For the next several weeks, we're going through Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin. This phenomenal book on habits is available at your local bookstore or from Amazon. Check it out!
Some of us struggle to form habits, others take to them like glue. Some of us can do anything for others but struggle with doing anything for ourselves. Have you ever wondered why, and more importantly, how to work with it to make your habits work?
Knowing ourselves better means that we can manage ourselves better, and if we're trying to work with others, understanding them can help us get more things accomplished as well. Enter, the four tendencies.
So what are these tendencies?
First, let's look at upholders.
An upholder would ask, "What's on the schedule and the to do list for today?"
Upholders want to know what's expected of them, and will meet those expectations. Upholders are probably the kids in class who would call the teacher's attention to not having collected the homework yet.
But because upholders are self directed, they have little trouble keeping resolutions or meeting deadlines. That means if an upholder's boss wants them to finish a project, they will make this just as much of a priority as heading to gym after work. Upholders take both outer and inner expectations seriously.
The downside to upholders is that they will struggle in situations where rules aren't clear, and they will feel compelled to meet expectations even if they seem pointless. Upholders feel uneasy when breaking even trivial rules.
Upholders are a pretty small category of people, but I am definitely among them.
Next, there are questioners.
Questioners, respond to things only if they conclude that it makes sense. They question all expectations. Their motivations are reason, logic and fairness. A questioner would ask, "What needs to get done and why?" They will resist rules for rules sake, and are often willing to do exhaustive research. They are motivated by what they believe are sound reasons (mind you, they might not actually be sound. The questioner just has to believe so!)
Some questioners are inclined to uphold, others are inclined to rebel. The key for a questioner is to believe a habit is useful, and then they will stick to it.
Obligers, however, are motivated by external accountability. "What must I get done today?"
While obligers make terrific colleagues, family, and friends, they find it difficult to stay self-motivated. They depend on external accountability with consequences like deadlines, fees, and fear of letting others down.
More than anything, obligers need accountability. They are suseptible to burnout because they have trouble saying no when someone asks. They will find it difficult to form habits, because habits are for our benefit, and obligers do things for others.
Lastly, there are rebels. Rebels resist all expectations, and act from a sense of choice. "What do I want to do today?" is a rebel question. They work toward their own goals, in their own way. While they might refuse to do what they're 'supposed' to do, they can accomplish lots own their own terms.
Rebels highly value authenticity and self determination. The rebel's best asset is their voice of dissent. A rebel cannot be asked or told to do something - in fact, being told what to do may create the opposite effect. Rebels resist habits, but they can embrace habit-like behaviors by tying actions to choices. As long as they feel it is worthwhile and doesn't tie them down, it will happen.
Most people are questioners are obligers, by a wide margin. Knowing your tendency can help you fram habits in a compelling way - as you can tell from the information above, we are all motivated differently, and trying to treat a rebel like an obliger would end in habit disaster!
If you have trouble identifying your tendency, Gretchen Rubin offers a quiz to help you figure it out on her website.
On a personal note, I think that mental illness can muddy the waters a bit as far as tendencies go. I know that when my brain is not well, I behave far more like an obliger than an upholder. (Meaning, I struggle to do anything for myself.) But when I'm doing well, I take myself seriously, which I believe is my natural state. Does that make sense?
So, now, you hopefully know your tendency. What comes next?
There are some other questions that you can ask yourself to further understand how forming habits could help you. Don't think too hard about the answers to these, and we'll kind of come back to this information when we're talking about forming habits.
Are you a lark or an owl?
While many of us will, at some point, try to change our habits in this area, research shows that to some extent, our preference is hardwired, though it is also affected by genes and age. Young children and older adults tend to be larks, while teens are owls.
Much to the chagrin of owls out there, the world tends to favor larks, which can make it difficult for owls to function at their best.
This is something to consider when forming a habit. If you're a lark, don't overload yourself with heavy brain work in the evening. If you're an owl, dragging yourself out of bed early to hit the gym may end up in repeated failure.
Do you marathon, sprint, or procrastinate?
Marathoners tend to work slow and steady on a project. A sprinter works in intense bursts of effort, usually thriving under the pressure of a deadline. Procrastinators look a lot like sprinters, but with one key difference: sprinters choose to work under pressure, a procrastinator can't help it.
Are you an underbuyer or an overbuyer?
When you're starting a new project, do you feel the need to buy out the store, or do you insist on cobbling along with what you have, even if it really isn't sufficient?
An underbuyer needs to remember that spending money to support a good habit is worthwhile. An overbuyer on the other hand, should remember that acquiring stuff isn't enough to establish a habit.
Do you prefer simplification or abundance?
Do you thrive best when life, your space, is simple and unnecessary things are eliminated? Or do you work best when you add new things and spice things up with variety?
Are you a finisher or an opener?
Finishers are cautious to form new habits, whereas openers can be overly optimistic in their ability to take on new habits. (I am definitely an opener. Once I buy a new box of cereal, the old one is dead to me. It's a problem.)
Do you work best wtih small steps or big steps?
Some people prefer to take their habits in modest, manageable steps. A slow accumulation of triumphs can be encouraging, and they can avoid burnout this way. Others prefer to take big leaps, because changing gradually will lead to a loss of interest and the changes will feel too insignificant.
Whew! That was a lot of information. Hopefully you have a little better grasp of your tendency and a little better idea of what things might help (or hinder) you when making habits. In next week's post, we'll talk about a couple key strategies in habit formation: Monitoring and foundation habits.