I’m glad you asked. Habits are the subject of Gretchen Rubin’s (The Happiness Project) newest book, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, which came out in paperback in December. In it, she explores 21 proven strategies that help people change their habits.
Why are habits so important? And what is the connection between habits and happiness? One of the keys to happiness, according to Rubin, is an atmosphere of growth, and creating good habits helps us to grow. She notes that 40 percent of our behavior is repeated almost daily, and that “Habits are the invisible architecture of daily life.” Once established, habits free us from decision making, which preserves our self-control. Once a habit is in place, “We can effortlessly do the things we want to do,” she writes.
Think about it. You probably get up at the same time every day, eat a limited range of foods, and choose from a handful of leisure activities. Cementing the habits you want would improve the quality of your life and make you happier.
Rubin discusses a number of strategies to help you master your habits—strategies including monitoring (“find a way to count it”), foundation (first tackle the most obvious habits you want to change, such as exercise, sleep, eating healthy or decluttering), scheduling (write it down and be specific about when you’ll do it), and accountability (face consequences for what you do and don’t do). But one of the most helpful things in her book was a discussion of the Four Tendencies—the four general ways most people respond to expectations. Different strategies work better for different tendencies. (You can take Rubin’s quiz to find which tendency you are here.) I’m an Obliger: I respond well to outer expectations, but don’t always meet inner expectations—in other words, if I tell you I’ll do something, I’ll do it. If I tell myself I’ll do something, I might not.
Rubin also discusses different ways to get started, whether you begin with baby steps, with a clean slate (as at the New Year), or make a sudden and major change to your habits (the “lightning bolt”), and many other strategies to help you shape your habits. These include learning how to spot loopholes, using distraction, and pairing something you like to do (read a magazine) with the habit you want to establish (working out on a cardio machine). She concludes the book by noting how “considering ourselves in comparison to others” can help you understand yourself better and in so doing, discover which techniques work best for you.
I found Better Than Before easy to read and filled with practical advice on mastering habits. There’s just something I like about Rubin’s down-to-earth style. I’ve used some of the strategies from Better Than Before to establish a few happy habits of my own. I track my workouts in my planner and hate to see more than one day go by without some type of exercise noted (monitoring). I leave a glass near the coffee pot so I’ll drink water when I get up every morning (convenience); and I hide the chips and cookies so I don’t see them every time I open the pantry (inconvenience—I know I could just not buy them, but I live with two people who would bring them in if I didn’t). I also exchange lists of goals with a friend each week (accountability). Armed with Rubin’s suggestions, I believe 2016 will be better than before.
What are your happy habits? What strategies did you use to establish them?