17: Better Than Before

This week’s book-of-the week is Better Than Before, by Gretchen Rubin. On the show, we talked about a few topics from the book:

  • Four Tendencies
  • Four Foundational Habits
  • Convenience, environment, and the 20-second rule
  • The Strategy of Pairing

First though, we got a listener question (Thank you!):

How you deal with self-sabotaging thoughts?

Jason uses music to get into a positive mindset. Wally talked about Kevin Stirdivant’s appearance on Short Story Long. In that episode, Kevin Stirdivant gives 3 Rs for handling the incorrect stories you tell yourself:

  1. Recognize
  2. Realize
  3. Re-create

I said awareness is the most important part of handling self-sabotaging thoughts. That aligns with recognize. Recognizing a self-sabotaging thought is a great first step. By seeing a thought as self-sabotaging, you know it’s not helpful and that it’s just a thought.

If only it was just a thought, right? Inception is an entire movie about the power of a single thought.

So what can you do? Remember that a single thought can be just as powerful for positivity. There are different tools to try. Stoicism helps with recognizing them as just thoughts. Meditation really is practice in recognizing any thoughts and steering your focus away from them.

You’ll have to try some of the tools and see which ones work for you.

Here’s a very specific exercise. After a self-sabotaging thought, try making your immediate response “Good.” I learned this from Jocko Willink’s chapter in Tim Ferriss’s Tools of Titans:

“Now. I don’t mean to say something clichéd. I’m not trying to sound like Mr. Smiley Positive Guy. That guy ignores the hard truth. That guy thinks a positive attitude will solve problems. It won’t. But neither will dwelling on the problem. No. Accept reality, but focus on the solution.”

Take action! Think of a negative thought and think “Good.” right after it.

I have less than 10 views on a majority of my videos. Good. I really am willing to practice without immediate outer rewards.

I’ve been trying to lose the same 10 pounds every year. Good. I didn’t quit. And it didn’t turn to 20 pounds and then 30 pounds over the years.

Awareness is also important for habit change.

Four Tendencies

Know yourself. In Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin explains different personality groups and uses them throughout the rest of the book. It must have resonated with a lot of people, because she ended up writing a separate book about these four tendencies:

Everyone falls into one of four distinct groups:

  • 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.

Which of the four tendencies do you align with most?

On the podcast, Jason pointed out that all three of us were parts of military families and are first generation Americans. I want to be a questioner, but I probably fall back to being an obliger more often than I’d like.

Wally talks about taking a hip-hop dance class recently.

Let’s say you want to get good at hip-hop dancing:

  • If you’re an upholder, you can probably find online videos and maybe an online class and actually follow through on it.
  • If you’re a questioner, you’ll ask why you’re doing it and question a coach’s methodology. If you’re convinced, you’ll become a stout defender of it.
  • If you’re an obliger, you should probably sign up for a bunch of classes. And probably with a friend.
  • If you’re a rebel, you’re probably a better dancer than all three of the people above.

Take action!

  • Get to know yourself. Think about which of the four tendencies you align with. Then you can create an environment that’s customized to your needs.

Four foundational habits

We discussed sleeping, exercising, eating right, and uncluttering. These make up the four foundational habits from Better Than Before:

Foundation habits tend to reinforce each other—for instance, exercise helps people sleep, and sleep helps people do everything better—so they’re a good place to start for any kind of habit change. Furthermore, somewhat mysteriously, Foundation habits sometimes make profound change possible. A friend once told me, “I cleaned out my fridge, and now I feel like I can switch careers.” I knew exactly what she meant.

The life-changing magic of tidying up, sleeping enough, eating right, and moving your body.

Which of the foundational habits have you found most useful and which do you need to improve on?

Wally talks about the idea of how small things are important because they reinforce a positive mindset. You make your bed and you can take on the world. You lift weights and slowly see the weights increasing over weeks, months, and years. You’re really practicing discipline and patience.

I mentioned something from James Abel, who hosts the Fat-Burning Man podcast. I really enjoyed his book, The Wild Diet. In a chapter on fasting, he talks about how it really gets you thinking about what you’re actually capable of:

I don’t really know how to explain it, but there is a fascinating phenomenon that often kicks in when people try fasting. Once you find that you can in fact go without food for some or most of the day with great energy, you ask yourself: “What else am I capable of?” That’s where life gets interesting.

I’ll offer my own example. In my first two years of regular fasting, I went from a struggling musician with a desk job to a multiple-award-winning talk show host, bestselling author, and millionaire at the reins of the hottest food app publisher in America. With the extra time, clarity, and confidence you get from fasting, you might find that the entire trajectory of your life changes.

Take action!

  • In the spirit of knowing yourself, pick one of the four habits that’s most behind and start working on improving in that area.

Starting, stopping, and the 20-second rule

In Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin talks about convenience:

One thing that continually astonishes me is the degree to which we’re influenced by sheer convenience. The amount of effort, time, or decision making required by an action has a huge influence on habit formation. To a truly remarkable extent, were more likely to do something if it’s convenient, and less likely if it’s not.

What’s a bad habit you stopped or a good habit you started?

  • Jason stopped snoozing and started working out. Have you heard of the trick where you put your alarm clock across the room? He builds on that by putting it across the room and also underneath some workout clothes.
  • Wally stopped smoking by using nicotine gum. Yes, he then needed to wean off the nicotine gum. Then off of chewing gum. Then off of chewing plastic stirrers. Then off of

I’ve been writing more in the past year. I’m not a good writer, but I can sit down and write a little bit every day. People already write daily and don’t recognize it. We send so many emails and texts. I made writing something creative as easy as writing an email. Now I need to structure it so that I’m practicing the right things when I write, but that’s another story for another book for another episode.

Take action!

  • Think of how you remove 20 seconds of friction before a good habit. (Meal prep!)
  • Think of how you can add 20 seconds of friction before a bad habit. (Take that addicting app off your phone!)