The strategy of monitoring

If you’re familiar with Gretchen Rubin’s work, you may know about her Four Tendencies framework. This is a framework that attempts to explain how people respond to expectations and why strategies that work brilliantly for some people (such as having an accountability buddy) don’t work at all for others.

20200304 The Four Tendencies

Gretchen says there are two types of expectations: our own expectations of ourselves (inner expectations) and other people’s expectations of us (outer expectations). The framework identifies the following four tendencies:

  • Upholder: meets their inner expectations and outer expectations
  • Obliger: meets outer expectations but struggles to meet their expectations of themselves
  • Questioner: questions all expectations and meets them only if they believe there is a good reason to do so, effectively responding only to inner expectations and resisting outer expectations, i.e. those that don’t make sense to them.
  • Rebel: resists all expectations. They do what they want to do, when they want to do it and if someone, even themselves, tells them to do something, they won’t do it.

I identify most strongly as a Questioner in this framework. The first time I did it, I thought I was an Obliger, but when I did it later on, it came out as Questioner, which surprised me, so I had to do the quiz again (and then another time) because I thought it was wrong. (This is a Questioner thing, I found out later.) But the more I learn about this framework and the more learn about myself (especially all the intense self-analysis I recently did for my uni course), the more I see myself in the profile of a Questioner.

Consider this:

  • Data driven
  • Interested in creating systems that are efficient and effective (just ask my workmate)
  • Suffers analysis paralysis from gathering too much information and being unable to make a decision
  • Delights in information and analysis
  • A love of spreadsheets (there are people who won’t read this who will totally get this)
  • Unable to accept closure on matter that others consider settled if questions remain unanswered (I might not say it out loud but I’ll be thinking about it and you can bet I’ll be complaining to someone about it later)
  • Dislikes being questioned (because I have done all the research and am always right . . . this comes from one of the tools we used for uni and is a much longer story than I can go into here).

Anyway, I digress.

If you do the quiz on her website, Gretchen (or her bots) will send you a more detailed report on your tendency, which includes habit-forming strategies that might help you in developing better habits. These are outlined in one of Gretchen’s other books, Better Than Before, which I read a few years ago. (You can read my review here.)

For example, an Obliger needs to use the strategy of accountability to meet their own expectations that they might not otherwise meet if they just have themselves to report to. For Questioners, Gretchen suggests the strategy of monitoring can be useful. This means collecting information and using it to shape your habits. Probably on a spreadsheet. (Did I mention how much I love spreadsheets?)

This aligns with the time tracking I did earlier in the year for Indistractable (thing 13 from my 20 for 2020 list) when I found out how much time I actually spent mindlessly scrolling social media (as opposed to genuinely interacting with people) and realised I could use some of that time more productively, for example, by reading on the bus (thing 14).

There is a dearth of opinions, books, article out there that tell us we spend too much time mindlessly scrolling social media because we are addicted to our devices and that we need to stop doing this. I’ve read a lot of them. But my travel time is a 20-30 minute block of time where I am captive (I can’t go out and do anything) and that has high boredom potential, both of which make the lure of facebook or instagram scrolling to pass the time very strong. So that’s what I do. Scroll, like, maybe a quick comment, move onto the next thing, hope the trip is over soon. It seemed like a logical thing to use the time for, so what’s the harm in that, social researchers and attention span experts?

There’s probably none, but the mindless scrolling isn’t very fulfilling. It feels very superficial sometimes, as it’s not very often that someone is around and up for a more meaningful interaction around a post at the same time I’m sitting on the bus on the way to work. Reading, on the other hand, can be fulfilling. I want to read more. I’ve tried to build a reading habit into other times of day. Early morning after my walk (I’d have to get up earlier to fit that in), before I go to sleep (I’m tired and I don’t like reading in bed, it’s very uncomfortable). Neither of them stuck.

The obvious answer? Replace mindless social media scrolling on the bus time with reading time. It’s still early days and I’m not doing it perfectly but I am reading a lot more.

So, you may have noticed a new section at the bottom of my weekly posts (if you read that far) that tracks how I’m doing at some of the key things I want to do (bus reading and also my 15 minutes creative time and scheduling time for my creative work).

It also adds a little element of accountability by making me report on here how many times I did these things during the week.

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