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When we are trying to establish a new habit, we are often advised to seek accountability partners of some kind. That could be a workout partner, for example, or a family member that you share (healthy) shopping and cooking tasks with. Some people benefit from working with a personal trainer, and others can go it alone but like the visibility of sharing their activity with an online community. But accountability partners only work if you want them to.

Gretchen Rubin writes about habits and happiness. Her new book, Better Than Before, talks about establishing good habits and — more challenging — breaking bad ones. Although I have not read the book, her approach is a simple and reasonable one: for many of the actions that support our health, good habits are key to success. One of her overall themes is personality style — do you respond better to external pressure? Or does it tend to make you feel contrary? She offers a brief quiz, called The Four Tendencies, to help you identify your style.

As you look at the quiz questions, think particularly about a habit or practice you’ve struggled with. I happen to enjoy exercise, so I don’t need anyone to remind me or help me follow through. But other things I need to do — and even want to do, or know to be valuable — simply won’t happen unless I have a deadline that involves another pair of eyes. Keep your mind on the areas where you could use some help.

A related issue is how you set limits for yourself. Do you have an easier time moderating your portions of a treat food, like ice cream or cookies? Or are you better off just striking some things from the menu permanently? Personally, I’m a moderator — I’d flip out if someone told me I couldn’t have candy anymore. That would be simply unacceptable. I’ve had to establish some rules and rituals around the way I enjoy it, but I accept those rules as a way to enjoy it without guilt. Rubin is an abstainer — for some things, she finds it easier to go without than to try to impose moderation. Read more at her site.

Image from Cat Island by Dan Berry.

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