May 18, 2017

Better Than Now

I just finished Better Than Before (by Gretchen Rubin) and it's interesting and insightful and, as per usual, I'm perfectly willing to turn my own life upside down to experiment with new possible optimization techniques.

Only this time I think some of my takeaways were probably not the ones the author intended.

As Gretchen was classifying herself and listing the different distinctions, I was mentally ticking off my own as well.
  • I'm a lark rather than an owl.
  • Sprinter not a marathoner.
  • Overbuyer, fo' sho'.
  • Simplicity lover (which seems contradictory but really it just means that after I overbuy, I purge everything but the best solution).
  • Finisher more than a starter.
  • Abstainer not a moderator.
  • Novelty lover.
  • And big, grandiose changes appeal to me far more than small ones.
I'm also an obliger (motivated by the feeling of obligation to others rather than myself) with just a hint of rebel or maybe that's self sabotage.  Either way, I tend to do best when I have some form of accountability but it's not too oppressive.  Think gentle encouragement.

So sifting through all that information to find a pattern, I realized that, while I do want to make habits and lessen the willpower it takes to make good choices, I also am unlikely to stick to anything too rigid or boring.  Not a "flexible" routine, per say, but one with variety built in.

I feel like my strategy for meal planning accomplishes this pretty well.  I've got my Trello list of all the recipes Ryan and I know and we can rotate through systematically, or randomly pull something out if we're in the mood for it.  It's still planned, with ingredients purchased on Sunday, but it's not the same exact food every week and we're not stuck in a rigid rotation.  Small amounts of brain power needed, but really just the fun part - the "work" aspect is taken care of by having the cards (with ingredient lists) set up in advance.

So naturally I took this one step further and came up with lists for exercise, meditation/mindfulness, and relationship goals.  The "initial setup" concept really works for me because I enjoy organizing things.  So I have fun getting it ready even though I wouldn't have enjoyed looking up a recipe when it was time to cook dinner, and then I save myself the willpower needed to complete that task later.

The "routine" for exercise will be cardio Wednesday and Saturday, and whatever else I want the other days.  But by picking them out at the beginning of the week, I take the choice out of it when my willpower is the weakest - when it's actually time to work out.
I also used this strategy to build my chore/routine list for each weekday to make sure I didn't overload any one particular day too much.
Oh, right, as for what part of this Gretchen Rubin wouldn't approve of?  Well I get drained making tiny, incremental amounts of progress every day and having to come back to the same projects day after day.  I much prefer great bursts of effort and taking out a huge chunk of the project all at once.  But I have a baby, which means frequent interruptions.
So if you'll take a look at my Sunday "routine."
You'll notice the last item is "Catch Up Night."
My current plan is to completely break all healthy sleeping habit rules and give myself one grandiose all-nighter to rip through whatever is currently on my plate.  I've only done this once so far but it was glorious!  Then I'll do as little as possible on Monday and catch up on sleep as best I can. (This was actually kind of nice because it gave me permission to not try to squeeze any work in in the evening.  Instead I played with the baby, napped when he napped, and generally relaxed a bit until bedtime.)
You're probably thinking, "This is a horrible plan."
It is.  I'm not going to argue that point.  But I got excited the moment I had this idea.  Because this is what I like to do.  I LIKE the late-night rush of adrenaline, the coffee-fueled focus, and heading into work the next morning with my hair still looking good from the previous day.  I LIKE the feeling of making a serious dent in my workload and knowing I can slack for a day or two without concern.
You know what I like most of all?  Working with instead of against my nature.  It is a relief to quit fighting with myself to adopt moderation, have regular, consistent work habits every day, and stay calm despite my lack of safety net if the baby doesn't allow me to get enough work completed.
"Moderation is for weenies!" has been unanimously accepted as the Wells family motto and in this one, small way, I'm happy to finally embrace it.
So is that all I got from the book?  Oh no, there's so much and at least one more blog post to write about it.  But consider this post a celebration of my decision to "know myself" and build habits that go with instead of against the grain.
Wish me luck!

What are your tendencies?  Are you an obliger, questioner, upholder, or rebel?  (Quiz here)


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  1. I keep saying I'm going to reread this book-- or at least parts of it, because I could use a refresher on some of the topics. I love how organized you are-- this might be a stupid question but is Trello the app you use for these lists? I remember one of my favorite things from the book being how she emphasizes the importance on finding what works for you-- not just copying what might work for other people.

  2. I'm so happy you read this! It was so eye-opening for me. I'm Questioner, an owl, a sprinter, and definitely an opener. I start new things a lot but don't finish as much. I agree that the best part of reading this was walking away knowing how to work with my nature, rather than fight against it. So much advice out there advocates for a 12-step morning routine and all this stuff that just doesn't work for me, and it kind of felt like Gretchen gave me permission to believe I can be "successful" or at least satisfied with myself even if I don't wake up at 6 am and do 60 things before I've had coffee. Understanding our nature and leaning into it, rather than force changes that really aren't necessary just because they're popular advice, makes life so much easier sometimes.

  3. I'm like 100% obliger and nothing else. I have no internal motivation whatsoever. I only ever get anything done because someone else is counting on me to do it. Everyone needs to embrace their own way of doing things, I totally agree. Don't fight your nature! It'll never last.

  4. You're lucky this is something you can do. I am WAY more productive and motivated at night but it's not something I can harness right now :( I was a beast in college because I'd stay up until 3 or 4am every night and snooze until an 11am class in the morning, but now I can't do that. Sigh.

  5. It's awesome seeing all the ways you are working WITH your nature lately. Hope this continues to work for you!

  6. I am an obliger. I think? I need to get to this book! I am like you, making little progresses and having to keep coming back to it sounds exhausting to me. I am interested to see how this works for yoU!

  7. Oooh this sounds like an interesting read!


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