Who Needs a Coach the Most? And Why?
When I started writing Better Than Before, my book about habit change, I vowed to answer questions that, for some reason, didn’t seem to puzzle most experts on the subject.
And I bet you’ve raised these questions yourself. Why do some people find it fairly easy to change their habits, while others struggle? Why do some people love habits, and others dread them? A friend told me, “In high school, I was on the track team and never missed practice. But I can’t go running now.” Why?
I wanted to account for the habit differences among people. After months of intellectual struggle, I arrived at my “Four Tendencies” framework.
I figured out that when it comes to habits, it matters enormously how you tend to respond to expectations. We all face…
– outer expectations (keep a deadline, meet a “request” from a sweetheart), and
– inner expectations (write a novel in your free time, keep a New Year’s resolution).
Your response to expectations may sound slightly obscure, but it turns out to be very, very important.
In a nutshell:
- Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations (I’m an Upholder, 100%)
- Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense
- Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves (like my friend on the track team)
- Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike
From my observation, Rebel is by far the smallest category, followed by the slightly larger category of Upholder—which came as a shock to me. Many things became clear to me once I realized that very few people are Upholders.
By a huge margin, most people are Questioners or Obligers.
The Four Tendencies framework is useful for coaches—especially when working with Obligers. Why? Because of the key insight that Obligers are motivated by external accountability.
Of the Four Tendencies, Obligers are the most likely to wish they were in a different category. They say things like, “I wish I weren’t a people-pleaser” or “I wish I could take time for myself.”
Obligers excel at meeting the expectations that others impose, and they dislike letting other people down. However, while they’re good at meeting external demands and deadlines, they struggle to self-motivate—to go running, to work on a Ph.D. thesis, to attend networking events, to get their car serviced.
They find it difficult to impose expectations on themselves—to make time for their own work, or even to relax. They no longer make New Year’s resolutions, because they’ve broken them so many times. An Obliger summarized: “Promises made to yourself can be broken. It’s the promises made to others that should never be broken.”
Therefore, in order to meet inner expectations, and to form habits that benefit themselves, Obligers need structures of outer accountability. To follow through with an action or to form a habit, they need tools such as supervision, late fees, deadlines, disappointed friends, the duty to be a role model to their children, or other consequences enforced from the outside.
More than the other Tendencies, Obligers benefit from the support of coaches—career coaches, health coaches, executive coaches, life coaches—who provide the crucial accountability by setting concrete goals, establishing deadlines, and looking over their clients’ shoulders.
A psychiatrist friend made an interesting point about the difference between coaches and psychotherapists. “In the kind of therapy that I do, I don’t hold you accountable,” she explained. “I try to help you learn to hold yourself accountable to yourself. A coach holds you accountable.”
“Then I wonder if some people need a coach more than a therapist,” I said, thinking of Obligers. “Accountability to someone else is what they really need.”
Accountability is a useful tool for many people, but for Obligers, it’s crucial.
Coaches can play a critical role in allowing a person to succeed. How about you? Have you found that for some people, this kind of external accountability makes all the difference?
To learn more about the Four Tendencies framework, and other strategies that help people to change their habits, check out my book Better Than Before. Also, on my blog, you can find many habit-change resources, such as one-pagers on “Eating Better Than Before,” “Exercising Better Than Before,” and “Working Better Than Before.”