Revealed! The Subject of My Next Book. The Most Fascinating Subject Ever.

Whenever I start a new book, I think, “This is the most interesting subject of all time. It’s sad, I’ll never enjoy writing another book as much as I enjoy this one.” Every time, I’m convinced. And then I change my mind when I start the next book.

But I really do believe this may be the most fascinating subject ever. It’s the subject of habits. How do we make and break habits–really?

It was my interest in happiness that led me to the subject of habits, and of course, the study of habits is really the study of happiness. Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life, and a significant element of happiness. If we have habits that work for us, we’re much more likely to be happy, healthy, productive, and creative. When I talk to people about their happiness challenges, they often point to hurdles related to a habit they want to make or break.

My habits research started as part of my ongoing happiness research—I often spend a lot of time studying happiness-related sub-topics, such as pain or the sense of smell—but I just kept pushing deeper and deeper into habit formation. Everything I read was so fascinating! The more I learned, the more I wanted to know—but also the more baffled I became.

I had many questions that seemed quite obvious and pressing to me, but strangely, few of the experts seemed to recognize them. For instance:

  •  Sometimes, people acquire habits overnight, and sometimes, they drop longtime habits just as abruptly. Why?
  • Why do practically all dieters gain the weight back?
  • It’s understandable why we have trouble acquiring habits of activities we don’t want to do, but why is it so hard to make ourselves acquire habits that we do want to do?
  • Why do some people dread and resist habits, and others follow them eagerly?
  • Why are people often so unmoved by consequences? Many graduate students take several years to write their dissertations, and stay ABD (“All But Dissertation”) even though they’re much better off finishing faster. One-third to one-half of U.S. patients don’t take medicine prescribed for a chronic illness.
  • Do the same strategies that work for changing simple habits (tooth-flossing) also apply to complex habits (drinking less)?
  • Do the same habit-formation strategies apply equally well to everyone?
  • Why is it that sometimes, even though we’re very anxious—even desperate—to change a habit, we can’t? A friend told me, “I have a lot of chronic health issues, and I do a lot better when I don’t eat wheat or dairy. But I do. Why? These foods make me feel lousy. But I eat them.”
  • Certain situations seem to make it easier to form habits. Why?
  • Why do we indulge in a bad habit even when we’re painfully aware that we’re doing it? I’d heard that sequence in my own head: “I shouldn’t. I told myself I wouldn’t. I want to. I have to. Watch me.”
  • Most importantly, what are the overarching strategies that allow us to change our habits—or help someone else to change a habit—whether that habit is exercising more, taking medication, doing homework, turning off the TV, or anything else?

I searched unsuccessfully for the answers, until one day a thought hit me: “I should write a book about habits! I’ll figure out the answers to these questions.”

And so I am. I’ve written the entire first draft, in fact.

The book’s title is Better than Before, because that’s what we all want from our healthy habits—to go from before to after.

In Better than Before, I identify the sixteen strategies that we can use to make or break our habits. Some are quite familiar, such as Monitoring, Scheduling, and Convenience. Some took me a lot of effort to identify, such as Thinking, Identity, and Clarity. Some are more complicated than you might assume, such as Rewards and Others. The most fun strategy? Treats. The funniest chapter? The chapter on Safeguards (I include a list of the loopholes we invoke to justify breaking our healthy habits, and they are hilarious.)

The book will hit the shelves in March 2015 (Crown), and if you want to be notified as soon as it’s available for pre-order, sign up here.

Here on the blog, I’ll continue to write generally about happiness, and in particular–as you may have noticed reflected in a few design changes–what I’ve learned about habits. My work on the Four Tendencies came out of my habit research, for example. I was struggling to understand why people seemed so different from each other, when it came to their attitude and aptitude for habit. Why did I find it fairly easy to adopt a new habit, and I love my habits, but other people detest habits? Or they want habits but can’t form them? Or can form them in some situations, but not others? I wanted to solve that riddle—which required me to come up with a framework to capture the variations in human nature.  (It took me months to figure this out.)

I identified the abstainer/moderator distinction before I started to focus on habits, but the habits analysis helped me understand the implications of that distinction much better.

