Hey everybody how's it going? I'm Chase Jarvis, welcome to another episode of Chase Jarvis Live here on Creative Live. You are tuned in to the 30 Days of Genius series specifically here at Creative Live. What is that series? That is a series where I sit down with the world's top creatives, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders and create actionable insights to help you live your dreams in career, hobby, and life. If you're new to this series, you can go to CreativeLive.com/30DaysOfGenius. The number 3-0 Days of Genius. All you gotta do is click that little blue button. It's 100% free and then you'll get one of these badass interviews in your inbox every day for 30 days. Real healthy dose of inspiration and that actionable insight. My guest today, wow, she is many things. First and foremost, she's an expert on happiness and habits and if that's not intriguing wait for number two and three. Her second thing is that she has a podcast, one of the top podcasts. It's called Happiness With Gretc...
hen Rubin. I've already given away who my guest is. She's also an author of many, many books most of which are number one New York Times' best-sellers. My personal favorite is called The Happiness Project. My guest today is none other than Gretchen Rubin.
Hey! (instrumental techno music) Welcome to the show. Thank you again. We'll do one more handshake here. Super, super glad you're here. I've been a fan a long time. Devoured The Happiness Project when it first came out and I know we have a lot of the same friends.
Grateful to get to sit down with you.
Yeah, no I'm so happy to be talking to you. One of my favorite subjects, creativity, how to get there, how to do it. How to build it.
Yeah, how to build it. And one of the things, I'm just gonna go right to this thing 'cause we were talking about this before we started rolling is you used to be a lawyer and you were clerking for Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court?
Yes. When I realized I wanted to be a writer.
Were you running from something or to something?
You know that's a really good question because I was having a great experience as a lawyer clerking for Justice O'Connor was amazing. I'd had a lot of great experiences. But you know some people really feel a calling where they feel like almost a compulsion to do something and sometimes it's to be a doctor, sometimes funnily enough, to be a circus performer like circus performers often have like this overwhelming desire to like perform in the circus. And mine, I felt kind of a compulsion to write and I always had this sense that I was sort of digressing. Like everything I was doing was great but it was sort of like not exactly where I was supposed to be. And finally I think when I was clerking I got to the point where I just felt the call so strongly to become a writer. It was more about going somewhere than leaving someplace.
I love that and I'm on record saying if you don't write your own script someone else will write it for you and I was nearly a victim to, I was literally thinking about this this morning when I was lying in bed. I have a little gratitude practice and I'm like I'm so glad that I followed my gut, my intuition. I bailed on a bunch of previous careers. We talked about that. And I ran to becoming a photographer which was, there was something in me told me that's what I needed to do. How common is that story? Because if I was told to go I'll do these other things. I was gonna be a doctor and a professional athlete and you a lawyer. Do we have a cultural, is there a systemic problem that's telling us to be things we don't wanna be? Or how should we think about that?
You know I think of it as drift and that's what happened to me. It wasn't that people were telling me what to do. It was just that I wasn't spending the time really searching within myself and asking hard questions like what did I really want to do? And I think drift is what happens when you take the path of the least resistance. So you don't wanna ask yourself hard questions. You don't wanna risk conflict with somebody who's important to you. Your mom's a doctor. Your dad's a doctor. And everybody's like why don't you go to, you're great in math and science, why don't you become a doctor? And you're like okay, I'll go to medical school and you do fine and you sort of never stop and say like ooh, do I wanna be a doctor? And then at some point, now sometimes that works out. And that's what's tricky about drift 'cause sometimes it works out. But you always run the risk, when you're not making a conscious choice, that you kind of end up someplace a lot of time after spending a lot of time and energy doing something that then you leave behind. And so I think whenever you feel like you're being carried forward by events or when you're doing what everybody else is doing. I'm getting married because all my friends are getting married so I should be getting married.
Alarm bell. Or if you have feelings like this can't go on but it does go on. Or if you have a fantasy of well maybe I'll break my leg and then I won't be able to do it. You know kind of fantasies of sort of emergency release. These are the kind of things that point you towards drift.
So was there drift in your case?
It was enormous drift.
Oh my gosh I got this opportunity.
No, and that's exactly what happened. So my father's a lawyer. He's a really, really happy lawyer. So I had that in my life and I'm good at research and writing and that's good for law school. And then people say things about law school like it's great preparation. It's a great education. You'll keep your options open. You can change your mind later. And so it was a non-choice choice. And I'm really good at taking tests and so it was like well, I'll take the LSAT and see how I did. And I did really well on the LSAT. I'll apply to law school, see where I get in. Oh I got into Yale Law School. Can't say no to Yale Law School. And I was like oh, you just got a Supreme Court clerkship. Like yes. I mean I was carried along and all these were wonderful experiences so I don't regret them. But I was doing it kind of for all the wrong, and you know people say well, why is it that lawyers are so unhappy? And I'm like people who wanna be lawyers love being lawyers. I have so many friends who love being lawyers. But if you go to law school because you can't think of anything better to do with yourself and then you don't like it it's kind of like you might as well have gone to like engineering school and it's like maybe it'll work out for you, maybe it won't. So I think it's all about this idea of really knowing what you want and making a decision that's right for you. Not what your fantasy self is. Not what other people expect of you. Not what's the easiest thing. But to really say well what do I want? And that's very uncomfortable.
Very uncomfortable and very hard.
Worse than buying a bikini. Looking in the mirror and facing it.
Last bikini I bought was rough. It was rough. Let me tell you. I'm gonna put a pin in that idea for a second of knowing yourself. I'm gonna come back to that. But before we go there.
It's like the key to everything.
Yeah it is. It's very powerful. But before we do that. So I've talked at length on this show and others around going from zero to one. There's a huge population of people who are paying attention to this right now and are like I'm curious. I don't natively identify as creative. And then there's a whole other section of people who are like yeah, I've stepped into that world. I'm leaning into creativity. That's part of, I'm a designer, a photographer, an entrepreneur. I look at building a business as something very creative. And what I love about you and your story is that you made the zero to one jump and then when you were in the one category you went from one to and became a massively successful writer. So I'm gonna harvest all of your information over the course of the next hour. Do you think was there a shift in mindset from you when you were going from zero to one and then one to 10?
