Author, speaker and blogger Gretchen Rubin expands on some of her ideas in Happier at Home by diving into her theory of the Four Tendencies. She explains how personality and goal setting go hand-in-hand.
How Does Personality Affect Goal Setting?
The Myers Briggs personality frame, the Enneagram, the Clifton Strengths Finder, Hogwarts House sorting and so many other tools exist to measure and classify personality types. How is the Four Tendencies different and why do we need it?
Instead of trying to solve all the mysteries of personality research and boil it down to a few letters or numbers, the Four Tendencies is worried about just one thing- how do I respond to expectations? This is the most important question on the path to self-knowledge because it explain how and why we do or fail to do things. Everything we need to do in life it essentially a decision of following through or not. For some people, it doesn’t matter how it’s worded, but for others if there is not compelling evidence or a polite request, the task is quickly flung by the wayside.
Knowing the best way to encourage change in ourselves and others is the only way to work with a team, meet health goals, accomplish tasks and engage with others. Honestly answering this one question “will help you become happier, healthier, more productive and more creative. It’s far easier to succeed when you know what actually works- and why.”
To start, there is a quiz on Gretchen Rubin’s web page that can help you determine which of the four tendencies you are. Finding your tendency is not nearly as complicated as determining your personality characteristics in some other models. You will KNOW when you read the descriptions. And that’s a great thing. You can spend less time worrying that you have identified yourself correctly and more time learning what it means and how to apply it to your daily life.
The Upholder Personality and Goal Setting
Like Rubin, I am an Upholder. I’m going to talk about it first because for me, it’s easiest. In her four intersecting circles, she describes an Upholder as someone who meets both outer and inner expectations. Basically, we can be talked into doing anything, and often talk ourselves into doing things. If I am given an assignment, it will be completed. If I decide I need to work out five days a week, I’ll do that too. Sometimes to a fault, I feel an inner pull to meet ALL of the expectations.
I don’t want to disappoint other people, so I nearly always follow through. But there is a balance where I know I need to take care of myself and have no problem going to bed with a book at 9pm and telling my kids I’m done mom’ing for the night. I’ve kept New Year’s resolutions for 365 days, even when they were no longer useful to me. I thrive on routine and schedule. I keep a detailed to-do list every week. I think this is why a bullet journal works so well for me. If I write it down, I feel obligated to follow through.
For example, I set a goal to work out five days a week this year. There have been lots of days that I grumble about it for the entire 30 minutes. Clear through the cool-down, I will be muttering about not wanting to do it. Even the endorphin boost doesn’t make me any happier about spending that 30 minutes sweating. But that box needs checked off, so it will get done.
As with all of the personalities, this is good and bad. If it’s up to me, shit gets done. But I often have a hard time relaxing if there are still things on my to-do list. I also am quickly frustrated by people who need prodded to accomplish tasks. I feel like I shouldn’t have to remind people all the time what their responsibilities are. On the other hand, if a doctor told me I needed to change my habits, I would do it. I can be counted on, but I also have to learn to be gentle on myself and that setting aside a goal or habit can sometimes be healthy.
The Questioner Personality and Goal Setting
The Questioner personality is just as it sounds. They question everything. However, once they have a complete understanding of the reasons behind a task or habit, they have no problem adopting it or dropping a negative behavior. In the personality diagram, they are described as only meeting inner expectations.
Questioners will not do something just because it’s on the list. They have to understand the why. They “show a deep commitment to information, logic and efficiency. They want to gather their own facts, decide for themselves and act with good reason; they object to anything they consider arbitrary, ill-reasoned, ill-informed or ineffective.” These aren’t bad traits to have. Questioners keep the rest of us honest by demanding a well-thought-out explanation before committing to a course of action.
Questioners run into problems when they can’t make outer expectations become inner expectations. They require internal motivation to accomplish goals. It doesn’t matter how much or how often they are nagged. There has to be a reason to change. However, once they have a clear understanding of why something is important, they are totally on board.
The Obliger Personality and Goal Setting
In opposition to the Questioner, is the Obliger. This tendency will easily meet outer expectations but fails to follow through on inner expectations. If a team at work depends on an Obliger, be assured it will be completed. This people-pleaser will nearly always chose to fulfill an obligation to someone else over self-care. They are dependable, the person who will always come through. They are great team players and everyone else want them around because they will make sure necessary tasks are managed.
For every mention of an accountability partner, there is an Obliger who is thankful for the extra push to success. If the only beneficiary is themselves, Obligers will see it as unnecessary or burdensome. And often they just don’t follow through. It may be eating better, exercising or starting a business, to get it done, they need to know someone will check on their progress and is counting on them to do this task. The crucial element of success for an Obliger is outer accountability.
Of course, this also has it’s down side. Other people can fall into the trap of taking advantage of Obligers. Obligers take care of other people first, sometimes to the detriment of their own health and well-being. Limits are healthy and Obligers have a hard time disappointing anyone by imposing them. They are susceptible to overwork and burnout because of this willingness to go the extra mile.
The Rebel Personality and Goal Setting
Basically, forget it! And, yes, I can say this because I live with one. And he agrees that this is his tendency and understands how difficult that makes him. But he’s a rebel and actually doesn’t care that much. I frequently hear him say “it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.” That statement makes my Upholder brain hurt.
A Rebel does not responds to outer or inner expectations. They do their own thing. If they want to do something, it’s done. If not, it will never get done. It doesn’t matter who asks, who suffers or why it should be done. They want the freedom to decide. In fact, making requests is a sure-fire way to ensure that the Rebel will fail to follow through.
Rebels like to prove people wrong, so they are always up for a challenge. But only one of their own choosing. While they have a valuable place in society in challenging social norms and easily being able to put aside mundane tasks that don’t matter, they also make life challenging for doctors, teachers or employers who expect a certain standard of behavior. Or for wive who want the trash taken out each evening.
The formula that seems to work for Rebels is “information, consequences and choice.” Rebels need to know the facts of why they should follow through. They benefit by knowing there are consequences, but not being threatened with them. Most importantly, they need to know that they have the control by giving them a choice. For parents who have Rebel children, this is a hard line to balance. Sometimes, they will chose what we wish they didn’t and have to face the consequences.
Working with all the Personality Types
No matter what your occupation or family structure, you will have to deal with all four types of tendencies. Being able to identify someone’s tendency is not a weapon to use against them. Rather it’s a way to make our communication more effective. Depending on the tendency of the patient, a doctor will give medical advice in different terms. Obligers will need to know that their blood pressure and cholesterol will be checked again in six months. A Rebel needs to know he has a choice to be healthy and is responsible for his own well-being.
The same is true in work settings and at home. As my children’s personality develops, I will be able to identify their tendency better. I’m pretty sure my twelve year old is a Questioner. The fact that he should do all the math problems on the page because they were assigned is not motivation for him to get it done. If he feels he understands the concept, he would skip the homework. I have to take the time to explain to him (on a ridiculously regular basis), that this homework will affect his grade.
We can even trick ourselves into accomplishing things that will make our lives better. Are you an Obliger? Get an accountability partner! An Upholder will have lists of what needs done and enjoying checking them off. A Questions knows how to do research to develop an internal sense of expectation.
In the last part of the book Rubin examines how each of the personalities relate to each other and how to make that communication more effective. Only having four choices means it’s fairly straight-forward to determine someone’s tendency. It also means that it’s easy to keep track of the four ways of responding to expectations. Understanding personality and goal setting will help in every area of life as we work with other to be successful, work together, accomplish goals and generally build a happier life.
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