Archive for 2015

Better Than Before – Wait Fifteen Minutes

Posted on: June 29th, 2015 by Kathie England | Time for Success No Comments

When I started this chapter titled “Wait Fifteen Minutes,” I figured it was about the “Power of the Pause.” It was sort of about that idea, but Rubin’s perspective was more about the value of distractions. Now, as an ADHD Coach, helping people manage their distractions is my focus rather than helping them seek ways to be distracted. I confess I had to do a bit of reframing to see Rubin’s point.

What she’s really discussing is the value of purposefully creating a distraction to shift oneself from a bad habit. She explains the value of a distraction that involves physical movement. (I have no reservations about that idea. It’s one I often introduce in the context of taking a break.)

The bottom line in Rubin’s definition of distraction is that it is purposeful and deliberate. That’s VERY different from the more common way we usually think about distractions – something that just seems to happen to us and robs our focus.

One of Rubin’s recommendations for a purposeful distraction is to tell yourself that you CAN do that in fifteen minutes rather than right now. She proposes that this action is more effective than telling yourself “no!” Telling yourself “no” often results in a backlash effect “in which feelings of deprivation make the forbidden more enticing.”

One of the habits she tries to avoid is constantly checking email and social media while she is working (as a writer, she works in a home office). The strategy she found most helpful was to go to the library to write. She shares that in that environment she doesn’t feel tempted to the intermittent reinforcement of the Internet.

Rubin states that distraction can also make it easier to keep to keep her good habits by taking her mind off worries. She reports that “studies suggest that distraction works best if it directs our mind to something absorbing and pleasant, rather than distressing or highly arousing.”

Distractions (I still think the idea of the power of the pause is more powerful language than distraction) help when they are used mindfully to shift attention away from what she calls “potato chip news.” (That’s another name for “junk news” that’s a time suck. She defines “potato chip news” as “news that’s repetitive, requires little effort to absorb, and is consumable in massive quantities.”)

Where could waiting fifteen minutes provide you a beneficial distraction?

The next blog will introduce two more ideas: the “bad trance” vs. the “good trance” and focus boosters.

Better Than Before – Loophole Spotting Continued

Posted on: June 18th, 2015 by Kathie England | Time for Success No Comments

Here are the last five loopholes that Rubin proposes. Remember loopholes are excuses we make for avoiding habits that will help us become better than before.

“This Doesn’t Count” Loophole – “We tell ourselves that for some reason, THIS circumstance doesn’t count.” Examples often used include: vacations, holidays, weekends, illness, it’s a one-time thing. This loophole is different from mindfully making a decision NOT to do something like the planned exception safeguard discussed a few days ago. These are sort of like the idea we used as kids that it doesn’t count if we cross our fingers or close our eyes.

Questionable Assumption Loophole – Rubin illustrates this example described by one of her clients who tells herself that if it’s 9 a.m. and she has an appointment at 11 a.m. she doesn’t really have time to do anything important, so she ends up wasting the entire morning. We make assumptions that we kid ourselves into thinking are reasonable. One example Rubin suggests is a common excuse that professional organizers hear about why someone can’t get rid of some item. “I might need this someday.” Here are a few others: I can’t start working until my office is clean; all creative people are messy; I’m so far behind, there’s no point in doing anything to catch up; unless I sweat for an hour, it’s not worth exercising. Rubin suggests that a particularly sneaky assumption loophole is the belief that a habit has become so ingrained that it’s OK to ease off. She says that even long-standing habits are more fragile than they appear to be and people tend to overestimate their dedication.

Concern for Others Loophole – This one is where we tell ourselves we’re acting out of consideration for others. Do any of these examples sound familiar? “It will hurt my girlfriend’s feelings if I leave her to go for a run?” Or, “So many people need me, there’s no time to focus on my own health.” (Love this next one!) “When I try to change this habit, I get irritable, and my family complains.” Enough examples?

Fake Self-Actualization Loophole – “It’s too nice a day to spend doing this” is an example I often hear about why people don’t take the actions they planned about catching up on projects. “You only live one (YOLO)” is the rationalization for some types of behavior. I appreciate Rubin’s perspective: “For most of us, the real aim isn’t to enjoy a few pleasures right now, but to build habits that will make us happy over the long term. Sometimes, that means giving up something in the present, or demanding more of ourselves.” I think the strategy of asking what your future self would like is the same idea.

