I have always been amazed at my ability to meet work deadlines and social obligations with ease – behaviors that have always seemed at odds with my resistance to meeting wellness goals.
Meeting a client’s needs? Simple. Meeting my own? Not so much.
Then I stumbled upon The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin – and realised there was a simple explanation for this discrepancy.
I am an obliger.
The four tendencies deal with a distinct component of human behavior – how we respond to expectations - and categorizes individual based our pattern of responding to external expectations (those imposed from outside) and internal expectations (those imposed by ourselves). Take the four tendencies quiz here.
Obligers – one of the largest cohorts – readily respond to outer expectations, but struggle to meet internal expectations.
This makes obligers well sought after in the workplace. We are responsive, courteous, diligent team players who will see a project through to completion even when it means burning the midnight oil to do so.
However, we are also the tendency most likely to burn out at work and growing inner resentment about external expectations can lead to ‘obliger rebellion’ – a state of strike where we may refuse to meet any expectations at all.
The good news is that being an obliger doesn’t have to mean burn out, career change or resignation to a life spent pleasing others.
By understanding that we obligers respond readily to outer expectations, we can build systems and accountability measures that ensure we meet our inner needs, as well as meeting external expectations.
Disentangling our own identity from external expectations can be tricky. Mindfulness training can be a great place to start cultivating self-awareness and reducing stress levels enough to see what is really important. Once we have this clarity, it is essential that we put in place external deadlines, structures and plans to help us meet our innermost needs.
Obligers respond well to team-based workplace wellness programs, boot camps, walking groups, term-based yoga or meditation classes and any other effort that aligns wellness goals with outer expectations. The key is to choose one goal at a time, and not create so many external accountability structures that it gets overwhelming. Each obliger is unique – and whereas buying a 10-class yoga pass may serve as an incentive for some (particularly those that don’t like wasting money), others who are more socially oriented may prefer to arrange a walk with a friend every week.
Our past successful sustained wellness efforts can offer great clues in terms of what might work.
For bosses or colleagues of obligers, it can frustrating to realise that we don’t automatically look after ourselves, that we struggle to implement what we say we want and that we may struggle with boundaries.
The key in managing and working with obligers is to remember that we thrive when there are clear, distinct expectations in terms of workload, office hours and deadlines. Encouraging us and modeling great work/life balance helps us to lead long and fulfilling careers, leave work at work and look after ourselves and our families as well.
My own journey to understand the obliger tendency and how it interacts in the workplace continues to evolve as I’ve navigated the transition from employee to solopreneur. And even though I am my own boss, I still favour meeting external expectations over internal ones – indicating that it is not necessarily what we do that matters, but how we do it that’s most important.
is a women's wellness expert, coach, yoga teacher and retreat leader with a passion for empowering women to heal, rise and connect. With a background in the not for profit sector, Meg loves helping socially conscious women re-discover their purpose, passion and poise - catalysing social change from the inside out. Her events and writing can be found at www.beyondbeingwell.com