Making New Habits Stick
Updated: Mar 22
Whether you are starting a new diet or embarking on a new meditation practice, changing routines and behaviors can be a challenge. Personally, I am a pretty self disciplined person. When I set a new goal I tend to see it through. I still go off the rails from time to time, but I can usually get back on track pretty quickly.
But I realize that this is not the case for everyone. I learned this first hand when I began to work with clients. I thought, I will just give them the protocol and they should be able to hit the ground running. This is not always the case.
Then I read Gretchen Rubin’s book “The Four Tendencies” and I began to understand why.
Gretchen starts her book by sharing a story about a lunch meeting she had with her friend. Her friend described how she used to love running while on the track team in high school, but that she can’t seem to carry her running habit over into adult life.
As she pondered her friend’s dilemma, she realized it all came down to expectations. When her friend was in school, she had the outside expectation that came from her team mates counting on her. Now that she was no longer in school, she didn’t have that accountability and struggled to meet her inner expectations. This puzzled Gretchen, because she herself was easily able to meet both inner and outer expectations.
This led Gretchen on a mission to learn how people go about changing habits. After speaking with hundreds of people, she came to the conclusion that people fell into four categories. She then developed her framework, The Four Tendencies.
Gretchen divided The Four Tendencies into the categories of Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels.
Upholders respond readily to both outer expectations and inner expectations. Whether it is a personal goal, or a promise to another person, they are able to see it through.
Obligers, on the other hand, respond readily to other’s expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations. They do better with some type of accountability.
Questioners question all expectation. They meet an expectation only if they believe it is justified, so in effect they respond only to inner expectations.
Rebels resist all expectations, both outer and inner alike.
According to Gretchen, these tendencies are hardwired and do not change according to age, place or circumstance. And although people may have aspects of each tendency, they tend to be rooted in only one.
You may already have a sense of which category you fit in to. If not, you can take the quiz here.
HOW TO SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS DEPENDING ON YOUR TENDENCY
If you are an Upholder, you are probably a pretty regimented and structured person. Personally, I like to write out my long and short term goals and check off my successes as accomplishments (even the small ones). Journaling helps to keep me on track and motivates me to continue. So does setting up rituals and routines.
If you are an Obliger, you may need a lot of outer accountability. This is when it helps to work with a coach (or a nutritional therapist-wink,wink), join a group, or find a partner who will hold you to your word. Not only will this help you to stay on task, it is healthy to have that social connection.
If you are a Questioner, do your research. Understanding the connection between your choices and their impact on your health will help to keep you motivated. The caution would be to not to get stuck in “analysis paralysis”. Once you feel like your question has been answered, it is important to just get going. The best way to know if something is going to work for you is to try it. Think of it as an experiment. If it does not work out, try something else.
If you fall into the Rebel category (we all have a bit of rebel in us, don’t we?), lay out all of your options and make your own decisions. You can customize your approach to what is suitable for you. Personalization will ensure that you feel confident that you are making the ultimate decision on what is right for you. It is your choice.
Since reading The Four Tendencies my approach with my clients is very tailored. I often ask them to take the quiz so I know best how to support them. Knowing where they fall on the spectrum helps me to better communicate my recommendations and set up a framework to help them succeed.
Whatever your tendency, understanding your mode of operation can help you be successful in your new endeavors. Take the quiz today!