Better Than Before: Tackling Habits

You’ve been warned: a LOT of words ahead.

I have always struggled with running late, being a procrastinator and habitually not following through. I love goal setting, starting fun projects, dreaming up great ideas and working in fun, but challenging projects. But as you can guess, I constantly drop projects midway through, leave them until the last-minute, am super messy while doing them and my interest wanes quickly. I also really struggle with a lot of guilt and anxiety in my personal and professional relationships and especially my relationship to myself.

Enter: Better Than Before. Gretchen Rubin is a fantastic writer whose books and wisdom I truly adore and can really get behind. Her new book, Better Than Before, is all about goal setting, but not in the traditional sense and it was exactly what I needed. I tore through the book in a few pool sittings, because deep down at heart I am truly a nerd who loves learning and self-improvement. I read it with a highlighter and pen and quizzed my poor, sweet, husband endlessly about habits, personality traits and bombarded him with tips for making both of our lives better.

I obviously cannot recommend the book enough and a lot of this will not make sense if you haven’t read it, but hopefully you will be able to gain some insight and pick up a few tips for yourself that I am also working to implement. And please tell me your secrets and habits that work best for you! Hearing other people’s experiences make it so much easier to grasp and apply these concepts. Which is what I love about the book, Rubin is very good at giving you tangible answers instead of lofty concepts that are difficult to understand and apply.

Here are my thoughts, what I learned and what I am implementing to be Better Than Before.

Artist Self Portraits. 52 Portraits Class from Get Messy Art Journal. Self Portrait by Lauren-Likes Blog

Who I Am

First off, I am an obliger. “WE ARE SO SHOCKED BY THIS” -said no one ever. I am a social worker. I live with about 18 tons of guilt everyday for every person I could not help that day, no matter if I had literally helped 100s of people already that day. Seriously you guys! Social work is no joke. But anyway, this trait is not just in my profession, but it is deep inside my bones as evidenced by the fact that I have left social work and yet still feel this guilt. If you ask me to do something, I will say yes. No questions. No personal consideration for the fact that I actually have 190 other things to do that day. Also, I cannot stand to disappoint people to the extent that when I am running late (read: always) that I will lie and say I’m on the way or whatever BS I can muster just because I feel that saying something like ‘I haven’t left yet’ would be a direct insult to that persons self-worth. Y’all. I am 100% aware that I am insane. Moving on. But, a big downside that goes along with this obliger tendency is that I really struggle to complete and meet personal goals because everything I do accomplish is outside myself and is linked to the accountability of, let’s be honest, not disappointing others. Therefore, the best way for me to accomplish (any) things I need to is for me to have outside accountability. When I began reading this portion of the book I thought that Gretchen was peering inside my soul.

Ps. You can find out what tendency you are here.

Having this clarity about my personality trait lit me up. Everything began making sense. Do you guys know why Get Messy is so successful and my personal courses and website is not? It’s not because the content is any different, it’s all still me – both places. So why don’t they both look the same and have the same level of success? One simple word: Caylee. Now obviously I know that the success of Get Messy is 50% her genius and 50% mine, but the only reason my 50% is in there to make it successful is because Caylee provides me the accountability that I CANNOT work without to get things done. Honestly. We share a to-do list and I feel like I HAVE to check stuff off of it to not disappoint her. Which means, I work diligently on my portion of Get Messy, Every. Single. Day. If I worked diligently like that on this site, it could be just as successful,  but I can’t. I have no one to be accountable to. And you can say, “WAIT! Yes you do! You have ME! Your lovely reader who is here and wants the things you promise and can create for us.” Yes, lovely reader I know. But in truth, you don’t call and angry text me if I don’t do something like I said I would…therefore I will not be getting anything done. Sorry, stupid, but true. *Plot twist to come*

Learning this was a giant wake up call for me. I began to be able to assess my entire life, all the bad habits, traits, goals, dreams I have and figure out why the are or are not working. With the understanding of who I am and how I work down, I was able to go deeper into each habit and follow Gretchen down the path of turning my own struggles and pitfalls into positive steps and new ways of following through. Which is of VITAL importance as I have begun working for myself and need to self motivate 100% to do my job!

