Book Review: Better Than Before

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Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin was the perfect book to read in January, a time when we are all making resolutions left and right, and vowing to changes our lives for the better. Setting far-reaching goals to challenge ourselves is fine, but how do we go about reaching those goals, and what happens if we start to falter? I had heard plenty about the book while listening to the Happier podcast, so I was eager to finally read it and learn about habits and habit-making.

Habits: Everyone is Different

When I began reading, I didn’t really have any specific habits in mind that I wanted to change. If I did, it would have been something along the lines of being more proactive about how I manage my time on a daily basis. (That was a little too specific, wasn’t it? Okay, okay, I must have subconsciously already had that on my mind.)

I tend to have a lot of tasks on my to-do list every day, and never know where to start/how long to spend on each task in order to maximize my time, etc. Whenever I have a day off, I like to mentally plan in advance all the things I will get done on that day and then the day comes and I only finish about half the things I’d planned to do. Womp, womp.

From reading this book, I have learned that the key is to make small changes every day that will eventually form into a habit; since a habit is second nature, once the habit is formed, you won’t have to spend as much energy convincing yourself to do something because it is something you will have already been doing (paraphrased from Rubin’s introduction).

I thought long and hard about this and what specifically would need to change, and what I came up with is that if I can get better at blocking out the distractions or removing them entirely, by either turning off my phone or at least putting it in the other room, that would have a huge impact on my productivity. My ideal habit would be to have a specific time of day for surfing the web; when I get an idea for something I want to research or look at online, I would rather make a list and look it up later during an hour designated for just that, rather than drop everything I’m currently working on and open up Safari.

So far, I have a special notebook set out by my desk for that ominous list of things I will be Googling, but I haven’t used it yet because I haven’t been nearly as unproductive lately as I have been – but when I start slacking, I will already have the problem pinpointed and a solution ready to go.

Habits Manifesto

The Habits Manifesto consists of a bunch of little phrases about habits that will have you nodding along in recognition. Here are a few that spoke to me:

What we do every day matters more than what we do once in a while.

Things often get harder before they get easier.

We can’t make people change, but when we change, others may change.

Once we’re ready to begin, begin now.

But before you start making changes, it’s really important to know yourself and to know that there are “different solutions for different people.” Rubin prompts you with some questions to help you better distinguish what type of person you are, for example: Am I an underbuyer or an over buyer? Am I a simplicity lover or an abundance lover? Am I a familiarity lover or a novelty lover? She gives lots of examples of each so it was surprisingly easy to sort myself as one or the other.

She also emphasizes that there is no one right habit to adopt. The right habits for you depend on you and you alone – adopting someone else’s habit isn’t going to magically help you, and in fact it may do more harm than good. Through the strategies of monitoring, foundation, scheduling and accountability (all are discussed in-depth) you can learn more about yourself and which strategy is most likely to work best for you. If you are a regular listener to the Happier podcast, a lot of what’s in Better Than Before will sound familiar to you. But there was a lot more in the book, so even if you think you’ve gotten all the material you need from the podcast alone, I would still recommend checking out the book.

What About You?

Have you read Better Than Before yet, or any of Gretchen Rubin’s other books? I am a huge fan of hers and I’m eager to get my hands on The Four Tendencies next.

P.S.: Better Than Before is the first e-book I have ever checked out at the library and read online! I know, I know, I am way behind the e-book/e-reader crazy but, (shocker) I loved it. How do you feel about e-books? I can already see myself checking out more e-books this year as both a space-saver (for the sake of my overflowing bookshelves) and a money saver, because there is no impulsive buyer quite like the book-lover! 🙂

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