One of the traps I continue to fall into is thinking that situations, people, ideas, or feelings are fixed and unchanging. Years ago I started digging into the field of emotional intelligence and discovered that “black and white” and “all or nothing” thinking is pretty much the hallmark of poor emotional intelligence. From then on, I tried consciously to change this thought pattern, but it’s been a slow journey of growth over about a decade!
As the amazing book Mindset revealed so powerfully, the growth mindset is the best anecdote to a fixed mindset. Embracing that our abilities, skills, and behaviors can grow and change is so freeing! It’s also a wonderful way to accept other people for where they are and who they are. Just like you’re growing and changing, the people you love are too. One comment or one exchange does not characterize a person or a relationship between two people.
When there are bumps in the road of life, I often console myself by remembering that there will be “growing pains”. Learning and growth are not going to happen without some effort, struggle, and usually a dose of pain. Seeing that pain as something that’s temporarily serving a purpose rather than fearing it, has been my focus of growth the past few years.
In my mind, growth and God are completely intertwined. God is actively growing and nurturing my soul and he knows what’s best for me, even (especially!) when I don’t want to deal with something painful. When I remember to maintain a growth mindset it helps me surrender to God’s plan for my life and glimpse a clearer view of my vocation in His Kingdom.
I’ve followed the work and blog of Gretchen Rubin for probably a decade now… wow! She’s the writer behind The Happiness Project, Happier at Home, and most recently Better Than Before. She has created a framework that’s the subject of her next book: The Four Tendencies. Gretchen has been blogging and talking about this framework on her podcast for a few years now.
The Four Tendencies framework divides all people into one of four categories, based on how they respond to inner and outer expectations. Here’s Gretchen’s explanation of the tendencies:
Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations
Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense–essentially, they make all expectations into inner expectations
Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves
Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike
When I first started reading about this framework, I knew that I was either an Upholder or an Obliger. So, I took the quiz to get a definite answer! Upholder, indeed.
For years I’ve followed Gretchen’s discussion and explanation of the tendencies with minimal interest, especially after I went through my awakening. I liken the Upholder tendency to an A-type personality, where you need things to be a certain way. As I strove to be more present in the moment, let things go, and not plan excessively, I tried to turn away from my Upholderness.
Then, last week, my Team at work held one of our weekly huddles to discuss The Speed of Trust, a program that my firm has been working through the past few years. The behavior for that day was one I struggle with: Clarify Expectations. Generally, I’d been thinking about the concept of expectations and how to be better at identifying when an expectation had been set. Later that same day, I was walking and talking with a friend at work when I noted this issue of expectations and explained that inner expectations hold such power over me. I gave as an example my weekend long runs. If I run less than the 10 miles I had planned (i.e. expected), I feel like I failed. Nine miles? Not enough because it’s less than what I had set out to do.
Suddenly, a thought popped into my mind: “Because you’re an Upholder.” Oh yeah.
Re-reading through the material on her blog and listening to Gretchen’s podcast on The Four Tendencies, a lot of aspects of this expectation issue became clear to me.
As I had identified during my awakening, my tendency leads to a high risk that I will be too conscientious at following an expectation once I set it. That’s why keeping a planner doesn’t help me stay organized, but instead feels like a task master and tends to pull me into my mind and out of the moment. Planners are a great tool for some people, but not for me.
Also, I’d recently focused on being more intentional about my actions. I realized that what I called “being intentional” was synonymous with clarifying expectations. As an Upholder, I was setting inner expectations ALL THE TIME, but without consciously being aware of them. For example, I would have a passing thought that we could go to the library to return books tomorrow, and then it would become an expectation that I needed to meet. The trouble arises later when something else derails that “plan” and I feel like I’ve failed to do something that I set out to do.
By the way, I recognize how neurotic this post makes me sound! But, it’s actually very freeing to label this tendency and be able to recognize it’s virtues and drawbacks.
In terms of positives, I can readily set goals and met them without much external accountability. When I set decided to run a marathon last year, I did it. I trained and focused, and was able to cross that goal off. When I started running with the club, I had several folks comment that they’d never be able to run 20 miles on their own, as I had recently done. That surprised me, but now I recognize that those folks were Obligers. They could meet an external expectations but not necessarily an inner one.
Also, I love tracking things and keeping logs to reinforce good habits. When I’m focusing on low carb and a whole foods diet, there’s nothing that brings me more satisfaction that logging my blood sugars!
The major pitfall is the one I describe above, inner expectations can take over and make me feel chained to my to do list. But, I believe the key is being mindful and aware of when an inner expectation has been set. Because the great trick is, I can always set another expectation instead! This is why the mantra “Why don’t I wait and see how I feel…?” works so effectively for me. When my mind starts spinning on the various options of what I could prepare for dinner that evening, I can stop and think “I’ll wait and see when we get home” and the expectation becomes “wait and decide later” instead of trying to make a decision now.
This insight also made it clearer why I struggle to Clarify Expectations with others. I have so many unconscious inner expectations, that it’s challenging for me to identify them as such. This is where mindfulness and being intentional helps me so much. When I can identify an expectation, it becomes much easier to clarify it with others.
In hindsight, I realize that my push/pull relationship with following Gretchen’s work was a reflection of our shared Upholderness. A lot of her habits, tricks, and insights really resonate with me. However, when I was learning to be more present and less “in my head” I would pull back and revolt against her suggestions. The thing I now see is that a tendency is fairly hardwired and you can’t really turn it off. Instead, by embracing my Upholder tendency, I can figure out how to avoid the pitfalls and therefore struggle with myself less.
Now I’m excited to have my husband take the quiz – though I’m pretty sure I know which tendency he is! That’s where this framework can be so helpful, in identifying more effective techniques within relationships where two different tendencies meet.
