You are what you repeatedly do… (Part 5: Unique, just like everyone else)

…Therefore excellence is not an act, but a habit.”  Aristotle.


Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin

The final section of Rubin’s book deals with the social implications of ourselves and how we interact with others in order to foster our most enduring and positive habits.

Firstly, clarity in two forms is vital to successful habits:  clarity of values and clarity of action.

The clearer I am about what I value, and what action I expect from myself – not what other people value or expect from me – the more likely I am to stick to my habits. p. 223

Perhaps it is easier to define clarity when looking at what it is not, namely, ambivalence, uncertainty and indecision.  This can often occur with two conflicting goals, such as “I want to give 110 percent to my work vs. I want to give 110 percent to my family.”

Through clarity of values, we are able to identify what Rubin refers to as red-herring habits.  Namely, a habit we loudly proclaim we wish to adopt, but in actual fact are ones we don’t intend to do anything about, generally because they reflect the values of others, not ourselves.

Clarity of action, on the other hand, helps to set clear guidelines about how to implement a guideline.  This would be the difference between, “I am going to pray more often”  vs.  “I am going to pray every morning for 5 minutes.”

Secondly, identity is another essential aspect.

“Changing a habit is much more challenging if that new habit means altering or losing an aspect of ourselves.” p. 239

Next, it is important to reflect on how others can affect our good (or bad ) habit formation.  In my case,  in attempts to form a healthy family life.  When I spend more time with others who are also seeking this, I tend to bounce off their good ideas and implement them myself.  When I  spend a lot of time with those who are on an entirely different page to me, I tend to bend towards the culture I am immersed in, even if it is not what reflects my values and the actions I aspire to live out each day.  This makes me feel like I am failing at living an authentic life, and clouds my clarity and identity.  Conversely, however, when I am living an authentic life I am more able to influence the habits of others for the good, hopefully.  This is most important for those who I am closest to, as they are the litmus test for any genuine change in my life for the better.

Rubin’s concluding chapter is a good reminder of the reality of our lives and how the best of intentions don’t always happen.  Everyday life in Utopia.  She points out that repeatedly failing at keeping a commitment to an important habit is one of the most discouraging experiences we can endure.  Welcome to the real world!  I would add that it is one of the most discouraging experiences for me to see others repeatedly fail, also.

“There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision, and for whom the lighting of every cigar, the drinking of every cup, the time of rising and going to bed every day, and the beginning of every work, are subjects of express volitional deliberation.  Full half the time of such a man goes to the deciding, or regretting, of matters which ought to be so ingrained in him as practically not to exist for his consciousness at all.”  William James, Psychology:Briefer Course.  p.257

Rubin summarises her entire premise for habit formation on the knowledge that the only real way to change our habits is to know our own nature.  


I have noticed myself now reading articles which dole out advice, be they on health, relationships or spirituality, and putting them through the ‘sieve’ of my own personality based on Rubin’s suggestions.   This has helped me enormously in my own daily life to take the suggestions I know will work, and ignore those I know won’t work,  without the guilt factor.  I highly recommend (in case you hadn’t noticed), a thorough studying.. not just reading.. of this book.  In fact, a workbook-style approach is highly encouraged by Rubin herself, who has a webpage devoted to resources including free downloads, how to start your own habit improvement group, as well as a great quiz to determine which of the four tendencies you are.

I hope you enjoyed this series as much as I enjoyed bringing it to you.  I gained a great deal from studying this in more depth and would definitely recommend it to those who are not in the  ‘Rebels’ tendency group (as you, my friends, are likely to reject it simply on the basis of my recommending it!)

Happy reading!  I would be interested to connect with others who are interested in discussing this further.


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