I’m a huge fan of Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Four Tendencies. If you haven’t read it, you should.
The premise of the book is that there are four main types of people when it comes to how we respond to expectations. I won’t go into detail about those four types, because you should buy the book and get the complete experience.
This post is about my experience as an obliger, and how I’ve tricked myself to be productive for internal expectations despite this.
Basically, an obliger is someone who meet external expectations but doesn’t respect internal expectations in the same way. This could be you if you’re a whizz at completing your workload as an employee, but struggle to keep any commitments you make to yourself – such as finding time to write your novel, train for a 5k, etc.
This is me.
I’m great at following a to do list. If I’m working on a case for a client, I’ll put in whatever work is needed to make sure the job gets done, to a high standard, by the deadline.
But I spent years failing to respect commitments that I made to myself – such as working on my first novel.
Now, in 2018 I wrote and published 11 novels so clearly something changed, and the truth is, I started tricking myself.
I changed things so that the expectations I placed on myself appeared external.
My favourite way to do this is to put up my books for pre-order. Often, I have no idea what the book will even be about when I set it up for pre-order, but the pre-order gives me a deadline. There’s a big risk involved in this, because if you miss a pre-order deadline, Amazon punishes you by removing your pre-order privileges for a whole year. Bad author, go away and think about what you’ve done.
And so the pre-order turns an internal expectation (me deciding I want to write another book) into an external expectation (a pre-order deadline existing).
If you’re motivated by money, it may work for you to create a financial penalty if you fail to keep a commitment to yourself. If you hate Donald Trump, you could give a friend an eye-watering amount of your money (it can’t just be your daily coffee spend) on the condition that if you don’t keep your expectation of yourself, they will donate that sum to support whatever cause he’s currently most passionate about. This only works if your friend is evil enough to go through with it, and if you’re motivated by loss of money. This method does not work for me at all.
Other ways of making your internal expectation appear to be external is to make a public declaration of what you will do (a Facebook post, a text message in the family chat, etc), or to enrol an accountability partner.
This is why people often start working out when they pay a personal trainer. It’s partly the motivation not to waste money, but it’s also knowing that another person expects them to show up at a certain time and place – and sweat.
If you’re an obliger, have a think about how you can trick yourself into treating your internal expectations the same as you do external ones.