I don’t exactly remember when I formed the thought “I am lazy” as part of my mental repertoire. It seems like it’s just always been included in my thought loop. Up until last week, I told myself that lovely phrase almost everyday. Sometimes for greater impact, I even said it out loud AND used my name. “Brenda, you are just lazy.”
If I got brave enough to say it in front of someone else, they typically had a strong denial reaction about my assertion. “What?!?!?” My sister-in-law Anne just repeated the phrase back to me in shock. “You think you’re lazy?!?!?!” Yep. I do. AND I have facts to prove it. But before I get too far, let me tell you about a few things I’ve accomplished so far in my life. THIS IS NOT BRAGGING! This is not even #humblebragging. It’s just how I look to others on paper (or on your computer screen). It’s what you, Other People, see. It’s not what I see at all.
How I look on paper…
I graduated with my first college degree in 1985, became a Certified Public Accountant when I was 23 and worked for an international accounting firm for 5 years. I completed my Masters and PhD in my early 30s and taught college for over 10 years. I wrote a musical, worked as a music director for a youth theater for 10 years, totally oversaw the renovation of the second floor of a building to create a new Sunday School program, co-owned a recording studio, recorded 3 albums, became a photographer, completed a 9-month intensive life coach program and made a feature length documentary film. These are the highlights of my professional career and in the middle of all that I had a baby, several dogs (not all at once, lol), became a life time member of Weight Watchers, renovated two homes, built a home from the ground up and was (and still am) the go to person for my Mom the entire time since my Dad passed away when I was 19.
YET, I have berated myself for being lazy most days of my adult life. Why? Because, I can’t seem to make myself do things just for me. For example, why can’t I stick to an exercise schedule? Why when I love writing this blog, do I not write faithfully every week.? Why do I struggle with wanting to lose the same few pounds? Why do I immediately drop things I have scheduled on My To Do List whenever I’m asked to help someone else with theirs? Talk about frustrating!
And it doesn’t help when I observe others in my world that seem to have incredible self discipline. When a friend decided to quit putting artificial sweeteners in his morning coffee, he just stopped one day. How did he go from drinking a sweetened version of his coffee for over 40 years to one without any sweetness at all in one day? How does my daughter never miss posting to her blog based on her predetermined schedule? AND more importantly, how are they able to set boundaries to protect their time but also balance helping others too? When I ask them and other friends who have equally annoying habits like keeping a whole package of Oreos in their cabinet and only eating a couple a day, their replies offer me no real truths! “I just do it.” “I think about how good I feel to mark it off my list.” “I wrote it on my calendar, so I make time to write it.” I want to scream, “I’VE TRIED ALL OF THAT!” and it hasn’t worked for me. Ever. So I have been left with no other choice but to conclude that I am lazy.
Enter Gretchen Rubin and her book The Four Tendencies. I’m not ashamed to admit that I love self-help books. I read them all the time but somehow missed this one and her website until last week.
According to Gretchen, the four tendencies is a framework that “in a nutshell, distinguishes 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).” She goes on to write —
Your response to expectations may sound slightly obscure, but it turns out to be very, very important.
- Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations
- Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense–essentially, they make all expectations into inner expectations
- Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves
- Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike
Gretchen further explains the tendencies with the above illustration and addresses the quesition of can I be a mix of two of them. “When I talk about the Tendencies, people often say, “I’m a mix.” It’s true that the Tendencies do overlap, so each Tendency shares aspects with other Tendencies — but it’s not really possible to be a mix. To be an Upholder is not to be an Obliger. To be a Questioner is not to be a Rebel. While Upholders and Obligers both respond readily to outer expectations, it’s how they respond to inner expectations that distinguishes them. Similarly, Questioners and Rebels both resist outer expectations; it’s how they respond to inner expectations that distinguishes them.”
I found all this information to be fascinating. And please don’t think I’m being overly dramatic, but it was like an explosion in my brain! This explained so much! And if you haven’t figured it out yet, I am a classic Obliger. I overlap with Upholder in some respects and I do become a Rebel when I enter a phase of Obliger-rebellion. Gretchen describes explains that “Obliger-rebellion occurs when Obligers meet, meet, meet, meet expectations, and then suddenly — they snap. They say, “This, I will not do!” and they refuse to meet an expectation. This refusal can be small and symbolic (refusing to answer someone’s emails or being deliberately late for work), or it can be huge and fateful (ending a twenty-year friendship, quitting a job, getting a divorce).”
BUT overall, I’m a regular Obliger day in and day out. I need external accountability. I thrive on external accountability. It’s how I finished a doctoral degree, became a lifetime member of Weight Watchers and made a movie!
Armed with this knowledge, I understand that I need to set up external accountability to accomplish things on My List. If I want to lose a few pounds, I need to go to a meeting. If I want to exercise regularly, I need to find a friend or just look into the eyes of Skeeter and Maya, my Upholder dogs who expect a daily walk. If I want to faithfully write a blog post each week, I need to imagine that I’m writing the post for an individual, either real or imaginary, that I want to connect with and possibly help navigate this thing we all call life.
I haven’t told myself that I am lazy even one time since I took Gretchen’s little quiz. Instead, I have been kind to myself when I let something on My List slip to help a friend. “It’s okay. You’re not lazy. You’re just learning how to work with being an Obliger.”
You’re not lazy. It’s such a simple phrase that has brightened every single day for me since I read her book. It brings tears to my eyes when I repeat it. If you discover that you too are an Obliger, let me be the first one to tell you. You’re not lazy. And you never were.
One more thing before you go — This one is for you Victoria and all my fellow Obligers.
Did you like this story? If you did, I have a feeling you’d like this one too. It’s all about the The Elusive Search for Belonging. Go here to read my most popular blog post. Curious about the post that started it all? You can find it here. Want to read them all? Start at the top right here and work your way down.
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