Gretchen Rubin on Discovering the Secrets to Happiness, Knowing Yourself, and Hacking Habits

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“If there's anything that I've learned in happiness and good habits, it's that the most important thing is to know yourself.”
— Gretchen Rubin

Greetings, SuperFriends, and welcome to this week’s show. We have a very special treat for you this week! My guest today is, as the New York Times described her, “The queen of the self-help memoir,” and a leading authority on happiness and satisfaction. From topping the New York Times bestseller’s list with not one but THREE blockbuster books that’ve sold millions of copies, to her top-rated weekly podcast.. quite honestly, you can’t look on Amazon without seeing her work front and center. So, who is this amazing woman?

Well, though she started out her career working in the legal field with supreme court justice Sandra D’Oconnor, but at some point, embarked on a 1 year adventure called The Happiness Project, and ended up writing a book describing both age-old wisdom and cutting-edge research on the science of happiness. From there, she’s become one of the foremost authorities on creating healthy habits for happiness, lecturing everywhere from massive multinational corporations to SXSW, TEDx, and the World Domination Summit. You’ve probably even seen her on the Today show, CBS Sunday Morning, or NPR’s weekend edition. Basically, guys, I managed to get the real-life Superwoman herself on the show.

This episode is a big one, guys. Not only is it with one of our most accomplished guests thus far – it’s also jam-packed with a ton of huge take-homes. For example… what are the secrets to being happier? What are the different types of motivation styles people fall into, and how do those affect how they can add or break habits? What are the daily rituals and mindset shifts that most impact your life positively? We cover all this, and so much more.

Please help us cover the (growing) costs of producing the show by checking out our sponsors:

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In this episode with Gretchen Rubin, we discuss:

  • Gretchen Rubin's transition from the legal clerking to becoming a blockbuster bestselling author
  • The story behind Gretchen's tremendously successful book, The Happiness Project
  • The 12 areas that she focused on during her one-year project
  • The importance of selecting your own “spiritual master” and emulating their values
  • How can we balance self-love and self-acceptance while maintaining goals and aspirations in life?
  • How do guilt and shame influence our likelihood of success in changing our habits?
  • Which habits are the most important and valuable, according to Gretchen Rubin?
  • The one habit that ALL successful and creative people seem to have (!!)
  • The four personality types that explain how people meet expectations
  • How to successfully adapt habit change to each of the four personality types
  • A preview of the 21 strategies Gretchen has developed for making or breaking habits
  • The importance of accountability partners versus accountability groups
  • What are the secrets to happiness, according to Gretchen Rubin?
  • Gretchen's thoughts on success, what it means, and how to relate to it
  • What were some of the surprising outcomes of Gretchen's 1 year happiness project?
  • The 1-2 pieces of homework Gretchen would recommend everyone do!

Resources Mentioned in This Episode:

Favorite Quotes from Gretchen Rubin:

“I'd rather fail as a writer than succeed as a lawyer.”
“I decided that I would spend a year with myself as a guinea pig, test driving the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies, the lessons from popular culture…anything I could get my hands on on how to be happier.”
“On the one hand, you want to accept yourself… but then also expect more from yourself.”
“Accountability is THE crucial, key, essential, absolutely necessary strategy for obligers… and by the way, that is the largest tendency [group].”
“Anything that deepens our relationships or broadens our relationships is something that's likely to make us happier.”
“To succeed is to have the life that you want.”

“Novelty and challenge are an amazing, rich source of happiness.”


Introduction: Welcome to the Becoming SuperHuman Podcast, where we interview extraordinary people to bring you the skills and strategies to overcome the impossible. And now here's your host, Jonathan Levi.

Jonathan Levi: Before we get started today, I just want to let you guys know that this episode is brought to you by Onnit. From their awesome fitness equipment to their ultra high-quality health supplements on it offers an entire range of products to help you become superhuman. Check them out at and use the coupon code: getonnit for 10% off today.

 This episode is also brought to you by Fiverr the world's largest marketplace for just about any outsourced or freelance service you can think of. All starting at only $5. Please support the show by visiting for two hours today.

Hey there SuperFriends and welcome to this week's show. You guys, I just wrapped recording on this week's episode and I have to tell you it's a really special one. My guest this week was called by the New York Times as the queen of the self-help memoir. She's a leading authority on happiness and satisfaction. She's top the New York Times bestsellers list with not one, not two but three blockbuster books that have sold millions of copies.

She also is a top-rated weekly podcast. Honestly, guys, you can't look on Amazon or iTunes without seeing her work front and center. So who is this amazing woman? Well, though, she started out at a career path working in the legal field with Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

At some point, she embarked on a one-year adventure, which she called The Happiness Project. She ended up writing a book about it, describing age-old wisdom and cutting-edge research on happiness, something we all want in our lives. From there, she's become one of the foremost authorities. On creating healthy habits and on happiness, she's lectured everywhere from massive corporations to South by Southwest, TEDx, and so on.

You've probably even seen her on the Today Show, CBS Sunday Morning, or NPR's Weekend Edition. Basically, guys, I managed to get you SuperWoman herself on the show. This episode is a big one guys. And not just because it's one of our most accomplished guests as we find out that really doesn't matter. No, it's a big one because it offers a ton of jam-packed take-homes that you can apply in your daily life.

