Tag Archives: accountability

I Give My Own Response to the “Ask Amy” Advice Column in the Washington Post.

I’m always on the watch for anything out in the world that illustrates my Four Tendencies framework.

Many thoughtful readers and podcast listeners know this, and they send me links to anything Four Tendencies-ish.

I very much appreciated it when a reader sent me the link to this question in the Washington Post’s “Ask Amy” column.

To me, it’s a great example of an Obliger misdiagnosing the problem — to my mind, the writer’s problem is not “I’m lazy,” it’s “I need accountability.”

And “motivation!” Arrrrgh. Here’s a post I wrote, “Warning! Don’t expect to be motivated by motivation” — and I note that Obligers tend to be the folks who worry about motivation the most (to no avail, as illustrated below).

And the advice Amy gives is a great example of how people give advice — some helpful, but some not helpful — when they don’t understand the dynamics of the Tendency. Amy suggests many accountability strategies that could work, but without really understanding, in my view, why they would work better than other strategies, and why they’d work for this particular person, but wouldn’t work for someone else (e.g., a Rebel).

What do you think?

The question:

 Dear Amy: How do you help a lazy person to become more healthily active, when the lazy person is yourself? I’ve dealt with depression all my life and think I’ve made a lot of headway, (with the help of therapy) over the years. I’ve reached the point where there are things I can imagine doing and enjoying that will require some self-discipline and energy to achieve, such as saving money, or keeping my home cleaner and prettier. But inertia and daydreaming take over, and another day goes by, and another, and another. At work, by the way, I’m a great employee. I’m diligent and hard-working; I enjoy making my bosses happy with my efforts. I suspect that part of my problem is that I still lack motivation to make myself happy. Maybe my situation is a bit extreme, but I’m sure many of your readers struggle with finding the energy or the motivation to overcome one’s own laziness.

–Trying to Be My Own Magic Wand

The answer (which demonstrates that Amy is probably also an Obliger):

Trying to Be My Own Magic Wand: I give you major props for figuring out and describing your challenge, and for understanding that you hold the key to positive change.

Here are some ideas for small things you can determine to do, which will lead you in a positive direction:

Break down your desired efforts into very small and achievable components, such as “open and categorize today’s mail,” “clean the inside of the car” or (on a weekend) “pack up one box for donation.” Make a list and check off each item after completion. (Checking boxes off a list is surprisingly satisfying.)

Join a group. For me, singing with a local choir once a week helped to shake loose the inertia in the rest of my life.

Use a “buddy” to inspire and hold you accountable. Walking with a friend right after work a few times a week will give you more energy to face the challenge at home.

There’s an app for that: A fitness wristband and/or fitness app will help you to see your progress in real terms.

Flylady.net is a favorite starting point for many people seeking transformation through baby steps. Flylady says to start by cleaning and shining your kitchen sink.

Make your bed. Even if your bedroom is a mess, and even if you don’t achieve much else, your bed will be a pristine and clean space each day.

You are very good at working hard to please others. So plan to have company over for coffee or a meal. Knowing that someone will be in your home will inspire (force) you to tidy, clean and prepare.

This is good advice, but what I like about the Four Tendencies framework is that it explains why measures like this would work for this person — but not necessarily for other people. Amy is an Obliger, giving advice to an Obliger, so for the most part, the advice is fitting. But what if this question came from a Rebel?

What do you think?

I have to say, I do love reading advice columns. How about you?

If you’re intrigued by the Four Tendencies framework, you can pre-order my book called (with a stunning lack of originality) The Four Tendencies.

I very much appreciate pre-orders — they really do make a difference for authors, by creating buzz among booksellers, the media, and readers. So if you’re be interested in the book, and you have the time and inclination, it really does give the book a boost if you pre-order. (Note that this message is tailored to try to appeal to all Four Tendencies.)

Struggling to Get Something Done? Set Up Outer Accountability (Especially if You’re an Obliger!)

Have I mentioned that I’ve created a personality framework called the “Four Tendencies?” Oh right, I think I have.

Well, if you don’t know about this framework, which divides all of humanity into four categories — Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, and Rebelyou can read an explanation and to take the quiz to find out your Tendency here.

Of the Four Tendencies, “Obliger” is the largest Tendency, the one that the most people belong to, for both men and women. And the defining fact about Obligers is that they readily meet outer expectations, but they struggle to meet inner expectation. For instance, they wouldn’t miss a work deadline, but they’d find it hard to find time to exercise on their own.

The key point for Obligers: To meet inner expectations, Obligers must create outer accountability—and it must be the right kind of accountability.

While people of other Tendencies may benefit from the Strategy of Accountability, Obligers require it. They need tools such as supervision, late fees, deadlines, monitoring, and consequences enforced from the outside. For Obligers, this is the crucial element.

