Why is it always so hard to do what we should to improve our work and personal life?

It may come down to your personality type.

Exercise, eat well, sleep more, keep in touch with friends and family, we know that these things can improve our wellbeing, but people struggle to actually do these things.


According to Gretchen Ruben, author of Better than Before, one reason we don't do what we know we should do is because a large proportion of us are Obligers. That is to say, we can do things that others expect of us, but find it much more difficult to meet our own expectations.


Early in my career, I was always mystified as to how I could efficiently plough through the inbox at work (for my boss) and then come home and not be bothered getting my own paperwork in order (for me). Classic Obliger!

The three other tendencies that Gretchen Ruben has identified are Questioners - those that will only agree to do something if they think it's justified (and they work this out by asking a lot of questions), Rebels who won't do anything for anyone (including themselves) and the Hermione Grainger types - the Upholders.


The world can be a frustrating place for upholders - they have NO problem getting everything done. If they say they're going to exercise five times a week ... they do! Finish that report by COB? Done! Organise their wardrobe by season? Bam!

But they can be incredibly impatient with the Obligers, Rebels and Questioners of the world. They simply do not compute that some people are not as efficient at meeting their own internal expectations.

If you have an Upholder in your life you will hear this a lot: "I don't understand! You say you want to do it - why don't you JUST DO IT?" Well, now there's an answer!

The Upholder boss

As Gretchen points out in Better than Before, Upholders are quite rare. Most of us will be an Obliger or Questioner. If you find yourself with an Upholder boss, you may have unrealistic workload expectations placed on you and no empathy from your leader as to why you can't keep up.

Your upholder boss may be able to work night and day with the discipline of an Olympic athlete, but cut yourself a break if that's not your tendency.

Upholders place huge expectations on themselves, so you can bet that the high standards they are holding you to, are tripled for themselves. Upholders are often high achievers, so you can learn a lot from them, but don't burn yourself out in the process. Work hard, communicate effectively about where you're at, and manage expectations if you know you can't meet an impossible deadline.

If you're an Obliger, this can be difficult to do, because you find it hard to say no.

If you're a Questioner, let your Upholder boss know that you like to know the reasoning behind tasks or decisions. Otherwise, you can drive them crazy. Questioners don't like arbitrary rules and Upholders tend to uphold them without question!


"You can't make me and neither can I" is the catchcry of the Rebel.

As a Rebel, you are the small proportion that find it hard to meet the expectations of yourself and others. Accordingly, you often partner up with Obligers who handle the minutiae of daily life for you.

How many relationships (business and personal) do we know like this!

Working with our tendencies

Obligers do much better when someone else is relying on them to show up or meet a deadline. If you are an Obliger, you will do a lot better at meeting your exercise goals if you arrange to meet a friend at the gym regularly, pay for classes upfront or hire a personal trainer. To make sure you write that screenplay, join a writing group. Making it about others to get your own life done sounds counterintuitive, but is a very effective strategy for Obligers.

For questioners, there is a danger of analysis paralysis. It can be hard to make decisions because you'll always feel that you need more information. Being aware of your tendency will make it easier to move ahead with the light you have to see by.

Upholders - let's face it, if you're an upholder, you are probably not reading this! But if you are still with me, I beg you to be patient with the rest of us! We are not deficient, just different.

Rebels, Obligers and Questioners are truly unable to comprehend how you do your life and are totally unable to replicate it.

You're awesome and awe-inspiring, but don't forget to slow down and take time to rest and recover. Remember we are human beings, not human doings!

Go well, everyone and if you're curious, you can take the online tendency test here.