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Better Than Before #1

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives

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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.

298 pages, Hardcover

First published March 17, 2015

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About the author

Gretchen Rubin is one of today’s most influential and thought-provoking observers of happiness and human nature. 

Her previous books include the #1 New York Times bestseller The Happiness Project, as well as the bestselling books Better Than Before, Happier at Home, The Four Tendencies, and Outer Order, Inner Calm. Her latest book is Life in Five Senses: How Exploring the Senses Got Me Out of My Head and Into the World.

She’s the host of the popular, award-winning podcast Happier with Gretchen Rubin, where she and her co-host (and sister) Elizabeth Craft explore strategies and insights about how to make life happier. As the founder of The Happiness Project, she has helped create imaginative products for people to use in their own happiness projects.

She has been interviewed by Oprah, eaten dinner with Nobel Prize-winner Daniel Kahneman, walked arm-in-arm with the Dalai Lama, had her work reported on in a medical journal, been written up in the New Yorker, and been an answer on Jeopardy!

Gretchen Rubin started her career in law, and she realized she wanted to be a writer while she was clerking for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Raised in Kansas City, she lives in New York City with her family.

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5 stars
11,579 (28%)
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3 stars
9,730 (24%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,985 reviews
Profile Image for Sara.
55 reviews7 followers
May 14, 2015
This book started off quite interesting, but unfortunately devolved into the author trying to convince everyone to adopt a low-carb diet and other habits she likes (and to not adopt habits she things are stupid, like drinking water), which was tiresome. Although the start of the book implied that the book would be about habit formation rather than which habits are best, and while the first couple of chapters tried to highlight the variety of human experiences with habits, ultimately this just felt like a rather sanctimonious lecture on how the author's way of doing things is the best. I would have liked to see more research and less personal anecdotes, as well as a more empowering attitude toward readers using the tips and skills to build habits THEY value rather than whatever random (and sometimes seemingly obsessive or unhealthy) habits the author happens to favor.

Another issue I had with this book, which several other reviewers below mentioned as well, is that the author just came off as very...well..unlikeable! That sounds mean, but I actually think it's key in a "self help" type book like this one. One feels very resistant to adopting tips and practices from someone one does not admire or aspire to be like. She seemed overly obsessed with food and weight loss, unable to really understand the viewpoints of others depite repeatedly claiming to do so, and in general just super rigid, controlling, patronizing, and unpleasant to be around.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,081 reviews2,719 followers
November 14, 2016
This is such a wonderful and inspiring book. Gretchen Rubin's advice seems to find me just when I need it most.

Better Than Before is all about our daily habits and how we can improve them. Rubin describes habits as "the invisible architecture" of our 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."

She writes that if we practice good habits, it can reduce stress and increase your productivity. For example, if you get in the habit of always flossing your teeth after you brush, you never have to spend time debating whether or not to floss your teeth, or to feel guilty about not flossing enough. Turning it into a daily habit saves time and energy (and it keeps your gums healthy).

"Habits make change possible by freeing us from decision making and from using self-control."

Rubin sets out to discover just how we can change our habits for the better, and why some people are so good at adopting positive habits, while others may rebel or object to them. The book is filled with practical advice that is based on real-world examples, and she includes innumerable anecdotes from her own life and from her friends, relatives, and even commenters on her blog.

She identified seven basic areas that most people would like to improve: Healthy eating, Exercise, Finances, Rest and Relaxation, Accomplishments, Clutter, and Relationships. Rubin recommends beginning with what she calls foundation habits, those which help us to sleep, move, eat and drink right, and unclutter.

"Foundation habits tend to reinforce each other — for instance, exercise helps people sleep, and sleep helps people do everything better — so they're a good place to start for any kind of habit change."

If you have read Rubin's earlier bestseller, The Happiness Project (which I also love-love-loved), you already know that Rubin is very organized and systematic in her research. She has plans and goals, and makes lists of ways to improve and track habits. She also recommends scheduling time for the activities that are most important to you. As a fellow list-maker and scheduler, I understand this approach and find the structure comforting.

"How we schedule our days is how we spend our lives."

I was so inspired by this book that I started my own habits journal, and have adopted several of her suggestions. One of my favorite pieces of advice is about reducing procrastination: Consider if the task can be accomplished in two minutes or less, and if so, do it right away. Getting those small tasks out of the way does indeed make me feel more accomplished, and I feel more prepared to tackle bigger issues.

My five-star rating could be considered generous, but this book was so influential and so inspiring to me that I think it warrants it. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to improve their habits.

Update November 2016
I reread this book because I caught myself sliding into some bad habits and wanted to remind myself of Gretchen's good advice. I'm so glad I did. I love that this book is packed with real examples and such a variety of ideas for how to improve our lives. Still highly recommended.

First read: June 2015
Second read: November 2016

Favorite Anecdotes
From First Things First:

Surprisingly often, when people want to improve their habits, they begin with a habit that won't deliver much payoff in return for the habit-formation energy required. I knew a guy who was chronically sleep-deprived, never exercised, could never find his keys or his wallet, was constantly late for work, never had time to play the tennis that he loved, and who chewed gum constantly, and he told me, "I've got to make some changes. I'm going to give up gum."

From the loophole called Arranging to Fail:

A friend told me, "I know a guy in L.A. who has some trouble with gambling. The last time I saw him, he said, 'I just lost a ton of money in Vegas.' I said, 'I thought you weren't supposed to go there anymore.' He said, 'I'm not, but I didn't go there to gamble.' I asked, 'So why were you there?' He said, 'I bought a new car, and I wanted to take it for a test drive.' He was absolutely serious."
We set out to be wrecked.

From the This Doesn't Count loophole:

We tell ourselves that for some reason, this circumstance doesn't "count." I lived in a group house after college, and my housemate's boyfriend one day said to me, in a patronizing tone, "Boy, I wish I had as much free time as you do, to read for pleasure." He practically lived with us, so I saw how he spent his time, and I answered," But you have lots of free time, you watch a ton of sports on television." He said, "Oh, that doesn't count." But everything counts.

