Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Obliger or Questioner?

Right now I'm reading Gretchen Rubin's Better than Before, a book about using habits to improve one's life.  Roan suggested it, and I was intrigued because I am fascinated by habits.  (I should have been tipped off to my tendency when I immediately started to question the validity of the framework.) 

I took Rubin's online quiz to see which of the four tendencies matches me (questioner, obliger, upholder, or rebel).  I got "obliger"--someone who struggles to meet inner and external expectations, and who needs external accountability.  I took it again and got the same thing.  But I wasn't so sure. It's true that I happily help others and sometimes struggle to maintain certain habits, but as I thought about it, I realized that there are many habits I keep without a problem.  To try to get more clarification, I listened to Rubin's podcasts on questioners and obligers to get more details on each tendency, and--I'm a questioner!

 Although I do have some obliger traits, especially superficially (I struggle to get to bed early, and I struggle to maintain a really consistent, set schedule for my day or my cleaning routine, etc.), I realized that I'm brutally consistent with the things that I value. In order for me to meet an expectation, it must be an inner expectation.  If something doesn't make sense to me, I reject it. 


*I have no trouble keeping certain habits...even if no one knows I keep them. (This was one thing that made me really question whether I'm an obliger or not.) I keep my kitchen clean, make my bed every day, keep closets organized (even when I am the only person who really ever sees them!!), etc.  Another thing I remembered was that when I was a freshman in college, my sister was diagnosed as pre-diabetic.  She had to give up all sugar. So even though I was four hours away, and at college, and no one would ever know what I ate, I gave up all sugar as well.  (Tough for me because I'm a sweets person!) I never cheated.  It wasn't hard because I'd decided that being in solidarity with my sister, even at a distance, was more important than eating sour patch kids.  

*If I don't think something is worthwhile, I don't do it.  Finn still hasn't memorized his multiplication tables, although on his standardized tests he scores in middle school on "math concepts" (he was in third grade when he scored that high!).  He hates memorizing math facts.  Although it would make his computation faster, I don't see the point in forcing the issue because what really matters to me is his conceptual understanding. If he can figure it out, that matters more to me than instant recall.  If he enjoyed memorizing math facts, we'd do it!

*I resist expectations that don't seem to meet an end goal that I value.  But if an expectation meets an end goal that is valuable to me, I have no trouble meeting it. 

*Homeschooling.  I am completely incapable of following a set curriculum (as I learned last year, --definitely not an Upholder) because I question the curriculum.  (Why are they teaching this at this age? Why do they take this approach to spelling? I'm sorry, but this method of teaching grammar is  nonsensical!!  Etc.)  Instead, I feel best when I settle on a solid educational philosophy and make choices based on that.  

*I quit my full-time job as an associate at a large firm after less than a year, which was almost scandalous in the workaholic atmosphere of a law firm (and I didn't have a job lined up, either--I gave two weeks notice without any idea what I would do next...I was married and had no law school debt, so that helped a lot).  The external expectation is that an associate begins work, works many hours a week, and eventually makes partner.  I soon discovered that I found that slavishly plugging billable hours just to meet a billable hour quota did not square with the life I had envisioned myself leading. There was the added issue of an internal restructuring which had split me between the really good work (meaty, intellectually stimulating, heavy on analysis and writing--the work I was clearly meant to do, as the partner who headed that department knew when he recruited me to be his associate after only working with me on one discrete project the summer before my third year of law school) and workers' compensation (statutory, boring, rote, mind-numbing).  So I handed in my resignation. (Interestingly, they then countered with an offer for part-time work, and I countered with an offer for contract work, and we had a deal.  I worked from home as an independent contractor for two more years until Finn was born.)  In other words: the external obligation was enormous, but because it didn't match my internal values, I had no problem leaving it behind.  

*I'm NOT a procrastinator.  In college and law school I "procrastinated" in that I wouldn't get things done weeks in advance, but I also never worked to the very last-minute deadline, either. I liked to get things done a day or two ahead, if possible. And in my own personal life, I hate procrastination. (My husband is  a major procrastinator so we balance each other out!)  For instance, for our homeschool co-op family gathering this weekend I have to take five scripts with highlighted parts, and several props.  I've already printed out the scripts and highlighted them, and will gather the props today.  No one knows whether I'm doing this now or Saturday afternoon right before the event.  That doesn't matter; I like my life when I don't procrastinate, so I don't procrastinate!  (I have already begun wrapping Christmas gifts and my Christmas cards are addressed and stamped....it's not even December 1st. See?)

*I deliberate over all my decisions.  I deliberate over purchases, choices, etc.  I like to research. And once I make the decision I almost never look back or second guess myself.  

*I struggle with habits that seem arbitrary. When I realized this was not a negative thing, that it's just my questioner tendency, it was a watershed moment.  For instance, I love a clean house, but I refuse to follow a cleaning schedule.  I like to create them, and figure out what would work best, but I struggle to implement a cleaning schedule because it does seem arbitrary to me.  I want my work to make sense.  Earlier this fall I created a rotating chores system and it makes lots of sense to me--and I skip a chore if it clearly doesn't need to be done. (Maybe I'll post about that sometime.) I think one thing I have been thinking is that I'm an obliger because I do struggle with things like a "cleaning routine" or a very specific, set exercise schedule.  But the reason is--I don't actually see the value or benefit of those things.  Instead I like to clean what I know needs to be cleaned, and to exercise based on how I feel (if I don't feel like jogging but really want to do Pilates, I do Pilates).  It's not that I struggle with habits; in fact, I am good at keeping habits.  It's just that many habits that are valued in our society are habits that I find arbitrary.

*I eat the same thing for breakfast each day, and rotate between two lunches.  No one knows what I'm eating (other than my children). But because I have found meals that I like and consider very healthy, I have no problem with the habit of eating the same things over and over again.  

*I'm a devoted list-maker and I work through my to-do list daily, but I have NO problem chucking something off the list or switching it to another day if it doesn't feel like it fits in with my goals for the day or the mood of the day. I know I will get it done eventually.  But I also do make the list and pay attention to the list.  

*Efficiency matters to me.  I refuse to own a fridge that has two doors, for instance.  Because I don't want to spend my life opening one door only to find that I need to open the other door.  Hairsplitting?  My husband sometimes thinks so.  But why would I build inefficiency into my life?  Another point is that for many, many years I have planned my errands based on right-hand turns. You spend less time sitting at stop lights and battling traffic if you're basically making right turns.  I have had people tell me that I'm crazy for this, but I do it because it makes perfect sense, and it's efficient. (Yes, I will make a left-hand turn if it's necessary!  I just prefer to avoid them.) So I create my own habits based on the efficiency that I value. 

I questioned Rubin's framework, but now I'm quite intrigued with it.  And looking forward to reading more in the book, especially now that I've finally nailed down my tendency and can "own it," so to speak!

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