Gretchen Rubin is a New York Times bestselling author, co-host of the ‘Happier’ podcast and now creator of the Happier app. I got to talk to her about resolutions, anxiety, and facing uncertainty in the new year on this week’s News Not Noise Podcast. Some of her answers are excerpted below, edited for clarity.
You are a big advocate of habit tracking. Would you explain what that is?
So habit tracking is just monitoring what you're doing. Monitoring is kind of this superpower, because it turns out that if you monitor your behavior, even if you're not trying to consciously change, you will tend to start moving in the right direction; whether that's monitoring how much you're spending, or how much you're eating, or how much you're yelling at your kids, or how consistently you're reading every day. Just monitoring yourself tends to help you do a better job.
So often when people wanna be happier, healthier, more productive, more creative; they want to change their habits. A lot of times, that's where we really get the happiness boost, when we're doing something consistently over time.
It's winter. It's dark. We don't know what's coming up in the next year. How do we manage our thoughts and expectations when they're running negative?
Uncertainty [is] very difficult for people to manage. And I know a lot of people are sort of like, well, if you could just give me a date, I could kind of pace myself. But this nebulous uncertainty is just very challenging.
I think one of the best ways to start with this is to think about your own body. Our emotional experience is always gonna be influenced by our physical experience. You want your immune function to be strong. Most adults need at least seven hours of sleep. And for many people being stressed out can lead to staying up late, binge watching TV, and waking up in the middle of the night with racing thoughts.
One thing I tell myself is, treat myself like a toddler. I'm like, Gretchen can't be too cold, or she gets cranky. Gretchen can't get too hungry, or she gets hangry. Gretchen doesn't like to be in noisy places for too long. That gets her really on edge. What was true for me as a toddler is true for me as a full blown adult. Of course these are not the most significant things that [go] to the heart of happiness, but they do make a big difference in our ordinary days.
You've launched a new app called Happier. What does it do, and how does it help people stick to some of their better habits?
It's very much informed by everything that I've seen over the years about how people do successfully keep their habits in order to be happier.
The first thing the app does is it figures out your tendency. So it figures out if you're an upholder, questioner, obliger, or rebel. Then of the tools that are on the app, it will suggest a tool for you based on your tendency, so that you're not throwing spaghetti against the wall like a lot of us do.
We're like, oh, I read an article about that, or my sister tried that I'll do that. Well, maybe that's not such a great idea for you. It also really nudges you to articulate answers for the vital nine categories that most aims fall into, like energy and relationships, mindful investment, mindful consumption, purpose, things like that. And then to articulate your aim in a very specific, manageable way.
To hear the rest of Gretchen’s suggestions on starting 2022 with a (mindful) bang, check out the News Not Noise Podcast.