“One-Coin Loophole” – Rubin says she learned about this one in Erasmus’s The Praise of Folly. “If ten coins are not enough to make a man rich, what if you add one coin? What if you add another? Finally, you will have to say that no one can be rich unless one coin can make him so.” This story illustrates a paradox. “Often when we consider our actions, it’s clear that any one instance of an action is almost meaningless; yet at the same time, the sum of those actions is very meaningful.” This idea is also illustrated by the power of small steps to create profound change. Or, as Marilyn Paul says in It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys, “Small steps actually take lead to more progress that great steps that never happen.”

What small step could be the beginning of a habit you’d like to develop?

Rubin closes this chapter by proposing that “The habit of the habit is more important than the habit itself…by catching ourselves in the act of invoking a loophole, we give ourselves an opportunity to reject it, and stick to the habits that we want to foster.”

Better Than Before – Loophole Spotting

Posted on: June 16th, 2015 by Kathie England | Time for Success No Comments

Though Rubin’s title for this chapter is actually “Nothing Stays in Vegas,” I much prefer her tagline to the title, “Loophole Spotting.”

She says “Loopholes often flit through out minds, almost below the level of consciousness. If we recognize them, we can judge them and stop kidding ourselves. It’s when we deceive ourselves that our bad habits tyrannize us most.” Loopholes can be quite enticing, so she has provided a list of ten major categories as a guide to loophole spotting. I’ll explore the first five in this blog.

Moral Licensing Loophole – We give ourselves permission to do something “bad” because we’ve been good. This example is another one discussed in The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal. Our thinking seems to be that we’ve somehow earned or deserve whatever it is we want to do that is really “bad” for us. We indulge in something to eat that’s not very healthy,  but we tell ourselves we’ve done such a good job of sticking to our diet that we deserve this indulgence.

Tomorrow Loophole – We somehow think that we’ll feel more like doing something tomorrow rather than right now. This idea goes along with the perspective of the “future self,” another idea explored in The Willpower Instinct. Rubin says people even tend to fool themselves into thinking that an extreme indulgence on one day will give them greater self-control tomorrow.

False-Choice Loophole – This loophole is where we pose two activities in opposition to each other as though we have to make an either/or decision. But the two aren’t necessarily in conflict with each other so they are false choices. One of Rubin’s examples is: “I haven’t been exercising. Too busy writing.”

Lack of Control Loophole – This one is where we have the illusion that we have control over something we really don’t have any control over. And at the same time we deny control over things that we can control. She says we rationalize that circumstances force us to break a habit. Here are a few examples Rubin suggests: I travel all the time; it’s too hot; it’s too rainy; I’d had a few beers; I’ve never been able to resist this. You can fill in the blank for when someone might use one of these excuses.

Arranging to Fail Loophole – Rubin shares this one suggested by Professors Lee Beach and G. Alan Marlatt who coined the term “apparently irrelevant decisions.”  They define this loophole as “we make a chain of seemingly harmless decisions that allow us covertly to engineer the very circumstances that we’ll find irresistible.” Here’s a specific example: “I’ll check my email before I go to the meeting, and then make this one call…oh no, it’s so late, there’s no point in going to the meeting now.” I’d call this loophole the myth of doing just one more thing.

What loopholes can you spot in your thinking?


Better Than Before – The Planned Exception Safeguard

Posted on: June 15th, 2015 by Kathie England | Time for Success No Comments

Occasionally we need to allow ourselves to break a good habit without losing the good habit completely. Rubin has named this safeguard the planned exception. One advantage of this terminology is that it makes the distinction between an impulsive decision and a planned decision. As an adult we can mindfully make an exception to a usual habit by planning the exception in advance.

I realize this was the strategy I employed when I started blogging about Better Than Before (committing to a minimum of 30 days in a row) and realizing the impact that upcoming travel would have on my opportunities to blog. I hadn’t gotten to this point in the book, so I didn’t realize that Rubin actually had developed a name for the strategy I was employing.

