I was introduced to Tamsen Fadal through a mutual friend. Tamsen is an Emmy-award winning journalist who anchors the nightly news for a New York City TV station. She’s also written a book, The New Single: Finding, Fixing, and Falling Back in Love with Yourself After a Break-Up or Divorce.
Handling a big break-up is a major happiness challenge, of course. It’s also a major habit challenge, because our habits are shaken up — for better and for worse — whenever we go through a major life transition. The Strategy of the Clean Slate is the strategy to help us make good use of such transitions.
Gretchen: Given your experiences, what’s the most significant thing you’ve concluded on the subject of habits?
Tamsen: Habits are essential. In fact, habits are equivalent to the dedication it takes to move forward after a major life change and achieve goals. This is true because after a break-up or divorce, moving forward is a scary prospect. Getting out of bed in the morning can be difficult enough. That’s why forming habits and staying dedicated to them – things like being committed to exercise and healthy diet, decluttering your life, and keeping a regiment of positive self-talk are all essential to survival and success.
What’s a simple habit that consistently makes you happier?
My weekends are essentially habitual, in the greatest possible way. And that’s because my weekdays can be so frenetic; I’m always on the go, Monday through Friday. So, my Saturdays look like this—religiously, without fail, as long as I am not traveling. If I am, I simply change the day. I get up and head right to Starbucks and I treat myself to my favorite drink, an Iced Americano. Then, I pack up my yoga mat and go to my favorite yoga class. This is the one sacred time in my week that my phone is off. Totally off. For someone like me, that is not an easy feat, but it is one that allows my mind to wander and my heart to remember what I am truly passionate about.
After ninety minutes in yoga—I head to my favorite juice bar and continue my day with thirty-two ounces of Kale Lemonade. You might think this is an acquired taste, but I love it. Next stop, the A train to the West Village. While I am downtown, I go in and out of shops, I check out a new restaurant or I have lunch at a sidewalk café. I spend time with me. At the end of the afternoon, I put myself back on the radar. I am refreshed. Renewed. And rewarded by the fact this builds my self-confidence.
What’s something you know now about forming healthy habits that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
This has simply been THE most important thought in my life. When I was twenty-three years old, packing up my car and heading off to my first job in television news in Oak Hill, West Virginia, my father gave me some love advice. He told me, “It’s better to be alone than lonely with someone.” Quite frankly, the sentence made no sense to me. It wasn’t until I was coming out of my divorce did I realize exactly what my father was talking about. At the end of my marriage, even when my former husband and I were together, I had been absolutely lonely standing next to someone else.
So many people, my younger-self included, stay in unhealthy relationships because we are afraid to be “alone.” The idea of walking into a restaurant and having to approach the hostess with “Just one, please” is a daunting, terrifying, and depressing thought for many of us.
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The difference between then and now is having learned to cherish my own company. I truly value my alone time. I make time for myself. I do yoga, I go for walks, I have dinners alone, I feel totally comfortable traveling by myself, and I know I’m more than happy to take an entire Saturday or Sunday for self-reflection.
I am a firm believer that you cannot and will not find the right person if you are not the right person already. You have to know who you are and what you want and what you need before you can ever find the person who will be right for you.
Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?
I am, by my own admission, a recovering people pleaser. I have had a habit of trying to make sure everything is perfect and everyone is happy, often at the expense of my own happiness. But I am also cognizant of the f
act that pleasing other people before yourself does not lead to sustainable, long-term happiness.
Which habits are most important to you? (for health, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)
As I previously mentioned, I do yoga almost every day. It makes me happy, healthy, and reduces stress. Yoga has allowed me to take that time I needed for myself. To unplug, without apology and to focus on the poses and on my mantra each class. Meditation is now something I try to do daily – so that it becomes a habit. A part of my life and something I do without thinking about it.
