I’ve been reading a lot about habits lately. Most of what I’ve been reading (books like Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, by Gretchen Rubin, and The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg) has focused on habits as they relate to our physical lives: more exercise, more sleep, healthier eating, less alcohol, less fingernail gnawing, and the like. But it struck me, as I read, that learning how to form and keep good habits can be applied to our spiritual lives as well. After all, what are spiritual disciplines if not habits – routines and practices we engage in regularly to keep our spiritual lives alive and well?
I’m pretty good at forming and keeping good habits. I’ve been running three or four miles three or four times a week since ninth grade. I go to bed early and aim to get at least seven hours of sleep each night. I eat a side salad with my dinner most nights of the week.
I’ve always assumed my ability to form and keep good habits is largely a result of my Triple Type A rule-follower personality, and as it turns out, I am right. I’m good at habits because, according to Gretchen Rubin, I am an Upholder, which means I “respond readily to both outer and inner expectations.” I both make and follow rules for myself, and I readily follow the rules others make for me. I’m kind of a robot that way.
Upholders are typically self-directed, have little trouble keeping commitments and resolutions, and easily meet deadlines (in fact, according to Rubin, Upholders often turn in assignments early. Hello – I turned in the Luther manuscript two weeks before my deadline). The downside to the Upholder Tendency is that we often struggle when rules aren’t clear, we feel compelled to meet expectations, even when the expectations are pointless (for example, whenever I get the new issue of Better Homes and Gardens in the mail, I feel driven to read it cover to cover right that very second, like I have a pleasure-reading deadline breathing down my neck), and we tend toward gold-star seeking, hoop jumping, and mindless rule following.
Rubin identifies three additional Tendencies in Better Than Before. Here’s a brief summary:
The Questioner — Questions all expectations and will meet an expectation only if it’s justified. Questioners are motivated by reason, logic, and fairness and typically like to decide for themselves whether a course of action is a good idea. They also traditionally like to research and acquire plenty of information before making a decision. The down side to Questioners is that they can suffer from “analysis paralysis,” and they tend to reject expert opinions in favor of their own conclusions (which is not always a bad thing). [By the way, my husband is a Questioner – he comes from a family of lawyers. A Questioner and an Upholder in marriage…this is why we almost broke the Myers-Briggs personality test when we took it as part of pre-marital counseling].
The Obliger — Responds readily to outer expectations but struggles to meet inner expectations. The Obliger is motivated by external accountability. They do well when they know there will be consequences for their decisions. Because they go to great lengths to meet their responsibilities, Obligers typically make great colleagues, employees, and friends. However, they struggle with self-motivation and, because they have difficulty telling people no, they are susceptible to burnout.
The Rebel — Resists all expectations, out and inner alike. Rebels need to work toward goals in their own way. They wake up thinking, “What do I want to do today?” rather than “What should I do?” or “What do I have to do?” As Rubin points out, “At times, the Rebel resistance to authority is enormously valuable to society.” On the other hand, Rebels often frustrate friends, colleagues, and family members because they refuse to be told, or even asked, to do anything. [I strongly suspect my youngest child is a Rebel. Help me, Jesus.]
Now. There’s a reason I am telling you all this (besides the fact that it’s fun to figure out which category fits us best). Over the next few weeks I’m going to be writing about Six Spiritual Habits. For the record, I’ve never liked the pairing of “discipline” and “spirituality.” Even for a Triple Type A rule-follower, “discipline” feels too punitive to me. But “spiritual practices” or even “spiritual habits”…that feels right. During this series, I’ll come back to Rubin’s Four Tendencies from time to time as I talk about how the six spiritual habits work for me and how they might work best for you.
Let me tell you in advance: my spiritual habits aren’t exactly traditional. You won’t find me writing about Scripture memorization or contemplative prayer, at least in the ways they are traditionally practiced. But I’m hoping that by inviting you into some of my non-traditional spiritual practices, you might be encouraged to seek new and different ways to connect with God as well, and perhaps even integrate some of these practices into your everyday or weekly routines.
See you next Tuesday for the first Spiritual Habits post.
So tell me: Which Tendency are you – Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel? You can learn more about the four Tendencies at Gretchen Rubin’s website and take her Habits Quiz to figure out which Tendency fits you best.