Gretchen Rubin is in the business of happiness. When the New York Times bestselling author completed her last book, The Happiness Project, she wondered what her next move might be. Inspiration didn’t take long. While her last book set out to explain in plain terms the elusive emotion of happiness, Rubin realized that she needed to answer the question: “How do we achieve long-lasting happiness?”
Rubin soon found her answer in healthy habits. Describing these habits as “the invisible architecture of a happy life,” Rubin set out to investigate how successful people form good habits—and keep them.
Rubin recently stopped by WeWork Soho West to discuss her new book, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. Throughout the book, Rubin gives advice on finding the motivation to form healthy habits. While Rubin acknowledges that there’s no “magic bullet” that works for everyone, she breaks down the psychology of habit forming into easily digestible tips and tools. In case you missed it, here are the top tips she shared on how to achieve long-term happiness.
Know your own source of motivation
Are you an upholder, an obliger, a questioner, or a rebel? According to Rubin, our unique “tendencies,” or personality types, say a lot about the way we form habits. These four tendencies each come with different sources of motivation.
Obligers feed on external motivation. They enjoy accomplishing goals set by their colleagues or peers. An obliger needs a framework of outer accountability, even when it’s their own goal.
Rebels hate being constrained by rules or guidelines. Entirely internally motivated, a rebel needs to be challenged to accept and perform a task.
Upholders need sources of both internal and external motivation. They enjoy fulfilling what’s expected of them, but their goals for themselves are equally as important as outer directives.
Questioners require justification for everything they do. When given a task, their first question is always: Why? Once a questioner has bought into the relevance of a task, they will perform it with gusto.
Setting a goal is not forming a habit
Hitting a specific goal, says Rubin, should not be the objective. A one-time accomplishment does not easily convert into a long-term habit. For Rubin, this is the key reason why most diets fail. Once dieters reach their goal, she says, they tend to give up the practices that allowed them to reach that weight, often gaining back everything they lost.
Rather than choosing a specific number of pounds to lose, Rubin urges us to form a long-term habit of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This is also why people who train for a specific marathon don’t necessarily keep the habit of exercising.
“If you’re trying to form a habit, it’s very dangerous to have a deadline,” Rubin says. “If you have a deadline, then you finish, then you’re done. Then you have to start over, and starting over is hard. It’s training for a marathon, not becoming a lifelong runner”.
The key, says Rubin, is not shooting for a specific date or goal, but rather using an accountability system to keep us steadily on track.
Be an effective leader
To become the best possible leader, you must first understand the tendencies of your colleagues. Do you manage a lot of questioners? Give justification for the tasks you assign and speak in “big-picture” terms. Work with obligers? Have regular check-ins to create a sense of external accountability, but beware of assigning workload that are too heavy. Obligers tend not to speak up when they are experiencing burnout, says Rubin.
Understanding your colleagues will not only make you a better manager, but will create a happier workplace. Not sure how to determine the personality types of your colleagues?
“Ask them how they feel about New Years’ resolutions,” says Rubin. “It will tell you a lot about their tendencies.”
Get a new set of tools
Instead of trying to change your internal tendencies, harness your personality type to form healthy habits and make them stick.
“It’s a lot easier to change your circumstances than to change yourself,” says Rubin.
By working with our own natures, Rubin argues, we can achieve the same positive results in the end, no matter what tendencies we have. By examining our own idiosyncrasies and learning to love our quirks, we can find what motivation types work best for us. Even if we have failed before, we can understand what drives us to succeed by first taking the time to understand ourselves. You don’t need a personality makeover —just a new set of tools.