How to Get Shit Done - Part I - The Four Tendencies
Updated: Mar 25
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A few years ago, I read the book Better than Before, by Gretchen Rubin. It's a book about habits, and I LOVED it. I find the topic of habit change fascinating and am intrigued by how different things work for different people.
Also, I love to get shit done. And I'm pretty good at getting shit done, but I also noticed a long time ago that I really struggled to follow through on certain things, even when they were important to me.
Why was this? How could I fix it?
Along came Gretchen Rubin with an answer that changed my life.
In writing Better than Before, Gretchen Rubin made a discovery. She found that the reason not all habit strategies work equally well for everyone is that there are four different types of people based on how they respond to expectations and how they are motivated.
She called these four types The Four Tendencies. She then spent several years researching and developing this theory. You can read more in her book The Four Tendencies and on her website, where she also offers an online course on the topic.
"We all face two kinds of expectations—outer expectations (meet work deadlines, answer a request from a friend) and inner expectations (keep a New Year’s resolution, start meditating). Our response to expectations determines our “Tendency”—that is, whether we fit into the category of Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel.
Knowing our Tendency can help us set up situations in the ways that make it more likely that we’ll achieve our aims. We can make better decisions, meet deadlines, meet our promises to ourselves, suffer less stress, and engage more deeply with others." - Gretchen Rubin
Here are the four types. If it's not immediately apparent, you can take the quiz to find out your type here.
Put another way:
· “Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations
· Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense-essentially, they make all expectations into inner expectations
· Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves
· Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike” - Gretchen Rubin
How about them upholders, huh? My guess is no upholders clicked on this post, since they don't really need instructions on how to get shit done, they're too busy getting shit done.
Must be nice!
(Please report back if I’m wrong.)
For the rest of us, we’ve got some stuff to figure out.
I’m an obliger, and knowing this allowed me to take the shame out of how I’ve always struggled to follow through on promises to myself (exercise goals, daily meditation, my business), while easily following through when others were involved (school, jobs with actual bosses, team sports).
Once you know your tendency, you can use it to your advantage. For example, most of my work is deadline based, so I have no problem getting it done – external deadlines are ideal for obligers.
Other parts of my business, like marketing, have no built-in accountability, so I need to create it for myself. This can look like an accountability partner or a coach who will check in with me to see if I’ve followed through on what I said I was going to do or not. Just knowing that someone else is watching works for me, even if their disappointment is the only real consequence.
I’ve had business coaches tell me that I shouldn’t need accountability in my business, and that my need for accountability showed that I wasn't really committed to my goal.
The Four Tendencies allowed me to understand that this advice simply wasn’t the reality for me, and to remove any shame I might have otherwise felt. That coach probably isn’t an obliger, but I am, and obligers thrive on accountability.
Knowing your Tendency allows you to understand what you need to get things done, so you can put those things in place.
For me, external accountability usually has to involve another human being, particularly if I have a lot of resistance around the thing I want to get done. But some obligers can create the feeling of accountability through apps or tracking systems, like marking your calendar every day you accomplish your goal and trying not to "break the chain."
Here’s what each type needs to get things done:
• “Upholders want to know what should be done.
• Questioners want justifications.
• Obligers need accountability.
• Rebels want freedom to do something their own way.”
So, now what?
Awareness is the first step, and just being aware of our natural way of being can help a lot. But what about the things that we naturally do that aren't working for us? How do we change them?
a) Take the test on Gretchen Rubin’s Website
b) My Tendency: ______________________
I (meet/resist) _________ outer expectations
I (meet/resist) _________ inner expectations
I'm not an expert on each type - in fact, I find some of the types baffling. For example, how do rebels get anything done, and how the heck can I become an upholder? So, I can brainstorm some ideas that might work for these types, but I'm not sure they'd really be useful. Instead, I've gathered some helpful posts for each type on how to get shit done.
Journal on the following:
1. What was your biggest aha when reading about your tendency?
2. When is a time in your life when you lived out your tendency? How did it go? (e.g. a questioner following a strict eating plan to fit into their wedding dress)
3. When is a time in your life when you didn’t live out your tendency? How did it go? (e.g. an obliger trying to teach themselves a new language)
4. What are some “tricks” that might work for you personally with your tendency?
5. Biggest takeaways?
Resources from Gretchen Rubin:
Course: Four Tendencies Course
Book: Four Tendencies Book
Blog: Gretchen Rubin’s Blog
Podcast: Gretchen Rubin’s Podcasts
Download the full free e-book, How to Trick Yourself Into Getting Shit Done here:
Check out the other posts in the series here:
How to Get Shit Done - Part IV - Starter or Finisher?