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Why Better Than Before changed my life

For most of my life, I’ve felt like a failure.

If I stopped to think about it (a sad task I try to avoid), I could list dozens of things that I’ve thought about and planned, but never came about: gifts I meant to give, projects I wanted to create, letters I wanted to write, meals I wanted to make, tasks I should have completed, and exercise I wanted to challenge my body with. DOZENS.

When thoughts of these failed projects, these things I could have, should have done but didn’t, I feel really unhappy. When I can’t get them out of my head, I feel sick and I can’t sleep. All those missed opportunities to better myself, bring creativity into the world, to make someone else feel loved. All things I failed to do.

“What is wrong with me?” I’ve always wondered (and still do sometimes, in spite of myself). I figured I must be lazy, or a terrible procrastinator – probably both.

Reading Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before completely changed the way I see myself in this area, and I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s going to change my life. As I briefly mentioned in my review, her book identifies what she’s named the Four Tendencies – a framework of organizing people by the way they respond to expectations.

According to this framework, there are four types of people, based on how we respond to both internal and external expectations. Very briefly, the four types are:

Rebel – resists inner expectations, resists outer expectations
Questioner – meets inner expectations, resists outer expectations
Obliger – resists inner expectations, meets outer expectations
Upholder – meets inner expectations, meets outer expectations

As I read her description of Obligers, who struggle with inner expectations, I felt some important puzzle pieces falling into place. The description matched me completely, and I realized: this is what’s ‘wrong’ with me.

I’m not saying I’m never lazy and I never procrastinate. I am, and I do. But they don’t touch every aspect of what I want to do. This, my Obliger nature, is much larger.

Rubin encourages readers, rather than fight their nature, to learn how to help themselves and work with their own strengths. For Obligers, this means building external accountability into our own personal goals. It’ll be different for each person (one person might go to the gym on behalf of their future self, another might need to pay for classes, and still another might need to meet a friend or have a personal trainer), but we all need an external system.

As frustrating as it is to feel like I can’t just do all the things I want to do on my own merit, it’s incredibly liberating to have a solution. Now it’s just a matter of figuring out how to do it.

I could be wrong, but I feel like this Tendency knowledge is most valuable and enlightening to Obligers. I think we tend to be the hardest on ourselves in terms of our own expectations. Not to say that the other three types don’t have their own challenges, but understanding how to finally begin doing what we’ve wanted to do for so long is incredible.

Better Than Before is the first place I learned about the Tendencies. I’d recommend starting there, but I might be biased. Rubin has also published a new book entitled The Four Tendencies which goes into much more depth, and she discusses the Tendencies often on her podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin. I’m also a minor expert on the topic by now and I’m always happy to talk!

I haven’t figured it all out yet. I’m still trying to figure out how to build external accountability into something like a personal project. Maybe for a birthday card I’ll have to abandon the surprise and say something like “I’m dropping something in the mail for you this weekend!” to ensure it actually gets done. We’ll see how it goes.

But for now, I have hope that things can change, and that is enough.



Lighting review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

All done! Marie Kondo‘s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, is now on my ‘completed’ list. I know we’re a week into February so technically I’m behind, but this counts as the first of my non-fiction books for 2016.

This book ties nicely into my recent posts about decluttering and minimalism, and contains some tips that will help.

Highlights of the book include:

  • Specific recommendations for how to go about tidying, including method (category rather than location), criteria (only keep things you love), and storage (keep things where you can see them)
  • Suggestions for clothing; books; papers; and even that beast of decluttering, sentimental items.
  • Valuable insights on why we keep things (this part, in the last portion of the book, was one of the most important sections for me)

Some portions felt a little hokey for my tastes, including instructions to:

  • Ask your items where they wish to be stored
  • Thank your purse at the end of the day
  • Greet your house when you get home.

But even this, which I am unlikely to carry through to the extent she describes, can be useful. Store items in a place that suits them; don’t stuff your purse full and leave it like that 24/7; be grateful for your home and don’t take it for granted.

But, even if you don’t feel the need to go to the extreme end of greeting your possessions, it’s still a valuable insight to realize that each item in your home should have its own place and purpose. And (for me at least) the practical suggestions, combined with the “why we keep things” paragraphs, make the book well-worth reading.

When we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.

You’ll begin to see a pattern in your ownership of things, a pattern that falls into one of three categories: an attachment to the past, desire for stability in the future, or a combination.

It’s important to understand your ownership pattern because it is an expression of the values that guide your life.

Other people’s thoughts* on The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up:

*Although there are more positive reviews here, I find them valuable because they are more thoughtful and reasonable; the last author seems to think there are no lessons to be learned because she doesn’t agree with EVERYTHING Kondo writes)

Got any thoughts? I’d love to hear them.

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Guitar chords

Here are some songs I enjoy playing/would like to learn on guitar:

What’s the common thread tying these songs together? The chords. They’re easy enough for me to play.