I’ve always loved “Before and After” stories, in books, magazines, and TV shows. Whenever I read those words, I’m hooked. The thought of a transformation—any kind of transformation—thrills me. And that’s the promise of habits.

I’m going to add a new feature to this site (I hope): I’d love to feature people’s stories of their own “before and after.” It’s so helpful to hear about other people’s experiences, and how they’ve managed to change their habits for the better. If you have a before-and-after story to share, you can send it to me here. I may not be able to run them all, but I’ll certainly read them all.

Habit allows us to go from before to after, to make life easier and better. Habit is notorious—and rightly so—for its ability to direct our actions, even against our will; but by mindfully shaping our habits, we can harness the power of mindlessness as a sweeping force for serenity, energy, and growth. Habits allow us to look back at the end of each day and see that we’ve undertaken the actions that reflect our values—without even having to think about it.

Before and after! It’s what we all crave.

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  • peninith1

    Excellent. Because this is where you HAVE to go if you want to increase your overall contentment, health and well-being. You have to acquire habits or change habits–habits of thought and outlook as much as of doing or not doing.

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m very happy to hear that you’re interested in the subject!

  • lthompson513

    Love this idea and eager to read what you have discovered! I find myself habitually trying to cultivate new habits. Is that a thing? It’s kind of like I’m addicted to identifying a resolution and starting it, then moving on to something else. The “new” part of (attempting) a habit is so shiny and fun-sounding I guess!

  • MariaLunsford

    This is so exciting!! I am so interested in the idea of habits! I read The Happiness Project last year as I was going through a time of great change, and I loved the idea of starting my own Happiness Project. However, I am an Obliger through and through. I find it very easy to perfectly follow and emulate what others do, by the book. Coming up with my own goals/ daily habits was hard, and sticking with them was even harder! I made a chart for January but made it a mere two weeks of checking off my daily successes. I have come back to your blog recently and read it every day. I am thinking I need a “Happiness Project Buddy” like a gym buddy to hold me accountable. This might seem totally ridiculous to you, an Upholder, since a Happiness Project should be such a personal journey. It might be necessary for me, though! Wish me luck on attempt #2 :)

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m happy to hear that my work strikes a chord with you – good luck!

    • Annie M

      MariaLunsford
      I have just started getting Gretchen’s monthly newsletter and here it is February 19, 2014 and I am finally reading November’s newsletter. I have not read any of her books but am very interested in doing so. I am assuming the terms Obliger and Upholder are terms she uses in her books. I too would fit into the Obliger category and understand your desire/need for a “Happiness Project Buddy”. If this is something you would be interested in discussing further whether we could help each other out, you could e-mail me at amontgeaux@yahoo.com. I’d really like to give this a try. And good luck to you!

  • Shari

    Your abstainer/moderator distinction has helped me with my weight loss as I am an abstainer. Losing weight is relatively easy for me. It is the moderation of maintenance that is difficult. Knowing this is helping me develop new eating habits.

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m so glad to hear that you found that helpful.

    • Diane

      I agree with you about the “moderation of maintenance.” I recently lost 27 pounds and have been working on maintenance for about 6 months. So far, so good. I find that, as hard as it is, limiting myself to a very small range has helped a lot, along with doing some form of mindful exercise every day.

  • Pam

    SO excited about the new book!!

  • Liz Nova

    THIS IS SO WONDERFUL! I am a huge fan and this topic is great! So excited!

  • Sonny Cornelissen

    Thanks to Twitter I found my way to your site and I am glad I did. Really looking forward to reading more articles, too busy procrastinating at the moment – a bad Habit of mine :-)

    • Sophia Mose-van Woensel

      Sonny, Fiore’s “The Now Habit” is an excellent book for procrastinators. A real eye opener.

  • http://www.no14plusminus.ro/ Gleen Caryne Chavous

    When will the book be ready? AH! I CAN’T wait!!! The Happiness Project and Happier at Home – I practically know them by heart.

    • gretchenrubin

      Thanks! Hold that thought until 2015 when Before and After hits the shelves!

