Before launching into this month’s topic I wanted to share an “aha!” moment from a recent client exchange. But as often happens when I sit down to write I realized this first paragraph is NOT an aside after all. It is the perfect introduction to the whole article.
Brought in by concerned family members to tackle a much cluttered kitchen, I learned why it might have been hard for them to assist in making any real progress. I walked in and began asking the home-owner questions about the type and quantity of used fast food containers stacked on the counters. I asked if she thought she had enough, how often did she use them, were there more in the cupboards, were they easy to wash…and finally; might she be willing to let me discard all the ones that were out of her reach anyway. Sure, she said.
I could hear the family member behind me say, Can I throw this away? And the answer: NO!!!
Asking the right questions was one key to helping this person see her behavior in a new way. Even more important was trying to understand how she reacts to expectations or guidance.
Which brings me to Gretchen Rubin’s new book, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives.
There is so much fun stuff in this book that I just recommend you run out and buy it. Especially if you are interested in why you do the same things over and over, and how you might finally master the changes you say you want. A cornerstone of Rubin’s concept is that there is no one right or sure-fire way to do either; instead your challenge is to come home (my words) to who you really are and what makes you tick.
Yup, we are back to self-awareness, my favorite hobby horse.
Better Than Before offers a number of ways to recognize what you’re dealing with when you say you want change. The first is The Four Tendencies. Notice these are not strait-jackets, they are how you tend to respond to expectations, both your own and those from outside.
I experimented with this when I asked my client questions that would let her tell me how she felt about her stuff. She responded to reason better than many, so now I had a clue about how to work with her. She probably fell into the Tendency of Questioner, those that respond best to rational information and choose to make their own decisions. Useful stuff!!
- Upholder: Feels best when meeting or exceeding expectation in general.
- Obliger: Values outside expectations and needs of others at risk of their own.
- Rebel: Resists all expectation, categorically, and relies on self in the moment, period.
- Questioner: Reviews all expectation through personal lens, meets only those they accept.
There is just too much great stuff about this approach to try and encapsulate it, so instead I will review a number of the concepts and hope you’ll be intrigued enough to explore on your own.
- A habit is a behavior cued by a repeating context, and requires little awareness or intent.
- A routine is a series of behaviors that has been established or designed for a purpose.
- A ritual is a routine that has been loaded with extra meaning, spiritual or otherwise.
The common denominator here is the degree to which you are making a conscious decision. And most fascinating is that for many people this is exactly where attempts to make positive changes run aground. When my clients talk about wanting learn how to sort mail on a daily basis and hang up their clothes and never go to bed with dishes in the sink…it comes back over and over to a moment in time when they:
Choose not to follow through.
Can you own that this is just as much a choice as managing to do the new behavior? If so, you are on the way. Instead people tend to look for either a distraction or an excuse. Here is where habit formation can become your friend.
Rubin’s radical premise:
Habits make change possible by freeing us from decision making and from using self-control. (I would say, needing to rely on self-control…)
Now, being a Questioner I love self-control, and Rebels probably walking away even as they read this. But wait! The idea is that a habit reflects a choice you have already made. Sorry for all the bolds, I just think some of this stuff needs to pop.
Imagine that you could trust yourself enough to once-and-for-all decide to make your bed before getting dressed. No more should I, do I have time, this is boring…it simply becomes part of the daily progression from sleep to action. This ability can become the basis for a lot of huge shifts in your well-being.
A section about “Pillars of Habits” discusses four aspects of making these kinds of sweeping changes.
Monitoring is your reality check; Foundation is the condition of a handful of baseline habits we all deal with; sleep, movement, diet and ….wait for it…environment. (ie:clutter or lack of it)
The other two pillars of habit are Scheduling and Accountability. Your affinity and ability with these pillars is affected by where you fall in the tendencies. For example; as a Questioner I love scheduling, it’s so rational and helpful, but accountability is boring as I already do that for myself.
A Rebel would find both too restrictive and tedious. An Obliger will follow someone else’s schedule and ignore his or her own, but thrives if held accountable for either. An Upholder will be true to whatever schedule he or she sets in place, and also won’t need to report to anyone. Awareness of these attitudes can help you create your own personal map for the change you choose.
Have a look at Better Than Before for more ideas on exactly how!
As the weather keeps shifting towards to warm side, I encourage you to take the opportunity to review and purge those winter outfits that never made it out of the closet, question the coats no one wanted to wear and know that even tired old boots are welcome at most donation locations!