Review: Better Than Before

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Gretchen Rubin

I absolutely loved this book on habits!  It was an incredibly practical, entertaining, applicable book that anyone who wants to go a little deeper into studying habits would find engaging!

Rubin takes a close look at how habits are formed, and, more importantly, what keeps them successful.  She discovers that not all people are exactly the same, (who knew, right?!) and that carries over into habit formation as well.  She comes up with many different factors that go into how different people form habits, sort of like a habit personality test.  As you read this book, with her anecdotes and examples, you’ll find yourself identifying with certain people and traits, thus making it that much easier to form effective habits in your own life.  Self-knowledge is one of the most important things when trying to form a good habit, or break a bad habit.
There are basically four “types” of people in the world when it comes to forming habits.  We have the Upholder, the Obliger, the Questioner, and the Rebel.  Upholders like habits, and they rely on their inner motivation to keep them going, usually, with great success.  Obligers need external motivation, they need to feel like they are checking in with someone.  Questioners rely on internal motivation as well, but will only keep a habit after they have questioned all the reasoning behind it, and have become completely convinced in their own minds that it is worth pursuing.  The Rebel is kind of a wild card.  They will basically keep a habit if they want to. External “checking in” is more likely to drive them away from a habit, rather than towards it.  If they feel that it is helping them be their true self, they will be much more likely to do it.

Rubin talks about “Pillars of Habits,” which are basically different key strategies in ensuring a habit’s success.  The four pillars are: Monitoring, Foundation, Scheduling, and Accountability.

  • Monitoring. We need to be precise with our habits, we can’t just “want to get in shape,” we need to “work out for 30 minutes 5 times a week.” If we can count it, we can monitor it.  This is an effective strategy in people who want to lose weight by eating better.  People have seen better results by simply keeping a food journal – monitoring what they eat – before even trying to change the amount or quality.  Monitoring works!
  • Foundation. One of the best thing we can do for ourselves, is start with a habit that helps us be more self-controlled.  Examples of foundational habits are: getting adequate sleep, exercising, eating and drinking right, and decluttering.  Each of these habits have huge benefits and can really help us form better habits in other ares of our lives.
  • Scheduling. This is such an important one!  (Unless you’re a Rebel, then it will probably just be annoying) I find for myself, it doesn’t often work to attach something to the clock, as a mom to three little ones, life is not always predictable.  However, what works for me is to plan a habit around something that is always the same, such as always reading aloud after breakfast.
  • Accountability. Obviously this one is very important especially for those of the Obliger tendency, but most people tend to do better when they are accountable to someone or something.

One of the things I loved about this book was how totally practical it is.  Rubin has an entire section of the book dedicated to helping you anticipate roadblocks that will come into your path, and how to get rid of them.  She also gives you strategies for starting a new habit, and even goes into some of the deeper reasons why you might find it difficult to kick a bad habit (sometimes our bad habits are so tied in with our identity, it’s hard to let them go).

Habits can do so much to make our lives simpler and more effective, while freeing us up to pursue more of what is truly important to us in life.

Which of the four habit “personalities” do you identify with?  If you could master one habit for the rest of your life perfectly, which one would you choose?


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