Better Habits Now
Better Than Before

Better Habits Now

Gretchen Rubin provides unusually intelligent, workable, commonsense advice for anyone seeking to develop healthier habits – and she includes herself in that cohort.

New York Times best-selling author Gretchen Rubin – who wrote The Happiness Project – offers enjoyable, entertaining and accessible advice for improving your life. Rubin delves into how to change your habits and explains that no single answer works for everyone. 

To create the life they want, most people try to eliminate unwanted habits or incorporate new, more desirable ones. Rubin guides you to greater self-understanding to determine which habit-changing strategies are best for you, and lays out an actionable framework for forming and maintaining habits. You’ll learn ways to create new habits, including developing and applying self-knowledge. Rubin’s approach is workable and handy.

By guarding against excuses and justifications, and by making our habits as enjoyable as possible, we help ourselves succeed.Gretchen Rubin

Rubin graduated from Yale and Yale Law School, clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and served as editor of the Yale Law Journal before she changed careers and met with great success as an author.

Bestseller Brené Brown – always quick with a supportive quote – said of Rubin, “Weaving together research, unforgettable examples and her brilliant insight, [she] is a force for real change.” Like Brown, Rubin has done rigorous work in other fields, which sharpened her intellect and led her to construct her advice with unusual clarity. Rubin has a keen, piercing intelligence highly unusual – with the exception of Brown – among self-help authors.

In Better Than Before, as Parade magazine wrote, “The happiness guru takes a sledgehammer to old-fashioned notions about change.” Of course, even Rubin must pad her best ideas with tiresome embellishments to extend her page count here and there, but, hey – that’s the nature of the self-help biz.


Rubin characterizes a habit as a recurring action, triggered by a context, taking place with little awareness of your part and ingrained through repetition. Habits, for good or ill, Rubin writes, eliminate decision-making.

She sorts the changes most people seek into seven categories: Eat a healthy diet; exercise; manage money; get enough sleep and relaxation; avoid procrastination; organize your life; and maintain and strengthen relationships.

For most people, outer order contributes to inner calm. Gretchen Rubin

To change your habits, you need to know yourself sufficiently to understand which habit-breaking and habit-forming techniques will work best for you. Rubin emphasizes that you – and everyone else – must deal with the internal expectations you put on yourself and the external expectations that society places on you.

“Four Tendencies”

Four tendencies manifest in the way people generally respond to outer expectations: “Upholders” obey the rules and feel comfortable with their own rules as well. “Questioners” query every expectation and won’t agree or comply unless they think it’s fair or valuable. “Obligers” kowtow to outer expectations and suffer trying to follow their inner desires. “Rebels” do everything their own way and resist external control.

Routines are chains of habits, and when just one seemingly insignificant link weakens, it can disrupt the entire habit chain.Gretchen Rubin

Rubin lists four techniques you can use to change your habits: Start with monitoring, because measurement can make you more aware of your actions, strengthen your self-control and provide motivation. Then use scheduling, since setting a regular time for any activity helps form habits. Move along to accountability. Some people find that announcing a goal adds motivation; for others, announcing it privately is enough. The fourth technique is to start your behavioral mission by exercising current habits that strengthen your self-control. They will lay the foundation for adding other good habits.

Foundational habits reinforce each other. Exercising, for example, helps you get enough sleep. Rubin demonstrates unusual insight when she reminds readers that none of this is true for everyone, and you must find your best path.

Habits grow strongest and fastest when they’re repeated in predictable ways, and for most of us, putting an activity on the schedule tends to lock us into doing it.Gretchen Rubin

Rubin offers several techniques for launching a new activity or habit: Take a first step, even if it is small, to provide the push to get over your inertia. Among her more compelling ideas it is that any change can lead to a fresh start, so you can give yourself a clean slate. A new idea, new person or new routine can sometimes strike a chord with you and instantly change your habits. That’s the “lightning bolt” you hope will strike.


To form new and better habits, eliminate decision-making to conserve energy and willpower. A convenient habit is easier to maintain, so if you want to eliminate a bad habit, make it less convenient. Use safeguards to prevent a small lapse from becoming a total relapse.

By monitoring the activities that I want to foster, I get an accurate picture of what I am doing, which helps me see what I want to do differently.Gretchen Rubin

Rubin believes in hiding temptations that could disrupt the new habits you want to form, so keep your shoe catalog, chocolates or gaming console in a hard-to-reach place. Purposely redirecting your thoughts changes an experience, so distract yourself as you exercise. Even strong urges generally subside in 15 minutes, Rubin assures you. To handle an activity you don’t want to carry out, pair it with an activity you need or want to accomplish. 

Humane Actionable Advice

Gretchen Rubin exemplifies the habits she wants to help you build. Her prose is organized, easy to read – if occasionally a little glib – and, happily, easy to actualize. The readable structure of her sentences, paragraphs and chapters reveal her discipline and positive work habits, along with a surprisingly compassionate view of her readers’ struggles to form worthy habits.

If we want something to count in our lives, we should figure out a way to count it.Gretchen Rubin

Rubin lets readers know she faces similar issues when attempting to break bad habits, form good ones or adopt a new behavior. Because she explains these efforts with kindness and a clear embrace of her own flaws, her advice seems more reasonable and applicable than most self-help authors’ prescriptions. She never tries to bring you around to a certain philosophy or outlook, which will likely make you like her more. Rubin wants you to form better habits for your own sake, and she provides an intelligent, clear, actionable guide to doing so.

Gretchen Rubin’s other books include Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill; Happier at Home; The Four Tendencies; and Outer Order Inner Calm.

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