How to change a habit

If you want to make a change in your life you need to change something in your routine. Gretchen Rubin writes a lot about this in her book about habits, which I read to figure out how to stop eating when I’m anxious.

When curing anxious eating seemed hopeless, I thought at least I could figure out how to stop reading articles and magazines and go back to reading books. But the only book I got through is The Sports Gene. And, really, I didn’t even finish that one.

Couples therapy taught me that no one can change someone else’s habits (which is pretty much the only goal anyone has when they go to couples therapy,) but you can shake things up for the other person. Just change what you do yourself—it’s like a system of inter-locking gears. If you turn one gear, all the gears respond. Small changes you make to one habit ripple through to others in unexpected ways.

Which brings me to the mattress company that paid me to write about them.

It’s Purple. And a reader who I’ve known for a long time asked me to write about this mattress company she’s working for. She sent me a link to a video where someone sits on an egg and it doesn’t squash on the mattress.

The only time I watch videos is on Tuesday night. My son’s last cello class ends at 9:30 pm. (Really!) So we get home around 1:30 am. I don’t drive. Carla, my driver does. But I can’t sleep in the car. I had a fantasy life planned where I’d read all the way home. But car reading made me dizzy. Then I thought we could listen to books but I missed seeing the words. So now when I’m too tired to work, I watch funny videos and give her a play-by-play.

It’s sort of weird, I think, sometimes, that I am paying her to listen to me entertain her. But then I think, I was so incredibly lonely and going crazy when I was doing the drive myself. So maybe I am paying her to drive because I stink at it. But maybe I am also paying her to be my friend; it’s hard to tell if you have a friend.

Anyway, one Tuesday night I watched the egg video. And we mostly couldn’t believe how stupid it was. Carla said, “I hope they’re paying you a lot to write about the mattress.”

Then I interrupted piano practice because the UPS guy brought a huge purple thing that looked a lot like a rug. And I have been on a rug binge lately so I got excited that maybe I forgot I had one more rug coming.

But it was the mattress. It ships like a carpet. So there it was, unfolding in our dining room. Partly under the table. And it looked so cozy that I put the whole thing under the table. We could have a really cool fort for one day and then we could throw it out or give it away or whatever people do with a mattress they get paid to write about.

My son crawled under the table, and he said, “Mom, this is the best mattress in the world. Can I have it?”

This is not normal for a ten-year-old boy to say. So I crawled under the table and spread my arms. And I loved the mattress. I said, “No. You can’t have it. It’s for me and Dad.”

Carla walked into the house and laughed when she saw us on the mattress.

I said, “You have to try it out. It’s great,” and I kicked my son off.

She loved the soft outside, and how the inner squishy-ness is not memory foam, and not really anything we’ve ever felt. Carla said, “This company is the Apple of mattresses.” And then she didn’t get up.

So we laid there together, talking, and she wasn’t even driving, and I had a moment of mattress gratitude because that’s when I knew she likes me even without the car.

The mattress is heavy so I kept it on the dining room floor for a while. I started reading on it. I had a stack of books about the Holocaust that I move all around the house, trying to get myself to put aside time to read. I moved the pile next to the mattress. And I found myself laying there for longer and longer stints reading.

I read A Woman in Berlin, by Anonymous. I’ve been excited to read the book because the author refused to have it published until she died, and she recently died.

The book is about the days between when the Russians got to East Berlin and the war ended. The Russians were the only army not to give soldiers leave, ever, so they had not seen any women in years, until they got to Berlin. Nearly every woman in East Berlin was raped during those five days. The story is incredible and I learned more about human nature from that book than I’ve learned in a long time.

Then I read White Walls. A memoir by Judy Batalion, whose mom is a hoarder. The book is in the Holocaust pile because the most interesting part of hoarding is what causes the person to hoard. The mom was born to Holocaust survivors in Europe right after World War II. Favorite part: Batalion is mellifluous with the Holocaust jokes, which you can only be if you are the child of (a child of) a survivor.

I read Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala, in one day. It’s by a woman who lost her two children and husband and parents in the 2004 tsunami. Favorite part: her family did a year-long vigil by her bedside, not leaving her alone ever, so she wouldn’t kill herself. I kept trying to figure out if I would kill myself. I knew I would think about that, which is why this book seemed right for my Holocaust pile.

After those three books, the boys moved the mattress into their room, in one last attempt to make it theirs.

Then I moved the mattress to my bedroom. And the Farmer and I have been sleeping on it ever since. But also, I’ve been getting through my reading pile regularly now. Because once you change a habit, it sticks.

50 replies
  1. Tom
    Tom says:

    I hope they did pay you a lot. Because this is the single best piece of content marketing I’ve ever seen.

    Wow. Great writing.

  2. Ellen
    Ellen says:

    I want to try a Purple mattress. Rugs are hard – commitment. Smart to paint the wall to accommodate the rugs!

