Book Review: Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

Going to try something new here, folks: writing up little reviews of the books I read from here on out. I don't know why this text is different and little. I can't change it. Ha!

→Caveat: I don't usually tend to hate books, (and if I do I just stop reading them so I wouldn't review them anyways) so you won't see me ranting and railing on any here. I tend to read books as a spectator of sorts to the creative work the author has done; I try to be respectful of that. I don't consider myself an authority on literature, just a grateful consumer with an opinion. The opinions I do share are my own musings from who-I-am/where-I'm-at in my life...both of which are obviously constantly evolving. Take my thoughts for what they're worth to you. ←


BETTER THAN BEFORE by Gretchen Rubin

What it’s about:

Habits, and how to make them stick. Based on her research, she’s divided everyone into four main tendencies based on the way they respond to inner (ex. new year’s resolutions) and outer (ex. work deadlines) expectations. The four tendencies are:
Upholder (meets inner and outer expectations),
Obliger (meets outer expectations, but resists inner expectations),
Questioner (meets inner expectations but resists outer expectations),
and Rebel (resists both inner and outer expectations).

She then provides 21 strategies you can use to implement good habits and/or nix bad ones. Some of the strategies work better for certain tendencies than others, and she makes sure to mention which ones work especially well for specific tendencies. Side note: she actually has a new "handbook" out that further investigates the four tendencies…like that’s ALL the little book focuses on. I’m curious!

What I loved:

-I admittedly struggled a bit to get into the book as it felt very “surface-level” to me at first. She doesn’t delve into the psychology of why you are the way that you are (say that in your best drawling philosopher voice), which is the kind of stuff I usually love to get into. She would talk about a tendency and then leave me asking, “yeah, but why did they turn out that way? Upbringing? Nature? TELL ME MORE” (p.s. I’m a Questioner as far as her tendencies go so...). But once I let go of my need to go deeper, I actually ended up really appreciating that she drew that line in the sand: she was careful not to assign greater value to one tendency over another (because all have their strengths/weaknesses), dive into the out-of-her-depth background psychology, or draw overarching judgments on what was right/wrong (though there’s definitely a ‘tone’ when she discusses her low-carb diet, ha!). Overall, It’s a really practical guide to taking yourself as you are and working to establish better habits from exactly where you stand. I ended up loving that about it.

-I liked that it helped me understand my loved ones a little better (and cut them a little slack in certain instances)!

-I loved the strategies. Some of them are common sense, but it's awesome having them all in one group like this. I want a little shorthand list to refer to when I’m struggling to make a new habit stick! I feel like glancing through it could spark fresh inspiration for a new approach. I've used a few of them already with success.

-The portion on The Danger of the Finish Line (link to one of her blog posts on the same topic) really spoke to me, in particular! I struggle with this one all the time! I’ll set goals, reach them, and thennnnn….no long-term habits stick. Now I get why!

-I also enjoyed listening to her podcast “Happier with Gretchen Rubin” during/after reading the book. The episodes shed extra light on the tendencies and the strategies; it’s uplifting and bite-sized (most episodes around 30mins). Also Gretchen and her sister Elizabeth are so funny and so gentle with one another; I love their chemistry! I also respected Gretchen Rubin more after listening; she knows her stuff.

What I didn’t love:

-Just the whole surface-level thing, initially. And also the plentiful talk about her low-carb diet, but I also get that her changing her diet also provided a lot of fabulous examples of implementing strategies for new habits so I wasn’t offended.

-I initially resisted the idea that people were either one thing or the other thing in her ‘getting to know yourself better’ section since it's basically categorizing yourself into one of two categories, but I tried to keep an open mind, rolled with it, and ended up having fun determining which category I fell into. For those who have read it and care I’m definitely a lark (vs. owl), abstainer (vs. moderator), under-buyer (vs. over-buyer), opener (vs. finisher), sprinter (vs. marathoner), and a simplicity-lover (vs. abundance-lover).

I’d Recommend This Book If:

You’re looking for a practical and transformative (but not profoundly soul-searching) book to boost your self-understanding and provide skills and strategies to establish better habits. Like I mentioned before, I’ve had success already with using her strategies on some stubborn habits of mine! It's a great handbook on its subject.


Have you read this book yet? If you have, what did you think about it? Was it helpful to you? I'd love to hear your thoughts!


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