10 lessons from Gretchen Rubin that I use daily


Do you like Gretchen Rubin? Me too! Everything she preaches is simple, logical, doable and fun. No moving to Himalaya for the long meditation practice, no ultra marathons or trips around the world. Gretchen talks about tiny things that each one of us can try in order to have a happier life and better habits.

I love everything that she does, her blog, her books and her podcast. (She also has an awesome Facebook page.) If you haven’t already, check her out.

And today, I compiled my favorite pieces of Gretchen’s wisdom that I use daily. Enjoy!

1. There are four main tendencies…

(This is going to be the topic of Gretchen’s next book.) In her book “Happiness project” Gretchen incorporated many of new habits in her life, instantly and successfully. Then, a lot of people asked her how she managed to do that. Gretchen thought that you just start doing something and it becomes your habit. The more she talked with people, the more she realized that this might not be true for everyone, because people adopt new habits in different ways. She realized that people can be divided into four different categories, based on the way how they respond to expectations created by themselves and created by others. The image below shows all four types, with a description for each.


I am an upholder and my husband is an obliger. We are a pretty good combo. (Another upholder would probably drive me nuts.) A few of my coworkers are questioners and knowing their tendencies helped me work with them better. (Instead of saying: “Man, do the goddamn thing already, I don’t know in which ways it’s gonna impact the balance in the Universe!”) I know only two or three rebels.

Important note: These categories are not set in stone, you can belong to different categories at once or in different realms of life. The point of this is to know yourself better and learn how to adopt new habits in an easier way.

Go HERE to watch a video where Gretchen explains four tendencies in detail.

2. Strategies of making habits stick: scheduling, tracking, convenience.

If it’s not scheduled, it’s not real. If you are trying to incorporate a new habit and you have no idea when in your day/week it’s going to fit, you will likely skip it after a few enthusiastic trials. You will have to decide when the timing is right, whether you feel like doing it or not, and you may also forget. When it’s on the calendar, you made the decision once and it’s there. It’s easier to be consistent with scheduled things.

Tracking is another great strategy because it makes you visualize your progress. I use a simple calendar and color pens. There are hundreds of apps for habit tracking (Way of Life is a good one). Either way, tracking boosts your motivation, gives you a sense of accomplishment and turns habit-making into a game.

Finally, the strategy of convenience is all about making your new habit as convenient as possible. We have all heard about the example of putting your gym clothes next to your bed so that you don’t skip the morning workout. I learned from Ben Austin that we fail in creating the habits when we rely only on our willpower, without creating the environment that will support the new habits. The strategy of convenience exactly helps with that.

3. Acknowledge the reality of other people’s feelings.

When someone says: “Oh, I feel so bad about XYZ,” our first reaction is typical: “No, come on, you shouldn’t feel bad, that’s nothing!” We consider it our best and most loving way to reassure the other person that everything is OK. In fact, we are undermining other person’s feelings. We are sending the message that the way they feel is not appropriate.

Next time in the similar situation, acknowledge other person’s feelings. Say: “I know, right? You feel bad because of XYZ. But don’t worry, we’ve all been there.” Most of the time we don’t want anyone to solve our problems for us. We want someone to listen to us and tell us that we’re not alone.

4. The outer order creates inner peace.

Gretchen and I both love decluttering. Definitely, outer order contributes to inner peace. If you feel nervous or anxious, tidy up a messy drawer, desk or a cabinet. Or try a one-minute decluttering challenge.  The happiness that tidying up can bring you is completely disproportionate to the invested effort. You invest a few minutes, you feel terrific for hours.

5. Set go-to-bed alarm.

Good sleep is the foundation of happiness and good habits. ((Tweet this!)) We all know the situation: after the dinner you start watching your favorite TV show, one episode after another and the next thing you know, it’s midnight, you don’t feel sleepy and you don’t know what to do. Go-to-bed alarm will indicate you when is the time to close the store and get ready for the bed. Sleeping is a great time investment. Go-to-bed alarm will make it a priority.

