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Marie Forleo: Hey, everyone. It’s me, Marie, and I’m recording this in LA. I’m here with Josh and Kuma and we’re hunkering down and staying inside due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now, I hope you and your family are well. I did want to set some context with this interview, though, because when we recorded and sat down with the incredible Gretchen Rubin, coronavirus wasn’t a thing yet, so you won’t hear any mention of the current state of affairs in this conversation. And, to be honest, my team and I went back and forth on whether or not we should even release this.
But then I thought to myself: I think we all need a break from the news. This conversation is incredible and I really hope it will inspire you. Now, as it relates to the coronavirus pandemic, I want you to know that we created something incredible for you. It’s actually a coronavirus support guide and it’s over at marieforleo.com/blog. Or you can just google my name, Marie Forleo, and coronavirus support, and you’ll find it. I’m also going live a lot more on Instagram. I’m @marieforleo and I want to be a source of support and love and inspiration for you during this time. So come follow me over there. Finally, take good care of yourself. I’ll be here for you week after week of new content and connections and don’t hesitate to reach out if there’s anything you’d want me to know. With that, enjoy the episode and I’ll see you soon.
Hey, it’s Marie Forleo and welcome to another episode of MarieTV and the Marie Forleo Podcast. Now, if you’re interested in a happier life, and let’s be honest, who isn’t? My guest today has made it her mission to help us all find the way.
Gretchen Rubin is the author of the blockbuster New York Times bestsellers, The Happiness Project, Outer Order Inner Calm, The Four Tendencies, and Better Than Before, among others. Her books have sold over 3.5 million copies worldwide and have been translated into more than 30 languages. On her award winning podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, she discusses happiness and good habits with her sister Elizabeth Craft. She’s been interviewed by Oprah, walked arm and arm with the Dalai Lama, and been an answer on Jeopardy. She lives in New York City with her husband and two daughters.
Gretchen, thank you so much for being here.
Gretchen Rubin: I’m so happy to be talking to you again.
Marie Forleo: Yeah. This is a long time coming.
Gretchen Rubin: Yeah.
Marie Forleo: So, I want to go back in time. So, you started your career in law and were actually clerking for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor when you decided you wanted to be a writer. And I feel like there’s so many people in our audience right now, every different age, from all parts of the world, who find themselves in a situation like that. Meaning they want to make a big career change.
Marie Forleo: So, can you take us back there and talk to us about just what that process was like? The thinking, the actions, all of it.
Gretchen Rubin: Well I went to law school for all the wrong reasons. I was like, “I’m good at research and writing. It’ll keep my options open. It’s great preparation. I can always change my mind later.” So, I went to law school, not because I had a passionate desire to be a lawyer, but just because it felt like a logical thing to do since I didn’t know what to do with myself.
Gretchen Rubin: And I was very fortunate. I had a great run in law. I was editor in chief of the Yale Law Journal, which is the Yale version of the law review. And I was clerking for Sandra Day O’Connor, which is this amazing opportunity. And one of the things about me that’s still true and was true then is that I will become really preoccupied with a subject. I’ll get intensely interested in something and just want to spend all my time thinking about it. So, I just went through this with color. I went through it with placebo, like I get very interested in something.
Gretchen Rubin: And at this time I was out having a walk one day and I was on the Capitol Hill and I looked up at the Capitol dome against the sky and I just asked myself this rhetorical question, “What am I interested in that everybody in the world is interested in?”
Gretchen Rubin: And I thought, “Well, power, money, fame, sex.” And it was like, “Power, money, fame, sex.” And I became intensely preoccupied with researching the ideas of power, money, fame, sex. Which to me seemed very linked. They still do. And I was just doing research and I was staying late at work and doing research and if you’re a Supreme Court Justice you can actually check out books from the library of Congress. So, I would check out books for Justice O’Connor. My favorite book was Deep in The Heart of Texas, the true story of three Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders who are sisters. It’s an amazing book about fame.
Gretchen Rubin: And I just got more and more interested in it and I was writing and taking notes as I was going, as I was thinking through the subjects. And finally it dawned on me, this is the kind of thing somebody would do if they were going to write a book. And I had never thought about being a writer myself because I always thought either you wrote fiction or plays or poetry or you were a journalist or you wrote academic books. I didn’t really think about creative nonfiction, which is what we would call it now.
Gretchen Rubin: But it occurred to me, “Well, this could be a book.” And then I thought, “Well, maybe I could write that book.” And then I went to the bookstore and got something called How to Write and Sell Your Nonfiction Book Proposal. And I just followed the directions and skip ahead, I got an agent and got a book deal and that’s how I did it. So for me it wasn’t as much leaving something as going towards something. Just this desire to write this book. And it wasn’t even like, “I want to be a writer.” It was like, “I want to write this book.”
Marie Forleo: Interesting.
Gretchen Rubin: Yeah. You know in Star Wars where the Millennium Falcon is getting pulled in by the tractor beam and they’re like, “We have to go. We can’t resist or it’s going to pull us apart.”
