Gretchen Rubin suggests, “To Form Successful Habits, Know What Motivates You”

ToFormSuccessfulHabitsHere is an excerpt from an article written by Gretchen Rubin for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please click here.

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Have you ever been driven crazy by a coworker’s persistent questioning of what the team is doing, and why, and whether things could be done more efficiently—or have you been driven crazy by a colleague’s refusal to address those crucial questions?

Have you ever worked with someone who met deadlines and followed through for the team, but for some reason, couldn’t move forward on the goals they set for themselves? Or perhaps does that description fit you?

In researching and writing Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, I realized that all of us differ dramatically in our attitude towards habits, and our aptitude for forming them. From my observation, I began to realize that just about everyone falls into one of four distinct groups: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels.

The key question is: How do you respond to an expectation? We all face two kinds of expectations:

o Outer expectations: meet a work deadline, observe traffic regulations
o Inner expectations: stop snacking, start running

Upholders respond readily to both outer expectations and inner expectations. They’re self-directed and have little trouble meeting commit­ments, keeping resolutions, or meeting deadlines (in fact, they often finish early). They really want to understand and meet expectations—including their expectations of themselves. This creates a strong instinct for self-preservation, which serves as a counter-weight to others’ expectations.

However, Upholders may struggle in situations where expecta­tions aren’t clear. They may feel com­pelled to meet expectations, even ones that seem pointless. They may feel uneasy when they know they’re breaking the rules, even unnec­essary rules, unless they work out a powerful justification to do so. I know this tendency well; I’m an Upholder myself.

Questioners question all expectations, and will meet an expecta­tion only if they believe it’s justified—they’re motivated by reason, logic, and fairness. They decide for themselves whether a course of action is a good idea, and they resist doing anything that seems arbitrary or lacks sound purpose. Essentially, they turn all expectations into inner expectations.

Because Questioners like to make well-considered decisions and come to their own conclusions, they’re very intellectually engaged, and they’re often willing to do exhaustive research. If they decide there’s sufficient basis for an expectation, they’ll follow it; if not, they won’t.

However, the Questioner’s appetite for information and justifica­tion can become tiresome. Questioners themselves sometimes wish they could accept expec­tations without probing them so relentlessly. A Questioner told me ruefully, “I suffer from analysis paralysis. I always want to have one more piece of information.”

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Gretchen Rubin is the author of aforementioned Better Than Before, as well as the bestsellers The Happiness Project and Happier at Home. Rubin began her career in law, and was clerking for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor when she realized she wanted to be a writer. Her new podcast is Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

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