6. Happiness doesn’t always feel happy.

This is a big one! In our motivation-driven, follow-your-passion world, we tend to forget that we can do things that we don’t feel like doing. ((Tweet this!)) (Nicole Antoinette opened my eyes about this.) And that these are usually the things that will make us happy and proud once we’re done. When did you last time feel like working out, reaching out to a new client, or having a difficult conversation? Probably five years ago. And how does it feel to complete a workout, reach to a new client, get done with a difficult conversation? Terrific, liberating, powerful.

It is naive to think that happiness is only rainbows and unicorns. It includes a lot of hard work, visits to a dentist, facing your fears, building new habits and taking full responsibility for your life. Happiness doesn’t always make you happy. ((Tweet this!)) But yes, it does make you happy in a long run.

7. Envy is a powerful emotion.

That’s how Gretchen discovered that she really wants to become a writer. She had a career in law, but she realized that she envies writers way more than people who get promoted in the world of law. Envy can feel embarrassing, uncomfortable, like something you should have overcome by now. In fact, envy is just one emotion in the spectrum. A powerful one because it can show you what you really want. Don’t judge your envy, use it as a tool for introspection.

And remember: the fact that someone else has what you want doesn’t mean he or she is stealing from you. It means that whatever you want is possible because someone else did it. (Learn more, ask questions, cooperate, connect. Envy will show you where to go.)

8. Act the way you want to feel.

I was reading “Happiness Project”. It was a cold November day when I felt particularly cranky. And I stumbled upon this tip: “Act the way you want to feel.” In other words, if you want to feel energetical, act energetically, move your body, try something new, tidy up (idea #4), take a quick walk. If you want to feel happy, smile, laugh, give compliments, do a random kind thing for your coworker or a family member. Once again, motivation brainwashing made us believe that we have to develop the motivation first and once we have it, we can write/exercise/do great things/fill in the blank. That we need to feel happy before we start doing great things. That’s not true. Emotion and motivation usually follow the action. Not another way around. ((Tweet this!))

This tip changed the course of my cranky November day radically. And of many days afterward. The best part: you can act the way you want to feel right about NOW.

9. Things get messier before they get tidier.

Whenever I write, I make a huge mess on the page with all the ideas, tips, tricks and superficial sentences (“I really, truly recommend you to try this, from the bottom of my heart,” and that kind of stuff.) Then I start editing and get rid of everything that doesn’t help convey the idea, no matter how cool it sounds. This is true for most of the processes, you need to make the mess before you can make a harmony. ((Tweet this!)) Whether you’re tidying up your desk or you’re preparing the speech, don’t be afraid of making a mess. That’s just the necessary phase.

10. My happiness project is not your happiness project.

In “Happiness Project” Gretchen defined “The Secrets of Adulthood” and the first one on the list was: “Be Gretchen”. Gretchen encouraged herself to be… herself. To like what she likes, not what others like or think is cool. (Remember “The Book of You”?) Each one of us will have our own happiness (or any other) project. What lights my fire, you may find boring. What you have on your bucket list, I may consider crazy. We are all different and we should all search for our happiness in different ways. 

How do you like this list? I think it’s cool because you can apply every single one of these tips today, without using anything special. (My ebook provides a similar experience.) Gretchen has many more tips worth checking out (here, here, here). If you want to be happier and develop (and keep) good habits, she is the person to follow.


Miss Strangelove

P. S. Cookie of Wisdom: ” The more I know what is true for me, less it matters to me what other people think.” Gretchen Rubin((Tweet this!))

Easy and fun way to know yourself better


Back in the day, I was going out a lot. Clubs, parties and that stuff. That was not particularly pleasurable for me, but I figured that’s what young people do.

I tried watching a few popular TV shows that cool people were watching. Listening to the music cool people were listening. I tried to make myself more relevant. And then I gave up.

We all have innate desire to fit in, to belong, to be members of a tribe. In the process, we slowly forget who we are and what truly lights our fire.

May I propose a creative project that will help you know yourself better?

It starts with the question:


Credit for this stellar idea goes to Havi Brooks.

What is exactly “The Book of You”? That’s an alive document where you note random observations about yourself. One rule: Restrain from judgments. Do it like a scientist.

