Sometimes, if you’re lucky, reading a book shifts your internal paradigm – your previously unassailable assumptions held about the boundaries of what you can do. Gretchen Rubin’s book Better Than Before was such a paradigm-shifting book for me.
I thought that the reason I struggled with forming certain good habits was simply a lack of discipline. But what if the reason previous attempts to develop good habits did not work was because different habit strategies work for different people? Such is the premise of Better Than Before. We must know ourselves better to understand which habit strategies will be effective.We must know ourselves better to understand which habit strategies will be effective.Click To Tweet
Like you, I make hundreds of micro-decisions throughout the day. The more I develop good habits, the less time I have to take deciding, do I eat that cupcake, am I going to workout today, can I afford that jacket?
Alleviating decision fatigue means I can use my energy elsewhere, like creating, writing, and raising my kids. Rubin loves habits just as much as I do, and her framework for developing good habits has been life-changing.
Know Your Tendency to Develop Good Habits
The first most powerful key to developing good habits is Rubin’s Four Tendencies Framework. Every person tends toward one of four personality tendancies: Upholder, Questioner, Obliger or Rebel. Take Rubin’s quiz to find out which one you are.
Upholders basically do what is expected of them, whether it is a self-imposed (internal) expectation, or an expectation imposed by another person, like a boss (external).
Questioners will meet expectations if they have a good justification.
Obligers meet external expectations but struggle to meet internal expectations. They will always make it to book club, but hardly ever make it to that new yoga class alone.
And Rebels resist all expectations. Rebels do something only if they want to do it.
I am quite solidly a Questioner leaning toward Upholder. That didn’t surprise me. What surprised me is that not everyone is a Questioner! In fact, Rubin says that there are about as many Questioners as Obligers.
I always believed everyone would be swayed to act or not act if they had enough justification in the form of data, or information. You’ll notice that many of my posts, including this one, are heavy on information, more proof of my Questioner nature. In the future, I’ll try to provide Obliger rationalizations as well.
Use the Four Pillars of Habit Change to Develop Good Habits
The other incredibly helpful idea from Better Than Before was the four pillars of habit change. These are the most important things we can do to initiate and maintain new habits.
(1) Monitoring: “we manage what we monitor,” according to Rubin. Fitbits, food logs, and the like fall under this pillar. If we’re aware of how much of something we are or are not doing, we’re more likely to change.
Monitoring was key to my sudden willingness to cut back on watching TV. Once I did a time usage chart and saw that TV was eating up half of my free time, I was ready to drop it. This was a habit I’d been working on for years prior to Rubin’s advice and have finally mastered thanks to her!
(2) Scheduling: put it on the calendar and it will happen.
(3) Foundation: focus on habits that help self-control first – sleep, exercise, healthy eating & drinking, and removing clutter. It will then be easier to develop good habits in other areas.
For the foundation habit of eating healthfully, knowing that I am a Questioner helped me start on my journey to cut sugar out of my life. Just hearing from others that sugar is bad was not enough for me, though. I needed hard facts. I watched lectures on sugar, scoured web articles, and am reading Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes. Since then, I’ve found it relatively easy to cut sugar entirely, stick to a healthy diet, and even try the Whole30 elimination diet. Once I did the research, developing good habits in my diet was far less challenging.
(4) Accountability: be accountable to someone. Meet a friend for the yoga class or join an online group writing challenge if that’s your thing. This is especially important for Obligers.
Develop Good Habits with Strategies
Developing the foundation habit of getting enough sleep was a bit more complicated so I had to employ a few of Rubin’s 21 Habit Strategies to get it done. First, I had to employ the strategy of clarity – know thyself and identify the problem – to figure out what was not working.
I had already tried scheduling a bedtime, but I always had so much to do at the end of the day that I regularly blew past it. What I needed was a scheduled wake up time.
I was just waking up whenever the baby did so I could sleep as long as possible. I realized I don’t like to wake up like that and then rush around. By giving myself a wake up time an hour before my kids got up, I was able to develop good habits of meditating, eating a healthy breakfast, and reading personal development books.
In essence, I needed a transition between sleeping and parenting. When Rubin wrote that some people need transitions between tasks just like toddlers, I was so relieved. I had been kicking myself for needing to lie prone on the couch for a while after the kids’ bedtimes. What wasted time, I lamented! But now I know that is my transition time and I need it to recharge for the next productive phase.
That’s the genius of Rubin’s book. We don’t develop good habits by forcing ourselves into a mold of how we should behave. We develop good habits by knowing what works for us and using that knowledge to game ourselves into adopting the habits we desire.We don't develop good habits with a mold of how we should behave, but by knowing how we do behave.Click To Tweet
If you have a few nagging habits you’d like to change for the better, or good habits you’d like to fold into your life, I can’t recommend this book enough. Let me know what works for you and what habits you’d like to change in the comments!
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