Title: Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives
Author: Gretchen Rubin
Genre: Personal Development
Trigger Warnings: Moralizing about food, weight loss, exercise, dieting
The author of the blockbuster New York Times bestsellers, The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, tackles the critical question: How do we change?
Gretchen Rubin’s answer: through habits. Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life. It takes work to make a habit, but once that habit is set, we can harness the energy of habits to build happier, stronger, more productive lives.
So if habits are a key to change, then what we really need to know is: How do we change our habits?
Better than Before answers that question. It presents a practical, concrete framework to allow readers to understand their habits—and to change them for good. Infused with Rubin’s compelling voice, rigorous research, and easy humor, and packed with vivid stories of lives transformed, Better than Before explains the (sometimes counter-intuitive) core principles of habit formation.
Along the way, Rubin uses herself as guinea pig, tests her theories on family and friends, and answers readers’ most pressing questions—oddly, questions that other writers and researchers tend to ignore:
• Why do I find it tough to create a habit for something I love to do?
• Sometimes I can change a habit overnight, and sometimes I can’t change a habit, no matter how hard I try. Why?
• How quickly can I change a habit?
• What can I do to make sure I stick to a new habit?
• How can I help someone else change a habit?
• Why can I keep habits that benefit others, but can’t make habits that are just for me?
Whether readers want to get more sleep, stop checking their devices, lose weight, or finish an important project, habits make change possible. Reading just a few chapters of Better Than Before will make readers eager to start work on their own habits—even before they’ve finished the book.
Before I get started on this review, I want to point out a MAJOR trigger warning for anyone with a history of eating disorders or disordered eating. This book talks about dieting, exercise, and weight loss almost constantly as an example of “good habits” to start. There’s so much of it that it will overwhelm your coping skills, and I highly recommend that if you struggle at all with disordered eating, you should avoid this book.
Beyond that, this is not a super scientific book. It’s mostly based on Gretchen using herself as a guinea pig and drawing out principles from her successes and failures. She admits at the end of the book she finds individual examples (a “data point of one”) more convincing than research, but she also admits towards the beginning that she is not a typical person. So take her suggestions with several grains of salt. She does test her ideas on family and friends, but doesn’t really draw out advice from them so much as use them of examples of “see, my strategy works!”
A lot of this book is based on her previous work on the “four tendencies,” which is a personality framework she developed in a previous book she wrote, The Four Tendencies, that deals with how people respond to expectations. You don’t have to read that book to follow this one, though, as she explains the tendencies well enough that you can understand the point she’s trying to make. (And in fact, I feel like I understand the tendencies well enough now that I have no desire to read an entire book about them.)
Some of the points she makes using the four tendencies framework actually make a lot of sense. So does some of her other advice, like making a habit convenient making it easier to start and how identity affects habit formation. But even after paying lip service to the concept that everyone is different and should work towards forming different habits, a lot of the book followed Gretchen’s attempt to push people in her life (and by extension, the reader) to adopt habits that she thinks are best. Advice on habits in general is included along the way, but a good portion of it is Gretchen trying to convince everybody to form the same habits she does.
The book is pretty inspiring, but I don’t really know how actually useful it is, especially for me. I’ve always been strange about habits – if I try to form a habit, no matter what method I use (and I’ve used several that Gretchen recommends), it doesn’t work. But sometimes a switch randomly flips and I pick up a new habit effortlessly. I used to only brush my teeth at night, and didn’t even have the intention of trying to brush twice a day. Then one day last year a switch flipped and ever since, I’ve brushed my teeth morning and night, no exceptions. I wonder what Gretchen would have to say about that.