A few things she has you identify early on is more of your personality and she affirms how each of these work better. This was honestly really fun to figure out and to chat about (read: quiz endlessly) with Terrell over dinner. I tend to be a night owl and DO NOT do well with early mornings. Really truly, the afternoon is my absolute sweet spot, which everyone else declares their all time low of the day, but it is when I have the most clarity. Therefore, I have given up my self-imposed need to force myself awake at the buttcrack of dawn because ‘that’s what you are supposed to do’. Heck! I quit my job to stop doing what you are supposed to do and start doing what I wanted to do! This working time hours realization has been a game changer for me working at home. I am a procrastinator, no surprise there but knowing this and being able to schedule and plan better is immensely helpful.

Another important thing to note when it comes to new habit formation: Im an under buyer. I feel the need to scrimp, save and make do. Which means if establishing a new habit means I need to buy something for it, I’ll be like I can just use a fork to learn to sew right…..When if I had just bought the sewing kit, I would have actually liked the new activity and not been frustrated how hard sewing with a fork is the whole time and quit prematurely. This stems from my need to save money, hatred for shopping, fear of not actually knowing what the tools are for or where to get them and worry about my quitterness that I will quit and have spent all that money for no reason. Sigh. On the complete opposite side of the spectrum:I am also an abundance lover. I love how minimalism looks, but honestly I love to be cocooned. I need 172 throw pillows, all the craft tools on my desk within reach, the bookshelf full, the bulletin board covered and just all the beautiful things I love displayed. I love the inspiration and comfort having ALL the things brings. Not in a hoarder way, but in a cozy way.

I am a serial opener. Which means I love the rush that I get from starting something new! New ideas! New projects! So much fun! So much pretty! Then the middle comes and it’s really hard and boring and I like to panic moonwalk out of the room.

When it comes to grabbing my attention: I love novelty. Familiarity is truly nice. I like all white mugs, lined up in a row with my same, plain bag of tea waiting for me every morning. But I want to go to stores and touch all the colorful things and have giraffes and dinosaurs on my desk. I like experiencing new, fun, quirky things and exploring the world. Therefore my need is for things to be interesting and unique and instead of stale, so habits need a way of catching my attention to make them interesting for me.

I’m also very prevention focused. Worried about everything? check. Always thinking 15 steps ahead? check. Can already see the fault in any idea? check, check. It kind of amazes me that my brain clearly dropped the ball when it comes to cleaning because it is 100% focused on what we should all do if the car goes over the side of the cliff. Literally. I have a plan for this guys.

I am also crazy ambitious when it comes to new things, like habits. I like Big Steps. Declarations like ILL NEVER DRINK SUGAR AGAIN or IM GOING TO EXERCISE EVERY DAY are very common to hear. I like going all in and have a very inflated sense of how things will work out-obviously great. Which is in direct opposition to my last personality trait. How have people not just imploded already from all these nuances?!

Ahhh….Know Thyself….

Habit Hacks I’m Using

Ok, so how exactly am I translating all of this rich new self-knowledge into actual work? Let me tell you.

This is genius and has been really helpful for me. You pair 2 habits together. Like every time I get undressed to shower, I put my clothes away (instead of leaving them on the floor for 3 days). I love going to the pool and reading, but feel like I shouldn’t because I should be working. I want to grow my habit of reading art books, but struggle to make time for it. I can pair the two, go to the pool and read my art books there. Solving both problems. I love having breakfast with Terrell before he goes to work, but hate getting up. New habit: I ONLY eat breakfast with Terrell, therefore if I don’t get up in time, I don’t get breakfast.

