Book Review: Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin
"Changing a habit may be simple, but it's not easy,
and the more tools used, the better."
- Gretchen Rubin, Better Than Before
Former New York lawyer turned happiness expert Gretchen Rubin constructed her first book The Happiness Project from blog posts framed around a year-long challenge of adopting a different habit each month in the hopes of enhancing happiness. Since then, she has written Happier at Home and now Better Than Before. In this new tome, she shifts her focus from happiness to habits. She states in the book's preface that the basis of making change in our lives is the use of habits. As I discussed in my post about rituals, habits conserve self-control and limit decision-making fatigue by turning something into an automatic task. And being a fan of fostering habits and trying monthly challenges myself, I had to read it! I have also read her other two books.
Her observations about happiness and habits are not arbitrary; she researched the topics and performed her own data gathering in order to come up with them. And some of her constructs admittedly are genius, such as her Secrets of Adulthood (revealed in The Happiness Project) and now her Four Tendencies (discussed in Better Than Before). She posits that all personalities fall into four basic tendencies when it comes to how they respond to expectations: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. Where we fall will affect how we adopt, maintain, and drop our habits. If you would like to learn your type, there is a quiz in the back of the book and on her website to help you determine it. I am a Questioner with a tendency towards Upholder; my husband is also a Questioner with a tendency towards Rebel.
The book also introduces and explains numerous strategies for sticking to habits, such as distraction, treats, pairing hard habits with easy ones, and identifying loopholes people commonly use to avoid their habits. In addition to where you might fall in the Four Tendencies, reading this will help you learn if you are an Abstainer vs. a Moderator, and if you are an Opener vs. a Finisher.
If you are a Gretchen fan like I am, many of the concepts in this book will be familiar to you. She has been blogging and podcasting about issues surrounding habits for a while now, all in anticipation of the book's release. She even openly solicited her followers for material to add to the book during its writing! Come to think of it, her other books were similar; they are peppered with strategies shared by readers in the comments section of her blog. At first glance, openly discussing content that will be included in a book seems like a poor marketing strategy, but the added information gathered from her audience does enhance her points. In addition, she always adds examples and personal stories from her own experience to further solidify her concepts.
What I love most about this book is the importance Rubin places on knowing yourself as the key to adopting good habits. As I have pointed out, this is something that is also at the heart of effective stress management. Have you read this book or followed Rubin's work? Let me know what you think in the comments below!