Desmama commented on my last post to ask me if I had read Gretchen Rubin's new book Better than Before, which is about forming new habits. I actually did read it last month, and if I ever get around to reviewing all the books I read last month (I read a lot of books), I will write a brief review of it. I have, however, been planning to write a longer post about the book and some of the thoughts I had about it. First of all, I enjoyed the book but I didn't love it. It didn't feel as life-changing or revelatory as some similar books I've read like The Power of Habit or Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. I think some of the reason why I didn't like the book was just personal preference--the book is written more like a memoir than other similar books I've read, and in order to enjoy it you have to like the author and feel like you can relate to her. I didn't always feel that way--my life is very different from hers and I didn't feel like some of the things she described and suggested would work at all for me. I also read the book very quickly, and I checked it out as an e-book. I think this would be a much better book to buy in print so that you can read parts of it at a time, and re-read parts as needed. 

One of the things that I did like about the book, and that I'd heard about before reading it, was her categorization of people into four habit 'tendencies', based on how they respond to internal and external expectations. I took the quiz she has available on her blog and was not surprised to discover that I am an "obliger", meaning that I am good at fulfilling external expectations and really bad at internal ones. I've been thinking about this label for the last few weeks, trying to decide how well it describes me and how it can be helpful in creating change. 

There is a part of me that is disappointed in the fact that I was not an "upholder", or a person who fulfills both internal and external expectations. In the story I tell about myself, I am that person who is disciplined and self-motivated, because that's who I want to be. I also don't think of myself as the sort of person who does things just for other people or who never takes care of herself. But, as I've thought more about Rubin describes these tendencies and looked more closely at my behavior, I can see how this makes sense. First of all, as Rubin makes clear, these are just tendencies and also primarily describe our relationship with habits. So I should be wary of extrapolating anything out to describe other aspects of myself or of labeling one tendency as "bad" and another as "good". 

I also used to be a lot more diligent with personal habits like getting enough sleep, reading my scriptures, writing in my journal, and so on. From high school up through my mission I was a very diligent, regimented person. As I think about it, though, I did most of those things because I felt like I was "supposed to" and that others, including God, expected me too. Frankly, I didn't always get the most out of those habits, but I checked off a lot of internal boxes and felt good about myself as someone who did the right things. At some point around the end of my mission and getting married, things started to shift for me and I learned to relax and to do things like scripture study because it was fulfilling for me as an individual. It became much more meaningful, and unfortunately more irregular. It still is all these years later. 

I'm still a very conscientious person in many ways. I am diligent at work, show up on time, and try my hardest to be a productive team member. I fulfill my callings and faithfully show up to church every week unless I'm deathly ill. I'm the sort of person who shows up to events, parties and meetings most of the time. If you invite me to stuff, I almost always make an effort to come. I'm not an excessively overbearing parent, but I keep the house clean, cook meals for my kids, and generally take good care of them. I've said more than once that one of the things I miss most about being married is having someone to take care of and someone who would do things with me--I miss being part of a team. 

As I look more closely about my motivation for doing things, I realize that the description of "obliger" really does fit me best. For example, this summer I had my nanny come at 8:00 every morning. I always tried to be completely ready before she showed up because I didn't want to inconvenience her. Now that school's back in session, I tend to dawdle in the morning and I've noticed that both the kids and I leave later than we would like. For some reason I can't find the same motivation to get ready quickly like I did before when someone was showing up at my house every morning. My supervisor at work gives me some leeway on my arrival time since she knows I have to get kids out the door first, so I don't worry about getting there at an exact time. If I didn't have that understanding, I'd probably stress more to get there at a certain time. 

Now the real question I have to figure out is whether this knowledge is helpful to me in making better habits. Rubin's main answer for obligers is to use external accountability for change, since we are better at listening to others than ourselves. I'm struggling with how to implement this in my own life. First of all, as I mentioned, I don't have a built-in partner anymore. I also don't really have a strong social network that I could go to for help in motivation, and as someone who likes to make other people happy, I really hesitate to ask anyone to do something for me like keeping me accountable. That's a big job. I'm also not totally sure how it would work, because even though I like to fulfill external expectations, I'm really good at justifying stuff and finding loopholes so that I don't feel bad about letting myself or others down. I will have to keep thinking about this, and maybe even get the book again so I can re-read some parts. I'll keep everyone (meaning the two or three people who read this blog--thanks for the external motivation, by the way) posted.


The Weed said…
I haven't taken the quiz yet, but I have the feeling I'm an obliger. I always do so much better meeting others' expectations than my own internal goals for myself (and even then it's iffy). Finding ways to leverage that is difficult, especially when most of my efforts to do so (like asking people to help me be accountable) feel contrived and fake for me, and thus not motivating. I'll be interested to see any further insights you have about this. :) (And I'm happy to be one of the readers keeping you going! I love your posts.)
The Weed said…
Um, update. I absolutely hated the quiz. I didn't feel like any of the four categories captured me at all. Most of the questions, I sat there debating, feeling no resonance. Not sure what this means (it could be due to having an executive functioning disorder), but I didn't like it!

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