9 New Rules for Making Habits That Stick
Rule 1: You Must Stay True to You
Before you make a single change this year, Gretchen Rubin, author of the forthcoming book Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, wants you to take one crucial step.
I'm a sucker for "before" and "after" photo shoots. The thought of a transformation—any kind of transformation—thrills me. So it should come as no surprise that at the beginning of a new year, right there with the rest of the world, I vow to make some changes. They range from the important (walk more) to the whimsical (wear perfume). With some of my goals, I've succeeded; with others, I've failed altogether. For the longest time, I couldn't pinpoint the reason for my erratic results. Did I need to be more focused? Was I just being lazy?
Turns out, I wasn't asking the right questions. As I discovered after spending several years researching a book on how we make and break habits, the problem isn't that we lack willpower or grit. The problem is this: We can't change until we know ourselves. That may sound obvious, but it's a step many of us skip as we make plans and set goals. We forget to think about us: what we like to do, what comes easily, what we can control. And so we fail because we try to change a habit in a way that doesn't suit us. Yet if we stop to identify key aspects of our nature, we can tailor a resolution to our particular idiosyncrasies and increase the likelihood we'll stick with our new plans.
I'll give you an example: A friend wanted to cook more. But even though she enjoyed spending time in the kitchen whipping up dishes, she couldn't get herself to do it. I asked her one simple question: "Have you ever successfully kept up this habit?" She had. When she'd lived with a roommate who loved to grocery shop, she cooked often. Revelation! It wasn't the cooking she minded; it was the shopping. Now she pays a little extra to have food delivered and finds that she has the time and energy to make meals at home.
But what if you're trying to make a change that doesn't come naturally? Say you're a person who wants to exercise, but you haven't found your way to the gym in decades. We've all heard the arguments in favor of exercising as soon as you wake up: Mornings are predictable; you can do it and be done; you'll enjoy the mood and energy boost all day. But while that might hold true for people who wake up with energy, the world is full of night owls who barely wake up in time for work. My owl sister runs on a treadmill at 10 P.M. after she puts her 4-year-old to bed. If she tried to get up at 6 A.M. to run, she'd fail every time.
The point is to figure out what works for you. Some people do better when they start small; others, when they start big. Some people need to be held accountable; some defy accountability. Some thrive when they give themselves an occasional break; others, when they never break the chain. (When I finally admitted that it was impossible for me to eat just one square of chocolate or one scoop of ice cream, I found that I actually found it easier to abstain from some sweets.)
As you read the expert advice over the next few pages and make your plan, ask yourself: Are parts of it likely to cause you physical discomfort, emotional uneasiness, irritation, or boredom? How can you make it appealing so it's easier to keep up? Can you avoid the things that will throw you off course? Many strategies work. You just have to discover the ones that are right for you. And remember, this isn't a race. There is no finish line. Find satisfaction in the doing, and you'll reap the greatest reward—a good habit that lasts forever.
— Gretchen Rubin