I put my back out doing the vacuuming.
(I know, right?! I keep saying that I need to get a better story than that. The truth is more boring than fiction in this case.)
I spent the better part of a week, getting intimately acquainted with my bedroom ceiling as my injury meant I couldn’t sit or stand for long. There were two unexpected bonuses to giving myself excruciating pain: I got a five day break from caring for my tots – but still got to see them and have unlimited cuddles; and I had a lot of time to think.
I’d been feeling rather down on myself because I’d lost my THM mojo and couldn’t seem to really get back into it. I wanted to, especially considering my success with it, but I kept self-sabotaging. I’d also been battling a virus for a couple of weeks that had left me really tired so I hadn’t done much exercise during that time.
I was frustrated at how flimsy many of my good habits are, and how difficult it was to create them in the first place. Last year I’d devoured Gretchen Rubin’s book on habit formation, Better than Before, and discovered I was an obliger. Gretchen’s research led her to the discovery that when it comes to habits, most of us fall into one of four categories, which she calls the ‘four tendencies’:
- Upholders are rule-keepers. They have no problem sticking to New Year’s resolutions, and are the sort of people who follow their doctor’s advice, to the letter.
- Questioners –these people question any expectations placed on them by others, and will meet them only if they believe it’s justified. Questioners tend to do research before embarking on anything like a new diet or form of exercise, and resist arbitrary rules.
- Obligers are people-pleasers, who find it easy to meet the expectations of others, but not for themselves.
- Rebels resist expectations from others, and from themselves. Rebels like to do things their own way, and hate being told what to do.
(Discover your habit tendency on Gretchen’s site here.)
I was stoked to be an obliger, as the best strategy to help obligers stick with a habit is some sort of external accountability. I’d inadvertently done this with my other blog, Giving Up Sugar. I ‘d discovered that I couldn’t in good conscience blog about giving up the white stuff without actually doing it, so I knew this strategy worked.
Back in February I asked D to hold me accountable to sticking to THM, and signed up for roller derby. Other than getting back into skating and making new friends, I hoped the pressure of making it to derby training each week would be all the incentive I needed.
As I lay there, pondering how badly the past couple of months had gone using the above strategies I had to admit that they hadn’t worked.
If you’d been a fly on the wall, I’m pretty sure you could have seen the cogs in my brain whirring and a little cartoon light bulb above my head.
Maybe I’m not an obliger?
Maybe I’m something else.
I decided to re-take the test. I am the sort of person who takes multi-choice tests at the speed of light. Unlike my darling D, I do not ponder all eventualities when answering questions about myself, I tend to go with whatever pops into my head. The worst thing is that as I’ve studied psychology I am quick to spot categories and tend to answer in the manner of the particular category I think is desirable to be in! (Not very helpful when you need an honest assessment.)
So as I took the test for the second time I paused and reflected on each question. I tried to answer as the Angela-I-actually-am, not the Angela-I-want-to-be.
It turns out I’m a rebel.
I was like, whaaaaat? Me, a rebel? I’m one of the most goody two shoes people I know. I’m a people pleaser, I follow rules, I do what others ask of me.
As I digested this information, I suddenly had the urge to laugh. Because of course, I am a rebel. The signs were there. They’ve been there all my life.
I was the kid who hated ballet and art class because I hated being told what to do. Sure, I loved to dance and be creative, but I wanted to do it MY way. I was the kid who hated team sports because I liked to be the one calling the shots. When asked to describe me as a kid, my Mum usually says ‘Oh, Angela marched to the beat of her own drum’. And I did. As a kid, I didn’t give a stuff what anyone thought of me. Oh, how I wish for that sort of confidence these days!
As an adult I’ve lost count of all the money I’ve wasted on classes, gyms and workshops that I really, really wanted to do at the time I signed up – only to have any enthusiasm for it wane immediately and usually not complete what ever it was. I’m a workshop flake.
I get a kick out of breaking rules, or flouting people’s expectations of who they think I am. For instance, I am nice and kind and a goody two shoes, but I am usually the first one to bust a move on the dance floor at a party which raises many eyebrows from people who don’t know me well.
Most tellingly, any time someone asks me to do something my immediate gut reaction is to do the exact opposite. I struggle against this of course – because you have to if you want to get along with others – but I particularly struggle if someone is telling me what I ‘should’ be doing. On the outside I may say ‘oh yes, okay’, but on the inside I’m like ‘yeah, whatever, I’m going keep doing it my way.’ This is a common trait for rebels, and something that frustrates both them, and the people around them as we’re not always right!
After this a-ha! moment, my next thought was ‘oh no!’ Because of our self-sabotaging ways, according to Gretchen rebels have the hardest time creating new habits. I have created habits that (mostly) stick in the past, but that’s because I’ve done them in a way that suits rebels. A strategy that works for people like me is what Gretchen calls identity. People identify with a habit; such as ‘I’m a runner’, or ‘I’m artistic’, or even ‘I’m lazy’. In my case, I identify with things like being ‘sugar-free’, a daily exerciser’ and an ‘op-shopper’ (the year I got married I’d vowed to only buy second-hand for the entire year. I’m proud to say I completed this challenge. I got married in a second-hand dress and second-hand shoes and was perfectly happy).
Take my exercise regime for example. I’ve tried making rigid plans to exercise, mapping out what I’ll do each day for a month. But I never, ever follow it. Never. Ever. Now I know why! Instead, I always do whatever I feel like. Some days I run, some days I walk, some days I skate, some days I do a HIIT workout, some days I do yoga. It doesn’t matter what it is, I still do something. This is a perfect rebel strategy. Because I am a ‘daily exerciser’ I’m okay with not choosing the ‘when’, but I do get to choose the ‘what’. And it works for me.
Other rebel strategies are choosing habits that deviate from the mainstream (such as a man taking up ballet as a hobby), and setting themselves challenges. A good way to get rebels to do anything is to tell them ‘I bet you can’t do such-and-such’, and off they’ll go to try and prove you wrong.
I’m going to try these strategies, like setting a Big Hairy Audacious Goal and see what happens.
If you are struggling to start or maintain a good habit, it may be that the strategy you are using to do it just isn’t you. You might be an upholder, or a questioner or an obliger. I highly recommend Better than Before if you want to make a change in your life. I’ll keep you posted about mine.
Which of the ‘four tendencies are you?’ What habit strategies work for you? And if you’re a rebel, hit me up with your ideas!