Better Than Before


Do you wish you had your friend’s good habits? Going to the gym every morning, never eating dessert, flossing every day, always being prepared–who doesn’t want to feel like Superwoman?

But what works for her isn’t working for you, and all that advice you hear just doesn’t help. What are you doing wrong? Is it lack of willpower?

Nope. It isn’t working for you because you’re different. Nothing is one-size-fits-all, so give yourself a break. Instead of cramming yourself into a strategy that doesn’t fit, find one that is tailored to your personality.

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, shares her habit-forming epiphanies in Better Than BeforeWhat I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits–to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life. Her secrets will blow your mind.

Why Aim To Form Habits?

Habits are amazingly powerful. They eliminate decision fatigue. Heck, they even eliminate the need for willpower. You don’t believe me? When was the last time you made a conscious decision to put on your seat belt or wash your face in the shower?

Habits make change possible by freeing us from decision making and from using self-control.

If you form healthy habits, they become second nature. They’re so ingrained you don’t decide to keep doing them; instead, it takes a conscious effort to stop doing them.

It’s actually easier to keep doing what’s good for you.

The Essential Seven

Rubin argues that most people want to form habits in the following categories:

  1. Eat and drink more healthfully
  2. Exercise regularly
  3. Save, spend, and earn wisely
  4. Rest, relax, and enjoy
  5. Accomplish more, stop procrastinating
  6. Simplify, clear, clean, and organize
  7. Engage more deeply in relationships

Think about your recent New Year’s resolutions. Do they all fit in these seven categories?

How to Form Habits

Yes, there’s a catch. Forming habits is the tough part, but if you know your personality type and how your mind works, these personalized strategies will all but guarantee success.

Are You An Upholder?

Upholders respond readily to both outer expectations and inner expectations.

You’re reliable. You follow rules. You really, really don’t want to let people down–even yourself–no matter what. You know you need to take care of yourself and set limits so you can meet expectations, but you jump through silly or unnecessary hoops because you feel compelled to follow all the rules. You never jaywalk.

To form a habit, you do best by writing the action on your to-do list and telling others of your plans, so add your workout to your calendar and let your family know why you’re getting up early.

Are You A Questioner?

Questioners question all expectations, and will meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified.

You’re motivated by fairness and logic. If you believe in something, you’ll do it, but if you think the reasoning behind a rule is silly, you resist with all your might. You internalize expectations that you agree are reasonable, and you ignore the rest. You jaywalk only when you know it’s safe and you know you won’t get caught.

To form a habit, you need to truly believe in your Why. If you don’t have a good enough reason to do something, let it go because you won’t follow through. You won’t go to the gym for a bikini body, but you might do it to avoid getting diabetes.

Are You An Obliger?

Obligers respond readily to outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations.

You thrive when others hold you accountable but have no problem breaking promises to yourself. You can’t seem to say no to a favor and always meet external deadlines, even at the expense of your own comfort and priorities. You’ll jaywalk, but only if no one is watching.

To form a habit, recruit a buddy to participate with you or join a class. Knowing that someone is counting on you to be there will make you show up. So when you sign up for that yoga lesson, volunteer to drive your friend to class too.

Are You A Rebel?

Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike.

You live life on your own terms, and no one tells you what to do. The best way to get your cooperation is to let an action be your idea. You’re different from everyone else, and the rules don’t apply to you unless you’ve decided that they do. You’ll jaywalk if you’re told not to and you won’t if you’re told you should.

You find it tough to form habits and won’t take any advice from anyone. If you were to take advice, though, it might help to reframe a goal to rebel against an ‘other’ rather than the habit itself. For example, if you want to improve your fitness, challenge the stereotype–no ladies-only yoga or Zumba for you–and bring on the deadlifts or marathon hikes.

Dig Even Deeper

Rubin encourages further questioning to know yourself better. Are you an early bird or a night owl? A marathoner or a sprinter? Do you like familiarity or novelty? Do you respond better to carrots or sticks?

