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Book Review: Better Than Before

Better Than Before: What I learned about making and breaking habits – to sleep more, quit sugar, procrastinate less, and generally build a happier life.

Author: Gretchen Rubin

Genre: Self-Help

Ack! I’ve read a ton of self-help books and none on habits has ever interested me but this was the book club choice so I read it. In this book author Gretchen Rubin’s goal is to answer the question “How do we change our habits?”

Gretchen breaks the book into five sections. The first is self-knowledge because what may work for me in forming habits may not work for you. Building on what you learn about yourself the next section gives you the pillars of habits. These are the strategies that can help you change your habits. The next section explores the timing in developing new habits leading to the section that examines “how we can shape our habits by adjusting the amount of effort involved.” Finally, Gretchen explores what we can learn about ourselves in comparison to others.

Did Gretchen answer her own question? The simple answer is yes. As Socrates said, “Know thyself.” That is where she starts. If I fall in her framework as an upholder then I know that I’m someone who loves rules and will follow them even when they seem pointless. I also know that I’ll be the one who meets the obligations I set for myself. Yay me!

She offers research to help make her points. It turns out rewards aren’t good motivators in helping form habits. Surprised me! “One study showed that children who got a reward for coloring with magic markers-an activity that children love-didn’t spend as much time with markers, later, as children who didn't expect a reward.”

Gretchen also uses her own life experiences and those of clients, friends, and her readers to show the effectiveness of the habits she or they are trying to change and how it was done. I particularly like the story of her sister Elizabeth who has diabetes but has trouble managing her blood sugar levels. Gretchen gives her a treadmill desk that allows her to walk about 5 miles a day and be productive at the same time. Because she is now getting the consistent exercise she needs it helps reduce her blood sugar levels.

This book is for you if you have habits that you have tried to change but have not been able to. It will take effort to understand yourself and then choose the strategies that fit you. This book was not for me. Yes, I did get some nuggets of insight but I kept thinking how much work this stuff is and while I don’t have it all worked out perfectly – I’m ok with that. She cites a conversation with her husband Jamie where he is noncommittal about why he has lost weight. He knows it’s because of his new eating habits but why he chose to change his eating he says is a combination of watching how Gretchen ate, the logic of eating a low-carb diet, and just a desire to eat differently. Her next sentence is, “As usual, he wasn't very interested in plumbing the depths of his habits.” That is me!

It could be I’m just not that interested in the subject but I found the writing flat. In a few places I found it childish too. She says a number of times how much people love studies. Yes ma’am we’d like the facts! The only motivation for me to keep reading was so that I could discuss it with the ladies at the next book club meeting.

If you are interested in forming new habits take a look at the book – you may get more from it than I did. See it here.

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