Sunday, January 3, 2016

9:22 AM
Apropos of a new year and those accompanying resolutions that we all make secretly, publicly, hopefully, this is a post about habits – not as sexy as resolutions perhaps, but from what little I have read, imperative to keeping them. But actually this is not really a habits post either, it just starts that way.

Truth be told, it got so bad by the end of last year that I kind of stopped caring. I missed my workout (again), oh well, maybe next week will be better. I haven’t touched my blog in weeks (months), oh well, maybe I am done with it. I am working really hard (all the time), oh well, maybe once this project/proposal is done I will get a better balance back. I prioritized work and family (and work), and in the process broke all my own personal health and care rules. Over and over. Week after week. My family and friends starting noticing and looking at me funny. My clients and colleagues were thrilled. And then on December 19th, exhausted and demoralized, I cleaned my office, turned off my computer, and checked out.

I just spent the last two weeks on a blissful vacation where I literally did nothing but run (95 miles), do yoga (12 times), learn to surf on a paddle board, read (mostly non-fiction), and hang out with my family. It has been amazing.

And because going back to doing more of the same is totally undesirable (and because all my hard work has paid off in only more work to look forward to in 2016 – the vicious cycle of consulting), I also tried to spend some time over the holiday figuring out how to re-jigger my life to accommodate everything I want to do. Specifically, I wanted to regain some of the fun parts of my life that I had abandoned against the tide of ever-increasing workloads and self-imposed perfectionism.

I started by reading Gretchen Rubin’s new book, Better than Before. I find Rubin's work both kind of annoying and totally insightful. In particular I loved what she developed in the Four Tendencies Framework, which is her basic grouping of people and personalities insofar as how they respond to and develop habits. She groups people into:

Upholders: Those that respond readily to outer expectations and inner expectations. These are people who wake up and think "what is on the schedule and the todo list for today?". They want to know what the rules are and what is expected of them. They are very reliable, self-directed, and don't do well at all with uncertainty.

Questioners: Those that question all expectations, and will meet an expectation only if they believe it is justified. These are people who wake up and think "what needs to get done today and why?" They decide for themselves what a good course of action is and resist anything that seems arbitrary or lacks sound purpose.

Obligers: Those that respond readily to outer expectations, but struggle to meet inner expectations. These kind of people are motivated by external accountability and wake up thinking "What must I do today?" They excel at meeting external demands and deadlines, and are prone to self-sacrifice and burnout, but struggle with self-motivation and inner accountability.

Rebels: Those that resist all expectations, outer and inner alike. These kind of people wake up and think "What do I want to do today?" They resist control, even self-control, and enjoy flaunting rules and expectations. Rebels work towards their own goals, in their own way, on their own schedule. Asking them to do something  often makes them do just the opposite.

After reading this and thinking about myself and my family, and having my family take the Four Tendencies Quiz, I suddenly realized why EVERY SINGLE THING WITH MY FAMILY IS SO FREAKIN’ DIFFICULT.

Three of the four of us are Questioners with strong Upholder tendencies and one is a complete Rebel. We have no Obligers over here in case nobody noticed. That means that for every action/decision I make I have to deal with two sets of “why”ers? and one flat out No! Of course, once everyone is on board with a particular thing, we are fully committed and will see something through to the end and usually have a great time doing it, but the heavy lift to get everyone to “yes” is exhausting.

I highly encourage you to take the short quiz with your family or co-workers. It can be very illuminating.

It is also a very illuminating lense through which to view your own relationship with habits, good and bad. As a Questioner with strong Upholder tendencies I tend to be extremely skeptical of things like “diets” (Questioner: Why would you ever choose to starve or restrict yourself? That is so unpleasant.), yet have little empathy for those who have unhealthy eating habits, especially if they are passing those on to their children (Upholder: Healthy food is satisfying and makes you feel good; there is no reason not to make / promote healthy choices if given the option).

So then what does this refined self-awareness mean for me in terms of the good habits I want to cultivate next year (exercising, eating well, playing with family and friends) and the bad habits I want to banish (mostly working too much)? Well according to Gretchen Rubin, what I need to do is be concrete, actionable and realistic.

So, as a Questioner/Upholder I recently read a few books and articles on habits and diet (not diets); I made a list of at least one key workout that I want to complete each day of the week and the time at which I will complete said workout; I have no less than eight multi-day, multi-friend vacations already planned; I will be silencing work between 6-9 PM when I am with my family and limiting myself to working one late night OR one weekend night per week; I am committing to one blog post per week, and I have already warned my introverted husband to expect at least a monthly dinner party at our house.

I won’t be training for an Ironman as one ambitious friend is tackling to celebrate her 40th, or doing 52 family hikes as another friend has committed to (you can imagine the kind of reaction a suggestion like that would get in my house if I floated either proposition), but by improving my work/life habits as above, I will be working hard (but not too hard) to live a life that I recognize and am proud of. May you do the same in 2016 and thereafter.

Suggested reading:

Better than Before

The Sweet Spot

The Power of Habit



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