This is fascinating. All my soul searching over the past two years and I’ve stumbled upon something that makes sense. I finally feel like I’ve gained some clarity into why I’ve done what I done did in the past… It was all part of a textbook Obliger-rebellion! I’ll explain what this means a little later. First, I’ll introduce you to the lady who has helped me find answers: her name is Gretchen Rubin.
‘Obliger’ is a reference to one of four personality tendencies that Gretchen Rubin has identified every person fits under. She wrote a book about it, The Four Tendencies (which I must read). Here is an overview, taken directly from Gretchen’s website, of her “four tendencies framework”:
[Gretchen] sorts everyone into four categories, which describe how people tend to respond to expectations: outer expectations (a deadline, a “request” from a sweetheart) and inner expectations (write a novel in your free time, keep a New Year’s resolution).
In a nutshell:
- Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations
- Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense
- Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike
- Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves
More information is available on her website here.
There is also a test you can take to help you determine which type you are (it’s free and takes less than 10 minutes to complete).
I took the test: I’m an Obliger. Initially, before taking the test, I thought I might be a Rebel given the decisions I made in my life two years ago – namely, quitting my job and quitting my relationship. Given my decision to hit the detonate button on the life I’d built, I thought perhaps I had some Rebel tendencies… but then I read this:
“If you think you’re an Obliger/Rebel: There’s a very strong affinity between Rebels and Obligers. It’s very common for Obligers to experience “Obliger-rebellion,” a striking pattern in which every once in a while, they abruptly refuse to meet an expectation. As one Obliger explained, “Sometimes I ‘snap’ because I get tired of people making assumptions that I’ll always do things as expected. It’s sort of a rebellious way of asserting myself.” Another added, “I work very hard to keep my commitments to other people, but I’ll be darned if I can keep a promise to myself . . . Though every once in a while I will absolutely refuse to please.”
Obligers may also rebel in symbolic ways, with their hair, clothes, car, and the like. For instance, Andre Agassi is an Obliger, and in his memoir Open, he describes ways in which he would Obliger-rebel (though he doesn’t use that term, of course).”
Ahh yep. Hammer. Nail. On the head. That also explains why I recommend Andre Agassi’s book to anyone who will listen (I vibe with his struggle!)… I quit everything not because I’m a Rebel, but because I’m an Obliger. I felt like my needs were being neglected in my job and in my relationship. I got sick of meeting everyone else’s expectations at the expense of my own and I went full-Chernobyl. A total meltdown. The pot boiled over so to speak, and a textbook Obliger-rebellion ensued: I quit my job, I quit my relationship, I quit my external obligations out of rebellion!
Being an Obliger makes sense to me as I’ve always put others before myself, and I struggle mightily to meet inner expectations (whether it be regularly exercising, reading, or setting aside time to write).
This knowledge can’t help me to right the wrongs of my past decisions. The decisions I’ve made are the decisions I’ve made! They’re history. They’re mine to own. And if I hadn’t made them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Although my decisions have caused me to suffer quite immensely, I believe there is a silver lining. I now feel like I understand the reasons why I made the decisions I made, and it’s given me some pretty potent ammunition for dealing with my future.
So, what does this mean from a practical perspective? Well, it’s quite simple really. As I’m an Obliger, I need to find ways to set up systems of external accountability to help me to achieve the things I want to achieve in my life.
- If I want to write, then I need to join a writing class.
- If I want to go to the gym, I need to find a gym-buddy to go with, or hire a personal trainer.
- If I want to earn money, I need to get a job. I believe I have entrepreneurial talent, however without external accountability I simply won’t have the perseverance required to succeed.
- If I want to meditate, I need to join a meditation group, or find a friend to meditate with, or take up yoga.
- If I want to date more… err, I’m not exactly sure how to go about this one yet…
If I don’t set up these systems, I simply won’t do these things. And that means I won’t achieve the things I want to achieve in my life. That knowledge alone is so very powerful.
The next challenge for me is obvious: figuring out how I translate this knowledge into tangible action (i.e. job applications, joining a writing class etc).
Obligers are, unsurprisingly to me, the biggest group within the framework. Here’s a video of Gretchen explaining Obligers.
Based on the above, which type do you think you are? I challenge you to take the test to help you find out!