Better Than Before: Mastering The Habits of Our Daily Life — A Pre-Review

by Katy on March 24, 2015 · 22 comments

Better Than Before

My review copy of Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before came in yesterday’s mail, and despite having a busy day on my plate, I did carve out some time to start the book. Although I’m only 12 pages into the book so far, it’s already started me thinking about what my habits are and how they effect my life. I don’t perceive myself as an especially self-disciplined person, but I realize don’t give myself enough credit for the good habits that I do have.

Rubin writes that “habits are the invisible architecture of daily life” and that “habits make change possible by freeing us from decision making and from using self control,” which rings true to me. If a person establishes a habit, then they’re able to get through a task (or avoid a behavior) without having to exert self control, and thus that self control is available for something else later in the day. Habits are automatic, whether they’re good or bad.

Here’s an example. I always fold my laundry as soon as it’s out of the dryer (or off the clothesline.) Always. It doesn’t even occur to me to do one without the other. But since it’s so automatic, I don’t pat myself on the back for doing something that would require motivation. It’s a single mindless task. But I know many people see the chore of removing laundry from the dryer and folding it as two separate tasks, which then requires self-discipline to complete.

The emptying the dryer + folding task is a habit to me, therefore it doesn’t get procrastinated.

Habits are less likely to be procrastinated.

I’ll be writing more about Better Than Before as I move past page twelve, and I’ll even be hosting a giveaway for a copy of the book. But right now I need to go put water on for tea and start a load of laundry. Because that’s part of my morning habit.

Have you given thought to your habits and how they influence you? Do you have a hard time establishing new habits? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer N March 24, 2015 at 9:09 am

Oh, I wish I had that habit, Katy! Heaps of clean laundry have been know to grace our couch for days at a time. Ever since having that second child, laundry went from being a manageable task to a daunting one. So I pat myself on the back when I get laundry folded the same day it was dried. But you are absolutely right, the more things you can turn into habit, the less mental effort the day requires.


Sabrina | Frugal Italian Family March 24, 2015 at 9:12 am

I have a hard time when I try to establish new habits but, once they become habits to me, I’m happy because I know that I will no more procestinate on that task.


Jill March 24, 2015 at 9:16 am

One of my longest habits is running. It feels weird when I don’t, like I forgot to do something.

One of my favorite new habits is putting my shoes away. We have a shoe cubby and I recently got rid of all the unused shoes. Now rather than slipping my shoes off and just leaving them in front of the cubby, I can put them away. It’s nice to not trip on them any more.


Karen March 24, 2015 at 9:23 am

It is also my habit to get at least one load of laundry done every day. And I aim for it to be put away by a certain time in the morning, before I go out.


AnnDenee March 24, 2015 at 9:42 am

Years ago, following the end of my 2nd marriage and death of my mother a year later, I fell out of the habit of living. I mean I really hit rock bottom and was existing at a very basic level. A load of laundry got washed each day and folded and put away. Meals were prepared every other day or so, and that was about it.

Habits for personal care – gone. Habits for housecleaning – gone. Habits for homemaking – gone. Habits for being a plugged in mom – gone. And I did lose custody of my older daughters.

I started rebuilding habits when I came across flylady and your blog, Katy, at about the same time. Flylady taught me the importance of a simple morning routine. And you reminded me of my frugal roots.

It’s 10 years this year since my mother died, and I am still rebuilding those routines and habits. And like your drying/folding habit, I try to link new tasks onto already existing routines, and make that a habit so when I do one, the next one gets done too.

I’ll have to add my name to the list at the library for Gretchin’s new book.


WilliamB March 24, 2015 at 12:09 pm

AnnDenee – what a rough time for you. It’s good to hear that you’re recovering lost ground but I’m sorry to hear it’s necessary.


Betsey March 24, 2015 at 2:45 pm

Ann, I know exactly where you are coming from.
I looked around the house one day and said how ridiculous. So every night after supper I put my house to bed. Dishes in the dishwasher, counters cleaned, folded laundry put away, clutter picked up or discarded, living room pillows and afghan in their proper place. That really helped.
I had gotten into the habit of staying up late and sleeping in all morning. Now I head to bed at 10:30, set my alarm for 7, and get up. I do read the paper over coffee, get dressed, do 1 hour of cleaning (it’s just me and the dog), walk the dog, and I am free for the rest of the day.
It can be done, Sweetie. Start on 1 or 2 things and then build up to a routine. Blessings on you.
PS. If you can afford it, hire a cleaner to come in for 1 or 2 days to help with the hard stuff ie. windows, cleaning curtains, moving furniture, cupboards, etc.