When you do something pleasurable, write it down. When something pisses you off, offends you, or ruins your day, write that down, too. Make a note of what you do when you function at your best. Also, note what puts you off the track. Write useful things. Write surprising things. If-then statements. Experimental results. Observations.

The form doesn’t matter. I use Evernote. You maybe prefer a notepad. Either way. Start observing and noting.

Examples? Here is one list I made for my book:

1. I love making things by hands (pies, cookies, wrapping gifts, stuff for the lab etc.). It calms me down and makes me feel accomplished.

2. If I go to Facebook before I list ideas and write, I end up wasting tons of time and set myself for a stressful and unproductive day.

3. If I drink two different types of beer, next day I will feel super-sleepy.

4. As I already mentioned, I don’t enjoy going out to the clubs. I enjoy small gatherings, where I can get to know people better and talk crap (and encourage others to talk crap with me).

5. When I tidy up a messy drawer, desk or cabinet, I feel absolute delight. Completely disproportionate with the amount of effort invested.

6. I rarely feel the thirst, so in order to function normally, I have to remind myself to drink water all the time.

7. When I don’t know what I am doing (which is often the case with my research), I feel unproductive and my energy level drops like the battery on the smartphone searching for wifi.

8. When I feel uncomfortable, I’m hiding.

9. Things I’m often reluctant to do (make a pizza dough, clean up, exercise), are often the things which bring me joy. Just later.

10. I have a deep need to create in different ways. When I don’t create, I feel useless.

11. My own imagination makes problems seem so much worse.

You got the point. “The Book of You” is the document that contains small, daily things. A kind of instruction sheet on how to use yourself.

Jim Collins, the author of “Good to Great”, did something similar at the beginning of his career. He wrote a journal about his experiences, in a form of scientific study. In order to be unbiased, he referred to himself as to “a bug called Jim”. After a session of teaching, he made a note: “A bug called Jim enjoyed helping people understand computers.” After a while, he was able to notice things that genuinely excite him and the ones that don’t. That’s one important purpose of “The Book of You”.

The practice of writing “The Book of You” will make you more mindful and observant. It will make you more of who you are. It will remind you of who you were before the world told you who you should be.

“The Book of You” can and will change. Your passion for some things will fade with time. New obsessions will rise. You will change and learn and grow. The introspective process of you writing “The Book of You” will help you know yourself better and become more of who you are. Isn’t that the ultimate purpose for each one of us?

Your turn. What did “a bug called You” notice today? Share your observations with me in the comments below.


Miss Strangelove

Cookie of Wisdom: “You are an aperture through which the universe is looking and exploring itself.” Alan Watts ((Tweet this!))

This idea will help you write more (and better)


One of the best projects in my creative life was the “Soulful Journal”. It is a month long journaling practice, where you dig through your past, present and (imaginary) future, prompted to follow the calling of your soul.

What made this project so powerful for me was the time when I did it. “Soulful Journal” was one of the first creative endeavors I tackled after years of creative inactivity. After being hyper-active, distracted, unhappy, over-worked, running from one party to another, after I lost my job, in one of the worst periods of my life, I started the “Soulful Journal”.

After the first exercise, I became obsessed. I could hear my inner voice whispering: “Thank you. Finally.” I completed the entire course without skipping a day. I often wrote more than required, and I completed all the extra exercises, too. A+ for me!

However, the process was painful at the times. I wrote a lot and I cried a lot. I faced the old fears, buried under layers of my busyness. I looked into the tons of painful memories. I lied on the floor helplessly many times, reminding myself to get up and go back to the computer to finish a sentence.

Did it ever occur to me to stop? Hell no. I was on a mission. I knew I had to write and complete the entire course. I had to close the loop. I knew it was the only way for me to be healed.

And it worked. I felt free and relieved. I forgave everyone. (Myself included.) I stopped recalling the memories from my past with resentment. But most importantly, since the completion of “Soulful Journal” I never stopped writing and creating. And I hope I never will.

Now, would I share with you some of these painful memories now when I feel so much better? Absolutely not. You don’t need to know that.

Let me ask you two great questions:


These are two completely different things.

In the first episode of Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast, the guest lady said that she was struggling to write her book. She wanted the book to be deeply personal and was afraid that it might offend some of her family members.

