6 Things that Gretchen Rubin's book Better Than Before Taught Me About Myself and About Making Good Habits That Last


I've been reading a bunch of life-changing books lately. (Why does that sound so familiar? Maybe because my life seems to change every time I read? Or maybe because just last week I wrote a blog about the books I was reading that were currently blowing my mind.) But, seriously, if like me, you fully committed this year to make good choices, get healthier, discover the things you love to do most (and then do those things), and generally increase your quality of life than I urge you: Stop whatever you're doing (unless it's reading) and check out this book:

Better than Before: What I Learned about Making and Breaking Habits--To Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Lifeby Gretchen Rubin
Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin
Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

We are all creatures of habit, like it or not. But, not all habits are bad. In fact, some habits lead us to a healthier, happier, and more restful life. Gretchen Rubin's book reminds us that we have the power to change bad habits. In her down-to-earth, no-nonsense book, she gives helpful tips on how to tackle even our worst habits, while creating new and lasting, healthy habits.

Full disclosure: I was immediately drawn to this book for a-less-than-better reason. I actually had a shell of a book I wrote a couple of years ago with basically the same title and objective (Be Better, Kiddo, I wanted to call it). It never happened. So I wanted to see what Rubin did with it. Turns out: She did the hell out of it.  She did her homework. She experimented. She told excellent stories and made every page fun to read. And throughout it, she makes several compelling arguments that even I--a born Questioner (you'll have to read the book to get it)--couldn't fight on my best day.

I also discovered several things about myself-- that once I recognized(and/or remembered)--made me feel like I was being handed the magic code to a lockbox, which held all my creativity and productivity. And I just knew: I had to share it with everyone I know.

So here are the 6 Things that Gretchen Rubin's book Better Than Before Taught Me About Myself and About Making Good Habits That Last:

1. I am a lark, not an owl. DUH! Despite all the years of trying to adapt to my husband's night owl lifestyle, it just doesn't work for me. If I want to get stuff done, it better happen before 6:30 a.m. So I am back up at 4:45 a.m.! And I love it.  I get more read and written by 6:45 a.m. than I ever could exhausted at the end of the day.

Aha Moment: If something is important to me, I have to carve out the time to do it and I have to do it at a time that works for me. Same goes for everyone else in my family: If staying up late works for my husband, it works for him. Period.

2. I am a sprinter, not a marathoner or a procrastinator. If I can't do it quickly, efficiently, and under deadline, my attention fades. (Don't spread this shit out! My insides scream during meetings. Let's do this. Now.) I need to work in incredible bursts. (Hence writing a first draft of a novel in two week's time.) And I don't procrastinate. It's not in me to have something on a list and to not do it. So I need to work with deadlines--even if I need to make them up myself--and I like to meet them weeks early. Greg often asks me: "Is this a Mary deadline or a real deadline?" He's procrastinator, go figure).

Aha Moment: Give myself deadlines. Set a timer. Create "Power Hours," where I can work on one thing and only one thing. Have patience with the family procrastinators. They work differently and are motivated differently. 

3. I am an over-buyer. (Shocker to all family and friends, I know.)  I don't need to spend money to start something new! For example: I can start writing a novel even though my basement office doesn't look like the ones I pinned on Pinterest. I can start working at the kitchen table. Go figure.

Aha Moment: I can't use "not having money" as an excuse to do anything--ever. If I want to do it, I can do it--right now, wherever I am. I don't need the right equipment, the right wardrobe, the right software, the right shoes. Just do it, already!

4. I am an opener, not a finisher.Don't get me started! The ideas I could have! Oh, for a person like me, there is nothing better than starting a book, opening a new jar of peanut butter, or ripping open a letter in the mail. I loathe the ends of books, the ends of anything really. "Please don't let it end," I find myself saying just about everything--dinners, cakes, bags of M&M, bottles of wine, vacations, books, family time, movies, life--you name it.

Aha Moment: It's OK to love the beginning--when everything is new and wonderful. But, you have to see things through...even the crumbs at the bottom of the Doritos bag. Just FINISH one thing, before opening another.

5. And I am a Big Steps (Or what I like to call "Big Bites") Person. No small baby bites for this lady. I like my cake: LARGE. And, preferably chocolate. I like BIG BOOKS, I cannot lie. I go big or go home. If I want to write something? Let's start with a novel, I say. I want to read something? Let me take 16 Russian novels out of the library. I want to start making good choices and live healthy: We're going all organic, people.

Aha Moments: I work better under pressure, under deadlines, under enormous amounts of stress, and with huge expectations. I used to think "If only I wasn't so stressed." Turns out, it kind of drives me. The less I have to do, the less I do. It's really astounding how many hours of nothing I can do when I have nothing to do!  But, give me a Tuesday in the middle of the week with meetings, work, practices, lunch dates, phone calls, and I'll find time to type out a blog or write a chapter. Amazes me every time. Good ol' physics: An object in motion stays in motion--unless acted upon by an outside force--like a couch or Downton Abbey. Not everyone works like this though. So be patient with those Baby Steppers, you HOP STEPPERS, you. Patience, patience, patience.

6.Not everyone is like me: Mary. The world is filled with all kinds.That's why I loved this book so much. Rubin sheds light on all kinds of people and their particular habits, strategies, obstacles, and adaptations. I was able to see my son and husband (both procrastinators, marathoners, owls, and finishers) and my daughter (no surprise, a clone of me) in a new way.  As Leo Tolstoy says in War and Peace: "To understand all, is to forgive all." We all work completely differently. Adapting to those changes is key for each of us. I was making myself miserable trying to be an owl. I understand and have a new respect for my husband, the marathoner/procrastinator/finisher--he likes to take his time, he likes to see things finished. Those are great things too. (And now, he can't yell at me for having 3 gallons of milk and two jars of peanut butter opened at one time. "I'm an opener," I can now say, "Have patience with me, Dear Finisher.")

(I also realized: I actually have a heck a lot of good habits working for me in my favor, and a strong foundation, now I just need to, well, make them a habit.)

I also highly recommend these workbooks as complements to Rubin's book. They'll help you more clearly identify your goals, your habits, and give you clarity:

Design the Life You Love: A Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Meaningful Future by Ayse Birsel --This great workbook can help you to hone in on the things you love about your life and areas you want to grow and enhance to truly create a life you just can't wait to get up and live!

Start Where You Are: A Journal of Self-Exploration by Meera Lee Patel--This is part eye-candy, part inspiration, part workbook. Patel's beautiful hand-painted inspirations motivate and her exercises are calming, while they both work to release your creative energy.

Day Designer: The Strategic Planner & Daily Agenda for Living a Well-Designed Life by Whitney English--This one is an "investment"--(See previous comment about being an "over-buyer"), but it's worth every penny. I am an unapologetic list-maker and I love to write down every aspect of my day. I also like to reflect and constantly review my goals and this book has ample space for all that and more. (Oh--and it's super purty.)

To Habits!

(Good ones!)