2 min read

how to motivate yourself (based on who you are)

how to motivate yourself (based on who you are)
Photo by Cam Adams / Unsplash

Sometimes I wonder if I peaked in high school. I got great grades and I did incredible on the SAT — maybe because of all the external accountability. For one, I had to show up to class. And, I had SAT prep accountability. I had access to in-person practice SAT exams through a prep service. I took at least twenty of those.

I worked hard, but I had support too.

Fast forward to college. I got good enough grades, but I didn’t have that same accountability. So I didn’t try as hard. Like, the quarter I took operating systems, I skipped most of the lectures and binged the recordings for the final.

My mom said once I do best under her supervision which might just be true.

College didn’t have a lot of accountability but that was just the start. A lot of the adult world doesn’t have much accountability.

  • I struggled to get work done my first few internships.
  • I struggled to get work done as a full-time remote software engineer.
  • I still struggle to get work done as a remote product manager, though less. Fortunately, product management has more accountability than software engineering.

All this to say, the author Gretchen Rubin would type me as an Obliger in her Four Tendencies framework.

This is because I readily meet outer expectations but struggle with inner expectations.

Inner expectations are things you expect of yourself. A common example is a New Year’s resolution. If you can easily meet goals that you set for yourself, then you readily meet inner expectations.

Outer expectations are things that other people expect from you. A common example is a friend asking you to go to the gym with him/her to exercise together. If you tend to do things because other people asked you to (especially when you don’t really want to), then you readily meet outer expectations.

Rubin would tell me to accept and lean into my Obliger nature:

For Obligers, it’s not a matter of motivation, or putting yourself first, or balance, or self-esteem, boundaries, or priorities. Plug in outer accountability, and you will be able to meet inner expectations.

The crux of it is that there are motivational strategies best suited to your tendency. Most productivity advice gives blanket recommendations that might not work for you.

There are four possible personality types:

  1. Upholder: readily meets inner and outer expectations
  2. Questioner: readily meets inner expectations only
  3. Obliger: readily meets outer expectations only
  4. Rebel: resists both inner and outer expectations

Here's some quick advice for each type:

  • Upholders are generally set lol i don’t have much for them
  • Questioners tend to benefit from doing research/understanding the why behind expectations
  • Obligers tend to benefit from external accountability (people expecting things from them explicitly - e.g. them explicitly stating an expectation or them sitting with you to do something)
  • Rebels tend to benefit from bringing fun, a challenge, or their identity into their tasks (as well as structured procrastination). It's also important for rebels to preserve their feeling of having a choice

If you’d like to learn more about all the types, go here!