Liz Gilbert (I love that woman) said: “There is the book you have to write. And then, there is the book you will publish. And these two books can be completely different.” Bang, bang!

How brilliant is that?

Writing practice is fulfilling and healing. Write a lot. Write about everything you want. Even about things you hate or are afraid of. (Especially about the things you hate or are afraid of.) Dig through your past, digest everything that happened, forgive everyone.

You’ll often hear writing gurus saying things like: “Bleed on the page.” I agree. Bleed, spit, puke, explode, spill your guts. Include all the juicy details. Cry. As I did. It’s very helpful. (But please, keep in mind that you absolutely can keep all that mess for yourself.)

Realization that you don’t have to (and, in fact, shouldn’t) publish everything you write, will make you relieved. You will write more. You will improve your writing. You will have a larger body of work to choose from. You will publish what’s good and what’s worth reading about. Even if you never publish a single piece of your writing, you will become a better person because you worked through your sh*t. And the world needs people who worked through their sh*t.

Publishing is another thing. Please, think twice before you publish. Be vulnerable, but remember that vulnerability is not the same as oversharing. Brene Brown said that oversharing often results in disconnection, distrust and disengagement. There are ways to tell the truth and be transparent, without oversharing or offending anyone.

Bottom line: Heal your self. Write anything you want. Respect yourself. Publish chosen parts. ((Tweet this!))


Miss Strangelove

Cookie of Wisdom 1: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story within you.” Maya Angelou ((Tweet this!))

Cookie of wisdom 2: “After a while you learn that privacy is something you can sell, but you can’t buy back.” Bob Dylan ((Tweet this!))

Read this when you feel that “it’s all been said before”


I never wanted to write a blog post about procrastination, because, I mean, does the world really need another blog post about procrastination?

Yet, for some reason I wrote a Quora answer on beating procrastination and won 46 upvotes. That was my first answer with more than 3 upvotes and the first small victory on Quora.

Was my answer absolutely adorable? Nope. Did I write something revolutionary? Not really. I compiled a whole bunch of ideas from many different places into something kinda cool. It resonated with people.

And it got me thinking how often I refuse to write about “trivial”stuff. I want to write about big ideas. I want to create something original, something that the world hasn’t yet seen. Then I do some research and realize that it has all been said and done. Many times. And does the world really need another post on XYZ? It’s all been said, why even bother?

My creative practice on writing 10 ideas daily helped a lot. I created more and published more. I became more creative and I learned more about the readers. I learned how to use old, known ideas and create something worth reading. I also learned that THERE IS a point in writing about ordinary stuff and why the world needs it.

Wanna hear more? Let’s dive into it.

1. Give a credit and your own insight.

One comedian said that all jokes were invented in Ancient Greece. All we’re doing is recycling them over and over. Of course, ancient Greeks could not come up with jokes about iPhone and Justin Beiber, but they definitely came up with tons of ways to structure a joke. Examples of recycling old ideas are numerous. Sooner or later you will end up using the idea that someone else has created. Don’t be discouraged. That’s perfectly fine.

If you decide to write about someone else’s idea, first give a proper credit to the author. It doesn’t have to be a eulogy. Keep it simple. “I read this idea in book XYZ and I think it is amazing.” “The author of this idea is Brene Brown, and today I would like to share it with you.” That is the first step.

Once you explain where the idea comes from, give your own insight about it. What Brene created was really good, but if you simply state or cite what she did, your work will be vague and boring. I know you can do better. Why don’t you provide your own insight on a topic? What did you do to implement this idea? Why this particular idea made you curious, among many others?

Ideas #2, #3 and #4 will give you some actionable steps on how to add more of your perspective to an existing idea. But first, credit the idea to the author.

2. Tell the idea in your voice.

I know, web is full of articles about “finding your voice” (here is a good one). Thus this advice may not seem easy. “What if I haven’t found my voice yet?” I don’t know, perhaps I haven’t found mine either. It’s a life-long process. But don’t sweat it too much. The core of this idea is: tell it in your own way, through your own lens.

