Tag Archives: Four Tendencies

A Fitness Trainer Explains How She Uses the Four Tendencies to Help Her Clients to Succeed.

My book The Four Tendencies is coming out in September, and I’m very excited to have my full theory of this personality framework out into the world.

Of course, I’ve been writing and talking about it (perhaps obsessively?) ever since Better Than Before came out.

I love to see how other people apply the Four Tendencies in different contexts, so I was thrilled to read this post “Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies…and Fitness!” by Rachel Trotta  on her blog, where she writes about managing nutrition, exercise, and general health. She’s a personal trainer in New York City whose main focus is helping women reach an optimal weight, build strength, and develop a healthier relationship with food.

Given her area of expertise, I was fascinated and thrilled to see that the Four Tendencies works well for her clients. I have my theories about how to use the Four Tendencies, but the true test is how the theory works when it’s actually put into practice by other people.

(Don’t know anything about the Four Tendencies? Read a quick overview and take the quiz here, to find out if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel.)

I found her post so interesting that I asked her permission to re-post the whole thing:

Rachel writes:

Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies… and Fitness!

The Four Tendencies

Do you make fitness resolutions over and over, only to see your efforts fizzle out? 

Do you buy tons of tupperware for meal prep, but never cook the meals? 

Do you struggle with weight loss setbacks like vacations or special occasions? 

Do you feel motivated, but your behavior doesn’t match your intentions? 

As a personal trainer and fitness nutrition specialist, I often have to ask myself the same questions about my clients – why do some people thrive and see amazing results, while others stall out and have difficulty getting ahead?

Several months ago, I read Gretchen Rubin’s book Better Than Before, and immediately some of my questions were answered. She describes the “Four Tendencies” as being the way that people respond to inner and outer expectations. As she says on her website, “Your response to expectations may sound slightly obscure, but it turns out to be very, very important.” I wholeheartedly agree.

Her “Four Tendencies” are:

  • Upholder – meets BOTH inner and outer expectations
  • Obliger – meets outer expectations but RESISTS inner expectations
  • Rebel – resists BOTH inner and outer expectations
  • Questioner – meets inner expectations but RESISTS outer expectations

You can take the quiz (and see a helpful visual graphic) to figure out your tendency HERE, on Gretchen Rubin’s website!

Why did this book change my perspective so much, and why do I recommend it to my clients now? 

Understanding how you are motivated will give you the key to unlock your personal fitness journey, because different things work for different people. We’re all motivated in unique ways. Using the “Four Tendencies” as a framework in my professional work has helped me to treat clients as individuals driven by varying internal and external forces, as well as to develop more empathy for people who struggle to make positive changes.

Now, I understand much better why some clients struggle to see progress, and I know better how to provide the specific structure that they need to succeed.

The Importance of Adherence

The reason that knowing your Tendency is so crucial is that adherence is the primary driver of results, especially when it comes to health and fitness practices.

The same practical biology applies to all people in developing athletic goals. Weight loss, for example, boils down to a calories-in-calories-out endeavor, regardless of your personality or metabolism. Running your first half-marathon requires a structured training plan that is pretty much the same for everyone, most of the time. Lowering your blood sugar levels only happens by improving your diet, regardless of whether you are Paleo or vegan.

The magic, however, of any diet or exercise plan is sticking with it. Otherwise, no matter how excellent or sensible the plan is, you won’t see results. Going low-carb or “slow-carb,” for example, only works if you actually implement the diet over a very long period of time.

Adherence is the biggest obstacle to fitness goals for most people, including my clients. Understanding your personality and your “Tendency” – whether you are an “Upholder,” “Obliger,” “Rebel,” or “Questioner” – can help you choose wellness strategies that fit your motivational framework and improve your chances of adherence. Remember, adherence equals results. If you are a “Rebel” and you pick a mode of fitness that would better fit an “Obliger,” you are setting yourself up for failure, because you will have difficulty adhering!

I’m going to go through each “Tendency” individually, and discuss my interpretation of the fitness implications of each personality type. I will include weaknesses, strengths, and suggested strategies for tweaking your routines to increase the likelihood of success! If you haven’t taken Gretchen Rubin’s quiz, take it now!

Upholder

For my few “Upholder” clients, literally any plan or structure works. These clients often quickly wean off of in-person training to become remote clients, because all they need (after a few months of improving form) is the instructions via e-mail. Once their workout is in a Google Sheet and they can track their own progress with periodic check-ins from me, they’re good to go! The intrinsic motivation is so powerful and their response to outer expectations is so strong, that they can accomplish amazing feats apparently all on their own, with just a little guidance.

