The Happiness Project

A chronicle of my attempts to test-drive every tip, principle and scientific study that promotes happiness

Want to Know Yourself Better, to Shape Your Habits Better?

If we want to foster habits successfully, we must know ourselves.

self-reflection

Did 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.

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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 yourself…

The rhythm of my days

  • Would I rather be ten minutes late or ten minutes early? (Oscar Wilde wrote “punctuality is the thief of time,” but I’m always ten minutes early.)
  • What errands do I regularly do? How many times each week?
  • How much control do I have over my time: what time I get up, go to work, go home, go to the gym, leisure time?
  • How much time do I spend commuting or taking other people to activities?
  • Would I like to spend more time with friends, or by myself?
  • At what time of day do I feel energized? When do I drag?
  • Do I like racing from one activity to another, or do I prefer unhurried transitions?
  • What activities take up my time but aren’t particularly useful or stimulating?
  • Do I want to spend more time outside?
  • What stores do I often visit—for necessity or for fun?
  • Do I have several things on my calendar that I anticipate with pleasure?
  • What does my ideal day look like?
  • What can I do for hours without feeling bored?
  • What daily or weekly activity did I do for fun when I was ten years old?

 

My values

  • Do I find it easier to do things for other people than for myself?
  • Do I find it easier to spend money on other people than on myself?
  • Do I fear that adopting regular habits will stifle my creativity?
  • Is my life “on hold” in any aspect? Until I lose weight, finish my manuscript, get a promotion?
  • Am I always working, or feeling that I should be working?
  • What’s most satisfying to me: saving time, or money, or effort?
  • Does it bother me to act in a different way from the people around me?—say, not ordering a drink or dessert when everyone else is doing so? Or do I get a charge out of it?
  • Does spending money on an activity make me feel more committed to it, or not?
  • Do I spend a lot of time on something that’s important to someone else, but not to me? If I had $500 that I had to spend on fun, how would I spend it?
  • Who are the five most important people in my life? Do I wish I could see more of them?
  • Do I like to listen to experts, or do I prefer to figure things out for myself?
  • Does paying with cash make spending money seem more “real” to me than using a credit card?
  • Am I motivated by the thought of winning or losing a bet?
  • Do I embrace the rules or flout them?
  • Would I be happy to see my children have the life I’ve had, more or less?

 

My habits

  • Given my existing habits, what kind of life should I expect to live?
  • How do I spend money? (Look at my checkbook and credit-card statements.)
  • How do I spend time? (Look at my calendar.)
  • What do I do with my weekend afternoons?
  • What medications do I take regularly?
  • What foods are in my fridge and cupboards?
  • What are the last twenty photographs I took?
  • Am I more likely to indulge in a bad habit in a group or when I’m alone?
  • If I could magically, effortlessly, change one habit in my life, what would it be?
  • If the people around me were able to change one of my habits, what would they choose?
  • Of my existing habits, which would I like to see my children adopt? Or not?
  • Do I lie about any of my habits?

 

Do you find any of these questions particularly helpful, in thinking about what habits you might like to acquire, and how you might structure them for greater success?

For instance, a while back, in a similar context, I posted the question, “Do you like competition?” and a reader commented that once he read that question, he realized that every time he’d successfully exercised, there had been an element of competition, which he loved. So he changed up his exercise habit to include competition, with great success.

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Also ...

  • I've heard from many real-estate agents who are giving Happier at Home to their clients. If you'd like personalized, signed "Tips for Happiness in Your New Home" cards to go with the books, or signed, personalized bookplates, request them here. But you don't have to be a real-estate agent to ask! Anyone can request, ask one for yourself or for friends. (I can mail to U.S. and Canada only, alas).

Gretchen Rubin is the author of The Happiness Project, a book and a blog about her adventures learning to be happier.

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