Chances are there is some behavior you’d like to change relating to exercise, weight loss, sleep, money, productivity or relationships. “If we change our habits, we change our lives”…claims author Gretchen Rubin in her book Better Than Before, Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. Rubin, New York Times bestselling author of the Happiness Project, graduated from Yale Law School, clerked for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, then quit a lucrative career in law to write, it turns out, about happiness. In her second book, she decided to expand her research to delve into habits because she found peoples’ happiness to be closely tied to them.
From informal research with friends and family on changing habits, Rubin was struck by what works for some gets the opposite results, even resistance, with others. She says we all face “outer” expectations (meeting deadlines, etc.) as well as “inner” expectations (exercise regularly, etc.). To describe how people respond to expectations, Rubin developed a framework defining four distinct groups within which most people fall, The Four Tendencies: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers or Rebels with the idea that understanding yourself will help you shape habits and strategies that work for you.
Here’s a brief description of the Tendencies:
- Upholder – meets BOTH inner and outer expectations, is good at keeping commitments, following a schedule, keeping New Years resolutions
- Obliger – meets outer expectations but RESISTS inner expectations, will meet obligations to colleagues, family, friends but has difficulty self-motivating and sticking with it without outside accountability
- Rebel – resists BOTH inner and outer expectations, likes freedom and choice, doesn’t like to follow routines, resists habits but will work towards goals in own, unique way
- Questioner – meets inner expectations but RESISTS outer expectations, is motivated by reason and logic, may need to do own research before buying in
If you’d like to figure out your own Tendency, take this quiz:
Better Than Before covers a wide range of topics relating to habits. Here’s a summary of some of the points she makes.
- You might need to change a bad habit (going to bed late) before you develop a good habit (exercising in the morning). Habits in the areas of sleep, movement, eating and drinking right, and uncluttering are foundational for well being and reinforce each other, so if you want to lose weight, for example, you may need to get enough sleep to have energy to change the way you prepare food and eat. Exercise boosts energy and mood and helps you sleep better. Alcohol interferes with inhibitions and disrupts sleep. A favorite saying of Gretchen’s is, “Outer order, inner calm” – she advocates reducing clutter to help foster a sense of self-command. It might surprise you to know that making your bed is considered by many sources, including this book, as a definitive way to improve your own self discipline and well being.
- Monitoring behavior can be a powerful way to promote change. For example, studies have shown we tend to underestimate what we eat and overestimate how much we exercise. Logging our food intake or writing our exercise minutes on a calendar is often motivation for change. A related activity is accountability, being held accountable to an outside source. Examples are weigh-ins at Weight Watchers, meeting a friend at the gym to workout. The simple act of scheduling habits on your calendar, like times to workout, eat meals, can reinforce behavior. If you want to lose weight, do you allow time in your day for shopping, meal prep and eating to avoid having to grab convenience foods and eat on the run?
- Sometimes we can be struck by what Rubin calls a Lightning Bolt, an action that results in a sudden habit change. Watching a documentary like Food, Inc. could change your relationship with meat forever.
- Important to know about yourself, are you an abstainer or moderator? Abstainers find it easier to give up something altogether, like strictly following a diet plan, than by allowing deviations. There is no sense of deprivation when the issue is off the table totally. By contrast, moderators may feel heightened deprivation from a restricted diet; an occasional indulgence might strengthen their resolve to continue healthy eating.
- Changing one’s environment is helpful, such as packing your gym bag the night before, cleaning out temptations from your home or creating storage space to help keep organized. Move the candy jar off your desk at work.
- Lastly, stumbling blocks are everywhere. It helps to have a strategy ahead of time for tempting situations. Develop “If…then” scenarios, “If this happens then I will______”. Rubin describes the biggest enemy, a variety of types of Loop-hole thinking, arguments for why we should be excused from following a good habit, why we should make an exception such as… I deserve a day off. I’ve lost weight so I deserve a reward, etc.
Hopefully this will help you think about your habits and consider changing some to improve your life! To learn more you can read the book, Better Than Before, follow Gretchen Rubin’s blog, or listen to her weekly podcast (links below).
Podcast: Happier with Gretchen Rubin: http://gretchenrubin.com/podcast/