Rubin suggests that the planned exception works best when it’s made for something memorable. The two short trips I took met this criterion – one was a weekend trip to the beach with girlfriends to celebrate our birthdays (a couple of them were milestone birthdays) and the trip to the ACO Conference in Phoenix (ACO stands for ADHD Coaches Organization). The latter is a conference I have wanted to attend but the timing wasn’t conducive in the past. Both were memorable experiences. I had a third trip over the Memorial Day weekend to visit my niece and her then 6-week-old baby boy (definitely memorable). I didn’t realize the impact all this travel would have on my regular routines.

An interesting question that Rubin invites is to ask yourself, “How will I feel about the exception later?” My answer to all three trips and the break in my blogging is that I am totally delighted with the choices I made.

Rubin points out that planned exceptions work best when they are limited or they have a built-in cutoff point. Her example is that it’s OK to skip a visit to the gym to have extra time to prepare for an annual retreat, but not OK to skip because you’re preparing for the weekly staff meeting.

I think it’s important to emphasize the planned aspect of the exception vs. the impulsive decision made in the moment to avoid your habit.

I appreciate this perspective and invite the reader to think of planned exceptions to your habits vs. times when you just didn’t keep the commitment you had made to your habit.

Better Than Before – More Safeguards

Posted on: June 12th, 2015 by Kathie England | Time for Success No Comments

The goal of safeguards is to help avoid breaking good habits and provide a way to deal effectively with lapses.

Remembering that a lapse does not mean total failure is an important perspective to remember.

Stumbles are a natural part of habit formation and an effective strategy to protect a habit. Rubin sounds a lot like Brene Brown (Daring Greatly) when she talks about not judging ourselves harshly when we do stumble. Shame reduces the likelihood of regaining self-control after a stumble. People who feel deeply guilty, engage in self-blame, and struggle with shame are much less likely to be successful in resuming a habit after a stumble. Self-encouragement is a much more effective safeguard than self-blame.

Guilt and shame about breaking a habit tend to make people feel so bad that they develop a “what the hell” attitude and indulge even more deeply in excessive behaviors liking eating the entire pint of Haagen-Dazs. Kelly McGonigal also describes this behavior in The Willpower Instinct. Feelings of a lack of control lead to more indulgence in bad habits. Rubin even compares this indulgence to Dante’s vision of the Ninth Circle of Hell where the punishment for a bad habit is…the bad habit.

When trying to develop a new habit, perfection isn’t necessary, but the earliest repetitions of the habit help the most in establishing the new habit. However, stumbles are more likely to occur during the learning phase of a new habit. Factors that are likely to create stumbling blocks include: tensions with other people, social pressure, loneliness, boredom, and anxiety.

The key is to catch ourselves in a stumble right away to avoid the “what the hell” perspective. Like McGonigal, Rubin describes how we often respond when a good behavior is broken. We act as though it doesn’t matter whether it’s broken a little or a lot and that leads to the major binge. “By continuing to monitor consumption, a person gains a sense of awareness, and even more important, a sense of control. Counterintuitively, monitoring can even be reassuring.”

Rubin proposes an interesting idea that contrasts with an all-or-nothing perspective. She suggests thinking of each day having four quarters: morning, midday, afternoon, and evening. “If you blow one quarter, you get back on track for the next quarter. Fail small, not big.”

I’m curious how you might practice failing small, not big.

Rubin has one more safeguard that I’ll discuss in the next blog. It’s called the planned exception.


Better Than Before – Safeguards

Posted on: June 11th, 2015 by Kathie England | Time for Success No Comments

In this chapter titled “A Stumble May Prevent a Fall,” Rubin explores the paradox of habits. They are surprisingly tough and also surprisingly fragile.

The subtitle, “Safeguards,” captures the essence of the strategies she offers – anticipate and minimize temptation. Rubin explains that there is “a downward pull toward bad habits that requires us to maintain an active, concrete effort to protect our good habits.” She proposes that the Strategy of Safeguards keeps one lapse from turning into a full relapse.

Rubin cites a study that estimated people spend about one-fourth of their waking time resisting some aspect of desire (examples include the urge to eat, to sleep, to grab some leisure, and to pursue some kind of sexual urge).

She says the first step in the Strategy of Safeguards is the elimination of the cues that lead to temptation. Out of sight, out of mind is one of the simplest techniques. Hide the temptation whether it’s your iPad or that bag a chips.