I don't think so. I think for me it was very much once I was able to articulate for myself the desire that I wanted to become a writer and I was really lucky because I became obsessed with an idea which I started researching which is something that I do often for fun like I'll often get really preoccupied with something and do a ton of research on it. Like I just went through this period of being obsessed with Thomas Merton, you know. So this was something that was familiar to me. But this was a topic where I was just doing more and more and more research and I was spending more and more time. It finally started to occur to me this is what somebody would do if they were gonna write a book. And some people write books as their job. They don't do it in their free time like after work. And maybe I should do it. And so I was lucky because I wanted to become a writer but I knew the book that I wanted to write. Because sometimes people are like well I wanna be a writer but I don't know what is it I wanna do. And so my book was called, I had asked myself the question what am I interested in that everybody in the world is interested in? And I thought well, power, money, fame, sex, and that became my first book. So I was doing this gigantic research project around--
Just those general topics.
Power, money, fame, sex. It's a user's guide. And once I was like this is the book I wanna write and I wanna try to become a writer at a certain point I was like I would rather fail as a writer than succeed as a lawyer. So I need to make the jump. I was fortunate because my husband and I were both living in D.C. We moved from D.C. to New York and he also loved law To go into finance. And so it was sort of like this very obvious kind of break in our lives. Like we have law jobs. Now we move to New York. And now we don't have law jobs. And I remember the day when we got a letter from the New York Bar Association you know we had to pay our Bar fees. And I said to my husband, should we pay our Bar fees? He's like no! We're not, we're never going back. Now I know that you can like, if you just pay up your missing bar fees, you can go back onto the bar. So whatever. But it felt very important at the time. And so once I did that, once I made that mental shift, then I felt like it was just like it was constantly like okay well, what's the next thing I have to do? Okay, so I have to get an agent, right? First I had to write a proposal cause I had to get an agent. So have to write a proposal. What does that look like? I went to the book store and got a book called How to Write and Sell Your Non-Fiction Book Proposal. Okay. So I did that and each of these things felt like a really big ordeal. But it was just sort of like as I did one then the next thing presented itself and that's what I've done ever since.
There's a huge lesson in there. You don't actually have to do all of the steps. What you really have to do is do the next step. Whatever's right in front of you.
You can get overwhelmed if you're thinking about oh, my gosh, what would it take? But if you're just like all I have to focus on now is what's the next step for me?
And people, I feel like ask well, when will I know if it's time to fill in the blank?
Ooh, that's so hard.
I think for us it was nice that there was kind of an artificial break where there was kind of a logical time to switch and that made it easier.
Okay, so then you start writing?
Cause you don't just go right out and write a book, you start writing, presumably. Or did you just, did you go chapter one? Ding, and then start writing.
Well I had been doing all this work on it in my free time for fun. So I had this gigantic thing. And then I had to write a proposal which is like a whole other kind of writing. And write a sample chapter and a table of contents and yeah, all that. And my book, it was sort of like it's kind of like the preppy handbook meets Machiavelli's The Prince. So there were a lot of like boxes like it was meant to be this sort of very funny non-traditional book and so there was kind of a lot to manage just in presentation of it.
Got it. So let's go back to the thing I said I was gonna put a pin in which is knowing yourself. Because presumably, you said something interesting a second ago which was I had been doing this thing in my spare time. So that's step one that people I think a lot of times overlook like if you're a lawyer, what can I do to start writing? Well, start writing. The verb is to write, right?
Yes. Yes like do what you do like what do you do when you're just like left to your own devices? And here's a great example of that. I have videos on my site and the way that I found the person who makes the videos, my videographer, was this was a woman who, she had left the workforce, Maria Jakino, and then our children were in kindergarten together and she did this amazing video of the kindergarten year and I was like oh, my god, she's so amazing. And then we had a mutual friend who also had kids at this school and as a favor to her, Maria did this woman's book trailer. I was like that's an amazing book trailer. Will you make a book trailer for me? And she's like sure. I'm like I'll hire you. Then she did a great book trailer for me and then I'm like well I need somebody to make videos for me every week. Will you do it? And she's like okay. So she was just doing what she was doing for fun which is like make a little kindergarten video. That was just doing what she did and then that was enough to put her in the game kind of and then other people were like I'll hire you and I've seen that you've done this great work.
I think you probably know the author, researcher Brene Brown.
Oh sure, yes.
So she's very much, she's been on the show before, two times actually, talking about putting yourself out there, being in the arena and the arena the way she talks about it is like a lot of people can see you and you might be subject to ridicule but also there's a lot of people in the arena and you're connecting with other people and you say you're a writer to other people in your life so there's something about declaring your writerness or something like that.
Yeah. But see this is why I think all this new technology is so great because you can have a blog and you can be blogging regularly and that can be part of your identity and so you are writing. You're a lawyer but you're also writing. You are part of the blogger identity. There's ways now that you can enter into the frame. It used to be you were either an unpublished writer or you were a published writer. But now it's like you can be self-published. You could be published online. You could have an amazing Twitter feed that a million people follow. There's so many ways I feel like to get into the arena now in a way that you control yourself. There's no gatekeeper to keep you out. And you can start putting it out there and seeing what response you get and then I know literary agents who have seen people's stuff online and said to them do you wanna write a book? Because your stuff is really good. Now that's rare.
Don't build your life around that.
Don't build your life around it. But again it's sort of put yourself out there and kinda own whatever it is that you wanna do in a kind of low stakes, low investment way because it can really pay off then later when you're trying to make that transition.
When you quit the bar and decide that you're gonna do this full time. You already had a whole sort of body of work behind you.
Alright so you said another key word in there. It's like yourself a couple times in that last phrase, in that last paragraph and then I'm gonna pin that back to the thing that we said we were gonna get back to which is knowing yourself. So many people, I end up being a little bit of a therapist as a professional creative and someone who puts a lot of content out in the world. Like oh my gosh, how do you know if, I know I don't wanna do this thing but I don't know what I do wanna do.
Yes that's hard.