It is by studying little things, that we attain the great art of having as little misery and as much happiness as possible. — Samuel Johnson
Profile Image for Susan.
44 reviews8 followers
October 21, 2015
Should've been subtitled "First World Problems."

Unscientific, clichéed twaddle wrapped up in the usual publishing/lifestyle guru gimmick. Branded. A vanity project from a bored dilettante (and 1%er, to boot). The author comes across as exhausting and insufferable. I didn't actually finish the book (taking the advice she gives in her podcast to stop reading books you don't like! Zing!); it became unbearable. I came here to read reviews to see if I was crazy.

One thing I did get out of it, though: some key insights into how to avoid being this type of controlling, minutia-obsessed, narcissist myself. So, if you also have perfectionist tendencies, you might want to look to this author as an aspirational anti-hero.

I should know better than to pick up self-help books. Just go read some actual science, folks. Or philosophical classics.
Profile Image for Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin.
3,535 reviews9,943 followers
August 8, 2017
There were a couple of good things in here but it mostly didn't work for me due to medical issues. But, I can see the advice working for a lot of people! 😊
271 reviews8 followers
June 23, 2022
I received an advance copy of this ebook from NetGalley.

I wanted to love this book. I read it very quickly, which is why it got the third star. However, it just felt...all over the place. There were no tips that I felt I could apply to my own life. There was nothing life-changing. There were some interesting categorizations...Upholders and Rebels and Obligers and all that. I thought it was interesting to read about how different people respond to internal and external accountability. As a teacher, it is incredibly helpful for me to know how to best hold people accountable and motivate them. I wonder if I could give my 13-year-old students an assessment to find out the best way to get them to turn their work in? :)

There were parts that were completely unnecessary. Rubin felt the need to mention that she had to check the time before she called her sister in LA from New York, and they talked about her nephew Jack for awhile, OH and her sister writes for a TV show, did you know that? All to get to the point that she told her sister her new idea for a book topic. Too many unnecessary details.

She also sounds a bit insufferable to be around. Asking other people if she can help clean up their clutter? Wanting to buy her sister a treadmill desk? She sounds pushy with her diet, too. She doesn't sound very likeable.

I would recommend this to people who have read her other books and want a quick, kind of light read, but not to someone who is looking for ways to change their own habits. (I would recommend the Power of Habit for that.)
Profile Image for Glenn Sumi.
404 reviews1,587 followers
January 25, 2016
I don’t pay much attention to self-help literature – in fact, a book on how to deal with clutter is currently cluttering up my groaning bookshelves!

But hey, it’s a new calendar year, and it seemed like a suitable time to try to break some bad habits (procrastination, unhealthy eating, lack of exercise, book and DVD clutter, unfiled paperwork) and maybe pick up some better ones.

This book – by Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project – was so helpful that shortly after beginning a library audiobook copy, I purchased an eBook version to mark up and consult.

As she says at the start, "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."

Of course, not everyone’s the same, and they respond differently to expectations and change. Rubin breaks people down into four “tendencies”:

upholders: people who respond to both outer expectations and inner ones
questioners: people who question expectations and meet them only if they agree with them
obligers: people who respond to outer expectations – i.e., deadlines, pleasing someone else
rebels: people who resist all expectations

Once she establishes these tendencies – and generally no one is wholly one type; I’m a mix of questioner and obliger – she covers things that might seem obvious and/or intuitive but are worth investigating. I found her section on loopholes (“arguments for why we should be excused from following a good habit”) hilarious and revelatory. Here are some examples of our magical thinking:

•It doesn’t matter what I eat now, because I’m starting a diet tomorrow.
•I’m so busy, I’ll make those appointments once things calm down.
•I’m going to lie on the sofa so I can brainstorm ideas in comfort.
•I’m totally giving up drinking. Except on the weekends and when I’m out with friends.
•All creative people are messy.
•I need to get good value from this all-you-can-eat buffet.

Hands up if you’re guilty of thinking some or all of these. *Raises hand, enthusiastically*

I picked up some good ideas, some of which I’d already begun but now understand why they’re helpful. For instance: pairing. Pair a walk for exercise with talking with a good friend or family member (either in person or on the phone). Rubin mentioned standing on one leg (to work on your balance) while on an escalator or in an elevator, and I began doing this recently. (I don’t care about the occasional stare I get.)

Rubin also made me think about how important clarity is when trying to establish a good habit. If you feel ambivalent about something, or have goals or values that seem to conflict with each other, it can cause chaos and confusion.

There are extremely helpful chapters on safeguards, including “If/then” tips (“If I’m writing, I shut down my email”) and also terrific insights on how feelings of guilt can affect our progress (“I broke my diet by eating this one mini-cupcake, so now I’m going to eat the whole box”).

I’d never thought before about the difference between being an abstainer and a moderate user of something. For instance, some people find it easier to, say, NEVER eat french fries rather than occasionally eat them. And one of Rubin’s simple but profound observations about habits is that once you have established a good habit you’re NOT FACED WITH A CHOICE! This frees up your mind.

And if you hate going to bed before a particular time, Gretchen offers some solid explanations about why that might be so. In fact, her ideas about sleep and routine are all new to me, but make total sense.

What I found fascinating was that according to research (and Rubin cites many studies at the end), rewards aren’t helpful in the long run. Are you doing an activity for the reward or for the activity itself? If you tell your child she can watch an hour of TV if she reads for an hour, you’re not building your child’s reading habit, you’re telling her that watching TV is more fun than reading.

And the idea of the “finish line” – training for and running a marathon, for example – can be counterproductive. It’s an end, and as she points out repeatedly, starting over is harder than continuing.

A few words about Rubin herself. I didn’t read The Happiness Project, but of course I’d seen it around. At first she comes across as a little too perky and virtuous, that annoying kid who raised his/her hand at every question the teacher asked. But she’s aware of her own upholder tendency, and even makes fun of it. Furthermore, she’s not telling us to be like her; she’s getting us to understand who we are (are we a “Lark” or an “Owl”? are we a “marathoner,” “sprinter” or “procrastinator”?) and find the best way to go about changing. And she seriously gets enjoyment out of spreading the word.

