My friend, Amy, and I started a tiny book club to read Gretchen Rubin’s “Better Than Before.” Our book club was tiny because it was just the two of us and we were reading in small portions, one chapter at a time. We intended to dive deeply into this book that would help us form better habits through discussion, reflection, and, accountability.
We started with a few habits each that addressed areas of our lives where we wanted more productivity, health, and happiness. The areas that I wanted to address were tracking my food, moving my body 10,000 steps a day, and writing every day. Each chapter discussed a different way to approach the habits that you wanted to change.
Amy and I read a chapter or two a week with our new habits in mind. Gretchen encouraged us to write down the day we started the book, which also permitted me to write in the rest of the book. I usually prefer to keep my books free of graffiti! As we progressed each week, we could dig into why we wanted to bring about these desired changes and the strategies that would support the different habits. From monitoring, convenience, and clean slate strategies to avoiding self-sabotaging situations with safeguards, loophole-spotting, and treats vs. rewards.
When we got to the end of the book, was I successful in my endeavors to start these new habits? Actually, no. What I did acquire was increased self-awareness into why they did not work and strategies to try the next time. At the beginning of the book, she digs into what she calls “The Four Tendencies” (which is also the title of her upcoming book). These tendencies are about how you relate to expectations, from others and your yourself.
It turns out that I am a Rebel. I don’t want you to tell me what to do. Telling me what to do will probably make me want to do the exact opposite. And I don’t even want to do the things that I say I want to do. Basically, rebels have a hard time creating new habits, even the ones that they want to create. On her website is a quiz to help you determine which of the four tendencies you are and the strategies that are most likely to help you with your tendency. As a rebel, the strategies that were most helpful to me were the last three chapters of the book. I should have read those chapters first!
My favorite aspect of “Better Than Before” was the increased self-awareness I acquired through introspection about each method to form a habit or break a bad habit. I’ve learned from previous experiences that developing new habits takes practice. It takes a lot more than will-power and 21 days to create a habit. And I’m not done with these habits. Armed with my experience of what worked and what didn’t, I begin again to be better than before.
Recently, I committed to Amy that I will write for at least a half an hour a day, six days a week. I’ve tried to implement this habit before with the strategies of calendaring and pairing, and that wasn’t enough. So, I’ve also committed to a nuclear-option–where if I don’t stick to my goal, something major will happen. In my case, if I don’t write at least 4 out of 6 days (because she wants to give me some grace with a new habit), Amy is going to send me to a rally or protest for something that I completely disagree with. And she wants photographic proof! (Because she isn’t always that nice.) It’s a threat that I am taking seriously, which is why I am sitting here, writing.