Book review: Better Than Before

Book review: Better Than Before

Better Than Before was sitting on my shelf for a couple of weeks waiting for me to finish a few other books before I could pick it up. But I was excited to learn more about it, so I started listening to the author’s podcast, Happiness with Gretchen Rubin, on my daily walks.

By the time I read the book, I already felt like I knew Gretchen and her sister, podcast cohost Elizabeth Craft. From listening to them, I had an understanding of the book’s thesis. Simply stated, it’s the idea that how you make or break a habit depends on your nature. There isn’t a one size fits all, works for everybody, 21-day, or otherwise, solution. And it’s by studying ourselves that we find the answer for how to use habits to bring long term happiness into our lives.

So instead of getting into which habits you should try, or why to try them, Better Than Before provides strategies to help you stick to your habits. If you’re a parent trying to role model healthy eating or being active, habits are the key to consistency. When playing outside with your kids is part of your daily schedule, you can stop thinking about it and it still happens. That’s a win for you and a win for your kids.

Better Than Before

Author: Gretchen Rubin
Published by: Anchor Canada edition published 2015
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
Price: $19.95

Probably one of the most compelling, and certainly the most original, ideas in the book is Rubin’s framework that she calls the four tendencies: Obligers, Upholders, Questioners, and Rebels.

Each tendency responds to expectations differently. Obligers are able to easily meet outside expectations but not those that they have for themselves. Upholders are able to meet all expectations. Questioners can only meet expectations that make sense to them. And Rebels have a hard time meeting anybody’s expectations of them — even their own. The discussion around these tendencies is only a small part of Better Than Before and Rubin is in the midst of writing a new book just about the four tendencies for anyone who wants to dive deeper into those ideas.

In the meantime, if you want to find out what tendency you fall into you can take Rubin’s quiz.

The four tendencies will help you understand yourself, but possibly those around you, too, like your spouse or your colleagues. You’ll understand why one co-worker always needs a deadline and why the other just wants you to leave them alone. Don’t try to apply these concepts to your kids though, because it’s probably too early to tell. However, you can use what you learn from Rubin to make changes that will effect your entire family.

In the book , Rubin explains the science behind all her concepts through engaging stories about her own life and those around her. And while Rubin herself may not be the most relatable to everyone (she’s an Upholder and admits she’s on the “freaky fringe”), you’ll likely find someone in her family or friends that resonates with you.

Better Than Before is really useful for anyone who has had trouble changing their habits and doesn’t understand why, or who just wants to use habits to make their lives work better.

And if you’re looking for a new podcast, I highly recommend Happiness with Gretchen Rubin. I love podcasts because I can learn and be entertained while I’m doing something else like going for a walk or washing the dishes. Rubin would call this “pairing”, i.e. putting together two behaviours that make you more likely to stick to a habit; for example, I’m more likely to go on my daily walk because I enjoy listening to podcasts.

In each weekly podcast they discuss, in Rubin’s own words, “good habits and happiness as we draw on cutting-edge science, pop culture, and our own experiences.” Their real life challenges and accomplishments are inspiring and energizing. They also frequently interview interesting people like Dan Harris, ABC News correspondent and author; Roseanne Cash, singer, songwriter, and author; and Drew Barrymore, actor, author, director, and producer … just to name a few.

So pick up the book or listen to one of her podcasts and let us know if you find any tips that help make you and your family happier and healthier.

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