The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin (2017)

The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too)

Four Tendencies G Rubin

As frequent readers of this blog are well-aware, I am an enormous fan of Gretchen Rubin’s work — not only her books, but her blog and podcast as well. In fact, you can follow the tag “Gretchen Rubin,” on this website for reviews of several of her books.

The Four Tendencies serves as a follow-up to Rubin’s 2015 Better Than Before, where she delves further into her signature personality framework to offer advice to readers on how to create accountability structures that best help you shape your habits to meet your goals…what ever those goals may be. (You can read a review of Better Than Before here: http://wp.me/p6N6mT-1Ds )

At the heart of the book is the Four Tendencies framework a tool that tries to identify “how a person’s responds to outer and inner expectations.” Based on those responses, Rubin groups us into one of four categories (from page 6):

  • Upholder — Responds readily to outer expectations and inner expectations
  • Questioners — questions all expectations; they meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified, so in effect they respond only to inner expectations
  • Obligers — respond readily to outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations
  • Rebels –resist all expectations, outer and inner alike

You can take the quiz here https://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/3706759/Gretchen-Rubin-s-Quiz-The-Four-Tendencies

Dividing the book into four distinct sections, Rubin tries to distill the best practices, unique tips, advice, and strategies that allow you to exploit your natural inclinations to make setting goals and keeping habits as easy as possible. Not easy, but easier. Rubin argues that fighting against our core personality traits make reaching goals an uphill battle, but making subtle adjustments that take our tendencies into account can smooth the way by working with our strengths rather than against them.

In addition to advice aimed directly at readers — great advice, I might add, which is concrete and immediately applicable — there is a wealth of information about how we can work with and best encourage those of other tendencies. There are scores of examples about how one might support a spouse, child, co-worker, client or patient of another tendency. After all, an argument that most motivates an Upholder will send a Rebel running in the other direction.

As an Upholder, it is easy for me to stick to routines; meet commitments to myself and others; and to say “no” to things I do not want to do or I think are unnecessary. These are all traits that are hugely beneficial to me…but can seem rigid to others. Furthermore, because it is easy to create and stick to habits, I am often unsympathetic to people who struggle to do things for themselves. Reading Rubin’s work has made a huge difference in the way that I view the decisions of others and infinitely more accepting of the fact that other people need more support to meet their goals than Upholders like me.

As the wife and mother of two Obligers (so far…my younger sons are still too little for me to guess their Tendency), I used to resist and (honestly) resent how much they needed me to prod them to act and monitor them as they tried to form new habits. After discovering Rubin’s framework, I realized that by taking a few extra moments to remind them of workouts or appointments can make it enormously easier for them to complete them…if they think I am watching and keeping track of them, they can see things through with less effort. (On a side note, a Questioner friend who I used to butt heads will all the time about her constant changing of plans — would this restaurant be better? should we do x instead of y? why not meet later? — and her endless questioning of my decisions. I now get along with her much better now that I know this is just a quirk of her personality; not a comment on how little she trusts my judgement.)

The Four Tendencies is self-help at its best: non-judgemental, direct, and easy to incorporate ideas for “knowing yourself better” so that you can live your best life. And so that you can encourage your friends and family life their best lives, as well.

 

 

 

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A Place of My Own by Michael Pollan (1997)

a place own cover pollan

“What is a place after all but a bit of space that people have invested with meaning?” (38)

In this book, the outstanding non-fiction writer and journalist Michael Pollan has created a completely unique piece of work: one that is part memoir, part how-to, and part complex cultural commentary about the abstraction that we call “place.” The novel chronicles the author’s efforts to design and build — by himself — a cottage in which he can conduct his work as a writer. Along the way, Pollan educates himself — and all of us — on the various disciplines that inform our ideas about place, home, and ownership; including discussions of history, geology, geography, science, architecture, sociology, literature, and carpentry…to name just a few. The resulting book is a rich, in-depth discussion about our place in the world and the places in the world that we attempt to make our own.

At the start of the book, the author lays out his reasons for wanting a work space that is wholly separate from his living space. “A room of one’s own,” he argues, allows for privacy, solitude, and freedom from interruption — all elements that he deems essential for daydreaming, daydreaming being the heart of all creative work. By carving a space from himself away from his home, rather than in it, he seeks to gain an entirely different perspective on the place he calls home. Pollan’s decides to build the house on his own (with one helper) in order to meet a need he has to build something that will exist in the physical world, not just the intellectual one. He longs to do “work that involves very little intellect, but all the senses. It reminded me just how much reality slips through the net of our words, and that time spent working directly with the flesh of the world is the best antidote to abstraction.” (25)

The idea of abstractions versus concrete realities runs throughout the book and offers readers an examination of the physical act of building a place, as well as a dissection of its emotional and cultural importance of trying to lay claim to a piece of the earth. Pollan discusses building codes as well as daydreams; the realities of weather, soil, and climate versus the desire to build a place that suits our whims regardless of its practicality; or even the abstraction of “lumber” that allows him to separate himself from the discomfort of cutting down living trees to meet his needs. The greatest contradiction, though, comes from Pollan’s ruminations about whether any piece of land can ever really be considered ours, or whether it is on loan from nature, and who may reassert her claim at any time.

When we lay claim to an area, and call it “ours” we suddenly infuse that place with a tremendous amount of meaning. Far beyond just ground, air, light, and plants; our “place” comes to represent our goals, dreams, ideals, and our sense of ownership of a piece of the earth. While it may be just a cottage on one level, it is also a place of refuge, safety, comfort, wealth, and a place that tells the world the work you conduct there is completely your own.

