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Rebel with a cause

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!

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November & December

So a while back I took a leaf out of my guru Gretchen Rubin’s book Happier at Home, and assigned myself twelve areas of my life that I wanted to focus on.  How could I make these areas of my life better or add to my happiness?

I love Gretchen’s approach; she doesn’t take ‘health’ and decide to radically change her diet and assign herself a gruelling exercise regime.  Instead she focuses on a few practical things that could make that area of her life better.  Check her book out, I thoroughly recommend it, and it might just change your life.

In November the area I chose to focus on was Spirituality .  I am a practising Christian, and my faith is a very big deal in my life.  But God can get a bit left out at times when life with my two tots gets crazy, so I wanted to carve out more time to spend with God.

My goals were to:

  • memorise a scripture a week
  • prepare for Advent
  • read a couple of Christian books
  • have daily devotions

I didn’t think these goals were too lofty, but I bombed out of two of them.

Daily devotions are not a problem – I actually managed to cement this into my morning routine well before this monthly challenge began.  I read Scripture and a devotional over breakfast each morning, and often spend my exercise time in prayer.  D and I pray together every night since the day we married, and it’s a lovely way to end the day.

I was more prepared for Advent than I’ve ever been, thanks to running an Advent study at my church.  I ran the study throughout November, rather than December because my study was all about going into the Christmas period mindfully and trying to eschew the consumerist spectacle that it has become.  I made the resources for the study myself, which meant I had zero time to read any Christian books, but I probably read the equivalent of a couple books while doing research for my study, so I’m gonna call it a win.

I failed to memorise a scripture per week, but then I have trouble remembering my own phone number so perhaps it was a silly goal in the first place.

In December I kicked my monthly challenge’s butt.  This was my ‘family traditions’ month.  I decided what I wanted to do with my tots to celebrate Christmas, and had a good think about what else I want to hold as special days with my family throughout the year (Waitangi Day, Matariki, Easter and Parihaka Day to name a few…).

My goals for December were:

  • Teach the children Christmas carols and the Christmas story
  • Prepare them for St Nicholas Day and Advent
  • Make presents with the children for them to give away
  • Donate a gift to a child in need
  • Decorate the house

We ended up decorating the house super-early as Sausage missed being in our town’s Christmas parade due to illness.  She had a great time helping me decorate the tree, and I got my hands on some not-too-cheesy fake greenery to decorate our mantelpiece with.

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My MIL found a great Christmas carol CD which I pretty much played on repeat for the whole month (fortunately I love carols, I know it’s akin to torture for some people).  Sausage knows most of them by heart (she will recite Away In A Manager whether you want her to or not), and I suspect Chip knows them all too, if he could say more than one word at a time.

Sausage really ‘got’ the Nativity story this year, and that the point of Christmas was to celebrate Jesus’ birthday.  Both kids LOVED lighting Advent candles – so much that we have carried on and are having candlelit dinners each night now!  You can read more here for specifics about Advent with toddlers.

Chip was too little, but Sausage made biscuits which we gave away to friends and family, and she chose a gift that a charitable organisation here ensures goes to a child in need.  Some lucky girl woke up to Elsa and Anna dolls, which Sausage picked out and willingly handed over.

So far I have found some monthly challenges easier than others (January is possessions…) and am looking forward to cracking on with the next challenges.

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Habits: Out with the old, in with the new

I happened to catch an interview on Radio New Zealand the other week which really pricked up my antennae.  It was an interview with Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, talking about her new book Better than Before.  The Happiness Project has sold over 1.5 million copies and struck a chord with people all over the globe.  It follows Gretchen’s pursuit to discover what truly makes her happy, and contains a lot of scientific research and wisdom on how to increase your own happiness.  She followed that up with the engaging Happier at Home, which charts Gretchen’s experiments to improve several aspects of her life related to her home, including her possessions, her marriage, her children and wider family, her engagement with her community.

In this interview with Kathryn Ryan (if you are really interested I would listen to it now as I don’t know how long Radio NZ keeps their podcasts online for), Gretchen talks about how creating new habits truly can transform our lives.  Gretchen argues that if there is something about yourself that you don’t like and want to change, one of the most effective ways to create a lasting change is to form a new habit.  A change needs to become that ingrained if it is going to stick long-term.

Gretchen states that our habits are the building blocks of our lives, and are so ingrained that we rarely think about them.  Most of us don’t think ‘Shall I brush my teeth today?’  We just do it as part of our daily routine.  Therefore she argues that our habits can be the most effective scaffolding for creating a you that is better than the old you.

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Want to create healthier habits? image credit

She goes on to say that in order to successfully create a new habit (like giving up sugar), you must understand how your personality affects the way in which you form habits, because habit formation is not a one-size-fits-all thing.  In her research she discovered that most of us fall into one of four groups: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers and Rebels.  You can take a quiz here to find out what you are.  For example, a questioner has to be convinced that changing something about themselves by forming a certain habit really is the best thing for them.  I am an obliger, meaning I often overlook my needs for that of others, so forming a new habit which benefits myself is tricky.  If we don’t get our strategies right, new habits just won’t stick.

What I love about Gretchen’s work is that she is PRACTICAL.  I have read much about habit formation in my time, and none of it makes as much sense to me as her work does.  There are a lot of myths out there (like it only takes 21 days to form a new habit), and Gretchen has sifted through it all.   She has some great-yet-simple strategies for the different personality types e.g. say if you are an obliger like me and you want to exercise more – exercise with a friend who will be miffed if you don’t show up, because it is the accountability to someone else that is the key ingredient here.  If you want to know more, buy the book!

She also talked about ‘abstainers’ versus ‘moderators’.  Moderators are the sort of people who can have a block of chocolate in their desk and eat a square or two a day.  Abstainers are people like me, who would scoff the lot straight away, so they find it EASIER to just abstain from chocolate altogether.  What this means is that if you are struggling to give up sugar (or carbs, or alcohol, or whatever) it might be because you are an abstainer.  Having sugar in the house, or indulging in it here and there is not the best strategy for you.

Obviously what she said resonated with me.  Completely abstaining from sugar has worked for me far better than only having a bit here and there.  Saying no to offers of treats from well-meaning friends and family is much easier for me than eating it and dealing with the horrible consequences (feeling tired, spike in appetite, craving more sugar etc.).

Anyway, after listening to the podcast D and I talked about some things about ourselves that we’d like to change, and how we might do it, armed with this new knowledge.  D is an obliger too (although with very strong questioner tendencies) and wants to cut down his use of his smartphone.  He has enlisted me to call him out whenever I see him using it either too much, or at an inappropriate time, i.e. while the kids want to play with him.  In turn, as my accountability person, I have enlisted D’s help to ensure I get out of bed early each morning to exercise.  As I am an abstainer I have also decided to exercise every day, so that longer lie-ins are just not an option.  Hopefully exercise first thing in the morning will be just something that I do, just like brushing my teeth.

Having recently read Happier at Home, I have been inspired to launch a similar project.  I will be posting more detail on this soon.  If you have some bad habits that you’d like to replace for healthier ones, I highly recommend having a read of Gretchen’s website and books.

What ‘new habit’ strategies have worked for you in the past?