On Habits & Being “Better than Before”

They say it takes 21 days to form a habit. In your experience, has this been correct?

I wouldn’t be surprised if this timeline has worked for some of you but, as far as I can tell, it is more myth than fact! I believe in individualized medicine and, therefore, it’s likely no surprise that I believe in the truth behind individualized habit formation. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all way to form a habit. If that were the case, we would know the exact formula and it would be easy for anyone to form any health habit recommended by healthcare professionals. We all have examples in our own lives where this clearly isn’t true. So what can we do about it? This year, I will be including a new blog segment where I offer you a summary and reflection on my favourite health-related books. To start off the year, let’s talk about habits by discussing Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before.

better than before

Better Than Before

By Gretchen Rubin

In Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin identifies 21 strategies that can be used to implement a new habit. She talks about the importance of knowing yourself better so that you can choose strategies that will work for you. I love this concept! Habits make our lives simpler by allowing us to do the behaviours that make us healthier, without using up our essential self-control. Habits take away the need to make the same decisions day in and day out. One of my favourite quotes by Gretchen Rubin from this book is: “By mindfully choosing our habits, we harness the power of mindlessness as a sweeping force for serenity, energy, and growth”. Let’s save your brainpower for the tasks in your day that require focused thought and creativity.

I highly recommend that you read the book to get a good understanding of each of these 21 strategies. With each strategy, Gretchen asks you to take a look at yourself, your life, and your temptations and use the strategies to better create lasting habits. She includes many anecdotes about her own life, stories from her readers, and specific examples that I found enlightening. She says, “If we change our habits, we change our lives” and then she helps us better understand how to make these important habit changes.

better than before checklist
Gretchen Rubin created this helpful checklist for habit change, which lists the 21 strategies from 'Better Than Before'. Click the image above to access her 'Resources' website page and download your own PDF copy.


Although I loved learning about all 21 strategies, there was one that really resonated with me. Identity. This is a big obstacle to cure for many of my patients and can have a significant impact on habit formation, as well as overall health. As Gretchen states, “Changing a habit is more challenging if that new habit means altering or losing an aspect of ourselves”. In relation to habits, identifying yourself as a certain type of person can make a habit change much more challenging. For example, if you say, “I’m a smoker” or “I’m lazy” or “I’m a sweets person”, that internal dialogue may keep you from sticking to habits that help you quit smoking, start working out, or reduce your sugar intake.

On a different but related note, I see this phenomenon in relationship to health conditions as well. Patients identify with a diagnosis, such as, “I have celiac disease” or “I have depression”. This is an important aspect of your health, but it doesn’t define who you are as a person. It definitely doesn’t need to hold you back from experiencing life. If you stick too firmly to these labels, it can impede your healing process.

What do you think about this concept of identity? Can you see how it applies to your life and where you can consider a new way of identifying yourself?

book nook

To learn more about the 21 strategies, check out Better Than Before! If you want even more information and ideas about habits, I recommend giving the Happier podcast a listen! Gretchen Rubin co-hosts it with her sister, Elizabeth Craft, and they discuss happiness, habit formation, the four tendencies, and so much more. I’m currently obsessed with learning more about the four tendencies and applying it in my daily life. Perhaps there will be another Gretchen Rubin book review coming your way soon! 🙂

What habit are you planning to form this year? Do you need help implementing it? Let me know and I’d love to support you. Visit my clinics page for more information about booking an appointment with me. 

Emily Martin