For example, what are the secrets to being happier? What are the different types of motivation styles that people can be categorized into? And how do those affect how each of us can add or break habits? And of course, what are the daily rituals and mindset shifts that most impact our lives positively. You guys, we cover all of this and we cover so much more. I know you're as eager to get into it as I am to offer it to you. So please allow me to present Ms. Gretchen Rubin.

Hey there. Gretchen. Welcome to the show are so happy to have you today.

Gretchen Rubin:  I'm very happy to be talking to you.

Jonathan Levi: Yeah. So I have to put you on the spot right away and ask, are you actually SuperWoman?

Gretchen Rubin: Absolutely not. But, uh, that's a very flattering question. If you're implying that anybody might have that idea for even one second.

Jonathan Levi:  Having looked at your bio, I have my suspicions.

Gretchen Rubin: I'm very good at keeping in my habits. And I think that helps a lot.

Jonathan Levi: Yeah. I do want to talk about habits. Definitely, that's something that certainly comes up. Although one of the first things I want to say is I found it very interesting reading your bio because it presents this kind of juxtaposition. As in you started out your career in law and working with Supreme Court Justice, and then you decided to explore happiness for a change.

And I thought that was a really kind of cute juxtaposition. Tell me about that a little bit. And what prompted that radical change?

Gretchen Rubin: Well, actually The Happiness Project wasn't the first book that I wrote when I made the switch from being a writer. It was actually my fourth book. So when I was clerking is when I really had the realization that I wanted to be a writer.

I was doing a huge amount of research, which for me is something that happens to be a lot, like I'll become really preoccupied with some question and do a tremendous amount of research about it, just for fun. But I was doing all this research and I was finally grappling with the idea that maybe I really wanted to be a writer.

And I think in the back of my mind, or at some level, I'd always wanted to be a writer because I certainly did everything to prepare myself to be a writer, but I hadn't really seen what I would write. I didn't want to be a journalist and I didn't want to be an academic and I didn't want to be a novelist.

Like what did I want to do? But when I was clerking, I had this idea that did turn into my first book, actually. And this is not uncommon among people who are writers. I felt this tremendous. Pull toward it. It became like an irresistible call to be a writer. And I got to the point where I thought, you know, I'd rather fail as a writer than succeed as a lawyer.

So why don't I really give it a shot, try to write a proposal, try to get an agent, really try to do it. And I made the shift and then I had been writing for many years when I finally got the idea to write the happiness project. That's when I became much better known as a writer, even though I'd been writing for a long time.

Jonathan Levi: I was going to say you're most known, I think for The Happiness Project, would you say that's fair?

Gretchen Rubin: Yes, I think so.

Jonathan Levi: And that came out of a one-year experiment, which is interesting because like I mentioned, I just got off the line with Chris Bailey, who also is publishing a book on his one-year experiment.

So I'm interested to hear how you got into saying, look, I'm going to put life a little bit on hold for a year. And do this one-year experiment. Tell me about that.

Gretchen Rubin: Yeah, there is something just very satisfying on a human level to the idea of a year project. It seems short enough to be manageable. Like you can see yourself at the other end, and yet it's long enough that you can imagine that you could have real adventures or bring about real change.

And so I decided that I would spend a year with myself as a Guinea pig, test driving the wisdom of the ages. The current scientific studies, the lessons from popular culture, anything I can get my hands on, on how to be happier because I wanted to know what we're all these great minds saying that you should do?

And if I did do it, would it actually make a difference? So I wasn't a hundred percent sure that it would make a difference. And so I wanted to find out, so I decided to test it on myself. So again, like I said, I love research and, you know, happiness, just this giant subject of this amazing material, so fascinating.

And then I had to figure out, well, I have 12 months. So I figured out sort of 12 different areas of my life, where I felt like I needed to work on for my happiness. And everybody's happy just project would be different. So everybody might have very different 12 that they would pick if they were going to do something like this.

But I found my 12 and then I thought of, you know, three or four, very concrete, manageable resolutions things I could do is just part of my ordinary day because some people like to have a big, radical happiness project and like Thoreau moving to Walden Pond for two years. But I wanted to do something just within my ordinary routine.

Jonathan Levi: I see.

Gretchen Rubin: That's what I wanted to do.

Jonathan Levi: What were some of the more pressing of those 12 that were limiting you from your full potential for happiness?

Gretchen Rubin: You know, when I started, I was pretty happy, which may be pretty typical all around the world. Most people said they're either pretty happy or very happy. So I was pretty happy.

I had all the elements of a happy life. It's a one thing I wanted to do is I wanted to appreciate it more. I wanted to have more thankfulness. For my life and kind of more mindful awareness of the fact of everything, I had to be happy about it. So that was one thing. The first thing I worked on was kind of energy, my vitality.

Cause I figured if I had more energy than everything else would be easier. And I worked on work and I worked on marriage and I worked on children and friendships and lots of different areas. And you know, it's interesting. I think for people like maybe one person, it would be something like travel or music or something where they wanted to work on that.

Those for me were not important parts of my happiness project, but those were the ones I listed are some of the ones that I focused on. It turned to D, which was sort of my desire to have kind of bring transcendent values into my everyday life, which I think is something that makes a lot of people unhappy.

It can be hard to work those transcendent values into your daily routine.

Jonathan Levi: What are those transcended values? I'm sorry, I'm not too familiar.