Marie Forleo: Yeah.
Gretchen Rubin: That’s how I felt. At a certain point I was like, “I would rather fail as a writer than succeed as a lawyer. I have to give this a shot. I have to try and either fail or succeed. But if I get another law job, I’m afraid I won’t try. I won’t do it.” And so…
Marie Forleo: Did you have any inner conflict around leaving law or no? The pull to write this book was so strong that you were clear for yourself.
Gretchen Rubin: I was very clear for myself. But again, I was married, so my husband was working. It was a pretty… And I did feel like if I was ever going to do it, this was the time because it was the lowest risk time because we were moving from Washington D.C. to New York, I didn’t have a job. And so it was a great open transition. And I remember thinking to myself, “What more am I waiting for?” What sign from the universe am I waiting for it? If there’s ever a time, the university is being like, “Right now.”
Gretchen Rubin: And I thought if I wait, this moment could pass. And so at that point I really was like, “This is the time.” But there was a day where, because my husband left law at the same time, he went to into finance, and we had just been married and we got the letter from the New York Bar Association asking us to pay our bar fees cause we’d both been admitted to the New York Bar.
Gretchen Rubin: It’s expensive. It’s a lot of money. And I remember saying to him, “Oh, are we going to pay our bar fees?” And he’s like, “Why would we pay our bar fees? No.” And I’m like, “Okay, we’re doing this.” Turns out you can go back into the bar if you just pay and like do some courses, but at the time I felt like it was really…
Marie Forleo: That was it.
Gretchen Rubin: That was it. And I was like, “Okay, this is happening. I’m going to do this.”
Marie Forleo: Wow.
Gretchen Rubin: So I didn’t feel…
Marie Forleo: You didn’t feel conflict. No. You just went for it.
Gretchen Rubin: I didn’t really.
Marie Forleo: What was the hardest part for you about that transition? Because obviously as an attorney, you are quite experienced at research and writing. So, was putting the proposal together and getting that out into the world, did you find that difficult? Or because you were trained in some of those aspects, you were like, “Okay, this is just another way to express myself.”
Gretchen Rubin: That part wasn’t as hard. The parts where I had trouble with it was where there were no directions. If I could look up a book and it’s like, “This is what a proposal looks like.” I’m like, “Okay, I can do that.” But a lot of it is what are the unspoken assumptions of this career? And how do people behave? And there are all these agencies, how do I understand them? Like for me it was like I knew nothing and I had so many great credentials as a lawyer. I had many feathers in my cap and this, I didn’t have a clip, I didn’t have a short story, I’d never published anything, I had nothing.
Gretchen Rubin: So, so part of it was just being nobody in a big world that I didn’t understand. I liked it when it was this is what, like, “Write a sample chapter.” I’m like, “I can write it. I’ll take my shot.” That felt clearer. It was more of the…
Marie Forleo: The unknown.
Gretchen Rubin: The unknown, and there’s things that people can’t even explain to you. You just have to get in there. I feel like even now I’m still always trying to figure it out. What are the assumptions? What do we know? What works?
Marie Forleo: Well, I know even the first time you and I spoke, which was at… I think it was at a Penguin Random House event, right?
Gretchen Rubin: Yeah. For BEA, the big book expo.
Marie Forleo: That’s right. And one of the things that struck me most about you, because I’ve heard about your work, I’ve admired your work, I’ve known about you for years. And I was like, “Oh, we’re finally getting a chance to hang out and have a discussion.”
Gretchen Rubin: I was like, “How have we never met before? It seems strange.”
Marie Forleo: I know. Sad, it was. But one of the things that struck me about you is how many great questions you asked. So, I feel like that’s just such an amazing trait that’s about you. Your curiosity and constantly asking great questions. So, the reason I want to go into this is because one of the things that I’ve learned from writing my book and talking about it on the show for a couple of years was how many people in our audience also want to write books, are writing books, have written books. So, I always think it’s a good process. And there was a stat quote in the New York Times that up to 80% of people believe they’ve got a book in them.
Gretchen Rubin: Oh, interesting.
Marie Forleo: Yes.
Gretchen Rubin: Yes.
Marie Forleo: So, that’s where I wanted to go there. So, the first big blockbuster book, if I’m not mistaken, was Happiness Project.
Gretchen Rubin: Yes, that was the one.
Marie Forleo: But like many people, that was my fourth book. So, I had worked very hard for 10 years to become an overnight sensation. People were like, “It’s your first book.” I’m like, “No. That was my fourth book.”
Gretchen Rubin: It was your fourth book.
Marie Forleo: My fourth book.
Gretchen Rubin: But it was the one that popped in the industry.
Marie Forleo: It did, yeah. And I had done, at that time, I had had a blog to create an audience for the book before it came out. That was unusual at the time to do something like that. But yeah, that was the book. For a lot of people that’s where they became aware of my work.
