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Becoming Aware of my Flaws: How a Self-Help Book Improved my Life

A couple of weeks ago I read a book that–not to be dramatic or anything–changed my entire life.

It’s marketed as ‘Self-Help’, which is for some a pretty intimidating or embarrassing label because there is a certain image of being sad and pathetic associated with this sort of literature. Should the quest for self-improvement really be considered embarrassing though? I must admit I actually felt hesitant in sharing my experience with reading this sort of book at first because of this, but it has really helped me in understanding myself and the people around me better. By learning about the less desirable parts of my personality and why I react the way I do to certain things, I have come to realize what I need to do to break out of bad habits and be more efficient. It also opened up my eyes to the way others might react to me and why they might behave in a certain way. This isn’t magic, however, but a tool that (together with a lot of determination and effort) can really help change your life for the better.

Now, what book is it? It’s called “The Four Tendencies: the indispensable personality profiles that reveal how to make your life better(and other people’s too)”. (THAT is a mouthful) It is written by Gretchen Rubin, a lawyer turned author, and as it says on her website, “an observer of happiness and human nature”. Apparently the concept of the four tendencies came to her when she was doing research for another book, and for me at least I’m happy that she decided to write it down and unleash this little nugget of knowledge upon the world.

I found out about this book via one of my favorite accounts on Instagram, Think Grow Prosper, and decided to do the test (available at the beginning of the book or here) and I was instantly fascinated. Like most people I have taken some personality tests before of varying degree of seriousness, ranging from Buzzfeed telling me what Disney princess I am, to finding out that I’m basically just a living copy+paste creation of the INFP personality type according to the Myers-Briggs test. All assessments like this should be taken with a pinch of salt however, and I think it’s more important than anything to learn from the parts we might not particularly like about ourselves, things that are normally pretty easy to ignore in favor of more fun things like “Hey! I’m really nice and reliable!” So, what are these four tendencies? To put it simply, they are four fundamental differences amongst people in how they react to outer and inner expectations.

Picture from Building Beats

If you are like me, an Obliger, you thrive when there are guidelines and structure to your life, but when left to your own devices you basically self destruct and fall off the rails pretty easily. This means that an obliger-type can easily live up to outer expectations but usually fail to fulfill any internal expectations. For example, I will without fail finish any projects that have a deadline, but I have been “thinking about creating a blog” for like four years now and the furthest I’ve come with that is opening up my computer and watching some Netflix. To put this in perspective, my boyfriend on the other hand is an Upholder type, and if he decide on doing something he will somehow magically just…do it. He is lucky enough to be able to easily meet both internal and external expectations equally well. This creates some stress for me, a procrastination expert that easily become frustrated and anxious, and from time time I found myself complaining to him about not being able to do the thing. This used to just result in making my boyfriend look at me with mild annoyance on his face and harshly say “just do it”, prompting me to feel even worse about myself for not being able to. The thing is, for him “just doing it” doesn’t really require any significant effort, and he never really considered that it might be different for me. 

Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

After reading this book, however, I felt an odd sense of relief. Not that just reading this book helped ‘fix me’ in some way, but it did give me some answers. After I came to this realization I felt strongly that I needed my boyfriend to read this book as well, and it really helped us in our relationship. I wanted him to understand that it’s not just that I’m lazy and it’s not that I don’t care; I just struggle with constantly sabotaging myself in different ways. While I struggle to commit to anything that would benefit myself, like keeping up a regular workout schedule and keeping on top of my studies, I can’t say no to people and I constantly feel really stressed about letting others down. Other people’s wants and needs take a priority over mine, and I often feel very frustrated about this. And this is where this book has really helped me change my life for the better; I have come to learn different ways to overcome this struggle in myself. I still have a ways to go, of course, but at least now I can recognize my own tendencies, and can use that knowledge to help trick myself into being productive by just simply manufacturing external expectations. Even if it’s just in my own head (thinking I am doing something for someone else’s benefit and not my own) or asking another person to hold me accountable for something. For example: going to the gym together with my boyfriend or studying together with a friend. I have also learned that it is ok to say no from time to time and spend some time on myself instead of prioritizing other people’s expectations all the time.

Not only have I become more aware of myself and my tendencies, but I have also gained a deeper understanding and patience for other people as well. I can wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who is even a little bit curious about themselves, or even just wants to understand someone in their life who acts in a way that they can’t agree with. We are all just the same but in different ways after all, and even if you can’t get along with everyone, you can at least try to understand them and their ‘tendencies’.

Born and raised in Sweden, but calling Japan her home now for the past five years. Ella is a senior student at Waseda University, SILS, majoring in culture and history. Main interests are food, taking way too long walks and hanging out in parks, reading a good book, going on hikes, and looking for the perfect spot to have a swedish 'fika'; a cup of coffe with a friend.
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