I love taking pictures. I don't know what I take pictures of. How do I make a living? So how do we know ourselves? Or you talk a lot about knowing yourself around habits and so what's step one because, correct me if I'm wrong, you talk about needing to know yourself before you actually prescribe what you should do or something? There's something. So give me a step one on that.
Well one of it, specifically with habits is a lot of times people are sort of like these are the seven habits of highly creative people. They do this. They get up early in the morning. They write 800 words a day. And you're like ooh, that's what I need to do and then I'll be highly creative. No. What I've found and I think it's just irrefutably true is that there is no magic one size fits all solution when it comes to habits or happiness or anything. And then we always have to begin by saying what's true for us. So you might say oh, you know, I get up at five a.m. And write and my five to seven a.m. it's quiet. My mind is fresh. I've just done my meditation. It's like amazing. This is what everybody should do. But it's like well, some people are night people and they're not at their most creative until four p.m. So for them to get up early and try to write is like nonsensical. It's just not right for them. It's not that you're wrong or they're wrong. It's just that people are different. And so when you're trying to create your habits it's really important to start by saying well, what kind of person am I? What's true about me? Another thing that comes up is simplicity lovers and abundance lovers. Simplicity lovers like clean surfaces, bare walls, quiet, few choices, and that's how they feel like they have focus and creativity and energy. Abundance lovers like a lot of buzz, a lot of profusion, a lot of choices, people running around, a lot going on. There's nothing wrong with that either. And a lot of times people are like if you're gonna be creative you have to clean off your desk. No, it's not neccessarily true. And I'm sure you've seen the amazing book Mason Currey's book Daily Rituals which is all about the habits of super, super genius people. And what you see--
They're all over the place.
They're all over the place! So one person gets up early and one person stays up late and one person drinks coffee and one person drinks vodka and one person works in a crowd and one person works all by themselves. And one person works a half an hour a day like Gertrude Stein and another person works 14 hours a day like P.G. Wodehouse. You can't prescribe. You have to begin by knowing yourself. And so I think that's the first thing for people to do is say like well when do I?
When do I do my best work? When have I succeeded in the past? What attracts me? What idea attracts me? Does it attract me the idea that I would get up at five a.m.? Maybe that sounds great or maybe that sounds like hell. You just sort of think about it. I think a lot of times we just again we're kind of adrift and we're reacting instead of saying like well what's true for me? How should I shape my environment, my schedule as much as I can to suit myself?
Is it fair to say that in Gretchen Rubin's world that step one is knowing yourself?
Is that fair? Okay so there are many ways--
Which is, by the way, the most ancient advice of all time. It's on the temple of Apollo at Delphi. Know thyself. Okay so yeah, TM Gretchen Rubin. Yeah, okay. I take credit for that.
I love it. So if that's the case do you have some things, let's go tactical for a second. Super tactical.
Ooh, how do you know yourself? I have some good questions.
How do you know yourself? And what do you do in order to like do you record this? So you just go oh, yeah, I'm that kinda person. Do you write it down? Do you do a daily journal? So how do you know yourself? And then what's the actual mechanism for putting that down so you can reference it often?
Well it's funny because you mentioned that I have a podcast with my sister and one of our recurring segments is called Know Yourself Better and we try to pose a question that will help people know themselves better. So one of the questions was do you like to discuss long or discuss short? Because sometimes people who are going through a big thing wanna discuss it at length and some people wanna just discuss it as short as possible and that's just a helpful thing to know about yourself. So I think a lot of times just to constantly be asking yourself questions or noticing how you're different from other people and certainly in all my books I try to point out those things. But here are some questions that I think are particularly helpful.
Get out your pen and paper or you can rewind this as many times as you want. Reference material.
This question is a very uncomfortable question to ask. But it was actually one of the questions that was most helpful to me. Whom do you envy? Because when you envy someone, we often don't like to admit that we feel envy because it's so uncomfortable. When you envy someone they have something that you wish you had and that's a really, really important clue. And when I was thinking about switching to becoming a writer I got one of those magazines, you know, those alumni magazines that you get and it reports on like everybody in your class in college and I noticed that when I was reading about people who had really cool law jobs I felt a kind of mild interest and when I read about people who had really cool writing jobs I felt sick with envy. So that was telling me they had something that I wish I had. And so thinking about whom you envy.
This is powerful medicine.
Yeah. Okay another thing to ask yourself to know yourself better is what do you try to hide? Because if you're trying to hide something then there's in some way that what you're actually doing is not in keeping with your values or with the values of the people around you which might not be your values. So if you're hiding the fact that you're visiting certain websites or you're hiding the fact that you're spending three hours writing in your journal because you feel like other people won't approve or whatever it might be or you're hiding the fact that you love to sew.
I mean this is the thing. They feel that whatever, they have complicated emotions. Or sometimes it's things that are less healthy like I'm hiding how much I drink. I'm hiding how much I'm spending. Any time you look at what you're trying to hide it's a big clue about how your life is not reflecting your values. Another thing that's really helpful to know yourself and this is something that comes up particularly in areas of creativity and productivity. So it's a very specific question. But are you a marathoner or a sprinter? So marathoners are people like me. We like to start early, do a little bit every day, and we feel like that's how we get our best work. Creativity and productivity is when it's like not up against a deadline, just like slow, steady work. But sprinters like the adrenaline of the deadline. They like being up against that crunch. They work long and intense and they feel like that's what spurs their creativity. That's what crystallizes their ideas. If they start too early they kinda burn out or lose interest or they like waste time. And the fact is a lot of times marathoners and sprinters tell each other they're doing it wrong. And for a long time I would tell sprinters no, you've gotta start early. You've gotta do a little bit each day. Then I'm like no. That's what works for me 'cause I'm a marathoner. But if you're a sprinter--
It's not gonna work for you. And it can be hard to work with sprinters. But a lot of times, like my sister's a television writer, and she was working with a show runner, a show runner's like the boss of the writers, and he was a sprinter and he believed that's how people did their most creative and best work and so he would artificially engineer crises to put people into sprint mode.
But yeah but a marathoner like my sister was just driven mad by this and to her it seemed totally unnecessary and also counterproductive. So it's just a good way, you know yourself and then also other people. So you can say well we have a work environment how do we create a circumstance where we can both do our best work and maybe we can complement each other? But we just have to have a vocabulary for understanding who we are and how we do our best work.