How would you describe it to your best friend? Or to your mom? Or to a child? Or to your younger self? Can you write it in a form of dialog? Or a poem? Or a stick figure comic? Flowchart? Infographic? You have a unique set of experiences. How do YOU see the idea?

3. Examples, examples, examples.

Quora is full of questions: “Can you provide some examples of XYZ?” Ideas are important, but examples are indispensable. We learn and remember through the examples. If someone else formulated the idea, you can build upon it by making it more digestible. By providing the examples.

Malcolm Gladwell uses a magic formula: ideas + examples. He writes about major, novel, counter-intuitive ideas, but he always ties them to the examples. These are the stories about the people all around the world, so detailed and compelling that you cannot help but remember the idea and tell your friends and your grandma about it. I still remember the stories from “Outliers”, the one about Beatles playing in Hamburg, the one about Bill Gates, the one about rice fields in China and, maybe the most beautiful of all, the life story of his mom. And I exactly know which idea each one of them illustrates.

If you provide an idea without an example, people will say “Aha!” and forget it soon. If you write a story without a strong idea as a pivot, say about how you and your two buddies got drunk in downtown, no one will care. If you combine the idea with a story as an example, magic will happen. People will understand, relate and remember.

4. No one can compete with your own story.

Examples can be anyone’s stories, as long as they align with the idea. Let’s go one step further. How about your own stories? Do you have a personal story, example, lesson, small epiphany related to the idea? Great, tell us more. We have all heard about the life and times of Steve Jobs. We are hungry to read something new. Something fresh. Like… your own story.

It may seem like nothing special. But it is unique. It is yours. My friend Scott wrote about the idea of getting yourself out there through his own story about mowing lawns in his neighborhood. Simple, effective and something we can all identify with. A few months ago I wrote about the storm in Washington and the day spent without the power. It served as a stage for the story about gratitude. And about how much we rely on technology.

Even if you feel that everything has been said, I am sure that you have unique (and untold) stories that can touch people’s hearts and make the ideas more clear.

5. Not everyone has heard of it.

We tend to overestimate how well people are informed about something we’re passionate about. The more we know it seems the world knows more. If I read, say, a few books on personal finances and adopt basic concepts, I will start considering them as perfectly normal. Everyone knows it, right? Wrong. Most of the people don’t know, just like I didn’t a few months ago. Conveying an old idea to a new audience is an important endeavor.

Maria Popova from Brain Pickings does exactly that. She distills big ideas from epic books, talks, works of art. She chooses the most interesting and innovative parts, enriches them with her own insights, connects them to other big ideas and creates the unique pieces of writing. Brain Pickings is a terrific place to diversify your creative library.

Can you do something similar? Can you write your favorite ideas from the book that shaped who you are? What is the idea that changed your life? Don’t be too stressed about who came up with it. Focus on who can benefit from it.

6. People need frequent reminders.

First time when I stumbled upon Leo Babauta’s web site Zen Habits, something magical happened. At that time I felt pretty bad about myself and life in general. Imagine me depressed, resentful, distracted, opening Zen Habits and reading: “BREATHE.” Surprised, confused and somewhat relieved, I clicked on “BREATHE.” It was a beautiful post. “Breathing will save your life,” Leo said. My mind was blown. With something that simple. Did I know that I am supposed to breathe? Absolutely. Was it Leo’s invention? Absolutely not. I just needed a reminder. And it came at the exactly right moment.

Most ideas and concepts have been around for a while. Most of them are logical and people are aware of them. However, the everyday hassle makes people forget. People need reminders. Imagine your reader. Write with an intention to create a coincidence for him or her. We rarely crave something super-original. More often, we want someone to tell us that everything will be OK and that we are not alone.

7. Steal like an artist.

As we already said, nothing is completely original. Some of the best artists, knowing this principle, built upon the other people’s work. They used pieces of inspiration from here and there, mixed, matched, combined, transformed and improved. Picasso said that “good artists copy, but great artists steal”. How to know the difference? Here is how Austin Kleon, the author of the book “Steal Like an Artist” summarized it:

You’ve got the point. Honor the original source. Explore and learn more. Collect many idea. Combine. Add your own twist.

(Watch Austin Kleon’s great TED talk.)

Here are a few more things you can do to steal like an artist.

8. Come up with 10 ideas.

(I know, I am prescribing 10-idea therapy for everything. But it works!) Push yourself to create 10 ideas that build upon someone else’s work. We already talked about the examples (idea #3) and your own stories (idea #4). Let’s say you want to write a post about how meditation practice is very beneficial. (Nothing new, there are about bajilion posts about it already.) But you can add something more specific. And mold it into the list of 10 ideas so that busy, lazy reader can get the most out of it. For instance:

  • 10 ways to get most out of your meditation practice.
  • 10 unexpected ways to make your meditation more powerful.
  • Don’t have time to meditate? These 10 ideas/techniques/tips will change your mind.

  • 10 ways in which meditation practice will benefit your work performance/productivity/relationships/whatever.

  • 10 things that helped me establish meditation practice (and how you can do it, too).

  • I meditated every day for 1 year. Here are 10 lessons I learned.

  • Discover which type of meditation is most suitable for you based on your favorite book/workout/music/whatever.

  • 10 reasons why your meditation habit cannot stick.

  • 10 things most people don’t know about the meditation.

  • 10 mantras that will make your meditation experience delightful.

(Feel free to steal from this pile.) Ten ideas is a lot. You will have to push yourself. You will have to make your creative muscles sweat. It will be uncomfortable. But you’ll end up creating something valuable. You will remix, transform, instill your own experience and come up with something original, based on not-so-novel idea.

9. Add some idea sex to it.

Idea sex is a pleasurable activity, when two (or more) old ideas get combined into the new, more powerful idea. Wanna write about meditation? And about productivity? Why don’t you combine the two and write how meditation can help you be more productive? (See the idea #8.) I did something similar in my post “10 Creative Ways to Make Your Inner Gremlin Shut Up”. I write about creativity a lot. And I wanted to tackle the theme of inner critic. So I combined the two and wrote about how your creativity can help you against your inner critic. Probably no one has written a similar post.

List your ideas. Do it frequently and for longer periods of time. Steal ideas worth stealing. Then play Marvin Gaye and light the candles. Make your ideas have sex. Combine. Remix. Connect. Laugh. Many combinations will be silly. But some will be stellar. Those are the ones you should pursue.

10. Do it with love.

Simon Sinek said: “People don’t buy what you do, but why you do it.” So do it with love. And because of love. Not because it’s trendy or has a potential to go viral. But because it makes you feel alive. And when you feel alive, you can make others feel alive. Infuse your work with love and good vibes. We’ll notice. We’ll feel loved, alive and empowered. We won’t care how original it is.

Elizabeth Gilbert said that we don’t respond to the originality, but to authenticity and humanity behind the creation. What could be better way to wrap this post up?

I hope this post will inspire you to go and create something right now. Even if everything has been said, it hasn’t been said by you. Please, please, tell us more.


Miss Strangelove

P. S. Cookie of Wisdom: “Art is theft.” Picasso ((Tweet this!))


Lost your creative zeal? Try this.


Last Monday I had a super-long experiment and I left my lab at 10 pm. Which is my typical bedtime. Swamped and in pain, I dragged myself home. The next day I didn’t feel like doing my creative work.

Then I was going out a few times, couldn’t get enough sleep, and the creative practice just felt too demanding. So I skipped.

Recently I was in emotional pain and decided to skip my morning writing session. (Now I don’t even remember what caused me the pain. But I’m sure it felt bad at the moment.)

When I get overwhelmed, the easiest thing for me is to skip creating. I am my own boss, which means I can often can get away with excuses. “I was tired. Had too much on my plate this week anyways. I’m not inspired. Who cares?”

My creative work is something that brings me tons of joy and excitement, exploration and playfulness that I need so badly. However, when life gets messy, my passion vanishes. Creative work becomes just another item on already packed to-do list. Often skipped since it’s not urgent.

I imagine that you’ve experienced something similar. For most of us, creative gig is something that we do on the side. Something that we love, but something that gets postponed easily, when the life happens. Something we’re passionate about, but, as it usually happens, the passion fades after a while.
Continue reading