Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Book review: Better than Before

Note: This review is unsolicited and unpaid. The views expressed are my own. This post contains Amazon Affiliate links.

Because I enjoyed Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project so much, I pre-ordered Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives when I saw it available on Audible (Audible, unfortunately, does not sponsor this blog). I thought that I could use some support for the healthy habits I am trying to create. This seemed to be the perfect audiobook to listen to while I was puttering around the house tidying things up.

I was very happy that Gretchen herself narrated this audiobook, because it was such a disappointment to me when I bought Happier at Home and found that Gretchen's little experiments didn't sound quite as fun when read by someone who didn't share her goofy sense of humor.  That book always felt kind of grim and self-righteous to me because of the narrator's voice, and I didn't enjoy it much. 

This newest book contains a lot of useful insights on why some habits, even the habits that we really enjoy and want to cultivate, don't stick.  There are helpful strategies, like the strategy of pairing -- tying a habit you want to cultivate, like exercise, to something that makes it more fun, like binge-watching your favorite TV shows. There are great insights, like the fact that once you stop a habit, it's much harder to re-start it because you don't have the fun of starting something new to keep it fresh. My marriage even made more sense once I realized that I am a Questioner and my husband is an Obliger.

However, and maybe this is an artifact of listening to the book rather than reading it -- I began to find Gretchen's lawyerly tendency to classify and codify everything a little dull by the middle of my first time reading the book.  I got tired of the long strings of questions, especially in the chapter on Distinctions.  I understand and appreciate her perspective that habits will stick better if they are tailored to the individual, but some of the distinctions "Are you an Opener, or a Finisher?" seemed a little bit trivial.

What I missed was the element of story that made The Happiness Project fun for me to read. As a midwesterner living in the suburbs, I enjoyed hearing about the life of a Manhattan apartment-dweller and her family.  It was more interesting to learn about one person's individual way of applying the strategy of resolutions to her own unique experience than it would have been to hear a more general discourse on happiness and resolutions. I would have liked to see the same approach applied to habits.

There are a few great anecdotes in this new book, like Gretchen's sister Elizabeth using the treadmill desk while writing for TV shows. Those made the book fun for me, and I wish that there were a lot more. Other than her conversion to low-carb and her use of the Jawbone UP band to track activity and sleep, there isn't as much focus on Gretchen's own habits as on the changes she helped others make. It's understandable that as someone who writes about her own experience, Gretchen might be desperate for a little privacy.

Even with these limitations, I'd recommend this book to anyone trying to change break a bad habit or adopt a good one. On the second listen, I enjoyed it more (probably because I skipped through part of the Distinctions chapter). There's plenty of help here for people who want insights on why some habits are hard to keep and others are hard to break.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

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"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07