The book I’m currently rereading is Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin–a book about forming good habits and breaking bad habits. The cornerstone of her theories about habit forming is that one approach won’t work for everyone, and that there are essentially Four Tendencies that personalities fall into which dramatically affect how we are able to form habits based on our responses to inner or outer obligations.
Last week I talked about my tendency: Obliger. I am 100% an Obliger, responding primarily to external expectations but totally inept at forcing myself to do something just because it’s good for me. I spend an enormous amount of psychic energy considering what other people want or need from me and how to meet those expectations. This is the most common personality type.
Another type is the Questioner. This is kind of the reverse of the Obliger, because it’s a personality who will do anything that he or she understands and is convinced of the value of that choice. For example, a Questioner would begin exercising if he believed that he needed to exercise and that the type of exercise chosen is going to be effective to meet his goals. This is also a very common personality type, and I think of my friend Reta, who very frequently asks, simply “Why is that?” in response to virtually any scenario.
More rare is the Upholder personality type, and when I read about this type, I understood my friend, Katie, in a new way. One time she and I were traveling together and she got separated from her luggage, which had been locked in an office. I spent a considerable amount of time trying to convince her, very Obliger-y, that it would be very inconvenient to find the person with the keys and call them back to give her the bag. Wouldn’t it be easier to just manage without so as not to inconvenience anyone? She adamantly refused, stating that she needed the things in her bag and would not be able to go overnight without them. We got the bag, but I was surprised at this unexpected layer of granite in her, because she was usually very responsive to others’ expectations of her. She is an Upholder, which means she responds to both external and internal obligations.
And then there is the Rebel. The Rebel is one who rejects all sense of obligation or expectation, both inner and outer. A Rebel wouldn’t say “I should set a regular bed time so that I feel well-rested” or “People are expecting to see us at the wedding,” but instead Rebels say I only do what I want to do right now. They can still form habits, but only habits that are in line with their own strongly held values. As I read about the Rebel’s dislike for hierarchy and rules and (to them) incomprehensible social structures, I saw my husband, who was kicked out of a Catholic pre-seminary for challenging the priests on theology, and regularly spars with power-holders in our society. His strongly held value of justice motivates him to accomplish a lot on behalf of people who don’t hold much power, but he is the bane of any bureaucrat’s existence, since he refuses to fill out time cards or fill out paperwork that doesn’t seem practical to him. Since he values accountability, he will collect receipts, but if someone protests that the receipts he has provided are not an acceptable format, he rejects that adherence to formality without function.
In the book, Rubin states that many Rebels marry Obligers, and they appreciate the stability that an Obliger’s compulsions provide. (For example, if Fred can’t bring himself to sit down at the computer to answer emails, he delegates that task to me. I feel so obligated by the expectation of the person waiting for a response that I readily agree and get a lot of satisfaction from it.) Obligers find the Rebel’s disregard for expectations freeing, to which I can certainly attest. Whenever we receive a fundraising card for a wedding or a send-off, I feel compelled to give money and attend the event, even though attending the 8-hour ordeal of a casual acquaintance’s wedding is grueling. He has saved me a lot of money and stress by releasing me from those “obligations.” A good friend of mine living in Uganda is also an Obliger married to a Rebel, and I can think of one or two other couples who are probably in the same club. I can say that I’m very grateful for my Rebel husband. He accomplishes so much that I never would, and he inspires a lot more balance and freedom in my own life.
(Now I have the song “He’s a Rebel” by The Crystals stuck in my head…”Just because he doesn’t do what everybody else does, that’s no reason why I can’t give him all my love.”)