      • http://www.no14plusminus.ro/ Gleen Caryne Chavous

        Oh, that’s far – but I know you are working carefully. I think i will start a new happiness project and i will re-read THE book. ;)

  • Eve

    But, Gretchen, all your happiness books are about habits. :) Is that not obvious to you? By the way, I agree with everyone else here– the abstainer/moderator dichotomy has been very helpful to me in understanding other people. Before, I always assumed that abstainers were wrongheaded and setting themselves up for failure.

  • Rachel

    I really enjoy your writing style, and I look forward to your new book!

    I have a suggestion, though. Could you use footnotes/references in this book when you make statements like, “Research shows…”? That was lacking in your previous books. I think showing readers where you are getting your information adds credibility to your work. Thanks, Gretchen!

    • gretchenrubin

      Ah, with enough time and space I would include everything in my books! You should see how long my source documents are. But what we gain in one way we lose in another, so a writer must make trade-offs for inclusion.

      • mellen

        I also would love to see more references! You put so much research and effort into your books, I’d love to see more of what you’ve found.

  • BKF

    Very exciting! Best of luck with your new baby. :-) I feel that it’s going to be a wonderful book.

    • BKF

      Like many others, I struggle with habits (I hate to call them “bad”- perhaps they prove that I *can* be tenacious and persevering!) I wholeheartedly agree with Ben Franklin- It’s easier to prevent a bad habit rather than break it. I’m pretty sure if I had ever taken up smoking or drugs, I’d be struggling with those problems now. (As an example, anesthesiologists who abuse drugs like narcotics have a very high rate of recidivism and are generally not allowed back into practice anymore even after “successful” detox and rehabilitation.)

      Your books are turning into lifelong projects for me. Dipping into the Happiness Project is like having a wise, kindly friend at my side, cheering me on…

  • http://www.todayicanchange.com/ Robb Gorringe

    Looks like it’s going to be a great book. They make or break us. Congrat’s!

  • Kathryn

    A really interesting topic! I very much enjoyed Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, which came out about two years ago, and I still think about it often. I’d be interested to hear what you thought of his work, and how Before & After will enrich and deepen the conversation….

    • gretchenrubin

      I love Power of Habit – and the book is about exactly that: the POWER of habits. Boy they’re powerful!
      My book is about how to make and break habits. I’ve identified 16 strategies that people can use, and also some frameworks so that people can understand themselves better.
      There’s an assumption in a lot of habits literature that everyone is pretty much the same when it comes to habits, and to my mind, there’s a LOT of difference, but we don’t really have a vocabulary to talk about that, or the implications of those differences for habit change.

      • Kathryn

        Thanks for the reply! Excited to read it.

      • http://bit.ly/1bvUvzU Mary W. Crow

        Can’t wait to read your book, and I’m enjoying the sneak previews. You’re right that habits are more powerful than most of us give them credit for, and they can be used to our advantage or disadvantage. What an intricate topic–in order to change, we must first be aware of a habit, explore its consequences, then understand our hidden motives and thought processes. Thank you for exploring this fascinating topic!

  • Yvann

    So exciting! I can’t wait for this to come out.

  • Beth

    Love this idea and can’t wait to read the book!
    Btw, have you seen this post posted today? http://zenhabits.net/lyrical/ Thought it might strike a chord… maybe :o)

  • Felicity

    Ohhh… so want book! Great choice of topic!

  • mosmab

    Great topic! As someone who just dropped a ten-year, heavy smoking habit overnight with barely a moment of discomfort, but haven’t been able to drop habits of thinking (I’m not good enough) in years… I’ll be eager to read your book. I’ve come to believe we are ruled by our habits more than we think.

    • peninith1

      I think that habits of mind are really REALLY difficult to address. I have found it helpful (without changing belief systems exactly) to get some direction from Buddhist writers like Thich Nhat Hanh to work on keeping my thoughts more in the present and to keep the ‘habit energy’ of negative thoughts from running away with me. I love his suggestion to put a few post it notes that just say “STOP!” around the house to remind you for a few days to check what you are thinking and see what dire canyons of the mind your bad mental habits have been carrying you through. Wow. “Be Here, NOW,” is one of my personal commandments.
      Best to you! And congratulations on quitting smoking. You will never, NEVER be sorry that you did that!

