Thank you so much for coming on the show, Gretchen, I appreciate you so, so, so much. Thank you.
Gretchen: Thank you. It was so fun to talk to you.
[End of Episode]