My New Book About Habit Formation, as Distilled in 21 Sentences

Editor’s Note: This post is reprinted with permission from Gretchen Rubin. It was originally posted on July 9, 2014. The book is now available for purchase so references to the launch date and process no longer apply.

better than before book coverAs I may have mentioned, I’m working on “Better Than Before,” a book about how we can change our habits. It’s at the copy-editing stage now, so it’s really nearing completion — both thrilling and slightly terrifying.

In each chapter, I identify a strategy we can use to make and break habits.

I was thinking of Lytton Strachey’s observation, “Perhaps the best test of a man’s intelligence is his capacity for making a summary.” So I decided to try to summarize each chapter of “Better Than Before in a single sentence.  The entire gist of the book, in 21 sentences.

You may think, “Twenty-one strategies! That’s overwhelming.” It may seem like a lot, but it’s actually helpful, because you can choose the ones that work for you. For instance, if you’re a Rebel, you’re not likely to use the Strategy of Scheduling, but the Strategy of Identity would work well. Or if you’re an Obligor, the Strategy of Clarity will be much less important than Accountability.

And boy, it would be great if there were one magical answer that helped everyone. But we’re all different, so different strategies work for different people. In fact, that’s why the first two Strategies relate to Self-Knowledge…


take-this-quizThe Four Tendencies: To change your habits, you have to know yourself, and in particular, your Tendency.

Are you an:

  • Upholder
  • Questioner
  • Obligor
  • Rebel

Distinctions: Knowing yourself is so important that it’s not enough to know your Tendency, you must also recognize your Distinctions.

For instance, are you a:

  • Marathoner or Sprinter
  • Under-buyer or Over-buyer
  • Finisher or Opener
  • Novelty-lover or Familiarity-lover

Pillars of Habits

  • Monitoring: You manage what you monitor, so find a way to monitor whatever matters.
  • Foundation: First things first, so begin by making sure to get enough sleep, eat and drink right, move, and un-clutter.
  • Scheduling: If it’s on the calendar, it happens.
  • Accountability:  You do better when you know someone’s watching–even if you’rethe one doing the watching.

The Best Time to Begin

  • First Steps:  It’s enough to begin; if you’re ready, begin now.
  • Clean Slate: Temporary becomes permanent, so start the way you want to continue.
  • Lightning Bolt: A single idea can change the habits of a lifetime overnight. (Enormously powerful, but hard to invoke on command.)

Desire, Ease, and Excuses

  • Abstaining: For some of us, moderation is too tough; it’s easier to give up something altogether. (Works very well for some people, and not at all for others.)
  • Convenience: Make it easy to do right and hard to go wrong.
  • Inconvenience: Change your surroundings, not yourself.
  • Safeguards: Plan to fail.
  • Loophole-Spotting: Don’t kid yourself. (The funniest strategy. I love collecting loopholes.)
  • Distraction: Wait fifteen minutes.
  • Reward: The reward for a good habit is the good habit, and that’s the reward to give yourself.  (The most misunderstood strategy.)
  • Treats: It’s easier to ask more of yourself when you’re giving more to yourself. (The most fun )
  • Pairing: Only do X when you’re doing Y. (Simple but surprisingly effective.)

 Unique, Just like Everyone Else

  • Clarity: The clearer you are about what you want, the more likely you are to stick to your habits.
  • Identity: Your habits reflect your identity, so if you struggle to change a particular habit, re-think your identity.
  • Other People: Your habits rub off on other people, and their habits rub off on you.

Have I forgotten any strategies? Which ones appeal most to you? I’m an Upholder, so I like just about all the Strategies. ~Gretchen Rubin

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About Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin is one of the most thought-provoking and influential writers on habits and happiness. Her next book, Better than Before, is about how we change our habits. Her books The Happiness Projectand Happier at Home were both instant New York Times bestsellers, and The Happiness Project spent more than two years on the bestseller list, including at #1. Her books have sold more than two million copies, in 30 languages. Here, she writes about her adventures as she test-drives ideas from contemporary science and ancient wisdom about building good habits and a happier life.

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