Gretchen Rubin: And for the Happiness Project, this is a personal question of mine, did you have that idea and then pitch that book and sell it or did you have the idea, do your actual year experiment, and then write the book about it?
Marie Forleo: When I got the idea I was just going to do it for myself. Like I said, I get really interested in things. So, I’m constantly going off in these weird directions. Oh, I’m so interested in perfume and I’ll just march off and spend all this time researching something. So, at first it was like, “I should have a happiness project. Could I make myself happier? What would you do to make yourself happier?” I was just doing all this research. I was finishing up my book, my biography of JFK, at the time.
Marie Forleo: So, it started out as a research project that was just for me and me thinking about, “Well, what would I do, what can move the needle, what would I experiment with?” And then it just got bigger and bigger and got more and more interesting, and I was like, “Wow, this is taking over my life.” And then finally I was like, “Well maybe this should be my next book. This should be my next book project.”
Marie Forleo: But it was interesting, it was unusual for nonfiction because usually, and maybe people don’t know, usually with nonfiction, you write a proposal and you sell it off the proposal and maybe a sample chapter. Whereas with fiction usually you’ve written most of it or all of it. Especially if you’re just starting out. And for this book I would talk to people about it and they didn’t get it. They would make these suggestions to me and I’m like…
Marie Forleo: Somebody was like, “Oh, you really like Benjamin Franklin. Why don’t you do a thing where you apply all of Benjamin Franklin’s rules?” And I’m like, “See that’s not as good an idea as my idea.” And so I remember saying to my agent, “People are not getting it. I think I need to really write a lot of it and actually have it figured out and show it to them because I don’t think that they understand how great this is going to be.”
Marie Forleo: And so I had written quite a bit of it before I sold it, which is unusual for a nonfiction. Usually you would sell it much earlier in the process and I felt like I wasn’t able to describe it until I had actually done it and written through it.
Gretchen Rubin: Yes.
Gretchen Rubin: So, that was not the norm of the way that I approached it. But with this project, I did do it that way because sometimes you have to write quite a bit before you can even know what it is that you’re doing.
Marie Forleo: I love you for saying this. Thank you for saying that. Because there were times for me in this process, and I think in many writing processes, especially a lot of times when I’m talking on MarieTV, I think through my episodes and I script them and I research them and I have to wander a little bit to actually come to what I think, but I get clarity through the writing process itself. And I made the biggest mistake, I talked about this on book tour and I want to talk about it now.
Marie Forleo: I made the most rookie mistake with Everything is Figureoutable, that I wasted, Gretchen, oh my goodness, probably like three months torturing myself. Ready for it? I tried to write the introduction first.
: Okay. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Marie Forleo: But it’s a good process.
Gretchen Rubin: It’s a good process. It’s painful.
Marie Forleo: Super painful. But I love that for you, with such a book that’s made an impact on millions of lives, The Happiness Project, that you yourself, you were having difficulty being able to articulate and position it so people would get it and then you went through the process, “Let me just start writing this thing.” And then it came to life for you.
Gretchen Rubin: And I’ll tell you what, if you look at that book, you’re like, this is the obvious structure for it. It’s literally month to month. But in real life everything feels much more tangled up. And I rewrote the sample chapters, fully rewrote, four times. And I remember the third time I sent it to my agent and she’s a very kind person, and she said, “I am so sorry to say this, but you’re still just not there yet. It’s not where it needs to be.”
Gretchen Rubin: And I was like, “Oh my gosh.” And I have to go back and rebreak the whole thing. Then like then everything was figured out. But I had to go through that process of, “Well, what if I took this angle on the material? And what if I took this angle on the material?” Because when you’re not writing a book, you don’t realize how central the structure is.
Marie Forleo: That’s right.
Gretchen Rubin: The structure is everything. And there’s so many ways you could structure an idea that once it’s presented to you, you’re like, “Well, this is the obvious way to structure it.”
Marie Forleo: But no one, and this is why I love having these discussions, do you guys find this interesting? Team Forleo’s here, as you guys know, there’s a lot of people, it’s not just me and Gretchen sitting in a room. I find the creative process and hearing about what happens behind the scenes so utterly fascinating because so often we only see a finished product.
Gretchen Rubin: Yes, when it’s all printed nicely.
Marie Forleo: Printed nicely and edited down and tight and right. Also, too, for someone like you, you’re prolific and your work is so strong, research based, story-based, has impacted so many lives and I just think thank you for sharing this because people may be like, “It’s Gretchen Rubin. She knows her structure.” No, she wrote her chapters over and over and over again.
Gretchen Rubin: And Better Than Before, which again, if you look at it, they are 21 strategies on how to change. Here are the 21 strategies. That took me months and months and months of just like, “what if you did it this way, what if you did it that way, what clumps together, what pulls apart?” There’s so many ways of thinking about things.
