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E22. Your Accountability Style: How You Respond to Expectations!

Welcome to ADHD Crash Course! Today, I'm going to do a book review. I'm going to talk about the book The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin. If you're not familiar with Gretchen Rubin, she's written some other books about habit formation, a book about happiness, and talks about how people handle expectations.

So,we're talking about not only external expectations, guidelines and rules, that kind of thing; we're also talking about internal expectations, what we expect of ourselves.

I don't think any of us really fit entirely in any one category for any of these things, when we're looking at personality types or tendencies. But it does give you a helpful piece about what motivates you. And since motivation can be a big issue when you have ADHD, that's helpful information. She does have a quiz on her website, if you wanted to go take the quiz and see which tendency that you have. Or you might just recognize it when I talk about the different types.

The Obliger

The first type that I'm going to talk about is an obliger. The obliger has a harder time meeting their internal expectations, their internal rules, but they do a lot better meeting external expectations. When you look at traditional accountability setups for those of us who use accountability partners, they're kind of taking the assumption that this is motivating for you, that other people holding you accountable will be a motivator. And for a lot of people it is.

In a previous episode, I talked about ways to increase motivation for ADHD brains. One of those ways is to add urgency and a pretty effective way of adding urgency is oftentimes having that external accountability. That (urgency) doesn't really feel quite real for some of us if it's not outside of us.

But that's not true for everyone. A lot of times, if I'm working with a new client, I like to ask a lot of really specific questions about how I can support them with accountability, because what is going to support one person might shut somebody else down. So, what does it look like, these obligers trying to get stuff done?

I can tell you, because I'm one of them. I'll give you the story of the squat challenge that went wrong. A small group of us were doing a squat challenge, maybe we were doing 50 or 100 squats a night, for a few weeks. And after you did your squats, you'd check in with the other people in the group in a group text and say "Yeah, I did it!" and everybody would send you happy emojis with little muscles and stuff. And it was fun.

As long as everyone in the group was communicating, or even one other person in the group was communicating, I was on the squats. I might have been knocking them out at 10:30 at night, but I was going to do them, because the group was expecting that I did them.

But, then some point along the way, there was a night where no one said anything about the squats. And then there was a night when I was the only one who said something about the squats. It did not take many nights of that and I was like "I'm done with the squats."

My motivation dried up because it just wasn't a consistent accountability. Now, I'm perfectly capable of doing things without group support, but if I really want to support myself, if I really want to make sure that I've got extra motivation to get things done, then tapping into my obliger tendency is going to be helpful to me.

The Upholder

The next one I'm going to talk about is the upholder. The upholder easily meets internal and external expectations. I married an upholder. Clint's totally an upholder. If there's a rule, he's going to follow it. I'm of the opinion that it's better to ask forgiveness than permission. (Clint is not of that opinion).

So, here's an upholder story for you. When we were newly married, we were on vacation. We were in an island area and there was a beach and there was no one there, it was almost like a private beach. And it was so cool. We came across it, and we're just taking a walk on this gorgeous beach with nobody around. And I was like, "Let's swim!"

And he said, "Well, we don't have our suits" and then I said, "Well, you know, we have underwear, and that's like suits", and it took me a really long time to convince him to break the rule. I don't know, maybe you're thinking I shouldn't have convinced him to break the rule, but it was an abandoned beach, how often do you get that?

So, your upholders are going to uphold the expectations, uphold the rules. They're going to follow both the internal and external rules easily. These are people who are going to be considered disciplined or motivated by most others.

The Questioner

The third tendency is your questioner. Now, a questioner is just what it sounds like. It's somebody who's going to question the outer expectations. They're not just going to follow them because they're there. But they do meet their own internal expectations relatively easily. If they find that an external expectation is reasonable and they connect with it, they'll internalize that and then they're able to meet that.

One of my clients is a questioner who is also a therapist. She has a very demanding job, demanding energy wise. She's amazing at it, but was having a hard time eating regularly with her work. She just wasn't doing it.

We know our bodies need food, we know our bodies need energy. But when she recognized that her fueling her body was going to make her more available for her clients, it was a lot easier for her to internalize this external expectation.

"Oh, I might need to eat earlier in the day or more regularly, or a certain combination of foods". Once she made the connection, it wasn't so hard for her to keep it up. When it was just "this is what adults do", it was not working for her.

The Rebel

The last type is the rebel. The rebel resists internal and external expectations. These are people who really value authenticity and freedom and resist being pinned down by any expectations; their own or external.

One thing that I've noticed working with women with ADHD is that, oftentimes, people who I work with who have a rebel reaction to an expectation, it may be more about protecting themselves than a natural tendency.

I've heard this so many times; somebody is telling me "Hey, I was really excited about this new workout program until my friends started getting excited that I was doing it and asking more about it and now I don't want to do it anymore!" And I don't think that's surprising, because if you've had experiences where you've been inconsistent, or you've struck out, where you've not shown up, and you're not entirely sure if you can trust yourself, there's this dread and overwhelm when you hear that there's an "official" expectation.

So, when you're working with your tendency and to help understand yourself better and leverage it for motivation, it's good to know; is this just my tendency or a protective behavior? You can support those in different ways.

Tendency Coaching Tips

Now that we've talked about all four of these types, let's talk about ways that we can help ourselves with motivation using these tendencies.

Obligers: Set up external accountability

Number one, the obliger. If you're an obliger, you know what you have to do: develop some external accountability. The only issue is, make sure that you have reliable external accountability or it could backfire on you. Create it in multiple ways, if that's what works for you. Use that tendency to your advantage.

Upholders: You're a unicorn, have mercy on the rest of us

Number two, the upholder. If you are an upholder, motivation probably isn't your biggest struggle. Honestly, I think for upholders, the challenge might be more in recognizing that most other people do find it difficult, either to keep up with internal, external, or both kinds of expectations. Working with your tendency as an upholder might have more to do with adjusting your expectations of others around you, that they may not be able to consistently perform the same way you do when it comes to expectations.


Questioners: Know your why!

For our questioners, when you're working with your tendency and you want to be motivated, it's key that you find meaning in the expectations. If you know why it's important, if you know how it's going to improve your life, it's a lot easier for an external expectation to turn into an internal expectation (and for an internal expectation to be upheld).

Rebels: It's Always Your Choice

And for rebels, it is helpful (in my opinion) to take a look, if you identify yourself as a rebel and make sure that there's not other factors like I was talking about before. That this is not a way you're protecting yourself. And if you've ruled that out, then the way to work with yourself as a rebel, when it comes to motivation, is reminding yourself that it's always your choice, you never have to do anything!

So let's say you're someone (in typical ADHD style) who has a project, has a deadline, and you wait to the very last minute to switch into super productive mode, and knock out that project just in time. And that's how you typically operate.

If you have the rebel tendency, you might really push back on the expectation, the idea that it "should" look different, that you should break down that task, that it's better somehow to pace yourself or plan this out so you're not scrambling at the end.

You might really resist that pressure internally and/or externally. So, reminding yourself in that situation that it is always your choice. If you look at that honestly and it's working for you and it's worth the trade off of the stress and that is how you like to operate, then it's working for you.

If it's not working for you, then reframing it and noticing that this is actually a change that's going to help you, that you want, that's going to have an effect that matters to you, can kind of help that knee-jerk reaction to push back on an expectation.

You're not making the change because it's an expectation and what you "should" do, you have determined that it has value to you independent of expectations.


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