How to stick to a habit

I love to read, and the latest author I’ve encountered is Gretchen Rubin. I have to admit there are a few things in her books that irk me (like her stance on water, artificial sweeteners, and diet soda – that’s another story altogether!) but she does have a lot of valuable insights to share. One of my big interests these days is habit formation so Better Than Before was on the must-read list.

One insight in particular from that book, which has provided more than one lightbulb moment on the homefront, is her identification of personality types - what she calls the Four Tendencies (I’ll be eager to read her new book on the subject, due later this year). Her premise is that there are 4 categories related to how we respond to expectations, why we react in the ways we do, and it has huge implications for how to create and maintain good habits.

Here are the Four Tendencies and why they matter (as I understand it):

An Upholder has the easiest time sticking with good habits because she focuses on the to do list, and finds fulfillment in checking things off. She responds to both outer expectations (following rules and requests from others) as well as inner expectations (following a “rule” that she decides on for herself). The key for creating a habit:  define the expectation.

A Questioner focuses on what needs to be done - it has to make sense, and may take a lot of questions and research before being convinced of that need.  To stick with a habit, the need has to be understood and there has to be “buy-in” to the idea; find the “why”.

An Obliger focuses on what “should” be done – it’s all about outer expectations because she won’t do it for herself.  To maintain a habit, setting up a system of accountability in some form is necessary. Make a promise to someone else.

A Rebel balks against all expectations, even her own! It’s all about what she wants to do. To stick with a habit, a rebel needs to be very creative in identifying the ongoing want; identify the freedom and desire in the habit.

I got excited when I read about these Tendencies. I re-read it, then read it out to hubby, and we immediately started placing ourselves and family members into the framework. It explains a lot about peoples’ behaviours. Plus, I felt such clarity about my own – I have this tendency to inadvertently annoy hubby because I have to have questions answered before I will do things! Despite my practice of self-reflection, that is something I hadn’t really identified or understood about myself before. But as soon as I read about the Questioner, I thought YES! That’s me!! (And it’s a valid approach ;) ) I sometimes get frustrated by the lengthy process I often need to go through to internalize things, yet it feels natural to me. Once I’ve internalized it, it’s solid.

Anything we can do to understand ourselves better is a positive thing by itself, not to mention making us better equipped to interact with those around us. It also helps us to think of creative ways to maintain good habits that work with our personalities.

If you’re interested in finding out your own Tendency, you can take Gretchen Rubin’s quiz here.

What ideas does this give you for supporting your own good habits? How can you work with your own personality to stick with the things you want to do?


(Photo credit: Arek Adeoye)