      • mosmab

        Thank you for your kind comment. I’ll try the STOP post-it trick. You never know what might work!

      • Jenna

        Can I ask what book that suggestion came from? I would love to read some of Thich Nhat Hanh’s work, I haven’t heard of him before but this sounds very interesting!

  • Murphy

    But I wanted your next book to be Happier at Work to cover another aspect of our modern lives.

    • Jessica

      I so agree. I think this is a really important topic to tackle and an issue close to many people’s hearts.

  • Jenya

    Thank you so much for doing this! I completely agree that most habit books are one-size fits all, and I’ve rarely found a helpful one in the past. I think I’ve mentioned before that anyone who can figure out how to help the questioner/moderator/maximizer/Myers-Briggs “P”s among us would be accomplishing something huge. Really looking forward to this.

  • Jennifer

    I’ve had problems with the blues for many years and as I get older (I’m closing in on 50) it does not get any easier. Now with winter coming on and long nights — ugh. One trick I use is to talk to myself as I walk my dog everyday that there are only 3 things that exist in the world — what I can control, what I can influence, and what I have no control or influence over. The latter makes up 99.9% of life. So when politics, the weather, my kids, my husband, traffic, whatever weigh on me, I ask myself if it fits into slot 1 or 2. If not, I force myself to think about something pleasant, like how much my siberian loves her walks and how sweet and wonderful she is. Or I think about something I do have control over and repeat affirmations about them or make plans (like making xmas crafts or eating more vegetables). This tends to life my mood and help me overcome ruminating on negative stuff. Abba and Swedish House Mafie music are pretty awesome for that too.

    • Don

      You’ve got to suffer if you want to play the blues. I play blues harmonica (semi-professionally) and can find no other way to ease all of my pains. Music is such a wonderful release and also a wonderful means of communication.

  • theshubox

    very exciting! a favorite topic of mine as well. looking forward to hearing more!!

  • diana

    I have an app on my phone called “habits” that I really like for tracking my habits. I have played around with how many, etc. The newest version let’s you see your percent score & I find it very motivating

  • Jessica

    This sounds like a really interesting topic! Look forward to your next book!

  • Jenna

    So excited for this book! What a great topic. I kind of hate habits… they are too easily formed without our consent. What if I only wanted to something a few times, and now I’m stuck with it as a habit, I don’t like the commitment.

  • http://naturalmomstalkradio.com/blog carrielee

    I’m so excited about this! I recently wrote a 31-day treatise on habits, it’s one of my favorite topics! http://carriewillard.com/starting-october-1-31-days-of-habits/

  • meerkat

    Sweet, breaking habits is a very important thing to do to get to happiness I’m sure :3 For me when I try to break habits I try to look at the situation clearly and slowly stop habits. Clearing thoughts linked to the habit is important as well so using methods such as the work by bryon katie and methods for removing self limiting beliefs can help,but the most important part is understanding the habits clearly. Habits are so much harder to address than they look!

  • meerkat

    I hope its released soon :3

  • Federico Legorreta

    Cant wait to read IT! Felicidades! Beso desde la Ciudad de México.

  • Stella

    I can’t wait for your next book!

  • JU

    Very interesting. You should look into the Ulysseys contract in behavioural economics (Dan Ariely). I also once had a copy of Idiot’s Guide to Breaking Bad Habits.

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes, I’ve read all about those kinds of commitment devices. Fascinating.

  • MiaL

    If you haven’t already read Chip and Dan Heath’s ‘Switch: How to change things when change is hard’, you’ll really find it pertinent!

    • gretchenrubin

      I love that book.

  • MiaL

    Oh and I should mention ‘The Person and the Situation’ by Ross and Nisbett… you’ll love it!

  • Youssef Khoulani Idri

    What a magnificent subject, because I always thought that our rituals and habits can really decide who we are or who we gonna be.
    here is a set of my articles: urgonnabesuccessful.blogspot.com

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  • Sylvia

    So looking forward to reading your new book! I’m also tremendously interested in commitment devices, have used Beeminder for about half a year, and found it extremely helpful.

