Break­ing BAD HABITS

Tap into your own per­son­al­ity traits to stop oversleeping, over­shar­ing, overeat­ing and more.

Albuquerque Journal - Parade - - PICKS - By Abigail Walch • Cover photography by erin & erica

Snack­ing late at night, skimp­ing on sleep, nail bit­ing, bing­ing on House of Cards— nearly ev­ery­one has vices. That’s be­cause, try as we might, bad habits are mad­den­ingly hard to break. On the flip side, good habits, such as eat­ing more health­fully or ex­er­cis­ing reg­u­larly, never seem to stick. The up­shot: Most peo­ple throw up their hands and sur­ren­der.

But now a new book, Bet­ter Than Be­fore: Mas­ter­ing the Hab

its of Our Ev­ery­day Lives, (Crown, 2015) by best-sell­ing au­thor Gretchen Ru­bin, of­fers some in­sight­ful so­lu­tions. ( Warn­ing: There’s no one-size-fits-all strat­egy.)

“It would be so great if there was a magic an­swer that would do it for all of us, but it doesn’t ex­ist,” says Ru­bin, 47. “We know that be­cause we’d all have great habits if there was one thing we could all do. You have to take it back to your­self.” Ru­bin, whose fas­ci­na­tion with habits evolved dur­ing her ex­haus­tive re­search on hap­pi­ness—which re­sulted in two block­buster books, The

Hap­pi­ness Project (2009)

and Hap­pier at Home (2012)—found that our in­abil­ity to mas­ter un­wanted be­hav­iors was a ma­jor

downer. So, af­ter guiding mil­lions of read­ers down the path of true con­tent­ed­ness, New York City-based Ru­bin, a for­mer law clerk for Supreme Court Jus­tice San­dra Day O’Con­nor, turned her in­ves­tiga­tive skills to­wards habits.

Her most re­veal­ing find? Change is pos­si­ble if we do some soul search­ing and iden­tify how we re­spond to ex­pec­ta­tions. And, just about every­body falls into one of four per­son­al­ity cat­e­gories: Ques­tion­ers, Obligers, Rebels and Up­hold­ers.

“It was like dis­cov­er­ing the pe­ri­odic ta­ble of el­e­ments,” says Ru­bin, who de­vel­oped the Four Ten­den­cies per­son­al­ity frame­work to help those in search of habit change de­ter­mine their type.

Ru­bin be­lieves her­self to be a clas­sic Upholder, some­one who forms habits rel­a­tively eas­ily be­cause she re­sponds well to both other peo­ple’s dead­lines and her own.

As to the other types, Ques­tion­ers will only form a habit if it makes sense to them; Obligers work hard to meet other peo­ple’s ex­pec­ta­tions but of­ten let them­selves down. And Rebels re­sent—and re­sist— habits.

The trick, says Ru­bin, is to “tai­lor your habits to suit your­self.”

PER­SON­AL­ITY + PAIR­ING = SUC­CESS

Af­ter ac­quaint­ing read­ers with ten­den­cies, Ru­bin poses ques­tions in the book to help tease out more nu­anced per­son­al­ity puz­zle pieces. Are you a lark or an owl, a lover of sim­plic­ity or abun­dance, an un­der­buyer or an over­buyer, an ab­stainer or a mod­er­a­tor, a sprinter or a marathoner?

“Think about the habit that you want to form and then think, What’s ev­ery­thing I could do to set my­self up for suc­cess?” says Ru­bin. For ex­am­ple, if you want to ex­er­cise more and you’re an Obliger and a lark, call your friend who lives across the street to meet at 6:30 ev­ery morn­ing for a walk.

One com­mon pit­fall, says Ru­bin, es­pe­cially when it comes to chang­ing your diet, is lack of clar­ity. “You can’t make a habit out of eat­ing more health­fully,” she says. In­stead, your habit should be spe­cific, some­thing like: “I’m go­ing to pack a lunch ev­ery day and bring it to work in­stead of eat­ing out.” Other help­ful diet strate­gies in­clude prac­tic­ing dis­trac­tion (a friend of Ru­bin’s files her nails when the urge to snack strikes) and mon­i­tor­ing in­take (Ru­bin uses the MyFit­nessPal app to track food).

