Book Review: Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

In Better Than Before, self-help guru and my favorite podcaster Gretchen Rubin describes what she learned about making and breaking habits. As someone who has always implicitly understood the importance of good habits and the way bad habits can derail even the best of intentions (who feels like waking up at 6 a.m. to write after drinking at a show with friends until 2 a.m.?), I knew that learning how to set habits mindfully would help me reach my goals.

Rubin does not disappoint, and I’ve used some of her tips to form my most important habit: getting more sleep

In Better Than Before, Rubin introduces her theory of the four tendencies, an idea that she explores in her latest book The Four Tendencies (which I plan to review soon). Basically, she posits that all people fall into one of four categories. You are either an Obliger, Upholder, Questioner (me), or Rebel. You can take a quiz on her website to figure out which one of the four you are, though once you start learning about them, it becomes pretty obvious. Here’s a brief breakdown:

  • Upholders: Can readily meet outer and inner expectations. They’re a rare breed.
  • Questioners: Can easily meet inner expectations, but resist outer expectations unless they’re given a logical reason to do something.
  • Obligers: Have a tough time meeting their own expectations, but have no trouble meeting the expectations of others.
  • Rebels: Resist inner and outer expectations. Another rare group.

While Rubin devotes only a chapter to the four tendencies in Better Than Before, she gives you enough information to help you determine how your tendency shapes your ability to form (or break) habits. Then, throughout the rest of the book, she describes how each of her tips would work differently for each of the four tendencies. Not surprisingly, rebels have the toughest time forming habits.

What I enjoyed most about this book is that Rubin does not take a universal approach to making and breaking habits. She discusses the importance of knowing yourself so that you can create a program that will work for you. For instance, if you are a night owl instead of a lark, setting your alarm for 5 a.m. to workout or write each day is going to fall apart quickly. Instead, it’s much smarter to block out time later in the day to add-in your desired activity.

More than just good advice, though, Rubin is a charming writer who shares entertaining stories about her friends and family to prove her points. Reading her book is like having coffee with your smart, sort of anal retentive friend who is always encouraging you to be your best self.

Some reviewers have criticized the fact that it seemed as if Rubin was trying to force her own habits on the reader. For example, she eats a low carb diet and doesn’t drink, and she describes that a few times throughout the book. I never felt that way, though, and whenever I did, I sort of just treated that section the same way I do my friends who go on-and-on about Crossfit (sorry, guys). Additionally, Rubin’s humor is so self-deprecating that you get the sense she KNOWS she can be a bit overbearing about her opinions, so it’s easy to shrug off these few issues.

Better Than Before is a quick, entertaining read that will provide you some sound tips for creating your own best life.

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