“Better Than Before”: How to Change Habits

Advice from Gretchen Rubin, author of Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives (2015) includes 21 possible strategies for changing habits.

According to her Four Tendencies framework, people generally fall into one of four groups: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. The key to these characterizations is how we respond to expectations. From Rubin’s website, a brief description of each:

  • Upholders want to know what should be done.
  • Questioners want justifications.
  • Obligers need accountability.
  • Rebels want freedom to do something their own way.

Once we know our individual Tendency, we have a better idea of what habit-change strategy will work for us.

Brené Brown, author and research professor: “Gretchen Rubin’s superpower is curiosity. Luckily for us, she’s turned her passionate inquiry to the topic of making and mastering habits. Weaving together research, unforgettable examples, and her brilliant insight, Better Than Before is a force for real change. It rearranged what I thought I knew about my habits, and I’m better for it.”

A Selection of Quotes from Better Than Before:

We won’t make ourselves more creative and productive by copying other people’s habits, even the habits of geniuses; we must know our own nature, and what habits serve us best.

Habits are the invisible architecture of daily life. We repeat about 40 percent of our behavior almost daily, so our habits shape our existence, and our future. If we change our habits, we change our lives.

The desire to start something at the “right” time is usually just a justification for delay. In almost every case, the best time to start is now.

The most important step is the first step. All those old sayings are really true. Well begun is half done. Don’t get it perfect, get it going. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Nothing is more exhausting than the task that’s never started, and strangely, starting is often far harder than continuing.

Nothing is more exhausting than the task that’s never started, and strangely, starting is often far harder than continuing.

When we do stumble, it’s important not to judge ourselves harshly. Although some people assume that strong feelings of guilt or shame act as safeguards to help people stick to good habits, the opposite is true. 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.

It’s a Secret of Adulthood: I can’t make people change, but when I change, others may change; and when others change, I may change.

Research—and my own experience—suggests that the less we indulge in something, the less we want it. When we believe that a craving will remain unsatisfied, it may diminish; cravings are more provoked by possibility than by denial.

To a truly remarkable extent, we’re more likely to do something if it’s convenient, and less likely if it’s not. For this reason, we should pay close attention to the convenience of any activity we want to make into a habit.

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