Gretchen Rubin: Best seller’s books can be habit-forming

Do you want a life free of the stress of decision-making? You are probably almost there without even realizing it. In her book Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin quotes research that says about 40% of our behavior is repeated almost daily. And for some people that number can be higher. That 40% represents our daily habits, things we do without even thinking about it like getting up at the same time and making that morning cup of coffee.

Habits take the decision-making out of life and Rubin will visit Wilton Library to talk about that and much more on Thursday, Jan. 28, 7 to 8:30 p.m. Her visit follows the recent publication of Better than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Bad Habits, the paperback version of her hardcover New York Times best-seller.

Purchase of the book ($16) includes two seats at the event and one paperback copy. A portion of the book sales will benefit the library. All ticket purchases are non-refundable. Books will be distributed at check-in beginning at 6 the night of the event. Additional books will be available courtesy of Elm Street Books. Rubin will answer questions during her presentation and sign books afterwards. Tickets may be purchased online at or call 203-762-3950 for information.

As an example, she said, “Say I want to eat healthfully and I want to go through my day making healthy choices. Every chance to make a choice is an opportunity to make a wrong choice.” You can be “depleting yourself with making choices. … How many man-hours are spent trying to decide?”

Using herself as an example, Rubin said does not “decide” to not eat dessert. “I made that decision a long time ago. I don’t have to use the willpower and decision-making that are so draining to us.”

“Many people underestimate the value of habits,” Rubin told The Bulletin in an interview on Monday, adding they have a negative association with the concept of habits. But, she added, “these are things that can make our lives so much easier.”

In fact, the introduction to Rubin’s book is called Decide Not to Decide.

“When possible, the brain makes a behavior into a habit, which saves effort and therefore gives us more capacity to deal with complex, novel or urgent matters,” she writes. Habits can also be comforting, making us feel more in control and less anxious.

But just because doing something is enjoyable does not make it easy to form a habit. “It’s a mystery,” she said. “People would tell me ‘I know this makes me happy, it makes me feel good while I’m doing it … but I can’t form the habit of doing it.” She used reading as an example. Many people love to read but they cannot carve out the time to do it.

“It’s not enough to enjoy something. There are other things that come into play.”

Those other things include what Rubin has termed the Four Tendencies, types of behavior everyone falls into to some degree.

They are:

  • Upholders — those who respond readily to outer and inner expectations. They avoid making mistakes or letting people down, including themselves.

  • Questioners — are motivated by reason, logic and fairness. They respond positively to an expectation only if they conclude it makes sense to them.

  • Obligers — are motivated by external accountability. They meet their responsibilities to work, family, and friends but find it difficult to do things for themselves.

  • Rebels — resist all expectations, outer and inner, in favor of freedom of choice.

These tendencies are so key to the ability to form habits that Rubin is devoting her next book, which she has just begun, to this subject. It is a topic she receives many questions about:

I’m a questioner teacher, how do I teach my students?

How do I hire only obligers?

How do I get my rebel husband to quit smoking?

The benefit of find out which of the Four Tendencies relates to you — there is a short quiz at the end of the book — is to get a better idea of yourself.

She further details personalities by breaking them down even more into abstainers vs. moderators, marathoners vs. sprinters, the effect of convenience vs. inconvenience and more.

“This is a great challenge of our lives,” she said of knowing who you are. “You just hang out with yourself. You are constantly trying to find out about yourself. … A big one is simplicity lovers and abundance lovers. I like an environment with a lot of buzz. Marathoners and sprinters are a big problem in the workplace. How can we work on this as a team?

“Part of self-knowledge is you really don’t understand yourself.”

One technique she uses is to ask people if they could magically have a new room in their home what would they do with it. “A lot wanted a meditation room or yoga room. Well, you could probably do that in your house now.” It might involve cleaning out a section where you could roll out your yoga mat.

“If you want a greenhouse, maybe you want more plants.”

When she comes to Wilton, Rubin will speak about habits “and I will focus on some surprising things.” She will also talk about the Four Tendencies and take questions, “which is always my favorite part.”

Rubin also wanted fans to know she has been producing a podcast with her sister Elizabeth, a television writer in Los Angeles, called Happier with Gretchen Ruin. It has been named one of the best podcasts of 2015 by iTunes.