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How Gretchen Rubin's 4 Tendencies can f*ck with your resolutions and coaching

· Coaching,Resource

Have you made any new year’s resolutions? How’s it going for you so far?

Common wisdom and research provides some helpful tips in picking up healthy habits and making changes that last. One major one is some sort of accountability, to the public, a group of friends or a coach.

As a coach, one of the benefits that I provide my clients with is accountability to the action that we come up with in the coaching sessions. That is, if my clients say they will do something in between our coaching sessions, I hold them to account. The theory is that a promise that you make to yourself is easier to break than one you make to someone else.

Some coaches operate mainly in this space, spending a lot of time analysing the problem and coming up with actions that will help clients reach their goals. When I coach, I tend to spend very little time on that part, preferring rather to dig deep into people’s motivations, beliefs, thought patterns etc.

As a client of coaching myself, I notice that I break accountability frequently with my coach. I’ve been beating myself up quietly about this, feeling like I am not really dedicated to changing and growing. But that’s not really true, because I do take steps to improve myself, my wellbeing and my coaching skills. Just not some of the ones that came up in coaching.

I came across Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies recently and took the test online, out of curiosity. The framework describes how we respond to expectation: inner and outer expectation. There is a quiz online (linked) that you can take free of charge to figure out which of the Four Tendencies you are: Upholder, Obliger, Questioner and Rebel.

My tendency, it turns out, is one of Questioner. I respond readily to inner motivation but not outer motivation. I need to be deeply convinced that an action is worth my time before I commit to something. If someone, even an expert, tells me to do something, and I haven’t been provided with enough time to really dig into whether that will be beneficial for me, I likely won’t follow through.

I notice that this is reflected in my own style as a coach. As I mentioned earlier, as a Questioner I find myself shying away from keeping accountability so strictly, but rather exploring what the client’s motivation behind the action is and relying on their own intrinsic motivation to follow through. To use a term in my coaching school, Co-Active Training Institute, in my mind I am holding my clients Naturally Creative, Resourceful and Whole to take the actions that are useful for them and not “babysitting” them.

Having read Gretchen Rubin’s research on this topic, however, I realise that perhaps I am not serving my Obliger clients (those that respond to external motivation but not internal) as powerfully as I could by not providing the external motivations that they require. If I were not aware of this research, I may have fallen into the trap of making those that don’t respond to intrinsic motivation (Rebels and Obligers) ‘wrong’.

At the time of writing, I plan on getting all my existing and new clients to take the Gretchen Rubin test. It will hopefully help me serve my clients better as well as raise their self-awareness. The website also provides helpful tips on how to leverage your natural tendencies to give yourself the best chance of making the changes that you want to make in your life.

It may be particularly useful for the Rebels (responds negatively to external and internal motivation) among us who, on deciding they want to do something and committing to it, get a strong aversion to following through that commitment simply because they have made that commitment. For managers, friends, partners and colleagues of Rebels, my message to you is to not make them ‘wrong’ for being who they are, but learn the strategies to best relate with them.

P.S. You can read up on the Four Tendencies yourself on Gretchen Rubin’s site or book, but in short they are super men and women who respond well to both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Once they’ve decided to do something, they follow through. Note, they have their own dangers and blindspots!