After a long winter, it's tempting to make grand statements of how you're going to be better in the spring: more active, more social, more productive, etc. Warm weather and budding trees bring feelings of hope and renewal, of wanting to be one of those people who are awesome at life.
The thing is, we know where we want to make changes, but the "how to get there" part is blurrier. Cue Gretchen Rubin's new book about forming good habits, appropriately titled Better Than Before. Rubin gained popularity with her first two books on cultivating happiness, and in this one she takes the familiar approach of analyzing herself and others to figure out how to live a healthier, happier life.
Early in the book, she asks a series of questions to help you figure out your habit "tendency": Upholder (a.k.a. rule follower), Questioner (a.k.a. shit disturber), Obliger (a.k.a. people pleaser) or Rebel (self-explanatory). You can take the tendency quiz here.
Rubin also lays out four "pillars" of keeping up habits, including monitoring (see: the insane growth of Fitbits), maintaining good "foundation habits" (e.g. diet, exercise, sleep), and scheduling. Here are seven points from Better Than Before that stuck with us:
"The reward for a good habit is the habit itself." Rubin eschews the notion that we need rewards to develop good habits. Instead, she says the goal should be to have a habit run on automatic. If we eventually decide to reward ourselves, Rubin recommends choosing something that reinforces a certain habit (giving the example of buying new knives if you're cooking more meals at home).
"Because forming good habits can be draining, treats play an important role." At first, we felt like this point contradicted the "no rewards" statement, but Rubin says treats, unlike rewards, are "small pleasures or indulgences we give ourselves just because we want it." So figure out what you enjoy and enjoy it.
"We can build our habits only on the foundation of our own nature." Rubin points out that not everyone is cut out to take on certain habits. We can relate to this with running - something we always think we should do...but in practice, it makes us kind of miserable. In the book, Rubin tries daily meditation for a few months, but eventually decides to drop it when she figures out it doesn't jive with her nature.
"The more specific I am about what action to take, the more likely I am to form a habit." We love Rubin's examples on this point, such as stopping to have a moment of gratitude every time you walk in your apartment. She also talks about "bright-line rules" that make certain habits easier and eliminate the need for decision-making, such as always following a certain style guide for writing or never buying bottled water.
"People who use if-then planning are much more likely to stick to their good habits than people who don't." Rubin recommends making an "if-then" plan for all your habits; when challenges arise, you won't be thrown off course. For a daily writing habits, one of her "if-thens" is "If I'm writing, I shut down my email." We like to think of batch cooking as a sort of "if-then" for eating right, e.g. "If I can't cook a meal from scratch, I'll eat my batch-cooked rice and lentils with greens."
"If I distract myself sufficiently, I may forget about a craving altogether." Rubin talks about using the "strategy of distraction" when she's tempted to check her phone, waiting 15 minutes before allowing herself a peek. Rubin also references other distractions readers have suggested to her, such as doing 20 jumping jacks before having a snack (if this was our rule, we'd be doing a lot of jumping jacks!).
"Foundation habits tend to reinforce each other - for instance, exercise helps people sleep, and sleep helps people do everything better - so they're a good place to start for any kind of habit change." Rubin puts "foundation habits" under her "pillars of habits". In other words, focus on healthy eating, exercising, sleeping and de-cluttering if you want to form other good habits in your life. Easier said than done, we know!
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