Abstainers versus Moderators: How Your Personality Affects Your Habits


Habit formation is a pretty prevalent topic right now, at least in the spaces I inhabit. It seems like everyone I know wants to create better habits and squash their bad ones, myself not excluded.

I’ve done a lot of reading about habits of late, both to create better habits myself, and to pass on the information I uncover to my lovely challenge groups each month, and while there is a large bank of experts to draw from, I’m quickly finding my favorites.

One such favorite is Gretchen Rubin. I first discovered her work in an airport a few years ago. I was browsing the bookstore while waiting for a delayed flight and I picked up The Happiness Project. I loved the book and went on to read its successor: Happier at Home, which I also loved. When I realized she had a book that focused on habit formation I added it to my list almost immediately.

betterthanbeforeBetter than Before: What I Learned about Making and Breaking Habits-To Sleep More, Quit
Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life
is a fantastic book. Written in Rubin’s signature style– equal parts down-to-earth/quirky, decidedly honest, and heavily researched– the book focuses first on identifying the person behind the habits. It’s this component that I find is missing from most habit formation books. Yes, the actual habit is important, and the triggers behind those habits are important, but at the center of every habit, whether good or bad, is a real-live human person who is nuanced, and different people make different choices, thus forming habits differently.

Rubin does an excellent job of focusing on each human, creating categories for the four most common Human Tendencies:  Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, and Rebel. She explains that each tendency has different tactics and motivations for habit formation as well as different struggles when it comes to keeping those habits. This was eye-opening for me, but even more beneficial was the simple delineation of Abstainer vs. Moderator.

As I mentioned in my previous post about abstaining from TV, I am most definitely an Abstainer. I am successful only when I “ban” things for myself. I can’t allow myself “just a little” of something. One cookie, one episode of television, one extra “snooze” in the morning ALWAYS snowballs for me and leads to a world of poor choices. I wish I were exaggerating, but just yesterday I demolished an entire bag of cookies and watched 10 hours of television. #notkidding

I have terrible self control when it comes to my vices, and I’ve struggled with it and felt guilty about it for years, thinking I should be able to do “just a little”. Now that I know I’m an Abstainer, it all makes sense!

I am way better off when I ban television. I read more, feel happier, and am more productive. I am way better off when I ban sweets and junk food. I eat better, look better, and don’t have near as many sugar-fueled tantrums (I never really got past the childhood sugar rush stage. It’s not pretty). I am an Abstainer, and that knowledge means SO much when it comes to staying on track with my desired habits.

However, this information one-hundred percent contradicts what I’ve believed about myself for 27 years. I always thought that banning something outright would only make me want it more. I thought of myself as more of a Moderator…sure I could indulge in something and then leave it, right?  Nope, not actually true for me.

It is so SO important to know yourself. Are you helping or hindering your natural tendencies when it comes to forming new habits? Think about what has worked for you in the past: are you better off when you place things completely off limits? (Abstainer) Or, does the thought of NEVER having something again make you panicky? (Moderator)

Really think about who you are and it will make your habit formation infinitely easier. And if you can’t figure it out, I highly recommend you grab Better than Before and read more about the Tendencies. You have to know yourself in order to change yourself. 🙂


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