The way we spend our day-to-day life determines how well we will live as we grow older. We may not think about it as we rush to our exercise class or choose better food or practice Spanish for an upcoming trip. But every choice matters.

Experts keep telling us, if we want to be young in our 80s, we must be young in our 60s and 70s. Still, the goal of happy old age may not be enough to keep us on track. Sometimes, we’d rather lay on the couch, serial watch Grey’s Anatomy and eat Oreos.

Understanding Our Motivations

When Gretchen Rubin’s new book, The Four Tendencies, hit the shelves, it zoomed up the best sellers’ list. I’ve been a fan of Gretchen’s since she started her Happier podcast. By the way, if you don’t listen to podcasts, please give it a try. Here’s a Beginner’s Guide to Podcasts that might prove helpful.

 
 

Gretchen’s theory is that we all have a dominant ‘tendency’ based on how we respond to expectations – both ‘outer expectations,’ i.e., what other people expect of us, and ‘inner expectations,’ or those we put on ourselves.

We fall into four categories – Upholders, Questioners, Obligers and Rebels. By knowing our tendency, we can better understand how we deal with so many aspects of our lives, including exercise, diet, organization and learning. You can find out more about your tendency by taking this little quiz.

Predicting Our Response to Expectations

It turns out I am a Questioner. I respond to my inner expectations when I know the facts. I quit smoking when I was 40 because I knew it would kill me quicker than the extra 20 pounds I’d gain.

I love fried chicken, but it’s a rare treat since I read an American Heart Association study which stated that consuming fried food one to three times a week increases heart failure risk by 18 percent. Seven or more times a week increases the risk by a whopping 68 percent.

Across the spectrum from Questioners are Obligers. Obligers are likely to meet outer expectations but resist their own. An Obliger may need a walking buddy or an exercise class to stay on track. Obligers tend to need accountability as much as willpower.

My sweetie is a Rebel. Rebels resist all expectations – inner and outer. I tried explaining to him why walking is so important. He just didn’t enjoy it like I do. Then he found a cool pair of walking shoes. They cost a lot more than the walking shoes I buy. My rebel started walking to justify the shoes. Win-win.

Opposite a Rebel is an Upholder. Upholders tend to meet expectations they put on themselves as well as others’ expectations. They can keep resolutions, show up on time for appointments and meet deadlines. If they say they will walk five days a week, they tend to do it. If the doctor says cut out sugar, no problem.

Knowing Ourselves Better

There are overlaps in these tendency categories. For example, sometimes I become a Questioner/Upholder or a Questioner/Rebel. But knowing I’m a Questioner puts things in better perspective for me.

We are never too old to learn about ourselves. The more we know about what makes us tick, the more easily we can maintain the health of our brains and our bodies. That’s what happy old age is all about.

It’s interesting that Obligers are the largest group of us all, at 41 percent, according to Gretchen’s research. Questioners are next at 24 percent, Upholders at 19 percent and Rebels at 17 percent. But, “It doesn’t matter which group we’re in,” she explains.

“The happiest, healthiest, most productive people aren’t those from a particular tendency, but rather they’re the people who have figured out how to harness the strengths of their tendency, counteract the weaknesses, and build the lives that work for them.”

My biggest fears about aging are losing mental acuity and being alone. As a Questioner, I read that learning a language or playing a musical instrument helps ward off dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.

I pulled my flute out of storage and joined a flute choir. It’s challenging since I haven’t played in 40 years. But it’s good for my head and for widening my social circle.

How does your tendency affect your approach to diet, exercise and learning? Are you self-motivated or does being part of a group help you stay on track? Looking into your future, are there things you can do now to improve your chance at happy, old age? Please share your thoughts below.

Terri Edmund WhiteTerri Edmund White is an innkeeper on Anna Maria Island, Florida. She enjoys life with her husband Jim and their cats, adopted from the Humane Society of Manatee County. A former corporate writer and editor, Terri is currently penning her way to her 100th birthday and has started a 100 Year Project website to write about the journey.

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