Breaking bad (and making good) habits
Bestselling author Gretchen Rubin helps you keep your resolutions.
Change isn’t easy. Whether we’re looking to make a lifestyle adjustment or alter our attitudes towards work, good intentions and an optimistic outlook all too regularly make way for splintering willpower.
“We’re looking for reasons to let ourselves off the hook,” says Gretchen Rubin, bestselling author of habit forming books The Happiness Project and Better than Before.
“There’s the tomorrow loophole: ‘I’m going to keep a budget so well tomorrow, it doesn’t matter what I spend today’. One of the trickiest excuses is false self actualisation: ‘Life’s too short not to eat a brownie’.”
Rubin’s latest book The Four Tendencies describes four overlapping behavioural traits that influence how we respond to the expectations of ourselves and others, when it comes to getting things done.
The good news is: “Just about everybody can find a way to change their habits in their own way,” she says. Here Rubin outlines the type of app that can help each personality type form better habits.
Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations. This is how Rubin describes herself.
“Changing habits tends to come most easily to upholders,” she explains. “If they decide they’re going to quit sugar or write a novel in their free time, they’re pretty good at being able to.”
“Any app that is going to help them manage their time will be good, because they love having a list and working their way through it.”
We say: Try Momentum. It isn't shouty or complicated. You have a list of habits and a calendar on which the days turn green when you complete your task.
Or: Try Habitify. The simple Journal interface makes it easy to see all your tasks each day.
Questioners challenge all expectations. They will meet an expectation if, and only if, they think it makes sense.
“For a questioner. It’s all about justification. You want to think, ‘How exactly am I asking myself to behave, why am I doing it this way and not another way? Let me customise this for me’.”
“They tend to love data, so an app that counts your steps or logs your exercise – questioners often really love that kind of information.”
We say: Try Streaks. Customise every detail, from colour themes to task icons. Choose how often you want to do each task and at what time you want to be reminded. Health app integration means it will show you loads of data.
Or: Try Today, which lets you build a bespoke dashboard of your habits as well as add your own custom charts and metrics, too.
Obligers meet the expectations of others but struggle with those they impose on themselves.
“Obligers need forms of outer accountability,” says Rubin. “For some obligers an auto reminder from an app can be plenty. An app that registers that you’ve been at a gym for half an hour and you get credit or a gold star, for example, can be very reinforcing for an obliger.”
“If they want to go for a run by themselves, obligers have to create outer accountability around that run in order to do it.”
We say: Try Rubin’s own app, Better, where you can form an accountability group and ask an actual person to check up on you regularly to ask how you’re doing.
Or: Try Habitica. This app works like a game. Complete a task to level up and earn gold, which you can use for rewards. Join with friends in the app to keep you accountable.
Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike.
“Rebels can do anything that they want to do or anything that they choose to do,” explains Rubin. “Many rebels have said that if they use an app that has an auto reminder function, it makes them want to turn away.”
“Rebels like a challenge. They might say to themselves, ‘People say I can’t exercise every day… I’m going to keep track of it on my phone and shove it in their face!’.”
We say: Try Productive. It makes it easy to feel in control of all your habits. You can still achieve a ‘streak’ even if you only decide to do something once a month.
Or: Try Habit List. Super simple with a chart that shows you a percentage completion rate for each task. And reminders are set to off by default.