Here’s Exactly Why You Finish Some Things and Not Others
July 16, 2018
You know when you should do something, but no amount of motivation can get you up and at 'em? Maybe you've told a friend you'd meet her for a 10 a.m. workout—but you can't get yourself out of bed. Or, you have a really important meeting where you need to present your ideas, but you can't bring yourself to get anything on that blank page.
The issue might not be the task itself—it might be your tendency.
We all fall into one of four categories called Tendencies, according to Gretchen Rubin, author of Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives and The Happiness Project. These Tendencies control how you react to the expectations in your life, and they can often explain why you're all in on some days and get me out of here on others.
What determines a person's Tendency? It's based on how you react to internal and external expectations. Internal expectations are those you create yourself—like New Year's resolutions or telling yourself you will do something. External expectations are those that are tied to an outside influence, like a friend asking for a favor or a work deadline.
Learning your Tendency can be extremely, well, soothing. When I realized I'm a Questioner, suddenly I learned why I love to collect research about all possible outcomes and why I can accomplish goals much more easily when I feel personally connected to them. It explained so much in my life.
Rubin has a short and handy quiz to discover your Tendency, but I've also broken down the traits into easily accessible categories so you can probably self-identify.
Ready to find out why your motivation dips and dives, and how it can soar?
How to Know If You’re an Upholder:
Do you enjoy creating and maintaining new habits? Are you eager to pop out of bed at the same (probably early) time every morning? Do you like rules and checking off your to-do list?
Yippee! You might be an Upholder! These self-directed folks are good at fulfilling inner and outer expectations—they respond readily and don't often need someone else to tell them what to do, but if someone does tell them what to do, they'll have no problem following instructions.
How to Get Motivated:
You might not have a huge problem motivating yourself as an Upholder, but it's always good to get a refresher. Upholders are motivated by rules—this is their catnip. So if your enthusiasm is flagging, take a look: Do you have rules in place? Can you set some, even if it’s as simple as “I’m going to eat my lunch at 12:30 on the terrace every day”?
But also, Upholders should be conscious of not following rules just for rules’ sake, as they can often get bogged down with too many tasks. It's better to consider the things you really want to do and make those a priority.
How to Know If You’re a Questioner:
Do you like researching your options? Do you often suffer from analysis paralysis? Do you make decisions based on logic and reason?
Then congratulations! You may, in fact, be a Questioner. This means you question expectations and respond positively to inner and outer expectations only if you feel like the outcome is justified. As Rubin writes, “(Questioners) wake up and think, ‘What needs to get done today, and why?’ They decide for themselves whether a course of action is a good idea, and they resist doing anything that seems to lack sound purpose."
How to Get Motivated:
Questioners like a lot of information, so if you are debating between options, make sure you know exactly what it is you're deciding between. If you're having a hard time understanding why you're not achieving a certain goal, connect to your “why”—why is this particular act important to you? “Why" is how you can justify your actions and prove why reaching for your goal is worthwhile.
How to Know If You’re an Obliger:
Are you more likely to meet a friend for a run than go for a run on your own? Are you great at meeting work deadlines but have a harder time completing personal projects?
Houston, we may have an Obliger on our hands. Obligers are great at fulfilling outer expectations and thrive especially when they’re being held accountable to someone else—but they may struggle more when it comes to fulfilling inner expectations. “Obligers can sometimes do things for the sake of others that they couldn’t do for themselves,” writes Rubin.
How to Get Motivated: Use other people! This means tying yourself to someone else by whatever means necessary. If you want to read more, don’t tell yourself “read more,” but include other people by joining a book club. If you want to work out more, commit to a spin or HIIT class so there's another party telling you to show up. The secret sauce for Obligers is making sure you’re obliged to someone else.
How to Know If You’re a Rebel:
Do you flout the rules? If a friend texts and ask to hang out, do you bristle at the thought of picking a date and time because you would you rather play it by ear? Do you march to the beat of your own drum?
Rebel, rebel, we’ve got a rebel on our hands. Rebels don’t normally like to follow expectations, preferring instead to operate on their own terms.
How to Get Motivated: Unlike an Obliger, you won’t be motivated by hitching your ride to someone else’s, and unlike an Upholder, you won’t feel compelled to cross off a to-do list. So what’s a rebel to do? First, you must tie whatever it is you want to do to your sense of identity—Rebels “place a high value on authenticity and self-determination,” writes Rubin.
Try removing some of the rules you’ve imposed on your life—whether that’s forcing yourself to go to bed at the same time every day, climbing the hierarchy at work, or answering your friends immediately when they text you about dinner plans. Rebels thrive off freedom, and more freedom could be exactly what you need.
What You Should Remember
Identifying as one Tendency or another isn’t good or bad—it’s simply more information you have about yourself that you can use for your own benefit. Self-awareness is a good thing!
But just knowing your Tendency won't fix your missing motivaiton. Try tracking your patterns and figuring out your histories of motivation (ex. Think of a time you were really motivated—what situations and expectations were at play? Can you replicate that?). Then, you can set the stage for your motivation and start making moves.