“Houses only comes into their own in bad weather, when the poetry of shelter reaches its fullest expression…’I will be an inhabitant of the world, in spite of the world.'” (18)

Quiet by Susan Cain (2012)

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

quiet cover

In this fantastic and immensely informative book, Susan Cain introduces readers to the historical, social, psychological, and scientific aspects of the introvert-extrovert dichotomy and offers in-depth explanation about why the distinction is important for everyone to understand. Cain uses a wide breadth of research-based examples to demonstrate that introverts are not a personality subgroup that is less than or lacking in comparison to extroverts; but rather they are a group of people who have a unique and equally important set of skills and strengths that they offer the world. Introverts should be included, not forced to convert or conform, in decisions about how to design our classrooms, workplaces, and relationships.

Cain argues that beginning at the start of the 20th century, the long-valued character strengths of commitment, reliability, determination, and long-term goal setting began to give way to a “new” model of the ideal American: loud, outgoing, talkative, aggressive, comfortable with strangers or crowds, and quick to make choices. In other words: an extrovert. These skills allowed Americans living during the enormous changes of the Industrial revolution — including the rise of corporations, mass immigration to cities, decrease in work in single pursuits (farming, shop-keeping) in favor of working for large businesses — and workers who exemplified these new ideals were better suited to succeed in 20th century versions of education, business, and social life.

The worship of extroversion, and the demonization of introversion, soon had transformed education, advertising, religion, and psychology and even pediatrics. Quiet, reflective, people (especially children) who took time to make decisions, preferred to single-task, and needed quiet time away from others were seen as lacking and needed to be forced to change. As the century unfolded, American culture began to more and more reward extroverts and demand that introvert learn to “fake” skills of extroversion or accept lesser social and professional success. As of result, more than one hundred years later, the skills associated with extroversion have become the skills that represent “universal success.” It is has become widely accepted that louder, more outgoing, more assertive people are the ideal workers and partners.

Cain’s book seeks to transform that idea. She offers evidence that introverts, with their more subtle skills — long-range planning, aversion to risk, contemplative problem solving, and comfort with delayed gratification — can, if allowed to flourish, transform businesses, classrooms, research labs, and even personal relationships. Offering examples of well-known but successful introverts — Rosa Parks, Bill Gates, Albert Einstein — and presenting fascinating new research from social science, psychiatry, and neurobiology; Cain presents an alternative way of viewing the traits of introversion; she offers examples of ways that introverts are a valuable resource in all areas of life; and she even offers concrete ways that introverts can set up their environment for success…and ways that the world can better accommodate introverts.

You can find Susan Cain’s wildly popular TED talk about her research into Introverts here: https://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts

You can hear the author interviewed on the March 8, 2017 episode of Happier here: http://gretchenrubin.com/happiness_project/2017/03/podcast-107-happier-susan-cain/

 

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking (2017)

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living

Hygge Manifest2

“Hygge has been called everything from ‘the art of creating intimacy,’ ‘coziness of the soul,’ ‘the absence of annoyance,’ ‘taking pleasure from the presence of soothing things’ or ‘cozy togetherness.'” Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allowed to let our guard down.” vi

This book, and the Danish lifestyle it describes, have become very popular in America lately. Hygge is the idea that creating a simple, cozy, warm home and opening it up to friends for simple celebrations is the secret to Danish happiness. Hygge is theory of living that encourages you to create a celebratory atmosphere all the time with a few simple “ingredients” — candles, low lighting, perhaps a fire, cozy clothes, delicious food, simple and inexpensive entertainment, and the company of people who make you happy.  And then, once all those things are in place, you take a moment to be thankful for all you have and enjoy your life, just as it is.

Wiking offers up few hard and fast rules for what it takes to create a truly Hygge environment. He does point to some ideas for people to try as they try to try out a Hygge lifestyle: candles and a fire for sure, good food jointly prepared, indulgent pleasures ready to be served up, cozy clothes, simple entertainment (think books, music, or games), and blankets, and no electronics allowed. Most important of all…loved ones! Friends and family, he points out, are the ultimate secret to happiness and offering them a cozy, relaxed placed to hang out without expectations or pretension is ideal for strengthening bonds and building happy memories.

Hygge, is not simply about about creating an atmosphere of cozy relaxation, but also about celebrating not doing, but rather being and enjoying. Americans feel an overwhelming compulsion to be busy every single moment of their — and their children’s — lives. Errands, sports, play-dates, outings, day trips…hardly anyone I know sees the value in spending time at home doing nothing; boredom is unheard of. In fact, I know very few children outside of my own, who can spend an entire rainy day on the couch, reading, napping, or doing art projects. We all are responsible for our own entertainment, and we all agree to do our own quiet thing, but all together. Usually, a decadent meal is simmering or roasting away in the kitchen; candles are always burning; and music is sometimes playing in the background.

A major component of Hygge is embracing, not resisting, the cold and wet weather. There seems to be a innate understanding among Northern Europeans that — while winter has its draw backs — it also presents a unique opportunity to create an indoor environment is the antidote to the outdoors: warm, cozy, dry, and lit by candles and a fire. Winter is a time for reading, napping, catching up with creative projects, and spending time with your loved ones. A winter celebrated and embraced, Hygge-style, offers a chance for everyone to restore and replenish themselves so that come summer, we are refreshed and ready to conquer the season.

I am proud to say that — before it was trendy — my husband and I embraced the Hygge ideals. We have always been unapologetic about relaxing at home; we have always tried to encourage our friends to come over at the last minute, just as they are (this is harder than you might think!); and celebrating the winter months as a time to hunker down and enjoy each other…because we know come summer, we will be busy enjoying sunshine, swimming, vacations, beaches, and relaxing by the pool.  Fall and winter are the months we use to recharge our batteries for the busy months ahead.

A fun book that brings some European ideas to an American audience…in my opinion, we could all use a bit of Hygge.