Four Tendencies with Gretchen Rubin, interview with Tonya Dalton, host of productivity paradox podcast, learn how to maintain habits through knowing yourself and how you react to habits

How to Create Systems for Good Habits with Gretchen Rubin

We’re well into Season 3 of my Productivity Paradox podcast, and I was so excited to talk with author, speaker and podcaster, Gretchen Rubin. She’s written three books and has a podcast dedicated to creating happiness and good habits.

Today, I want to give you all a rundown of interview with Gretchen. We focus on her newest book, The Four Tendencies, her quiz where you can find out which of tendency you have, loopholes you’re using to get out of keeping your good habit and actionable strategies for how to create habits.


The Four Tendencies Framework


Gretchen says she identified this framework when she noticed patterns of how people responded to situations in similar ways. It all has to do with how a person responds to expectations. We all face outer expectations, such as a work deadline or  an interview. We also experience inner expectations – desire to keep a new year’s resolution or to get back into practicing meditation, for example.

This is when Gretchen identified the Four Tendencies. She noticed how people handle these inner and outer expectations and gave them names: the Upholder, Questioner, Obliger and Rebel.

Upholders readily need outer and inner expectations, so they keep the work deadline. They keep the new year’s resolution without that much fuss.

Then there are Questioners. Questioners question all expectations. They’ll do something if they think it makes sense. They resist anything arbitrary or inefficient or unjustified. They make everything inner expectation, because if it meets their standard they’ll do it, and if it doesn’t meet the standard, they won’t do it.

Obligers readily need outer expectations, but they struggle to meet inner expectations. They need accountability to help them maintain and go through with their habits.

Finally, Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike. They want to do what they want to do in their own way, in their own time. If you ask or tell them to do something, they’re likely to resist.

Knowing your tendency and and knowing that others may react differently than you to situations, habits and events means that we need to know that one solution doesn’t always work for everyone.


Understanding Yourself & Your Tendency


When you want to start being productive or work on a project or goal, Gretchen suggests starting by asking yourself, “What kind of person am I?” And you’d think that would be obvious, since we are with ourselves all the time, but many people are unsure how to answer that question.

In her book, Better Than Before, Gretchen identified 21 strategies that people can use to make or break their habits.

One of these 21 strategies is the strategy of distinctions. That’s about distinguishing if you are you a morning person or a night person, a finisher or an opener, a simplicity lover or abundance lover, etc.

Once you know what works for you and what kind of thing is going to set you up for success, once you know yourself, then you can customize your system.

When something isn’t working out for you, that’s because your strategy and process may need a to be personalized to your environment, lifestyle and tendency.


Gretchen’s Strategies for Creating Habits


While there are a few strategies that work well for people, we can review a few that Gretchen went over on episode 32 of the podcast.

One is the strategy of convenience. You want to make it as convenient as possible to do your good habit. We used the example of going to the gym because this is something a lot of people are interested in, but find  it hard to maintain.

Gretchen suggests making it convenient in any way possible. If you can pay a little extra and go to a gym that’s closer to your office, you may feel more motivated to go. Some people have even started sleeping in their gym clothes so that they’re ready to go in the morning.

Just the same, we can make it inconvenient not to follow the habit. Gretchen says just putting on your gym clothes and shoes will make you feel like it’s easier to just go than to decide not to. Here, you can just take it one step at a time and get in the mindset.

Another strategy is the clean slate. This is something that’s not available to us at all times, but it’s powerful, so we always want to be on the lookout. The clean slate is when there’s been some kind of transition, so that the old habits have been wiped away. You’ve transferred to new school or you have a new job, so that you have a new daily routine. Or all of a sudden your kids are back in school, so your routine changes. That is a great time to plug in a new habit. It doesn’t have to fight against your existing habits because everything is wiped away.

Another one is safe cards. This is thinking about “if/then” planning. Say you’re doing a good job exercising but what happens when the weather turns colder and it gets darker earlier? What happens

when you travel for work? What happens when you’re on vacation? What happens when I go to my childhood home where everybody discourages me from exercising? What happens if my trainer quits and I don’t have the trainer that I’ve worked with for three years and so I have to meet somebody new?” What do I do? I’m going to build in a safe card so that I think about everything that I’m going to do.

You need to ask yourself these questions and assess where you are and then use your knowledge of what tendency you are.

This is a very, very powerful strategy. More questions to ask would be: How are the other people around me making this harder or easier for me? Am I hanging out with people that are doing this habit? Or the people around me are they neutral? Or are they actually kind of sabotaging me? A lot of times people don’t like to see people around them improve their habits. So, you want to be very, very mindful of how other people could be doing it. These are just strategies that I would say would work for everybody.

It’s really about finding that path that is yours and then building on it.

A really important strategy Gretchen and I talked about was loophole spotting. This is when we let ourselves off the hook for keeping up with our habit, even if we don’t consciously do it. For many people, just recognizing a loophole is coming into view is enough to help them fight that loophole and stick to the habit. Gretchen goes over the ten kinds of loopholes we find in the podcast – so be sure to listen and see if those loopholes she mentions might be what is getting in your way! You can also learn more about keeping and maintaining good habits by listening to her podcast!


What’s Next?

I encourage you to take Gretchen’s quiz and find out which tendency you have. This will allow you to better know yourself and therefore create and maintain good habits. Habits should work for you and your environment.

This goes along so well with this Season 3 topic of creating personalized systems! We all lead different lives – even from our best friends and family members. Just because one way or strategy works for someone you know, doesn’t mean it will definitely work for your lifestyle. And that’s OK. It’s always a good idea to try out someone’s tip, but don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t suit your life.

Definitely join in on the conversation we’re having on the inkWELL Press Productivity Co. Facebook group! I love it when you all ask questions, give great advice and support each other in your unique journey. Happy Planning!

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Tonya Dalton
Tonya Dalton