Monica March 24, 2015 at 10:16 am

You could call my daily household routine a conscious habit. I am afraid of the house falling further into chaos (we in a stalled renovation state) if I do not habitually perform the following:
1) Open the curtains and make the beds before leaving for work. (I am afraid what people would think if I was in an accident and never made it home, and they saw the beds in an un-made state. I also like the sense of calm and order a made bed conveys in the room
2) I put away the dishes that have dried in the rack overnight (afraid someone might stop buy and see the mess on the counters)
3) Tidy my daughter’s homework table each night so it is clear for her the next day (clear space = clear mind)
4) Turn off the outside light at the back door each night
These daily routines/habits help me feel calm and in control.


Diane March 24, 2015 at 11:36 am

Just talking yesterday to a friend about my nightly routine. Every night it’s my habit to wind down and read for an hour in bed so I can go off to dreamland in a peaceful state of mind.


Bari March 24, 2015 at 11:43 am

One of my hallowed, self-imposed habits is relative to my checking account.

Years ago I would procrastinate reconciling the bank statement with my check register…and this could lead to overdrafts and sloppy math.

For the past 25 or so years, my “habit” is to reconcile the bank statement within 24 hours of its receipt. Granted, it used to come in the mail, and now I get an email notification that it is available in my online account.

Having the reconciliation completed always gives me a sense of completion and tidiness, regardless of my financial condition.
It only takes a few minutes, but the serenity it brings is valuable.

As for the bed and its tidiness, I’m a 60 year plus single (never married) male, and my lifelong practice has been to ALWAYS make my bed EVERY DAY. This is just what I do, and I can’t imagine coming home to an unmade bed.
Call me quirky!

Oh, I also just HAVE to add that I’ve succeeded (so far) in the daily habit of not purchasing a Lear Jet! : )


WilliamB March 24, 2015 at 12:13 pm

I do this consciously and deliberately, aware as I am of the power of habit. Right now I have a bad habit I’m trying to break – that of “getting stuck” on the couch, rather than getting up again to exercise, get stuff done, call a friend, whatever.

Here’s a positive example: a number of years ago I was on a project that involved working out of town every week. I had a ground transit stipend, anything not used I got to pocket. I carefully developed the habit of taking the subway to/from the airport rather than a cab. After a while I *could* *not* take a cab, no matter how doggone tired I was. Not even when I was recovering from pneumonia (Late stage recovery not “just barely not deathly ill” recovery). I just couldn’t justify the extra expense to avoid 20 min on the subway and walking a few blocks.


Tammy March 24, 2015 at 3:12 pm

I walk my dog every morning first thing rain or shine. We don’t have a fenced yard and my neighborhood association doesn’t allow for dogs to wander freely. It’s a nice way to start the day.


Marie-Josée March 24, 2015 at 3:52 pm

I was a terrible procrastinator as an adolescent and young adult. It was such a stupid habit which generated SO MUCH stress – like realizing I didn’t have a clean uniform to wear to work. I had two children quite young and that really helped me build on good habits. It took years, but now my husband and I are empty nesters and we have cultivated many habits that are really rewarding and make us happy:

We cook several meals on Sunday afternoon which frees us from that chore during the week.
We are quite vigilant in cleaning up the kitchen after dinner.
We are fortunate that we eat the same seven dinners in rotation without getting overly bored. We don’t like to cook but we do value eating really healthy food.
Lunch is leftover dinner with a green smoothier. Dinner is always served with a soup.
We do our house cleaning every Thursday after work. We drink a glass of wine before getting stared as a treat!
We never make our bed during the week – Saturdays is the only day it gets done as we almost always have company over.
We drink wine Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday – the most enjoyable habit after sex…
And yes, after 30 years of mariage, spontaneity still happens, but we also have sex on certain days… out of habit!


Lee March 24, 2015 at 5:02 pm

A habit I’ve tried to cultivate is that of writing every day (an important part of my profession but one that’s almost completely self-motivated). I get up earlier than everyone else every day and write. I got out of this habit over the winter holidays — MISTAKE. Getting back into it was hard, almost harder than forming the habit in the first place.

