We spend so much of our time trying to build positive habits and quash negative ones, that if we could get the balance right we absolutely would be happier.

Do you have any habits that drive you crazy? For me it’s using my phone in bed. Whether it’s before I (attempt) to go to sleep, or immediately upon waking, the urge to pick up my phone drives me crazy. I’ve tried all the tricks like charging it in a different room, and even uninstalling all my favourite time-wasting apps. But sooner or later those apps get reinstalled, and the phone ends up back on my nightstand. I know that this habit makes me tired, frustrated and unhappy. What I don’t know is how to kick it.

Gretchen Rubin – author of The Happiness Project – believes that the answer may be found in understanding how we respond to rules.

“As with most areas of self-improvement, knowing yourself is critically important”, Gretchen tells us. Whether you are trying to cultivate or kill a habit, we are really trying to instill rules upon ourselves. Either inner rules (ie. your New Years resolution, or your decision to write a novel) or outer rules (ie. deadlines, doctors orders, or a request from your sweetheart).

And it is no secret that people respond very differently to the idea of rules!

How do you respond to rules?

Gretchen proposes that there are four personality types based upon how we respond to rules:

Responds to both outer rules and inner rules.

The upholder responds to both outer and inner rules and is motivated by fulfillment. They very much want to know what the rules are and what is expected of them. And they want to avoid making mistakes or letting people down (including themselves).

Upholders wake up and think: “What’s on the schedule and the ‘to-do list today?”

On the plus side, Upholders don’t need a lot of supervision or accountability, and they are very good at seeing rules that no-one has even thought of yet. But they can have a tendency to become paranoid about rules, and overwhelmed or paralysed when they ambiguous or missing. This can be very draining to those around them. But likewise Upholders know how things should be, and have little patience for those that don’t follow the rules.

Tips for the upholder:
• Stop every now and again and get a new perspective.
• Ask yourself if this habit is important or if it is just causing you unnecessary anxiety.
• When in doubt, relax and go with the flow.

Questions all rules, but will follow rules if they make sense.

The Questioner questions all rules, but will follow rules if they make sense. They are motivated by sound reason and they must decide for themselves that a course of action makes sense. They definitely won’t stand for rules they think dont make sense!

Questioners wake up and think “What needs to get done today?”

On the plus side, Questioners are constantly asking why. Which helps them find new and interesting ways of thinking about everything. But even Queestioners can find their constant questioning exhausting. And can often become paralysed if they see arguments on both sides, or if they feel they don’t have perfect information. Questioners can be a huge asset to a team, but fit is a big issue. If they don’t think the rules make sense they won’t bother following them. And they might not even tell you!

Tips for the questioner:
• Accept that you can’t do everything at once and focus on one habit at a time.
• Rephrase your definition of the habit in a way that makes sense to you.
• Create a list of reasons why this habit is good for you and the people around you.

Resists all rules, outer rules and inner rules alike.

The Rebel resists all rules, outer rules and inner rules alike. They are motivated by their present desire – they want to do what they want to do – and will resist even self-control. The love to flout the rules and choose to act from a sense of freedom.

Rebels wake up and think “What do I want to do today?”

Rebels are creative people, thinking of things other people wouldn’t. But others can find their unwillingness to follow any rules frustrating. Rebels can sometimes be goaded into action by the thought:

“I’ll show you”
“Just watch me”
“You can’t make me”
“I’m doing it because I want to do it, not because you told me to”

Tips for the rebel:
• Make it as easy and pleasurable as possible to achieve your desired habit.
• Imagine how good it will be to ‘show’ those non-believers what you have achieved.

Responds readily to outer rules but struggles to keep inner rules.

The obliger responds readily to outer rules but struggles to keep inner rules. They hate letting people down, and are motivated by external accountability. But they often let themselves down, finding it difficult to fulfill commitments they’ve made to themselves.

The obliger wakes up and thinks “What is expected of me today?”

Obligers are great team players. They are reliable and committed, but because they never take the time to fulfill their own needs they are likely to burn out. They are also not great at self-starting projects.

Tips for the obliger:
• Use other people to keep you accountable for a habit you would like to cultivate.
• Create a list of reasons why the habit is good for those around you as well as yourself.

So how do we build the habits that lead to a happy life?

We’ve all tried to build new habits and failed, but maybe that is because we have approached it with the wrong motivation for our personality type.

For my part, I think I’ve been acting the rebel… simply doing what I want, when I want to.

My inner rebel doesn’t care that starting and ending my day on my phone is stopping me from being healthy, productive and sociable. So I need to make ditching the phone much easier and more pleasurable. Perhaps it’s keeping a well-stocked pile of books by my bed. Or allowing myself a few minutes in bed instead of picking up my phone. Or maybe it’s a case of goading myself into it, because you don’t believe I can do it. Either way, I’ll let you know how I get on!

What type of personality are you? And what habit might this knowledge help you build / quash?