I love a good project. This is partly because it gives me an excuse to buy a pretty notebook and new pens. But it is mainly because I love the rush that a new challenge brings. There is so much to be organized! So many lists to write! And then there is all the learning that comes from a project. Now that I’m adulting on the regular, I don’t have a lot of formal opportunities to learn, where I’m held accountable by deadlines and professors or employers. So when I get an idea for a personal project, the part of my brain that craves new learning challenges gets really pumped.
In order to remain my happiest self and not fall prey to the resentment and/or boredom that mamas can experience – (That’s not meant to sound harsh or ungrateful. But us mamas push the pause button on just about every area of our lives in order to watch countless hours of Blippi and Paw Patrol, manage tantrums, and clean bums – a bit of resentment and boredom only makes us human.) – I need projects. And I don’t just mean creating new vignettes for my fireplace mantle or designing family photo walls. I need to keep learning, keep growing, keep improving. (Basically I need to keep my brain cells from atrophying due to the aforementioned hours of Blippi-watching.)
I’m at an interesting stage of my life in that I have ticked a lot of boxes on my bucket list. I’m the mama of two under three. My career in education is well-established. Life is pretty settled-feeling. And that’s wonderful! I am grateful to be at this point. But it means that a lot of the projects that come naturally from striving to reach goals are done.
Since becoming a mother, I have really started to notice how much I struggle with following through on certain projects. I’m great at declaring them to myself and my husband (“I am going to work out during nap time!” or “I am going to start my novel!”), but the follow-through?
There is no follow-through.
I know I could hide behind the excuse that adjusting to motherhood has been a steep uphill climb for me – (Who am I kidding? It’s been like slathering myself in coconut oil and then trying to scale a steel wall with no rope or footholds.) – and that it’s no wonder I can’t devote the time or energy to much else at the moment.
But here’s the thing: I do have time. Maybe not massive chunks of it like I did before kids, but there is time. Time that I could be using to exercise (The Strong and Fit Mama Project) or work on writing my novel (uh, My Book Project…sorry, I am too tired to be clever here).
So why am I not using that time for those projects? Projects which, incidentally, are guaranteed to make me feel happier, more accomplished, and more like the person I was before spit-up was just part of the day’s outfit.
Here’s another one: How am I using that precious time? Well, you’ll be impressed to know that I have managed to watch many episodes of Bull, The Good Doctor, The Letdown, Leave It To Bryan, and Fixer Upper. I have also puttered around the house doing things that are so important I am unable to remember what they were.
I have also made sure our cupboards were stocked with the foods my family likes, my son’s toys were cleaned/fixed/found, my husband’s chiropractor receipts were submitted for reimbursement, extensive reconnaissance research and planning was done on birthday/Father’s Day/Christmas gifts, and pictures of the kids were printed on the regular for the grandparents.
I’m not trying to win ‘Mom and Wife of the Year’ – the above horn-tooting is relevant to what comes next. So keep reading!
You’ve probably heard of the book ‘The Happiness Project’, by Gretchen Rubin. The author spent a year exploring and implementing habits to increase her overall happiness level. Interesting-ish.
While I didn’t love the book, it put Rubin on my radar. I’m really thankful for that because her latest book – ‘The Four Tendencies’ – is a game changer for me.
In it, Rubin outlines a framework for better understanding ourselves and those around us. It is a personality profile, centered around one question:
How do you respond to internal and external expectations?
Through her research, Rubin identified what she calls ‘the four tendencies’: Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, and Rebel.
According to Rubin, every person falls firmly into one of these tendencies, though there can be overlap between them too. People are born into their tendency – parenting and life experiences don’t determine which tendency you’ll be – and you can’t really change your tendency.
I won’t go into a detailed explanation of each of the tendencies – that book has been written already. What I will do is post this handy dandy graphic that should help you to understand the basics:
Your tendency will determine how you approach or react to almost any situation involving expectations.
So let’s say the social committee at work organizes for the staff to participate in a race for charity. Here’s how people from each of the tendencies might deal with participation:
Upholder: I will create a training schedule and follow it religiously.
Questioner: When I am convinced that it is a worthy cause and a good use of my time, I will agree to participate.
Obliger: If you need me to participate, I will.
Rebel: Race? I ain’t running no stinking race.
See the difference?
Any particular tendency resound with you?
So. After years of wondering why I struggled with even the smallest resolutions – like drink more water or stretch every night before bed – the light bulb has finally turned on, thanks to Gretchen Rubin and her four tendencies.
Hello, my name is Kelly and I am an Obliger.
Obligers thrive on external accountability to get things done. If someone is relying on us to do something or be somewhere, we can usually be counted on to meet their expectations. If we want to do something for ourselves – like work out more or write a novel, uh hem – we still need external accountability. Without it, it is highly unlikely we will meet our own expectations.
Remember that paragraph above where I sound like I’m vying for Mom of the Year? Read it again with the knowledge that I am an Obliger. I do all of those things because there is external accountability or the illusion of it; someone needs me to do those things or I know doing them will make someone happy.
I’ll be honest and admit that I was disappointed when I first learned that Obliger was my tendency. I didn’t like the idea that I needed other people to get shit done. I never thought of myself as a people-pleaser. I thought I was self-motivated. But then how do you explain my reluctance or inability to get moving on projects and tasks that are just for myself?
And when I look at all of the projects I have undertaken successfully – like training for and running a half marathon, or moving to South Korea to teach for 2 years – they all provided a great deal of external accountability. I was part of a running club that trained twice weekly and I had a good friend in the group. If I didn’t show up for a training run or the race itself, I would have felt like I was letting my friend down. Moving to Asia to teach was a terrifying prospect that I could have backed out of…but I had signed a contract and I really liked the school’s administrator. I didn’t want to disappoint him, so I faced my fear and ended up on one of my life’s biggest adventures to date.
So where does this newfound understanding of myself leave me?
I have 14 months remaining in my maternity leave. There will be no other maternity leave after this one. (Can I get a ‘hell no!’). Now that I know I need external accountability in order to successfully see certain projects through to completion, it’s like a weight has been lifted.
Project Strong and Fit Mama and Project Write A Novel are on, y’all! See what I did there? I made you – my five loyal blog followers – part of my external accountability crew. And because I adore you, I don’t want to disappoint you.
Please hold me accountable. Ask me about my projects. Check in with me on my progress. Feel free to pressure me publicly in the comments section too! (If you over-do it on the nagging or nosiness, we will have words privately.) Let’s put Rubin’s ideas to the test and see if I can complete these personal projects with the help of a little external pressure.
And while we’re on the topic, why don’t you take the quiz to learn your tendency?
I would love to know what you find out about yourself! Do you think it’s accurate? Share in the comments section. Seriously, this stuff gets me so excited! I am totally geeking out over here.
So thanks, Gretchen Rubin. Your work has helped me to understand something about myself that has eluded me for many years.
Guess what time it is?
Time to buy a pretty notebook and get started.