  3. Leland Sandler
    Leland Sandler says:

    Changing habits is hard especially if you are doing this kind of stuff everyday. But if you really wanted to change because this habit is not helping you anymore then take it slowly. You don’t need to rush in order to change. It’s hard to change! Just always keep in your mind the reason why you need to change your habit and you will have this motivation to do it slowly everyday.

  4. Patricia Rossi
    Patricia Rossi says:

    Loved the entire post Penelope.
    This truth was my favorite ~~>”Just change what you do yourself—it’s like a system of inter-locking gears. If you turn one gear, all the gears respond. Small changes you make to one habit ripple through to others in unexpected ways.”
    As always,so grateful when I open my email and one of your new posts is sitting there in all its glory,waiting for me to enjoy it.

  5. Ann Eichenberger
    Ann Eichenberger says:

    Keep in mind that when you change, you may not get the corresponding change that you truly want. Humans are predictable, but only up to a certain point. A change in one’s behavior may stir up an aspect of your partner that is unknown to you. You may like the change or not.
    Glad to know about Purple.

  6. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I liked the mattress video. Also, I think your son should have a Purple mattress of his own. He was the first one in your family to discover how good it is.

  7. Tanya Ruckstuhl
    Tanya Ruckstuhl says:

    I love your wit Penelope! As a couple’s therapist, I think one of the best reasons for couples work is to come to a new understanding of your partner’s behaviors. As in “Oh, now I get it that when she takes time to be alone she’s not rejecting me but taking space for self care.” So rather than changing your partner’s habits, the big ah-ha is changing your own interpretation of your partner’s habits so that you are no longer feeling rejected.

  8. redrock
    redrock says:

    now I want a new mattress…. there is also a movie (I think it is on netflix) about the women in Berlin after the Russian military moved in.

  9. Satya
    Satya says:

    The mattress company should offer a special deal where we get all the books you mentioned free when we buy a mattress from your link. The Penelope Trunk Holocaust Bundle – sign me up.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      So smart. I am trying to be clever about how I sell courses on Qusitic. I am not nearly the queen of product packaging that I want to be. And now, your Holocaust bundle has really raised the bar for me.


  10. Victoria
    Victoria says:

    I like your writing, because it keeps the wondering thought feel of stream of consciousness but you also preen the words for the reader to take away a to go thought. I’ve a tin foil swan of leftovers that I’ll pick at today, wondering how a little change in habit could bloom of a wild tangle of otherness that is just out of view.

    Oh. And I bought a purple.

  11. Susan Youngquist
    Susan Youngquist says:

    This is the most brilliant promotional piece I have ever read! After reading I had to go get a purple mattress. They should give you one for your son too after that!

  12. Susan P
    Susan P says:

    How many of us have to buy a mattress for you to get another free one? Make a deal with the company if you haven’t yet because I’m looking into it too!

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      You guys are so fun that you are buying mattresses. I didn’t know what to expect from this post. And I definitely didn’t expect the outpouring of concern that my son does not have his favorite mattress! You guys are really fun.


  13. MBL
    MBL says:

    I’m also angling for mattresses for the boys too.

    I sent the following email to them labeled “Via Penelope” so there could be no doubt:

    “Hi, I landed on your site via Penelope Trunk’s website. I was wondering if you can, or have future plans to, sell just the topper. I ask because we have a custom sized organic latex mattress that we will need to keep until our mortgage is paid off. Thus, buying a whole new mattress is out of the question. At least for the next 23 years.

    In December I had surgery that has made sleep very, very difficult and was wondering if your topper might help.

    I am so desperate that I am actually looking into recliners. On Craigslist. For the bedroom. Yes, it truly has come to that.”

    In case anyone else is wondering, they do offer just the purple topper, but it will not be in stock until the end of the month. I haven’t heard back regarding the prices and don’t know if they also come with a guarantee like the mattresses do.

  14. Mary
    Mary says:

    Do you get paid per clicks? I clicked the link to the Purple website because sometimes I think about buying a new mattress but also because I thought maybe you get paid per clicks and I want to support your blog

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I don’t get paid per click. I actually never agree to get paid per click because I hate the idea of trying to get you guys to click something. So I always get paid up front – I think that makes me most able to write a good blog post instead of a blog post that is just about getting clicks. And anyway, I always have a million links I want you to click.

      That said, you are really nice for clicking, just in case I would benefit :)


  15. Happy
    Happy says:

    Would you have given the mattress a bad review if it wasn’t good or are you obligated to give it a sales pitch because this is a paid post?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      If the Purple mattress sucked, I would not have said it sucked. I would have probably just said nothing about liking or disliking it. And then I’d write about something else. Like, their packaging is genius. So I could just write about how innovative their packaging is, and how companies can be de-commodified a given product by packaging, or something like that.

      This reminds me of the movie reviews in People magazine. You have to go check them out! They amaze me. Movies either get three or four stars, or there is no rating. Just a summary. Like, People probably has to review movies from famous people they want interviews from or whatever, and they can’t say the movie sucked. So they just write a summary with no stars.


  16. Diego
    Diego says:

    In my opinion when you want to change something, it is crucial to make it impossible to do it, for example if I want to break an internet addiction I will cancel my internet conexion at home, it is better to not to trust your will power in the beginning, until the new habit sets.

  17. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:

    Me too! We need a new mattress so I will absolutely check it out. AND, been meaning to read a bunch of Holocaust books so thanks for the starting place. AND… working on habits as is typically the case during the New Year season… I think I have successfully stopped snacking at night. Now I have to stop the sipping at night. ;)

  18. Emily
    Emily says:

    Great thoughts (and amusing mattress story ;) ).

    Along with changing routine, I think establishing more structure in your life is critical to changing habits for many people. You can change a routine, but not necessarily add more structure, and some people need more structure – like an hourly schedule – to carve out time to do a thing they want to turn into a habit.

  19. Sarath
    Sarath says:

    That was an interesting Article and sounded a little too much like a affiliate article, but still brilliant piece of work :) I will come back for more of these…

  20. Adam
    Adam says:

    I believe that Wonder Gel and IntelliBed are predecessors of this mattress line and that Wonder Gel seat cushions are sold at resellers such Bed, Bath and Beyond, in case you want to lay your hands on the purple “hyper-elastic gel.”

    From an email with a Purple representative, I understand that the Wonder Gel mattress has four inches of the purple stuff in the middle instead of two inches on top. Also, from looking at pictures on the IntelliBed web site, I infer that it also puts the purple stuff in the middle. So, I guess the big change with the Purple mattress is putting the gel at the top of the mattress.

    I have not actually seen any of these products in real life, and have no relationship with any of the companies other than being interested in the product from reading this article, and having then contacted Purple customer support about the differences between the Purple and Wonder Gel mattresses.

    • Adam
      Adam says:

      Following up my own comment, it looks like Purple Mattress has disappeared from Amazon, but an “Amazon Exclusive” “Perfect Cloud UltraPlush Gel-Max” with similar distinctive wave shaped styling on the side now appears as the first when I search for “Purple Mattress.”

      Before Purple Mattress disappeared from Amazon, I noticed that a couple of somewhat negative reviews had been posted.

      I’m still considering buying one though.

  21. Brooke
    Brooke says:

    If you figure out how a secret for not eating when you’re hungry I want to know. I call it stomach hungry versus head hungry. My distraction is herbal tea.

  22. Celeste
    Celeste says:

    Why, Penelope, why? I used to be both educated and entertained by your posts but in the past year or so you’ve gone off the deep end. This piece was so loopy I had to check out the product and now their idiotic ads with eggs and der fräulein pop up everywhere I look. I’m disappointed that you’ve become a mere shill and because I trusted you, I’m now an ad victim.

  23. Patric
    Patric says:

    Penelope, thank you. Not only is this a superlative bit of writing, but a brilliant bit of advertising. My wife and I were planning an embarkation into the dangerous waters of mattress-shopping (and dreading it) this very weekend. You saved us even dipping our toes in the water; we know exactly what to buy now, so: Gracias, Danke, and Arigatou Gozaimasu. (Bows deeply).

  24. Karelys
    Karelys says:


    And I want that mattress.

    Since my husband is moving out and taking the bed with him. I said he can take everything he wants. I don’t want one more argument. Kindly he accepted to leave the washer and dryer which I love. And I think that if we had treated each other with the kindness we treat each other now that we’re getting divorced we wouldn’t even have gotten here.

    But then again, maybe I’d never get a Purple mattress because there would be zero ways to convince him to get one because we have very different ways of loving life.

      • karelys
        karelys says:

        It’s working out Vickie!

        Good thing we had two houses already.

        And that we live close to family.

        And that we have good friends to lean on.

        Oh and a kickass counselor. Everyone should have one no matter what. Kind of like your regular doctor.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      So sorry to hear that Karelys. I have another friend going through the same thing and now that they are divorcing they are like best friends. Her explanation is that they did not give or receive love in a way that produced a healthy relationship.

      If you need to chat with a non-judgy person feel free to contact me!

      • karelys
        karelys says:

        I think it’s the same thing here.

        So much easier to let stuff roll if you know you don’t have to share life so closely and have to compromise on a hard/soft mattress :)

        I will shoot you a message <3

  25. Tiffany
    Tiffany says:

    Very interesting article. Thought provoking and a very unique style of writing. I like that it shakes things up a bit. I read so many articles everyday and for the most part, they are all so polite and politically correct. They come across as completely fake. Just words on a page. For the ones that attempt to create shock and awe, it just feels like they’re trying too hard. You’re the real deal. Thanks for the read.

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