Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits--to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life

Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits--to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life

by Gretchen Rubin

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New York Times Bestseller | Washington Post Bestseller
The author of the blockbuster New York Times bestsellers, The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, tackles the critical question: How do we change? 
Gretchen Rubin's answer: through habits. Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life. It takes work to make a habit, but once that habit is set, we can harness the energy of habits to build happier, stronger, more productive lives.
So if habits are a key to change, then what we really need to know is: How do we change our habits?
Better than Before answers that question. It presents a practical, concrete framework to allow readers to understand their habits—and to change them for good. Infused with Rubin’s compelling voice, rigorous research, and easy humor, and packed with vivid stories of lives transformed, Better than Before explains the (sometimes counter-intuitive) core principles of habit formation.
Along the way, Rubin uses herself as guinea pig, tests her theories on family and friends, and answers readers’ most pressing questions—oddly, questions that other writers and researchers tend to ignore: 

• Why do I find it tough to create a habit for something I love to do?
• Sometimes I can change a habit overnight, and sometimes I can’t change a habit, no matter how hard I try. Why?
• How quickly can I change a habit?
• What can I do to make sure I stick to a new habit?
• How can I help someone else change a habit?
• Why can I keep habits that benefit others, but can’t make habits that are just for me?

Whether readers want to get more sleep, stop checking their devices, maintain a healthy weight, or finish an important project, habits make change possible. Reading just a few chapters of Better Than Before will make readers eager to start work on their own habits—even before they’ve finished the book.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385348621
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 03/17/2015
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 18,956
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Gretchen Rubin, a member of Oprah's SuperSoul 100, is one of the most thought-provoking and influential writers on the linked subjects of habits, happiness, and human nature. She’s the author of many books, including the blockbuster New York Times bestsellers, Happier at Home and The Happiness Project. Rubin has an enormous following, in print and online; her books have sold more than a million copies worldwide, in more than thirty languages, and on her popular daily blog,, she reports on her adventures in pursuit of habits and happiness. Her podcast "Happier with Gretchen Rubin" was an iTunes "Best of 2015" pick. She was chosen for the 2016 Oprah Super Soul 100 list. Rubin started her career in law, and was clerking for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor when she realized she wanted to be a writer. She lives in New York City with her husband and two daughters.

Read an Excerpt

Better Than Before tackles the question: How do we change? One answer—by using habits.
Habits are the invisible architecture of daily life. We repeat about 40 percent of our behavior almost daily, so our habits shape our existence, and our future. If we change our habits, we change our lives.

But that observation just raises another question: Okay, then, how do we change our habits? That’s what this book seeks to answer.
But while Better Than Before explores how to change your habits, it won’t tell you what particular habits to form. It won’t tell you to exercise first thing in the morning, or to eat dessert twice a week, or to clear out your office. (Well, actually, there is one area where I do say what habit I think is best. But only one.)

The fact is, no one-size-fits-all solution exists. It’s easy to dream that if we copy the habits of productive, creative people, we’ll win similar success. But we each must cultivate the habits that work for us. Some people do better when they start small; others when they start big. Some people need to be held accountable; some defy account- ability. Some thrive when they give themselves an occasional break from their good habits; others when they never break the chain. No wonder habit formation is so hard.

The most important thing is to know ourselves, and to choose the strategies that work for us.
Before you begin, identify a few habits that you’d like to adopt, or changes you’d like to make. Then, as you read, consider what steps you want to try. You may even want to note today’s date on your book’s flyleaf, so you’ll remember when you began the process of change.
To help you shape your habits, I regularly post suggestions on my blog, and I’ve also created many resources to help you make your life better than before. But I hope that the most compelling inspiration is the book you hold in your hands.

I see habits through the lens of my own experience, so this ac- count is colored by my particular personality and interests. “Well,” you might think, “if everyone forms habits differently, why should I bother to read a book about what someone else did?”

During my study of habits and happiness, I’ve noticed something surprising: I often learn more from one person’s idiosyncratic experiences than I do from scientific studies or philosophical treatises. For this reason, Better Than Before is packed with individual examples of habit changes. You may not be tempted by Nutella, or travel too much for work, or struggle to keep a gratitude journal, but we can all learn from each other.
It’s simple to change habits, but it’s not easy.

I hope that reading Better Than Before will encourage you to harness the power of habits to make change in your own life. Whenever you read this, and wherever you are, you’re in the right place to begin.

Some habit-formation strategies are familiar and obvious—like Monitoring or Scheduling—but others took me more time to understand. As I studied habits, I slowly began to recognize the tremendous importance of the time of beginning.