One of my clients recovered from a broken foot and ran a fast half marathon in four months with only a few in-person meetings – the rest of her sessions were completed on her own, using a Google Sheet as structure for the training plan. Since then, she has run three more half marathons with no in-person meetings at all. She is now training for the New York City Marathon. She is a classic “Upholder,” and meets both inner and outer expectations easily. When she participated in one of my nutrition coaching groups, she – unsurprisingly – had very good results and lost some extra weight with no problem.

The strength of the “Upholder” is independence and self-efficacy. “Upholders” are also very good at sticking to a plan exactly as written and following instructions perfectly, which is also a recipe for good results. While “Upholders” are not exempt from the normal problems of motivation (they still benefit from group support and cues like leaving their gym clothes out for the morning), they respond excellently to a sense of internal drive as well, and can seem to have very good willpower.

The weakness of the “Upholder” can be a perfectionistic attitude and overly-high expectations. If you are an “Upholder,” I recommend that your first tactic be developing “unconditional positive regard” for yourself. Then, focus more on actions than on outcomes. Keep doing the work, without getting caught up in the future or the past. Finally, take advantage of your ability to handle a lot of information, and make sure you have a structured workout plan! There are plenty that you can download online, and I also recommend getting a friend or trainer to work out with you, just for that outward nudge of external expectations.

Obliger

I read Better than Before during one of my first nutrition coaching groups, and I was so intrigued by the idea of the “Four Tendencies” that I immediately e-mailed several of my clients to get their thoughts on their own “Tendency.”

I sent one of my clients the visual representation of the “Four Tendencies,” and she immediately e-mailed me back a two-sentence e-mail: “Obliger! 100%.” This fit my impression of her, because she had had great difficulty in losing weight in her 30’s, and nothing had ever worked for her… until she joined my nutrition coaching group. The constant e-mails, the Facebook group where support could be shared, and the one-on-one nutritional coaching finally represented the external expectations that she truly needed to adhere to a plan, and she lost weight.

Even though she wanted to lose weight, and was motivated to get healthier, she simply could not do it on her own. This is a key component of “Obligers,” in my opinion – they want it. Desperately. It is not an issue of motivation – it is a question of meeting expectations. And until someone else provides the expectations and support, the “Obliger” will not stick to a plan or make progress independently, because they do not respond to their own internal motivation. 

“Obligers” need workout buddies, personal trainers, nutrition coaches, and other external motivators. They need someone holding them accountable in real-time. Their strength is that once they have the slight pressure of an external source of expectation, most “Obligers” do a marvelous job of adhering to a program. They are loyal, flexible, consistent, supportive of others, and often learn to genuinely love practicing sound exercise and nutrition principles (even though they may not be able to do it on their own consistently).

The weakness of the “Obliger” is vacations, business trips, and family pressure – in other words, any time the external pressure to exercise or eat well is removed (or replaced by a less positive influence). My “Obliger” clients often experience setbacks on holidays or trips, because they lack an internal compass of self-powered adherence. This is especially pronounced in situations where there may be negative social pressure to overeat or be sedentary – they are almost helpless to resist the influence of others, and need continued support (check-ins, e-mails, Skype sessions, etc.) while on trips or on holidays.

If you are an “Obliger,” I cannot stress enough the importance of getting a personal trainer, joining a fitness or weight loss challenge at your gym, or participating in a nutrition support group like Weight Watchers or one of my nutrition coaching groups. Any support at all will help you access the love for exercise and eating well that you truly have deep inside!

Rebel

Ah, the Rebel. This is often the hardest type of client to identify, as far as I’m concerned. Why? When you hear the word “Rebel,” you picture someone really, really tough, with rough edges and an attitude. However, “Rebels” – in the sense of the “Four Tendencies” – aren’t usually wearing leather jackets or nose rings.

Instead, “Rebels” often present as “Obligers” – they are discouraged, have “tried everything,” never sees results, and need help.  However, the difference between “Rebels” and “Obligers” rises quickly to the surface, because an “Obliger” will follow an exercise or nutrition plan pretty accurately if you support, while a “Rebel” will inexplicably – and frequently – fall off the wagon, even if you support them.

This is because “Rebels” resist both inner and outer expectations. They not only lack internal motivation – they also do not respond to your coaching, and check-ins may actually irritate them. My experience as a personal trainer and fitness nutrition specialist is also that “Rebels” rarely have access to that important, inherent love of healthy habits that “Obligers” can eventually stir up through consistency and habit.

