walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

A Bit More About _Better Than Before_

I think I've settled on an anti-recommendation, and I'm going to explain a little about why, and then I'm going to point out sections of the book that I marked for a variety of reasons, some positive and some negative.

I talked to my High Priestess last night and explained the taxonomy (Upholder, Questioners, Obligers, Rebels) to her in terms of externally vs. internally imposed requirements and response thereto. I didn't use the "names" (UQOR), just described the matrix. I was _careful_ to be very negative about the category that I fall into and to be as neutral as I could about the rest. My High Priestess said something very insightful about where she believed she fit currently/typically, and where she has fit in the past, and why she thought that had changed. And she is really onto something. If you have someone who is generally compliant (in this schema, an Upholder), and you interfere with them meeting their own goals (through ridicule, punishment, taking over all their time and energy, or just ignoring their preferences and focusing on your own relentlessly), you can turn them into an Obliger. If you have a Questioner -- a more self-centered person -- and do the same thing, you may wind up with an Obliger, you may wind up with a Rebel. If you create a really chaotic and punitive environment, you'll turn nearly anyone into a Rebel. That suggests that "Upholders" are basically people who have, over the arc of their lifetime, benefited from a socioeconomic milieu that is well-aligned with their personal preferences and values. Suddenly, the wealth/status thing that made me really wonder about the relevance of all this advice seems _so much more relevant_ to the critique.

I then went out and found a book that rather than being very dismissive of Rebels (in this schema), designed habits to benefit people who would tend to be categorized as Rebels (in this schema). And it is a _much much much better book_. Review to follow, when I am done, which will likely be later today. I'll be sending it off to my High Priestess for assessment as well, to make sure I'm not just haring off into Foolsville.

Back to Rubin.

On page 163, Rubin talks about if-then rules she has created for herself. This is in the context of sort of pre-deciding or pre-planning what to do if certain situations crop up. I agree with her that this is a very useful exercise, altho I don't so much agree with her predictions about what other of her "types" will do (especially the Rebels, and especially after having read about half of _Mini-Habits_). I worry about some of her if-thens:

"If I'm invited to dinner, I eat a snack before I go, so I won't be too hungry."

There are a bunch of ways to read this, and some of them are unproblematic (if the planned dinner may have nothing you can eat because of religious or other dietary restrictions, or if it will occur much later than the meal it will be supplanting, for example, then eating ahead of time makes perfect sense to me) and several of which suggest an eating disorder. I'm not suggesting anything like anorexia or bulimia -- I'm thinking more along the lines of orthorexia. But it might not be that at all, but rather a really common strategy among women of a certain class, who apparently aren't allowed to actually show any strong physical desire at all, even if they do feel desire and even satisfy that desire -- it must be done where non-intimates cannot see it. There are other indications in the book that some of this might be going on, and it is one of the more subtly disturbing aspects of gendered pressure that women experience. I'm not blaming the author; I'm pointing out that this may be amplifying an existing, problematic message.

On Page 193, she lists Malone and Lepper's list of intrinsic motivations (I don't know them or their work, so this is a critique of the summary, not for its accuracy of representing their work):

"Competition: we feel gratified when we can compare ourselves favorably to others.
Recognition: we're pleased when others recognize our accomplishments and contributions"

That's an abuse of the intrinsic/extrinsic divide as _I_ understand it as an erstwhile and occasionally, when nostalgia strikes, even yet, Alfie Kohn fan. Those aren't intrinsic. Those are extrinsic motivators. The rest of the discussion suffers from the usual problems of the analysis, in that evidence that purports to show that extrinsic motivators de-motivate in the long run, never check back to see if people did, ultimately, recover intrinsic desire. Ya know, if you overeat, you aren't going to be hungry after, but you will, eventually, assuming the pie eating contest doesn't kill you, get hungry again.

I'm off on my walk now; I'll be updating this later.


Back from my walk. Page 228-9

"A friend used the Strategy of Clarity to avoid this trap. "I know it would be good to exercise ... but I have two kids, I work full-time, and if I tried to exercise, it would be one more thing to worry about. When my kids are older, I'll deal with it.""

