I just finished Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Four Tendencies. In it, she outlines four different types of people that she terms, Upholders, Obligers, Questioners, and Rebels. Everyone falls into one of these four categories. The categories describe the way in which each of the four tendencies deals with inner and outer expectations, for example, how does one react to deadlines at work versus personal goals like going to the gym.
I didn’t exactly learn anything new about myself, but it took what I already knew and shed a very different light on it. Aspects of my personality, quirks that I’ve always seen as negatives were suddenly cast as potential positives. Tendencies that I’d marked as laziness, proof that I needed more discipline, traits that I saw as personal failings were actually not personal at all! They were part and parcel of my tendency which was shared by a whole group of people the world over.
It began to highlight where I’d gotten things right, purely by accident, and where I could tweak things to work better for me, things that other people, from other tendencies would view as quirky for sure! In fact, they would probably roll their eyes and insist that it would never work, that I should stick to proven methods of organization, daily scheduling, good old fashioned discipline damn it! You know, the things I’d been trying to implement my entire life and had fallen flat on my face time and time and time again.
Where do I get the most work done? Not as in, the most time spent in front of the computer, staring at an empty screen or scrolling Facebook, but productive work. It’s propped up in bed or on the couch, in my pajamas, cold cup of coffee by my side, dogs trying their best to push the computer off my lap, writing away when the schedule says I’m supposed to be doing something else. But where do I spend most of my computer work time? At a desk, in an office, sitting in a chair, because that’s what normal people do… isn’t it?
I have my entire day, week, month, whatever, color coded in my calendar. I have my goals broken down into workable steps the way all the experts say to do. Guess what I don’t do? Whatever the hell my calendar says I’m supposed to do. I have work schedules, exercise schedules, domestic schedules, and none of them get followed for more than a couple of weeks before I start procrastinating, making excuses for why I have to do something else instead, or simply pushing the pretty colored task over to the next day, and the next day, and the next.
Normal schedules don’t work for me. I enjoy setting them up. I enjoy the process of breaking things down, planning them out, making them look pretty and organized. But it doesn’t matter, because I won’t follow the damn thing, no matter how pretty it looks, no matter how much sense it makes, no matter how much time and/or money it would save.
Because of this, I labeled myself lazy. But now I know, that’s not true, it’s just not the way I function best. The answer is not another schedule, another planner, another book on organization, if I want to get shit done, I have to develop a new system. One that works for me and not worry about what it looks like to anyone else, because I’m pretty sure that from the outside what I finally work out will look like chaos to other people.
This information/realization came at an interesting time. I’m in the final stages of creating a new online program called Intentional Practice (6 weeks online yoga and meditation plus goal setting). The impetus and outline of the program came because one of my students talked about wanting to practice yoga more often at home because getting to a studio wasn’t convenient or financially prudent, but no matter how much she wanted to do it, it didn’t happen. She was looking for accountability. I liked the idea because I had experienced the same frustration. I have a mat. I have a body. Why was it so hard to put the two together and get some yoga done?
I had been playing around with the idea of setting and using intention in yoga (and in larger life) for the previous year, but was procrastinating about putting it together into a course (probably because I broke it down into steps and scheduled them out on my calendar). Then I had a conversation with a very talented life coach friend of mine, Honor Godin. She very wisely said to me, "it’s okay for things to be fun". I was floored. I didn’t understand why this simple statement was revolutionary for me, but I knew it was and immediately latched onto it and made it my underlying intention.
What if this were fun? What would teaching this class be like if it were fun? How can I make this chore I don’t want to do fun?
It felt like cheating. It was awesome! By framing things in this way, I began to see some interesting patterns. What would my yoga practice look like if it were fun? It would look like me being curious on my mat. Not giving a shit what I was supposed to be doing, just playing around, experimenting, seeing what happened if. It wasn’t very organized, it refused to follow a well laid out plan, it probably looked chaotic and without form to anyone else, but it worked. It got me on my mat (some) and it made teaching fun again.
According to The Four Tendencies, I’m a Rebel, and guess what Rebels want? Fun. Guess what Rebels won’t do? Anything that isn’t fun. Guess what organization experts provide with their goal setting break downs and pretty colored segmented days? Not fun. I had accidentally come upon the perfect intention for me!
I took this personal intention and began to use it to create the Intentional Practice program. I decided I would put it together in a way that was fun for me, and I wouldn’t worry about the rules. I would take the underlying idea of curiosity and fun and use it as a foundation for helping participants find their own intention and then use that intention to inspire them onto their mats to practice more. If it worked for me, a self described lazy, can’t get it together, full of excuses procrastinator, then surely it would work for other people, right?
But Rebels are the smallest tendency group. So, the answer is probably, no, exactly what works for me probably won’t work for other people, at least not most of them. However, the idea of intention still holds true. Just because my intention isn’t for everyone, doesn’t mean that finding, setting and using intention won’t work, it just means combining intention with tendency and personality and tweaking the system until it matches the individual strengths and weaknesses of each person.
It means, to each his own. It means, being honest about what will work for us and what won’t. It means throwing out the rule of the average and assuming that any one way is right for the masses.
For some this will look like buckling down and getting to it (although those people are probably already doing that anyway and don’t need any help from me!), for others it will look like finding creative ways to build in accountability (working with an accountability partner - someone who also needs their feet held to the fire), for those who just need a good reason why they should do it, they will learn how to find that reason and use it to keep themselves on track, and some of us will rebel against any system that smells like routine and so we have to be a bit sneaky and figure out a way to make it fun.
If you haven’t read Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Four Tendencies, do it!
If you haven’t signed up for Intentional Practice (6 weeks to a practice and a life of intention and purpose - designed to create the habit of getting on your mat), do it!