Ever since I quit the mommy-blogging world and joined the fitness-blogging world 5 years ago, I have been observing and pondering something: how do some people seem to stick to resolutions or new health/fitness related habits easily, while others struggle day in and day out; how do some people routinely work out at home on their own, but some don’t exercise unless in a group; how are so many often lamenting that they’ve lost their ‘mojo’ or ‘fallen off the wagon’, while others just keep on being active without ever thinking about mojo or a wagon?
Is it simply because some people are “stronger” individuals than others?
Is it because some people have more “will-power” than others?
I have also often thought that I can’t for some reason relate to a lot of people. I don’t ‘get’ people who only run with a running group, who say they won’t go for a run otherwise. I don’t ‘get’ people who like exercise classes where you do something in sync with a whole group. I don’t ‘get’ people who struggle with self-care, with taking time for themselves. I mean I understand that everyone is different and enjoys different things, but I still struggle with relating to a lot of these above mentioned things to the extent that I feel that I can’t help somebody else if I can’t put myself into their shoes…
This all has been frustrating and puzzling me for ages, so when I stumbled upon a book by Gretchen Rubin about different personality types, called The Four Tendencies, I realised very quickly that this book will answer my questions.
Now, personality types have been grouped and labelled in various different ways since way back. We all know about introverts vs extroverts (or the more complicated version of that – the Myers-Briggs personality type indicators) or morning people vs nigh owls, or alphas vs betas. They all explain a different aspect to the wonderfully complex being that a human is.
Gretchen Rubin is the first person to look at exactly the angle of a person’s personality that has been puzzling me. She’s addressing the question:
Why does someone act and why does someone not act?
And more specifically for me:
Why do some people find it easy to exercise alone but some don’t?
Why do some people struggle with resolutions but some find them easy?
Why do some people constantly lose their ‘mojo’ or ‘fall of the wagon’ but some don’t?
Gretchen has divided people into 4 groups based on what makes them act and what doesn’t. You can take a quiz to find out what your type is on her website.
Note that just like with any other ‘personality type’ thing, each of the 4 tendencies overlaps with another tendency, no one is one single tendency alone.
However, each of us has a ‘main’ tendency and I will summarise them below, mostly from a health & fitness point of view. For more in-depth information about the tendencies, on how they overlap and on how to deal with them in work/personal life/parenting situations, read the book – it’s fascinating and will teach you a lot.
An upholder is someone who finds freedom in discipline.
- They meet both outer and inner expectations.
- They work well with trainers and follow their instructions, but they also hold themselves accountable and easily form new healthy habits or stick to exercise routines.
- In fact they love schedules and routines.
- They resist holding others accountable because they don’t get it. As people who don’t need to be held accountable themselves, they don’t understand how someone needs external accountability.
- They are very good at taking care of themselves and enjoying themselves.
A questioner is someone who will act IF you convince them why it’s good for them.
- They only meet inner expectations.
- They don’t like others telling them what to do or how to do it, unless they have done their own research and have convinced themselves that this (particular method of getting fit) is the most effective for them.
- They dislike being questioned themselves because it’s exhausting for them to lay out ALL the reasons for doing something (they would have done a lot of research).
- To get them to try something, it works by saying “Just give it a try. If you don’t like it, stop.” This gives them the opportunity to gather their own ‘data’ about something and be able to decide for themselves later on.
An obliger is someone who you can count on and they count on you to count on them.
- They meet outer expectations and put others first, really struggling to meet inner expectations.
- They put their family / work / friends first and struggle with self care.
- They need outer accountability, they are the ones that need a friend or a running group to run with. (Cool fact: some obligers stick to habits by holding their ‘future self’ as a third person accountable).
- This is the largest tendency and that explains why I see this most often – people saying they cannot run by themselves or exercise at home by themselves, or are asking Twitter to ‘kick their butts out the door for a run’ – they really struggle with self-motivation.
- They do best when someone monitors their progress – an app, their Fitbit, a friend, a coach, a nutrition coach, etc.
- They need praise, cheers and encouragement; never nagging.
A rebel is someone who you can’t make do anything and even they themselves can’t make themselves do it.
- They resist all expectations, inner and outer.
- They always need to know that they’re acting out of choice and not because they HAVE to.
- This applies to external ‘you have to-s’ as well as internal ones, and the latter can lead to self-sabotage.
I loved this quote from the book that explains the complicated nature of a rebel: “A rebel told me, ‘Sugar makes me sick, but sometimes I think ‘I’m going to eat sugar,’ because I refuse to accept the idea that I can’t do something’.”
- They do what they WANT to do, they do what’s FUN and they do what’s part of their IDENTITY.
They will most likely stick to a type of exercise or a new habit that is fun for them and that has become part of their identity, for example – a rebel runner just runs, when they want to, not thinking about mojo or whether they have it or not, they just run because it’s fun and a runner is who they are.
Why would it be useful to identify which ones of these 4 tendencies you are?
I see too often people beating themselves up for being too weak or lacking will-power or motivation. The ones who never seem to lack in ‘mojo’ seem almost super-human.
We all are, however, just human… and a little bit different in many little ways. I think once we recognise what our strengths and weaknesses are, we can adjust our schedules, support networks or thinking to what works for each of us individually.
There’s no need to hate yourself for not being able to self-motivate, just use an external tool or an accountability partner to help you.
As for why I feel like I can’t relate to a lot of people – I’m part of the smallest group of people, I’m a rebel. And yes, being a rebel is frustrating and confusing! The moment I think that I should do something, I immediately start doing the opposite. The person who said in Gretchen’s book that “The minute I make a rule about not eating at night, I start eating more at night.” is me a 100%. I have done this at least every other month since I was 12.
I know now why diets or I-should-lose-weight resolutions have never worked for me, why I have no problem with self-care, why I only do exercise that’s fun for me and why I’m puzzled when somebody asks me “Are you still running?” – of course I am, I am a runner, it’s my identity!
Reading this book has made so many things clear for me, not only about myself, but also about how a coach or a boss needs to have a different approach with different people in order to bring out the best in them.
Let me know what you think
Have you read the book? Are you intrigued? Did you already recognise yourself in one of the tendencies? Did you take the quiz to find out? Did anything surprise you?