I had a wonderful thought the other day: Three weeks can be a very short period of time.
It could feel long in some situations – not eating for three weeks would be terrible. The three week mission trip Ben once went on felt very, very long.
But I was thinking about three weeks being the length of time it takes to form a habit, and that is actually a remarkably short period of time. If you could form a habit in only three weeks, and then have the willpower to maintain it, you could change the direction of the rest of your life in those three weeks. Isn’t that crazy to think about?! I’ve been reading Gretchen Rubin’s book “Better Than Before”, and it made me think about the habits I started in 2018. As I went over them in my mind, I had this startling moment of realizing that most of my goals have actually become familiar – they don’t feel strange and uncomfortable anymore, even though we’re not very far into 2018. “But how can that be, I just started doing them!” I thought.
And then I realized – it’s been more than three weeks. If you made any new years resolutions in 2018, and you have stuck with them until now, you have formed a habit! And if you got off track, you can still totally turn things around! Isn’t that a nice thought?!
Dr. Caroline Leaf says if you do something for three rounds of three weeks, you’ve made it part of who you are. I love to think about this. It makes me feel like there’s hope for change in any situation – you just have to figure out how to hang in there for nine weeks, which sounds longer than three rounds of three, so we’ll stick with that!!
Four Types of Habit Keepers
Here’s the thing: I love habits. I think new years resolutions are exciting, but I realize that not everyone does, because I’m married to someone who doesn’t get giddy about a list of resolutions like I do.
It made a lot of sense to find out that according to Rubin, there are four different types of people when it come to habits:
Upholders – have little trouble sticking to habits on their own, and are naturally very disciplined and motivated
Questioners – can stick to habits fairly well, if they believe strongly enough that it’s worth the effort. Will always need to understand the reason behind what they’re doing in order to stick with it
Obligers – are more focused on others than themselves. Need accountability to stick with any habit
Rebels – want to do what they want, when they want. If they know what others want them to do, will often do the exact opposite Everything made sense when I read about these types.
I could think of people who fit into each of these categories. Gretchen Rubin also writes that people can be a combination of two types, depending on the situation. This also fit with my experience, because I think I’m mostly an Upholder, with a bit of the Questioner thrown in. Most of the time, I don’t have much trouble sticking with a habit. I like to do the same things consistently. I still have to work at it, but I actually enjoy the effort.
But every once in a while, the Questioner in me appears, and I can’t make a habit stick unless I understand why. My daily exercise is a great example of this. I see a muscle therapist regularly, and for years, I couldn’t make myself stick to all the exercises and stretches he gave me to do. But one day, when he was working on a particularly painful spot, I happened to ask, “What is that from?” He explained the movement which brought on that particular pain, and then reminded me which stretch would bring relief. Suddenly, I was completely motivated and convinced to keep up with the stretch – I understood the why behind it.
This worked so well that I kept asking the same questions at each appointment: “What is that pain from, and which stretch gets rid of it?” I haven’t missed doing my exercises for a couple of years now, because my actions are connected with results.
What I love about knowing the different types of habit keeping is that once you figure out what type you are, there are all kinds of ways to approach habits which will work well for you.
Even though Upholders have the easiest time with habits, it still helps to know some techniques for starting a new habit, like how to make it as convenient as possible to keep a new habit going, or recognizing what could be the stumbling blocks, and removing those ahead of time.
Questioners need to know the why. If they don’t care, they won’t do it. And if they can’t make themselves care, they either need to research more or ask a lot of questions, or they might need to acknowledge that they don’t care enough to change, and let the desire for a new habit go, and focus on something else.
Obligers need to find ways to be kept accountable. There are many different ways of doing this, and I enjoyed reading the suggestions in the book, because it was clear that there are creative, positive solutions for most obstacles when it comes to new habits. There’s hope for everyone!
And Rebels just don’t care – it seems they don’t concern themselves with habits very much, and they aren’t bothered by the fact that they can’t keep good habits, because they don’t really want to. It almost seems that it’s harder part for the people around them to accept that Rebels just don’t desire habits, than for Rebels themselves. If they really want to do something, they will find a way, and no one will be able to stop them. So it’s possible for all of us to successfully stick to habits, if we want to.
Abstainers and Moderaters
The other extremely helpful information from the book was Gretchen Rubin’s explanation of abstainers and moderators. I had read the information a few years ago in a blog post she wrote, and it is one of the biggest reasons I am where I am today, so I enjoyed reading the full version in her book.
Her research shows that people are either abstainers, meaning they are all or nothing kind of people, or moderaters, which means they can handle things in moderation. If abstainers are on a diet, but are confronted with a bag of Oreos, they can’t eat just one – if they start, they will finish, and eat the whole bag. It is actually easier for them to eat nothing than to eat only one Oreo.
Moderaters, on the other hand, have no problem only eating one Oreo. It is easier for them to stick to a diet if they know they have the freedom to treat themselves every once in a while.
I am an abstainer, but for years, I acted like a moderater, and it made me frustrated and miserable. My health requires me to stick to a very clean, natural diet, and if I eat any junk food, I feel terrible. But I kept allowing myself a little bit of junk food, which always turned into the entire bag of chips. I couldn’t stop myself until the food was gone. The day I learned about abstainers and moderaters, everything made sense. I’ve learned to embrace the fact that I’m an all or nothing kind of person. I don’t eat sweets, ever. I will not touch a bag of corn chips. I exercise every single day, because every other day quickly becomes never. Habits are much easier to keep when I make the decision once, and stick with it.
Moderaters are not able to understand how this approach could possibly be easier, but it just is. It’s knowing that I’m an Upholder and an Abstainer, and I’ve found my groove. But everybody has their own groove, and from my experience, quality of life greatly improves once you figure out what works for you.
It’s been a very interesting, helpful read so far, and if you’re wanting to strengthen any habits in your life, I would highly recommend this book!
So what do you think you are – Upholder, Questioner, Obligers, or Rebel? Abstained or moderater? Any tips you’ve found helpful for sticking with new habits?