I’ve been recommending Better than Before, Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin to anyone who will listen. 2015 has been a year of transformation for me, and the foundation of all that change has been getting my habits in order – leaving the bad ones behind and setting up routines to put new ones in place.
Gretchen Rubin delves deep into both anecdotal and scientific research on how and why habits are formed and what we can do when we want to change them. Both experimenting on herself and asking others around her, she gives concrete examples of what tends to work and what doesn’t, as well as defining some useful categories to get to know your own personality better, which can help you to know what type of habit setting will work best for you. Her main grouping places each of us in one of her Four Tendencies (the subject of her upcoming book!).
The Four Tendencies
Knowing which tendency you are can help you choose the best strategy for setting good habits.
As an obliger*, if I set up some outside accountability, I’m more likely to follow through. For example, I pay a good chunk of change to do cross fit instead of using the free, well-equipped gym at my apartment complex, because I know that a) I am motivated to get my money’s worth, and b) I will push myself harder if others are watching and encouraging me to push myself, than if it’s just me. If you’re a questioner, you would do well to really nail down the reasons you want to create a habit – what benefits will you get from it? And so on.
* For the most part; however I also have some questioner tendencies, and I find as I succeed at more and more good habits I am getting better and being accountable to myself and my goals
Gretchen also explores a ton of other useful information about habits, such as the usefulness of rewards (better to find the reward in the action itself), how to spot when you’re finding loopholes to avoid your habit, and how to use scheduling to keep a habit going.
How can this help in recovery?
For me, recovery is just as much about creating healthy habits as about shedding unhealthy ones.
Quitting drinking was pretty easy for me this time around due to, I believe, the support I set up ahead of time (therapist, SMART recovery, family & friends), and the routines I put in place to fill the holes left by substance abuse. Getting healthy & fit and finally taking action on all the ideas I’ve been meaning to do for so long gave me goals to focus on and ways to see concrete progress.
With every success, my confidence grew and it seemed like the positive results just snowballed.
Taking on and succeeding at physical challenges in crossfit & yoga that 6 months ago I would have never thought I could do made me feel like a million bucks – much better than any temporary joy I felt from alcohol or weed. Finally working on career goals and business ideas I’d felt guilty about not following through on helped take away my constant need to numb my mind to what I perceived as my own failures.
In a recovery meeting the other day, someone mentioned that although he was proud of not having drank in a month, he was also afraid of what would happen now – what would come in to fill the void left by alcohol? This helped it click in my mind that part of the reason this has felt so “easy” to me is that I purposefully set out (thanks in large part to my therapist!) to fill the vacuum with good things before anything else could try to squeeze its way in. I am so happy with where my life is and how I feel that I am not struggling with temptation and cravings the way I always did in the past. This life is SO much better than my life with alcohol.
If you prefer an audio format, Better than Before is also available in audio format, AND Gretchen just started a new podcast, Happier, with her sister Elizabeth Craft, which covers a lot of the same topics and gives you practical advice you can try at home to be both happier and create better habits.
Check out the book or podcast and let me know what you think!