What I have learned over time is that “Rebels” thrive on novelty, unconventionality, extremes, and anti-orthodoxy. “Rebels” who don’t love exercise do love powerlifting (or long-distance running, or hot yoga, or kettlebell training). “Rebels” who hate dieting love – and can stick to – raw veganism (or the Paleo method, or the ketogenic diet, or intermittent fasting). They love the ideas that run counter to traditional health and fitness wisdom, and they thrive on practices that set them apart from others. One of my classic “Rebel” clients was a whole-foods-only, vegan, ketogenic diet adherent. I did not impose this diet on her, and I cannot imagine that it was easy to maintain, but she thrived on the unconventionality and creativity of this lifestyle.

The potential challenge of “Rebels” is (1) finding something that works before you get so discouraged that you completely give up, and (2) not spinning your wheels with absurd or counterproductive – but trendy – diet protocols. If you work with a “Rebel” client, I want to share the main concept that I have learned: you, the coach, need to let go of your pre-conceived notions about “what works” and help the “Rebel” stick with what works for them. They may, ironically, resist your coaching, and it’s your responsibility to help steer and guide them into a plan that they can adhere to long-term, and the only time you should curb their tendencies to anti-orthodoxy is when their diet or exercise plan is truly harmful.

If you are a “Rebel,” all I can say is this: find something you love and that makes you feel good, and don’t let other people pressure you. Be your unique, creative, and unorthodox self in the world of fitness and health, and you will be an inspiration to other “Rebels” around you!

Questioner

Questioners” respond well to inner expectations but tend to resist outer expectations – that means that a diet or exercise plan needs to (1) make sense to them, (2) be fundamentally in alignment with their principles and intuition, and (3) be sufficiently flexible that they can control it and modify it themselves.

A “Questioner” may present like an “Upholder,” because of how independent they can be, but the main difference that I have experienced with both clients and myself (I am definitely a “Questioner”) is that “Upholders” are fantastic at following instructions down to the tiniest detail, while “Questioners” are extremely consistent overall while taking liberties with small adjustments and tweaks. They are confident in their personal goals, ask a lot of questions if they work with a trainer, but are not motivated to work on things that are not central to their goals. This can be frustrating for personal trainers.

My “Questioner” clients, for example, can have a bumpy road to weight loss goals, because they don’t follow instructions about nutrition if they do not perceive nutrition to be an important component of weight loss. However, once they have “locked on” to the importance of moderating their eating, they experience fantastic success.

One of my clients was very motivated by running in particular (and was training for her first half marathon), and did not need check-ins or external help in completing running assignments on her own outside of sessions. She also was excellent at making slight changes in her lifestyle to prioritize and accommodate running. However, she resisted moderating her diet for quite some time. She did not (would not, in fact) consistently track food, and did not realize the importance of diet until she had difficulty zipping up her jeans a month or two into our program together. At that point, it “clicked” that long-distance running alone would not help her manage her weight. Although she did not ever transition to tracking her food or following specific nutritional plans, she did become more aware of a few key eating principles and transformed her diet in a way that made sense to her.

If you are a “Questioner,” this is my word of caution: don’t get too caught up in finding the “right” plan for you. Pick something, stick with it, and make the modifications you need, but remember that adherence is key!

Universal Truths

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by figuring out your “Tendency,” keep it simple and remember that the following maxims apply to most people:

  • Consistency is better than intensity
  • Almost anything works if you stick with it

Self-understanding can simply help you along the path.

Rachel’s insights are terrific. I love learning about how different people interpret and apply the Four Tendencies, so if you have examples from your own experience (as a professor, doctor, sweetheart, sibling, employee, etc.), let me know!

Podcast 120: Very Special Episode of Listener Questions about the Four Tendencies.

Update: Congratulations to our beloved producer, Kristen Meinzer — her hilarious, addictive podcast By the Book got picked up! She and her co-host comedian Jolenta Greenberg choose a different popular self-help book and report what it’s like to live “by the book” — for their pilot, they lived by The Secret, next up, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Check it out, subscribe!

Every tenth episode, we do a “Very Special Episode” that’s different from our usual structure. For this VSE, we discuss listener questions about the Four Tendencies.

Want to take the Quiz, to find out if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel? It’s here.

Want to listen to the episodes dedicated to each Tendency?

Upholder is episode 35 — “Are you like Gretchen and Hermione?”

Questioner is episode 36 — “Do you always ask why?”

Obliger is episode 37 — “Can you meet a work deadline, but can’t go running on your own?

Rebel is episode 38 — “Do you hate being told what to do?” Note: we weren’t able to interview a Rebel as part of that episode; if you want to hear from a Rebel, check out this interview with the brilliant Chris Guillebeau (bestselling author and host of the podcast Side Hustle School) about his perspective as a Rebel. Start listening at 25:15.