Start Before Stopping
If I am going to quit one thing, the trick is to be sure there is something else there to replace it. I love my aerobics class, but its at a terrible time. So I’m testing out spin classes, they are at a better time, to see if I can switch to that instead. But, if I just quit going to the gym altogether, it is so much harder to start back, especially to a new class I don’t know very well. The same goes for reading. I NEVER use to read more than 1 book at time, but I would finish one and it would take a long time for me to start another. I have found that if I can read a few at a time, but really focus on one, when it’s finished I am already into the story of another. Same goes for art goals. I love instagram challenges and the like. But, after posting every day for the 100 Day Project, I quit posting for almost 3 weeks. I just couldn’t bring myself to post anymore, my accountability was gone and I had no idea what to do anymore. I should have found a new challenge that would start the day before the 100 Day Project ended to keep the momentum going. There is nothing worse that being at the end of project and looking around to say: whats next? The same goes for my art. I always need something else in the docket or else it will take me days or weeks to start again.

Not Depriving Myself
This really hit home. Sometimes when you feel you are depriving yourself and therefore you DESERVE it. Ala desserts! No dessert for me you say? Watch me eat 4. Switching my mindset from being to deprived, to I just don’t eat them, is very helpful.

Such a big deal for me. I am naturally lazy, so making things as easy as possible is super important and what I need to make habits stick. We bought a special clothing basket for me to keep by my bed because I have this weird issue with wearing something once or twice and it’s not dirty, but it’s also not clean. So I refuse to put it in the dirty clothes OR fold it and put it away, therefore I pile it in a giant pile on the floor by my bed. Terrell bought me a basket and now all my weird-in-between clothes have a place and we no longer have giant clothes pile! Also, making things super easy, like having a hanging spot by the front door cuts down on me piling bags, shoes, jackets on the couch. Looking for ways to make life more easy is one of my favorite problems to solve.

We had a really fun and illuminating convo about treats and it’s been fun to figure out ways to add them in. For me its going to the pool/beach, reading, watching movies in bed, buying new books. Helping shift my mindset away from depriving myself and rewards, to giving myself treats, regardless of how well or bad I’ve done in a particular habit or just in general of feeling like I’m ‘keeping things up’ (whatever that means) is really a perfect form of self-care, that in turns makes me want to do my habits. It’s a beautiful cycle.

Using a timer has been VERY helpful for me. I’ve used this method off and on before and am trying to stick with it this time. Knowing I only have a certain time to do something pushes me as a procrastinator and gives me the relief from overwhelm of knowing I don’t have to finish, just make progress and things will be done soon. It also really helps to be able to pack in all the important things in my day without letting one task take over and then my day feel useless. I’ve been using this trick, and the one below, to schedule time in my day to write (this blog!), make art, read, etc. It really helps me focus when the timer is on and get to do all the fun things I like and only ‘have’ to do the unfun things, like finances, for 30 minutes, etc.

I’ve made a point to sit down at the end of every day and write out the next days to do list and it is so helpful. I can move things over I didn’t finish from that day, instead of already having a huge list, when I plan out tasks by the week, and no where for it to go. I also can plan in important tasks, like writing, painting, working out in small time chunks and can be sure my day is planned well for optimal work and joy time. Therefore making each day feel productive and fun.

Time Tracking
I have weeks where I have tracked my time and then where I haven’t and the difference in productivity is ASTOUNDING. It is the perfect accountability partner for me working on my own because I have something to be accountable to, to have to write down what I am and am not doing. I prefer paper (always) so I am using this tracker from Gretchen Rubin. And it truly keeps me on track and is a great reflector for me when I am feeling useless to look back and see that I did actually complete a lot more than I thought.

This one was a huge mindset shift for me. Giving myself grace after messing up a day or week or routine is a must. Instead of being frustrated that I screwed up, saying ‘its ok I can keep going’, makes me so much more likely to actually keep going than to dwell on the mistake and then spiral downward into a binge of the bad behavior. It’s also helps immensely with the psyche…

This is a tricky one and is good for certain situations. When I cut out sodas, I cut out all sugary drinks altogether, forever. It was the only way for me to be able to stick to this goal or else I would be in full Dr. Pepper overload again within a week. I tried only 1 day for years and it never stuck. So I had to go all or nothing. Some habits are like that.

Start Monday
Helping to set my intentions high at the beginning of the week is also really helpful. If I want to start a new habit, like writing for 30 minutes a day, I start on Monday and carry it through the whole week. Because, how you start something is how you will finish it. Start well!

