To my delight, I saw that last week’s New Yorker cover exactly illustrates a point that I make in Better Than Before.
There, I write about how we make and break habits, and here’s the most important thing I’ve learned: If you’re trying to form a habit, the first — and most important — thing to do is to know yourself.
Many discussions of habit argue for one particular method — with the unspoken assumption that everyone forms habits in the same way, everyone wants habits equally, and if a strategy works for one person, it will work for everyone. But that’s just not true, as is obvious from everyday life.
In Better Than Before, I explore the many strategies that people can use to change their habits, and one is the Strategy of Distinctions. This strategy is about understanding yourself, by seeing various distinctions among people. Often, getting a glimpse of some aspect of yourself that you’ve never before recognized, or just having a word for it, is surprisingly helpful.
The New Yorker cover shows the difference between simplicity lovers and abundance lovers.
Simplicity lovers are attracted by the idea of “less,” of emptiness, bare surfaces and shelves, few choices, a roomy closet. I’m in this camp; I get more pleasure out of shedding things than from acquiring things. I easily feel overwhelmed when there’s too much noise, too much stuff, or too much happening at once. Abundance lovers are attracted by the idea of “more,” of overflow, of addition, of ampleness, of a full pantry. They always want to have more than enough. They like a bit of bustle, and they enjoy collecting things and having a wide array of choices. As the cover shows, simplicity lovers and abundance lovers thrive in different environments. For instance, a simplicity lover is likely to work better in an office that’s quiet, with minimal decoration; the abundance lover in an office that’s lively and crammed with visual details. When changing habits, a simplicity lover may be attracted to elimination and simplification—to saving money by cutting off cable TV or quitting online shopping. An abundance lover may be attracted to addition and variety—to making money by starting a freelance career or learning how to invest. Other key distinctions within the Strategy of Distinctions include… Are you an under-buyer or an over-buyer? I’m an under-buyer. Are you an abstainer or a moderator? I’m an abstainer, 100%. This was a HUGE revelation for me. This distinction is so important that I devote an entire chapter to it. Are you a finisher or an opener? I’m a finisher. Are you a Tigger or an Eeyore? I’m a bit of both, but writing about happiness has definitely brought out my Tigger qualities. Are you a marathoner or a sprinter? I’m a marathoner. Are you a familiarity-lover or a novelty-lover? You might think it would be easy to know yourself, but in fact, it’s very difficult. As novelist John Updike observed, “Surprisingly few clues are ever offered us as to what kind of people we are.” Do you love simplicity or abundance? Does knowing this distinction help you understand yourself — or others — better? A reader wrote, “I love abundance, and my husband loves simplicity, and now that I know that distinction, I understand our fights much better than I did before.”
Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier—and the recently released Happier at Home. On her popular blog, The Happiness Project, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness. For more doses of happiness and other happenings, follow Gretchen on Facebook and Twitter.
Featured image courtesy of Jeff Sheldon.