Gretchen Rubin

Kickstands and Nightstands: The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin

I love self-help books, anything to try to be more productive or happier.

I’ve  read The Happiness Project and other books by lawyer-turned-writer Gretchen Rubin and found some good takeaways.  At least I’m making my bed every day.

Rubin was in Dallas-Fort Worth last week to promote her newest book, The Four Tendencies. I was fortunate enough to meet her at a library book signing.

I became a Gretchen Rubin follower by first listening to the weekly podcasts she does with her sister,  a TV writer. The 35-minute podcasts are just enough to get me through Wednesday’s treadmill session. It’s my own version of “pairing” an unpleasant activity with something pleasant.” That’s a strategy Rubin suggests to build good habits.

Rubin has carved out a niche in the self-help genre by studying the relationship between habit and “tendencies,” or how we respond to expectations. Rubin describes them this way:

Upholder: Meets both outer and inner expectations  “Discipline is my freedom.”

Obliger: Meets outer expectations but resists inner expectations. “You can count on me, and I’m counting on you to count on me.”

Questioner: Resists outer expectations and meets inner expectations. “I’ll comply if you convince me why.”

Rebel: Resists both outer and inner expectations. “You can’t make me, and neither can I.”

A tendency is a narrow part of the complicated personality, but Rubin maintains exploring our tendencies helps us in adopting better habits. If you want to know your own tendency you can take her quiz here.

I am an Obliger, the most common tendency. Rubin is the rarer Upholder,  a bit over the top sometimes. Not only does she uphold the good habit of making her bed every day, she makes it up in hotel rooms — even on the day of checkout!

But lest you think Rubin believes “Upholder” is the the most desirable tendency and “Rebel” the least, not so she says. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses.

Gretchen Rubin at North Richland Hills Library
A moment with Gretchen Rubin at North Richland Hills Library

I find personality profiles such as Myers-Briggs, StrengthFinders and DISC assessments fascinating.  Many years ago, author Florence Littauer spoke at our church on personalities based on Hippocrates’ four temperaments – Sanguine, Melancholy, Choleric and Phlegmatic. I discovered I was melancholy, and it was very helpful in understanding how I do things. Subsequently, author Gary Smalley used animals to characterize personalities –lion, otter, golden retriever or beaver.

Rubin’s The Happiness Project: Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closet, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun spent two years on the New York Times bestseller list. She’s written other volumes on human nature, including Better Than Before and Happier at Home with equally interesting (and lengthy) subtitles.

I “read at” those books before discovering the podcast, which I find more entertaining, mainly because of the repartee with her sister, Liz Craft. The podcast tips can be easier to digest. One I plan to try soon  is a Power Hour, a time set aside each week for those nagging tasks–changing the batteries so my garage remote works, sewing a button on, etc. One of Rubin’s so-called Secrets of Adulthood is nothing is more exhausting than the task that’s never started.

Rubin uses a lot of catchy names  to help us understand ourselves and others. I have discovered I am an “underbuyer,” one who avoids making a purchase until the laundry detergent and gasoline tank are down to their last tablespoons. I think my husband is an “overbuyer” and the reason why we have four jars of bay leaves in the pantry.

On the Wednesday podcasts. there’s a lead topic with a “Try This at Home” takeaway. Last week, the lead  was “Write a ‘Ta-Da’ List” to recognize accomplishments. Another week, it was “September, the Other January.” On another episode, it was the less conventional “Do 10 Jumping Jacks” to boost energy.

I actually tried the latter at home, which I had not done since 1980s aerobics class. I did feel a little pepped up afterwards.

The podcasts end with  “Demerits and Gold Stars” where Rubin and her sister share their own good or bad habits of the week.

As far as making your bed every day.  Rubin says it’s her most-applied resolution.  Completing a task quickly can spark continued productivity throughout the day.

So, go make your bed, and have a great day!