Friday, November 13, 2015

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin

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Our habits - the things we do routinely, without much thought - are what make up much of our days. Those habits can be good for us - eat your vegetables, walk 20 minutes, get up early. Or, they can be bad for us - eating too much sugar, sittingsittingsitting, getting too little or too much sleep.

As someone who thrives on structure and routine, I was interested to read what Happiness Guru Gretchen Rubin had to say in her latest book Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. She doesn't presume to tell us what habits to develop, but gives strategies on how to start a new habit (or stop an outdated one as the case may be) and to keep pushing on past the stumbling blocks that will inevitably litter our path.

As is her way, the blogger and author of The Happiness Project and Happier at Home (I wrote about those books herehere and here), does a ton of research but instead of blinding us with science and statistics, digests what she learns and applies it to herself. Her books are full of her own and others' experiments with happiness and habits.

Because she believes self-knowledge is key to any change, she offers a quiz for the reader to determine what Tendencies she or he has and how that Tendency might best determine strategies for staying motivated.

It turns out that I am an Upholder (I am attracted to the predictability of schedules and the satisfaction of crossing items off to-do lists) with strong leanings toward Questioner (I will do something or make a change if I think it makes sense).

Once you know your Tendency (the other two are Obliger and Rebel) she lays out a variety of strategies to get your habit put into place. 

The entire time I was reading the book, I was aware of one habit I wanted to begin and one I wanted to quit. The first is to get back to walking. I was on a roll for a long time and then bad weather and a sore knee took me down. 

As an Upholder, the key for me in re-developing this good habit is monitoring (keeping a walking diary), scheduling (the days I will walk and the time), convenience (walk in the neighborhood), and pairing (couple my walk with something else that I enjoy - listening to music, podcast, or audio book).

The habit I want to give up is the inordinate attachment to my smart phone. I have slowly added more and more time-guzzling apps - Flipboard, Huffington Post, The Guardian, and four or five local news sites. And then there is the game Word Mix. I use the excuse that it is keeping my brain sharp but not after playing it for an hour! 

Alas, I have become the person I never wanted to be: someone constantly looking at a screen. 

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Here are the strategies Ms. Rubin suggests that I use to break this attachment. First, I could just delete all the apps and go cold turkey (Abstaining). Or I could delete one site a week until I get down to one or two of my absolute favorites (Moderating). I could leave my phone in another room (Inconvenient) so I have to deliberately get up to use it. I could tell myself to "wait fifteen minutes" (Distraction) when I feel the impulse to grab my phone and play Word Mix or check the headlines to see what new catastrophe has occurred. 

If you are thinking about adopting better habits in the new year - or beginning a change right now - you can't go wrong with Ms. Rubin as your coach. 

A caveat: I do wish I had read this in paper book form instead of on my Kindle as I kept wanting to refer to previous sections and that is difficult to do with an e-book. One can, however, easily highlight sections that settle in the Notes screen, but it is not quite the same.

Anyway, if you were going to embrace a good habit or jettison a bad one, what would that habit be?  Come on. You know you want to tell me...


  1. I loved this book (and her others, too) and I appreciate the way she digests so much information and makes it practical. I'm an Obliger with Questioner tendencies, and I intend to reread this with the intent of adding the habit of sketching (again!). I haven't chosen a habit to quit yet, though I know there are several!

    I know what you mean about reading things on Kindle--I've found that very same thing troublesome. I find that "out of sight, out of mind" is very much in evidence--without my paper books with tape flags or highlighting, I tend to forget the things I most want to remember. I've been trying to overcome that by using 3 x 5 cards to jot down notes, but then I end up having to copy out everything and that can get tiresome as well.

    1. Hi, Kathy. The thing I like about Ms. Rubin is that she puts a name to things. I knew I had all those tendencies, I just didn't know that made me an Upholder. And the naming of the Strategies. So helpful.

      Yes, reading on the Kindle does have its downfalls. I do like the highlighting feature although I rarely go back and look through the Notes section. Just not the same as flipping through real pages.

      That is a good idea about taking notes on the index cards (I love index cards). I actually thought about going back through the highlighted notes and copying out some of that information. I probably won't though. Idler that I am...

  2. This sounds like a lovely book. Today was so gloomy and cold I didn't take a walk; I always feel better when I do. And we all have that screen problem. Putting the devices in another room is a good thing to do! I've had a Big Birthday and am paring down on my online time, because how do I want to spend my time? becomes a problem at my age!

    1. For all my grousing about 'screens', I bought myself a Galaxy Tablet for Christmas. I am not sure why. I think I will mostly use it when I travel but it makes for an expensive travel toy. I get so irritated with myself when I realize that some piece of technology has sucked hours out of my day!

      And, Kat, I wish I were more deliberate about how I spend my time. Some days I just willy-nilly jump from one distraction to another. I need a time management course...or a personal assistant!