• Rachel Niemczyk

Book Review: Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

Title: Better Than Before: What I learned About Making and Breaking Habits - to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life

Author: Gretchen Rubin

Publisher: Broadway Books

Year Published: 2015

Pages: 322

Rating: 4.5 stars

Why can a person run on track team regularly as a teenager, but struggle to continue running (or start running again) as an adult? According to Rubin, it depends on their habit building tendency. Know your tendency, and you’ll know the tips and tricks that’ll help you create new habits.

Before she dives into strategies for habit building she gives a detailed description of the 4 tendencies and various personality traits that affect habit building. (Are you a lark or an owl? Marathoner, sprinter, or procrastinator? Familiarity lover or novelty lover?) She really emphasizes that there isn’t a one size fits all solution for habits - self knowledge is key to figuring out what works best for you, and she does her best to help you learn more about yourself so you’ll have a better idea of how/when to apply the strategies she discusses later on.

“We can only build habits on the foundation of our own nature.”

After covering those basics she goes into the heart of the book, breaking down each strategy of habit building. She not only describes the pros and cons of each strategy, but explains how it would be helpful for each tendency and gives examples of how they could use it. All of the strategies she discusses were tested on herself or her friends/family, which leads to some funny moments as she tries to “guide” them towards creating new habits.

Throughout the book Rubin speaks to the reader in a friendly, conversational tone that makes you feel like you’re going along on this journey with her. And as she takes you along on this journey she shares “Secrets of Adulthood” with you that are insightful teaching moments. One that struck me the most?

This conversational tone is great because it makes the book easy to read and understand. It also leads to a handful of sections that don’t seem to flow with the rest of the chapter. (I’m still trying to figure out what the conversation about monks had to do with the strategy of treating yourself regularly.)

Secret of Adulthood: "What we assume will be temporary often becomes permanent.”

Rubin really analyzed habits - and it shows.

As she goes through each strategy she debunks commonly held thoughts like it takes 21 days to form a habit (it’s actually 66), or that rewarding yourself encourages a habit (it actually prevents you from forming them).

For every statement she makes about research or studies she even gives the source she got that information from. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that until the end of the book because she doesn’t have any footnotes or in-text citations to show this. It was something I only discovered after reading through the book and flipping to the end. (And something to keep in mind if you like to immediately look-up the source behind a statement.)

Overall, this book is a must have if you’re trying to learn more about yourself, or make a change in your life. The topic is fascinating and the conversational tone somehow manages to balance researcher, teacher, and friend in one voice. You’ll leave with a better understanding of yourself than you started with, and may just learn a tool that can help you start and keep a new habit.

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