Each answer will help you form habits you’ll actually enjoy and maintain. The question that hit closest to home for me was if I’m a moderator or an abstainer.

I’m an abstainer all the way. I can’t have just one cookie or one can of Diet Coke. If it isn’t in the house, it isn’t on my mind. But if it’s there, it will soon be all gone.

Knowing this truth about myself takes the pressure off. I don’t have to resist these things anymore–I just don’t buy them. It’s so simple! Why did I struggle for years thinking I could eat only one brownie at a time? That was never going to happen, and trying to strengthen my willpower was exhausting and frustrating. Now, I can plan for success.

What’s your personality type and your favorite habit? How did you convince yourself to actually do it?

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Comments 13

  1. Thanks for sharing, Julie. I need to read this book. I love the personalized strategies for developing habit based on personality type. My only problem is I can’t figure out exactly which personality type fits me, since I can see a little bit of myself in three of those you listed.

    I’m definitely a creature of habit – except with sleep. This is a habit I need to work on. Sometimes I stay up too late, only to go to bed really early the next evening. Rinse and repeat. But I think this leaves me feeling tired, even when I do get enough sleep. Getting into a regular sleep habit would help.

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      Amanda, if you overlap the personality types, then lucky you- it’s likely that you’ll have even more useful strategies to employ!
      As for sleep, I also find that sometimes time gets away from me and I look up to realize it’s hours later than I thought. So, I started setting an alarm on my phone for when I want to start winding down and getting ready for bed.
      There’s also this post http://www.choosebetterlife.com/get-sleep-youve-always-dreamed-of/ for other sleep hacks. Sweet dreams!

    2. I agree with Amanda about seeing myself in a few different categories – but as you say, that gives me even more strategies! I do better when I add things to the calendar but being accountable to someone else helps me get things done too. Off to read your post about sleep – definitely lacking in that area lately!

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        Does having a blog help keep you accountable? Or posting your intentions on social media? Accountability partners galore!

        I’m definitely a Questioner. In some ways it’s good, because when I do something I’m all in and I truly believe in it, but it makes the nonsensical hoop-jumping required by most companies particularly painful. At least I’m not a total Rebel!

  2. I really like Rubin’s writing. She clearly knows all of the technical details and scientific studies but doesn’t get bogged down in them. I found this book and The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg to go great together. The Power of Habit is a great collection of the technical details and Better Than Before shows how to apply them in a personal and individualized manner.

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  3. I think I’m so high-strung I might not even be on this list! I do listen to her podcast. It kind of goes in spurts. Sometimes, I like my podcasts to be more focused on numbers…or true crime (guilty pleasure!). But when I’m looking for actionable change or a reminder to pause, I always go back to her!

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      Ooh–true crime!!! Especially when we’ve been out of town for a few weeks so I can binge-listen to the serial episodes.
      It’s good to have variety too. I sprinkle in continuing ed., self-improvement, and guilty pleasures. Thanks for recommending Rubin’s podcast- it’s now on my list.

  4. I’m mostly an Upholder but also a Questioner. I read the book but need to read it again. I like the way Gretchen Rubin thinks. I also like listening to her podcast but I like to cherry pick the topics and episodes that interest me. And I’m totally like you with food. If I can’t eat just one, it doesn’t enter my house. Or, as is the case with peanut butter, I make Mr G put it on a high shelf I can’t reach (except I’ll pathetically use tongs if I really want it!)

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      Vote #2 for the podcast– sold! Thanks for the tips.
      Our lack of willpower is so bad that we have to buy our Halloween candy just hours before the Trick-Or-Treating starts. Otherwise, we buy it two or three times each year 🙂
      I can see the temptation with peanut butter too, especially if you have chocolate chips to spice it up!

  5. Questioner all the way. You described me a little too well! Or Gretchen Rubin did.

    Anyways, my wife read The Happiness Project and enjoyed it; I alerted her to the new book. Thanks for the heads up and review!


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