“Decide Not to Decide” (Gretchen Rubin)

“Decide Not to Decide” (Gretchen Rubin)

A Thought from Gretchen Rubin’s “Better Than Before”

This March and April, I’m running a book study in my Facebook group, Healthy Habits Mastermind. For eight weeks, we’re going to be going through Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before, and I’m pumped!

This is one of my favorite books about habit change. It’s accessible, and combines great storytelling with solid research on behavior change and psychology.

This week, we are discussing the introduction, “Decide Not to Decide,” throughout the week. Obviously, it’s been on my mind!

Here is a particular quote from the introduction, which I love:

When possible, the brain makes a behavior into a habit, which saves effort and therefore gives us more capacity to deal with complex, novel, or urgent matters. Habits mean we don’t strain ourselves to make decisions, weigh choices, dole out rewards, or prod ourselves to begin. Life becomes simpler, and many daily hassles vanish.”

Gretchen Rubin, Better Than Before

I love this concept of habits, because it’s important to remember that habits are “life on autopilot.” Habits happen whether we want them to or not.

When we seek to improve our habits, it’s like carving a new path for a stream. The stream will still flow just as it was before, but we’re providing a new direction that will reinforce itself once it gets going.

For many people, making better food choices and making the effort to exercise are hassles – they’re not fun, and they’re often not rewarding.

But if you can push a behavior into sufficient repetition, ease, and self-reinforcement, it often becomes a self-propagating thing. You don’t have to laboriously make yourself exercise anymore… once it’s a habit.

Clients often make the (mistaken) assumption about me that exercise is easy because I love to exercise.


Exercise is easy for me because I have essentially greased a downhill slide to daily exercise and have now done it so many times that there is a butt-shaped groove down the middle.

I only become aware of what a habit it actually is when it is disrupted – when I had Gabriella six months ago, for example. It took mindful effort for a few months to get that slide re-greased – to make the habit easy again in a new version of my life. But now that it’s done, I don’t have to think about it anymore, and that’s a huge relief in itself.

As I always say to clients, healthy habits should make your life bigger, not smaller. They should make you feel like a better version of yourself and help you enjoy your life more. If your habits feel constricting and difficult, there’s two possibilities:

  • You haven’t made it easy enough for yourself (there’s too much friction, your goals are unrealistic, your environment needs work, etc.), or…
  • You’re just a few days away from something becoming a habit and you’re still in the repetitive “grind” phase of getting there

“Many daily hassles vanish” when we decide not to decide. What area of your health takes way too much effort to maintain, that you wish you could just put on autopilot? Leave your thoughts in the comments.