I love a good personality test, don’t you? Not those cheesy ones in women’s magazine that are about as accurate as a broken clock. I mean ones like Myers Briggs or the DISC personality test, which help us understand our leadership and communication styles, and the best ways we can interact with others and they can interact with us.
Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies framework has a place among these elite tests (you can take her quiz here). Her focus isn’t on whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, however, or whether you embrace change or run from it like it’s Sasquatch.
Instead, in her book Better than Before, Gretchen tells you how to use your personality type to break bad habits, cultivate good habits, and generally live a happier life.
What I Liked Most
When I started my journey to take control of my finances, lose weight, and be more strategic with my career, I read a lot of books. Better than Before was by far one of the most helpful. Using Gretchen’s Four Tendencies framework as a starting point, I have been able to accomplish so much in such a short amount of time and with less effort than I would have thought possible.
The Four Tendencies, Explained
The first part of the book explains each of the four tendencies that make up Gretchen’s framework. They are upholder, questioner (that’s me!), obliger and rebel.
Based on her observations and research, Gretchen believes that everyone falls into one of these categories, and that by knowing which category you fall into, you can more easily make and break habits. The key to identifying your tendency is determining how you respond to inner and outer expectations (she has quiz online but it is also in the back of the book).
- Upholders have a fairly easy time meeting both inner and outer expectations
- Questioners respond to expectations when they makes sense to them
- Obligers meet the expectations of others but struggle to meet inner expectations
- Rebels dislike both outer and inner expectations, prizing freedom and choice above all else.
To illustrate this, here is an example from my own life. A while back I read an article that you should always drink a class of water in the morning before you get in the shower because a) you are likely dehydrated since you have been asleep all night so its been awhile since you had anything to drink and b) getting into a hot shower will only make you more dehydrated.
Is this true? I don’t know. But it seemed so logical to me that as a questioner, I was able to adopt this habit with almost no effort.
So I Know My Tendency, Now What?
One of the best thing about the book is that Gretchen doesn’t just help you figure out how you respond to expectations and then leaves you to figure out what to do about it. In the remaining sections of the book she provides specific steps for using the strengths of your tendency to make real and lasting change.
She starts first with the “Pillars” of habit change: monitoring, foundation, scheduling, and accountability. The Pillars aren’t equally relevant to each tendency but even knowing what doesn’t work for you is valuable. Scheduling, for example, will likely send a Rebel into full-fledged contrariness but for an upholder who values checking things off their list, scheduling is essential.
For me, the Pillar of monitoring has made an enormous difference. I don’t like scheduling workouts, for example. What happens if I plan it for the morning but then want to sleep in (which, as a night owl, I will almost always want to do)? Instead, I prefer to hold myself accountable by monitoring progress within a specified time frame (a day, a week, a month).
Strategies to Make Habit Change Happen
Following her discussion of the Pillars comes the Strategies. These include: abstaining, convenience, inconvenience, safe-guards, loop-hole spotting, distraction, rewards, treats and pairing.
You will have to read the book for a full explanation of each but I can illustrate at least one for you here: abstaining.
As I have previously shared on this blog, in addition to starting my debt snowball in January 2017, I also switched to a Keto diet (low-carb, high-fat). The strategy of abstaining has been a tremendous contributor to my success.
Here’s how: I made one decision that I would eat foods from certain food groups and abstain for foods from other food groups. This means that there are no other decisions I have to make. All the mental energy I used to waste on internal debates as to whether or not I was going to eat a donut during the staff meeting, or a slice of cake at a co-worker’s party just went away—poof!—because I have pre-decided the answer to those questions: it is always no. There is no will-power involved. And that is so freeing!
What I Liked Least
There is very little I didn’t like about this book. I felt as if every time I started to say “but what about …” the next section would address that scenario.
For example, I am really good at rationalizing the things I want even if those things are not aligned with the habits I hope to adopt. So when I came upon Gretchen’s twelve-page chapter on the strategy of loop-hole spotting—and her specific recommendations for not letting loop-holes derail your efforts to form better habits—I couldn’t help but think “She gets me!”
Even when we’re deeply committed to a good habit, even when we enjoy the habit, we’re often seeking possible justifications to excuse ourselves from it…just this once. With a little ingenuity, there’s a loophole for every occasion.
One thing I would have wished different was that the paperback copy I bought was of higher quality. Given that I took a lot of notes as I was reading, and have referred back to certain sections for inspiration, it would have been nice if the paper wasn’t so flimsy.
No one—including Gretchen Rubin—thinks habit change is easy. But it can be easier and that is exactly what this book is attempting to do: give us the tools we need to change our habits with as little fuss as possible. It will still require hard work, however.
Keeping a good habit costs us: it may cost us time, energy, and money, and it may mean foregoing pleasures and opportunities—but not keeping a good habit also has its cost. So which cost do we want to pay? What will make our lives happier in the long run?
Have you read Better than Before? What did you think? Let me know in the comment section below.