Gretchen Rubin: But I think you’re right. Often talking through it… I remember Stephen King was saying that when he writes a novel, it’s much, much longer and there’s all these red herrings and he doesn’t understand what his themes are until it’s done. And then he goes back and he takes out all the dead ends.
Marie Forleo: Interesting.
Gretchen Rubin: Because he doesn’t really understand the point of his own novel. And I think there is that casting about.
Marie Forleo: Yeah. And also, too, it may be challenging for especially someone like me, and I believe you and I share a little bit of this trait, we like structure.
Gretchen Rubin: Yes.
Marie Forleo: And we like things to be organized and…
Gretchen Rubin: Linear. I’m always saying this is linear. Is it linear? Is it linear?
Marie Forleo: Yes. Does it make sense? And also, I’ll just speak for myself, I ain’t going to speak for you Gretchen Rubin, but a little bit controlling. And writing projects like this, wanting them to come out so people can follow them and really get benefit from them, but the process of getting there, it is anything but linear and structured and organized.
Gretchen Rubin: Yeah. And I don’t know about you, but I write the whole thing all at once. Some people are like, “Can you just send me the first two chapters?” I’m like, “I don’t know the first two chapters until I have the final two chapters. Because everything’s being written simultaneously.”
Marie Forleo: And also moved around because something informs it.
Gretchen Rubin: Yes. Moved around.
Marie Forleo: Moved around.
Gretchen Rubin: A huge part of my editing is just rearranging sentences. I’m like, “I wrote this, why didn’t I write it in the proper order?” This is just a mystery to me. I write things in the wrong order.
Marie Forleo: I do it too. All the time.
Gretchen Rubin: I’m just like, “Oh, if I just move this sentence, everything makes so much more sense.” Why did I do it a different way to begin with?
Marie Forleo: I also like talking about this too because writing is such a huge component of anyone who has a creative business right now. Meaning you have to write your social captions, your emails, copy for your website.
Gretchen Rubin: Your bio.
Marie Forleo: Your bio. If you ever have to give a presentation or a speech. There’s so many aspects and actually, right Elsa? I don’t know where you are, Elsa. But we were talking about this earlier. We were talking about like how difficult it was, and it is, to write copy and she was sharing with me how it’s especially challenging for her at the beginning.
Marie Forleo: I said, here’s what I want you to know. It’s challenging for all of us at the beginning. It’s the messiest when you’re first starting to write something that needs to be real good in the end. You have to just keep pushing through though, the beginning muck where my sentences are all over the place.
Gretchen Rubin: Yeah. And often it builds and so it does get easy because the more you’ve done it, the more you have to work with or adapt. But it is hard to start.
Marie Forleo: So, one of the things I love in The Happiness Project is that you actually give us a fantastic set of questions to consider designing our own. So, I just want to read the first three if that’s okay and then I have some questions.
Marie Forleo: So, what makes you feel good? What activities do you find fun, satisfying, or energizing? You guys, we’ll probably put these up in the lower third so you can write them down for yourselves.
Marie Forleo: What makes you feel bad? What are sources of anger, irritation, boredom, frustration or anxiety in your life?
Marie Forleo: And then this third one, is there any way in which you don’t feel right about your life? Do you wish you could change your job or city or family situation or other circumstances?
Marie Forleo: These are such brilliant questions.
Gretchen Rubin: Oh, good.
Marie Forleo: I love them. I feel like these are the kinds of questions that you can ask yourself at any time to launch any type of self improvement project on a small scale or a large scale. Do you still ask yourself these questions?
Gretchen Rubin: Absolutely. And it’s interesting because I think you kind of need everything. You need more fun and enjoyment and pleasure and a life where you just experience nothing negative would not be happy. But on the other hand, I think there’s this, because of the negativity bias, we experience the negative more strongly. So at least for my Happiness Project, it was much more about trying to bring up the negatives.
Marie Forleo: When you say bring up the negatives, what do you mean?
Gretchen Rubin: Like, I’m not getting enough sleep so I’m really exhausted. So, how do I fix that? Maybe I feel guilty because I was losing my temper with my kids all the time. What do I do so that I’m not losing my temper? But I think you’re right. It’s a constant process because everything’s always changing in our lives and so you have different challenges and maybe you get one thing under control so then you want to up your game or try something different.
Marie Forleo: Yeah. I think these questions are amazing. Let’s talk about the arrival fallacy from Happier at Home. You write:
Marie Forleo: “One of the persistent follies of human nature is to imagine true happiness is just out of reach. We start off with, you’re too young for that, or it’s too soon for that, or I’ll have plenty of time for that later, but it quickly becomes, it’s too late for that, or I’m too old for that.”
Marie Forleo: And I’m wondering if we can talk into that and also share about waiting too long to make a snowman.
Gretchen Rubin: Yeah. Well, the arrival fallacy is just this idea: When I get my house I’ll be happy, when I publish my book I’ll be happy, when I lose 30 pounds I’ll be happy. When it’s the new year, I’ll be happier. My version of the arrival fallacy is to think, well, everything will calm down. Everything’s going to calm down after the holidays. It’s going to be really quiet in the summer.
Marie Forleo: It’s the biggest B.S.
Gretchen Rubin: It never calms down, it never gets quiet. It never does. I think you can… But it’s this idea that… Or another way, it’s a version of the arrival fallacy. It’s not the same thing, but it’s very tomorrow focused, is to think, “Well, this’ll be easier tomorrow.” Starting in 2020, I’m going to exercise. Starting on my birthday that’s when I’m going to start really watching the budget.
Gretchen Rubin: Because it always seems like things are going to be easier tomorrow. You’re going to be happier tomorrow and everything’s going to be easier tomorrow. You’re going to have more willpower. You’re going to have less temptation. You’re going to have less time pressure. No. Whatever tomorrow is, it’s probably a lot like today.
Marie Forleo: Yeah, so I think maybe the fix is catching ourselves when we are falling into that fallacy and recognizing now’s the time.
Gretchen Rubin: Yes.
Marie Forleo: Now’s the time.
Gretchen Rubin: It’s interesting. There was just an article in the Wall Street Journal and it was talking about there are many, many more people living single today than there ever have been. And one of the things they said, for to be happy as a single person, one of the things you have to do is to be like, “If I want to buy an apartment, I should buy an apartment now. If I want to go to Mexico, I should go to Mexico now.”
Gretchen Rubin: Don’t wait for some kind of future when you’re going to have a different situation. Really do everything that you can to feel as happy as you can right now and to live your life the way you want rather than thinking, “Well, I’m in a temporary position right now.” Your life is your life. Do what you want right now and then tomorrow, who can say?
Marie Forleo: And can you tell us this story about the snow and the snowman with this? It was around you watching the snow. Do you remember this? I’m probably trying to jog your memory. You were watching the snow out the window.
Gretchen Rubin: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Marie Forleo: Yes.
Gretchen Rubin: Mo, I experience this all the time. In fact, I was thinking about this for my next book actually, which is this idea of I don’t need to experience to the uttermost the weather conditions, because there’s always going to be another time. There’ll always be snow to make a snowman, or there’s always going to be a beautiful sunset. I don’t have to go out there. Or I don’t have to go out and look at the moon because I have my whole life to look at the moon.
Gretchen Rubin: But then the snow goes away and you never made the snowman or the whole winter goes away and you never made the snowman. And I was thinking about that with all of nature. I think, “Oh, I should walk in the park and make sure that I see all the cherry blossoms.” And I’m like, “Oh, well I’ll wait a week or two.” Okay, they’re not going to be there in a week or two. And I’m like, “Oh, I could see them next year.” There’s no guarantee.
Marie Forleo: That’s right. That’s really that big one. There’s really no guarantee. So, I’m someone who loves to get rid of clutter. So, I really loved Outer Order, Inner Calm.
Gretchen Rubin: It was fun to contemplate.
Marie Forleo: Oh, my goodness. So, when we’re shooting this, my birthday is coming up, I’m not sure exactly when this will air. But people were asking me, “What are you doing around your birthday? What’s your whole plan?”
Marie Forleo: And I said, “You know, I’m actually taking some time.” And they’re like, “Are you going on a trip?” And I said, “No. You know what I’m doing? I’m going to be at my house and I am completely clearing out all of the clutter.” And I’m not a person… You’re here in the studio, and my team knows, I can’t stand clutter. It literally drives me nuts. If I ever come in and there’s just too much shit all over the place, I’m like, “Nope, we got to get it out. I can’t do it.” It’s really a thing for me.
Gretchen Rubin: So, I’m sure you’re just licking your chops at the thought of doing a deep dive.
Marie Forleo: Doing the deep dive and just getting every And I… We live in New York City, the spaces aren’t big, we do not have a huge department. So I don’t have a lot to begin with. I’m not a person who stores a lot of things.
Gretchen Rubin: You don’t have an attic and a basement and a garage and an extra bedroom and a pantry.
Marie Forleo: But even the fact that my drawers don’t have enough open space. Do you know what I mean? All that stuff. So, I loved these questions. You say:
Marie Forleo: “Our rooms can shape our thoughts and our possessions can change our moods.” There’s three big questions that you say we can ask ourselves when clearing clutter. Would you like me to read them?
Gretchen Rubin: Yeah.
Marie Forleo: So one, “Do I need it?” Two, “Do I love it?” And three, “Do I use it?” Tell us about your evolving relationship with stuff because it feels like it showed up in all of your books and then we got to Outer Order, Inner Calm.
Gretchen Rubin: Well that’s very perceptive because I’ve long been preoccupied with people’s relationships to objects and possessions. I just find that super, super fascinating and there’s a whole gigantic interesting literature and in fact, one of the books that I wrote, which is this very weird little art book, is called Profane Waste and it’s all about why people destroy their own possessions. Because that was something that I was obsessed with for a long time. Why would somebody destroy their own possession?
