How long does it take to learn how to motivate yourself to get things done?
In my case, about forty-two years.
I don’t mean that I haven’t been able to get anything done until now. I can unleash a can of whoop ass on a project with the best of them. But, until a few months ago, I wasn’t really clear on why I can sometimes get a big thing done with no drama and other times I set goals that go absolutely nowhere.
I’ve read tons of advice on how to be more productive and reach your goals. Sometimes the advice worked for me and sometimes it didn’t. It was always extra frustrating when something that worked for someone else didn’t work for me.
Then, a few months ago, I was working on developing a quiz for one of my book marketing clients. She sent me an example of the type of thing she was looking for. It was The Four Tendencies Quiz by Gretchen Rubin. The Four Tendencies is a framework (and a book) that looks at your innate style of meeting expectations.
The Four Tendencies are:
Upholder – Upholders have little to no trouble meeting expectations whether external or internal (and sometimes have a lot of trouble understanding why other people can’t).
Obliger – Obligers have seemingly endless power to get things done for others, but struggle with goals that are only for themselves.
Rebel – Rebels pretty much give the middle finger to all expectations — both external expectations and internal. Unless they really want to do something, they are unlikely to do it.
Questioners – Questioners have to know the why before they act. They are good at meeting inner expectations because they’ve already answered their own questions, but they struggle with outer expectations until they get answers.
I took the quiz and learned that I am an Obliger. This was not necessarily earth shattering. I knew that I sometimes (okay, nearly all the time) put my own needs last. After all, I’m a mom with two kids who runs her own business. Kids and clients come first.
But what I didn’t realize was how I could use this information about myself to further goals that are primarily internal.
When I thought about it further, I saw that all the times I’ve done something really big or really hard, I was motivated because of it’s impact on other people.
Example #1: When I quit smoking (over twenty years ago) I did it because it was very clear my then boyfriend (now husband) and I needed to quit and I realized he was far more likely to quit if I’d already done it. And that was all I needed. I quit cold turkey and Ben quickly followed.
Example #2: I wanted to be a writer my entire life (seriously, since grade 2) but I didn’t actually get off my ass and start writing until I had a baby girl at age 30 and I realized if I wanted her to have the guts to follow her dreams I needed to show her it was possible.
Example #3: When I learned I had type 1 diabetes I starting managing the shit out of it and taking immaculate care of myself because I had a daughter and I needed to be my best for her.
Example #4: When I wrote my first novel for kids, it was because Nora (who was six-years-old at the time) was literally project managing me. I’d write a chunk, read it to her and she say “That’s good, Mommy. Now go write some more. I want to know what happens.”
All this probably sounds lame to non-obligers. Why not just do things for yourself? But Rubin says these tendencies are innate. And if that’s the case, it only makes sense that capital-N-Nature would need a big chunk of folks who were focused on the greater good. Those are obligers. That’s me.
It’s not that I have a poor self-esteem and live for others. It’s just that I only have so much time and energy and I’m wired to meet my obligations to other first. My personal priorities take a back seat.
Which is why this framework is so helpful for me. (Rubin says Obligers have the most to gain by learning their tendency.) When I have a goal that’s personal, I just need to make it bigger — to create some external accountability. And now I can easily identify so-called productivity tips that won’t work for me — particularly those of the “just do it” variety.
So, I’m embracing my Obliger identity by creating accountability beyond myself for the things that matter to me. It’s how I’m getting my writing done — I have a fantastic writing/editing group and we meet every 2 weeks. And it’s I’m getting the podcast done — I’m doing it with Nora, it’s good for our relationship and people are expecting to hear new episodes. Writing and podcasting are both things I want to do for myself, but in order for them to happen I have to make it more of a community thing.
In that spirit, I’ve created a group coaching program which will start in January where I’ll work with a small group of writers to help them finally get a good, evidence-based marketing plan together and start executing on it. (And it won’t be just for Obligers, thanks to Rubin, I now know how to coach for all the Four Tendencies.)
So, that’s my big revelation for the year. And I feel well-armed to make some resolutions for 2019 that I can actually keep.