four tendencies rubinGretchen Rubin’s ‘Better Than Before’

Written By Koren Barwis

Do you struggle with getting to yoga class regularly? Or do you floss only the week before you visit the dentist? Every Monday, do you plan to eat healthy, only to be stuffing Oreos by Wednesday? You aren’t alone; most of us have trouble sticking to our healthy habits to some degree. The question is why do some folks seem to struggle more than others?

According to Gretchen Rubin’s book Better Than Before, wavering commitment isn’t just about lack of willpower. Rubin asserts that it has more to do with our fundamental makeup and our natural response to inner and/or outer expectations. Inner expectations are your expectations for yourself. For example, if you run because it makes you feel good, that is an inner expectation. Outer expectations, are those imposed by others. If you like to run only with a group, that could be an outer expectation at play.

Whether you respond to inner or outer expectations (or both or none) puts you into one of four habit-forming types: Upholder, Questioners, Obligers, or Rebels.

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The Four Types

  • Upholders respond to both inner and outer expectations. They do what they commit to no matter what, sometimes at the risk of being rigid.
  • Questioners only do something if they think it makes sense. They ask a lot of questions and need justification for doing something.
  • Obligers do something because they have committed to someone else to do it. Unfortunately, they tend to ignore their inner expectations.
  • Rebels oppose any kind of expectations, schedule, or routine. They have the toughest time keeping establishing and maintaining habits.

I am an Upholder with hints of Obliger and Questioner. Blessed with discipline, I typically stick to my commitments, whether made to myself or to others. My daughter is also an Upholder; at twelve, she already gets herself up in the morning, flosses nightly, and does her homework without being nagged.

Being an Upholder seems to be the easiest of the four types, although it does have its downsides, namely that we can be rigid, putting our routine or commitments above anything else. Upholders are change adverse and don’t love going with the flow. I know that about myself and push myself to step outside my routine on occasion. I recently went to Africa and threw my routine to the wind. I still managed to work in exercise and stick to some healthy eating habits, but I allowed for lots of flexibility so I could enjoy myself and not drive my fellow travelers crazy.

I am married to a Rebel, which I never thought about until I read the book. For ten years, I’ve been trying to motivate my husband just as I would myself, using the same tools and tricks…but they don’t work with a Rebel! To him, my tracking is mundane and my routine is like death. Oh, and if I pressure him? It backfires, big time. Very helpful to know.

This newfound knowledge was also eye opening for me as a health coach. I’ve worked with a variety of clients in the past — some would lap up my advice and implement suggestions immediately and some would look at me like I had three heads and take absolutely no action. Armed with my new understanding, I can better tailor my strategies to each person’s different propensities.

Beyond defining the four tendencies, Rubin gives tangible tips on how to use your type to achieve your goals. Scheduling and accountability are key themes, as are tracking and convenience.

One very interesting section focuses on loopholes (aka excuses), which become our outs when we want to, whether consciously or subconsciously, break good habits. I know someone who is a big user of the “Tomorrow Loophole” — I’ll start the diet/workout plan/flossing tomorrow, only to adopt the last supper mentality today. Another big loophole is False Choice, where you say you can’t do X because of Y, but in reality, they have no direct relationship. For example, I can’t workout because I’m traveling on business…well, you can but it takes preparation and planning.

Granted, I’m a bit of a self-help book junkie and will read almost anything on psychology, habits, wellness, or mindset, but I really love this book and highly recommend it to anyone who is trying to make lifestyle improvements. Rubin’s writing style is easy to digest and her advice can be applied to your daily routine immediately. And the best part is that Rubin lets all of us off the willpower hook so we don’t have to feel like failures if we just can’t get our butts to the gym. She stresses how we are all different and with different motivators; the trick is figuring out what yours are and then living by them.

Find out which of the four tendencies you are with this quiz.

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