Gretchen Rubin: But the need it, use it, love it, sometimes people are sort like, “You should get rid of as much as you can and you’ll be happier with less.” And I think for many people that’s true. Simplicity lovers. You and I are both simplicity lovers and so we like getting rid of things. And I actually take great joy in giving something away or when something wears out, I love getting holes in my socks.
Marie Forleo: Me too.
Gretchen Rubin: We wore through our carpet on our stairs and I’m like, “Why do I find that so satisfying?” We’ve used it up.
Marie Forleo: Used it. Yes.
Gretchen Rubin: That feels so good to me. The last bit of the toothpaste, I find it immensely satisfying.
Marie Forleo: The last chunk of cheese. I’m like, “Yes!”
Gretchen Rubin: We did it all the way to the end. But at the same time I think that we want to have room for just things that we love that maybe we’re not using all the time, but we just like. My mother gave me these beautiful vintage paper hats that you use for New Year’s Eve and they’re these beautiful colors and they’re just so neat and I don’t know what to do with them. But I just keep them in a drawer and every once in a while I look at them and they just give me immense pleasure. I don’t need them or use them, but I love them. So, there’s room for that. Because I love them.
Gretchen Rubin: So, I don’t think you have to just get rid of. People are like, “If you haven’t touched it in a year. Get rid of it.” I’m like, “Well, I think that’s…” I have my yearbooks from when I was in grade school.
Marie Forleo: We’re not going to get rid of those.
Gretchen Rubin: Yeah, I want to keep that. Weirdly, somebody emailed me and I’m like, “I’m going to look her up in the yearbook.” Just the other day. And also that’s irreplaceable. Or somebody said to me, “Well, what about my journals from my teenage years?” You can never get that back. The extra Kitchenaid mixer, that you can get rid of. The teenage journals, I wouldn’t get rid of that.
Gretchen Rubin: So I think need it, use it, love it covers everything that is adding value to our life in some ways. Some things aren’t used but they’re not useless. But then there’s just the stuff like… I just found things. I’m like, “I didn’t even know we had it.” This happened two months ago. I wrote a book, Outer Order, Inner Calm, and literally this just happened to me. I’m looking in the kitchen drawers, these are our top kitchen drawers that were in all the time. I’m like, “That’s interesting. We have a garlic press. No, we have two garlic presses.” So I’m like, “Well we can definitely give away one garlic press because we don’t need two.” So, which is the best one? So, keep the good one, give away the other one. And then like two days later I’m like, “We don’t ever use a garlic press.” Because I don’t cook. My husband cooks and he buys the little jars where you get an already minced.
Gretchen Rubin: So, I’m like, “Why do we have any garlic presses?” I have no recollection of these even coming into our apartment. I have no idea why we have them. We definitely don’t need them. We never used them and we had two. Get rid of that stuff and you just feel so good. And then somebody who would use it gets something.
Marie Forleo: Gets some joy.
Gretchen Rubin: Get some joy out of it.
Marie Forleo: And some pleasure.
Gretchen Rubin: Put them to work.
Marie Forleo: How do you deal with your family with the clutter? Because I remember it was a challenge when my stepson was a teenager. So, it was myself, my stepson, Josh, we were all in a small apartment. And I just remember… I didn’t handle that well, I will tell you. I failed in that department because I have a particular idea. If I look around and I see visual clutter, I have to do a whole mental thing to calm myself down. How have you managed that with your family?
Gretchen Rubin: Well, you’re pointing out something that comes up all the time because different levels of tolerance for clutter and desire for tidiness is a big source of conflict. At work and at home because people just have different levels where they feel comfortable.
Marie Forleo: My way is best, of course. No, I’m just kidding. I’m horrible, I’m horrible, you guys. I don’t mean that, it’s a joke.
Gretchen Rubin: My sister is clutter blind. She’s one of these few people who literally…
Marie Forleo: Doesn’t see it.
Gretchen Rubin: Doesn’t see it, doesn’t notice it, doesn’t care. I go in, she lets me clean up her stuff because I get so much fun from it. But she doesn’t really care. But that’s unusual. I’m really lucky because my husband and I are both the same. He will say things like, “Why don’t we take 20 minutes and clean up?” And like we’ll just sort of…
Marie Forleo: Do it.
Gretchen Rubin: If things are getting messy. And he’s very supportive of if I’m like I’m going to go through the kitchen stuff. Or I remember one time I was helping him go through his clothes and I was holding up like two things at once and being like, “Yes or no.”
Gretchen Rubin: And I held up a pair of pants and he’s like, “I’ve never seen that pair of pants before in my life.” I’m like, “Well, then somebody snuck here and here and put them there because I don’t know why they’re here.”
Marie Forleo: Whose pants are these?
