The short version: this book has good research and good ideas, but imperfect execution.
I think that a lot of the things Ms Rubin articulates are both informative and useful. Framing the question of habits in terms of identity and personality can be a huge boost in learning how to develop good habits and eliminate bad ones. She also deals extensively with good strategies to improve in this area. There’s even a quiz in the back that can help guide your thinking, so that you know where you fall and figure out which route will be most beneficial to you.
I also think, however, that this book will be most effective for the group Ms Rubin terms “Upholders.” Upholders, in short, are those who set goals for themselves and stick to them without much prompting or questioning. Ms Rubin admits that she herself is an Upholder, and I think that “Tendency” bleeds through the book in more places than she points out. In several places, she sets up a standard of behavior that fits the Upholder mold, but won’t necessarily work for the other Tendencies. In fairness, she often works hard to make sure that all groups are fairly represented–but even so, there are a few sections that fell short.
In fact, much of the book fits Ms Rubin’s style (which makes sense; it’s her book), not only in her Tendency but in the other areas of self-knowledge (detailed in the first section of the book). This is great for anyone who is of a similar style, but can be tiresome for those of us who differ.
I also question the validity of the Four Tendencies framework, in no small part because I’m not a “Questioner” at heart. Forced into a category, I’m probably an “Obliger,” but in the Four Tendencies quiz, I got an almost equal number of affirmed statements in each Tendency (Questioner and Obliger were tied, a little bit ahead of Upholder and Rebel, which were also tied). The other personality traits are set up as dichotomies, which are frequently prone to being incomplete pictures of an issue.
Having said that, I may very well be more than a couple standard deviations from the norm, so perhaps only a few others will have this problem.
The only other thing that bothered me (and it will likely not bother most people) is the agnostic approach Ms Rubin took to her sources. She goes, in short order, from praising the Rule of St. Benedict to praising Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (a series, if you’re unfamiliar with it, designed explicitly as an atheist response to the Chronicles of Narnia, which ends with the protagonists killing God). Perhaps her broad-spectrum approach, from East Asian religions to Western Catholicism, is a “seeds of truth” mentality at work, but it came across as cafeteria philosophy.
I think this book is worth reading, especially if you struggle with bad habits or want fervently to develop good habits–but as with many books aimed at helping yourself, you need to take the information with a grain of salt. Some things may be helpful as you try to improve your habits–and some things won’t fly. Again, in fairness, Ms Rubin says as much on at least one occasion.