To make the book more relatable, she tries out her theories on friends and family, and occasionally checks in on her subjects to see how they’re doing. This adds a personal touch. I can now picture her sister Elizabeth (a Hollywood TV writer) using her treadmill desk; when I think of Rubin’s Greenwich Village friend Marshall I think of her simple comments to him: “Never keep newspapers overnight” and “Use counters for activities, not for storage”; I think of her friend Maria, who wanted to cut down on drinking but was also Italian, and realized part of her identity was enjoying good food and wine. (Another takeaway from this book was how Rubin got me to think about how we perceive ourselves and how that affects our behaviour.)

Apologies if this review is chaotic and badly organized. There are so many ideas in the book, and obviously everyone will respond to them differently. Just read it.

Now I’m off to slowly but surely try to become better than before. Perhaps I'll check in later so I can monitor my progress.
Profile Image for Silje.
62 reviews16 followers
May 19, 2015
I have to confess that I have this really bad habit of reading self help books. I am really grateful for this book because it just made crystal clear how incredibly banal and superfluous this book is, along with trying to learn anything from the utterly materially privileged life, as well as the perfectionist best but boring girl in the class attitude of Rubin. Which is quite symptomatic of this genre, I have FINALLY understood, even if I quite liked the brilliant and fun business idea of Eat Pray Love.

So thank you Gretchen Rubin for making me aware of the richness of my own messy life which quite sucks from time to time. But at least I have a real life with some challenges that makes the ride interesting. And I am not even in the category of people who are struggling to have food on the table.

What makes me wonder, then, is why these books become best sellers and people like me buy them. Even a really brilliantly creative friend of mine recommended the Happiness Project. Do we want to mirror ourselves in these perfect lives where, oh, ih, losing a couple of kilos and getting into the habit of going to the gym seems to be the biggest challenge in life? To get away from real problems? Maybe we think it is true that if we just get a better diet, follow her advice, our lives will be like Gretchen Rubin's?? Or in reality we just have too much time and no real problems just like her...? Probably this is the scary truth.

I actually got an insight from reading the book, apart from the absolutely superfluous nature of its existence, which is that we should get our bad habits out into the open. What we are ashamed of, we should face. Even if we don't have a loving husband whose father made millions in the Citibank scandal in 2007-8 when shareholders lost homes and savings. (Read the brilliant review of the Happiness Project on this site.)

I have hereby, following this advice, finally given up the bad habit of thinking my life should fit in a self help book and I am telling the world to monitor me :). Forever. And will stick to His Holiness as a guide to meditation and creating a calmer, more compassionate life...

Profile Image for Kris.
400 reviews14 followers
March 31, 2015
While I appreciated the thought process surrounding this book, I would have liked a format that spoke more specifically and in chapter form about what tactics work best for each of the Four Tendencies. Better still, to do a more thorough job of grouping Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, and Rebel with Lark/Owl, Starter/Finisher, Competitive/Non-Competitive, Over-Buyer/Under-Buyer, etc.
This book felt more about Gretchen and her family than it did about actually coming up with strategies for people to use. I get the premise - you have to know yourself to be able to use appropriate strategies. It would have been more useful of a book if it had been written as a toolbook/guide, rather than a narrative about experiences, and how the author has figured out how to be less of a know it all!!
That being said, I really think a treadmill desk is in my future. Now I just have to figure out how to get two monitors and a keyboard on it!
30 reviews
May 27, 2015
This author got more and more irritating. It's all anecdotes of her life and family (her sister this and her sister that) and just sounds so self righteous. She comes across as a know it all who tells everyone to eat lo carb and that their way of building habits is wrong. There are some interesting ideas such as evaluating your personality type in connection to how you develop habits and why one would fight a certain way of habit building. I almost stopped this book when she proclaimed that exercise doesn't help you lose weight, and that diet soda is just fine, but fruit is evil! Perhaps I could've overlooked it, but too many of her habit development uses weight loss examples. I probably became biased against her because I cannot take advice from a person who is fine being the "fussy one", hates traveling, trying new foods, doesn't have good manners and even admits to having a know it all manner. She said it best: "I realize how tiresome I can become".
Profile Image for Emma Sea.
2,190 reviews1,079 followers
March 21, 2017
27 July 2015

I'm a big sucker for time management and self-improvement books, but style of this one made me gag a little.

Rubin tells a story about a woman who was robbed, and when the thieves forced her to open her safe it contained her jewelry, cash, and chocolate. She explained to the robbers it was so she wouldn't be tempted to eat more than a little at a time.

Should you have a safe, a job as a TV show runner, and an overflowing bucket of privilege, you may find Rubin's writing style is for you. I did not.

edit 21 march 2017

Clearly I have reached peak book, because I forgot I already dnf'd this and bought a copy. FML. I finished it this time, but still would only give it a 2.
7 reviews
March 25, 2015
For some reason I could not put this book down, but I think it had more to do with my eager anticipation to be "wowed" or at least entertained, which never really happened. I so enjoyed Rubin's "Happiness Project" that I was certain I would love this book as well. I found this book to use many of the same phrases/concepts/examples as the "Happiness Project" which became a bit much reading them over and over again. I seemed to know exactly what she was going to say before I read that far ahead...which made for a bit of a boring read.

I felt Rubin stretched her level of expertise in some of the claims she made regarding "good" and "bad" habits. She notes that exercise does not impact weight gain; that drinking water is not necessary for health; that diet soda is better for you than regular soda (is it?) and that low-carb diets are the best way to lose weight. These topics seem more gray to me, rather than a black or white, applies to everyone approach. It bothered me to read some of her tangents with respect to these "good" habits, which I think missed the mark. Telling ways to form habits is one thing, but telling the reader what habits are best went a bit far.

I was also expecting to hear more examples of habits Rubin herself worked on during her research. It seems however, that she abandoned most of the new habits she discussed attempting and did not really attempt to form many new habits in this book. It seems she already has the "habit-thing" down, which made me feel somewhat exhausted listening to all the little rules she has for herself - does habit forming need to be so regimented? Perhaps it does and I am just rebelling the whole idea!