Man, so those questions alone can get you a long way. I was just sort of replaying how would I have answered those questions in that world where I was living the script that other people had written for me and that big shift of shifting over to my own script. I wish I had had those questions because I wrestled and I think so many folks at home even if you're, we talked about the two groups, if you're going from zero to one it's especially hard to get out of that mindset. And if you're trying to get better like what actually is it you want to do? Because you have to lean into something in order to get really good at it. All the 10,000 hours and we've already talked a lot about that.
But when it comes to knowing yourself better I created this personality framework which I think is actually the most helpful thing in how to know yourself better. It's a little bit longer explanation.
I've heard this talk. It's a great talk.
Oh yeah, okay, and it has to do with how people deal with expectations and that's a lot of what we've been talking about. So there's outer expectations like a work deadline or a request from a spouse, what your parents want you to do and then there's inner expectations. Your own desire to write a novel in your free time. Your own desire to keep your New Years' resolution. So there are upholders, questions, obligers and rebels. Upholders readily meet outer and inner expectations alike. They keep the work deadline. They keep the New Year's resolution without much fuss. So I'm an upholder and if I look back on my history it was very upholder. It was like I had no trouble doing what law school expected of me and then I had no trouble switching and becoming a writer without anybody helping me. Then there are questioners. Questioners question all expectations. They'll do something if they think it makes sense. So they hate anything arbitrary or inefficient. They'll do something if they feel like it's justified and they love information, they love customization. Then obligers. Obligers readily meet outer expectations but they struggle to meet inner expectations. So they have no trouble meeting a work deadline but if they wanna write a novel in their free time and no one's checking up on them, they can struggle. And then finally rebels. Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike. They wanna do what they wanna do when they wanna do it in their own way. If you ask or tell them to do something they're very likely to resist and they don't even like to tell themselves what to do. But I think in the context of what we're talking about the biggest tendency, the one that has the most people is obligers and I think a lot of times when people wanna switch careers they're caught because in their day job they're surrounded by accountability. They have deadlines. They have a boss. They have coworkers. They have all these expectations on them. But they have this secret desire, this inner expectation I'm gonna become a writer. I'm gonna become a photographer. I'm going to start a blog. I'm going to switch to be a caterer or whatever it is but there's no outer accountability and so they just are paralyzed and stall out. And so the answer for anyone who's experiencing that is outer accountability like start an accountability group with other people who are gonna hold you accountable, hire a coach who's gonna hold you accountable, get a client. You know you wanna be a photographer, get a client and say you'll do it for free or volunteer and do it so that somebody's like okay, hey man where's that project? I need it. So you feel accountable and then you're a part of that system of accountability. 'Cause I think a lot of people who are frustrated with themselves, they just need that outer accountability and then they start keeping up with it.
Unless you're the rebel.
Well now, if you're a rebel you wanna do what you wanna do when you wanna do it. And so you just have to make up your mind well what do I want? You're like you know what? I really don't wanna be doing this. I wanna be doing something else. And then rebels find it pretty easy to switch. It'd be harder for them if somebody when they have a job maybe that they like they're doing something in fact I'm thinking of a specific rebel who emailed me where she had a job that she really liked but it was difficult for her. It made it less fun in a way that she had to do what her clients wanted her to do but that was like the essence of the job.
That's the essence of having a client.
She had to keep reminding herself I'm doing this work because it allows me to do this work. And so it's a pain for me to have this deadline but this is what allows me the freedom to do what I want and make my own rules. I took this job. I'm a freelancer. I could take this job or not. It's totally up to me. I decided to take it. So in a way even though I feel like they're telling me what to do, I'm really telling myself what to do. But they had to go through that kinda rebel mindset.
Is there a problem with people misidentifying themselves on purpose 'cause they want to be something else?
It's funny that you say that. A lot of people do kind of are in denial a little bit. In all of them though. All of them. I heard from somebody I love being an upholder but I heard from somebody who's like I really wish I weren't an upholder. I feel like I should be more laid back. I feel like I should be more easy going. And I was like I like being not laid back and not easy going but you know. But I think anything having to do with self-knowledge there can be an element in self-knowledge of sadness because to say who you are is to admit everything that you're not. One thing about me is I'm not that into music. I get that other people really like it. I understand the cultural significance. I wish I liked it. Just not that into music, you know, and that's sad. It's a limitation. But now that I don't try to pretend like I like music I have more time for the things that I really like. And I don't waste time worrying about what I'm not. And so I think with the tendencies it's more like you get what you get and you don't get upset. It's how do I harness the strengths of my tendency and offset the limitations rather than wishing I were a different kind of person because you're stuck with yourself, you know?
Let me go one deeper. Let's go 'cause I'm sensing some psychological trauma on the other side of the camera. People are going oh, I don't really wanna do that. I don't wanna admit that about myself. Any tips for how to sorta process that? Like we'll just use you so you can talk openly about you. You're an obliger.
I'm an upholder.
Sorry you're an upholder and you're happy to be an upholder.
Did you know that that was you?
When I created this framework? No! That was the amazing thing about creating this framework. So I was starting to write better than before and I was starting to see these weird patterns in how people formed habits or when they didn't form habits what they would say. All these people kept saying to me I would say to them, one of my test questions was how do you feel about New Years' resolutions? A surprising number of people gave me exactly the same answer. They would say I would never keep a resolution on January 1st because that's an arbitrary date. If it's important to me, I'll do it whenever. And that was just striking to me 'cause I'm like it's the arbitrariness of it that bothers them. That would not have even really occurred to me. But clearly for them that's a big.
That's a thing.
That's a thing. Or like a lot of people would say things like a friend of mine said you know, I know I would be happier if I had the habit of exercise and when I was in high school I was on the track team and I never missed track practice so why can't I go running now? And I was seeing like ooh, I did NaNoWriMo and I had no trouble writing a novel in a month. But why can't I write every day now? And so I was trying to figure it out. So I came up with these personality frameworks and it took months and it was like the hardest most intellectually challenging thing I've ever done is to try to see the pattern and when I finally identified it and I realized that I'm an upholder, well it turns out upholder is very rare and it's a very extreme personality. And I basically had to go back and rewrite all of Better Than Before because I went into it thinking that I was very typical and what I learned from it is actually I'm an extreme rare personality. And I remember going in to my husband and being like you know what? I'm like this extreme fringe-y person.