Also, I like making lists. I always have, and even more so now because many people over the years told me they were a waste of time. I know that they are not. They are exactly what I need to be doing in my time.
I make countless to-do lists that help me stay organized and help me form new habits based on my needs. I use lists to guide and encourage me through my days, while moving forward rather than look back over my shoulder. And even today, list making helps me remain focused on meeting my own physical and emotional requirements.
And, to that end, another important habit to me is positive self-talk. I am a big believer that everything starts from within. Despite the fact that I built my career in front of the camera, I truly believe that if you don’t have internal peace and happiness and come from a good place, your inner discontent will always come to the surface.
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My self-talk in the months following my divorce was extremely negative. Over time, though, I realized that my self-talk was self-destructive. It was filled with excuses and denial, both ways to protect myself from the truth about my new life. So, I decided to take control of my negative self-talk by composing a list of the positive things I should be saying. Including points like “Protect myself” and “Don’t settle. Ever” and “Go after it, 100%.”
I really do loving making lists and positive, sexy self-talk. Because, I believe, that before you love yourself, you must like yourself.
Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?
Simply put, I’m not the best cook. I like cooking, but I’m not opening a restaurant anytime soon. With that being said, I also have come to understand that there are plenty of foods that help reduce stress and amp up my energy level. I just feel better when I eat the right foods, and on an appropriate schedule. So, as much as being in the kitchen doesn’t always come naturally to me, I’m learning to love the way it makes me feel to prepare myself a healthy meal or snack.
Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?
I’m a total obliger. That’s because I’m a people-pleaser. It’s an internal struggle I constantly work through every day. The good news is, I’m aware of it.
Just a couple of days ago, I found myself helping a friend make decisions on how to move his own career and creative passions forward. Really specific details on who to make contact with, how to make connections, basically how to jump-start a company. A few days later, I realized: “why wasn’t I giving myself that advice? I know how to do all of those things and the right people, so why was I more worried about someone else’s projects?” It’s a struggle for me to not be an obliger, but I’m working on it.
Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits? (e.g. travel, parties)
I have a secret fear of success. Obviously I want to succeed, but sometimes I find myself (subconsciously) failing to live up to my own potential. It’s easier for a lot of us to get comfortable rather than move forward. So, sometimes I’ll distract myself with other projects (or other people’s projects) rather than focus on the biggest goal in front of me. I’ll find “something else” to do. All of these nasty little negative habits can poison my positive habits in the face of big, potentially life-changing success.
But I’ve also learned to be self-aware. Which is why I’m such a big proponent of making lists, setting goals, and positive and smart self-talk. Positivity overcomes negativity and leads to maintaining healthy habits.
Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you changed a major habit very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?
The night before Thanksgiving of 2007, I read Rory Freedman’s diet book, Skinny Bitch. It changed my life, and really opened my eyes to healthy eating and the way our animals are treated. I immediately committed to vegetarianism, THE NIGHT BEFORE THANKSGIVING!
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Do you embrace habits or resist them?
I embrace habits as an essential element to success and happiness.
Has another person ever had a big influence on your habits?
Sure, a few people have had a big impact on my personal habits. I get up early every day, and I stay up late every night. That’s thanks to Norman Vincent Peale, the author of The Power of Positive Thinking. He said, “The more you lose yourself in something bigger than yourself, the more energy you will have.”
I also like to work with my hands. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t pay for assembly when I buy a cabinet. I do it myself. Thomas Moore had an impact on me in that regard. He taught me that using your hands and doing things like washing dishes can be therapeutic.
And one more, very recently. I’m learning from watching what seem to be the habits of successful people that I admire. In this case, Arianna Huffington. She always answers her emails. My inbox gets jam-packed and sometimes it’s easier to put the replies off until later. But I noticed how quickly Arianna responds to her emails and it really made me turn up my game.
A version of this post originally appeared on Gretchen Rubin’s website, where she writes about her experiments in the pursuit of happiness and good habits.