Community & Current Events

How to break bad habits

By: Robin Stevenson

Photo courtesy of Gretchen Rubin Author: Canadian Living Credits: Photo courtesy of Gretchen Rubin

Community & Current Events

How to break bad habits

By: Robin Stevenson
Give up smoking. Get more sleep. Stop procrastinating. Heck, just even eat more vegetables.

Everyone has a bad habit they would like to break—or a good habit they'd like to adopt—one they know would make a huge difference in how they enjoy life. The challenge is how to make these changes stick. For good.

How to break bad habits - Better than Before

In her new book, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Life, bestselling author Gretchen Rubin (The Happiness Project) investigates what makes some people more successful at this quest than others. The initial step to mastering habits, she says, is to know yourself first. To do that, she identifies four tendency groups.

Upholder Responds to all expectations.
Questioner Will meet an expectation if it's reasonable.
Obliger Hates to disappoint others while struggling with their own expectations.
Rebel Resists all expectations. If told what to do, they are actually less likely to do it.

Once you know which group you belong to, says Rubin, change is easier. We asked why.

How important is it to define yourself in order to change your habits?
When we know key aspects of our nature, we can craft a habit to suit our idiosyncrasies and set ourselves up for success.

Do people immediately recognize the tendency group where they belong?
Either people immediately recognize themselves and are, like, "Oh, my gosh, everything is revealed to me now. I completely understand myself," or they say, "Well, I'm this in this context and this in this context. I'm an Upholder at work and an Obliger at home.” That sounds so sensible, but I really don't think that's true. When I push those people, I feel like they are solidly in a tendency.

Which group is most prevalent?
By far, people are Obligers or Questioners. Upholders are a tiny category, while Rebels are few and far between. It was such a revelation for me that there were so few Upholders; I thought I was a pretty typical personality.

You also suggest that people understand other distinctions, such as being a Lark or an Owl, or being someone who thrives on familiarity or loves new challenges. How does this type of realization help?
I have a good friend who is an Owl, a complete night person, and she looked me straight in the eye and said, "I'm going to get up early to run." I said, "You do not know yourself. I know you, and that is completely unrealistic and you're setting yourself up for failure." The minute I asked her in what universe she thought that was going to happen, she admitted I was right. So I think a lot of this doesn't take more than a second to figure out; it's just someone is pointing it out and you knowing how to think about it.

What do you hope people will learn from your book?
We all know the frustration of having some habit, and we know we would be happier or healthier or more productive if we could just break it, and it eludes us. If someone gets an idea for one habit they can change from reading the book, I’ll feel like I have made a contribution.

The essential seven
The seven changes people want to make most often are:

1. Eat and drink more healthfully.
2. Exercise regularly.
3. Save, spend and earn wisely.
4. Rest, relax and enjoy.
5. Stop procrastinating.
6. Simplify, clear and clean.
7. Engage more deeply in relationships.


Gretchen Rubin's four pillars of change
Four ways to boost your self-control

Foundation. Start with the essentials: Get enough sleep, engage in physical activity, eat well and unclutter.
Accountability. Go public. Let people know what changes you’re trying to make.
Monitoring. Keep a close track of your actions, whether it’s a food journal or a pedometer.
Scheduling. Set a specific regular time for an activity.


Want to learn more? Join Sandra E. Martin, Canadian Living’s multiplatform editorial director, for an in-depth conversation and book-signing with renowned author Gretchen Rubin, presented by Gold Bond Ultimate.
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