The 4 Tendencies

May 14, 2018 / Photography / book reviews / artist tools

You know how you set up goals, write down a detailed implementation plan, and thenäó_you don’t do them?

That’s me in my studio.

At the beginning of 2017, I spelled out goals which I didn’t do. In 2018, I said I was going to focus on habits instead of goals. It’s now May, and I haven’t progressed at all in re-establishing my studio time and my writing time.

Recently, I came across a book that may finally explain why I’ve failed so far.

The Four Tendencies

In her book The Four Tendencies, Gretchen Rubin came up with a personality framework that answers the question: How do people react to expectations?

In her framework, there are four types of people: Upholders, Questioners, the Rebel, and the Obligers. Here’s a diagram from her book:

I’m an Obliger. I’m the type of person that responds well to external expectations but I struggle with inner, self-generated expectations. So for example, if a goal is from an external source like school or a job, then I don’t have problems meeting goals and expectations. I had no trouble meeting assignment deadlines when I was doing my MFA at school. No matter what happened, I would hand my assignments in. The same thing at work. I will work non-stop nights and weekends to ensure I finish my projects on time. And that is because for Obligers, external obligations can’t be broken. Obligers have to meet them.

But when it comes to my own internally generated goals like

  • Shoot regularly on a weekend for my photo project
  • Write regularly for my blog
  • Find 3 venues to exhibit my artwork
  • Connect with an audience who is interested in my work

Forget it, Obligers will fail to meet these goals. Rubin’s framework suggests that the reason is not laziness, lack of motivation, or low self-esteem. It is simply because Obligers like me do not respond well to inner expectations and goals. I will meet external expectations of me with no problems, but inner expectations? Obligers will struggle.

I love it when something explains my behavior that has dogged me all my life.

This new found knowledge doesn’t bode well for me though.

If I quit my job so I can spend more time with my art, I will probably not accomplish anything as I will struggle with meeting inner expectations.

Bummer.

The Solution

Rubin suggests a simple solution. An Obliger has to create external accountability for inner expectations.

External accountability could come from

  • Using a To-do list app that will send you reminders
  • Meeting with an accountability partner to keep each other accountable
  • Enlisting your spouse/friend/family member to remind you of your goals and be a referee
  • Mentioning your goals in your blog or on facebook (public accountability)
  • Joining an accountability group
  • Taking a class or a course
  • Hiring a life coach

I’ve tried some of these approaches. I’ve tried using to-do list apps like asana and toggle which I’ve written about on this blog. I’ve tried an accountability partner, which theoretically should have worked, but looking back now, we didn’t meet often enough to provide that external accountability that I now think I need. I’ve mentioned my goals in this blog, but that hasn’t worked either. I think it’s ineffective as it’s too diffused. I mean who really cares whether you meet your goals or not?

Looking back at my art endeavors, I accomplish a lot when I there is an external party involved. When I was doing One Day, I knew that every Saturday morning Mason and his mom would be coming for the photoshoot and that is what got me moving. I also knew that I had to finish the work by December for a portfolio review that I already signed up for.

So I learned something about myself. I need to create external accountability so that I can meet my inner goals.

Time to Experiment

Every person responds to different types of external accountability. I’ll be doing something different this time.

I will be using an app called sticKK where I create a commitment contract to write something everyday so I could post a blog article every week. If I fail to meet it for that week, my credit card gets charged $20 and the app will send it to an anti-charity (a charity I would never support because I’m against what they stand for). Now I have skin in the game. Why $20? Because that’s how much I would pay per week if I had a life coach. I’m just not ready to hire a life coach just yet. It will cost a lot. I figured I would try this method first.

I’d like to see if using stickK will work. Another app that is promising is Beeminder, which does the same thing.

So if you are having trouble meeting your goals and blaming yourself that you are just lazy, unorganized and not motivated, think about Gretchen Rubin’s framework. Maybe it’s really just setting up a system for external accountability (assuming you are an Obliger). To find out your tendency under Rubin’s framework, try this quiz.

I’ll be sure to report on this blog how I’m doing with this new approach. If this doesn’t work, then I’ll hire a life coach.

“Alexa, Start My Studio Session”
The 5 Second Rule
Asana: A Work & Artist Journal

About the Author

Jonah Calinawan

Hello! I’m Jonah Calinawan, an accountant turned artist.

I create cyanotype art that makes you think and write about the creative mindset to help and inspire you.

When not shooting photos, I teach myself piano and recommend pianist Josh Wright’s Propractice tutorials (affiliate link).

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