Tag Archives: questioner

Going All In

I am about to embark on a 6-month coaching engagement with the Handel Group. There is quite a bit of homework due before the first session which is next Wednesday, and I am both excited and a little scared.

My coach assures me this is a good place to be. We are going to get truthful about some areas in my life where I want to make change, and it will require a commitment to doing the work, and taking action. I will be writing up a biography and evaluating 12 areas of my life, and also dreaming big about where I want things to be.

When I talked with my husband about this endeavor, I explained what it was, and why I wanted to commit some resources to it. I told him that I believe this can get me “unstuck” about where I am now, and that it is great timing because of the changes I plan to make in the next 6 months career-wise. He was understanding, and he said he thought it would be a good use of time and money, but only if I am “all in.”

As someone who likes to do a lot of personal development reading, experiments, habit change and self-help types of efforts, this is my jam. The challenge can come when I am pursuing a few too many different types of efforts, and dabbling a little in each. Then my efforts get diluted over a number of challenges, and no one effort gets real traction.

I recognize that my a.d.d. can contribute to this tendency to bounce around, doing a little of this, a little of that, but never fully committing to one or two BIG projects, or BIG change efforts. Why is this? I am trying to be honest with myself about why I find that hard, but also want to give myself the challenge of being ALL IN with this one.

One of my fears that I have had since being young is that of being bored. I was the kid who *always* had a book on hand, just in case I was stuck somewhere, having to wait and having nothing to do. Whether it was long road trips with the family, or having to spend time in a waiting room, I never wanted to feel like I had nothing to do.

In fact I almost never leave the house without a journal to write in or a book to read, in case I am caught in a place where I will have time with nothing to do. Now that I meditate every day, I do not worry as much about having nothing to do. In fact, I look for opportunities to practice mindfulness, in airports, in grocery stores (though that one is still harder for me).

But I still like to “toggle” in my life, between several different projects, in case I get stuck in one of them and then can switch to another one. That in itself is not bad. In fact, I think it is one reason I have thrived in my current department: we are always juggling a lot of different projects, and while it would overwhelm most people, I enjoyed it for many years, knowing I was sure never to get bored.

But there is a kind of Deep Work (Cal Newport writes about this) that I am missing right now in my work and life. When I have so many different “windows” open, like a computer running a lot of different applications at once, it exhausts me after a while. Sure, I never get bored. There is always something new coming my way. But it seems I sometimes use that to distract me from bigger, more important goals that deserve deeper and more consistent focus.

Do you ever struggle with that problem?

I think this tendency may be endemic to the distraction-filled lives we live today. With technology providing these many gateways to rich content: books, classes, podcasts, blogs, social media sites, YouTube videos and the like, we have a plethora of choices.

Some of it can be nourishing for the brain and the psyche, and I love learning. But that can be a distraction from practicing skills, and really truly embracing change efforts in our lives. I recognize that I am sometimes so intent to fill my brain with concepts, that I do not always put things into practice. At least as a clinical researcher, I have a skeptical eye about claims in books. I tend not to believe things unless I have tried them, or I have some good data to back up what the author claims.

So this time around, I am going all in on this coaching process. The investment is not insignificant, but it fits into my budget. I commit to doing the homework, and maybe even to share some of what I learn on this blog. At the very least, it will help me figure out my next move career-wise. But I think it has the potential to change and improve many other areas of my life also. I am ALL IN.

Happy weekend, friends.





Questioner here

This post is a tribute and a thank you to author Gretchen Rubin, who has shared some great insights in her most recent book, The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better. A year ago I read Better Than Before: What I Learned about Making and Breaking Habits – To Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less and Generally Build a Happier Life.

Gretchen Rubin

At that time I was attempting a couple major habit changes: giving up alcohol, quitting sugar and attempting to sleep more. All of these changes have indeed made me a happier and more balanced person. I was in a parallel discovery process, and I appreciated her way of breaking down different ways we can manage habit change, starting with self-knowledge. In Better Than Before she introduced the concept of the Four Tendencies, which relate to how people respond to outer expectations (work, family, etc) and inner expectations (personal goals, resolutions, etc).

In summary, Upholders meet outer and inner expectations. Obligers meet outer expectations but resist inner expectations. Questioners resist outer expectations but meet inner expectations. Rebels resist both outer expectations and inner expectations. The best part of her work really is in her empathy with Obligers, in my opinion. Rubin, an Upholder, hosts the Happier podcast which I review on my audio philes page of favorite podcasts. Personally I preferred the earlier days of the podcast when there were less advertisers per episode, but I recommend it if you need an alternative to listening to news on your way to work. Gretchen Rubin and her sister Elizabeth Craft (an Obliger) have a great dynamic and are “real” people despite the fact that Liz Craft is a Hollywood writer. Liz co-hosts new podcast called Happier in Hollywood which is also kind of a fun listen, but I digress.

As a Questioner, of course I questioned the validity of the Four Tendencies framework (as Gretchen predicted I would) but I also think it is very useful. Questioners are data-driven, interested in creating systems that are efficient and effective, comfortable bucking the system when it is warranted and unwilling to accept authority without justification. Possible weaknesses include analysis paralysis (which I know all too well), impatience with what we may perceive as others’ complacency, and inability to accept closure on matters others consider settled if questions remain unanswered (summarized from page 83). All of these things explain why certain workplaces and lines of work have appealed to me, particularly as a clinical researcher.

I have had bosses that understand my need for a rationale for our activities, or for starting new projects, and others that have not. We questioners thrive in environments that emphasize research, so in that way I am well-positioned. We dislike arbitrary rules or dates like January 1st for starting new things. We may have some trouble delegating decision making, because we may suspect others do not have sufficient basis for action (unless they are questioners, and then we believe they have done the research).

Obligers (41% in the population of a nationally representative sample) are the rocks of the world. They “show up, they answer the midnight call from the client, they meet their deadlines, fulfill their responsibilities, they volunteer, they help out… Because of their sense of obligation to others, they make great leaders, team members, friends, family members.” The downside to their tendency of needing external accountability is that sometimes they have difficulty setting boundaries when others expect more than is reasonable for them. They can be exploited, and Rubin explains that they often are. This can lead to a phenomenon called “Obliger Rebellion” in which they simply refuse to meet some expectation, often dramatically and without warning.

Rubin explains that this is actually a protective mechanism and a safety valve that relieves excess pressure. Before learning about this framework, I have to admit that I was probably unsympathetic to Obligers – shouldn’t one be able to prioritize their own needs and desires over others’ needs? The book covers some very useful advice for health care providers, spouses and children that I will not cover here, since Rubin has written a whole section on the topic, but are very well worth reading.

I will not cover the Upholder and the Rebel tendencies in this post. But if you are interested in what your tendency might be, check out the online quiz which takes less than 5 minutes and can help you access some insights about your own tendency. It always pays to know ourselves better, and I am grateful to Gretchen Rubin for giving us another framework to do just that.