Tag Archives: Books

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!


Kickstands and Nightstands: Church of the Small Things

I don’t know what first led me to Melanie Shankle’s writing. She blogs at thebigmamablog.com on things such as raising her daughter. I’m an empty nester. Been There Done That.

Her blog features “Fashion Friday” every week, and I have never, ever been there or done that. I’m just not that into fashion. My daughters plopped me in front of the TV for multiple episodes of What Not to Wear, but I was not converted.

Sooooo why do I keep reading thebigmamablog.com, listening to the BigBoo podcast with fellow writer Sophie Hudson and buying Melanie’s books.

I think it’s Melanie’s ability to find the humor in the mundane some days and crazyiness in others and package that in a way that teaches a spiritual truth. She’s sort of an Erma Bombeck in the inspirational genre. Her latest book, In Church of the Small Things, she shares those moments of life in a way that makes you wish she was at your kitchen counter, sharing chips and queso with you.

She’s written books on marriage (The Antelope in the Living Room), child raising (Sparkly Green Earrings) and friendship (Nobody’s Cuter Than You). The latest is Church of the Small Things. I’m thrilled to be on the book launch team. That meant I got an advance copy of her book which releases Oct. 3. But this review is my own. In fact, I wouldn’t agree to be on the launch team if I wasn’t fairly sure I would enjoy the book.

The good news for you is there are some pretty neat incentives to pre-order the book before Oct. 3, including access to the first three chapters now, Church of the Small Things video study session one, family recipes, discounts on Melanie’s favorite things and more. Click on the image to pre-order and learn more about the freebies.

Church of the Small Things
Church of the Small Things

One connection I have with Melanie is that she’s an introvert. In a chapter called “The Glamorous Life of a Writer” she talks about driving to meet some friends for lunch and wishing she would get sick or plans would get cancelled and she could back out. That totally resonated with me, and I so appreciate her honesty.

In the end, she usually goes as I do too, and enjoys the whole experience. But I have to repeatedly battle with the urge to be a recluse and stay in my comfort zone.

In the 19 chapters in Church of the Small Things, Melanie humorously shares the “small things” that have shaped her life – owning dogs, battling exercising, overcoming bad bangs. Many of the chapters end with a combination of silly and serious “Things I Wish I Had Known” at various stages of her life.

Time has a way of collecting those small things and magnifying them into the big things. Each chapter includes some honest snapshots of her inner heart. In a chapter titled, “How Walmart and a Frito Pie Made All of the Difference,” Melanie recounts the days spent at her grandparents lake house in a way that made me want to sit down and write down everything I could remember about my own grandparents house.

And, then in the last chapter when she is sharing her family’s journey in starting a new church, she talks straight from the heart about her initial resistance.

“I am not a church plant kind of person. I am not organized. I am not overly spiritual,” she writes.

All of her inadequacies were racing together in her mind with the companion questions of why me, why not me and why is this so hard?

“At that moment, I felt God speak to my heart,” she writes, “saying ‘You need to quit asking ‘Why?’ and start asking me ‘Where?’ “

Where would you have me go?

Where would you have me serve?

Where are you leading me?

Getting to the where question is a game changer in that it takes the focus off of me and my failures and puts them on God, who has plans and a purpose for us. We just need to take the next step.

That’s where the “where” comes in.

So if you’re like me and keep waiting for big things to happen, this book makes you more aware of how everyday things can fit into God’s big picture.

“If you take care of the small things, the big things take care of themselves,” –Emily Dickinson.

“Enjoy the little things in life, because one day you will look back, and realize they were the big things,” –Kurt Vonnegut

“Is my ordinary life actually significant? is it OK to be fulfilled by the simple acts of raising kids, working in an office and cooking chicken for dinner?”–Melanie Shankle