I mostly enjoyed the first few chapters that looked at the Four Tendencies and the self-reflection questions. It was fun looking at my own qualities and how they affect my ability to form and keep (or lose) habits. She does present the "four tendencies" in a seemingly absolute truth kind of way, despite the fact that she created the idea without any formal research. She does not speak to the idea that there could be more than four tendencies out there, nor does she acknowledge that people could have different tendencies in different situations (which I identified more with). Unless you are an "upholder" like Rubin, the advice you are given is sparse and pretty much the same throughout the book.

I did enjoy the ideas she put in from her blog-readers and her friends, as these gave a wider breadth of ideas for habit formation.

All in all, I would say that if you have not read the "Happiness Project" then this book might be more enjoyable for you, as everything in it will be new and fresh. Although, I would also suggest that if I had the choice between the two books, then I would go with the "Happiness Project" over "Better than Before". It is more lighthearted and I could better connect with it.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,669 reviews2,661 followers
January 3, 2019
“For good and bad, habits are the invisible architecture of daily life.” Three cheers for a self-help book that is actually helpful! I enjoyed Rubin’s previous book, Happier at Home, so jumped at the chance to read this. In this thorough guide to making and breaking habits, she is quick to emphasize that different strategies work for different people. As in the Myers-Briggs personality assessment, the four classical temperaments, or books ranging from The Five Love Languages or Eat Right for Your Type, Rubin sets up four categories that, while not a hard and fast rule, give an indication of how people will respond to habit formation.

(See my full review at Nudge.)
Profile Image for Michael.
49 reviews534 followers
January 5, 2015
This is a book that I read slowly, re-reading sections, underlining passages, absorbing. Gretchen Rubin's take on habits is fresh, wise, and utterly engaging.

Better Than Before will have a profound effect in my life, and truly, it already is. I will regularly re-read highlighted passages and will likely post several in places I'm sure to see them daily.
Profile Image for Merri Su.
275 reviews
April 6, 2015
This is actually the first of Rubin's books that I've finished. I find her writing (blog, previous books) to have a lot of usable insights that are buried under an insufferable, nearly narcissistic, know-it-all tone. And she has a significant amount of seemingly unacknowledged privilege. That tone and privilege were still present in this book, but at least she's noticing that what works for her doesn't necessarily work for everyone else. A lot of the personal anecdotes in this book made me glad I'm not among her friends and family; she tells them what to do and how to improve or fix their lives a lot, and usually when I'm talking with a friend or family member about something, I don't like unsolicited advice. I also kind of bristle at her Four Tendencies taxonomy, perhaps because I myself resist categorization in a lot of ways (ethnically, culturally, etc.). Lest you think I'm a "Rebel" by her classification (and this is a woman who loves to classify things), I tested as an Obliger.

I did highlight and bookmark a lot of great insight and wisdom, though, hence the three stars.
Profile Image for September Michaud.
139 reviews13 followers
July 19, 2015
In Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin discusses habits as “the invisible architecture of daily life.” As life is made up of seconds, “how we schedule our days is how we spend our lives.”

By choosing the habits we create, we consciously decide how we spend our lives. We eliminate time wasted on indecision because we already made the commitment early on. Once we establish our habits, our time and energy can be used for the activities that make our lives meaningful. As Rubin states “A habit requires no decision for me, because I’ve already decided.”

Once we move our focus from questioning (Do I feel like doing this?) to habitual doing, we take control of our time. The best way to get into the routine of doing is to start off small. Dedicate fifteen minutes of each day to something inspiring or of personal importance, but do it every day. This is what Rubin calls getting in “the habit of the habit.” Once a foundation is established, the tasks can be lengthened, but until we become habitually loyal in doing something every day, we should start off small.

Rubin offers a variety of tips to implement and stick to habits such as self monitoring, self awareness, and self-measurement. She explains the importance of being able to track your progress by stating “When you cannot express it in number, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind. If we want something to count in our lives, we should figure out a way to count it.” We can do this by tracking how many days we’ve stuck to a habit, the increase or decrease of our productivity, and how our habits have evolved. By examining this information, we can become better at creating habits that are likely to work for us.

Rubin also explains the various types of habit-based personalities (Upholders – personal need to always follow the rules, Questioners – must have reasons to follow the rules, Obligers – follow the rules to meet the expectations of others, Rebels – create and follow own rules), and depending on which one you identify with most, you’ll create and stick to your habits in specific ways. Rubin is an a self-proclaimed Upholder, so that is the personality that gets the most elaboration, leaving poor Rebels with very little instruction.

The quotes that start off each chapter are phenomenal. Rubin pulls great quotes from various works that relate to the care and keeping of habits. One such quote: “‘Habits gradually change the face of one’s life as time change’s one’s physical face; & one does not know’ — Virginia Woolf”

The approaches to creating habits are very doable. The book offers concepts that are genuinely useful and that require no money to begin.

Focus is brought to all of the little time that might be wasted in a day and shows how to make the most of it. This book is a great motivator. I found myself wondering how much I can actually fit into a day.

Rubin’s tone can be off-putting. She describes herself as “fussy” and seems to force her ideas onto others while refusing to take advice herself. In one anecdote, Rubin mentions someone telling her she should give up the habit of drinking diet soda and she explains that“‘bad’ is a matter of opinion. She states “I don’t consider it a bad habit. Regular soda is terrible, but I never touch the regular stuff.” This seemed unnecessary.

There is a lot of unnecessary information that doesn’t seem related to the book’s goal of explaining how to change habits. For instance, Rubin describes a lot of unrelated dialogue with her sister: “After we talked about my nephew Jack’s most recent antics, and the latest news about the TV show Elizabeth writes for, I told her how preoccupied I’d become with the subject of habits.” This could have been left out.

Rubin seems strangely preoccupied with the persona she displays to others. She states “I get a big kick of telling people, ‘I’m one of those low-carb fanatics you read about,’” and at one point she describes herself as visiting a “hip indie bookstore in Brooklyn.” These are just silly things that were off-putting.

