Sunday, March 6, 2016

Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin, 2015

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The author of the blockbuster New York Times bestsellers, The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, tackles the critical question: How do we change?
Gretchen Rubin's answer: through habits. Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life. It takes work to make a habit, but once that habit is set, we can harness the energy of habits to build happier, stronger, more productive lives.
So if habits are a key to change, then what we really need to know is: How do we change our habits?
Better than Before answers that question. It presents a practical, concrete framework to allow readers to understand their habits—and to change them for good. Infused with Rubin’s compelling voice, rigorous research, and easy humor, and packed with vivid stories of lives transformed, Better than Before explains the (sometimes counter-intuitive) core principles of habit formation.

(336 pages)

I don't usually read a lot of self-help books, but when I saw this one I thought I'd give it a go. I've been having trouble with staying up too late at night (usually doing mindless stuff, like checking Twitter or googling random things), so I thought a book about changing habits could really help me.

And it did, more or less. I'm still working out the kinks, but I've figured out that I'm an "Obliger" (that's one of the personality categories that Rubin came up with), which means that I'm much more likely to follow through on a good habit if I hold myself accountable with other people. Coupled with her advice that inconvenience makes people less likely to do things, and I've started keeping my iPad and my computer charger downstairs. That way the only screen access I have at night is on my laptop, which has a really crummy battery and will die after literally an hour if I start at full charge. Once it dies I'd have to go downstairs to get either the charger or the iPad, which a) means the risk of being discovered if one of my family members hears me and b) is very inconvenient. It's worked pretty well for me so far, except for the nights that I didn't even go to bed until late (so the hour of computer kept me up even later), and the night I read a book instead of getting on the computer at all. I've tried to steer clear of reading at night, because of my unfortunate tendency to "Read Till Dawn," and I really need to find a way to force myself to do that. I know it goes against most modern advice, but I actually go to sleep sooner if I stay up on a time-limited screen than if I just read for uncensored amounts of time.

Anyway, you probably don't care that much about my personal habit formations. If you're interested in this book at all (and I realize that about fifty percent of my readers probably aren't), then you want to know how it can help you. And the good thing about this book is that's it's chock-full of tips for every type of person, sorted into category types like "Questioners," "Rebels," and the afore-mentioned "Obligers" (of which I am one). Rubin talks about the true purpose of habits (to make things automatic, so you're not wasting will-power every day forcing yourself to make healthy decisions), and about different techniques for both building good ones and tearing down bad ones. I feel like how much you get out of this book depends a lot on what sort of person you are. I got a better understanding of my habits and of ways to fix them, which was great, but if you're already pretty self-aware then this book might not have much more to offer. Rubin does do some research, but she's much more focused on observing the people around her - which means that you can either respect her understanding of the variability of personality types out there, or you can wrinkle your nose at what's basically a bunch of lessons pulled out of her experiences sticking her nose into other peoples' business (with varied success).

I'm not sure I completely agree with all of the habits that Rubin herself advocates (I'm sorry, but diet soda is not better than the regular stuff - she thinks she's so healthy and awesome for never touching soda that's not diet, but doesn't she know artificial sweeteners cause cancer?), and her methods sometimes seem a little obnoxious (she literally bought her sister a treadmill desk), but she does make an effort to be empathetic toward people who aren't as high-strung as she is, and recognizes her own struggle with pride. That right there is half the battle.

Anyway, I can't really say whether or not Better Than Before is going to help you or not. It helped me, in a way (though I have to say I keep finding loopholes to my going-to-bed-early plot), and I am glad I read it - if for no other reason than that it made a great detox read at the end of the school day. If you have access to a copy, go ahead and read it (and tell me what you think while you're at it); otherwise, it's really up to you to know whether it would be helpful or not.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book through the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.

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