[For the love of lemonade] Honor your tendencies: Obliger, Questioner, Upholder or Rebel

This distinction, made by the brilliant Gretchen Rubin in her book Better Than Before, has changed the way I make progress in my life—big time.

For so many reasons, but especially because of the distinctions she calls the Four Tendencies—Obliger, Questioner, Upholder, and Rebel. They refer to how we respond to expectations. You might be wondering: What does that mean and which one am I?

What it means: According to Rubin, people respond to expectations in different ways. It’s to your advantage to know how you respond. I’ll share how I use my tendencies to my advantage in a minute.

So which one(s) are you?

If you are the kind of person who finds it easier to meet the expectations of others more so than of yourself, you’re likely an Obliger. Ex: If I say to myself, “Tomorrow I’m going to wake up early and go for a walk.” The chances of that happening are maybe 25–30%. But if I had agreed to meet another person for that walk, chances are 100% I’m showing up. If someone is expecting me to do something, I almost always do it. If it’s just me? Eh.

If you are the kind of person who will meet an expectation if it makes sense to you, you are likely a Questioner. Ex: If I am sitting on a plane and hearing the flight crew request my attention for following the safety instructions, I’ll give it—if I think it’s something I don’t already know. If I’ve flown that airline before and am confident that I’m not going to learn anything new or necessary, I see no need to pay attention and therefore don’t.

If you are the kind of person who meets your own expectations just as much as you do others, you are likely the rare breed of Upholder (I envy y’all). Ex: If I tell myself, “I’m going to practice a new language for 30 minutes a day.” Then I will do so, with the same level of accountability I would were I showing up to a class. Whether I make the agreement with myself or someone else, it’s the same level of commitment and accountability.

If you are the kind of person who resists all expectations period and your theme song could be “I did it my way,” then I don’t need to tell you. You know you’re a Rebel. Ex: If I am invited to a party that suggest “cocktail attire” I’m showing up in jeans and boots. Because that’s what I like to wear when I drink beer. Screw cocktails! I am not interested in following along, playing by anyone’s rules, or feeling constrained. I do what I want.

Rubin is the first to point out that you don’t have to be 100% one tendency or the other. It’s common to have combinations. For me, I’m an Obliger most all the time. But I have my moments of Rebel where I don’t give a shit what anyone else thinks. Usually that shows up when I’ve been working really hard or meeting a lot of other people’s (including societal) expectations. Often it involves ice cream. But it’s by far the exception.

Another useful tidbit? Obligers are often attracted to Rebels. This would explain many of my dating choices, especially in my 20s.

How I use my tendencies to my advantage

I’m such an Obliger that I created a business that has built-in accountability for me. I knew that I wanted to live my life fully—regularly challenging myself, practicing better habits, and constantly learning. I knew that I couldn’t reach my full potential if I was just answering to myself. That’s why I’m a Progress Coach. Haven’t heard of those before? That’s because I made it up (my dash of Rebel, again). I help people learn to craft their life so that it works with their tendencies, strengths and desires. Which means, I’m compelled to be a living example of what I teach. I practice this on-purpose almost every single day. Because I know my clients are looking to me and expecting that I live any advice I give them. My tribe is watching and listening. So I meet their expectations. It makes me a better coach and a better human.

Hopefully the advantage for you understanding your own tendencies is clear. Your life will go better and feel better if you consciously work with your tendencies. There is not something wrong with them. Or you. Use them to your advantage. Don’t fight your lemons when the world needs lemonade.

So where in your life are your tendencies working and where are you fighting them?

In the areas where it’s working, notice how you can do more of that more often. And where you’re fighting against your tendencies? Pay attention. Recognize that you get to choose how you live your life. Honor your lemons. Make vats of lemonade.

Here’s an example of how I realized I was fighting my own Obligerness. I’ve been in a perpetual state of being behind in my personal administrative. The kind of stuff we need to do as adults, like make doctor’s appointments, do scheduled car maintenance, organize receipts for taxes, etc. Not really sexy stuff (at least not for me).

As an Obliger, these are exactly the kind of expectations I regularly fail to meet (a lemon of mine). Unless there’s an external expectation that pushes me to get it done (like my body hurting, the service alert on my car, or my beloved tax guy Steve sending me the tax organizer packet). It sucks feeling like I’m behind. It sucks feeling like I need to rush and cram things in to meet those obligations. I don’t feel like I’m winning at adulting in those scenarios. And that makes me cranky.

Having noticed this and remembered that I’m a grown-ass woman who can take action (and make lemonade), I realized that I needed some external accountability to help me make progress in my personal administrative. That’s why I created a new experiment in progress for me and anyone else who wants to join. Because I know that when I create a product or event that I’m going to lead, I’m damn well showing up, prepared, and ready to win. With lemonade for all.

I can’t wait to brag to my tax guy about how organized I am come October.

Join the experiment in progress: Time to Win

Obligers, unite! Bring your lemons. We shall lemonade together. >>> Here’s everything you need to know about the experiment.

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