I recently decided that one of my habits would be to read a full book. Small steps I know. I get so distracted by the next new and shiny book that after the half way mark, it’s near impossible for me to finish it.

After worrying for 10 minutes that perhaps this was actually a deeper sign of commitment issues, I made it a habit to read every night. Even when it got boring. Like really boring. Turns out, the half way mark is simply a hump I have to get over to get the full experience of the book. And this was simply a bad habit.

I’ve been reading a book about habits lately and it’s struck me that ‘we’re not what we do once in a while, we’re what we do everyday’. As someone who took out two credit cards once, and then flipped out at how much I had spent on them, I am living proof that it’s the little things that always add up.

(By the way I’ve totally cut those cards up now).

Old Habits - New Habits

This book called ‘Better than Before’ by Gretchen Rubin, had some interesting things to say – let me elaborate below.

Gretchen names the four categories people fall into when creating habits

The upholder – this is the person that find it easy to live up to internal and external expectations. They form habits easily and stick to them needing little accountability.

The questioner – this person will only sustain a habit if they have a personal conviction as to why it should be made. For example, if they feel life is too short to live without great food everyday then there’s no way they’re going to do a diet.

The obliger – this person will only sustain a habit if they feel obliged to in some way – they need a tonne of external accountability. These are the people that work best with gym buddies for example as they feel worse for letting someone down as opposed to not going to the gym.

The rebel – this person is unlikely to sustain any habit and even more unlikely if someone tells them they need to. They have to really decide if they want it and even then, they have to know they have the flexibly to quit.

What was I?

The most interesting part of this exercise is that I realise I don’t fit into just one category and I have to adjust how I make habits in various areas of life.

For areas of life such as work, eating and the gym for example, I consider myself to be an upholder. I don’t enjoy the idea of a gym buddy as I find them too slow most of the time, and food doesn’t make me happy in the same way I know it makes others so rarely would I eat ‘bad’ food too often.

Man having in front a lot of sweet dessert.

For the other parts of my life, it gets a little harder. Like, I am only going to save money if I have a damn good reason to. Not as a matter of habit. Hence the swings and roundabouts with going from lots to little and little to lots. I have now employed some eternal accountability in that area.

However, when it comes to how I spend my free time, who I spend it with, who I date and my faith, I’m in the rebel category. The more you tell me what’s best for me, why I should do something, who I should or should not spend time with, the less likely I am to do it. I have to make the decision and know that I have total freedom if I want to go back to doing something the way I’ve always done it.

That’s probably why I found youth group hard. There were multiple people explaining how I should be and act so I would always feel even more like doing the opposite. My sister on the other hand found youth group extremely helpful as she found it gave her boundaries and structure.

The reward system

One of the best reflections in the book is around the reward system we offer ourselves when we have reached a goal or stuck to our habit for 66 days (which is the length of time it takes to embed a habit.)

Say you aim to save money by bringing your lunches to work and then reward yourself with an expensive restaurant meal on Friday as you’ve been so ‘good’. It’s a dangerous game to play the horse and carrot stick trick as you can start to feel entitled to something as opposed to enjoying the habit that has inherent benefits in itself. Remember, these are lifelong habits you’re looking to create, not simply for periods of time.

What I’m taking from it

Goals seem too far off for me, but habits, now that something I can get my head around. A friend of mine once told me ‘your concept of yourself is your most precious possession – it must be protected above all else’. So I thought -why not use habits to ensure my concept of myself remains on track.

Oh and I have now nearly read a full book. True story.