“All bad habits start slowly and before you know you have the habit, the habit has you.”
We’ve all got ‘em—bad habits. It’s important to pay attention to them because so much of what we do every day are done by habit and not by conscious decision making. My usual procrastination habits mean that I operate in a reactive mode on most days. The events and circumstances of the day control me and I often feel like I’m on the proverbial hamster wheel. I’m running, spinning my wheels, and not much is getting done.
So, yes, I’d love to change some of my habits. But the truth is, changing habits can be hard work. Fortunately, if we’re willing to put in the work, habits can be changed.
But first things first. Before we dive into the “how to”, habits researcher Gretchen Rubin, the author of “Better Than Before”, said that we first need to know ourselves.
“There’s no magic formula—not for ourselves, and not for the people around us. We won’t make ourselves more creative and productive by copying other people’s habits, even the habits of geniuses, we must know our own nature, and what habits serve us best.”
So first up is self-awareness. Rubin wanted to tailor her habits to who she already was. She felt it would be a losing battle to create habits that go against your personality or innate nature. I can relate. For years, I made a goal to get up early and go jogging. Each time I tried, I never made it past the second day. Why? Because I’m more of a night owl than a morning person, so it was excruciating to get out of bed earlier than I needed to. So, I totally agree…why not personalize our efforts at habit reformation based on our individual tendencies?
Rubin identifies four distinct groups of people. Understanding which group you’re most like is a great place to start when reviewing your habits. Here they are:
The Upholder: Upholders keep their commitments to themselves and have “little trouble meeting commitments, keeping resolutions, or meeting deadlines”. Upholders operate very well when rules and expectations are clear.
The Questioner: Questioners question everything, and resist anything they consider to be arbitrary. They won’t take action unless they decide that it makes sense.
The Obliger: Obligers respond to external forces but have difficulty with motivating themselves if there is no external monitoring or commitments. Obligers do things easily for others, and not so easily for themselves.
The Rebel: Rebels resist everything, and place a “high value on authenticity and self-determination”.
Which group do you identify with? I’m definitely an obliger. I’ll take on commitments that serve others, but struggle with promises I make to myself.
After determining which group you fall into, Rubin poses some additional questions for the purpose of self-awareness (and I’ve put in my answers):
Are you a lark or an owl (a morning or night person?) I’m a night owl.
Are you a marathoner, a sprinter, or a procrastinator? A marathoner prefers to go slow and steady, and the sprinter likes to work in short, energetic bursts up against a deadline. In contrast, the procrastinator works themselves up against deadlines but not out of choice as they wish they had done things earlier. No question here…I’m a total procrastinator.
Are you an under buyer or over buyer? I’m an over buyer.
Do you love simplicity or abundance? Definitely abundance. To me, having pictures up and books everywhere feels “homey”. Minimalist decor feels stark and impersonal to me.
Are you a finisher or an opener? A finisher loves the finish line and enjoys seeing things through to the end. Openers love to launch stuff without necessarily finishing it. I’m an opener; I love to take on new stuff and I'm easily lured by the next new shiny object.
Do you love familiarity or novelty? This one was tough for me. I don’t think I sway far in any one direction, although I’m probably a little more on the familiarity side than the novelty.
Are you promotion-focused or prevention-focused? If you’re promotion-focused, you do things to actively pursue praise or achievement. If you’re prevention-focused, you do things to minimize danger, pain, or loss. I think I’m promotion focused.
Do you like to take small steps or big steps? Although I’ve been a part of big, sweeping changes, I prefer taking small, baby steps.
Being real and honest about your own personality and tendencies means your habit change efforts can be personalized to you. Don’t make it harder than it already is—it seems logical that you’ll have a greater chance of being successful if those efforts are tailored to you!
Rubin, Gretchen. Better Than Before. Hodder, 2016.