Another technique is to avoid the cue altogether. She shares an example her daughter used to avoid buying candy on the way home from school. When her daughter walked home from school with a certain friend, they always walked down a street that had many candy-buying opportunities. By not walking home with this friend, her daughter explained she was able to avoid the candy-buying temptation.

Rubin explains that cues lurk everywhere. Cues can be a place, a mood, a time of day, a transition, other people, or even a pattern of behavior. Smells are a particularly strong trigger (think Cinnabons in the mall or airport). By eliminating cues or triggers we can stop the temptation before it becomes overpowering.

One of the most intriguing strategies is called “If ________________ happens, then I will do _________________.” (This one is particularly interesting to me because it’s a strategy one of my clients developed on her own.)

Because we can’t eliminate all cues from our surroundings, the “if-then” strategy is especially helpful.

Decide in advance a detailed plan of action for keeping your habit in the face of an unexpected cue or trigger. By planning in advance, we avoid making a decision in the heat of the moment when our impulsivity may take over.

This strategy reminds me of the  “behavioral scripts” used by Starbucks and discussed by Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit. Part of the training for baristas includes their creating their own behavioral scripts that detail what they will say when encountering an angry customer. They overlearn these scripts so they can use them in the heat of the moment.

One Rubin uses for herself is when she’s writing and she needs to verify some information. Rather than stop and look it up, she makes a note to herself “look up” in the text to remind her to do it later. This “if-then” example prevents her getting derailed in the never-ending “Google search” that can take her far afield.

Rubin suggests that “if-then” planning is one of the most important tools within Safeguards, because it arms us to face any high-risk situation with a carefully considered plan.” One we’ve put in the mental effort to plan, Rubin says it take much less energy to put it into operation.

What “if-then” strategy might help you?

Tomorrow I’ll share Rubin’s ideas about how the Strategy of Safeguards can help us avoid breaking good habits.

Back to Better Than Before

Posted on: June 9th, 2015 by Kathie England | Time for Success No Comments

“It’s Hard to Make Things Easier – Convenience” is where I left off in blogging about the book Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin. The theme of this book is all about creating habits (in case you’ve forgotten since it’s been a number of weeks since I last wrote about this topic).

Rubin says that the “amount of effort, time, or decision making required by an action has a huge influence on habit formation.” It totally makes sense that we are more likely to do something if it’s convenient and less likely if it’s not. Rubin calls this perspective the Strategy of Convenience.

She shares a number of interesting examples about the impact of convenience. Here are just a few:

  • People take less food when using tongs rather than spoons to serve themselves in a buffet line.
  • When an ice cream cooler’s lid was left open, 30 percent of diners bought ice cream compared to only 14 percent when the diners had to open the lid.
  • 70 percent of people who belong to gyms rarely go, but they cite the convenience of not having to pay per visit, though it would be cheaper, as their reason for gym membership.
  • A subway station in Sweden found that 66 percent more people took the stairs when the stairs were transformed into a piano keyboard that actually played notes as people walked on it.

One strategy Rubin adopted was prompted by learning that office workers spend 28 percent of their time on email. She felt she probably spent even more. Her strategy was to cut out salutations and closings. When a reader criticized Rubin’s new style, she was taken aback, but she decided that making work as convenient as possible better reflected her values so she didn’t go back to the more time-consuming style. (She did write back to the troubled reader explaining her reasoning and she did not use either a salutation or closing to explain.)

One example from my work as a professional organizer is that people are more likely to use their files when the files have neatly printed labels. (That’s why the P-touch label maker by Brother has been my most popular organizing tool.) I first read about this effect in Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern. Though published in 1998, this book provides a great foundation for anyone who wants to get organized.

Rubin found that she was much more likely to use her file folders when they were new and crisp rather than tired and dirty.

Putting a recycle basket next to the area where you open your mail is another logical step in making it easier to maintain the habit of preventing clutter from piling up wherever you open the mail.

Rubin’s final recommendation in this chapter is: “Make it easy to do right, and hard to do wrong.”

Where could you apply this strategy?


More Sleep

Posted on: May 18th, 2015 by Kathie England | Time for Success No Comments

A recent article in The Oregonian (it was originally from The Washington Post) was titled “The Buzz, Income and Sleep.”

It cited a report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention that called sleep deficiency a public health epidemic. That report concluded that “people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases, cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life.”

