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

Photo of four clover leaf

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?

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




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