Also, Rubin goes on and on about her UP band, which is some sort of habit tracking device that she continually mentions throughout the book. By the end of the book, readers will want to throw her UP band in a lake.

And the diabetes talk. Rubin’s sister has diabetes and there is an incredible amount of talk about insulin levels and her sister’s and father’s diets.

I received a free copy of this book from bloggingforbooks.org in exchange for a review.
Profile Image for Barbara**catching up!.
1,394 reviews804 followers
May 25, 2015
“Better Than Before” is a book I bought, as opposed to getting at the Library. Gretchen Rubin is gifted in providing her research into the quandary of habits: good and bad. Why is it so hard to change a bad habit? Why is it difficult to successfully start a new habit? The failure of New Year Resolutions is common, but why?

I loved “The Happiness Project”. This novel is just as inspiring. I’ve gained some self knowledge about why my resolutions fail, and how I can set myself up to successfully begin new habits. I found it worth the read. Plus, you can analyze people in your life and help them change for the better. Am I better than before I read this novel? Yes!
Profile Image for Suzanne.
436 reviews225 followers
April 14, 2018
How we spend our time is how we spend our life.

Quite a few years ago I had a temporary job working as an assistant to the owner and principal attorney of an estate planning law firm. One of my tasks was to fetch his lunch every day from the deli off the office building lobby. There were two things I could bring him, the exact same options always: a particular sandwich or a particular salad, both of which they offered every day, and he didn’t care which it was, plus a certain V8 beverage. He didn’t want to have to make any decisions about lunch; he had enough decisions to make throughout the day. It was his habit to eat those things for lunch, it was already settled, it was just fuel, not for pleasure, and he never had to think about it. I would have been sick to death of that repeated and boring diet in a very short time, but to him the simplicity of the arrangement was more important.

I thought of this lawyer’s lunch when considering one of the two main tenets of Rubin’s book. Habits help you manage your life because there are fewer decisions to be made. Instead of agonizing about when and if and how you’re going to do something beneficial on a regular basis, once the habit is formed, it’s automatic. More energy is freed up for the more important and creative parts of life.

Rubin’s other main point is that there is no one right way to make and maintain habits, the method has to be customized to the individual to be successful. Being able to form and stick with good habits (or break bad ones) depends on one’s motivation, which depends on one’s personality type. Rubin has, somewhat unscientifically, developed four categories, or Tendencies, as she calls them, that people might fall into: the Upholder (which Rubin admits to, the stickler for rules and commitments); the Questioner (that's me! -- who needs a good and logical reason to be doing something); the Obliger (the people-pleaser who needs to be held accountable by external forces), or the Rebel (“Don’t tell me what to do!”). From my recent watching of The Crown, I’ve pegged Queen Elizabeth II as an Upholder for sure.

Rubin discusses various methods that may increase one’s chances of success with forming or maintaining habits, using techniques such as monitoring behavior, scheduling, and accountability, as well as the easiest ways to get started and how to maintain momentum until the behavior is firmly established. She talks about making desired behaviors more convenient, planning for temptation, and recognizing the importance of the “habit of the habit,” how to use distraction, and why rewards for keeping a good habit are a bad idea (but treats are OK).

One of the more compelling ideas is the Strategy of Clarity: to get clear about one’s values can help solidify one’s commitment to habits that support those values. Closely related to this is the notion of Identify: one’s identity can influence the ease or difficulty of habit formation or maintenance. Habits are both harder to break (her friend: “I’m Italian! I have to drink wine!”) and likelier to stick if they reinforce our notion of who we are. I enjoy doing yoga, but I also like being a person who does yoga, which may be part of the reason I’ve stuck with it for 15 years.

I love her idea about setting up a regular “Power Hour,” to schedule specific one-time, non-routine tasks that are necessary but non-urgent, those things that are always sliding to the bottom of the to-do list because they have importance, but no expiration date (cleaning out that hall closet, finding a new ophthalmologist). To give them their own time slot away from the everyday action items ensures they get done and the act of isolating this time for special projects becomes its own habit that declutters the schedule.

I liked her conclusion: We build our habits only on the foundation of our own nature; there are no simple, universal methods. And good habits are worth developing because they help us live up to our expectations of ourselves. And we’re always going to be happier in that state than in any other.
Profile Image for Debra Hennessey.
113 reviews13 followers
March 23, 2015
Lots of good reviews here so I'm missing something I guess. I thought it was babbling nonsense.
Profile Image for Casey.
272 reviews128 followers
March 25, 2016
In my recent review of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I mentioned that I don’t have much of a rebellious streak. This comment made perfect sense to me: my clothing choices tend towards business casual (if I could wear a suit everyday, I would), my favorite activities are cooking and reading (somewhat domestic choices), and my drug of choice is fine wine. So imagine my surprise when I took Gretchen Rubin’s quiz on the Four Tendencies and found out that I, apparently, am a rebel.

Rubin’s latest book, Better than Before, addresses habit formation. I’ve read a few books on habits, because (like most people) there are some good habits I’d like to acquire and some bad habits I’d like to let go of. Now, I’ve read a lot of advice about habits, and I theoretically know how they should be formed: schedule your habits in your calendar, make a public declaration to provide more accountability, find a way to track your progress, blah, blah, blah. Easier said than done, right? But I could never understand why it was so easy for me to get into the habit of meditating everyday, and so easy for me to make most of our meals from scratch, but so hard to get around to clipping the cats’ claws twice a month (even though I scheduled it in my phone and told my boyfriend that I would do it). Meditating and cooking are difficult and time consuming, but clipping cat claws takes just minutes. Why did I feel so much resentment whenever I saw the reminder on my phone?

What makes Better than Before different from other books about habits is that it explores the individual differences relevant to habit formation. Rubin’s great insight is that our lives consist of many expectations about our behavior. Some of these expectations are internally motivated, some are pushed on us by external sources. Different people react to different sorts of expectations differently. My knee-jerk reaction to my inner expectations about the internal shoulds (e.g., “I should really practice the trumpet” or “I should write as soon as I get home from work”) is my life is to resist them. I resist external shoulds too, which seemed normal: does anyone really like paying bills or finishing up those TPS reports?