I'm a wacko!
Yeah and he's like you think? Like nobody was surprised but me. But what was interesting about it was seeing how a lot of times people think well there's something wrong with me. Everybody else has got this figured out. There's a problem with me. And there's a huge relief in understanding there's a whole bunch of people who have exactly the same thing as I do and there's no shame in that.
Millions and millions of people.
So just build in whatever infrastructure you need to get where you wanna go. You don't have to feel bad about it. Because sometimes in all of the tendencies you'll see people saying well I felt bad about upholders would say everybody tells me that I'm rigid. That's what people always tell upholders and then you hang out with other upholders and they're like oh yeah, everybody tells us we're rigid. We like this, you know. Or questioners, questioners will sometimes say I can get stuck. I get analysis paralysis 'cause I'm questioning and questioning and questioning and I want perfect information and I just get swept up in the beauty of research and I can't move forward. And it's like that's a very common thing to happen to questioners. There's ways to deal with that because a lot of people experience that. Then it's like okay well it's just a thing that happens to people and there are solutions and here's what other questioners do. And so then you don't feel so alone with your own weird idiosyncratic problems.
Can we go one level deeper? And can you tell us a little bit about each of these? Presumably you did a ton of research.
I'm writing a book about them now. So I'm obsessively thinking about the four tendencies left and right, yes.
Okay so for those people, I'm a huge advocate of trying to get people to lean into their strengths instead of trying to better your weakness like what is your strengths? And you said something about building the structure around you to fix, not fix, 'cause that's the wrong word.
The limitations, yeah.
Thank you. Offset or support the things that you're not strong at. So what are some characteristically strong things that people who have each one of the four personality types, you know they're good at this and not good at that. Just realize that you might be special. This is we're talking generally so that we can get some real tactical stuff for you folks at home.
And if anybody wants to take a quiz, most people can tell what they are right away, but there is a quiz at happiercast.com/quiz. They have a quiz that will give you an answer. And I wanna say these aren't meant to be identities that box you in or make you feel cramped. They're meant to just illuminate patterns so that you can sort of see how you could maybe easily fix something that you've been frustrated by. So upholders. So upholders, it's great to be an upholder in a lot of ways 'cause it's like you easily meet inner and outer expectations. So they put a lot of value on kind of performance and follow through but they're also good at taking time for themselves because they see that as that's an inner expectation but they have this weird thing and again I thought this was like my own private weird problem but it's very widespread among upholders which is tightening. So a lot of times people will start with a habit and over time it kinda loosens up. But for upholders it will often get tighter and so you could be somebody who's like you know what? Like five days a week I wanna get up and write for two hours in the morning. Pretty soon then it's starting to be every day you're gonna get up and write for two hours in the morning. And then it gets to the point where if one day you can't do it because your kid's sick you feel really uncomfortable because you're like I gotta get my writing done. It's tightening on you and it's very important for upholders to be aware of this so that they can consciously loosen it up because you don't wanna feel like you're this bureaucrat stuck checking the boxes of your own life in a way that becomes choking and for upholders that's a very real outcome. That things get tighter. Now questioners, they love research, they love information. They love to customize. They can get analysis paralysis if they can't move forward, they can't make a decision. I've a friend who's a questioner married to a questioner and they didn't have a dishwasher for two and a half years because every time they were gonna buy a dishwasher it's like why this one? Why not that one? Maybe we should do the countertops. Maybe we should redo the kitchen. Maybe we should move. There was no end to the questions and so you have to figure out I'm gonna give myself a deadline. Or I'm only gonna explore 10 possibilities or I'm gonna follow a trusted advisor. So for instance let's say you're a questioner and you're like well I wanna start a blog. Okay well what platform should I use? Well I can research and research and research and research and then finally you're like okay pick somebody that you trust whose blog you like and say what platform do you use? If it's good enough for you it's probably good enough for me because otherwise I could spend a year stalling trying to make the perfect decision. So you wanna be able to figure out ways to offset when the questioning is becoming and a way always with the tendencies is you wanna appeal to the tendency if it's getting out of control. So you would say to a questioner and this is my husband. He's a questioner. So I would say to him it's becoming inefficient how much questioning you're doing because efficiency is a core value of questioners. So you say now it is not serving your values and your aims to do so much questioning. So it has to come to an end and that's ultimately what's efficient and justified and they're like okay. Obliger is the biggest tendency. So all of us are either obligers or we're surrounded by obligers 'cause they're the biggest tendency. For an obliger, they're the rock of the world.
They make stuff happen, the trains run.
Yeah, yeah, they come through for you and here's the thing about obligers though. They feel like they're being taken advantage of and they are. Upholders, questioners, and rebels--
We all rely on 'em.
We all will take advantage of obligers and so they're not wrong to think that and so what obligers, when they enter in this place of frustration because they're not meeting their inner expectations they just have to build in that outer accountability. And so it could be starting an accountability group. It could be having a coach. It could be having a client. It could be teaching a class. If you want to learn how to do Photoshop maybe you volunteer to teach a Photoshop class at your local church and it's like well you better learn Photoshop pretty quick 'cause like tomorrow at two p.m. a bunch of people are gonna show up to hear you talk. There's all kinds of ways to build in accountability once you realize that that is what is the necessary piece. Now but here's another interesting thing about obligers and it's worth mentioning because there's so many obligers. Obligers have this pattern where they will meet, meet, meet expectations and then they will snap and almost arbitrarily they will--
I'm not gonna do it!
Not gonna do it. And funnily enough, a lot of obliger, this can be small and funny.
Or horrible probably, yeah.
