You’ve probably heard the advice to set deadlines for yourself to avoid procrastination or to tell a friend what your goals are so that you’ll be accountable.
Well, according to Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and the soon to be published Better Than Before , it’s very likely that neither—or only one—of these strategies is effective for you.
In the first chapter of Rubin’s new book, she writes that in order to form new habits, you must first know more about yourself and what types of expectations—namely inner or outer—you feel accountable to. As Rubin explains, “When we try to form a new habit, we’re setting an expectation for ourselves. Therefore, to change our habits, it’s crucial to understand how we respond to expectations. We all face outer expectations (meet deadlines, observe traffic regulations) and inner expectations (stop napping, give up sugar).”
In other words, what actually motivates you to work toward a goal—making a commitment to someone else or making one to yourself? Both? Neither? The answer to this drops you into one of these four categories, or as Rubin calls them, the Four Tendencies .
What This Means for You
Once you understand how you respond to expectations, you can use that knowledge to form new habits and improve your productivity.
Lucky for you, Rubin has helpfully crafted a short, 10-minute quiz to help you figure out whether you are an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel. You’ll learn about how you form habits (or don’t) or what’s holding you back from getting stuff done. Pop in your email, and you’ll get even more information tailored to your results.
For me, I’m an Obliger and apparently “respond readily to outer expectations, but struggle to meet inner expectations”—otherwise known as a people pleaser. Sadly, Obligers have a hard time forming new habits because they’re usually for self-betterment and not for the benefit of others. (So, that explains why I can’t keep a personal blog but can write regularly for The Muse!) According to Rubin, “For Obligers, the key to forming habits is to create external accountability”—i.e., I’m not going to that spin class unless I’ve committed to meeting a friend. Telling myself that it’s for my own good or setting my own goals just won’t cut it.
Take the quiz , and see what the best way is for you to form new habits.
Photo of person working courtesy of Shutterstock .
Lily Zhang serves as a Career Development Specialist at MIT where she works with a range of students from undergraduates to PhDs on how to reach their career aspirations. When she's not indulging in a new book or video game, she's thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author