Gretchen Rubin is a former lawyer who left the legal world for the literary one- she started with Happier, which spawned a podcast of the same name that she co-hosts with her sister, and an expanding line of related self-help-y books, including this one. This was the first of her books that I’ve read, although I listen to the podcast frequently (so I had pretty solid expectation for what I was getting into).
Rubin’s overarching thesis for this book is how we get ourselves to more easily form habits that let us accomplish the goals we are working towards, whatever those goals are. To do this, she breaks down habit formation and tries to give people a toolkit of ideas that might make forming those habits less conscious- things like pairing a less pleasant task with a more pleasant task (tv show you only watch at a gym), limiting temptation, etc. In addition, she encourages readers to ‘know yourself better’ as they’re trying to build habits, as what works for someone else might not work for you, and vice versa. An example would be reflecting on whether you’re a morning ‘lark’ or night owl, and working with that innate clock rather than fighting it as you’re trying to form habits (essentially: don’t try to become a 6am gym rat if you’re an owl- you’re just setting yourself up for failure).
I was suspicious that since I listened to the Happier podcast I might not get very much from this book, but there were still some nuggets of new info that I found useful. If you haven’t listened to her podcast, there’s hopefully even more in here that would feel fresh. (I’ve found her work on the ‘four tendencies’- essentially how you respond to internal and external expectations- really helpful).
Like Elizabeth Gilbert, Rubin is a particular and often polarizing voice (I like them both, although I recognize some of the truth in the criticism). The negative GoodReads reviews for Better than Before have commonalities in finding Rubin privileged and unlikeable. I don’t disagree on the privileged part, but I don’t think that’s really a relevant critique for what the book is – Rubin is giving tips on habit formation with examples based on the people in her world so while the examples might not match everyone’s life, the actual tips arguably could be used no matter where you sit on the socioeconomic scale (and unlike Rachel Hollis, Rubin isn’t telling anyone that their problems are because they haven’t believed in themselves hard enough). The unlikeable criticism bothers me more because it doesn’t seem like a criticism leveled at male authors, just female ones. My response again would be that Rubin admits she is quirky in ways that are not to everyone’s taste- she’s not trying to be someone she’s not. If you’re not sure if Rubin’s voice is for you, I’d test out a podcast episode first- its free and they’re pretty breezy, so it’s a low-stakes commitment. If you like it and want more the books are out there and if you don’t, then you know not to waste your time/money on a book.
Self-help is a form of self-care, right? My cbr13bingo self-care square tells me to cut myself some slack and let it count for the square.