The data for this report came from the 2013 National Health Interview Survey. In additional to the negative impact on health caused by not enough sleep, the report also found a linear and positive relationship between income and sleep. What does that mean?

Just two-thirds of people living below the poverty line in 2013 reported getting more than six hours of sleep per night. Nearly three-fourths of people with incomes at 400 percent of the poverty level (that’s earning $94,200 per year)  reported getting six or more hours of sleep.

A very likely reason for this lack of sleep is that people living below the poverty line need to work multiple jobs, but that is another issue. Another report found that multiple job holders were 61 percent more likely than others to report sleeping six hours or less on weekdays.

Here are more details from the CDC report: “Persons experiencing sleep insufficiency are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such a hypertension, diabetes, depression and obesity, as well as from cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of like and productivity.” Drowsy driving causes 80,000 traffic accidents each year. One-thousand of these accidents are fatal.

How much sleep did you get last night?



Posted on: May 8th, 2015 by Kathie England | Time for Success No Comments

How many hours did you sleep last night?

Sleep is a topic I discussed while I was blogging about Better Than Before and so today I’m sharing another reinforcement from Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism, The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.

In his blog yesterday, McKeown discussed myths about the differences between successful and very successful people. One difference is sleep.

Myth 2: Successful people sleep four hours a night.

Truth: Very successful people rest well so they can be at peak performance.

In K. Anders Ericsson’s famous study of violinists, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell as the “10,000 hour rule,” Anders found that the best violinists spent more time practicing than the merely good students. What is less well known is that the second most important factor differentiating the best violinists from the good ones was actually sleep. The best violinists averaged 8.6 hours of sleep in every 24 hour period.

Over and over my clients, especially those who have ADHD, share how challenging sleep is for them. Over and over research points out how important sleep is to our health and our cognitive functioning.

When you tell yourself that you are too busy to get enough sleep, it’s a strong indication that you are not thinking very clearly. Lack of sleep diminishes our capacity to work effectively and efficiently. For some folks it may feel counter-intuitive, but it is time to sleep when you find yourself thinking you don’t have time to sleep.

Google sleep deprivation (it has more than 7 million references). You’ll find that sleep deprivation is what happens for 97% of those who get fewer than 7 hours of sleep. The first reference that I discovered from Web MD was that sleep deprivation “significantly affects your health, performance, safety, and pocketbook.”

What more motivation do you need?



Posted on: May 7th, 2015 by Kathie England | Time for Success No Comments

Did you realize that procrastination can be a stimulant? Especially if you have the diagnosis of ADHD.

Roland Rotz, Ph.D., the co-author of Fidget to Focus, said those exact words, “Procrastination is a stimulant for those with ADHD” in a presentation he made at the 2014 NAPO Conference (National Association of Professional Organizers).

Why does it work that way? The ADHD brain does not produce enough of the neurotransmitter dopamine (sometimes known as the “reward neurotransmitter”). When you wait until the last minute, the prefrontal cortex becomes engaged and that increases the production of dopamine.

Is procrastination the only way for someone with ADHD to complete a task or a big project? Rotz gives an unqualified “no” to that question because there are many downsides to procrastination.

Rotz explains that the same urgency ultimately created by procrastination can be created by crunching time. Setting a timer and racing the clock is how to crunch time. It is a strategy I’ve shared with many clients. It reminds me of the old television show titled “Beat the Clock.”

I’ve recently developed a variation of this strategy. I call it “micro-bursts.” You could also call it a sprint. I ask clients to set a specific time to begin work on a task. I also ask them to identify a specific length of time they will work, maybe 5 or 10 minutes. I invite them to send me a text that says “Start 5 minutes.” When they finish the 5 minutes, they send a text that says, “Stop.”

I encourage them to take a short break that includes movement of some kind (refer to yesterday’s blog). When they’re ready to start again, they repeat the process of Start and Stop.

This strategy not only helps crunch time and generate the production of dopamine; it also provides both accountability and support, two important benefits of coaching.

The goal of this strategy is to help clients build success by increasing their self-awareness of what is possible. It’s a strategy to work WITH their brains. The possibilities are limitless for how this process can be used to complete really big projects.

Even if you don’t have ADHD, I invite you to experiment with the Start and Stop strategy to crunch time, remembering to take short movement breaks between each micro-burst set.