Take the quiz and let me know what you think about your tendency!
Today is the last day of school for my kids! It’s so funny how time can simultaneously seem to go quickly and slowly. On one hand, it feels like Teo has been at the elementary school with Sienna forever, but then it’s hard to wrap my mind around the fact that we now have a fourth grader and first grader. This year has been a great one for both kids. They had awesome teachers and Sienna got to be in class with her best buddy Mia. Teo learned so much and enjoyed meeting great friends, who also became his teammates in both soccer and T-Ball. These boys will be together for years… what a joy!
Lately I’ve been keenly aware that Sienna is on the brink of the tween years. She’s 9 1/2, and I’m not entirely sure what officially qualifies as tween, but she’s getting close. The other night she shared a conversation she had with two friends on the playground. Sienna told me, “Mom, she said she’s Lutheran, but I don’t believe her. She didn’t even know what baptism was!” I had to stifle a giggle. We talked for a long time about the theological differences between orthodox, liturgical Christianity and American Evangelical Christianity. I was super impressed by how much catechism had stuck! As she spoke I was struck by her sophisticated reasoning and innocent outlook, as in, of course my friend and I share the same beliefs.
Speaking of innocence, sweet Mateo had a very difficult time on Memorial Day when he saw the brawl between Bryce Harper and Hunter Strickland. As a budding Giants fan, he was shocked and outraged that Harper would treat the Giants’ pitcher so aggressively. After Dennis and I tried to reason with him through his tears for several minutes, I finally said, “You’re right, Teo. His behavior was awful. Even if he was hurt and angry, there’s no good reason for him to attack the pitcher.” I realized that Teo was traumatized by seeing this violence during a game he loves. That type of aggression is not something he’s used to witnessing, thank goodness. It created a great opportunity to talk about the distinction between feelings and actions. We may not be able to control our feelings (like getting angry after being hit by a pitch), we can control what we do.
This stage of life is very fun and humbling. As the kids grow and face more challenges, our job as parents grows and changes too. The kids have feelings and thoughts that they voice with reckless abandon! I feel gratified that they’re both in touch with their feelings and secure in expressing them, but balancing their needs and my own emotional ups-and-downs is something I’m trying to be mindful about. Just last weekend, I did a long, hilly run and came back overly exhausted. I could feel myself being irritable and impatient as we ran errands later that morning. I got another couple opportunities to rightfully apologize for my shortness with Sienna. This situation has been nagging at me this week and I’m prayerfully asking for guidance to let go of control and needing things to go my way, such as fitting a long run in an already full day of activities.
I just read an amazing blog post over at Hands Free Mama that spoke to the idea of time and recognizing that we don’t know how things are supposed to unfold. This is something I’ve learned and relearned a dozen times over the past few years. It’s so freeing to recognize how little control we have and how much grace and perfection there is in God’s timing.
Time keeps marching on. Kids grow and learn. Parents grow and learn. We can’t see what’s around the next bend in the road, but we can love one another and give each other grace to grow and learn in our own time.
I’ll be the first to admit, I often “help” my children much more than necessary. Whether it’s getting their clothes picked out, pouring them cups of water, or otherwise bringing them things they could get themselves, I’m guilty of all of it. I’m trying to be better though. I’m telling them to get their own cheese stick from the refrigerator or figure out what shoes to wear without my input. Baby steps.
When Sienna gets out of the bath, she still wants my “help” or at least morale support while she dries off and gets her pajamas on. She’s always freezing cold (as “freezing” as you can be in a house that’s 77 degrees!) and won’t believe me when I reason with her that the faster she dries her body and gets her pajamas on, the warmer she’ll be.
Last night, I wasn’t feeling particularly stressed or hurried, but for some reason I told her to get herself dried and dressed. She didn’t need me. Her reply was of the whiny, tired variety: “Mom, I do need your help!”
As I scooted her towards her bedroom, I said “It’s so frustrating to have a nine year old who can’t seem to get themselves dressed alone.”
Sienna has remarkable emotional intelligence, and I noticed her surveying my face to see how I felt. Although my tone wasn’t particularly harsh, I was aware that my face expressed frustration and disappointment.
She looked at me with deep hurt in her beautiful brown eyes, “Fine, I don’t need you. Just go, Mom.” I tried to play if off and apologized flippantly. Her look bore into me, “Just go,” she repeated.
I saw a flash of teenage years and what our future interactions could look like. I’ve hurt her and made her feel inadequate, I thought.
I knelt down and took both of her arms in my hands. “Sienna, I am sorry. Will you please forgive me?” She sank down onto my lap and she said, “Yes, I forgive you. I just had a really bad day…” As she proceeded to tell me the troubles and frustrations of her day, I took a deep breath.
Even before I went through my awakening, there were certain things that I did that built a connection with my daughter. Although all the baby books said to lay her down awake in her bed at night, I literally rocked and sang Sienna to sleep every night until she was 2 1/2 years old. I felt guilty about it for the first year, and then I realized it was our special bonding time and I was going to enjoy it! Then, when she was too big for that, I lay beside her until she fell asleep. When she was 3 years old, I realized that she didn’t need me to be there when she fell asleep. She felt so secure in her bed after years of our nightly routine.
Currently, there are days she asked me to come talk with her while she’s in the bathtub or “help” her by sitting on her bed while she gets her pajamas on. I’m not actually doing something for her and thereby handicapping her development, she just wants me there.
Our family has frequent talks about the importance of apologizing and asking for forgiveness when we hurt one another. Talks are one thing, but opportunities to demonstrate the restorative, reconciliatory joy of forgiveness are precious. They also lead to deeper connection and often the release of emotions that have built up. Sitting there listening to Sienna’s worries about her day, it was so clear that nothing else was as important. Everything else could wait.