    • gretchenrubin

      Terrific!

  • JoAnne Roberts-Davis

    Please put me on the waiting list for your next book, Before and After. I can’t wait!!

  • Jennifer

    I agree that book referencescan take up spacehowever, even if you were to name the top ten, it helps readers determine whether your articles of reference from authors or scholars they already know, or of its mostly your own interviews and summation. These are still important factors of you are talking about behavioral subjects and change.

  • Eleni

    ‘The How of Habit Change for each and everyone of us’ ?
    Just a thought as you mentioned ‘There’s an assumption in a lot of habits literature that everyone is pretty much the same when it comes to habits, and to my mind, there’s a LOT of difference, but we don’t really have a vocabulary to talk about that, or the implications of those differences for habit change’

    Frankly I like Before and After as it’s short, sweet and to the point!

    • gretchenrubin

      Glad to hear that you like Before and After! I still like it too.

      Your other suggestion is great, but there’s a book called “The How of Happiness” so I fear that’s too close. You’re right that a big theme of the book is that we each much figure out what works for us INDIVIDUALLY.

  • Christina Parker Brown

    You asked for title ideas for your Habit book. How about “Second Nature”?

    • gretchenrubin

      Interesting!!!

  • Laura Duffy

    You have asked for title suggestions for your new book: *!#*!…There I Go Again!
    The Secrets to Turning Bad Habits into Good Ones That Work For You by Gretchen Rubin

  • MarieI

    Very much looking forward to your new book. Something that you wrote above caught my eye—“Habit allows us to go from before to after”. “From Before to After” really resonates with me. (Though I have to admit Laura Duffy’s comment/suggestion below really nails it too!). All the best.

  • Christine

    …its driving me crazy. That sounds like a great title right there. Lol

  • Nancy MacMillan

    I’m a writer and I read many posts, but unfortunately, I don’t have time to comment on
    them all. Gretchen, I love the work you’re doing and the positive outlook you’re focused on sharing.

    Now regarding your new title … I liked what you said in your post, “Habits are Endlessly Fascinating.” If I saw this title, I’d buy your book to find out what you know that I don’t. As a writer, I live with piles of paper, notebooks and research books, yet I have a hard time locating what I want when I need it. If your book could lead the way to uncovering my dilemma, I’d tell everyone l reach in 74 countries.

    Well, that’s my two cents. Again, I love your fresh approach to these common topics and I wish you great success with your new masterpiece.

    http://blogofavetswife.blogspot.com/

  • Lenore

    “Habitually Happy” for the title of your new book?

  • Rebecca Foster

    Surely you’ll want to tie this book to the two previous ones using the word “happy”? How exactly, I’m not sure. “The Happiness Habit”? “Habits of Happiness”? “Making Happiness a Habit”? (As a subtitle, perhaps, if you’re set on “Before and After” for the title itself.)

  • Susan

    How about “Habitual Rituals” as the title for your new book?

  • Jeannie

    The Happiness Project
    Happier at Home

    Habits of Happiness
    Habits are the Building Blocks of Happiness
    Building Blocks of Happiness
    Feeding Healthy Habits
    Habits for Life
    Habits Help or Hinder
    The Nature of Habits
    Habits and Routines
    Habits and Happiness
    Fostering Healthy Habits
    Habits Dominate
    (we are the sum total of) Our Habits
    Healthy Habits Feed Happiness
    The Connection Between Habits and Happiness
    Productive and Unproductive Habits
    Happy, Healthy, Productive, Creative Habits
    Habits–Forming, Fostering, Breaking
    Habits! The Good, The Bad, The Ugly!
    Break the Habit! Make the Habit!
    It’s a Habit!

  • fred

    “soft addictions”

  • My Peace Of Food

    So excited for this! I’m reading Charles Duhigg’s book right now. Fascinating. Can’t wait to read yours!

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  • Karen

    What’s going to new for we readers is that you’ve familiarised us with many aspects of your book so as well as looking for new insights we’ll be looking to dog-ear familiar pages (I do that because I think books need to feel loved). Karen

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