Rubin was supportive and explained why she did not criticize or pressure. ""Either way, you're not exercising, but because you have clarity about what you're doing, you felt in control. And you won't drain yourself feeling bad about it." Also, I predict, her feeling of self-control will help her do better if she does decide to start exercising, because she won't tell herself, "I've been trying and failing for years to do this.""

Other than Rubin's failure to recognize the built-in plan to start at a later date, this is -awesome- and way better than the typical response to this strategy which is so inevitable in this life circumstance that you would think people would be more reasonable about it. I was just a little bummed that it was described in the "red-herring habits" section. It is a strategy to avoid "red-herring habits", but still. I also disliked the idea of "red-herring habits", because I think Rubin failed to understand that in fact "red-herring habits" aren't what she thinks they are at all. They are acknowledgements of social mores that one is not meeting. That's all. Rubin taking them literally is right up there with people thinking that it's weird the correct response to "How are you doing?" is "Fine", even when you aren't. Or people who think that saying, "I'm sorry" is an odd way to express commiseration. Look, _all_ mandated social communications are weird and arbitrary. It's important not to overthink them.

On pages 258-9, Rubin is summarizing her journey of personal change, and how she better understands how unlike other people she is and therefore the limitations of her advice to other people, when it is based on herself. That's all well and good, but she segues into this:

"The only person we can change is ourselves, and how we command ourselves is always the question that most interests me." First one is not shown (and manifestly not true), but I'd rather focus here on her choice of verb: "command". She "commands" her _self_? Who is doing the commanding? W.T. everliving F. is going on here?

This kind of language (command, force, make) is rife in books about habits, and I find it utterly strange. That's not how I think of habits at all. I think of habits as ways to more efficiently do things I am already doing. I don't try to make myself do shit. I don't ever "command" myself. I used to. It was a terrible idea and a worse strategy, and I knocked that off in my mid 20s. And while Rubin's wikipedia entry doesn't give her age, that NYT style piece sure did (28 in 1994 -- oddly, I was getting divorced from my first marriage at 25, the year she was getting married for the first time at 28). She's older than me. Why is she still doing this?

Maybe it's working better for her than it did for me.

Next up (same page, 259): she's wandering around "a prominent tech company" where there is food everywhere. She's got the classic normal person history but super thin now and thinks she used to be overweight, so she's always looking to de-calorify the environment and sure enough, she "identifies" the "problem" to be "solved" as people gaining weight. My walking partner's dad brings cookies to meetings because he knows everyone gets along better and can keep their temper when they have some fatty carbs in them. Rubin, however well-read in this area she may be, has allowed her personal bias away from food to prevent her from seeing how the company benefits from making sure its employees have calories readily available at all times. She mischaracterizes _why_ there are calories around and that is either blinkered or dishonest. (ETA: I never marked the point in the book where she asks her sister if she is a killjoy. I sort of wish I had, but I bought it in paper so I can't even search on it. *shrug* Her sister was extremely kind in her response, but honestly, there are a lot of points in this book where it is basically impossible not to think, this is a person who is Anti Pleasure, Anti Enjoyment, Anti Joy. Relentlessly. She may or may not be -- she might be someone whose pleasures are sufficiently different from those of others that it just _seems_ that way. But boy, she doesn't show a lot of _respect_ for pleasure-seeking choices. It's as if pleasure is so deserving of contempt as a reason for doing something that she can't bring herself to acknowledge that there is even any pleasure _involved_. Total annihilation.)

None of the page-specific comments are enough to push me one way or the other in deciding whether to recommend or dis-recommend the book. Ultimately, however, creating a taxonomy without exploring how people wind up in a category and how they can move between categories takes a bad characteristic of self-help books (they ultimately are the author trying to make the reader more like the author's ideal) and reifies it. Which is a bummer, because it's a pretty awesome taxonomy.
Tags: book review, non-fiction
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