Apparently, resistance to expectations makes me a rebel, which was a little mind-blowing. Suddenly, I started to mentally reframe some of my non-rebellious behaviors. I usually wear business casual clothing, even on weekends, which is certainly not the norm in casual Northern California and sometimes gets me called out as “not being a team player.” I cook most of our meals, but I find it almost impossible to follow a recipe to the letter: I can’t help changing it to suit my tastes, and most of the time I don’t use a recipe at all. My reading obsession is partially an explicit rejection of more popular leisure activities: I’m not about to watch the reality television programming that everyone else seems to watch, nor am I going to look at internet memes (I’m not even sure how people find internet memes) or engage in the gender-norm-affirming activities found on Pinterest. Wine is compelling partially because it’s so notoriously difficult to master. Come to think of it, I also find it fun to order my Scotch neat (rocks on the side) and enjoy it with a cigar.

According to this book, I’ve been going about habit formation all wrong. If I tell myself I should do something, odds are that I won’t. But, if I accept something as an important part of my identity (e.g., “I’m a meditator, it keeps me from going crazy”) or as a profound pleasure (e.g., “I love the entire process of cooking, as well as the end result”) or as an affirmation of my values (e.g., “I’d rather read than passively get sucked in the materialistic and shallow activities that are pushed on us by consumer culture”), then I can do whatever I feel like. Game changer!

I’m still not 100% sure how to translate this into clipping the cats' claws, but the book gave me enough self-awareness to realize that the calendar reminder wasn’t doing me any favors. Perhaps I’ll invest in a really nice clipper that I enjoy using (this strategy worked when I bought a fancy feather duster, which I now occasionally use to dust, which is a 100% improvement over never dusting), perhaps I’ll remind myself that I pride myself on being a responsible pet owner. Regardless, I’ve taken away a number of strategies from this book, and would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in self-improvement.
Profile Image for Sarah.
351 reviews162 followers
August 5, 2015
I'm going to stop reading this because I find it a bit tedious and the Charles Duhigg habit book is much more compelling right now. That said, there are some intuitive truths in here, particularly the commonsense notion that everyone's habit forming tendencies are different. At least, this validates my feelings about all those krazy articles that try to convince you that the first bite of dessert is the most satisfying so you can just take a bite and pass it along. Um, that last bite of dessert is DELICIOUS y'all, and apparently this is because I am an Abstainer. I don't go around starting a dessert unless I mean business. On the other hand, my annoyingly good-habited spouse is a Moderator, which means he is perfectly capable of bringing home delicious snacks, purportedly to be eaten at some mythic moment in the future when he'll want to eat some of them in a moderate fashion. But I can tell you that he never does eat them, and the reason I know this is because I have eaten all the snacks already.

There are also a couple of mentions of Goodreads, which was fun (although one of them was an admission that to some, Goodreads is a difficult habit to form).
Profile Image for Kelty.
156 reviews4 followers
April 28, 2015
While I always enjoy Gretchen Rubin's writing style and her willingness to try things so very systematically and then write about it, often her books make me think, "Should I really be this concerned with crafting my own personal happiness?" and "Aren't we dissecting this just a little too much?" It's all a bit "meta," and feels very much like first-world navel-gazing. Better than Before is somewhat more of the same except that for some reason, it feels less indulgent when you're talking about building good habits/breaking bad ones vs. crafting personal happiness. Ms. Rubin would probably say that there's no difference between the two, but the distinction is there for me. I found lots of useful wisdom in this book. It would be a great companion to Charles Duhig's "The Power of Habit" where Duhig deals with the broad concept of Habit and how out brains work while Rubin's book offers different ways to look at the way you personally respond to habit change and specific strategies to try as you attempt to use habits to make yourself "Better than Before" I enjoyed this book, found several helpful strategies and probably need to read it again to absorb all that was there. Now, anyone want to form a habits group with me? :)
Profile Image for Cindy Rollins.
Author 20 books2,153 followers
January 15, 2016
I like to start the new year with a self-help type book. I know it is trite but I like fresh beginnings. I also love 'habits' and this book is a perfect complement to The Power of Habit, sort of a testimonial of someone who read The Power of Habit and went in search of more.

I was especially interested in her ideas about rewards because they were exactly parallel to Charlotte Mason's own writings on reward. Reward has limited use in changing habits.

She also mentions how we have to be careful when suggesting change to others, even our children. Because the mere fact we are pushing for something can make it unappealing. You know how hard it is to read that book someone gives you for Christmas and says, "You have to read this." They may be right and they usually are but it makes reading the book an act of severe discipline. This concept goes along with my own writings on not moralizing with our children.

Profile Image for Jennifer.
748 reviews88 followers
February 4, 2017
I wasn't always on the Gretchen Rubin bandwagon. For a long time I found her a little....annoying. But recently I started listening to her podcast and for come reason she finally clicked with me. So when Better than Before was available in audio from the library I decided to try it. Now that she has been doing the podcast for a while (and I've caught up listening to most of the episodes) there is a lot of ideas and material repeated in this book. But I am no longer put off by the author and instead I just look for the ideas that sound like they would work for me. I don't think my life is going to be dramatically different but the next time I want to change a habit, I think I understand a little better about what that will take for me to do it.
Profile Image for Lori Cox.
433 reviews
April 2, 2015
Enjoyed Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project but this time I felt I was being lectured to. Ms. Rubin must be a difficult person to live with as she knows what is best for everyone....
Profile Image for Lauren.
260 reviews25 followers
March 26, 2015
Do I love Rubin’s writing and passion for researching topics like happiness and habits? Yes. Do I love personality tests and did I love defining myself into the roles she laid out in the book? Yes. Did I feel like I learned a lot about how to apply her research to my own life? Ehhh.

I wanted to love this book. As with all self-help books, I desperately wanted to read it and be struck with an aha! moment, suddenly armed with the necessary motivation and tools to change my habits. Did that happen? Not really, but I did close the cover with a better understanding of why people form the habits they do.

