A Little Happier: Are You an Obliger Who Needs Accountability? Here’s a Surprising Solution.

I often talk about my Four Tendencies personality framework that divides people into Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels.

If you don’t know about this framework, you can read an explanation and take the quiz to find out your own Tendency here

Of the Four Tendencies, “Obliger” is the largest Tendency, the one that the biggest number of people belong to, for both men and women, old and young.

And the defining fact about Obligers is that they readily meet outer expectations, but they struggle to meet inner expectations. In other words, they keep their promises to other people, but they often don’t keep their promises to themselves. For instance, they wouldn’t miss a work deadline, but they’d find it hard to exercise on their own or to keep a New Year’s resolution.

One crucial consequence of this pattern is that for Obligers to meet inner expectations, they must create outer accountability.

While people of other Tendencies often 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.

Once Obligers realize that they need outer accountability, they’re extraordinarily ingenious in finding ways to give themselves that accountability. In fact, one of my favorite things in studying the Four Tendencies is to see what new imaginative solutions Obligers have invented. I’ve amassed quite a collection.

I recently came across one that I’d never encountered before—and it comes from the ancient world.

This is a story about Demosthenes, a statesman in ancient Athens, during the fourth century B.C., who was recognized as the greatest of all the ancient Greek orators. The story comes from Parallel Lives (Amazon, Bookshop), a famous series of biographies written by the historian Plutarch in the second century A.D.

Plutarch explains that, as a young man, Demosthenes was determined to become a great orator, but when he was starting out, he was unsuccessful and couldn’t command the attention of an audience.

So, to develop his skills, among other things, he built an underground study where he could exercise his voice and practice his speeches, and he’d go there every day without a break. And, Plutarch adds—and this is the imaginative accountability device:

[H]e would often remain there even for two or three months together, shaving one side of his head in order that shame might keep him from going abroad even though he greatly wished to do so.

Now, that’s an unusual idea for creating outer accountability. Shaving the hair off one half of your head so you don’t want to go out in public until it grows back!

I could never have thought of that. Who knows, maybe that approach, or some version of it, could work for someone today!

If you want to read more about the Four Tendencies framework, and get more ideas for outer accountability, read my book The Four Tendencies or look on my website gretchenrubin.com.




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