Monday, February 29, 2016

Gretchen Rubin’s Advice for Creatures of Habit

Do you have a bad habit that you want to change or a good habit that you want to develop? Most people want to change a habit related to the “essential seven”: eating healthier, exercising regularly, saving and spending wisely, relaxing better, accomplishing more, simplifying, and engaging more deeply in relationships.  Unfortunately, by the end of February, many of us have already broken our New Year’s resolutions, because habits can be very difficult to change.  

In Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday LivesGretchen Rubin analyzes patterns of behavior and provides practical insights on how to make habits stick to improve your daily life.  Fans of The Happiness Project will recognize her signature style of self-help memoir with warm anecdotes and comprehensive research.

“Habits are the invisible architecture of our lives,” Rubin writes. “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.”

Rubin developed a framework of Four Tendencies that influence how we form habits.  Everyone falls into one of four categories: Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel. Upholders form habits fairly easily because they respond well to their own and other people’s expectations. Questioners will only form a habit if they believe it’s reasonable.  Obligers work hard to meet external expectations but often let themselves down.  Rebels resist habits.  Take this quiz  to determine what your Tendency is on Rubin’s spectrum.  Once you determine where you fall among the Tendencies, you can put that knowledge to use as you work on your habits.  

In connection with the Tendencies, Rubin examines personality dichotomies that provoke you to think about what makes you tick. Are you a lark or an owl? An underbuyer or an overbuyer? Does accountability help you keep a habit or does it interfere? Do you fight temptation by abstaining altogether, or indulging in moderation? Do you love simplicity, or abundance?

Rubin also discusses a variety of strategies to help you change your habits, which have varying degrees of success depending on your Tendency.

  • The Strategy of Monitoring, such as using a Fitbit, has a powerful ability to help us do better with just about any behavior.
  • The Strategy of Scheduling, such as setting an alarm to remind you to go to bed earlier, is an influential strategy because habits grow when they are repeated.
  • The Strategy of Accountability is based on the concept that if we believe someone’s watching, we behave differently.
  • The Strategy of Foundation is the method of focusing on the foundational areas of sleep, exercise, eating and drinking right, and uncluttering because they reinforce each other and allow you to clear your mind for other change.

Rubin emphasizes that there is no one-size-fits-all method for developing habits.  It doesn’t matter what habits worked for Steve Jobs or Benjamin Franklin. To be the most productive and creative you can be, you need to figure out what works best for you.  Identifying your personal Tendency allows you to determine how you respond to expectations and how to successfully change your habits, big or small.

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