“Better than Before” A Book on Habits by Gretchen Rubin: A Simple Sparkles Review

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was trying to increase my activity and cut down on sugar… Well, to be honest, I’ve had very mixed results. I was really good at tracking both via My Fitness Pal for a few days but then I forgot to track a few things, and then I went on vacation and didn’t track anything. I haven’t tracked anything since then. I’ve thought occasionally about it and tried to generally cut down on sugar and be more active… but I have no idea how successful I’ve been since I haven’t tracked anything. This made my think about how hard I often find it to start good habits or break bad ones. And I don’t think I’m alone in this.

So when I stumbled on “Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits–to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life” by Gretchen Rubin, I though this would be the perfect book to maybe help me build better habits (and break some bad ones).

"Better than Before: What I Learned about Making and Breaking Habits"

I don’t want to recap the entire book because A) that would make for a really long post, and B) if you’re that interested, you should probably read the book because I won’t be able to say it as well as she does! But, I do want to share a few nuggets that I found in the book and how I’m hoping they’ll help me form better habits.

First, the book begins by describing the Four Tendencies, as determined by how we react to expectations (both our own expectations of ourselves and others expectations of us). Although there’s a quiz at the end to help you determine what Tendency you fall within, all I had to do was read the descriptions to immediately know that I was a solid “Obliger.” (I was talking with G about it in the RV on the way to Colorado and he concurred, we also very easily fit him into the “Questioner” category!). Out of all of the Tendencies, Rubin writes that Obligers tend to be the only ones who don’t want to be their own Tendency… and I find this correct. I would strongly prefer to be an Upholder… anyone want to trade?!

Of course, since I can’t trade my innate tendency the way I could trade POGs or Beanie Babies (yes I grew up in the 90s), I figured I should keep reading to help me figure out what to do now that I knew my Tendency.

As expected, Rubin talks about how accountability is an important part of developing a habit; and as an Obliger, for me, external accountability is even more important. I’ve noticed this in the past – I do better eating when I have to weigh in with someone, I’m more likely to exercise if I’m doing it with another person. Looking back I recognize this, but in the moment I don’t think I realized how important that external accountability is – it was just part of the program or a natural outcome of my situation (e.g., working with a roommate on my way home from work).

However, thinking about this, I also know that external accountability was not a guarantee for me of making a habit work. But then Rubin talks about loopholes and that’s where I think I’ve run into problems. It’s easy for me to come up with reason/justifications/excuses to both myself and others as to why I’m not doing a habit. For example, I was trying to go to the gym in the mornings and I would always call my mom on the way (it happened to coincide with her departure from the gym). External accountability! But then it was easy to justify not going (both to myself and her) if I had an early work meeting or it was snowing or…. you get the picture.

According to Rubin, Obligers are the most likely to struggle against the temptation of loopholes. This was truly an “aha” moment for me – and one that I’m hoping will help me be more aware of the loopholes I look for!

I was also struck by this quote from the book:

“People who feel less guilt and who show compassion toward themselves in the face of failure are better able to regain self control, while people who feel deeply guilty and full of self-blame struggle more.”

I’m very susceptible to guilt-trips – both from myself and others (my parents figured this out very quickly when they were trying to get me to cooperate as a child and teenager!) – so viewing it from this perspective was really enlightening. By being hard on myself, am I undermining my ability to be successful? I thought being hard on myself would drive me towards success…

There are a lot of additional insights into how people form habits and how we can use knowledge or realizations about ourselves to help us form (or break habits). For example, whether you’re an Abstainer or a Moderator (I always thought Moderator, but I think I’m actually an Abstainer), how you can use convenience/inconvenience to form habits, whether you’re a goal setter or a habit former… and the list goes on an on.

So now that I know I’m an Obliger, a (reluctant) Abstainer, a Marathoner (I think), an Overbuyer (G could tell you this! And he’d probably add an Overpacker!),  an Opener, a Familiarity Lover, etc. (although I’m still not sure if I’ a Lark or an Owl…), I want to take some of these lessons and start to impact my habits.

So while my book tastes often run more towards happy romance novels or memoirs than self-help, I really enjoyed this book and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone looking to change, make or break habits.

About Lindsey

Hello! I'm a 30 year old, newly married, lady living outside of one of the best cities in the USA! I work in communications, love to read, recently purchased an RV with my husband (yay for road trips!) and am looking forward to starting a family soon-ish. I love to smile and hope to make other people smile too!

One thought on ““Better than Before” A Book on Habits by Gretchen Rubin: A Simple Sparkles Review

  1. I just bought this book because I, too, am trying to make some positive changes. Also, after reading this blog post, I am curious what my own labels are! I purchased the audio version as well so I can get through it faster by being able to “read” it at work in addition to the limited reading time I have at home!

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