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Why improving your well-being and happiness really is a case of ‘it depends’

When you start asking questions about the best strategies for self-improvement, there’s one frustrating sentence you’ll hear over and over again: “It depends.”

It can sound like a cop-out, but in reality, no blanket technique will help everyone lose weight, start exercising, be more productive, and spend more time with their family.

 

It depends — on things like your personality, upbringing, and biological predispositions.

Few people know that better than Gretchen Rubin, the best-selling author of multiple books on happiness and habits, including, most recently, “Better Than Before.” But — and this is a big but — Rubin has taken “it depends” one step further by giving people specific strategies that she says will work for them based on their personality type.

Rubin says pretty much everyone falls into one of four categories. There’s a quiz on Rubin’s website that can help you figure out which one applies to you, but Rubin says most people can tell which type they are just by hearing the brief descriptions of each one.

 

The Four Tendencies are based largely on how you respond to outer and inner expectations. Here’s how it works:

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Upholders generally meet both inner and outer expectations, meaning they don’t let others orthemselves down.

Rubin said she’s an upholder — for example, she wakes up every day at 6 a.m. and likes to work in the same places around her neighborhood.

Upholders usually have an easier time forming habits than other people do, but they can still struggle.

Questioners meet only inner expectations. They push back against and question all expectations. Above all, they do something only if they think it makes sense — they hate anything arbitrary.

As Rubin writes in “Better Than Before,” questioners “resist rules for rules’ sake.”

“Questioners often remark, ‘I can keep a resolution if I think it’s important, but I wouldn’t make a New Year’s resolution, because January first is a meaningless date,'” she wrote.

Obligers meet outer expectations but not always inner ones. In other words, they usually need some form of external accountability.

Maybe that means taking a class with mandatory homework assignments or joining a sports team with regular practice sessions.

Rebels resist both inner and outer expectations. They value authenticity and self-determination.

Rubin says that if you ask a rebel to do something, they will likely resist — which can be frustrating for the person asking.

Rubin has found that most people fall into the Obliger category. Rebels tend to be the smallest group.

 

Once you’ve figured out which tendency best describes you, you can pinpoint habit-forming strategies that will work for you.

For example, an obliger might want to find a workout buddy who meets them at the gym every morning — the prospect of disappointing that buddy might be enough motivation to work out.

Knowing someone else’s tendency is equally useful because you can frame the habit you want them to start in a way that’s compelling to them.

“If you’re trying to change a habit, like you’re trying to exercise more, or you’re trying to get someone else to do something, like turn in a report on time, it’s really helpful to know their tendencies,” Rubin said. “Because then you know what button to push.”

 

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