Are You an Abstainer or a Moderator?

In a previous story, we discussed the importance of finding your why and changing your mindset for better health. However, this is just the first step of the process. Finding better health and living life to the fullest is a journey, one which is full of layers. Knowing why you want to live a better life and then changing your mindset to one of growth is just the first layer. The next big step is to learn more about yourself and how you form habits in order to make meaningful change.

Ever wonder why some people do just fine quitting a bad habit cold turkey while others who try that approach fail within a matter of days and go right back to what they were doing? This is the difference between an abstainer and a moderator, as Gretchen Rubin outlines in her book Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. Several years ago, this author caught onto these subtle differences among people that make a big impact in terms of habit formation, and dove into the field of research on habits. The result has been several books with extensive descriptions of habit patterns and instructions on how to set yourself up for success. Her work highlights a multi-step process to identifying your unique habit patterns by asking yourself a series of questions in a quest to learn more. The first step we often take with new clients is to identify the difference between those who form habits through abstaining or moderating. Let’s take a look at the differences between these two types.

Are You an Abstainer?

An abstainer is someone who thrives on “all or nothing”. They either have no chocolate, or eat all the chocolate in the house. For an abstainer the advice often given by medical providers of, “everything in moderation” is setting them up for failure. By giving an abstainer permission to indulge, even just a little bit, sets them up to overdo it.

Those who are abstainers thrive on systems of “all or nothing rules”. Examples include eliminating certain foods from the diet or performing an exercise at the same time every day. Abstainers thrive on quitting habits, like smoking, cold turkey rather than phasing out slowly.

Are You a Moderator?

On the other hand, moderators do better on the traditional wisdom of “everything in moderation”. Moderators are excellent at telling themselves they can have one bite of chocolate after a meal and then stopping there. The thought of completely eliminating something from their lives makes them less likely to change. Moderators thrive on keeping occasional treats and slowly phasing out bad habits or behaviors. Most of the population would fall into this category.

Why This is Important to Identify Sooner Rather Than Later

Learning to quickly identify which of our clients are abstainers and which are moderators has been essential in helping them set and achieve goals. For an abstainer, structuring goals the way a moderator would is setting them up for failure. Habits are the key to making lasting change, however everyone has a different habit formation pattern. By identifying your particular habit pattern, you set yourself up for success. Without this step, you may force yourself to develop habits in a way that does not work for you which will ultimately lead to failure. Identifying yourself as an abstainer or moderator is just the first step toward learning more about yourself. In our next few stories we will explore how to continue to learn more about your own habit patterns so stay tuned!


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