Better Than Before – Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives

By Dr. Emilie

It’s January! It’s the time of year that we all make new goals and decide “this year is going to be different”. Easier said than done J I just finished a book on Habits. Creating new habits will help us reach many of our goals. We repeat about 40% of our behavior almost daily, so our habits shape our existence, and our future. But it’s much more complicated then just deciding to form a new habit. Just to scratch the surface, I’ve typed out a few excerpts. Try to identify yourself below (you might identify others in your life too! I’ve pegged Martin’s tendency…haven’t told him yet!)

Book title: Better than Before – Mastering the Habits of our everyday lives by Gretchen Rubin


Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to which habits are best. We must each cultivate the habits that work for us. Some people do better when they start small; some defy accountability. Some thrive when they give themselves an occasional break from their good habits; others when they never break the chain.

The most important thing is to know ourselves, and to choose the strategies that work for us. Most of us seek changes that fall into these categories. We want to foster the habits that will allow us to:

  • Eat and drink more healthfully (give up sugar, eat more vegetables, drink less alcohol)
  • Exercise regularly
  • Save, spend & earn wisely (save regularly, pay down debt, donate, follow budget)
  • Rest, relax and enjoy (stop TV in bed, turn off cell, be in nature, sleep, less car)
  • Accomplish more, stop procrastinating (practice instrument, learn language)
  • Simplify, clear, clean and organize (make bed, file, recycle, put things away)
  • Engage more deeply in relationships – with others, with God, with the world (call friends, volunteer, spend more time with family, work on intimate relationship)

Just about everyone falls into one of four groups with regards to habit formation and it mostly has to do with “how does a person respond to an expectation?” When we form a new habit, we set an expectation for ourselves.

1) Upholders respond readily to outer expectations and inner expectations. They wake up and think: “What’s on the schedule and the to-do list for today?” They want to know what’s expected of them, and to meet those expectations. They avoid making mistakes or letting people down – including themselves. They may feel uneasy when they know they’re breaking the rules, even unnecessary rules.

For ex: Years ago the author pulled out her laptop in a coffee shop and barista told her laptops weren’t allowed there. Now every time she goes to a coffee shop, she worries about whether she can use it. She’s also only missed 6 workouts in 52 weeks.

One friend said: if something is on the schedule, my wife is going to do it. When we were in Thailand, we’d planned to visit a certain temple, and we went – even though she got food poisoning the night before.

2) Questioners question all expectations, and they respond to an expectation only if they conclude that it makes sense. They’re motivated by reason, logic, and fairness. They wake up and think, “What needs to get done today and why?” They decide for themselves whether a course of action is a good idea, and they resist doing anything that seems to lack sound purpose.

Ex: Why don’t I take my vitamins? My doctor tells me I should, but usually I don’t. If asked: do you believe you need to take the vitamins? If the answer is no, they won’t. That person would take them if they thought it mattered.

If Questioners believe that a particular habit is worthwhile, they’ll stick to it – but only if they’re satisfied about the habit’s usefulness.

3) Obligers meet outside expectations, but struggle to meet inner ones. They’re motivated by external accountability; they wake up and think “What must I do today?” Because Obligers excel at meeting external demands and deadlines, and go to great lengths to meet their responsibilities, they make terrific colleagues, family members and friends. Because Obligers resist inner expectations, it’s difficult for them to self-motivate – to work on a PhD thesis, to attend networking events. Obligers depend on external accountability with consequences, like deadlines, late fees or the fear of letting others down.

I am an Obliger for sure. For ex, for some reason I cannot go work out on my own. I need to have a class that I’ve paid for or a trainer, waiting for me to make sure I go. If I told my accountability partner I’d have finished a task or project by our next call, I’ll stay up late to do it the night before because I said it’d be done.

Obligers may find it difficult to form a habit, because often we undertake habits for our own benefit, and Obligers do things more easily for others than for themselves. For them, the key is external accountability.

4) Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner. They choose to act from a sense of choice, of freedom. Rebels wake up and think, “What do I want to do today?” They resist control, even self-control. But Rebels often frustrate others because they can’t be asked or told to do anything. They don’t care if “people are counting on you”, “you said you’d do it”, “this is the deadline”. In fact, asking or telling Rebels to do something often makes them do just the opposite. No surprise – Rebels resist habits.

For ex: If a Rebel has to do something every day, it guarantees they won’t do it. But if they take it one day at a time, and decide “I’ll do it this time”, then more often than not they end up with a streak.

Most people are Questioners and Obligers. Knowing our tendency can help us frame habits in a compelling way. An upholder will exercise regularly if it’s on the to-do list; a Questioner rattles off all the health benefits of exercise; and Obliger (like me) takes a weekly bike ride with a partner; and a Rebel could start running because it’s on an anytime schedule, no cost, more freedom.

This month I will continue writing on this topic. Next week I’ll cover different solutions to habit formation for different people.

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