Gretchen Rubin’s new book Better Than Before is all about habits. If you’re interested in improving your habits but aren’t sure where to start, consider starting with building a foundation of good habits. Gretchen Rubin pinpoints four habits as “foundation habits.” These habits greatly affect our well-being and directly strengthen self-control, which is why we should focus first on habits that help us to:
- eat and drink right
I was not at all surprised by sleep, move, and eat, and am diligent about tending my habits in these crucial areas. (I’ve read the book, after all.) I know I need my 8 hours each night, and I usually get it. Rubin calls physical activity “the magical elixir of pretty much everything.” I’m a little obsessive about my 10,000 steps. I’m vigilant about what I eat, because there are too many foods that make me feel like crap.
I understand why these habits form the foundation for a clear head and happy life. But I was flabbergasted by “unclutter.”
I know clutter is a major trigger for me, yet I struggle to give it the attention it deserves. In any given moment, I’d rather be writing than filing, or reading instead of doing the dishes. I love to pull books off the shelves to take photos and I hate to put them back again. This is unsustainable behavior—and yet I persist in trying.
(It is unquestionably true that some people thrive in messy environments. Also true: I am not one of those people.)
But I think (hope, pray) I’ve had a breakthrough—or, more accurately, a Lightning Bolt.
In Better Than Before, Rubin explains that while many habits are established over time, sometimes we’re hit by a bolt from the blue and are suddenly able to change our habits, instantly—even when making such a change had previously seemed daunting, or even impossible. It’s a highly effective strategy, but it’s not something we can control: it’s something that happens to us.
Milestone events often trigger a Lightning Bolt: a marriage, a move, a diagnosis. For many mothers, pregnancy is a Lightning Bolt: the knowledge that another tiny being now depends on them enables them to quit smoking, stop drinking, or finally start exercising.
One of my relatives, a decades-long smoker, was finally able to quit after a Lightning Bolt moment: his receptionist mentioned that she could always tell when he was about to walk through the office door. Flattered at first, he inquired how she knew. When he found out his smoker’s cough gave him away, he threw his cigarettes in the trash, never to smoke again.
In Better Than Before, Rubin tells about her own Lightning Bolt moment. All she did was read a book, but the new ideas she discovered there overturned her existing beliefs about food. She radically—and instantly—changed her eating habits, permanently.
My Lightning Bolt also came in the form of a book. I’ve been devoted to “eat move sleep” for years. When I read Better Than Before and saw my Foundational Three turned into the Fab Four, something clicked. Unclutter became something I chose to do because it’s part of my foundation, not a nagging task I feel like I should do.
Time will tell if this is truly a Lightning Bolt. If I’m still uncluttering—as a lifestyle, not as a crisis response—this time next year, we’ll know for sure. For now, I’m grateful for the insight.
I’d love to hear about your Lightning Bolt moments, and any other tips and tricks for eating, moving, and sleeping well, in comments.
Books mentioned in this post: