To help clear my mind and focus in the mornings, I’ve been trying to remember to meditate and to exercise. While attempting to develop these activities into habits, Gretchen Rubin’s Better than Before fell into my lap. Outside of nutrition- and diet-related books, I don’t normally read in the self-help genre. But Better than Before showed up at the right time, and I decided to give it a try.
Rubin is a blogger who hit it big as the author of the The Happiness Project, which I have not read. The full title of this book is Better than Before: What I Learned about Making and Breaking Habits—to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life. [I would have loved to have been in on the publisher’s title meeting for that one.] Rubin’s premise makes sense: Improve yourself by creating good habits and eliminating bad habits.
Rubin believes that most people want to foster habits in areas that she dubs the Essential 7: nutrition; fitness; finances; recreation and relaxation; productivity; organization; and, relationships. In order to create better habits in these areas, though, Rubin writes that we first need to understand what type of person we are when it comes to responding to expectations. Her chapter on personality types is most innovative part of her book. Rubin categorizes people into four groups: Upholders; Questioners; Obligers; and, Rebels. Rubin’s later strategies for self-motivation build off of these personality types.
The Upholder, who does not reside at this address, is the person who does everything on her own checklist and can be counted on to do everything everyone else expects of her. Upholders are the favorites of teachers and employers. Rubin is an Upholder—and she reminds you that she is an Upholder, frequently and annoyingly.
If you are an Upholder or a Questioner, this book may be of great use to you. Questioners are skilled at checking off items on their inner to-do list but do not respond well to external expectations. They require rational, sometimes almost scientific, arguments to prove these expectations are warranted. Think Sheldon Cooper from “The Big Bang Theory.”
Outside of Upholders, Obligers are considered the go-to people. From bringing in a project on deadline to showing up for Parent Day with a tasty snack, Obligers never let other people down. The Obligers’ struggle is responding to their own inner expectations and developing and maintaining their own personal habits. Rubin’s strategies usually mention that Obligers need to enlist the help of someone as an accountability partner, ignoring the main concern: the need for Obligers to learn how to self-motivate. I am an Obliger and was disappointed with her lack of help advice for this group. I’ve found more help from phone apps.
If you find yourself labelled a Rebel, those who resist both external and inner expectations, stop reading, put the book down, and walk away. You’ll strongly disagree with almost everything Rubin says, and she really doesn’t have a strategy for helping you, either.
In general, anyone who has ever participated in a national weight loss program, self-help groups, or group therapy—or is a reader of other such habit based books on diet, nutrition, or self-motivation–will recognize the strategies presented in the remaining two-thirds of the book, including Monitoring, Accountability, and Scheduling. Further advice follows for the usual issues of avoiding personal loopholes and excuses, distracting oneself from cravings, when to start (today), adjusting your life so it is easy to follow good habits, making bad habits inconvenient, and rewards versus treats.
Rubin often comes across as judgmental and privileged. While she did her research, many of her theories seem based on observations of her own life, her friends’ lives, and her devoted blog followers.
In the end, I found HabitBull, a free, easy-to-use phone app with a pleasing user interface, to help me develop my meditation and exercise habit. It offers fun, snarky reminders and optional community participation.
DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I RECEIVED Better than Before THROUGH THE BLOGGING FOR BOOKS PROGRAM FREE OF COST IN EXCHANGE FOR AN HONEST REVIEW. I WAS NOT PAID FOR MY OPINION. ALL OF MY OPINIONS ARE MINE AND MINE ALONE.
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