Gretchen Rubin: Well, transcended values is just thinking about eternity, just looking at things, not just from the day-to-day perspective. So for instance, one of my favorite resolutions that I followed was to imitate a spiritual master.

And this is a fascinating resolution, first of all, because if there's anything that I've learned in happiness and good habits, it's the most important thing. Is to know yourself. This is on the temple of Apollo at Delphi. It's the most ancient wisdom. It sounds like it would be the easiest thing in the world.

And it's such a challenge to just know yourself and to be yourself. And how do you know yourself? And a very interesting question to ask yourself is who is your spiritual master? There are many people who could qualify as spiritual masters. I have been fascinated to hear who other people have chosen as their spiritual masters.

So it tells you something about yourself when you identify your spiritual master.

Jonathan Levi: And of course, I'm going to ask next who is yours?

Gretchen Rubin:  Yeah, well, mine is St. Therese of Lisieux, I'm not even Catholic. So I had never heard of her until I read about her in Thomas Merton's spiritual memoir. But if you know anything about Catholic Saint, she's like a super Saint, she's actually a doctor of the church, but the thing is, she died at the age of 24 of tuberculosis after living a lot of her life in a cloistered convent.

See this French, she was born in 1873. So basically we have nothing. Thing in common, as I said, I'm not even Catholic, but I read her spiritual memoir Story of a soul, and everything that she is saying speaks to me. This is my spiritual master. This is the person I want to emulate and learn from. And I have, I don't have 17 books about Saint Therese.

I've read story of his soul. Countless times the light goes through my mind all the time. So I identified my spiritual master. Then I had to learn about her, which I love to do. And then I had to figure out how to imitate her. And that's kind of the most creative part of imitating a spiritual master. And this is when you bring those transcendent values into your own life, which is okay, your spiritual master stands for something.

How do you bring those values into your life? Because probably for most of us, our spiritual master lived in very different circumstances from the circumstances we're in. Now, some people know their spiritual master, it's like an actual person that they know, which would be cool. But Saint Therese was living in a cluster convent, you know, in the early 20th century, how do I bring what she's saying into my life?

And so it was very creative, very interesting, but it really focused my attention. You know, on the one hand, you want to accept yourself, know yourself, accept yourself, but then also expect more from yourself, and thinking about St. Therese and her as a spiritual master helped me expect more from myself.

Jonathan Levi: That's another interesting juxtaposition, which actually has come up in past conversations on the show where, how do you be this present person who accepts and is happy from what I found? And I've also someone who's struggled with happiness and done, a fair bit of research. I'm sure. Not as much, but to me, the source of happiness is acceptance and being happy with whatever comes and accepting and cherishing what I have. But at the same time, how do you maintain goals? How do you try to improve yourself, improve your surroundings and improve your life and the life of your loved ones while maintaining that presence?

So I think that's a really interesting juxtaposition. Any thoughts on that?

Gretchen Rubin: No. I mean, I think that's one of the central tensions within a Happiness Project for anyone is to accept yourself and expect more from yourself. And I think that there's no easy answer to what is the line between accepting yourself and expecting more from yourself.

And I think each one of us has to say, is this a place where I need to accept myself? Or is this a place where I really can demand more? Um, is this a situation where I have to make my peace with what I have? Or is this a situation where I want to try to bring about change? I don't think that either one.

Is the happier life, but it's really finding what's true within our own circumstances and our own nature and our own values and our own interests so that we can do both.

Jonathan Levi: I certainly agree. And what I found is it's all about the way in which you approach it, because if you are doing it from a place of not accepting yourself and being angry with yourself and dissatisfied. It's very different than saying. I'm very happy with who I am and I'm enjoying the process of becoming healthier of running longer. I'm enjoying the process of learning more languages. If you're enjoying the process and doing it from a place of joy, it's very different than saying. I'm not good enough and I need to do this.

Gretchen Rubin: That's very interesting. And it brings up something that's really worth noting in the area of habits. Because my most recent book is better than before. It's all about habit formation. And one of the things that the research shows inhabit is very much to your point is that a lot of people think that if they load themselves with guilt and shame when they break a habit, you know when they slip up, when they screw up, as we often do that, they will somehow energize themselves to stick to their habits better that somehow by really making themselves feel bad about it. They'll do a better job of doing better, but actually, the research shows that's not true. And the people who do better getting back in the saddle of keeping good habits are the people who show compassion for themselves who say things like, well, you know that wasn't my best day or, well, I learned that lesson the hard way and who allow themselves to make a mistake and then get back up in the saddle without feeling like, Oh my gosh, I have no willpower. I'm such a screw-up. I can't do anything. Right. I can never stick to anything.

Jonathan Levi: Compassion.

Gretchen Rubin: Yeah. They think that that would make them more stick to that habit they're trying to master. But in fact, it has just the opposite effect because a lot of times when they feel bad, what do they do to try to make themselves feel better?

They turn to the very bad habit that they're trying to break. So you feel bad about the fact that you broke your diet and so then you eat an entire box of donuts or whatever. So you're absolutely right. That when you can show compassion to yourself, you actually are going to probably do a better job of self-mastery.

Jonathan Levi: I love that point and habits are certainly something we've explored quite a bit. Let me ask you this. What do you think are some of the most impactful habits that people can develop?

Gretchen Rubin: The ones that I think are the most important are super, super high-level habits. Things like knowing yourself, because that turns out to be a really, really important thing for habits.

