Words written on sticky notes: Build Good Habits, Break Bad Habits!I've been thinking and reading a lot about habits and the role they play in our behavior, primarily because I'm determined to cultivate better health habits and squash as many unhealthy habits as possible during 2015. It's become crystal clear to me that understanding and knowing myself—connecting with myself, if you will—is critical to having a baseline from which I can implement desired changes

Two books I've just read have been interesting and motivating, so I wanted to share the recent reviews I've written of each:

  1. Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits–to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life (available in all formats) by Gretchen Rubin
  2. Changing Your Life By Changing Your Habits: The Power of Making Habits and Breaking Habits (Available only for Kindle) by Dennis Becker

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, reviewed by Elizabeth H. Cottrell

Gretchen Rubin is a favorite author of mine, because she manages to combine professional and research-based content with a warm, inviting, and conversational style. When I’ve read one of her books, I feel as though I’ve had a heart-to-heart conversation over a cup of coffee with my best friend, and at the same time, I feel both informed and empowered to apply what I’ve learned. Rubin has established herself as a happiness expert, and in exploring what makes us happy and content, she stumbled on the notion of good habits and bad habits. The more she researched, the more she became convinced that habits play a critical role in happiness. “For good and bad, habits are the invisible architecture of daily life…In many ways, our habits are our destiny. And changing our habits allows us to alter that destiny.”

Since trying to form a new habit is all about setting an expectation for ourselves, Rubin feels it’s critical to understand how we tend to respond to expectations. In Better Than Before, therefore, she begins by establishing four essential personality types, or tendencies, when it comes to how we respond to expectations, making the case that most of us fall in one category or another: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. She includes a quiz to help you decide what your own tendency is. Of course these four tendencies overlap, and we all exhibit characteristics of each, but I found it enormously helpful to use this concept as a frame on which to hang the rest of her information. Those who know me will not be surprised to learn I’m an Obliger.

The author provided fascinating insights about the role of habits in exhibiting self-control. “Habits make change possible by freeing us from decision making and from using self-control.” She believes that in general, most of us seek changes that allow us to:

  • Eat and drink more healthfully
  • Exercise regularly
  • Save, spend, and earn wisely
  • Rest, relax, and enjoy
  • Accomplish more
  • Simplify, clear, clean, and organize
  • Engage more deeply in relationships

The book explores these and the process of habit-formation in depth, sharing fascinating findings from researchers on what actually works—and what doesn’t—in helping us make improvements in these areas. You’ll find not only tips and tricks you can implement immediately, but also lots of things to watch out for that might sabotage you if you’re not paying attention. I found myself laughing out loud, nodding at many “Aha” moments, and smiling in recognition of my own habits and tendencies.

I love the notion that we don’t have to strive for any absolute end-point, but rather continually strive to be “better than before.” To do that requires some self-examination and monitoring. When you finish this book, you will know yourself better and be equipped to effectively tackle those habits that will make you happier.


Changing Your Life By Changing Your Habits: The Power of Making Habits and Breaking Habits

by Dennis Becker, reviewed by Elizabeth H. Cottrell

I've long since lost count of how many self-help books I've read in my life, especially ones having to do with healthy eating, weight loss, and fitness. And since I'm not as healthy or as fit as I'd like to be, that means I've read a lot of things that I didn't put into practice. I started reading this book because I like the author's business books, but to be honest, I didn't have high expectations that he could deliver something that others didn't. I was wrong! What makes this book special is that when you finish, you DO something! Here's why:

• The author is not preaching; he's guiding you along on a journey he's made himself.
• The author has a gift for encouraging the reader and conveying an “I know you can do it” message without being cheesy.
• The approach to habit change is sensible and implementable: Identify one habit at a time that needs to change, focus on just that one thing for a certain period of time before adding another habit that needs to change. Repeat. This layering of one small thing at a time adds up to become a new pattern of behavior from an accumulation of improved habits that feels much more manageable than other approaches.

The proof's in the pudding: The day I finished the book, I took the author's advice and started a journal, in which I identified some health and fitness goals, some emotions around those goals, and some habits that needed to be changed if I was going to achieve those goals. I identified several habits and selected one habit at a time to focus on for a week before adding another habit. Now, a month later, I have four habits that I've improved:

1) I'm drinking more water every day
2) I'm getting more daily movement
3) I'm getting more sleep
4) I'm not eating snacks between supper and bedtime

I've lost a pound a week without special dieting, and if I do nothing more than maintain these four habits for a year, I'll feel so much better by this time next year.

This book is simple, logical, and easy to read. If you think changing your habits will help you reach your goals, give it a try.



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