Or horrible. It can destroy relationships. It can blow up marriages. You can walk out on a job and often obligers are super valuable employees. So you don't want somebody to just feel like you know what? You're dead to me. I'm out of here, you know? You want somebody to say how can we make this right? You're too valuable for us. We don't wanna lose you like this. And so if you're around an obliger or you are an obliger you don't wanna get to that place of deep resentment and burnout because it can be very destructive. And a lot of times obligers even will have a pattern where they will keep going to a job and then building up so much resentment and then going from one to another. But obligers often can be very frustrated. I had a friend and I'm sure you've seen examples like this where he was at a big nonprofit very, very productive guy. But he'd always had a dream of starting a textile company and so he decided he was gonna take a year off and try to start this company. Now knowing what I know now I know he's an obliger. I would say what is your system of accountability? Do you have a coach? Do you have an accountability group? Do you have a client who's gonna put in an order for you? What are you gonna do to have accountability? But he didn't have any accountability and he was paralyzed and did nothing and then eventually went back to his old job and felt like he had wasted his opportunity to make his dream come true and it was very poignant. The thing is the only missing piece to me is that accountability because when he was in his job he never thought about it. The fact that he had supervisors and deadlines and colleagues and conferences to prepare for and reports to file and all that didn't even think about it. But then when all that infrastructure's taken away, he struggled. But it would have been so easy to put it in, you know? So that's a thing for obligers. Outer accountability. It's the answer. And then for rebels it's always choice and freedom. What do you want? What do you feel like doing? Who are you? How do you wanna express yourself? That's what they want. They could do anything they want to do.
The key operative word is want.
They have to want it. They have to want to do it. If you're dealing with a rebel and you're frustrated 'cause they won't do what you ask or suggest that they do you always think about this sequence, information, consequences, choices. We have a client. This is our timeline. This is our budget. If we do a good job with this this could be a permanent relationship. That means more cool projects and more money for all of us. Do you think this is something that your team could tackle?
Consequences, choices. I'm gonna tell you the situation. I'm gonna tell you the consequences of that situation.
Positive and negative.
Even with a little kid you could say something like if a person plays outside all day in the hot sun they get a bad sunburn. If you get a bad sunburn it really hurts. Your skin can blister and peel. Then you gotta stay indoors. You're stuck inside for four days until your sunburn fades. Do you feel like wearing a hat and a long sleeve t-shirt or do you prefer to wear lotion?
This might be a real question from her to me I feel like. It's logically resonating with me. I don't consider myself a rebel but that way that you just laid it right out right there that was pretty interesting actually. And the fact that it works on small children.
No and adults. Because this is my big question because all these people were like how do you get a rebel to do anything? And so I asked all these rebels how do you get a rebel to do something? And you can't lecture. You can't lecture and you can't micromanage. You can't keep looking and reminding. You can't keep checking on them. Information, consequences, choice. And then turn away and it's over to them. And you have to let them accept the consequences which can be hard.
Which can be hard. Okay.
So those are the four tendencies.
That was incredible and there was a little bit of medicine for each of 'em. (Gretchen laughs) Very, very tactical. I love it. Now let's go to step maybe back a little bit more and I wanna shift the conversation to some habits. I am on record as a habit person and I'll say I came to this, it wasn't something that was native in me but I came to it because I realized that just an objective like I want to be able to run a 4.5 second 40 meter dash or 40 yard dash, I don't know where that Canadian part of me, I'm not even Canadian. But just a simple thing that was well-defined. I often could get there and ring the bell but I felt like it didn't maintain like it didn't stick.
Okay this is the thing. Goals are a really good way to meet a goal. They're not a good day to form a habit. Finish lines are not good for habits.
That was my experience and it was really sort of later in life, I'll even say recently that I realized I wanted to always be able to run a 45 40 or always be able to maintain a clear state of mind or whatever the thing was.
You wanted consistent progress.
Consistent outcome, consistent progress and again it's so simple when you stand back and think about it but I had to switch over to habits and I was like what do I want? I want these things and the things are health or happiness or whatever and what are the conditions that put me in that state? And that condition is if I meditate every day, if I exercise every day, if I do something creative every day, if I whatever, then it's almost impossible for me not to live in this state. So therefore, it took me some time to sort of narrow down 10 habits and those 10 habits is what I largely attribute to being able to create a living and a life that I love. So am I normal? Am I right in thinking those things that I just thought or am I a weirdo and I manipulated my own psychology to get an outcome?
I think you had a profound insight that frankly has eluded many a habit expert which is that it's something like doing losing 30 pounds, giving up sugar for Lent, doing a 30 day yoga challenge. Those are great ways others meet short term goals. But when it comes to habits you don't wanna think about finish lines 'cause once you pass a finish line you're finished. You wanna think about milestones. So it's an exciting milestone to run that race. But that's just one of many milestones that you will pass in a lifetime of running. Or oh my gosh it's great that you launched this website but that's just the beginning. That's not a finish line. That's like you're gonna keep going. You don't wanna give up sugar for Lent. You wanna eat healthfully forever. And so it's very easy to get swept away by these finish lines but they don't really form habits which is really more about thinking about how do I shape my life for the long term? And so one of the things you said is this is what you want every day to look like. This is your perfect day. How could you have that day every day and then you have the life that reflects your values? And so I think that habits have an incredibly helpful role to play. Now research shows about 40% of every day life is shaped by habits. So if you have habits that work for you the way you figured out your habits then you're just gonna be happier, healthier, and more productive, more creative.
I gotta put on the table it took me awhile to figure 'em out too.
Sure, know yourself and what works. They're like the invisible architecture of every day life. So they shape everything that we do and habits can be freeing and energizing because once something's a habit you don't waste any energy or time making decisions or using your self-control. So I have a lot of habits too. I don't decide to get up at six a.m. I don't decide not to eat dessert. Those are habits. They just happen on autopilot so they're frictionless. So you don't wake up every day should I meditate today? Well I meditated yesterday so maybe I should get a day off tomorrow. Or I'm gonna do such a good job tomorrow. I'm gonna start next month. And after that it's gonna be really easy. So I don't have to meditation today 'cause starting next month I'm gonna be so good. Or you know it's raining outside. I don't meditation well. I'm a little sleepy. I think it's be better if I, you know, blah blah blah blah blah.
Does this sound familiar to anybody out there?