For starters, my favorite part of the book was the bit that explains how everyone is different. Just because I am alright with waking up every morning at 0445 (because I’m a Lark, she says) to go to the gym doesn’t mean that you will be alright with it. Some people habitually go to bed every night at the same time and love it, whereas other people (me) don’t. It has to do with your personality type and what motivates you.

For example, according to the book, I’m an Obliger, so I meet my outer expectations but resist my internal expectations. I depend on external accountability to get things done—meaning I’m great at deadlines, but terrible at internal things, like getting my car serviced. I’m a Lark (morning person). I’m a Sprinter, meaning I like deadlines and to work in short bursts. I’m an Overbuyer, a Simplicity Lover, and an Opener. I’m a Novelty Lover, Promotion-Focused, and Small Step Taker. So, what does this tell me (besides the fact that I realllllllly love putting labels to my tendencies)? It tells me what I value and what motivates me, according to Rubin.

She also covers the Pillars of Habits: monitoring, scheduling, foundation, and accountability. Trying to get more steps in? Use an UP band to track it by monitoring your progress. Tell people to hold yourself accountable. Schedule a walk into your every day routine. Figure out what works best for you—the foundation.

I’d like to use myself as an example here for a moment—not that I’m particularly good at forming habits, but just because I inadvertently used those four methods to actually create a habit for myself last year. Growing up, I was not an athletic child. Unless you counted walking to the pantry for a snack or turning pages in a book, I did not do athletic things. Thus, I figured, I hated exercise and continued to tell myself this. Fast forward to May 2014, when I decided I better get fit because I was an adult and what else was I supposed to do? Yes, the foundation wasn’t the best, until I learned one key thing: I hate cardio and I hate team sports, hence never participating in anything growing up. So, I started lifting, which I fell in love with. I scheduled my gym time into my week. My husband went with me, so he helped keep me accountable. And I monitored my progress using a bodybuilding app. Fast forward again, and I’ve been hitting the gym 4x a week for (almost) the past year. It’s a habit, and I get grumpy when I miss the gym. Without those four pillars, I don’t think I would have stuck with it. /ramble over/

Overall, the book was easy and quick to read. I really enjoyed it, if only to take personality quizzes and confirm what I already knew about forming habits. It did get me fired up to form some new habits, which is good. I rated this a 3.5/5 on Goodreads.

A huge thank you for Birchbox who sent this to me through their Birchbox Bloggers program in exchange for an honest review!
Profile Image for Hawley.
405 reviews9 followers
May 20, 2016
I was thinking of giving this 3 stars because it's an intriguing concept for a book and I did get some good things out of it, maybe.

But... I think the more I step back from this, the more I realize the possible damage that could be done by this. I just got back from discussing this book with my book club...and we had what was to me, a major epiphany. I think it's something that anyone who reads this book ought to consider: in all likelihood, the author has an eating disorder.

The book began well enough in my opinion, with an interesting set of "this or that" questions for you to try to think about who you are, how you work, and therefore what habits might best suit you and when. I think we read what she intended the whole book to be, here.

However, as she delves deeper, there is less and less fact and a WHOLE lot of her own ideas presented as the way to approach it. It became a boo, about laws, about working harder so you can be better than before, which ultimately just feels like it is never enough. Mid-way through the book, I had so much anxiety and stress and was TICKED off that my efforts at implementing some of this, and exerting control over my home and children and whatnot were failing. Reading this book just seems to put all the stresses of the world heavily onto your shoulders.

Or, more accurately, your plate and workout routine.

95% percent of this book had zero facts to back up conjecture, okay, maybe 100%, and it was ALMOST exclusively focused on food consumption and working out. Toss in a little dislike for water, add in email stress and writing, go to bed earlier, and boom. That's kind of really all it addresses.

I think the book ends more on a personal essay, reflection side... And I think that this was unintentionally perhaps a cry for help or just turning obsessions into a profitable book - eg turning a destructive behavior into something that in appearances is a positive, good and healthy thing to be proud of.

The author seems to also reveal a lot about herself and her personal life and thoughts, but not in a way that feels entirely appropriate. Perhaps due to her blogging 6 days a week? It feels a bit like viewing her raw. She seems to suggest that everyone ought to be more like her, but ultimately I think she lacks awareness of how confined she is and how obsessed she has become. I feel badly, and I know she hates to get bad reviews or have criticism, but I think this book could be extremely unhealthy when read in full for young girls battling with eating disorders - or any female, really, and let's be honest. This is a book intended for a female audience.

I did get a few gems out of it, like adding to your schedule "DEAR" moments (drop everything and read), and scheduling time to email once a day rather than always checking and being constantly available/distracted...

But in the end, it felt hopeless and so unhappy. Like you just need to be better, and that you must never stop, and ... There's really no motivating reason given at all.

So, I hope the author can be freed from what reads more like addiction than healthy habits, and enjoy life. To which she might say, she does enjoy life she just likes it THIS way with, for example, meaningless meditation that she doesn't really enjoy but doesn't hate, every day ... Just ... Because. The Law seeks to destroy, but Grace comes to give life, freedom and joy.
Profile Image for Trish at Between My Lines.
1,070 reviews292 followers
May 1, 2017
I listened to the audiobook and found it motivational and inspiring. Understanding more about habits has me thinking of new tactics I can use in my life to help reinforce the habits I want to cultivate or ones I want to strengthen. Overall I found it full of practical advice and I'm determined to make some of the advice work for me.

Notes after my second read:
This is a book that you need to revisit, to really encourage the messages to sink in. I found just as inspiring second time round. And I have taken on board some new tips, to try and form those habits that are important to me.
Profile Image for Traci.
47 reviews12 followers
January 1, 2016
I find the topic of habit formation (or breaking) really interesting, so probably why I liked Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives as much as I did. I debated between 3 and 4 stars, but ultimately went with four. While Gretchen Rubin included a lot of research related to habits, the part of the book I liked most was the tips in each chapter based on strategies she's used, along with lots of actual stories of what has worked for others. She catagorized people into 4 different types in the book as well, (Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, Rebels) discussing what seems to work best for one type of person vs. another. I didn't find that part quite as useful, since I can't see myself as being completely one type (probably am most like an Obliger, however). I'm sure many people fall into a definite category though, so that could be helpful.