Gretchen Rubin: Whose are they? I’m like, “I think they’re yours since they’re in your closet.” So, he’s very tolerant of it. My daughters, especially, I think as teenagers, there’s an autonomy thing where they want to control their space and one way to control your spaces to have it be messy. So, my own view is like, is this where you want to spend your points?
Marie Forleo: That’s right.
Gretchen Rubin: Your argue points.
Marie Forleo: Again, I fail in this department many times.
Gretchen Rubin: But it’s hard when… It’s one thing if it’s your room and I can close the door and it’s, “Okay, if you want to live that way that’s fine in your room.” But then when it spills out into the kitchen, the living room, the shared space, it can be hard.
Gretchen Rubin: So, I’m lucky because I find it relaxing to tidy. I don’t like to clean, but just putting things away, I find relaxing. So, I do a lot of that kind of low level. And then I just close the door to their rooms and say, “Okay, you can do whatever you want.”
Marie Forleo: Yeah, no, that’s good. That’s smart. I don’t think I’ll have teenagers in my home anymore, so I feel like I’ve crossed that bridge. Thank goodness. Yeah. So, Gretchen, as we wrap up, you’ve done so much incredible work and research. All these books, all the people that you’ve helped. I’m curious, creating change is a big common theme in your work. What do you believe is a common denominator of people who are actually able to make significant change in their lives and have it last?
Gretchen Rubin: That’s the million dollar question.
Marie Forleo: I know. Any insight you can provide for us. It might not be one thing, but anything that you’ve noticed in your career.
Gretchen Rubin: I think what it is, is I think that when people really think about themselves and do it in the way that’s right for them, that’s their temperament, their nature, their interests, their values, rather than saying some magical person that’s going to hand me seven bullets on a single page PDF and I just will execute.
Gretchen Rubin: I think that we all, people are so different and that a lot of times when people don’t succeed or when they really feel discouraged, it’s because they’re trying to do it in a way that’s not right for them. And it’s not that there’s anything wrong with them or they lack willpower or they’re lazy or whatever it is that people say, it’s that they’re doing in a way that’s not right for them.
Gretchen Rubin: And so a very obvious example of this is morning people at night people. Because all the expert advice is: If this is important to you, get up early to do it. Get up early and write that novel, get up early and run those three miles. Okay. But the research also shows that there truly are morning people and night people. And there’s a fascinating book called internal time, which if you ever want to have something to show to somebody, it’s real, this book will make the case for you.
Gretchen Rubin: Some people are night people, it’s largely genetically determined and a function of age and they are just at their most productive and creative and energetic later in the day. And so if you’re like, I need to get, I need to exercise, I need to exercise, I need to get up early and exercise and I’m failing and I’m failing and I’m failing.
Gretchen Rubin: Maybe it’s because you’re a night person. So, the problem isn’t the exercise. The problem is you’re barely getting to work on time in the morning. And the idea that you’re going to get up early and exercise is just not realistic for you. For me, the idea that I would go for a run at 4:00 o’clock or go to an exercise class after work, I would never do that. But for a night person, that can be great because they’re going to be up until midnight or 2:00.
Gretchen Rubin: So what you’re better off doing if you’re a night person is saying, “Can I organize my life so my day starts later?” Some people can’t do that. Some people don’t have that flexibility. But some people do and they don’t even take advantage of it because they feel like there’s something wrong with them.
Gretchen Rubin: I’m like, “You’re a night person. Don’t do anything before 10:00 AM.” If you can roll out and have a cup of coffee at 9:45, that’s what’s going to work for you. Because you’ll work till 2:00. I can’t do that. And so I think when you see that people are making change, it’s often because… Another thing is accountability.
Gretchen Rubin: So, I have a personality framework that I came up with, the four tendencies, and what I see is that one kind of person, the obliger, really needs outer accountability to meet inner expectations. So, if they want to read more, they need to join a book group. If they need to exercise, they need to take a class or workout with a trainer, workout with a friend or whatever. Once they know that they need outer accountability, there’s a million ways to plug in outer accountability, but you have to recognize that that’s what you need. I don’t need outer accountability, but if somebody else does then there’s a million ways to get it, but you have to recognize that that’s the piece that’s missing.
Marie Forleo: Yeah, so it feels like it’s a lot of self awareness and also really understanding that there are different recipes for different people. For me, I think that’s one of the downsides of where we are a little bit in culture. I love the fact that everyone can create content. That’s a beautiful thing on so many levels.
Marie Forleo: But on the other side of it, to your point, “These seven bullets.” It’s like, “No.” Sometimes I even get frustrated with myself because… Not frustrated myself, but if I’m answering a question on MarieTV or we’re doing a particular episode on a topic, I always try and put in a disclaimer and say, “Hey guys, this isn’t comprehensive. I’m answering either this question for this individual based on what I know and my intuition and all the things that come with my gifts.”
Gretchen Rubin: In your experience of like seeing people over and over.