“Habits are behaviors I want to follow forever” Gretchen Rubin

These are the habits I am working on tightening up, adding in or tweaking now that I’ve finished the book and have all these amazing tips.

Cleaning Up
To help cut clutter, but also not feel overwhelmed by a giant task of ‘cleaning the house’. I am implementing The Habit of Carrying. When you walk from one room to the next, take something with you. You don’t have to do anything with it, but just get it closer to where it belongs. Total game changer for a procrastination like me. I can carry things all day long fool!

Working Out
Again, I have to BE the teacher to be sure I will show up. Serious obliger here. So I agreed to teach a Zumba class to ensure I workout at least once a week. But also, I am working to make working out fit into MY schedule. I’m trying all the classes and thinking of other habits and treats to pair it with so I will be encouraged to go. And again, I like to go all in and take big steps. So I’m working towards going everyday and then well see how many days I miss and what works out to be the best routine for me. Clearly a work in progress.

Eating Better
Like I said, never have I ever been prouder to cut sodas. So for that I’m a total abstainer. I did Whole30 and honestly did not cheat. I really loved it, but realized that totally abstaining from carbs, sugars, etc, is not what I want for my life. But to lose weight and be healthier, those are things I need to find a way to improve. So I’m working on habits like: I don’t cook carbs at home, but eating them at dinner out is ok (we only eat out about one time a week and I’m not overly tempted to carbo-load anyway). Not buying sweets to keep in the house, but again, ice cream with a friend is a great treat.

Phone Obsession
Instagram, I love and hate you. I go through phases, but generally I am addicted. I have been making it a habit to work with my phone in another room during computer work because it is the main distractor or for me. It’s the perfection companion when I am painting because I can listen to podcast + audiobooks + stories so I can share, but for computer time it has to go away, unless its acting as a timer because that’s the only time i feel pushed to work and not touch it.

General Productivity + Art Making
Like I shared above, the 3 best tools for me to stay productive in work and my art are time tracking, scheduling and using a timer. I am still trying to nail down the best way for me to work, but these three are keeping me on track with having a positive output of work and giving me that feeling of accomplishment + provide the level of accountability that I need.

PHEW. That was a lot of words. I hope that you find some of these ideas and tips helpful, but really this was the perfect journaling/processing activity for me to go through and write out all that I learned and how I want to apply it from the book. It’s truly one of those books where as soon as you finish you feel like you need to read it again because you actually get it now. Its like watching LOST, you get so much more out of it the second time. Anyway, I would love to hear from you if you have read the book or are queen of habits! Share your secrets please!

Grab a copy of the book for yourself here.


6 thoughts on “Better Than Before: Tackling Habits

    1. Lauren-Likes Post author

      Oh so interesting!!! I cant wait to hear what you think. Questioners are so fascinating to me, because there doesn’t seem to be a way to predict how they will react.

  1. Jenna Ledford

    This was such a helpful and inspiring post, Lauren. I saw so much of myself in here, too! I have the book on my list for when I return from my trip. 🙂

  2. Tracey

    OMG we are so alike it is scary – I’m an obliger, a procrastinator, night owl, always late… I clearly need to read this book! I have nobody to answer to at home so it is easy not to actually do anything and be lazy. I have found lately that at the beginning of each weekend I need to sit down and write myself a schedule of what I want do to make sure I actually achieve more than watching a few movies or napping. ? I know if I have a schedule of sorts that I will at least get some things done and it has actually worked really well. I work out how long tasks will take and then give myself an 30 min “reward” of sitting reading before I have to do the next job on my list. It sounds kind of intense but I feel great at the end of the weekend and there is always the option of not doing anything if I REALLY can’t be bothered or get a better offer. ? I’d love to hear how you go with this and thank you so much for recommending the book, I’m off to buy it now.

    1. Lauren-Likes Post author

      Haha procrastinators unite…tomorrow 😉 YES I am 100% with you on the scheduling. I have a need to do the same. I really struggle with just lounging around and feel like I have to be doing something, but it’s so hard for me to start. I literally have to plan my lounging. So ridiculous. But it seems like you are on a good path! Let me know how you like the book!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *