Change Your Habits And You'll Be 'Better Than Before' NPR's Rachel Martin speaks with Gretchen Rubin about her new book, Better Than Before. It's her philosophy of how to create good habits and nix the bad ones.

Change Your Habits And You'll Be 'Better Than Before'

Change Your Habits And You'll Be 'Better Than Before'

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NPR's Rachel Martin speaks with Gretchen Rubin about her new book, Better Than Before. It's her philosophy of how to create good habits and nix the bad ones.


Gretchen Rubin has done a lot of thinking about happiness - what it takes to get it and how to hold onto it. She shared her suggestions in a best-selling book called "The Happiness Project." In her latest book, she gets to what she says are the fundamental building blocks of happiness - our habits. The book is called "Better Than Before: Mastering The Habits Of Our Everyday Lives." And she says the key is figuring out something very basic about yourself.

GRETCHEN RUBIN: Well, it has to do with how you deal with an expectation. So an outer expectation like a deadline at work or an inner-expectation like your own desire to start getting back into meditation. So there's four types of people. The first, upholders readily meet outer and inner expectations. So they can keep an New Year's resolution, they can meet a deadline, not much problem.

Next, questioners. Questioners question all expectations. They'll do it only if they think it makes sense. So they have to be convinced. They hate anything that's arbitrary or unfair. Next, obligers. Obligers readily meet outer expectations, but they struggle to meet their expectations for themselves. So these are people where they really can't keep that New Year's resolution, but then they never let down their coworkers 'cause they can meet external, but they struggle with internal. Then finally, rebels. Rebels resist all expectations - outer and inner alike. They don't want anybody to tell them what to do. They don't even want to tell themselves what to do. And so it turns out that this has huge consequences for habits because how you react to the idea of forming a habit or someone telling you that you should form a habit, like, something like taking your blood pressure medication, is going to be very different depending on what tendency you are.

MARTIN: OK, so based on my reading, I think that I'm probably a questioner. What difference does that make to me, Gretchen? Why does that matter at all in my life and for my happiness?

RUBIN: So this is why being a questioner matters - because if you're trying to set up your own habits, it's really important that you believe what you're doing. In fact, a questioner emailed me and said, oh, I think I understand now that the reason that I'm failing on my diet is that I really feel like the diet choices are too arbitrary and so I haven't really bought into it. As a questioner, you really need to believe that what you're doing makes sense.

MARTIN: How does that work in practice then? How do I take that information and start a new habit?

RUBIN: There are many ways that people change their habits. The fact that you're a questioner tells you some things about how you might approach habits, but there's many, many things that you could apply. For instance, monitoring is something that works for many people. Just keeping track of how much you do something tends to make you behave better and makes it easier to change a habit.

MARTIN: Like keeping a food journal?

RUBIN: A hundred percent. Food journal is very effective. But then there's a lot of things that work across many tendencies like pairing, which is when you do one thing with another. If you want to watch reality TV, you can only watch it on the treadmill. You know, or when I was in college, I could only take a shower if I'd exercised that day. You know, at a certain point...

MARTIN: I did that.

RUBIN: You did?


RUBIN: See, and it works like a charm, right, 'cause you can only go so long without taking a shower. OK.

MARTIN: It's true.

RUBIN: I can't believe it. I've never met anybody who...

MARTIN: Really?

RUBIN: Yes. So there's a lot of different things that might make sense for a different person just depending on what they're trying to do.

MARTIN: So when I read this book, I thought that there was a lot of great advice in here for people who have flexible work schedules. There are a lot of tips on how to work more efficiently, how to structure your day. But what about people who have a more traditional 9 to 5, 6, or 7 job schedule. I mean I guess, selfishly, I'm thinking about myself. I've got two young kids. I've got a job. My husband has a job. And there's not a lot of extra time to play with. So I can make a mental commitment, oh, I need to work out more. I want to cook more at home. But there's just - literally, there aren't the hours in the day.

RUBIN: Well, that's when you get into the problem of trade-offs because there is no magic answer that's going to give you extra time. You know, you could think about how use spend the last two hours of your day. A lot of times, people from 11 to midnight, they're watching bad television when they could be going to sleep and then doing something different with that hour if they got up earlier. Or maybe you decide, I mean, there's the strategy of clarity, which is what do you really want? A friend of mine said - who's in your situation - said I don't have time to exercise. Like, it's just - I'm in the rush hour of life. I don't have time for that now. I'm not going to worry about it. I was like, that's great. By saying to herself, this is not a priority for me right now, then she frees herself to come back to it at another time in her life.

MARTIN: And we're doing a lot of talking about how to maximize time to fit more tasks into your day. But one of your tasks or goals could very well be I just want down time.

RUBIN: Oh, 100 percent. I have to, like, force myself to wander. You know, I will schedule time to goof off. Anything that's important, you know, you can put it on the calendar. You can monitor it and make sure that it's fit in there just like everything else.

MARTIN: The book is called "Better Than Before: Mastering The Habits Of Our Everyday Lives." It is written by Gretchen Rubin. Thanks so much for talking with us, Gretchen.

RUBIN: Thank you.

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