Have you ever wondered why some people can easily prioritize exercise and healthy eating, despite having a busy schedule? And why others struggle to stick to healthy habits, no matter how hard they try?
How is it that two people can start out with the same plan to get healthy—the same amount of knowledge about how to do it, the same amount of time in a day, and the same level of motivation to get started—but one person falls off track after a few weeks, while the other has incredible, long-lasting results?
As a nutritionist working with clients to make positive lifestyle changes, I found myself asking this question ALL THE TIME.
You might think that the answer simply comes down to will power—but it just isn’t the whole story. A lot has to do with the key question asked in Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Four Tendencies:
“How do you respond to expectations?”
Based on years of research in human behaviour, habits, and happiness, Gretchen Rubin developed The Four Tendencies framework, which categorizes people into four groups, depending on how they typically respond to internal expectations vs. external expectations. Knowing your individual tendency can help you to develop new habits, adhere to a plan, and finally reach your goals, by using strategies that are best suited to your individual tendency. Not strategies that worked for your friend, or your sister, or your co-worker—strategies that will actually work for YOU to create positive lifestyle changes that stick.
You can understand why The Four Tendencies is the number one book I recommend to people, and why it’s my favourite so far from the Root to Health Book Club. While it can help you to improve literally every aspect of your life, what most interests me is how it can help you to transform your health.
So, What’s Your Tendency?
You can find out your individual tendency by taking Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies Quiz here.
Here’s a brief description of each of The Four Tendencies:
Upholders readily meet both inner and outer expectations. If you’re an Upholder, you tend to stick to your commitments, whether you make them to yourself or to someone else.
Questioner (this is me!)
Questioners question all expectations. If you’re a questioner, you need to know the “why” behind something before you internalize it as something that needs to be done. So essentially, you resist outer expectations and meet inner expectations.
Obligers readily meet outer expectations and resist inner expectations. If you’re an obliger, you tend to put other’s needs before your own.
Rebels tend to resist both inner and outer expectations. If you’re a rebel, other people can’t tell you what to do, and neither can you—for the most part, you tend to do what you want, when you want.
It’s important to note that there’s no “good” or “bad” tendency, as each one has its own unique strengths and weaknesses. Simply knowing your tendency—how you’re naturally inclined to respond to expectations—can help you to make positive changes in your life, because you can create habits that work specifically for YOU.
Using The Four Tendencies to Create Healthy Habits
Below I’ll share some strategies that you can use, based on your tendency, to develop new healthy habits—for example, let’s say you want to commit to exercising regularly.
If you’re an Upholder…
You readily meet both external and internal expectations, as long as those expectations are well articulated. So one of the most important strategies for you is to set a very clear and specific goal for yourself—take the time to find your why and write it down. Also, as an upholder, you likely love to make plans, follow a schedule, and check items off to-do-lists. So another key strategy for you is to make sure your workout schedule is planned out, and that it’s added to your calendar.
If you’re an Obliger…
You readily meet the expectations of others, but struggle to meet expectations of yourself. So as an obliger, creating outer accountability is ESSENTIAL for you to stick to a habit—otherwise, everything and everyone will ALWAYS be a priority before your own health. To help you commit to regular exercise, you can hire a personal trainer that will expect you to make weekly appointments and provide frequent check-ins. You can also workout with a friend who’ll count on you to be there, or try joining a cross-fit gym, running group, or other fitness program where there’s a community of regular members looking for you to show up. There are even online accountability groups that you can join through Facebook and other social media platforms, that you might find helpful. The key is that you find someone who expects you to stick to your plan, and will hold you to it!
If you’re a Questioner…
You naturally question all expectations, and will meet an expectation only if it makes sense to you—you need to know exactly what you’re doing and WHY you’re doing it. So as a questioner, it’s important that you first clearly define your goal, and second, take some time to research the best program (or person) to help you get there. Once you get started, the next important strategy for you is to closely monitor your progress. You can keep an exercise journal, use a spreadsheet, or even an app on your phone—whatever you find easy to use, that helps you to keep track of your progress and results. In general, the key for you as a questioner is to provide yourself with as much information as possible. You need to understand WHY your exercise program is important, HOW it will get you to your goal, and see concrete EVIDENCE that it’s benefitting you—all of which leads you to become internally motivated and stick to your habit long term. I’m a questioner, so I can personally attest to these strategies being very helpful!
If you’re a Rebel…
As a rebel who resists all expectations, you likely find it the most challenging to stick to a routine—you like to do things your own damn way. (I know this well, because my husband…love him so much…is a rebel). As a rebel, you’re likely to gravitate towards activities that are considered more “extreme” or unconventional. You’re also likely to rise to a challenge—if someone tells you that you CAN’T do something, you will. The most important strategy for you, rebel, is to find a form of exercise that helps you to express your identity. What can you do that makes you feel empowered, and holds personal value to you as an individual? Are you a badass? Try powerlifting or boxing. Are you competitive? Join a cross-fit gym and train for a meet. Are you a free-spirited hippie? Yoga might be your calling. Outdoorsy? How about rock climbing. Getting bored with any of the above? Change it up! Just do you.
You can tell from the above how different strategies work, or don’t work, for different people—we’re all so unique! While I used exercise as an example here, these strategies can be applied to creating almost ANY healthy habit.
Self-Knowledge Is Power
What I love the most about The Four Tendencies framework is how it can help to take away any guilt or shame you might be feeling because you can never seem to stick to healthy habits, despite having the best intentions. Instead, knowing your tendency explains WHY you might have struggled in the past, and will empower you to move forward with a better understanding of how to apply your strengths and overcome your weaknesses.
The Four Tendencies will not only help you to improve your health habits, but will also have a positive impact on every other aspect of your life. Knowing your tendency—and the tendency of those around you—can help you to communicate more effectively, improve your relationships, make better decisions, be more productive, avoid overwhelm and burnout, and just generally be a happier human being. I can’t recommend this book enough! I hope that you give it a read, and please let me know—how has it helped you to stick to positive lifestyle changes this year?
To happiness and healthy habits,
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