I’m an Obliger – what’s your tendency?

Hmmm what’s all this about my tendency?

This year I posed a question to myself about why I was mostly able to keep commitments to others but had a harder time keeping commitments and promises I made to myself.

I’ve been pondering this.

I think I have the answer – at least in part, and for now. I found it in Gretchen Rubins “Four Tendencies”.

Gretchen is the author of a number of best-selling books including ‘The Happiness Project’ and ‘Better Than Before’. She is a happiness researcher and has an enormous readership, both in print and online, and her books have sold almost three million copies worldwide, in more than thirty languages.

The four tendencies describe how we respond to expectations and there’s a quiz you can take to see what your tendency is.

Taken from her website, Gretchen says that we all face two kinds of expectations:

  • outer expectations, such as meeting work deadlines or observing traffic regulations, and
  • inner expectations, such as quitting napping or keeping a New Year’s resolution.

The four tendencies themselves are described as:

Upholder: “I do what others expect of me—and what I expect from myself.”

Questioner: “I do what I think is best, according to my judgment. If it doesn’t make sense, I won’t do it.”

Obliger: “I do what I have to do. I don’t want to let others down, but I may let myself down.”

Rebel: “I do what I want, in my own way. If you try to make me do something—even if I try to make myself do something—I’m less likely to do it.”
Upon embarking on the quiz, and reading more about the methodology, I learnt more about myself – and I love learning.

So I’m an Obliger according to the quiz and it resonates with me.

So what’s an Obliger?

According to Gretchen – “Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet inner expectations. They’re motivated by external accountability; they wake up and think, “What must I do today?” Obligers excel at meeting external demands and deadlines, and go to great lengths to meet their responsibilities, so they make terrific colleagues, family members, and friends. Others rely on them tremendously. However, because Obligers resist inner expectations, it can be difficult for them to self-motivate—to work on a Ph.D. thesis, to attend networking events, to get their car serviced. Obligers depend on external accountability, with consequences such as deadlines, late fees, or the fear of letting other people down.

In fact, Obligers need external accountability even for activities that they want to do. Behavior that Obligers sometimes attribute to self-sacrifice or lack of self-esteem—“Why do I always make time for other people’s priorities at the expense of my own?”—is often better explained as need for accountability. The weight of outer expectations can make Obligers susceptible to burnout, because they have trouble telling people “no.” They may describe themselves as “people-pleasers.” They may, in fact, reach the point of Obliger rebellion, a striking pattern in which they abruptly refuse to meet an expectation. They may rebel in symbolic ways, with their hair, clothes, car, and the like”.

Do you see that lightbulb as clearly as I see it?

Do you see what I see?

I have utliised many profiling tools in my life, and many are useful. This one was a big aha moment for me. Not in finding out I was an Obliger, I kind of knew that but called it “people pleasing”. The aha for me was the advice on what I might be able to do to help me keep my promises and commitments to myself.

What does this mean for me?

Well in a nutshell, it means I am far more likely to keep promises and commitments I make to other people, than I am to keep promises and commitments I make to myself.

Turning off the alarm when I promised myself I’d get to the gym; eating that entire pizza and bar of chocolate when I committed to myself that I would fast that day; buying that new pair of boots when I committed to no spending this week.

Bending over backwards to get that project finished for my boss because I said I would; attending that event with my friend because I promised her I would even though I really don’t want to; vacuuming the floors and doing the washing when I really want to be swimming in the ocean.

Gretchin tells us that Obligers may find it difficult to form a habit, because often we undertake habits for our own benefit, and Obligers do things more easily for others than for themselves.

Yep I know that first hand.

She says that for Obligers, the Strategy of Accountability is the crucial strategy of habit formation.

For instance, if you’re an Obliger and you’re trying to exercise more, you might:

  • Hire a fitness trainer, personal organiser, financial planner, coach, nutritionist, or other accountability partner
  • Team up with a friend who will be disappointed if you don’t follow through, or take a class with a teacher who will notice if you don’t participate
  • Consider yourself as a role model to children, employees, friends, and the like, to be an example of fulfilling commitments, showing respect for yourself, or modeling good behavior.

Strategy of Accountability

So my take away was that an Obliger could be assisted by developing a “Strategy of Accountability”. It made me think about what I can do to create/generate accountability in those things I want to achieve.

For example – here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  • Joined a gym that has an app for class bookings – if I don’t turn up, they email or text me and charge me a fee
  • Commenced an 8 week challenge that includes a meal plan and regular check ins – somebody is checking up on me
  • Had a full body scan done showing my vital stats so to speak – with another booked in for 8 weeks time – a benchmark to see how my 8 week challenge went.
  • Booked in to see a Business/Life Coach monthly – accountability for my life and business goals
  • Committed to update my progress towards my goals on the 1st of each month

So that’s my progress towards being a better me and working with my Obliger tendency. I’m not hanging my hat on everything “Obliger” but it has been helpful to understand this paradigm.

It’s also been helpful to understand a bit about the other tendencies (Upholder, Questioner and Rebel) and like me, I am sure you will be able to take a guess at which tendency those close to you hold.

The Four Tendencies has helped me to understand myself better and others better – why don’t you try it for yourself?

You can do the quiz from here.

Everything counts.

Written by Michelle McFadyen


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