Some Thoughts: Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits–to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life by Gretchen Rubin

I’ll read any book about habits. It’s my weird addictive genre-crack. So I finally picked up Gretchen Rubin’s book on habits from the library, and have some thoughts.

Let’s just start by saying that even a book about habits that I didn’t love is still worth it to me. As far as I’m concerned, any book about habits is a treasure.

As you can probably guess by that lead-in, I didn’t love this book. I did, however, learn some useful things from it. I’ll start there, and then I’ll tell you what turned me off.

Useful Stuff

1. Rubin uses a personality framework to talk about habits. She suggests that everyone (basically) falls into one of four categories: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. Your personality framework will largely determine how you develop, modify, keep, and break your habits.

  • Upholders are the Type-A people of the world. They do things just because you should. They never waver because they know what they ought to do and they just do it. I’m the child of two Upholders.
  • Questioners are the people who want verified research and data before they commit to anything. Questioners will question everything until they are completely satisfied that something is worth doing. I’m a Questioner, which is probably why I read habit books all the time. I’m married to a Questioner and together we ask questions all day long.
  • Obligers are accountable to external forces. They work best with clear rules and expectations, and they often value other people’s expectations more than their own. I have Obliger tendencies. I suspect many women do.
  • Rebels do whatever they want, depending on how they feel. They create habits if they want to. They break habits when they don’t work anymore. They basically are accountable to no one.

2. Once you know your personality framework, you can figure out the best way to develop your habits. As a Questioner, I need research first. If you are an Obliger, you need external accountability. If you are an Upholder, you just need to believe a habit is the right thing to do.

So all of that was quite interesting. Plus, I like Rubin’s writing style. It’s fun to take the journey with her as she learns about these ideas and applies them in her life. But here’s where I had some problems with this book.

A Questioner Questions

1. Rubin is an Upholder. Maybe because of that, she comes off as a very joyless person. Her life is so regimented and so filled with all the things she has to do that I ended up feeling kind of depressed reading about it. I kept hoping she’d sleep in until 6:30 some morning and then–I don’t know–watch TV in the middle of the day while eating Cheetos.

2. Rubin rarely breaks any of her rigid habits and insists that that makes her happy. It probably does. But because her framework isn’t mine, I had trouble seeing how anything she writes relates to me. By her own admission, everyone’s individual personal determines how we approach habits. And while she gave some suggestions for each framework, it was pretty clear this book is for Upholders like Rubin. Her “fall-off-the-wagon” moments were basically eating a raw, unsalted almond after 8:30 pm or failing to put a book back on the bookshelf.

3. I felt like Rubin had a pretty clear agenda here: She wanted this book to be an encomium to carb-free eating. After reading about her carb-free existence, I felt like I’d accidentally joined a cult. Rubin’s cupcake-eating sister and her candy-sneaking daughter felt way more relatable. I wanted to hang out with them. As a Questioner, I feel compelled to point out that Rubin’s research on carb-free eating isn’t as settled as she suggests.

4. The more interesting issue that Rubin implicitly raises, in my opinion, is one about why we are obsessed with “good” habits and what those mean. A lot of Rubin’s habits–and my own too–are basically things I think are good and right, but are actually at least partially part of the framework of capitalism and patriarchy.

For instance, we know that weight doesn’t predict healthiness (and vice versa), yet we all loudly announce just HOW GOOD we feel when we are thin. I mean, does your blood really feel better in your veins? Or do you feel better because your skinny shorts fit and that’s what the world expects? When we complete a bunch of tasks, we feel productive. But do those tasks matter? Or are we keeping busy because the world has said that busy little beavers are the best kind? I didn’t get the sense that Rubin cared much as long as she upheld. That’s what felt so joyless and depressing to me.

Still, I actually really liked Rubin’s writing, and I’d still recommend the book.

But if you are looking for real strategies, I’d recommend Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength.

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