Because I think a lot of times when people don't have success with a habit, it's because they've set it up in a way that's not right for them. So for instance, A friend of mine, a guy I know for years and who is a hardcore night person, barely can get out of bed in the morning to get to work on time. He said his most productive and energetic and creative late in the day.

He looked me in the eye and said for my new year's resolution, I'm going to start getting up and going for a run before work. And I just said, have you met yourself? This is not setting yourself up for success. I get why it makes sense on paper. I get why Steve Jobs did it or whatever, but it's not going to work for you because you're a night person.

And so I think the most important habit that we can have is the habit of thinking about when do I succeed? And it's interesting. A lot of times people are like, Oh, well, look at Thomas Edison took a nap every day. You should take a nap every day. Or so-and-so, so-and-so went to bed at 3:00 AM and he's super creative.

And so staying up late is the secret to creativity or, yeah. Getting up early or working, whatever it might be. There's sort of a search for a magic one size fits all solution. But when you look at the habits of really creative and successful and productive people, there's this fascinating book called daily rituals.

Then it just goes through the daily habits of. More than a hundred highly successful creative accomplished people. You see they're wildly different. Some get up early, some stab late, some drink coffee, some drink booze, some work in silence, some work in the middle of an entourage, some work half an hour a day, some work 14 hours a day.

But what the habit that they all have. Is that they all know what works for them. They all know the circumstances that allowed them to thrive. And they're vigilant about bringing about the circumstances. If they need silence, they figure out a way to get silence. If they need bustle, they get it. They figure out a way to create bustle.

And so I think that's the most important thing is the habit of self-knowledge back to this idea of self-knowledge. And again, the idea of compassion, because a lot of times people feel I'm not doing it the right way, the right way is to get up early and exercise. There's no right way or wrong way. It's just whatever works for you.

And it might be different from your boss or your spouse. But when you figure out how you can succeed, then you can bring about the circumstances that are, allow you to stick to that good habits.

Jonathan Levi: I love that. And I love that message of just being compassionate and honest with yourself because it is something, you know, we've discussed on the show and it comes up so much with some of the top performers who are not beating themselves up in any way, shape or form.

Gretchen Rubin: Yeah. Well, people will tell themselves they're doing it wrong and then other people will tell them, I mean, one way this comes up a lot with habits is what I figured out is when it comes to dealing with a strong temptation, some people do better when they have none. When they say I'm never going to have that that's off the table. I just am not going to have any, and some people do better when they have a little bit or they have it sometimes and they get kind of panicky and rebellious. If they're told they can never have it until like, I'm an abstainer. I do better when I have none, but then some people do better when they have a little bit.

And the problem is, is that we keep telling each other we're doing it wrong. So moderators who like to have things in moderation, tell someone like me, you're too rigid. It's not healthy to be so extreme. And I've had a nutritionist say to me, you're wrong to do it this way. I'm like, it's not wrong, or right.

It's just, this is what works for me. And you're a moderator. And I want to say to a moderator, why do you keep breaking your own rules? Why don't you just quit cold turkey? To me, that seems harder. And again, it's not that one way is right. And one way is wrong. It's just that people have a different way of managing themselves.

Same thing with technology, with a certain video game or a certain app on my phone. I can't play a little bit. So I'm never going to play. Exactly. It's easier to have none than to have a little bit. I find it's too hard for me to be moderate. It's easy for me to abstain. And so that's what I do. But sometimes people will be like, well, you're doing it wrong.

I'm not doing it wrong. I'm doing what's right for me. And you're like for you.

Jonathan Levi:  You and I are in the exact same camp. I think we just started to touch upon. In better than before you talk about people falling into four motivation types, as it relates to creating or breaking habits. I think you mentioned to obscener and moderator.

What are the other two types? Or are those the two first types?

Gretchen Rubin: Nope, the standard moderate, you know, they say there's two kinds of people. Those who like to divide the world into two kinds of people and those who don't. And I like divide the worlds into categories constantly. Substandard moderator is one way of thinking about the world.

The four tendencies look at a different aspect of your personality, which doesn't track of standard moderator. And this is how a person meets an expectation and that there are upholders, questioners, obligers, and rebels. And there's a quiz on my site, If people want to take a quiz, but most people can figure out what they are just from a brief description.

So it has to do with how a person meets an expectation, an outer expectation, like a work deadline or an inner expectation, like a new year's resolution. So upholders readily meet outer and inner alike. They keep a new year's resolution. They keep a work deadline without much trouble and they're. On expectations for themselves are just as important as others expectations of them.

Next questioners, questioners question, all expectations. They'll do it. If they think it makes sense. So they hate anything unfair or arbitrary or irrational or inefficient. So they make everything an inner expectation. They'll do it. If they endorse it, they buy into it.

Jonathan Levi: That sounds familiar.

Gretchen Rubin: Yeah. Is that, yeah, it's not ringing true obligers readily meet outer expectations, but they struggle to meet inner expectations. So a friend of mine said, well, when I want to exercise, and when I was in high school, on the track team, I never missed track practice, but I can't go running that. Why? And she had all these reasons why.

And I was like, no, the reason why is when you had a coach and a team waiting for you, you had no trouble going. Cause you had external accountability when it's just your own inner accountability. Right. That's not enough. So you just need to fill in the external accountability to be able to do it. And then finally, rebels, rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner life.

