Better Than Before

by Gretchen Rubin

Troy Shu
Troy Shu
Updated at: February 23, 2024
 7 min read
Better Than Before
Better Than Before

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What are the big ideas?

  1. Habits are important in our daily life and can help us save energy and make fewer decisions.
  2. Habits can be both helpful and sometimes stop us from changing.
  3. How we react to expectations (like deadlines or personal goals) affects our habits. There are four types of people when it comes to this (Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, Rebels).
  4. To build good habits, you can monitor what you do, create a schedule, and repeat actions consistently.
  5. Making habits convenient and clear, and understanding how you see yourself, can also help you develop good habits.


The Fundamental Role of Habits in Daily Life and Change

  • “Habits are the invisible architecture of daily life.”
  • “To understand how people are able to change, [we] must understand habits.”
  • “Habits eliminate the need for self-control.”
  • “With habits, we conserve our self-control.”
  • “It takes self-control to establish good habits.”
  • “In ordinary terms, a ‘habit’ is generally defined as a behavior that’s recurrent, is cued by a specific context, often happens without much awareness or conscious intent, and is acquired through frequent repetition.”
  • “I concluded that the real key to habits is decision making—or, more accurately, the lack of decision making.”
  • “A habit requires no decision from me, because I’ve already decided.”
  • “This freedom from decision making is crucial, because when I have to decide—which often involves resisting temptation or postponing gratification—I tax my self-control.”
  • “Habits make change possible by freeing us from decision making and from using self-control.”
  • “Research suggests that people feel more in control and less anxious when engaged in habit behavior.”
  • “Surprisingly, stress doesn’t necessarily make us likely to indulge in bad habits; when we’re anxious or tired, we fall back on our habits, whether bad or good.”
  • “For this reason, it’s all the more important to try to shape habits mindfully, so that when we fall back on them at times of stress, we’re following activities that make our situation better, not worse.”

The Dual Role of Habits: Helping and Hindering Us

  • “Habit makes it dangerously easy to become numb to our own existence.”
  • “A ‘routine’ is a string of habits, and a ‘ritual’ is a habit charged with transcendent meaning.”
  • “Habit is a good servant but a bad master.”
  • “Ask yourself, ‘To what end do I pursue this habit?’”
  • “When we change our habits, we change our lives.”
  • “We can use decision making to choose the habits we want to form, we can use willpower to get the habit started; then—and this is the best part—we can allow the extraordinary power of habit to take over.”

Understanding and Responding to Expectations in Habit Formation

  • “The first and most important habits question is: ‘How does a person respond to an expectation?’”
  • “When we try to form a new habit, we set an expectation for ourselves. Therefore, it’s crucial to understand how we respond to expectations.”
  • “We face two kinds of expectations: outer expectations (meet work deadlines, observe traffic regulations) and inner expectations (stop napping, keep a New Year’s resolution).”

The Four Tendencies Influencing Habit Formation

  • The Four Tendencies:
    • Upholders. Respond readily to both outer expectations and inner expectations.
    • Questioners. Question all expectations, and will meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified.
    • Obligers. Respond readily to outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations (my friend on the track team).
    • Rebels. Resist all expectations, outer and inner alike.
  • “Our Tendency colors the way we see the world and therefore has enormous consequences for our habits.”


  • “Upholders respond readily to outer expectations and inner expectations.”
  • “Because Upholders feel a real obligation to meet their expectations for themselves, they have a strong instinct for self-preservation, and this helps protect them from their tendency to meet others’ expectations.”


  • “Questioners question all expectations, and they respond to an expectation only if they conclude that it makes sense.”
  • “Because Questioners like to make well-considered decisions and come to their own conclusions, they’re very intellectually engaged, and they’re often willing to do exhaustive research.”


  • “Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet inner expectations.”
  • “Obligers may find it difficult to form a habit, because often we undertake habits for our own benefit, and Obligers do things more easily for others than for themselves.”


  • “Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike.”
  • “Rebels sometimes frustrate even themselves, because they can’t tell themselves what to do.”
  • “Knowing our Tendency can help us frame habits in a compelling way.”
  • “If we’re trying to persuade people to adopt a habit, we have more success if we consider their Tendency.”

Strategies for Monitoring and Scheduling in Habit Formation

  • “Self-measurement brings self-awareness, and self-awareness strengthens our self-control.”
  • “A key step for the Strategy of Monitoring is to identify precisely what action is monitored.”
  • “Unsurprisingly, we tend to underestimate how much we eat and overestimate how much we exercise.”
  • “Surprisingly often, when people want to improve their habits, they begin with a habit that won’t deliver much payoff in return for the habit-formation energy required.”
  • “It’s helpful to begin with habits that most directly strengthen self-control; these habits serve as the Foundation for forming other good habits.”
  • “Habits grow strongest and fastest when they’re repeated in predictable ways, and for most of us, putting an activity on the schedule tends to lock us into doing it.”
  • “Scheduling also forces us to confront the natural limits of the day.”
  • “Scheduling one activity makes that time unavailable for anything else. Which is good—especially for people who have trouble saying no.”
  • “To apply the Strategy of Scheduling, we must decide when, and how often, a habit should occur.”
  • “Consistency, repetition, no decision—this was the way to develop the ease of a true habit.”
  • “Scheduling can also be used to restrict the time spent on an activity.”
  • “Although scheduling time to worry sounds odd, it’s a proven strategy for reducing anxiety.”
  • “The Strategy of Scheduling is a powerful weapon against procrastination.”
  • “Scheduling is an invaluable tool for habit formation: it helps to eliminate decision making; it helps us make the most of our limited self-command; it helps us fight procrastination.”
  • “Most important, perhaps, the Strategy of Scheduling helps us make time for the things that are most important to us.”

Clarity, Accountability, and Convenience in Habit Development

  • “Accountability means that we face consequences for what we’re doing—even if that consequence is merely the fact that someone else is monitoring us.”
  • “To a truly remarkable extent, we’re more likely to do something if it’s convenient, and less likely if it’s not.”
  • “It’s not easy, as an adult, to make a new friend. It can feel very awkward to say, ‘Would you like to get a cup of coffee sometime?’ The convenience of group membership makes it easier to become friends.”
  • “Two kinds of clarity support habit formation: clarity of values and clarity of action.”
  • “It’s easier to stick to a habit when we see, with clarity, the connection between the habit and the value it serves.”
  • “The fact is, changing a habit is much more challenging if that new habit means altering or losing an aspect of ourselves.”
  • “Research shows that we tend to believe what we hear ourselves say, and the way we describe ourselves influences our view of our identity, and from there, our habits.”


  1. How do habits shape our daily lives and influence our ability to change?
  2. In what ways can developing strong habits reduce the need for constant self-control?
  3. How do different types of people (Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, Rebels) respond to expectations, and how does this affect their habit formation?
  4. What strategies can be effective for monitoring and scheduling habits to ensure consistency and success?
  5. How does understanding one's tendency (Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, Rebel) help in developing and maintaining habits?
  6. What role does accountability play in habit development, and how can making tasks convenient enhance habit formation?
  7. How can clarity about our values and actions aid in forming and sticking to habits?
  8. Why is it important to choose habits that align with our identity and personal beliefs?

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