This can go one for hours. So I identify 21 strategies that you can use to make or break your habits and the funniest strategy that I studied. Oh my gosh, it's my favorite chapter to work on, was the strategy of loopholes because if you can spot loopholes then you can avoid them when they're undermining your habits and there's 10 categories of loopholes and people are just so inventive about letting themselves off the hook.
You're very creative.
Yeah. And so I think that for most people habits really can be super powerful. The thing that's important is to know that if you published your 10 habits that I couldn't say oh, these are the magic habits. Chase has identified them. They are now established like the table of the elements and if we would all do this we would all have equal success. Because these are carefully tailored over a lot of time and it sounds like experimenting with yourself to find the magic solution that is perfectly calibrated for you.
And that's just like meditation. I've tried meditation. All these people I know meditate. Okay show me a million research things that show, doesn't work for me. I'm just saying right now. Maybe I'll try it again. But I'm just like I can live without it. So fine. Okay so I'll do something else. It works for you. So somebody else can say like maybe I'd like to try it. Maybe I don't. There's no magic answer. But the thing is what you did was you put in the time, the self-knowledge, the experiment, and then one of the questions to say is when have I succeeded in the past? And when do I feel my best? And it might be like, you know, it's funny. Everybody sits around telling me how I should have a clean desk but I do better when I have a messy desk. Or I did an interview with Rosanne Cash and she was saying how everybody said to her to be creative you really need to sit down and treat it like a job. Sit down at your desk at nine o'clock and really take it seriously and don't wait til you're in the mood and she said she always felt really guilty because she never could do that. And then she realized from reading my book she's actually the kind of person who wanders around the house and writes song lyrics on a Post-it note and sticks it on the ping pong table and that's her process. And it's like okay if it works for you, Rosanne Cash, I don't think it needs fixing because whatever you're doing works for you.
And so whenever people start saying this was working really well but I deliberately changed it to be more like Albert Einstein I'm like well I don't know. I mean if it's working for you maybe you wanna go deeper into that or try to understand it.
Is it fair to say that when you try and adopt someone else's habits or something that's been prescribed to you that it's actually useful because you will learn if that is a thing for you or not?
Yes. Because it's always worth experimenting. And sometimes things just sound so wrong that you're like, okay. Getting up at five a.m., no, no, no, no, no. See I would love to get up at five a.m. That attracts me. But I would have to go to bed too early and that would disrupt my life too much. But it attracts me. But for other people that would never attract them. Or when I first heard about National Novel Writing Month somebody I hardly know was in a coffee shop and she described it to me. I'm like I'm going out right now and buying Chris Baty's book. I cannot wait to do this. It so attracted me. But for other people they'd be like that sounds awful. You know what I mean? So part of it is just think about it and maybe try it and say well maybe that doesn't sound like something I would like to do but I'll try it. This comes up a lot of times with resisting strong temptation whether that's food, like resisting chocolate chip cookies or technology like Candy Crush. For some people they do better when they give it up all together. They have none. So it's like my sister had to delete Candy Crush because it was actually affecting her career. She couldn't play a little Candy Crush. And I don't eat any sugar 'cause it's like once I have a little bit I want a lot and that's boring to me. I don't wanna have to have one cookie or one scoop of ice cream. I wanna have all the ice cream or no ice cream. Those are abstainers. Moderators do better when they have a little bit. So maybe they wanna play Candy Crush for 20 minutes or they wanna play it when they're in line at the store. They just need to know they can have it a little bit. But a lot of times, everyone is told that we should be moderate. Like ooh, give yourself a cheat day. Follow the 80 20 rule. Don't be too rigid. But if it's not working for you, if you feel like I can't play World of Warcraft a little bit. I can't eat two french fries. Try abstaining. 'Cause like you say, spirit of experimentation, for a lot of people it works better. Maybe you think you're one kind of person but this would really work better for you and it's like what's the harm? You don't need the Hubble Telescope.
And it's pretty efficient 'cause you'll know after a few days. Does this work for you or not?
And that's the thing that I did was oh I wanna do X and I would just some friend of mine suggested that I try this. It's a thing that works for him or her. Tried it. Like wow that was super painful. I know that that's not my solution to that thing.
Like the timer method. I love using the 15 minute timer! It's like they're crazy about it. You're like so try the timer method.
You don't have to invest much to give that a shot. Yeah, exactly. And then for some people it's the magic answer that solves everything. And so maybe it will be for you or maybe not. So try it.
Fair. And over the next five minutes I wanna cover two main topics. One topic is specifically creativity. Then one topic is Gretchen Rubin.
So I'm gonna go with the creativity first then we're gonna finish with a bunch of Gretchen Rubin. Like bam, bam, bam, bam.
Okay, lightning round.
Lightning round at the end.
Lightning round, alright.
So around creativity, we've touched on it. It's been I think one of the dominant threads through our conversation. I really enjoyed and appreciated that. That's one of my core values and the thing I'm trying to help people unlock in their lives. With respect to not being overly programmatic about you or this or you have to do these things can you talk to be about some just the thread of creativity in your work? And you've certainly seen some trends and it's to be put through the lens of hey, remember everybody know thyself. But talk to me about some sort of trends and connections that you see around creativity and how people can tap into it and access it.
One thing is I feel like people have the thing that is kind of their milieu for creativity. So for some people it's very visual. I have a friend who's an artist and I remember her saying she quit her day job when she first moved to New York was she was a receptionist at an art gallery and then finally she was doing well enough with her art that she quit and somebody said to her well now you're gonna be working all the time meaning now that you have no job to fall back on all you can do is be looking. All you can be doing is thinking about art. But I'm not visual. For me, it's all about reading. It's always about reading. So what I do to stay creative is I just constantly am reading and people often say oh you must be a speed reader. You do so much reading. I'm like I have to be reading all the time. I feel like my life, I crave it and I'm constantly taking notes on what I read and that's what is creativity for me is this constant taking in of words, processing ideas, writing down the parts that catch my attention and then trying to think about where it could lead in my own thinking. But for someone who's visual that wouldn't be attractive 'cause they think about the world in a different way. So I think part of it is I think for me at least it's about constant exposure. But even I realize if I go to The Met.
You're taking notes at The Met.
