better than before

In case you haven’t noticed, I am alllll about self-improvement. It’s not because I think I’m so messed up (although let’s not pull at that thread), but rather that I think, as humans, it’s essential that we keep learning, keep growing, and keep opening our minds to different possibilities.
That being said, one of the most effective books I read last year was Better than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits, by Gretchen Rubin. More famously known for The Happiness Project (which I also read and loved), Gretchen is a writer who lives in New York and studies happiness, and the way people can change their habits to increase their personal happiness.
Now, a bit of a warning: Rubin is very Type A. Some people might be turned off by this as it comes through in her writing, but stay strong! One of her more poignant points is that knowing and accepting yourself AS YOU ARE is one of the most crucial steps in changing your habits and being happier. So, if you’re not Type A, that is FINE! Great, even! All you need to know is who you are and how you work to begin working on your happiness.

Anyway, the book covers a whole range of tips and tricks to implement good habits and break bad ones. Some were extremely useful, and other less so, but the most eye-opening part of the book, for me, was Rubin’s discussion of The Four Tendencies. The tendencies are based on how people tend to respond to expectations. The four main tendencies are as follows:

  • Upholders – respond readily to outer and inner expectations
  • Questioners – question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense 
  • Rebels – resist all expectations, outer and inner alike
  • Obligers – meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves

Once you understand where you fall within these tendencies can make a monumental impact on how you should go about changing habits. Of course, people will fall into different categories depending on the specific situation, but, in general, I think these four really cover a lot of how humans act. I know just from reading the book that I am a Questioner, but you can also take the quiz if you’re unsure of what you might be.

Why is it important to know what kind of person you are? Because, if you’ve been banging your head against a wall trying to change a habit using methods that would work for an Upholder (strict deadlines, detailed goals, regular check ins, etc.), you might find methods more suited to an Obliger (asking a friend to monitor your efforts, for example) much more effective. You might also start to understand your Rebel spouse better, and realize that the way he or she reacts to expectations has little to do with you and more to do with how their brain works (i.e. it’s not personal!).

None of the tendencies are all ‘bad’, just like none of them are all ‘good’. They each have strengths and weaknesses, and understanding what those are can help you to tailor your habits (and your life!) to work as best as it can.

Some of my favorite concepts of hers include:

  • Are you a Marathoner or Sprinter – or Procrastinator?
    • Marathoners prefer to work at a slow and steady clip, and they usually finish well before a deadline.
    • Sprinters prefer to work in quick bursts of intense effort, and they deliberately wait for the pressure of a deadline to sharpen their thinking. (ME!)
    • Procrastinators may resemble Sprinters, but in fact, they hate last-minute pressure and wish they could force themselves to work before the deadline looms.
  • Finisher or Opener?
    • Finishers love to bring a project to completion, and they’re determined to use every last staple in the stapler. Because Finishers focus on their ability to complete, they may be overly cautious about starting something new.
    • Openers love to launch a new project, and find pleasure in opening a new pack of sticky-notes. They may have trouble finishing what they’ve started. (ME!)
  • Simplicity Lover or Abundance Lover?
    • Simplicity lovers are attracted by the idea of less: emptiness, bare surfaces and shelves, and few choices. A simplicity lover may work better in an office that’s quiet, with minimal decoration. (ME!)
    • Abundance lovers are attracted by the idea of more: overflow, addition, ampleness, and choice. An abundance lover may work better in an office that’s lively and crammed with visual details. 

Another favorite is her Habits Manifesto, with such gems as:

“What we do every day matters more than what we do once in a while.”

“When we give more to ourselves, we can ask more from ourselves.”

“We’re not very different from other people, but those differences are very important.” 

“We can’t make people change, but when we change, others may change.” 

So what do you think? Interested? You can buy her book here, but it’s also available at the Poudre River Public Library, if you’re local. I also follow her podcast, which is great.
Let me know what you think!

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