A Surprising Way to Feel Better About Yourself. Have You Tried It?

Nov 19, 2014 · 3 min read

Recently, I read Christopher Isherwood’s memoir, My Guru and His Disciple. It’s an account of Isherwood’s relationship with Swami Prabhavananda, the Hindu monk who was his spiritual mentor and friend for more than thirty years. (The photo shows Swami Prabhavananda on the left, Isherwood on the right, and Aldous Huxley between them.)

I was surprised to learn that Christopher Isherwood — who’s perhaps best known for The Berlin Stories, which was the basis for Cabaret — lived for years in Swami Prabhavananda’s monastery in Los Angeles, and considered becoming a monk himself.

The book is interesting for many reasons, but I was particularly struck by Isherwood’s passing remark, of his cigarette smoking: “I had given up the habit with difficulty in 1941, because I was upset about my parting from Vernon and wanted to raise my morale by asserting my willpower.”

I was fascinated by this brief remark. He wanted to raise his morale by asserting his willpower.

We usually think of an effort like quitting smoking as something that’s demanding, draining, a big drag. And it is, of course.

But it’s also interesting to see that an effort like that is also a morale-booster. And it’s true:whenever we ask something of ourselves, and follow through, we get a big boost in our sense of “self-efficacy,” our sense of control over ourselves.

One thing that has surprised me, in my work life, is that sometimes, when I’m feeling very overloaded, I feel better when I tackle something big and new. There’s an energy and excitement that comes from a new challenge.

Although it’s always tempting to think, “I’m doing too much, I’m so stressed out, I can’t ask this of myself, I need to cut back.” But it may be that asking more of ourselves will actually make us feel more competent, more energized, and less stressed.

Surprising, but true.

Have you ever got a big morale-boost by quitting smoking, quitting sugar, starting an exercise routine, or the like? Or tackling some huge undertaking?

Also …

  • I’ve been thrilled — and I must admit, a bit astonished — by the popularity of my 21 Day Projects. In just 21 days, I believe, it really is possible to take many small, concrete steps to make your life happier. Curious about which topic is most popular? Know Myself Better is in the lead, then De-clutter My Life, Quit Yelling at My Kids, and close behind, Cope Better with Difficult People.
  • You can also buy the 21 Day Project Omnibus. It’s a PDF that allows you to buy all five Projects at once in a single document, and to read it on a device or to print it out. The Omnibus is a bargain: $11.99 instead of $19.96.

Tags: Christopher Asherwood, quotation, quotes

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Gretchen Rubin is the author of the blockbuster New York Times bestsellers, The Happiness Project and Happier at Home. She writes about happiness and habit-formation (the subject of her next book, Before and After) at gretchenrubin.com. Follow her on Twitter, @gretchenrubin, on Facebook, facebook.com/GretchenRubin

    Gretchen Rubin

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    Wrote The Four Tendencies, Better Than Before, The Happiness Project & Happier at Home (can't resist adding: New York Times bestsellers). Etc.

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