Do you have trouble reaching goals you set for yourself?
At the same time, do you seem to have no problem fulfilling expectations set out by others?
You may be what Gretchen Rubin, author of The Four Tendencies, calls an Obliger. This means you’re someone who consistently reaches outer expectations, but routinely fails to reach inner expectations. If this describes you, you aren’t alone. In fact, Rubin says that 40% of the population is just like you.
Unless you’re under the care or advice of a doctor, most often, health goals are by their very nature based on inner expectations. Your boss doesn’t care if you lose 20 pounds. Your kids don’t care if you get up to work out in the morning. Your spouse isn’t going to notice if you don’t drink enough water each day.
For some of us, this makes it very hard to achieve our goals,
because no one seems to be counting on us to achieve them!
In fact, people might be counting on us to do other things that actually make it harder for us to accomplish our own health-related goals: You know your boss would rather you get takeout and eat at your desk so you can get more done (or at least look like you are). Your kids would much rather you cuddle and make pancakes in the morning instead of hitting the gym. At the end of a long day, your spouse doesn’t want to drink water with you, he wants to share a bottle of wine and watch Netflix!
When I first read about this concept in Rubin’s book I identified with it immediately. It explained so much about my life: Things like why I got good grades in college, but didn’t go after many extracurricular activities, why I went to weekly acting classes for years in my early 20s, but rarely convinced myself to go to auditions, why I was always a great employee or partner to my husband in our production company, but when I went out on my own as a health coach I had trouble completing the tasks that weren’t directly for a client (hello, marketing to find future clients!).
This realization also made me kind of depressed. Not in the clinical sense, just in the this-really-stinks-I-so-wish-I-was-different funk.
But it wasn’t too long until I found some tactics that worked with my “Obliger” tendency. In fact, I discovered I’d utilized some of these for different reasons throughout my life, but just didn’t realize what I was doing. (If I had, I would have used these strategies much more, long ago!)
If you’re having trouble living up to your own expectations
for improving your health and life, you might want to try one or more of these.
1) Find someone to count on you.
I’ll start with the most obvious and concrete solution, and one that Rubin recommends: find someone who will depend on you to do what you want yourself to do. For me, this has been the most successful way I’ve found to become a regular exerciser in my adult life. From my roommates in college to Susie in West Hollywood to Heather in my early parenthood days to Michelle the last three years, I have had a string of workout partners who have (nicely) made it a lot harder for me to not work out. We’ve set dates, places and times and meet. I never want to leave them hanging or let them down, so it is very, very rare that I cancel our plans.
Some days I’ve felt that I have truly only kept the commitment for their sake, but in the end I am also accomplishing something I’d wanted to do for myself. (I’ve also found that you rarely, if ever, get to the end of a workout and wish you hadn’t done it!)
2) Find a cause that benefits from your success.
When it comes to making healthier eating choices, these days we are realizing that there are so many reasons to do so beyond our own health. Every person on this planet is connected. We all have an impact on those around us and the environment, even if we don’t see it.
Whether your goal is to give up fast food, eat less processed food, eat less meat or dairy or eat less sugar you can easily find ways that doing so will benefit other people, animals and the earth.
Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that the eating habits that harm us the most also negatively impact everything from our water supply and animal welfare to the quality of the air in low income communities. By eating more whole plant-based foods and less processed foods we can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, contribute less plastic waste to our oceans and free up more resources for those in need on this planet.
A little Google search can easily help you find someone or something that can benefit from your healthier choices, which may help you stick with them. (It has definitely worked for me. It’s also helped to share these reasons with my children regarding why some of the choices we make are different from their friends’ families.)
3) Remember you’re a role model for someone.
It’s safe to say I suffered from low self-esteem in my teenage years. How unusual, right? I only began to climb out of it well after I got to college. At the end of my senior year two girls I knew from the theater department who were juniors sent cards telling me how much they admired me. I remember finding each of them in my mailbox and being rather stunned (and flattered) that someone thought of me this way. I hadn’t really thought of myself this way before.
Chances are, there are people in your life that look at you this way too. They could be friends, co-workers, your spouse or even a parent. If you have children, you definitely have little people looking to you to see what is right and wrong on a daily basis.
Recently my younger daughter came home from school and told me that, when discussing the upcoming flexibility test, her gym teacher had told the class that she bet their parents couldn’t even touch their toes. Charley raised her hand and told the teacher (and her whole class) that I work out at 6:30 every morning and I can reach my hands wayyyy past my toes. She was so upset her teacher would think I couldn't and just couldn’t help setting the record straight.
I typically work out just 5 days a week for about 45 minutes, but the fact that I exercise and take care of my body has not been lost on my 9 year old. I hope she’ll remember this when she's my age and continue to do the same. Plus, knowing she feels this way helps on those mornings when she wants to snuggle and I’m doing Pilates. Telling kids to do something has much less of an impact than showing them something is important enough for us to do ourselves.
4) Find someone to support you and keep you accountable.
Have you heard the idea that you are the sum of the 5 people you spend the most time with? I’m not sure this is true in the broad sense, but when it comes to your health stats, it’s pretty darn accurate. We like to think we make all our own decisions, but we are actually greatly influenced by the actions of those around us, even if we don’t intend to be.
Your chances of being obese, smoking, exercising or eating well all go up when those around you share these behaviors. If you want to institute a healthier lifestyle, lose weight or make changes that you don't see the people around you making, working with a health coach can really help.
Plus, the nice thing about making changes with a health coach is that you can bring those changes back to the five people you’re closest to in your life.
Turns out, good habits are actually contagious too. This means that by helping yourself, you'll also end up helping them.
And they might just be counting on YOU to lead the way.
Think this might be you? Book a free call with me to find out more.
In the meantime, which of these approaches have you found to be helpful in your life so far in helping your reach your goals?
Finding someone to count on you.
Finding a cause that will benefit.
Thinking of yourself as someone’s role model.
Getting support & accountability.