Another great book on habits is Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit”.


Practical Parsimony March 24, 2015 at 5:19 pm

I was once very disciplined. However, having become 100% disabled, I can get one days’ chores done in a week or ten days. So, things don’t get done. They pile up. I had excellent habits except for making the bed every day. I hated making the bed, but I did make the bed sometimes. Now, I cannot. I cleaned door trim and cabinet trim with a toothbrush. The tops of the doors never gathered dust.

Katy, I would have described you as disciplined, having read your blog from the first you wrote.


Isabelle March 24, 2015 at 6:04 pm

I like to think of myself as an organized person I’ve also been complimented of this, and that is when I’ve realized it’s not a given for everyone. That said, is being “well organized” mean having well established habits??? You are forging a reflection in my mind….
I have some destructive habits that take a lot (my health, energy, money, self esteem, etc) and that I am always trying to conquer, namely overeating, eating junk food, stopping exercising, sleeping too little. So I do have habits but they are bad.
As for good ones, I place them more in the “well organized” section : routine with kids, house choirs, errands etc.
I am interested in the book, thanks for letting us know.

Have a great frugal day!


Susan H. March 24, 2015 at 8:17 pm

Well, I think I have several household habits that make for an organized and less-chaotic home. One is that I load the dishwasher as dishes, etc get used, after meals. I run it at night, and the kitchen sink is empty, the kitchen is tidy. When I’,m making my tea in the morning, I unload the dishwasher first thing. Another habit is establishing a regular yoga practice. I aim for 4-5 times per week. It has changed my physical and mental health for the better!

I’m interested in Gretchen’s new book, thanks for the kind offer!!


Roberta March 25, 2015 at 5:14 am

This gives me a lot to think about today, Katy (and I really appreciate it, as I have a lot of driving to do!)

I mostly perceive my habits as negative — my habit of spending time each morning browsing Pinterest, after checking email and the weather, things like that. But most days, even most weeks, run fairly smoothly — what habits have I adapted and not realized, because they are such ingrained habits?


JD March 25, 2015 at 5:17 am

I’d never thought about habits freeing up my mind to make other decisions; that’s an interesting idea! I realize now that my mind works on other things when I am doing habitual, “mindless” tasks, so habits can be helpful that way. I’ll have to read that book, too.
Some of my habits are deeply ingrained, others I struggle to keep up and really develop. I habitually eat lunch at noon at work, so on weekdays, my stomach lets me know when it’s 12, no matter how busy I am on other things. My morning routine is very full of habits done in a certain order, and if I break the routine, I lose all focus and end up late to work. I’m still working on a night time routine, but I’m finding time to be a real problem. I don’t even watch television or sit at the computer, and rarely find time to read a few pages, but I still run out of time each evening. I’m trying to figure out why. I wonder now if I have unnoticed habits that use up time. I’ll try that angle. Thanks for the post!


Jenny L. March 25, 2015 at 6:47 am

I have a pretty good habits in the morning to get out of the house. My problem is in the evening. I have an hour and a half commute both ways. If I have to fix dinner when I get home it’s 8:30 – 9:00 before we eat and you can forget about anything else getting done! I’m trying really hard to break the habit of just plopping down in front of the TV and trying to get a few things done, like loading the dishwasher every night and running it. I’m still a work in progress.


Kate in NY March 25, 2015 at 8:19 am

My habit is to make myself a “to do” list for the day after I wake up (and have my coffee – another habit! Or addiction. Depending on how you look at it). I write everything on it – do laundry, fold laundry, put laundry away, etc. I love crossing things off it! If I make a list, I generally start at it right away and feel productive and virtuous. If I forget and don’t make a list, it’s suddenly 2:30, the kids are coming home from school, I have students coming for tutoring – and I am still at the computer in an internet coma. I would love a copy of Gretchen’s book for my very own – though of course, I’ll put a hold on at the library as well.


Vickie March 25, 2015 at 11:15 am

I’m good about hanging up things out of the dryer, not so good at getting the things that need to be folded and put away off the dining room table.
I need to work on habits like that. I’ve gotten better about keeping my dishes washed. My dishwasher broke down years ago and we never replaced it. There are only two of us, so there aren’t many dishes, unless the grandkids visit and such.
My worst housecleaning habit is a lack of dusting. I’m atrocious at this one!


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