Checking out Gretchen Rubin’s “Better Than Before”

2014 December 26


I admit to being a Gretchen Rubin fangirl. I’ve read her previous book, “The Happiness Project” and liked it quite a bit. She’s like an investigative journalist for topics relating to human nature that she finds both interesting and challenging (coincidentally these are topics that I’m into as well). Before you say “pffft” and pass her books off as mindless self-help pap, rest assured that she delivers much more than superficial platitudes about how to be better or do things better. Her books offer practical advice without being preachy or judgmental. She goes behind the scenes to ask the foundational questions, and supports her discoveries with research and short case studies on the experiences of others. This book is an analytical and well-researched piece of work that goes beyond the superficial examination that is commonly found in other books on the same topic.

Her latest release, “Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives” tackles the question of how people change and is focused upon the sticky topic of habits (building, forming, breaking).

I was extremely curious about this book given that I need help both in establishing and maintaining habits. I struggle with discipline and focus. I’ve been known to start a zillion projects only to let them fall by the wayside. I find it hard to complete what I begin. Sometimes my ambition goes beyond the time I have available to commit. I’m often overwhelmed and disappointed when I become unsure of how to begin a project or wrap one up. Yes. I am a former project manager! Yes. I have some bad habits and seek to cultivate some good ones.

Beyond my former career path, these tendencies spill out into my personal life slash Buddhist life. I’m a lazy practitioner who falls off the wagon on occasion. I see how much of a positive impact practice has on both my life and the lives of those around me, yet there’s always something that seems more pressing, more interesting – and then I’m taken away. So many distractions. Oh this life of a householder!

I read Gretchen’s book in the hopes that I would discover some new strategies to apply to my challenges with habit-building. I appreciated that her recommendations are just for one style of personality type, but rather she starts off by asking a series of questions for the reader to identify their tendencies towards how they work, live, develop and maintain (or don’t develop and maintain) habits.

This book had quite a bit to offer Buddhist readers. From speaking of the need for self-control and discipline, to its focus on cultivating self knowledge in order to examine how one acts, what makes one tick and one’s tendencies. Quite a bit of this is indeed related to how one perceives the world. Gretchen sees this and suggests that there’s more than one way to look at habits and form strategies to help us build good ones. She suggests many lifehacks and techniques that can be relied upon to both get things done, eliminate the excess and cultivate new habits. Guidance as to how to get started both breaking and building habits that work for different personality types is explored heartily within this book. It also shines a flashlight on the crafty ways that we try to get our of our habits, as well as how we mess up or get off track once we’ve started with a new habit.

Interestingly enough, Gretchen wants to create the habit of meditation in her life. A decent part of the book is dedicated to how she began to cultivate a sitting practice and to remain on the cushion.

“Better than Before” offers readers workable solutions on how to build habits into their lives. There’s really something for everyone in here – whether you need to introduce a bit more exercise in your life, up your healthy eating game or for some of us (ahem), become more diligent meditation practitioners.

While somewhat related to this post, I want to share this video via the brilliant website Brainpickings which speaks to procrastination – one of my big, bad habits.


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