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Cultivating New Habits

27 August 2015

Janie read Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin to learn about Rubin’s research on habit formation and, in particular, why some people find establishing habits much easier than others.

Tags: gretchen rubin, happiness, janie read

I have always found habits to be an interesting subject. In various stages of my life, I’ve found that some habits are very easy for me to adopt, and others seem impossible, no matter my intentions. I’ve particularly found this to be true since I had my son, Charlie. There are some definite routines that I follow for Charlie every day, but when it comes to practicing habits for myself, I struggle a lot more.

Fortunately for me, the most recent book from an author with several titles on the Allison Partners bookshelf is all about habits. In Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, Gretchen Rubin talks about the different ways that people form and practice habits. She mentions that anytime we try to form a new habit, we are essentially setting a new expectation for ourselves. She developed a framework based on different sources of these expectations to help understand how habits work for different people. Based on her research, Rubin believes that almost everyone will fall into one of the below groups:

  • Upholders respond readily to expectations regardless of their source
  • Questioners examine all expectations and will accept an expectation only if they believe it’s justified
  • Obligers respond readily to expectations from others, but struggle to meet expectations they set for themselves
  • Rebels resist all expectations

I found this framework fascinating. I am definitely an obliger, and I found it interesting to think about close friends and family members, and where they might fall in this framework. Rubin even developed an online assessment to help people determine their habit preference.

Rubin talks about how obligers can have a hard time self-motivating because they rely so much on external accountability. This is definitely true for me. I have been telling myself, for longer than I’d care to admit, that I need to adopt a regular fitness regimen. At different times in my life I have been much more successful with this than I am now. As I think back on it, the times when I was the most active were times when I was either meeting friends at the gym or doing specific classes or training sessions where I knew people would expect to see me. This fits perfectly with Rubin’s definition of an obliger. If I know I’m supposed to meet a friend at the gym for a class (outer expectation), I will make sure I’m there. If I tell myself that I will do a workout video after I get Charlie to bed (inner expectation), it’s so easy to talk myself out of it. No one is counting on me to do that video, and I will find every excuse in the world to justify why I should be doing something else instead.

My life is very different now than it was several years ago. It’s not currently possible for me to maintain a gym membership, but that doesn’t mean I can’t figure out a way to include a regular fitness regimen in my life. I have a decent selection of exercise videos that I can do at home, and in the past I was successful at maintaining a fitness regimen at home. I decided to join an online group to help myself create some external accountability. I’ve only been a member for a short time, but I’ve already seen how group members hold each other accountable. I’ve been encouraged by the positive atmosphere. Members of the group hold each other accountable in a supportive, compassionate way. I think using this group will help me feel that I am accountable to more than just myself.

I learned a lot about myself reading this book, and I am excited to put some of Rubin’s tips and suggestions into practice as I work on cultivating new habits. How do you help yourself form new habits?


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