The most important step is the first step. All those old sayings are really true. Well begun is half done. Don’t get it perfect, get it going. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Nothing is more exhausting than the task that’s never started, and strangely, starting is often far harder than continuing.

That first step is tough. Every action has an ignition cost: getting myself to the gym and changed into my gym clothes can be more challenging than actually working out. That’s why good habits are a tremendous help: they make the starting process automatic.
Without yet having a name for it, in fact, I’d invoked the power of the Strategy of First Steps as I was starting to write this book. I’d spent months reading and taking copious notes, and I had a giant doc­ument with a jumble of material about habits. This initial period of research for a book is always exhilarating, but eventually I have to begin the painstaking labor of actual analysis and writing.

What was the most auspicious date to start? I asked myself. The first day of the week, or the month, or the year? Or my birthday? Or the start of the school year? Then I realized that I was beginning to invoke tomorrow logic.

Nope. Begin now. I was ready. Take the first step. It’s enough to begin.
Now is an unpopular time to take a first step. Won’t things be easier—for some not-quite-specified reason—in the future? I have a fantasy of what I’ll be like tomorrow: Future-Gretchen will sponta­neously start a good new habit, with no planning and no effort neces­sary; it’s quite pleasant to think about how virtuous I’ll be, tomorrow. But there is no Future-Gretchen, only Now-Gretchen.

A friend told me about how she used tomorrow logic: “I use a kind of magical thinking to procrastinate. I make up questionable rules like ‘I can’t start working at 10:10, I need to start on the hour’ or ‘It’s already 4:00, it’s too late to start working.’ But the truth is that I should just start.” It’s common to hear people say, “I’ll start my new habit after the holidays are over/I’ve settled into my new job/my kids are a little older.” Or worse, the double-remove: “I’ll start my new habit once I’m back in shape.”

Tomorrow logic wastes time, and also it may allow us to deny that our current actions clash with our intentions. In an argument worthy of the White Queen, we tell ourselves, absolutely, I’m committed to reading aloud to my children, and I will read to them tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow—just not today.

The same tendency can lead us to overcommit to responsibilities that take place in the comfortably distant future—but eventually the future arrives, and then we’re stuck. My father-in-law has a mental habit to correct for that kind of tomorrow logic. He told me, “If I’m asked to do something—give a speech, attend an event—I always imagine that it’s happening next week. It’s too easy to agree to do something that’s six months off, then the time comes, and I’m sorry I agreed to do it.”

When taking the first step toward a new habit, a key question from the Strategy of Distinctions is “Do I prefer to take small steps or big steps?”

Many people succeed best when they keep their starting steps as small and manageable as possible; by doing so, they gain the habit of the habit, and the feeling of mastery. They begin their new yoga rou­tine by doing three poses, or start work on a big writing project by drafting a single sentence in a writing session.

As an exercise zealot, I was pleased when my mother told me that she was trying to make a habit of going for a daily walk.

“But I’m having trouble sticking to it,” she told me.

“How far are you going?”

“Twice around Loose Park,” she told me, “which is about two miles.”

“Try going just once around the park,” I suggested. That worked. When she started smaller, she was able to form the habit.

Small steps can be particularly helpful when we’re trying to do something that seems overwhelming. If I can get myself to take that first small step, I usually find that I can keep going. I invoked this principle when I was prodding myself to master Scrivener, a writers’ software program. Scrivener would help me organize my enormous trove of notes, but I dreaded starting: installing the software; syn­chronizing between my laptop and desktop computers; and most dif­ficult, figuring out how to use it.

Each day gave me a new opportunity to push the task off until tomorrow. Tomorrow, I’d feel like dealing with it. “Start now,” I fi­nally thought. “Just take the first step.” I started with the smallest possible step, which was to find the website where I could buy the software. Okay, I thought. I can do that. And then I did. I had a lot of hard work ahead of me—it’s a Secret of Adulthood: things often get harder before they get easier—but I’d started. The next day, with a feeling of much greater confidence and calm, I watched the tutorial video. Then I created my document. And then—I started my book.
However, some people do better when they push themselves more boldly; a big challenge holds their interest and helps them persist. A friend was determined to learn French, so he moved to France for six months.