Also, Obligers must pick the right kind of accountability for them. Obligers also vary dramatically in what makes them feel accountable.

For some Obligers, an auto-generated email or  buzzing FitBit might be enough; some Obligers feel accountable only to an actual person.

I was surprised to find that for many Obligers, the prospect of wasting money doesn’t bring a sense of accountability. An Obliger friend told me, “I’ve always wanted to try yoga, finally, I actually signed up—and I went one time. It was the $300 yoga class.” Maybe money doesn’t provide accountability because it’s their own money; if they’re wasting someone else’s money, they might feel accountable.

So if you’re an Obliger, and you want to create accountability, here are some options to consider:

Accountability partner

Obligers can team up with an accountability partner: a classmate, trainer, personal organizer, coach, health-care worker teacher, family member, or friend.

Unfortunately, informal accountability partners can sometimes be unreliable. If that partner loses interest, gets distracted, or doesn’t want to play the enforcer, the Obliger stalls out.

Because it can be tough to find a reliable accountability partner among friends and family, Obligers may do better with a professional. For instance, coaches—career coaches, health coaches, life coaches—can provide the crucial accountability by setting concrete goals, establishing deadlines, and looking over their clients’ shoulders.

Accountability groups

People who don’t want to pay for a professional, or rely on a single accountability partner, can join or start an accountability group.

As Alcoholics Anonymous, Weight Watchers, law-school study groups, and Happiness Project groups demonstrate, we give and get accountability, as well as energy and ideas, from meeting with like-directed people.

I created the free Better app for people to exchange ideas and tips about the Four Tendencies, and Better app also makes it super-easy to form accountability groups of all kinds.

Having a client, customer, or student

Clients, customers, and students impose accountability by the very nature of the relationship. An Obliger told me, “I’d been putting off creating an online training course to accompany my podcast on self-publishing. So in my latest episode, I offered a free copy of the training course to the first 25 listeners who sign up. Because people have signed up, I actually have to create the course.”

Similarly, many Obligers mention using getting a paid or volunteer job as an accountability strategy. Want to exercise? Teach Zumba.

Duty to others

Obligers often do things for others that they can’t do for themselves, so an Obliger may be able to meet an aim by thinking of its benefit to other people, instead of its personal value. An Obliger wrote, “I’m Controller of a company, and to create accountability, I tie my personal commitments to my commitment to work: if I get enough sleep, I work better; if I exercise, I have more energy, plus I spend less time and money going to the chiropractor.”

Many Obligers struggle to say “no,” even when they’re feeling very burdened by expectations. To overcome this reluctance, Obligers can remind themselves that saying “no” to one person allows them to say “yes” to someone else. A highly regarded professor told me that he accepted too many speaking engagements, until one day he thought, “By turning down the keynote talk, I’ll give someone else the chance to speak.” That thought allowed him to decline some speaking requests.

Some Obligers feel a duty to their future selves. “I need to do this for future-me.”

Role model

Many Obligers can meet an expectation if it’s tied to their duty to be a good role model, which is a form of outer expectation. “If I stay at my desk until 9 p.m., I set a bad example for my staff.”

Other ingenious solutions:

“I heard myself say, ‘This summer, I’m going to get my finances in order.’ As the words left my mouth, I knew they weren’t true. So I made an appointment with my expensive accountant. I had to get my finances organized to have the meeting with him and not have it cost a fortune.

My Questioner husband came up with this idea to help me fight my sugar addiction: any dessert that I eat, he has to eat double.”

“When I want to finish some writing, I tell someone else that I’ll send it to them for review by a certain date, and I also set up meetings to present ideas, which forces me to get them down on paper.”

“I wanted to stick to a budget, but also wanted to keep my finances private. So how to create outer accountability? I told my family, ‘I’m saving so we can finally make that beach trip.’ They’re so excited, I can’t let them down.”

“My sister-in-law and I both made a list of some healthy habits we want to cultivate, with a three-month time limit. If we both stick with the plan, we’ll earn a spa day. The catch is that, since we’re Obligers, we earn the spa day for each other.  If I don’t follow through, she won’t get her spa day—and vice versa. We would let ourselves down, but we would never let each other down.”

“I wanted to get up earlier, but I live alone. So I created an embarrassing Facebook post, and used Hootsuite to set it to post every morning at 8:00 a.m., unless I get up ahead of time to disable it.”

“I have many suggestions to help my Obliger music students practice consistently: join a band or an orchestra (especially effective if the student has a special role, such as the bass clarinet in a quartet); become a mentor for a younger musician; organize practice sessions in pairs, where a failure to show up will hurt a fellow student; or make a pact with a loved one that that person can’t do some desirable activity unless the Obliger has practiced.”

Whenever an Obliger struggles to get something done, the solution is always the same: external accountability. It’s just a question of figuring out what form it’s going to take.

I can’t emphasize this enough. For Obligers, it’ s not a matter of motivation, or putting yourself first, or balance, or self-esteem, boundaries, or priorities. Plug in outer accountability, and you will be able to meet inner expectations. (Unless you fall into Obliger-rebellion, which is a story for another day and a big chapter in The Four Tendencies.)

If you want to learn more about the Four Tendencies, you can sign up for the free Better app and join the fascinating conversations there.

My book The Four Tendencies goes into much greater depth on these issues. It will hit the shelves in September, and you can pre-order it now. (If you’re inclined to buy the book, it’s a big help to me if you pre-order it now; pre-orders matter a lot for building support for a book among booksellers, the media, and other readers.)

I have to say, one of the most fun aspects of working on The Four Tendencies was hearing all the ingenious, imaginative strategies that Obligers have devised.

Have you used or seen any other helpful accountability strategies?

Podcast 101: Do Something for Your Future Self, How Flying Wish Paper Eases Heartache, and “Integrator” or “Compartmentalizer?”

It’s time for the next instalment of  Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

We’re having so much fun with our Instagram project. Join in, post photos of whatever makes you…happier! Use the hashtag #Happier2017 and tag us — I’m @gretchenrubin and @lizcraft.

As we discuss, The Onward Project is the family of podcasts that I’ve launched, for podcasts that are about “your life–made better.” The first shows are Side Hustle School and Radical Candor. Elizabeth’s show with her writing partner, Sarah Fain, will be Happier in Hollywood, so stay tuned for that.

Try This at Home: We got this suggestion from our listener Nikki: Do something for your future self.

Here’s the post where Nikki got the idea: “Do something kind for future you” on Wil Wheaton’s blog.

If you’re an Obliger, what accountability strategies work for you? There’s a wide range of strategies that work for different Obligers.

Happiness Hack: In episode 97, we talked about the challenge of dealing with the pain and anger of a break up.

Our listener Donna had a great approach, by creating a ritual using flying wish paper:

I was sad, angry and regretful.  I knew the break-up needed to happen, but was having a hard time processing the emotions that came after.  I purchased some flying wish paper and I wrote out all of the things I wanted to release about the situation – using one piece of paper for each thing.  I then took the paper, matches and a glass of wine outside to my patio, put on some nice music and lit the papers one at a time.  As the papers burned down, they lifted off into the air.  It felt like a tribute instead of a catharsis.  I was acknowledging that these feelings had been a part of my life, but were no longer serving me and so I was letting them go.

If you’re curious about flying wish paper, you can check it out here — it comes in all sorts of colors and patterns. (in our family, we use flying wish paper to makes wishes for the new year, and I’ve also used it as a fun activity at a birthday party.)

Know Yourself Better: Are you an “integrator” or a “compartmentalizer?” Kathleen wrote:

I’ve noticed in the workplace that folks tend to fall into one category or the other when it comes to how they deal with the crossover between work and life.  For example, some people seem perfectly happy to answer emails on the weekends, to work on projects late at night, etc., all while they integrate fun into the day (social lunches, coffee breaks, extended online shopping or social media sessions).  I think of these folks as integrators — folks who, seemingly quite willingly, blend work and life together.  They don’t seem to mind switching between the two.

 

Some of us, on the other hand, are compartmentalizers.  I fall squarely into this camp. Work is work, life is life, and I strive to keep the two separate in terms of time allocation.  I can’t enjoy a coffee break or a relaxed dinner when I know there’s a big project waiting for me to return (as intellectually engaging as that project may be), so I’d rather plow through the work first, then get to the fun as a reward.  I cut the fat from the workday, with the aim of making weekends and evenings — as much as humanly possible — work-free.  (I’m a lawyer at a big firm, so it’s often not possible, but it’s a goal worth chasing!)  I also seem to be one of the few professionals I know who won’t put her work email on her personal iPhone, instead preferring to keep the old firm-issued Blackberry as a second, separate device.

 

On the whole, the compartmentalizer approach makes me happier, because it means personal time is truly distinct and enjoyable, and the jarring transitions between life and work are minimized.  But I get that others work better when the boundaries between work and life are more fluid.

Listener Question: Whitney asks, “I have a  hang-up with the idea of a one-sentence journal. I feel like it would be stressful to try to distill my day into one sentence! Any tips for how to do that?”

Demerit: Years ago, I started a terrific system for keeping my daughters’ mementos in  a highly organized file box (I used this one), but I didn’t maintain it. Now I need to go back and get everything organized.

Gold Star: Elizabeth gives a gold star to the enthusiastic, friendly, energetic crossing-guard in her neighborhood.