As for ex­er­cise, Ru­bin rec­om­mends a strat­egy called pair­ing—cou­pling two ac­tiv­i­ties, one that you need or want to do and one that you don’t par­tic­u­larly want to do. Ru­bin, for ex­am­ple, only al­lows her­self to read mag­a­zines while on car­dio ma­chines at the gym.

When her younger sis­ter, El­iz­a­beth Craft, 43, com­plained that she had no time for ex­er­cise, Ru­bin gave her the ul­ti­mate pair­ing de­vice for her 40th birth­day: a tread­mill desk.

“It’s so sat­is­fy­ing to leave work and say, ‘Not only did I work to­day, but I walked five miles,’” says Craft, a Los An­ge­les-based tele­vi­sion writer and pro­ducer. It is this same deeper un­der­stand­ing of self that helped Maria Gi­acchino, 53, a mu­sic and film pro­ducer in New York, cut down on drink­ing. Through con­ver­sa­tions with Ru­bin, a long­time friend, Gi­acchino came to see how much her drink­ing was tied to her iden­tity as a wine-lov­ing Ital­ian. “I felt like I wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily mak­ing a choice be­fore, and now I know I can,” says Gi­acchino, who is part Rebel and more likely to suc­ceed when she feels in con­trol of her de­ci­sions.

Now, when the sun is set­ting and din­ner prep be­gins—cues that would typ­i­cally in­spire Gi­acchino to pour a glass of wine— she waits 15 min­utes, dis­tracts her­self with the news­pa­per or Face­book and then reeval­u­ates.

While en route to be­com­ing the Habit Change Guru, Ru­bin also looked to make changes closer to home. Through “some com­bi­na­tion of pros­e­ly­ti­za­tion, ha­rass­ing and ex­plain­ing why some­thing is the right thing,” in the words of her hus­band, Jamie Ru­bin, 47, she has en­cour­aged him to adopt bet­ter eat­ing habits and is cur­rently work­ing on get­ting him to go to bed ear­lier.

“She tries to con­vince me,” says Jamie,

“Think about the habit that you want to form and then think, What’s ev­ery­thing I could do to set my­self up for suc­cess?”

ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of New York Gover­nor An­drew Cuomo’s Of­fice of Storm Re­cov­ery, adding that as a Ques­tioner, he has to per­suade him­self that suc­cess­fully chang­ing a habit is the right thing to do.

GOOD HABITS = HAP­PI­NESS

Be­cause mak­ing and keep­ing habits re­quires a tremen­dous amount of hard work, Ru­bin en­cour­ages treats.

“If you are con­stantly push­ing out and noth­ing is com­ing in, then you’re not go­ing to be able to stick to th­ese habits when they’re a lit­tle chal­leng­ing,” she says. “Treats are a way to give your­self that en­ergy you need to keep go­ing.”

Bet­ter habits pave the way for growth— and growth leads to greater hap­pi­ness.

Ru­bin’s treat of choice? Her fa­vorite per­fume.

Of course, the ul­ti­mate treat is the free­dom that comes from shed­ding bad habits. As much ef­fort as it takes to make last­ing changes, Ru­bin be­lieves that it is more than worth it be­cause, at the end of day, good habits free us from mak­ing de­ci­sion af­ter de­ci­sion and from ex­ert­ing self­con­trol.

“The more [things] you can make into a habit, then the less you have to drain your­self us­ing your willpower,” she says.

As Ru­bin sees it, bet­ter habits pave the way for growth—and growth leads to greater hap­pi­ness.

And, af­ter all, isn’t that what it’s all about?

To find out more about your per­son­al­ity type, visit pa­rade.com/habits to take Gretchen Ru­bin’s Four Ten­den­cies Quiz.

Bet­ter than Be­fore au­thor Gretchen Ru­bin

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