They want to do what they want to do in their own way. And if you ask or tell them to do something, they are very likely to resist, so they don't even want to meet their expectations for themselves. So it sounds like you felt like the questioner you fit into the question or Tennessee, is that right?

Jonathan Levi: Yeah, that sounds about right.

Anything that I perceive as inefficient, isn't going to happen. Well, if I reframe it in my own efficient way, like, why are we doing this process this way, then it's fine. But it needs to make sense. I'm a big start with why kind of guy.

Gretchen Rubin: Yeah, that's very questioner. And then do you ever feel, and some questions are still this way that you almost have analysis paralysis.

Like you want to have more and more information either you can't move forward or other people lose interest and you're like, Hey, wait a minute. We need to figure out, is this really the best way maybe we need to look at this, maybe we need to look that.

Jonathan Levi: I've done a lot of self-work to get over that by selectively expose myself to information, really the Tim Ferriss stuff, his idea of kind of having a low information diet and the Pareto principle that with 20% of the information I get 80% effects. So I've done a lot of work to be able to look at a menu for example, and choose the first thing. That sounds pretty good. Uh, because I'm aware of the decision fatigue and the analysis paralysis, and those are inefficient and I questioned an inefficiency so.

Gretchen Rubin: Right. But here's an interesting thing. That is something that is a problem for you. That is a problem that comes from like many questioners feel that other tendencies don't feel that as much.

Jonathan Levi: Interesting, which is why I'm so much more concerned about efficiency than anyone else in my life.

Gretchen Rubin: That's a very question or value.

So I'm an upholder and it turns out that overwhelmingly people are either questioners or obligers and upholder and rebel are the two fringe tendencies. And they're very, very few people in these tendencies, which was a huge revelation to me because I went into this thinking. I was pretty average. I'm pretty average in terms of happiness, but it turns out I'm an extreme personality when it comes to habits. Which by the way, it came as a surprise to no one, but me.

So it's interesting, like, let's say that I was your spouse or I was your manager or I was your coworker. I was your parent. And I was trying to persuade you to do something. If I know you're a questioner, I know I need to appeal to you through your need for justification, for explanation, for being convinced that something's efficient and correct, and make sense.

But if you were an obliger, I would very much focus on external accountability, deadlines, supervision. A role model. You're going to let someone down that's what would be effective. And then if it's a rebel, like the more I tell you to do something, the more you're going to push back. So I better be very careful if I tell you to do something, because I know I'm going to ignite in you, the spirit of resistance.

And so if you're working with other people or you're managing yourself, it really helps to know their tendency and know your own tendency, because then you see this pattern because a lot of times, and I certainly felt this way myself before I came up with this. You just naturally assume that other people are like you it's almost like we can't help them.

We extrapolate from our own experience and think, well, this is a pretty universal issue, much more than is the case in many ways. We're very like other people, but the differences are very important. Oh yeah. Now I see questioner patterns. I see obliger patterns. I see rebel patterns that I'm much more able to work effectively with people like that.

Because as an upholder, a lot of times we get very impatient with other people, like I've talked to other upholders, this is a very common upholder thing. Why do we have to have these long discussions about it? Why do we have to have all these systems? Just like everybody just don't. So it's very helpful to know these things.

Jonathan Levi: I love that.

All right at this point, I just want to take a quick second and hit pause to let you guys know that this episode is brought to you by ONNIT. I first discovered ONNIT through Tim Ferris, who also swears by their stuff, and I've had the chance to try a bunch of their products from their chewable melatonin.

To their alpha brain balanced neurotropic, and even new mood, which helps reduce stress and improve your mood. But ONNIT has much, much more to offer from ultra-high-quality protein to fitness equipment, and more. Please take a moment and show support for the show by visiting and using the coupon code: getonnit to save 10%.

I also want to mention that this episode is made possible entirely by Fiverr, not just because they help us cover our expenses, but also because of all of our music, all of our intros and outros, and even, yeah, our editing is actually done through Fiverr. We rely heavily on their endless availability of different services, all available from just $5. So please take a moment to support the show by checking out Fiverr that's F I V E R R. All right, back to the show.

 You actually touched exactly on what I wanted to ask, which is I assume, and it sounds that it's true that each different of the four motivation types really has to address themselves differently when it comes to making these habits.

And I assume that's the bulk of what the book is teaching hopefully.

Gretchen Rubin: Well, this is one very narrow aspect of a person's personality, and it's really not about your motivation. And it's funny, I try never to use the word motivation, cause I feel like it's a really confusing word because at least from a lay perspective, it combines both the desire to have a change happen and kind of the mode of force.

To make that change happen. But often in life, people desperately want to make a change and yet nothing is happening towards making that change. So this has to do with meeting expectations. So the subtle things.

Jonathan Levi:  How do people make that change though?

Gretchen Rubin:  Well, part of it is the tendencies, but then there's many things that kind of are overlay the tendencies.

So what I do is I've identified the 21 strategies that we can use to make or break our habits. And you use the same strategies, whether you're making or breaking. And some of the strategies go straight to self-knowledge, like the strategy, the four tendencies, which is what we just talked about. And other strategies related to distinctions, which is understanding how you're different.

Or like, are you a morning person or night person, or you've stayed or a moderator, are you a marathoner or a sprinter when it comes to work, pace, things like that. Things that will influence your habit patterns. And then it goes through all the strategies. So something like convenience. Well, this is something that no matter what your tendency is, you're going to be powerfully affected by it.

These twin strategies of convenience and inconvenience. To a really crazy degree. We are influenced by just how convenient or inconvenient it is to do something. And so we can manipulate that by if there's a habit we want to form think of every single thing we can do to make it more convenient and to make it as inconvenient, not to do it or to indulge in it.

And the other strategy that's sort of an overarching strategy is the strategy of other people. Which is that we're all very influenced by the behavior of other people and they're influenced by us. And so to think about, well, how are other people affecting us? They might be helping us. They might be hurting us with our habits.

So how do we think about how other people come into play or something like the strategy loophole spotting, which I have to say is the funniest strategy, which is that we all are really good advocates for ourselves. Why we should be let off the hook. Just this one time for good habits. And there are 10 categories of loopholes.

Most of us have a favorite one or two, but it's things like the concern for others loopholes or the tomorrow loophole. Oh, it doesn't matter what I do today because I'm going to be so good tomorrow or the moral licensing loophole. I've been so good yesterday. It's okay for me not to do it today. Or the fake self-actualization loophole, which is things like, well, you've only lived once or life's too short, not to have a Brown Bear.

It's too beautiful a day for me to work on my thesis. So there's a bunch of different loopholes and sort of whatever your tendency, these loopholes tend to run through our minds. But then there are other strategies that are very tied to your tenancy. Like accountability. Accountability is the crucial key, essential, absolutely necessary.

Strategy for obligers.

Jonathan Levi: That's like a fantastic quote.

Gretchen Rubin: Yeah, no. I mean, if you or an obliger and by the way, that is the largest tendency. If you feel you are good at meeting expectations for other people, but you struggled to meet your expectations for yourself, the solution is to create systems of external accountability.

That is the key. And so for other people that might help, but for you, it's key. And I have loved hearing from obligers about all the ingenious, brilliant things that they do to give themselves external accountability for their inner expectations. Or something like scheduling. Okay. Scheduling works really well for upholders, questioners, and obligers, but rebels will often say if something's on the schedule, it makes them not do it even something that they want to do.

Like a rebel friend of mine said, Oh, you know, I always wanted to take woodworking. And so I signed up for this woodworking class, but then I'd see it on the calendar at two o'clock Saturday. I'm like, there's no way I'm going to go. Just the fact that he was being expected to do something, made him push back.

And so putting it on the schedule actually. Hurt his ability to stick to behavior, even though the strategy of scheduling is a highly effective strategy for most people, for him, it was actually counterproductive.

Jonathan Levi: That's so interesting. And you just gave me a reminder. I think I was listening to a Tim Ferriss show and he talked about creating these incentives, like writing a check.

To the worst possible, you know, the Baptist church or whatever, they are the Southern Baptist church, which is very kind of racist organization giving it to a friend and saying, if I don't run this marathon, you send it.

Gretchen Rubin: That's nuclear accountability. Yes.

Jonathan Levi:  Exactly. And I can imagine that would work for a large portion of people like you said.

Gretchen Rubin:  Well, you know, it's interesting though, because what a lot of people have told me, so that's an accountability partner, right?

Somebody's helping to hold you accountable and they're going to do something. The problem with having an accountability partner, unless it's somebody that you're paying, it's like a nutritionist or a gym trainer, or like a life coach or an executive coach. A lot of times you want to get people around you to play these roles.

And what a lot of people, especially obligers say is that when you have an accountability partner, if that person loses interest or sort of loses focus, then you kind of come screeching to a halt and live with the nuclear solution. Is that person actually going to mail that tech? Are they really going to enforce that?

 It can be hard. And so what a lot of people have done is they start accountability groups because within a group, there's the energy that comes from a group, which is like Weight Watchers or AA. There's a group of people holding each other accountable, and then you have that energy and you have that exchange of information.

It's fun, but also you're not dependent on one person to follow through for you because you have the whole group. And if one person floats away, well, then there's other people there. And actually, I have on my site,, and the resources section, there's a starter kit for people who want to start groups for people to hold each other accountable habit changed groups and they don't have to be changing the same habit.

They just have to be holding each other accountable for whatever habits it is that a person wants to be held to. Now, an accountability partner can be great if you know that that person is going to stick to it and really enforce it. I've just heard from a lot of people that that can be challenging.

Jonathan Levi: That's huge. And just the idea of an accountability group as a more fail-safe antifragile system is massive. That's just a massive takeaway for the audience. I think. So. I want to call attention to it, especially.

Gretchen let me change gears really quick. Cause I feel like we didn't touch quite enough on the happiness thing.

I'm going to ask you a really, really tough question. Oh, okay. What do you believe to be the secret or secrets to happiness?

Gretchen Rubin: Well, I think you can answer that question a couple of different ways, depending on the framework that you use to answer it. And one answer we've already talked about at length, which is self-knowledge to be happy.

We have to know ourselves and we can build a happy life only on the foundation of our own nature, our own interests, our own values. And, you know, you could have a life that would make be great for someone else, but if it's not the life, that's right for you, you're not going to be happy. So one answer is self-knowledge.

Another way to answer that and ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists would agree on this answer too. Is relationships. To be happy. We need strong enduring, intimate bonds. We need to feel like we belong. We need to be able to confide. We need to be able to get support and just as important for happiness, we need to be able to give support.

And so if you're saying, what is the secret to happiness or what should I do with my precious time, energy or money? That's going to make me happier.  Anything that deepens our relationships or broadens our relationships is something that's likely to make us happier.

Jonathan Levi: I love that. And I was actually going to ask you another tough question, which was going to be what are then the secrets to success, but I have a feeling they might be the same answers.

Would that be a completely off statement?

Gretchen Rubin: I mean, then you have to be in the whole question of like, well, what does it mean to succeed? To succeed is to have the life that you want, which in some ways is within your control in some ways is not within your control. If you're an ambitious person, you said something earlier and it really rang a chord with me because it's something that my own father has always repeated throughout my life.

We just didn't enjoy the process. And the fact is, if you enjoy the process, That even if you're a really ambitious driven person if you enjoy the process and things don't end up the way you want. I mean, we've all had situations where we didn't get the result that we were hoping for. If you enjoy the process, then that is not a bitter outcome.

You know, you might be disappointed. You might wish things had gone a different way, but if you went through the process, then you've had a good existence. But if everything is driving towards a certain outcome and everything is painful and arduous, along the way and you don't get that outcome. Well, then that's going to be a very bitter outcome because you'll feel like, Oh look, I gave all of this.

And so I think what you said earlier about enjoying the process is really important because even when we're trying to think towards future goals, which I think is very important for happiness to think about the future and what we want the future to look like, we also have to think about the present, which is all that we actually have is the present.

And so if you enjoy the process, then. It takes some of the emotional weight away from the future.

Jonathan Levi: Right? So it almost sounds as if you're saying one of the best ways to be successful is to change what success means to you. And if you change success into meaning being satisfied and being happy in your life, it's a hell of a lot easier than if success to you means being a billionaire.

Gretchen Rubin: Well, you know, it's funny. I just don't think about things like success that much, like in that term. I mean, this is one of the things I don't often. I don't know. I just, uh, I never really say to myself, what would success look like? Or I don't know. They will, on the other hand, I do care a lot. So I guess I just, I need to ponder that that's very thought-provoking.

Okay. I gotta think that over.

Jonathan Levi:  I think that's telling two reasons, one, which is not just empty flattery, but because I think you are one of the most successful authors right now. And I think it's telling that you don't spend much time thinking about success and the other one that you are an expert in happiness, and you don't spend a hell of a lot of time thinking about success.

I think there's some correlation and causality there.

Gretchen Rubin: Hmm. Interesting. Yeah. It's thought-provoking. I'll have to ponder this.

Jonathan Levi: Awesome, so we've given already homework to the audience ponder. Awesome. I want to ask another question about the one-year experiment, which is, were there any things that you went in thinking you knew or understood that surprised you things that you really didn't expect to come out of it?

Gretchen Rubin: Absolutely a hundred percent. So one of the things that if you do your research on happiness, you will see that over and over. The research says that novelty and challenge make people happier. That even something as trivial as going to a new restaurant, instead of going to your old familiar restaurant is something that makes people happier.

But I have to say, I did not think that that was true for me. I was like, whatever the self is, the studies show, I love familiarity and mastery. I'm a person of very narrow interests. I like to do very few things all the time. Yeah. I eat the same food every day. I love familiarity and mastery. And so that's just not true for me Gretchen, but because my whole idea was that I was doing these experiments and I was using myself as a Guinea pig.

I had to figure out a way to do something novel and challenging. And I thought, Oh, I'm going to do this for three weeks. I'll prove myself right. And then I'll just abandon it. Like I abandoned my gratitude journal, which by the way, did not work for me. So I thought, okay, well, I'm going to start a blog because that is novel and challenging.

I never read blogs. I've never been a journalist. So I don't have this thing of writing daily. I know write small, I read large. Like I always think of things in like 80,000 clumps of words. I didn't like the idea of like the constant scrutiny that it would be out there all the time. Technically it had no idea how to do it.

I was not a techie person at all. I didn't have a lot of friends who were bloggers, so it felt super novel and super challenging. And what I found was Holy cow, was I wrong? Novelty and challenge are an amazing. Rich source of happiness and my blog, I started it more than eight years ago. Again, I was very comforted by the thought, Oh, I'm like, well, it doesn't matter how bad it is because no one will ever see it.

You know, my blog is just a major part of my writer identity. Now it's been a huge help to me in my research and my thinking. It's been such a source of joy release, actual relationships in the real world at so many I've radically. I mean, just. Unbelievably extended my network of relationships in every way.

It's been fantastic. Now, the thing about novelty and challenge is. Often, they are also accompanied by feeling dumb, feeling insecure, feeling defensive, feeling, anxious, feeling you know, completely confused and stuck. I mean, I remember the first time I posted an image, I was so excited because it was so hard for me to figure out how to post an image.

So that was a place where I thought that I was like, I know the research and I reject it. As to myself and I was a hundred percent convinced that the research was right on target. And now what I think is different is that what's novel and challenging is going to be very different for everybody because one person, people have very high, different tolerances for risk, and it's kind of makes sense for each person starting a blog with the right thing for me.

It was a great challenge for me. It doesn't mean it would be a great challenge for everyone, but learning a new instrument might be a wonderful challenge for someone else. It wouldn't be a good challenge for me or learning a new language or going on a long trip by yourself, or there's all these things that people can do, but they have to be suited to.

And again, this comes back to the life that reflects your own nature, your own values, your own interests, and sort of by dumb luck, I have to admit, I picked something that was novel and challenging for me, but was also the kind of thing that was right for me.

Jonathan Levi: I love it. And I do love, especially that you pointed out, it keeps coming back to having open communication with yourself, being honest and being like, you know what? I don't want to learn how to play the guitar, even if that's idealized in my social circle. Just being honest with yourself. I mean, it's a huge point. And like I said, it's something that's coming up either in a future episode or a past episode, I'm not so great with the scheduling. That's me being honest with myself, but it's a point that's come up with some of our top, top performers and people who have this incredible.

Lifeforce in this incredible joy in their lives.

Gretchen Rubin: Well, and I experienced it again just very recently because I started a podcast called Happier with Gretchen Rubin just a few months ago with my sister Elizabeth Craft.

Jonathan Levi: Which is crushing it by the way. Congratulations, you guys are doing so well.

Gretchen Rubin: Thank you. It's been super exciting. Okay. So now looking back on it, you can be like, well, that's not how risky is that because it's doing great. But when we started it, I don't know how this is going to go. And I was with my sister. So I had to say to her, I asked her to do it with me. This could be a total flame out in public, by the way.

I hope it goes well, but who knows? And she was like, okay, we reminded ourselves one of our mantras enjoyed the fun of failure that if you're not failing, you're not trying hard enough. Totally. And it's been amazing novel and challenging. We didn't know what to do. We had to kind of. Figure everything out.

We had to meet all these new people, learn all these new skills, all this new language, what's this, or what's that, and be novices and all the anxiety that comes from that. But on the other hand, it's been incredibly energizing to meet all these people have this huge thing that we're doing together. It's brought us so much closer together as sisters it's been tremendously fun, but we had to accept the fact that the benefits of it were going to come. And it's a lot of extra work.

Jonathan Levi:  It is a lot of work.

Gretchen Rubin: It's a lot of work. And I said, once we start, you're committed. You want to do this? Do I want to do this? So that was this again, I've learning this lesson, novelty, and challenge. There's often the negative stages, but there's also all those positive stages that can come too.

Jonathan Levi: I love that. So one more quick question. Before we let you go. If you could assign one piece of homework to the audience with a hundred percent certainty that they would. End this podcast and go out and do it. What would that piece of homework could be either for habits better than before stuff or happiness stuff?

Gretchen Rubin: Well at a high level, I would say know yourself and shape your life to reflect your own nature, your own values, your own interest. So that's a high-level habit, but if you mean what's like a nitty-gritty daily habit, that's actually something that you do. If I had to pick one thing, I think I would say.

Get enough sleep.

Jonathan Levi: Awesome.

Gretchen Rubin: Most of us need seven hours of sleep. A lot of people don't a lot of people who hit that snooze alarm over and over and over and over in the morning. But for everybody, it affects your mood, your memory, your alertness, your immune function. They think it contributes to weight gain, and it certainly goes directly to self-mastery.

So if you're wanting to ask more of yourself, if you want to be healthier, happier, and more productive, getting enough sleep is a great place to start. We're like cell phones. We need to recharge that battery. If you don't charge that battery in the end. It's not going to work out that well.

Jonathan Levi:  That's a wonderful point. And I love that there's a Ted talk by Arianna Huffington. Every woman should sleep her way to the top. Literally speaking.

Gretchen Rubin: Yeah. We're in violent agreement about sleep. We've talked about him many times.

Jonathan Levi: I love it. Gretchen. If people want to get in touch, listen to the podcast and pick up copies of your book, listen to the blog, all that great stuff.

Where should we send them?

Gretchen Rubin: My blog is And if you look into resources, there's stuff about how to start it. Do a starter kit. If you want to start a habits group together, there's discussion guides. If you want to read it in a group and talk about it, there's a bunch of different resources there.

You can also see the link to the quiz. If you want to see which of your four tendencies, there's a lot of stuff, how to eat better, how to sleep better, how to exercise better, how to work better. How to read better my favorites.

 And then also my podcasts, but we were just talking about it's called Happier with Gretchen Rubin and that's everywhere for your podcast pleasure.

Jonathan Levi: So that's pretty hard to miss.

Gretchen Rubin: Yeah. Oh, thank you. We're on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud, all there. And I'm on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest and YouTube as just Gretchen Rubin everywhere.

Jonathan Levi: Awesome. And that guys is Rubin with an I not an E.

Yes. Gretchen Rubin, R U B I N.

Awesome. And we will link all that stuff up in the show notes at

Gretchen, it has been an absolute pleasure talking to you. I'm still not convinced you're not SuperWoman, but I'm willing to admit that you at least do it part-time.

Gretchen Rubin: Well, it was so much fun talking to you. I feel like we could talk all day. We're obviously interested in so many of the same things.

Awesome. Well, let's do keep in touch and I will let you know of other stuff that might interest you as we have it on the podcast. Awesome. Thanks so much, Gretchen.

Thank you. Tons of fun.

Jonathan Levi: Take care.

Speaker: Thanks for tuning in to the becoming SuperHuman Podcast for more great skills and strategies or for links to any of the resources mentioned in this episode, visit

We'll see you next time.





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The Basics of Total Personal Transformation W/ Stephan Spencer