Some random things that I found intriguing and that resonated with me:
1) The real key to habit formation is to limit decision-making as much as possible. Simply decide to do something (such as deciding to always brush your teeth) and then do it without allowing yourself to choose whether to do it or not.
2) When we're worried or overtaxed, a habit comforts us - that is definitely true for me. When I'm stressed, the last thing I want to do is try to make decisions about anything!
3) Procrastinators often agonize about things they aren't doing, which then prevents them from doing other things (such as something that is fun). Rubin states that procrastinators can't enjoy free time "because they know they should be working." This is SO me unfortunately!
4) Outer order contributes to inner calm - definitely true for me!
5) When attempting to form a new habit, it can be helpful to tie it to an existing habit. I hadn't given that a lot of thought, but think that it would be true for me.
6) A system of external accountability often helps to develop a habit, especially for Obligers.
7) When attempting to form a habit, it's best to at least take a small step immediately, rather than waiting until tomorrow, next week, next month, or some other specific date to begin. Also true for me, as I have good intentions, but always seem to justify starting later!
8) Beginning a new habit is often associated with some sort of change (a move, change of jobs, etc.). It can be easier to form good habits, or can also interfere with already established good habits.
9) Lightning Bolt moments - Rubin states that she experienced a Lightning Bolt moment after reading Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It. She immediately changed her diet and began telling her family and friends about the book.
10) For some people, abstinence is easier than moderation, therefore, if they want to change a bad habit, rather than simply reducing the frequency, they need to abstain from the behavior completely in order to be successful.
11) Making things more convenient usually increases the likelihood of sticking with a habit, whether the habit is good or bad. For example, having everything needed ready for going to the gym in the mornings or buying home exercise equipment in order to not have to get to the gym.
12) Making things less convenient can also assist with establishing and sticking with a good habit. For example, if you want to decrease impulse shopping, make it more difficult - don't take a cart or basket in stores, don't bookmark shopping sites, don't store info for checkout in online stores.
13) Don't allow yourself to use loopholes - for example, if attempting to form a habit of being on time, don't allow yourself to be late today because you're going to start the habit tomorrow or on a future date.
14) Make formation of a good habit more pleasant - for example, if you want to begin walking, but find it boring, listen to audiobooks while walking.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book if you are interested in forming new/better habits or in breaking bad habits. I'm hoping to read more on the subject in 2016, possibly including The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.
Profile Image for Amy.
390 reviews40 followers
January 25, 2016
I'm not much of a self-help book reader. Often they have too many arguments (some reaching) for why you should conform to their ideas. I would much rather be given the information and then left to decide for myself. That is what Gretchen Rubin has offered in her excellent book on the power of habit and harnessing it to improve your life.

Often using friends and family to help her test her techniques and theories, we the reader are able to see her models at work in a fun and relatable way. Sometimes they work for the person and sometimes they don't. I appreciated her including the times it didn't work as it made the book feel more honest.

A big part of her habit building technique includes getting to know yourself better, so the habits you build will actually stick. She presents her models and information in a clear and concise manner. Her inclusion of personal stories and experiences help to round out each section and helped me to better understand the techniques she was presenting.

Rubin has a pleasant and personable writing style. At no point did I feel lectured to or overwhelmed. But most importantly, her book made sense and offered me many tools for habit building that I plan to incorporate into my everyday life! Highly recommended read!
Profile Image for Megan.
144 reviews
August 26, 2015
I have to begin by admitting that I did not like The Happiness Project". I read it twice over a period of several years, because sometimes it's about where *I* am, and not what the author has given me to read. But no. Both times I had the same reaction: there were some genuine nuggets in there, some interesting ideas, but the author herself was unbearable. I mean really, who celebrates that her sister has Diabetes instead of herself?

Fast-forward to this book, Better than Before . I love books about why we do the things we do, the habits we make, why some stick and others don't. The "Work" section of my bookshelf is littered with these, many of which Rubin borrows from ( Willpower or the excellent The Power of Habit ), and some which she doesn't ( The Sweet Spot, etc).

So I went in to this book with an open mind. We have all grown and matured since her last major hit, I love the theme, let's give it a go.

In fact, I found this book infuriating.

Setting aside the fact that she has very little new insight - which is fine, actually: repackaging works great and she can clearly reach an audience that some of these other books can't - what I find most appalling is that a former law clerk and self-reported research junkie puts forth "facts" with no citations. In doing so, she loses all credibility with me - in particular because her facts fly in the face of medical science and common sense. For example, the author dedicated a fair amount of real estate to explaining that physical activity has no bearing on weight loss at all, it's only diet that impacts your weight, and that in spite of what you may have heard (even from your doctor), you don't actually need to be drinking water every day. Add to this a full chapter on why her low-carb diet is awesome and everyone - no EVERYONE - should follow it, and frankly I was done.

This last item, the low-carb diet, is a perfect example of what goes wrong with Rubin: that particular chapter was meant, ostensibly, to provide her readers with an understanding of how a light-bulb moment can forever alter your habits - which is valid. Unfortunately, she then spends the vast majority of the chapter attempting to convert us to low-carb diets with very little attention actually paid to the power of that particular change agent. It feels more like a thinly veiled excuse to convert us to her way of being... which is much of what Rubin does. She says repeatedly that everyone is different and no one size fits all, and yet she regularly tries to convince you that her way is the best and only way to a happy life. Instead I just kept thinking: she must be a pain in the ass at holidays.

Unfortunately Rubin's protagonist (herself) is highly suspect and (for me) incredibly unlikeable, and plays a prominent role in what should otherwise be a study of habits. Because this actually turns our to be a book more about her preferences than anything else, it was a waste of the 3 hours it took me to get through it.

PS - if you self-identify as a Rebel in the 4 Tendencies, beware: there's very little in this book for you, other than some dismissive - and at times - offensive comments and characterizations here and there. I wouldn't recommend reading past the initial description of the tendencies.
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