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Remember,  I’m doing weekly live videos on my Facebook Page to continue the conversation from the podcast — usually on Tuesdays at 3:00 pm ET. To join the conversation, check the schedule.

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Want to know what to expect from other episodes of the podcast, when you listen to the award-winning Happier with Gretchen Rubin?” We talk about how to build happier habits into everyday life, as we draw from cutting-edge science, ancient wisdom, lessons from pop culture—and our own experiences (and mistakes).  We’re sisters, so we don’t let each other get away with much.

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An Interesting Accountability Solution from a Fantasy Novel: the Booth of Promises.

I love fantasy fiction, and I recently discovered the work of Sharon Shinn. I’ve been reading my way through all her novels.

I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of her novel Unquiet Land, which is the new addition to her Elemental Blessings novels.

These days, everything reminds me of my Four Tendencies framework, and Unquiet Land was no exception. (Don’t know about the Four Tendencies? Find out if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel here.)

One key aspect of the Four Tendencies is understanding the role that accountability can play. For Obligers, outer accountability is crucial; for other Tendencies, it may not be needed, and for some people, may even be counter-productive.

But because Obliger is the largest Tendency, accountability is a very important strategy. And Unquiet Land features a great accountability solution.

In the country of Welce, people can go to the Plaza of Men to visit the booth of promises. “Here patrons could swear, before witnesses and for all eternity, that they would accomplish specific tasks, and their vows were recorded in books kept by the booth owner and his family.” The promissor can choose whether to make a public recording that anyone can ask to read, or a private one that’s not released until he or she gives permission or dies.

In beautiful script, the promise is written in a record book and on a heavy sheet of paper. Both copies are signed and can be sealed, and one copy is given to the promissor.

An interesting method of holding yourself to a promise! Using the strategies that I outline in Better Than Before, a person commits in writing (Strategy of Clarity), decides whether that promise is more powerful when public or private (Strategy of Distinctions), and is creating accountability (Strategy of Accountability). Plus, the promise is made as part of a formal, elaborate ritual, which gives it extra strength (Strategy of First Steps).

I wish we had something like a booth of promises — but of course, we probably do. I’m sure there’s an app that does the same thing!

If you want to read the first book in the Elemental Blessings set, get Troubled Waters. So good.

Do you think that you’d be better able to stick to a good habit if you made a promise in a booth of promises?

Podcast 68: Show Up on Time, Treat Yourself, and Elizabeth Is Excited about a Scanning App.

It’s time for the next installment of  “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

Update: Keep sending us those “happiness hacks!” They’re fascinating. To hear about my happiness hack, it’s in episode 64.

Remember,  I’m doing weekly live videos on my Facebook Page about the podcast. To join the conversation, tune in Tuesdays at 1:00 p.m. Eastern.

Also, for our next Very Special Episode, let us know: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? For work, love, parenting, life…what really made the difference? Email us at podcast @ gretchenrubin .com, comment below, or best of all, call us. We’d love to hear your voice as you tell the story.  (77 HAPPY 336).

Try This at Home: Show up on time. First question: why are you late?

Better Than Before Habit Strategy: The Strategy of Treats. This is such a delightful strategy! One of our favorite topics.

MugObligerHappierIf you want to get your own Tendency mug, you can order one here.

Listener Questioner: Ashley is an Obliger, who wants budget better, but the idea of external accountability is tough; she doesn’t want anyone to tell her what to do. So how to get that accountability?

If you want the starter kit for launching a Better Than Before accountability group, it’s here.

 Gretchen’s  Demerit: I’ve procrastinated about getting Eleanor ready for sleep-away camp.

Elizabeth’s Gold Star: Elizabeth uses the app iScanner to scan documents.

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We love hearing from listeners:

 

To sign up for my free monthly newsletter, text me at 66866 and enter the word (surprise) “happier.“ Or click here.

If you enjoyed the podcast, please tell your friends and give us a rating or review. Click here to tell your friends on Twitter.

Listeners really respect the views of other listeners, so your response helps people find good material. (Not sure how to review? Instructions here; scroll to the bottom.)

How to Subscribe

If you’re like me (until recently) you’re intrigued by podcasts, but you don’t know how to listen or subscribe. It’s very easy, really. Really.  To listen to more than one episode, and to have it all in a handier way, on your phone or tablet, it’s better to subscribe. Really, it’s easy.

Want to know what to expect from other episodes of the podcast, when you listen toHappier with Gretchen Rubin?” We talk about how to build happier habits into everyday life, as we draw from cutting-edge science, ancient wisdom, lessons from pop culture—and our own experiences (and mistakes).  We’re sisters, so we don’t let each other get away with much.

HAPPIER listening!