And what I'm most interested in is the titles of the painting. I'm really interested in the titles. I Saw the Figure Five in Gold. I'm like best painting ever. Love that title. You know what I mean? And then I was like, I cannot even get out of my own head. Or like Andy Warhol. I'm like I don't care about his visual art. It's his writing that I love.
His books are crazy.
He's crazy! I constantly quote him, right? Is he not the biggest genius?
I love, he's one of the biggest influences on my life.
Okay we must have sidebar on Andy Warhol because he is completely I think really as famous as he is I kind of think that he's underappreciated for his thinking.
Dramatic and someone said I think it was maybe Neil Strauss said that he is the most famous artist of all time, more famous than Picasso and I don't know if that's the case or not but it's interesting to me that you can have that sort of, you can be in that pool, even the top few and still be underappreciated 'cause his work literally is everywhere. It's everywhere, right? I mean it's like the fact that he took a Brillo Box out of a grocery store and it ended up in a gallery or in a museum, that's just one of his many usurping the traditional sort of way of thinking about something.
What was he thinking? What were his ideas?
His writing was wacko.
He has a mind like no one else. Anyway so that's what I'm saying. We agree. There's his art but then there's the words that underlie it that are so fascinating.
In a sense it's still know thyself.
If you're visual, I'm painfully visual like if I sit down in a meeting.
Well you're a photographer. That makes so much sense.
It makes so much sense. But I can't even sit through a meeting without writing the words down. Oh you just said something. I need to actually look at the words on the wall to remember them.
It's weird. So are we still bound to know thyself in order to? Yeah. In order to be more creative.
I think it's the key to everything. I really feel like in the end it's by knowing our own interests, our own values, our own tastes, our own interests, our own temperament, it all comes down to that.
What about the conflict though where you like oh man I really wish I was not visual? But I wish I was more of a writer or something like that or more conceptual or is there, how do people reconcile conflict in themselves because certainly I guess I like being visual now that I think about it. But you said it a couple times in the conversation. Don't deny yourself the thing. You could just say I don't like music. That's a pretty bold statement but you're like I'm totally good with that now.
No I feel a sadness to it because it's a limitation and I think sometimes there's useful things on the edges. Like if you say well I'm so visual but maybe there's a way I can incorporate text. Or I think a lot about images and the power of image. I wrote a biography of JFK and one of the things that I loved studying was the power of images and how he used images but I did it as kind of a writer. I had to read books about images like on photography.
That's the only way I could process it was through Susan Sontag's version of it. So I think that there's a lot of times something really interesting on the edges and you can kind of pull in the parts that make sense to you. Maybe you're like Snapchat. It's an image but it's gonna have this crazy piece of text and I'm gonna have fun with that. But I think in the end you can become educated. You can expand. But I don't think you can really move the center of gravity of yourself and I feel like you can waste so much time and energy trying to push against it.
Fix your weaknesses instead of--
Like you're saying you wanna go deeper into your strengths and also I feel like and speaking of JFK he said something one time that was so interesting. He said people do best what comes naturally. And I'm always thinking to myself is that true? Do I agree that people do best what comes naturally? I've thought about that constantly for the last 10 years and in the end I think people do do best what comes naturally. And that's not to say that you can't expand it or become educated or incorporate. But in the end I think that it's very hard that your best work is not really coming from that center place. It seems to me. It certainly is for me.
These next questions will be very natural then because they're about you.
What's something that people don't know about you they would be surprised if they did?
I'm very scared to drive. Really scared of driving. I do drive but it was like a whole thing and I hate driving. I dread it. Part of it is I live in New York so I hardly every drive. Habits, if you do something habitually your emotional state becomes kind of muffled and that would be good for me. If I did more driving I would be less nervous. But I do not like to drive. And I'm from Kansas City, Missouri. I got my license.
Yeah I'm 16.
Habits, do you have a list of habits that you look at every day or are they ingrained?
I'm an upholder. It's just like part of me. Yeah.
And how about a struggle that you had making something creatively that the world doesn't know about? Where did you really struggle?
I mean The Four Tendencies was so difficult for me.
I was sitting this close to you and I could see there's a little cringe when you said. It was like that was the hardest work I've ever done.
It was. I just had all this loose kind of information floating around. I didn't know how anything fit together. Now it's a beautiful pattern that has kind of the elegance of a fern frond. So I'm like ooh it looks like a nautilus shell. So it's gotta be right. But I couldn't make sense of it. It was a tremendous, the whole habit book actually was a huge struggle because there was just so much information and I could figure out how to should it be habits of creativity, habits of exercise? But then it'd be so redundant. Making habits and breaking habits. Did that matter? I couldn't figure out the framework. I'm completely a person who needs structured thinking and I couldn't find my structure. There was just more and more and more information flowing in. I was getting crushed by it.
Can you name some of your favorite things?
Be specific. What's a favorite book that people at home might wanna pick up?
How do I even pick? I have a book club where every month I recommend books.
You stress out over it?
Well no because eventually I'll get to everything. But just picking the one book.
We'll just do that. You have a book club?
On your website?
Yep people can sign up. Every month it's one book about happiness or habits or human nature.. One work of children's literature 'cause I'm a crazy fan of children's literature.
I wanted to get there but ran outta time.
And one eccentric pick.
One eccentric pick.
I just do something that--
I'll let you off the hook on that one because there is so much information on your website. Let's find out where people can know more about you on the internet. It's GretchenRubin.com.
And then fill in the blanks on the rest of 'em.
I'm Gretchen Rubin everywhere. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram.
What are you most passionate about in that world? Are you a Facebooker? Are you an Instagrammer?
You know, podcast. I love them all because they all have different strengths and weaknesses and so for me it's like how do you communicate ideas with other people and each one has kind of its own power. But in my heart I'm a writer. So in the end for me the core thing are my books.
Great. I'm super grateful to have spent an hour with you.
Thank you. We could talk all day if you like.
I know. We really could. Oh my gosh I said we were gonna be done by 12: and it's 12:15. Folks at home, pay attention to Gretchen Rubin. GretchenRubin.com. Gretchen Rubin everywhere on the internet. She's been a huge influence to me and I know she will for you too. Signing off until tomorrow. Now even next week or next month. You get another one of these tomorrow. (upbeat techno music)