Last week I interviewed The Happiness Project's Gretchen Rubin for a story for The Simple Dollar, on how to master your money habits.
As is often the case, the interview veered away from the primary topic, and we spoke openly about her new book, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives (pub. date: March 17) and the difficulty with making something a habit.
At one point, I said to her, "I tried making my bed for 30 days. It worked ... for 30 days."
She said, "Ah yeah, that's the finish-line problem."
(A finish line, as discussed in her book, "divides behavior that we want to follow indefinitely — to run, to write, to practice — into 'start' and 'stop,' and all too often, the 'stop' turns out to be permanent." It can be helpful for individual goals — for instance, the goal of running a marathon at the end of this summer — but it's not helpful for permanent behavior change.)
I added, "I haven't made my bed since."
"Is that right?" she said. "Well, there you go."
And then she asked me, "Why do you want to do it? Why bother? I'm just saying that really truthfully. Why would you bother? Like why not not do it? Do you care? Because maybe you don't care. Do you care?"
[It was at this point that I realized she has been interviewing me as much as I had interviewed her during this phone call, but we both acknowledged that and had a good laugh.]
My answer to her about whether I cared about the bed being made?
"No. Probably not."
I've written on the blog before about making my bed (about that 30-day attempt actually). I've never been a bed-maker but something in me last year said it might help me feel more organized. An article I'd read (this is often how I get into trouble) encouraged me to use making my bed as a way to prioritize starting my day off with more structure — literally and figuratively.
But really, when it comes down to it, I think making the bed is about a case of the "shoulds" for me.
I'm an adult. I should be responsible. I should want my room to look clean and organized. I should feel a sense of accomplishment because my covers are all tucked under.
I should make the bed.
Unfortunately for the organization goddesses (and probably my husband), I don't care.
Perhaps letting these particular "shoulds" go would be better for me. Per Gretchen:
There's a great Samuel Johnson quote that I can't remember and I should memorize it because I always want to quote it, where he says, ‘All severity that does not increase good or prevent evil is idle.’ Meaning anything that you're doing that's not doing some good in the world, like why bother with it? And I think a lot of people are like, 'Oh I need to give up coffee.' And I'm like, 'Well, why give up coffee? I'm not saying you shouldn't give up coffee. I'm just saying why would you give up coffee? ’Cause if you like coffee, why would you give it up? I mean, maybe there's a reason, but a lot of times, people don't even really have a reason. ... Don't feel bad about a habit that you can't form that you don't even care about, that wouldn't even make your life better. I mean, forget about that. There's other stuff you should do.
Of course, she did add, "I am a big believer in making your bed, but it's not for everybody."
Noted, Gretchen, noted.
And now I think I'm going to go take a nap ... in my unmade bed.