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The Key to Good Habits

Are you an Upholder, Obliger, Questioner, or Rebel?
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Should You Start with Baby Steps or a Blast?

Let’s say you want to start meditating. If you prefer baby steps, you might start with one minute a day, and work up from there — it’s doable, and you feel the success of small victories. But other people need the excitement and total immersion of the blast approach — attending a weekend meditation retreat, for example. The blast usually isn’t sustainable, but it can help jump-start a new habit.

Kris Johnson runs her life like the Army slogan, “We do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day.” The Truckee local rises by 4 a.m., hits the gym, and is at her desk by 7, running her company of 15 employees, Kleaning by Kris.

“I like routine and I don’t like change,” she says. “I’ve been that way since I was little.”

When I learned of Kris’ routine, I got her number, left a message, and made this prediction: She’ll call me back within the hour.  
She did. In nine minutes.

How did I guess this, without knowing Kris? Because she’s a classic Upholder.

The Upholder is one of the Four Tendencies, or personality types, described by Gretchen Rubin in her book Better Than Before — What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits.  

Knowing your Tendency, says Rubin, and working with its strengths and weaknesses, helps you create good habits and stick to them. Since we repeat about 40 percent of our behavior every day, our habits have a huge cumulative impact — for better or worse — on our health.

The advantage of a good habit is that it makes a healthy choice automatic, so you’re no longer relying on self-control or decision-making. This is crucial, because we start each day with a limited amount of self-control. Every time we make a decision — even a minor one like what to wear, or what to eat for breakfast — we whittle away at it.   

By the end of the day, we suffer from “decision fatigue,” which explains how we resisted cookies at lunchtime, but ended up on the couch after dinner, clutching a whole bag of Oreos.

But how come some people can stick to good habits, and others can’t? Rubin found that when it comes to habits, it’s crucial to understand how a person responds to expectations — both inner expectations, like a New Year’s resolution or promise to a friend, and outer expectations, like a work deadline. Take the quiz at happiercast.com/quiz to find out which of the following is your Tendency.

Upholders meet inner and outer expectations. They’re self-directed and follow rules. You can count on Upholders, and they can count on themselves.

“Your word is everything,” says Johnson, a motto that Upholders apply to everyone, including themselves.  

Upholders accomplish a great deal, but can sometimes be rigid and follow rules mindlessly. They’re great at follow-through, and therefore find it easier than most to stick to new habits.

Obligers move heaven and earth to meet other people’s expectations, but struggle to meet their own. Therefore, it’s essential for Obligers to create outer accountability for their inner goals.

Truckee resident Missy Mohler is an Obliger. “I’m better at going to yoga when I’ve paid for a membership, or I’m meeting a friend,” she says. These examples of outer accountability help Obligers stick to habits. If you want to hike more, join a group. If you want to eat better, hire a nutritionist. The key is knowing what works for you.

If Obligers feel taken advantage of, they can succumb to Obliger rebellion, suddenly quitting a job or relationship.

Rebels resist inner and outer expectations. Their motto is: “You can’t make me, and neither can I … unless I feel like it.”

Because Rebels like having a unique identity, they’ll resist the latest health trend, but may find appeal in “having a strong body,” “rising above the typical American diet,” or “resisting junk food advertisements.”

Rebels probably won’t attend a daily spin class, but might thrive on choosing a different bike ride or run each day. Maybe. If they’re in the mood.

Questioners. If you doubt the validity of the Four Tendencies, this is probably your Tendency. The first thing Questioners ask is, “Why?” They rely on logic and reason, and rebel against arbitrary rules. They’ll meet an outer expectation if they understand it and agree with it.

Doctors, teachers, and trainers can get better compliance from Questioners by explaining why an assignment or action makes sense.  

I wasn’t sure of my Tendency till I read: “Questioners are often willing to do exhaustive research.” Bingo. No wonder I love writing health articles. But Questioners can suffer from analysis paralysis; my husband can walk in to Target and choose a new toaster in five minutes, while I’m still researching the last three years of Consumer Reports.

Questioners come in two flavors: those inclined to uphold, or rebel. This is because they’ll either agree with someone’s expectation, or not.

In addition to exploring the Tendencies, Rubin’s book contains critical strategies for avoiding loopholes, using treats, and choosing how and when to start a new habit.

“In many ways,” she writes, “our habits are our destiny. And changing our habits allows us to alter that destiny.”

 
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October 12, 2017