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4 expert tips on how to create healthy daily habits that will seriously improve your life


healthy habitsYou love that sweaty, post-workout, endorphin high but keep skipping class for happy hour…and reach for a monster-sized bagel instead of whipping up your favorite green smoothie. (Whoops!)

Turning something into a regular habit can be tough—even when it’s something you really enjoy. And that’s the focus of Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Life, the newest book by Gretchen Rubin, best-selling author of The Happiness Project and Happier at Home.

With her trademark braininess—part data analysis, part personal anecdote and observation—Rubin sets out to help anyone adopt a new routine. About 40 percent of our behavior is repeated daily, she says, and the goal is to increase that number so that all (healthy, of course!) habits become as automatic as brushing your teeth.

healthy habits“The thing that’s energizing about habits is that they free us from having to make decisions and use our self control, both of which are really draining and demanding,” she says.

More Reading: Gretchen Rubin wants you to be Happier at Home. Here’s how

Of course, there’s no magic formula to starting a new habit, because everyone is different, and, in fact, knowing those personal differences is one key to habit-success. Start with these four tips from Rubin, below, and you’ll be massaging kale daily in no time.

 1. Discover your behavior tendency. What makes you stick to a habit is going to be different from what motivates your boyfriend or best friend (and there’s a quiz in the book to help you identify which tendency describes you). There are four main types: It’s easiest to adopt a new habit if you’re an “upholder,” someone who has no difficulties meeting external or internal expectations. If you’re a “questioner,” you need justification: you’ll want your trainer to explain why you’re doing each exercise, for example, or to seriously research diets before choosing one.

For “obligers,” it’s all about accountability: arrange an exercise date with a friend who’s going to be annoyed if you cancel. (Rubin gives a fun example of gym buddies who swapped one shoe after their joint workouts, guaranteeing they’d both show up the next time.) Finally, “rebels” need choice and freedom. One of Rubin’s “rebel” friends runs barefoot because he loves that people tell him he’s crazy. “If they think it’s about their identity, even rebels can stick to the habit,” she says.

2. Follow the four pillars. Rubin outlines four helpful strategies that support good habits that you should think of when starting out: foundation, monitoring, accountability, and scheduling. So if it’s early gym time you’re trying to master, for example, those may look like getting to bed early (foundation), wearing a Fitbit (monitoring), having a workout buddy (accountability), and setting Google calendar alerts (scheduling).

3. Experiment with creative pairings. Rubin also suggests pairing an activity that you love and want to do and always seem to make time for, like watching Game of Thrones, with something you don’t want to do, like chopping veggies at night to bring your lunch to work the next day.

4. Be kind to yourself. If you’ve decided to hit the gym four times a week and are cursing yourself for only making it twice, your self-anger could be counter-productive. “Sometimes people feel that if they really beat themselves up, they will have better energy to stick to a habit,” Rubin says. “But actually, loading yourself with guilt and shame makes it harder to try again.” Try to learn from what happened (is that 6:00 a.m. class realistic, for example?) and make adjustments.

In the end, after all, it’s a lot of work, but, she promises, “if you have habits that work for you, you are more likely to be happier, healthier, and more productive.” —Amanda Benchley

For more information, visit Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Life

(Photo: Flickr/eelicila)