We know that regular exercise and eating well are the foundation of a healthy life. Still, it’s tough to create a habit and even tougher to make it stick long term. Everyone’s got a solution—work out now, work out later, join a gym, exercise at home, try yoga, try spin, try HIIT. How do you know which is going to work for you, without trying them all?
Knowing your tendency—how you tend to respond to internal and external expectations—may be the key to finding a workout style you actually want to do.
Gretchen Rubin, New York Times bestselling author of The Happiness Project, Better Than Before, and the forthcoming The Four Tendencies, believes that most people fall into one of four tendency categories, depending on what motivates them. (Plus, she created a free online quiz, so you can see where you fall.) For instance, if you never keep your New Year’s resolution but always hit deadlines for your boss, you might be an Obliger—and probably need some outside accountability to be motivated to hit the gym.
Keep in mind that no tendency—or workout style—is “better” than another. Rubin borrows wisdom from renowned author and Trappist monk Thomas Merton: “If we make good use of what we have, if we make it serve our good desires, we can do better than another who merely serves his temperament instead of making it serve him.” Here’s how to use your temperament to get the most out of what you’re made of.
If You’re a Questioner: Keep a Log
The Questioner isn’t inclined to do anything she considers arbitrary. Her motivation comes only from within herself. She’ll push back against what she thinks is expected of her unless the answers to her questions meet her expectations.
The Questioner does best working out alone and being internally specific about her fitness goals. Is she looking to gain strength? Increase flexibility, endurance, or speed? Consistent personal evaluation of why she works out and whether her activity is achieving that goal will help her determine which type of exercise is right for her. Keeping a log of her progress toward this goal, whether on paper or with an app or device, may help get her moving and stay motivated.
If You’re an Obliger: Sign Up
The Obliger needs external accountability to thrive. She can make a promise to herself, but there’s no guarantee she’s going to keep it—but get someone else involved, and it’s a whole different story. The majority of people fall into this category.
The Obliger should enroll in classes at the gym or a studio, hire a personal trainer, or sign up for a road race. Any of these outer expectations will provide someone or something else to challenge her to show up. Having a workout buddy may help her as well, but only if she’s equally committed to her own health and fitness goals.
If You’re the Upholder: Make a Plan
The Upholder typically has the easiest time forming habits because she holds herself accountable to both internal and external expectations.
If the Upholder makes a plan, she’s going to stick to it. She knows what’s expected of her, and she thrives in making it happen. This makes her the ideal workout buddy. She’s got her own goals in mind, but she also feels responsible to keep a promise. Because she doesn’t want to disappoint herself or anyone else, there’s little that can shake her. She will do best setting reasonable goals for herself so that she doesn’t burn out or get injured. A steady, moderate regimen in any sort of exercise will help her achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
If You’re a Rebel: Go Your Own Way
The Rebel—the rarest of the four tendencies—will resist what she’s asked to do, simply for the sake of resisting. She thrives on making her own choices and having something enjoyable to look forward to.
The Rebel is a lone rider, and she’s prone to more unusual forms of exercise. You’re not likely to see her at a trendy barre or spin class. Instead, she’ll be training with kettlebells, rock climbing, doing acroyoga, or pounding her way through mud runs. She should go her own way by trying different types of exercises, working with different instructors, and staying attuned to her mood. She’ll do even better if she knows there’s a treat or tangible reward of some kind waiting for her at the end—did someone say “massage”?
Shakespeare wrote, “To thine own self be true.” He wasn’t writing about workouts, but the sentiment still applies. You can identify your tendency only if you are honest with yourself. Likewise, you will stick with your fitness plan only as long as it energizes you and complements your tendency. If you’ve already found a workout routine that works for you, great! Stick with it. If you haven’t yet, don’t worry. There’s always time to try something new (though if you’re a Rebel or Questioner, pretend I didn’t say that!).
Photo Credit: Taylor McCutchan Photography