That’s the key to integrity. To maintaining strong relationships. To building momentum. To achieving your dreams. Figure out what you want to do. Name it. Commit yourself to doing it. And it’s done.
If only it were that easy…
If we all could, always, do what we say we're going to do, we’d have perfect relationships, perfect health, amazing homes, and unimaginable wealth. Because we did them, the things we said we were going to do!
Do what you say you’re going to do is often harder than we think it will be. For a host of reasons: unforeseen challenge, change of heart, new and better opportunity.
Even without an external obstacle or better option, sometimes it still is hard to do what we say we’re going to do, because of our nature. Because of how we respond to expectations—external and internal. Because of how and to whom we've declared the thing we’re going to do.
Gretchen Rubin wrote an incredible book about habit formation that I reference in my coaching work, often. Through her research, she has uncovered four tendencies associated with how we respond to expectations:
“Upholders respond readily to both outer expectations and inner expeditions.
Questioners question all expectations, and will meet an expectation only if they believe it is justified.
Obligers respond readily to outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations…
Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike.” -Better Than Before, page 39
Depending on your tendency, the mere act of saying what you are going to do could support or even sabotage your ability to follow through—extreme rebels, I’m looking at you.
Let me be clear: Understanding your tendency does not give you carte blanche to become a flake. If you want to maintain your relationships and accomplish anything of note in this life, you are going to have to figure out how to follow through on your commitments.
And that’s where knowing your tendency and working with it can help.
Upholders are the lucky ones. If you say you are going to do something, either for others or for yourself, you are compelled to do it. We never have to worry that an Upholder will miss a deadline, change their plans, or otherwise leave us in a lurch. Upholders must take care, however, not to burn themselves out with overcommitment. And also must have empathy for the rest of us. Because we don’t all have it so easy…
Questioners will follow through once they have internalized the objective and believe that it is useful for them. Questioners must take the time to decide before making a commitment. Is this worth it? Hastily made agreements will be a struggle for Questioners to complete if they are not fully on board with the objective.
Obligers require external accountability for their commitments. They are much more likely to follow-though on an agreement made with someone else than on an agreement made with themselves. Obligers must be careful not to let other people’s agendas dictate their lives. And also must find a way to externalize their internal wants to be sure they have the motivation to achieve them.
Rebels struggle under the weight of both internal and external expectations. While that might seem like a recipe for flakiness or untrustworthiness, it doesn’t have to be! Rebels simply require space and time. They need the freedom to decide in the moment. They will do what they say they are going to do, if they say it right before they do it. Expecting a rebel to decide and commit any earlier than that could lead to disappointment.
That’s really the key to all of this. Expectation.
How do we handle internal and external expectations for ourselves? And how do we impose our expectations onto others?
We all want to be in relationship with, to employ, and to be the kind of person who does what she says she is going to do. Understanding our tendencies can help us delay commitment or structure accountability so that we are working with our nature instead of against it.
And understanding each others’ tendencies can help us ease up on our expectations so that others have the freedom to do the same.
What do you think? What is your tendency? And how does understanding it help you do what you say you are going to do?
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