I have to confess.
I secretly make New Year’s resolutions all year long.
It may sound crazy to all the resolution-naysayers out there, but in my life, there seems to be an endless supply of habits – some to begin, others to end. And I am perpetually optimistic about accomplishing both.
In a pursuit to improve my odds of succeeding, I regularly study the psychology behind habit-making and I have learned one absolute truth.
Are you ready for it?
Making a new habit or breaking an existing one is HARD.
Well, no kidding, right?
My experience as a personal trainer definitely confirmed this and also revealed that we all have different tendencies in regards to our habits.
Recently I read a great book that did an exceptional job at helping me not only understand my habit patterns but also the variations that others – like you – might fall under.
The title is Better Than Before – Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin.
Although I highly recommend that you read it, I thought it would be cool to break down some of the highlights here.
Who knows, you might just find one takeaway that will give you victory over that daunting habit.
Which of the Four Tendencies Do You Have?
Ok, let’s think specifically.
What one habit do you want to start? Or, what one habit do you want to break? Think about it.
For me, I would like to break the habit of my late night snacking – that actually is better described as pigging out on something salty after 9:00 pm. It is a bad habit that continues to hunt me down at the end of most days – sabotaging all my good efforts from the last 24 hours.
So like most Type A, goal-focused, personal-training types, I set up expectations for myself that all should help me to break this habit.
Have you ever thought, “Why is it so hard for me to… (fill in the blank)?”
Rubin’s book identifies 4 main tendencies that we might typically fall under when expectations are placed on us.
They are Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels.
Figure out what your tendency is and you have a framework for how best to approach your habits.
If you have been reading this and thinking, “What’s the big deal? All you have to do is focus a bit and you can meet the expectations placed on you.”
Or your mantra is Nike’s tagline, “Just do it.”
You are probably an Upholder.
Does this sound like you?
- Always turn assignments in on time
- Set the alarm clock early and face the day ready to check off everything on your To-Do list
- Have been labeled a rule-follower
- Protect your schedule because your commitments are a priority for you
- Have little trouble accomplishing your New Year’s resolutions
- Feel uncomfortable when expectations or rules are unclear
- Have no trouble meeting outer expectations or inner expectations
Upholders are the least common as compared to the other tendencies. They often stand out since meeting their obligations appears to be easy. In fact, their family and friends might get frustrated at times with them because they approach everything with a relentless focus to finish.
If This Is You
The good news is that you are energized by getting things done.
Employers love you.
Friends are inspired by you.
And loved ones appreciate you.
The downside to being an upholder is that you may find yourself completing tasks just… because. Friends and family may also be annoyed with your tenacity. Your drive to achieve may be directed simply by chasing after the gold-stamp-of-approval.
Accomplishing your habit-making or habit-breaking goals is not necessarily easy, but the odds are in your favor that you will reach them.
If I told you that you need to take notes while reading this article and your first thought is, “why,” then there is a good chance that you are a Questioner.
People that have this tendency don’t quickly jump up to meet the outer expectations placed on them unless it makes sense in their mind. These guys question everything. However, once they deem the expectation to be reasonable and judicious, they are very reliable and competent to get it accomplished.
You might be a Questioner if you:
- Decide on your own, whether it makes sense to do something
- You don’t follow a rule because it is a rule
- Don’t make resolutions just because it is January 1st (since that is an arbitrary date)
- Have no trouble meeting inner expectations and outer ones that make sense
- Can get stuck in having to ask a zillion questions
Questioners can go in one of two directions. They may lean toward the upholders camp or they may tend to side with rebels.
If This Is You
Co-workers, family, and friends can count on you to accomplish what is expected – but not without first satisfying your need to understand the rationale. You make well-informed decisions and are thoughtful before committing to something.
In regards to starting a new habit or breaking a bad one, do your research. Answer the “why” and you are on your way.
If you are a rockstar at work – getting done everything your boss asks you – but you struggle to bring about change in your personal life, you may be an Obliger.
The magical word for you is accountability.
Having to answer to someone, whether colleague, boss, spouse, or friend, is what drives you to get things done.
Obligers tend to:
- Struggle in making new habits since it usually involves an inner motivation
- Have trouble saying no to requests made of them
- Be reliable if there is some source of external accountability
- Find motivation in being a mentor
- Quickly burnout from the pressure of having to please others
If This Is You
Understand that you thrive when there is some accountability in your life.
Although you are probably part of the large percentage of people who don’t make it past January with New Year’s resolutions, there is a fix. Find ways to keep yourself on task.
For example, if you are trying to start an exercise routine, find a partner who will be upset with you if you don’t show up.
You already know if you are a Rebel – and your friends and family probably do as well. Keeping your feelings or thoughts to yourself in regards to rules and expectations has never been your strength.
Freedom to choose how you will live and what you will do – every second of every day – is your only comfort zone.
Rebels show these telltale signs:
- Want to do the opposite of what they are told
- Are willing to do battle for their freedom to make all decisions
- Refuse to commit to a habit
- Operate best in self-determination mode
If This is You
Hopefully, those closest to you understand your tendency and are careful not to set off your instinct to oppose.
It is possible for you to operate under habit-like behaviors as long as you always feel the freedom to decide if it is what you want to do.
Recognize that you gain energy from challenging authority but authenticity to who you are is also important. Be sure you don’t make a decision that is not in your best interest just because it goes against an expectation.
Pretty interesting stuff, right?
Gretchen Rubin has done extensive research in this area of habits and I’ll say again that her book is fascinating.
There is a lot more that she shares in regards to actual solutions on mastering habits. I would be happy to capture some more of the highlights if you have found this helpful. Just let me know in the comments.
Incidentally, I am a Questioner with a bent toward Upholding. So the chances of me doing something you ask, as long as it makes sense to me, are good.
In regards, to breaking my own late-night, chip-eating habit… well, I guess I need to work on that compelling reason for why it makes sense.