Marie Forleo: Yes. Or if I’m talking about this particular topic, my answer is not comprehensive. I’m not writing a book. It’s a five minute video. And I think to your point, it’s just so good because I can hear people in our audience, especially around the, “If you’re a nighttime person,” there’s so much pressure that this is the only way and there are many paths.
Gretchen Rubin: Oh my gosh. And you know a great resource if you want to see that play out is a book called Daily Rituals by Mason Curry.
Marie Forleo: Yes.
Gretchen Rubin: It’s not really about rituals, it’s really just about habits. But what you see is some people stay up late and some people get up early and some people drink coffee and some people drink vodka and some work alone and some work in a busy studio and some work 17 hours a day and some work for half an hour. These are all like…
Marie Forleo: Productive.
Gretchen Rubin: Extremely productive creatives. There’s scientists, there’s painters, there’s writers, choreographers, every kind of outstanding person. And what you realize, it’s not that they have the same habits, but they figured out what works for them and they make sure that they have it set up. If I need to work in a crowded studio with a million people around me like Andy Warhol, I will create The Factory and I will be in the center of all this action.
Gretchen Rubin: Okay, I’m Gertrude Stein. I write a half an hour a day. But nothing interferes with it. Flannery O’Connor, one of my favorites, she wrote for two hours every day, but she said nothing interferes with that two hours. I can’t write any more than two.
Marie Forleo: Yes.
Gretchen Rubin: But nothing interferes with that two. And so it’s more about figuring yourself out and then guarding that.
Marie Forleo: Yes. And I love this conversation also because I think for me in my creative life, I’ve had to try on different things.
Gretchen Rubin: Yes. It’s not obvious.
Marie Forleo: It’s not obvious. And so there could be a rock star that you admire or a dancer or a writer or whomever and you’re like, “Oh, this is their secret to success.” And I think for everyone listening now to give yourself permission to try on a habit or a ritual, just like you would go try on a coat in a store, and you try it on for maybe a week or two weeks and see if you thrive. And then if not, right?
Gretchen Rubin: But also if something isn’t working, rather than saying, “There’s something wrong with me.”
Marie Forleo: Yes.
Gretchen Rubin: Why is it that Marie, she can do it, it should work for me. It’s like, okay, if it’s not working for you, that’s information. Now you know that doesn’t work for you. What’s something else to try? One thing that people often say is you should start small. That’s the way to make a change. Start small, make incremental change, gradual changes, work up to it. But some people aren’t interested in that. They want to go big or go home.
Marie Forleo: Yeah.
Gretchen Rubin: They’re like, I only want to make big changes or else I lose interest and I lose momentum and I don’t have my enthusiasm. Great, if you’ve been trying to do an incremental change and it’s not working, do something big. If you’ve been trying to do something big and bold, try something little.
Gretchen Rubin: Because you’re exactly right. You may have to try on many identities and many approaches.
Marie Forleo: Before you find that little recipe that works for you.
Gretchen Rubin: Yeah, and I think one thing is work pace. Some people are marathoners and some people are sprinters. So, marathoners are people like me. We like to start early and work steadily and maybe not that much any one day and have a lot of room at the end. And we feel like that unleashes our creativity. But then there are sprinters and they like to be right up against a deadline and they feel like the adrenaline crystallizes their thoughts and it gives them energy and they feel like they burn out or lose interest if they start too early or they just spin out and spend too much time.
Gretchen Rubin: But people are always saying to marathoners like me, “No, you need the excitement of the deadline.” My sister is a TV writer and she worked for a showrunner who thought everybody did their most creative work if they were up against a deadline. So, he would falsely, he would orchestrate like emergencies because he thought that’s… But she was a marathoner. So for her it was very, very hard to work that way. Whereas as a marathoner I’m like, “Why don’t you start earlier? Give yourself more time. Let your thoughts expand.” Because that’s what works for me.
Marie Forleo: Yeah.
Gretchen Rubin: But again, if you and I need to co collaborate, well maybe we need to talk about how we can create a system that’ll work for both of us. But there’s nothing better about my way or your way. But again, if you feel like you burn out if you start too soon, maybe you do better with a little more urgency. Or if you feel like you’re really anxious being up against a deadline, maybe pull it back and give yourself a little bit more breathing room.
Marie Forleo: Thank you so much. Your work is incredible and this is why I love it because it’s so nuanced and it’s so personalized and it really also challenges each of us to make decisions for ourselves and create those recipes for success. Gretchen, thank you for coming on MarieTV.
Gretchen Rubin: Thank you. This is so… I feel like we could talk all day.
Marie Forleo: All day. Now, Gretchen and I would love to hear from you. So, from everything we talked about today, what’s the biggest insight you’re taking away and most importantly, how can you turn that insight into action starting right now? Leave a comment over at marieforleo.com and let us know. And while you’re there, be sure to subscribe to our email list and become an MF insider. You’re going to get great emails from me filled with love and positivity, and they will help you stay on track. Until next time, stay on your game and keep going for your dreams because the world really does need that special gift that only you have. Catch you soon