Book Review: Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin

I love reading. But the problem with some self-help books is that I find them hard to get through. They’re often written too ‘researchy’ and are so dry that it feels more like I’m reading a study book, and consequently the messages don’t stick with me. This is one of the reasons why I love Gretchen Rubin’s books so much. You can say a lot about them, but one thing most people agree on is that they’re an easy read! Read on for a more extensive review about the book.

Gretchen Rubin, a New York-based lawyer turned writer, is best known for her bestselling book The Happiness project (2009) and her regularly updated blog . In her book Better than Before she builds on her previous happiness work by instead of writing about the habits that will make you happier like regular exercise, she talks about how to build and sustain those good routines.

Rubin starts her story by saying: “Habits are the invisible architecture of daily life. We repeat about 40% of our behaviour almost daily, so if we change our habits, we change our lives”. This is followed by a number of questions that immediately spark recognition and trigger thoughts about your own habits, for example: “Why do some people dread and resist habits, while others adopt them eagerly?”.

The main insight in the book is the ‘tendency framework’ Rubin developed, drawing from her research and personal experiences. Depending on the way people respond to expectations, they are either an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger or Rebel. Upholders respond to both outer and inner expectations, Questioners only meet expectations if they agree with them, Obligers only respond to outer expectations and fail to meet their inner ones, and lastly Rebels; who resist all expectations and just do whatever they like. Through a small quiz you can find out which group you fall into, although most people will be a mix between two.

With the use of the framework, Rubin recognises the need to tailor strategies for habit formation and that a one size fits all actually doesn’t fit all. The tendency framework helps here, because based on the tendency you identify most with, she gives pointers on how to adapt your habit building strategy so that it best fits with your tendency and you’re most likely to succeed.

book review gretchen rubin

Throughout the book, Rubin takes the reader through the basics of forming new habits in her signature style: light-hearted, personal anecdotes where she uses her family, friends and herself as guinea pigs to test her theories on. She touches on a number of methods to help implement and stick to new habits, such as measurement, monitoring and self-awareness.

If you want a light, easy to read self-help book, this is it. The book got me thinking and reflecting on my own behaviours when it comes to forming new habits (why can’t I stick to exercising three times a week? And why do I always show up when I have an appointment with someone else but when I tell myself to go to the gym I don’t go? Obviously, I’m an Obliger). Some of the tips for Obligers that Rubin shares stuck with me and actually helped me to develop and stick to my gym habit for the longest I can remember.

However, this book is not the holy grail for habit formation. If you’re looking for something deeper and more solid, you’re better off with a book like Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. Also, be sure to check out the research Rubin cites in the back of the book, which you can follow up on in case you like to get deeper into specific elements she mentions.

Have you read this book? What did you think? If not, would you like to read it? What books would you recommend on the topic of habit formation?

Hi, I am Fleur

Hi, I'm Fleur and welcome to my blog! I'm passionate about helping ambitious millennials gain focus and fulfill their potential in a down-to-earth way. You can read more about me here.

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