Along those lines, the Blast Start can be a helpful way to take a first step. The Blast Start is the opposite of taking the smallest possible first step because it requires a period of high commitment. It’s demand­ing, but its intensity can energize a habit. For instance, after reading Chris Baty’s book No Plot? No Problem!—which explains how to write a novel in a month—I wrote a novel in thirty days, as a way to spark my creativity. This kind of shock treatment can’t be maintained for­ever, but it’s fun and gives momentum to the habit. A twenty-one-day project, a detox, a cleanse, an ambitious goal, a boot camp—by tackling more instead of less for a certain period, I get a surge of energy and focus. (Not to mention bragging rights.) In particular, I love the retreat model. Three times, I’ve set aside a few days to work on a book during every waking hour, with breaks only for meals and for exer­cise. These periods of intensity help fuel my daily writing habit.

However, a Blast Start is, by definition, unsustainable over the long term. It’s very important to plan specifically how to shift from the intensity of the Blast Start into the habit that will continue indef­initely.

There’s no right way or wrong way, just whatever works.

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Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits--to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
bluekaren More than 1 year ago
This book was really full of great ideas. Gretchen offers advice, tells stories to drive the point home, and breaks it down by personality type. This book would benefit almost anyone who was willing to sit down and read it. The Good: Gretchen introduces us first to the 7 essential changes people try to make. Just about every thing some one tries to change will fall into one of these categories. She then breaks everyone into one of 4 categories, with admitting that some people bleed into other categories. I was really resistant at first being one of four, but in reading further I found myself reacting a certain way in every scenario. It’s brilliant really, how true my reaction is to my category. She then offers really helpful advice to actually making new habits and breaking bad ones by using example after example of how to get started. Gretchen lays out an array of pitfalls for each type of person and how to counter them. There is no excuse good enough. Gretchen exposed every weakness I had tried. I was really impressed that she was able to name every type of roadblock for change, and then offer ways to counter them. She also offers many tips on ways you can monitor yourself, to make sure you stick to your habits, or stick to breaking those bad ones. I am serious when I tell you that I took notes on this book. I am pretty sure this is the sort of book you should read, highlight and then reread whenever you hit a roadblock in your efforts. The Bad: The only thing I can really complain about is Gretchen’s attempt to persuade the reader about her diet. While it is worth looking into because it worked for her, this is not her area of expertise, nor is it the reason people pick this book up. Stating a certain diet as being the only way to lose weight in a self help book, is just dangerous. Also, all her talking about how working out doesn’t help people loose weight was really disheartening. I am sure fitness experts will agree that this isn’t entirely correct either. There is plenty of research to suggest that her information is not correct. Conclusion: I would recommend this book to those trying to break or make a habit. It has enough information for the reader to walk away more informed, if nothing else. While I don’t agree with all of what she said, her methods for habits make too much sense to ignore.
The_WizardofFF More than 1 year ago
I came to Gretchen through her blog, and got interested in her work. I signed up for the pre-order of this book, because I know from my own experience that habits(good and bad) are the foundation of an organized life. Gretchen has many valuable insights in the book, to help you both know yourself better, and know how to make or break habits easier. When you understand the principles outlined in the book, a lot of things begin to make sense. Check out her blog and podcasts as well, worth your time. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wishes to change their habits, or simply to understand better where they come from.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! It helped me clarify so many of my habits-why things have and have not worked for me. It's a very thought provoking read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Better Than Before gave me great insight into my way of thinking about habits.
Nancy233 More than 1 year ago
In this book I read things I already knew, but I learned new stuff about creating and establishing habits, too. The author uses an autobiographical style to tell about what she learned through research and experimentation with herself and with others, like her sister. Like other reviewers have said, there is a lot of the author writing about herself which I skimmed over after a while. I wanted to find the nuggets that would be helpful to me, which I was able to do. This book was a worthwhile read. I learned about myths of making and breaking habits, ways that work for some and not for others and why, and new outlooks about how to make habit creating more successful. If you seriously want to break or create habits in your life, this book can give you background information to help you do that.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Unable to get past sample despite purchasing book. Any ideas what to do??
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've found each of Rubin's books helpful and enjoyable, but this one came at just the right time for me. I've made my notes, printed my forms from her website and am ready give up old habits and make new ones! I'm determined to be Better Than Before!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Rebel-Trying-to-Schedule More than 1 year ago
The insights this book has are already changing the way I go about my day. I'm journaling more, focusing on building better habits that will improve my life! Gretchen's ideas are helpful and written with pizzazz! I highly recommend you give this a read, and might want a notebook handy to jot your own ideas in!
LKKing More than 1 year ago
Awesome book. Really helped me see why I am having issues sticking to my habits and what I can do to get myself to stick to good habits.
jlthompson60 More than 1 year ago
I was creating/breaking habits before I even finished the book. She is so down to earth and give very real world advise. I could see myself in her examples and loved being able to apply her advise to my life - right where I am.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really helpful book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago