Why It’s Harder For Some People To Successfully Form New Habits

It appears I’m on a kick about habits lately, so I hope you guys are along for the ride because today is yet another post about them!

Last Friday’s post was all about using creative progress maps to help document the formation of new habits.

In the past few months, I’ve written about my perspective on the power of consistency, how to stay accountable to yourself as you build new habits, and how to get back on the horse when you break the chain of consistency.

It’s entirely possible that by now you guys are getting tired of hearing about habits, BUT I continue to write about them because they really have changed my life.

To me, forming new habits is a way of intentionally drawing more of what I value into my daily life.

Whether it’s been intentionally making time for creating art every day, or trying to make my health and fitness a priority, my attempt at successfully integrating new habits has always been about designing a life around my authentic self.

BUT there’s always been one thing that has nagged at me when it comes to habits. Why do certain habits come more easily to me than others? Why are some easy to follow through on and others it feels like an uphill hike on a hot summer day?

For instance, I’ve successfully completely at least six 30-day lettering challenges in the past year and a half, but I’ve fallen off the wagon more than a time or two when it comes to instituting a fitness regimen.

What makes these two tasks different and why is one easier for me to stick to than the other? This is something I've always wondered.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday, I rolled out of bed and decided to go for a morning walk (something I used to do all the time in Florida but haven’t done since we moved to California.) I always use that time to connect with nature and listen to a podcast episode to get my brain warmed up for the day.

As I left my driveway this morning, wouldn’t you know it, the first podcast episode in my queue was one from The Lively Show with guest, Gretchen Rubin, the author of a book that greatly influenced my life a few years ago, The Happiness Project.

I was only a few minutes in and I realized that Gretchen has a new book out, Better Than Before (a fact I somehow missed despite what I’m sure was a boatload of book marketing dollars - sorry publishers! You can’t get me! Muahaha!) Apparently, the entire focus of the book is on mastering habits and how our personalities affect the way we adopt new habits.

What?! The universe is clearly trying to tell me something about habits!

It was fun to hear that apparently I'm not the only one that has had these questions about why habits are easier for some and harder for others - Gretchen researched and wrote an entire book about it!

Anyway, there were a whole slew of topics that Jess and Gretchen covered in the episode, which I won’t ruin for you here, but my big ah-ha takeaway had to do with this Four Tendencies framework that Gretchen discovered/created through her research.

This framework is a way for us to understand how our unique personalities view the idea of forming habits, and what kind of expectations we tend to stay accountable to.

Image via GretchenRubin.com

Here’s a quick run-down on each tendency, as I understood them from Gretchen’s interview:

  • Upholder - An Upholder will rise to meet the expectations of others, but also uphold the expectations they have for themselves
  • Obliger - An Obliger has no problem rising to meet the expectations of others, but does have a hard time keeping themselves accountable to internal commitments. They’ll put their obligations to others above the promises they make to themselves.
  • Questioner - A Questioner has to understand why they’re being asked to meet an expectation, whether internal or external. They’ll question this until they feel it makes sense that they should uphold any kind of expectation.
  • Rebel - A Rebel resists both internal and external expectations. They often feel that habits are restrictive and they want maximum freedom in their lives.

As Gretchen went through this list, it became clear to see myself, plus friends and family in relation to this framework.

For example, I’d say for the majority of my life I have been an Obliger. I've always gone above and beyond to meet the expectations of other people, but I've had a hard time doing the same thing for myself.

This is the answer to my question about why I have a much harder time getting myself to work out than I do posting my daily lettering. With the lettering, I have an Instagram community that expects me to post every day; I’ve made that promise public and my Obliger nature uses that external expectation as a means of accountability.

But, going to my work out class five times a week -- that’s just a promise I made to myself. No one is responsible for holding me to it except myself. In the past I would have had trouble placing this as a priority over something with an external expectation.

However, now after years of work, I feel I’m finally getting a lot closer to being an Upholder. I’ve learned to create boundaries and identify my core values, and that inner work has allowed me to give as much weight to my inner expectations as I do to the expectations of others.

For example, my friend Margaret stayed with me this past week and in the past, I likely would have used that as an excuse for myself not to go to my fitness class each day because I wouldn’t have wanted to "disappoint her" by spending a few hours away and leaving her on her own. However, I've now recognized that improving my health and strength is a priority for me -- something I value -- and working out is a habit I want to cultivate, so I voiced this to her and stuck with my workout schedule during her trip. Now that I have a way to acknowledge this, I'm definitely going to work to stay closer to the Upholder end of the spectrum. If I notice myself slipping though, I can always use those external motivators that speak to the Obliger in me to keep me accountable. 

Jason and I decided that he is definitely a Questioner. He cares a lot more about answering to himself than he does to others, but only if he has bought in to WHY he’s doing something. When that’s the case, he has no trouble keeping up with a new habit.

See - it’s fascinating stuff, you guys! And it’s kind of fun once you start to see your tendencies illustrated in different areas of your life.

I’m just such a nerd when it comes to frameworks for understanding human behavior, I can definitely see this chart represented in my own behavior and the behavior of people I know well.

Like I said, there were so many great nuggets of wisdom I took away from the interview -- something I’m hoping to dive into more when I read the book -- but I at least wanted to share the Four Tendencies with you guys because it could be a game-changer for some of you.

If you really want to introduce new, positive changes into your life, the secret is to first understand what your unique tendencies are and then use them to your advantage to help you stick to your program.

Aside from these tiny revelations about habits in general, the biggest takeaway that I got from the interview was this:

If you want to make a lasting change in your habits, knowing your motivations and your values is the best place to start.

Just a little something I wanted to share with you on this Monday morning as you prepare for your week.

So, are there any habits you have struggled to stick with in the past? Could Gretchen’s framework help you understand your own attitude toward habits better? Which tendency do you have?

Let me know in the comments!

Right after I finish The Art of Possibility, I’m definitely going to download Better Than Before and give it a read.

Hope today's post helps you adopt those positive habits! 

Wishing all of you a productive and positive week!