LoveEmbracing my all-inner and the abstainer vs. moderator dichotomy

December 12, 2018by Stacy


I just had a conversation with my good friend, Amy Lang, about the abstainer vs. moderator dichotomy that Gretchen Rubin writes about in Better Than Before. Gretchen says, “for Abstainers, having something makes them want it more; for Moderators, having something makes them want it less.”

When Gretchen’s book came out, Amy and I created a tiny book club for ourselves.

Each chapter dived into a different strategy for creating and keeping new habits. We read a chapter or two each week to allow time for us to practice each approach and let them sink in.  Soon, we were superfans.

We listened to Gretchen’s podcasts.   Amy facilitated a broader discussion about the book with the Business Among Moms book club. We had this new lingo that we used all the time to support each other in our new habits. We even went and saw Gretchen Rubin speak at Town Hall in Seattle. While we were waiting in line for an autograph, I was hoping that Gretchen would admire, instead of cringe, at my dog-eared copy with a hundred post-it notes flapping around and notes in the margin. I sincerely appreciate how she has given us a different framework and language for creating and sustaining new habits.

Better Than Before

Today, Amy and I were discussing the book that I am writing, specifically the chapter on knowing yourself.

I said it was helpful for me to think about being an abstainer or as I sometimes think of it, an all-inner.  Amy said that she likes my calling it all-inner instead of an abstainer. She said that she has always struggled with the language of abstainer vs. moderator. For her, moderating was behavior, and abstaining was a solution. With all-inner, it made sense to her to be all into a bag of Oreos or a bottle of wine. There was a negative connotation in her mind with the concept of abstaining. Amy is a moderator.

This discussion got me thinking deeper about the abstainer vs. moderator dichotomy.

I didn’t get a negative feeling with the word abstainer. When I read that chapter for the first time, a light bulb went off for me. For me, when something is good, I want more of it. It doesn’t matter what it is: wine, sex, food, travel, or rollercoasters. So if I am trying to have less of something in my life, it is easier for me to just say no. I didn’t know that about myself before. I’m an abstainer.

For example, if I cook something decadent, like scalloped potatoes, and it turns out even more delicious than I imagined because I added rosemary or nutmeg to the cream sauce, I have the hardest time stopping eating. Instead, it is easier for me not to eat it at all. Rick can cook the scalloped potatoes, and he uses the same recipe he always uses from 1952 where the potatoes are good, but they don’t flip me out.

I’m also a celebrator. I can find any reason to celebrate and then indulge. I’m like a three-year-old that has just learned how to raise a cheers, and I will clink glasses or bink with a forkful of something tasty every chance I get. That’s the rebel in me (something else I am working with after reading her book). Celebrating is just an excuse to be rebellious as if I need one. If you are a Rebel and you read Gretchen’s book, Better Than Before, start towards the end of the book with “Unique, just like everyone else.” Trust me, it will make it so much easier for you. If you are one of the other tendencies and you are trying to create new habits, be glad that you aren’t a rebel.

So, I’m an abstainer until my rebel gets the better of me.

And then it gets confusing because when I think of an all-inner, I also think about leaps of faith or baby steps. You guessed it, I am a leap-of-faither. I don’t do well with baby steps or easing into things. If I’m starting something new, the big, grand, declarative statements are easier for me. There is built in accountability with those declarations. Being a rebel, an all-inner, and a leap-of-faither has helped me with the challenge of living in an off-grid, tiny house while we wait and wait for our new home to get built.

Knowing this about myself helps me when I am working out what is the sweet spot for me because it is different depending on the situation.

This is what I know:

  1. When I am writing a new book, that is the only thing to focus on. Say no to everything else. I am all in with getting the first draft completed by the end of March.
  2. There are too many distractions in this season for me to eat clean. I will revisit eating clean when we return to the lake house after Christmas.
  3. Moderation is easier with a simple piece of chocolate compared to cookies.  This means that I save making cookies for when I can share them with friends and neighbors.
  4. I know that I will want to travel somewhere sunny in February, so revisit number 1. Maybe a trip could be a reward for completing the first draft.

Then I think about our friend Gretchen and what she would say about this conversation. (As much as Amy and I talk about her and with her in our heads, you would think that she is our best friend.)  And then I think about her friends, Elizabeth Gilbert and Brene Brown. Then I think about their friend, Oprah Winfrey. And I am so glad that I have their books, recommendations, and voices in my head to help me as I work to find the sweet spot!

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