My book The Four Tendencies hits the shelves in September. As I mention (often!), if you’re inclined to buy the book, it’s a big help to me if you pre-order it. Pre-orders build buzz among booksellers, the media, and other readers; it makes a very big difference to the fate of a book.

Questions we discuss in this episode:

“How can a doctor quickly figure out someone’s Tendency?”

“How can I as an Upholder parent better understand my Rebel child?”

“I’m an Obliger who works for a Questioner. How can I feel less frustration?”

“As a Rebel, how can I tell myself to eat healthfully and exercise?”

“I’m an Obliger, and I’m resisting the new office policy that we show a badge. Is this Obliger-rebellion?”

“An Obliger friend keeps busting through her budget — because she owes it to other people to spend. What’s up?”

“I’ve realized that my Obliger Tendency is affecting my dating life, for instance, by being too accommodating. How do I create a balance?”

If you’re intrigued by the Four Tendencies, and want to join the lively discussion on the Better app, sign up! It’s free. You can start or join an accountability group (Obligers, I know many of you want to do that), ask questions, have discussions about your own Tendency or dealing with someone else’s Tendency.

Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth wanted to start hiking on the weekends with friends; it hasn’t happened.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: Gold star to everyone who has provided me with their perspectives, examples, and questions about the Four Tendencies. I have a lot more insight into other people — and myself.

 

Resources related to the FourTendencies:

  1.  Try the Better app — it’s free, fun, and informative.
  2.  Take the Quiz to learn your Tendency.
  3. Buy a Tendency mug — complete with the Tendency’s motto! So fun. (Scroll down.)

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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?

Warning! Don’t Expect to Be Motivated by Motivation.

I really dislike the word “motivation.” I try never to use it.

In writing Better Than Before, my book about habit change, and in talking to people about their desired habits, the term “motivation” came up a lot.

And here’s why I don’t like it: People use the term to describe their desire for a particular outcome (“I’m really motivated to lose weight”) as well as their reasons for actually acting in a certain way (“I go to the gym because I’m motivated to exercise”). Desire and action are mixed up in a very confusing way.

To make it even more confusing, people often say they’re “motivated” to do something when what they mean is, “My doctor and my family tell me that I need to quit smoking, and I know it would be healthier and cheaper to quit smoking, and I wish I would quit smoking, but I have no desire to quit and no intention to try to quit. But am I motivated to quit smoking? Oh, sure.”

People often tell me that they’re highly motivated to achieve a certain aim, but when I press, it turns out that while they passionately wish they could achieve an outcome, they aren’t doing anything about it. So what does it mean to say they’re “motivated?” No idea. That’s why I don’t use the word.

In fact, people aren’t motivated by motivation.

Expert advice often focuses on motivation, by telling people that they just need more motivation to follow through. This may work in a certain way, for certain people (see below), but not for everyone.

The bad result of this advice is that some people spend a lot of time whipping themselves into a frenzy of thinking how much they want a certain outcome, as if desire will drive behavior. And it rarely does.

Instead of thinking about motivation, I argue that we should think about aims, and then concrete, practical, realistic steps to take us closer to our aims.

Instead of thinking, “I want to lose weight so badly,” think instead about the concrete steps to take, “I’ll bring lunch from home,” “I won’t use the vending machine,” “I won’t eat fast food,” “I’ll quit sugar,” “I’ll cook dinner at home at least four nights a week,” “I’ll go to the farmer’s market on Saturdays, to load up on great produce.”

Of course, in Better Than Before, I argue that it’s a lot easier to follow through with such steps consistently if you make them into habits.

The great thing about habits is that you don’t need to feel “motivated!” And that’s important because again, motivation doesn’t actually matter much, if what you mean by that is “How badly do you want this?”

In my forthcoming book, The Four Tendencies, I do talk about how thinking about reasons for action can help some people to act, and how desire does help some people to act — but that’s not the same as motivation.

For Upholders and Questioners, thinking about reasons helps.

For Rebels, thinking about desire helps.

For Obligers, outer accountability is the crucial element. What does this mean? It means that Obligers are the least likely to be helped by thinking about “motivation.” And guess what? They’re the Tendency that talks most about motivation! They keep trying to amp up their motivation, and then they get frustrated because that doesn’t work. Nope. Obligers should focus on systems of outer accountability.

So whenever catch myself saying or writing, “I’m really motivated to do ___,” I stop and think: “What do I want, and why do I want it? And given that, what steps can I take to achieve my aim?”

Because we really can’t expect to be motivated by motivation.