What motivates you to succeed?

Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash.com

Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash.com

What drives people to succeed? Is there a driving force or is there some quality deep within that helps facilitate the outcomes? Is it science? Psychology? Self-management? Or is it just that we need to better understand ourselves?

Know thyself
We are each a product of our education and training in which knowledge is gained and skill developed. From experience we discover where our strengths lie. In the process, we develop habits or ways of doing things. Some are borne out of deliberate practice, others as a result of rituals and the patterns they reinforce. Do you know your habits well enough to ensure they serve you well?

This is a topic of research carried out by Gretchen Rubin, for her publication Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday LivesShe proposes that each of differs in our attitude towards habits and in our aptitude for forming them. Furthermore, she suggests most of us follow patterns that fit into four broad categories.

How do you respond to an expectation?
This is the key question that Rubin ponders in her research. She says it applies to inner and outer expectations. Inner expectations are those we have for ourselves personally whereas external ones are those imposed or set by others.

Rubin’s four broad categories are: upholders, questioners, obligers and rebels. She offers this questionnaire to help you self-diagnose your tendency.

What is the significance of the tendencies towards success?


  • respond to inner and outer expectations
  • are self-directed
  • keep resolutions and meet deadlines
  • have a strong instinct for self-preservation

However, they may also

  • struggle where expectations are unclear
  • feel obliged to meet expectations
  • feel uneasy when they know they are breaking the rules without powerful justification


  • question all expectations and meet them only if justified
  • motivated by reason, logic and fairness
  • decide whether a course of action is a good idea with sound purpose
  • turn all expectations into inner expectations
  • intellectually engaged and diligent in their pursuits

However, they have

  •  preference for information and justification can become wearing for others and themselves
  •  tend to “over work” their diligence in evaluating expectations


  • respond to outer expectations, struggle with inner expectations
  • excel at meeting external demands and deadlines
  • make great colleagues, family members and friends
  • reliable for others, depend on external accountability

However, they

  • don’t let others down but may let themselves down
  • resist inner expectations
  • difficult to self-motivate
  • may be susceptible to burnt out
  • have trouble telling people “no”
  • may be at risk of buckling under the weight of too much expecation


  • resist all expectations – inner and outer
  • act from their own sense of choice, freedom resisting control, self-control, rules and expectations
  • establish and work toward their own goals and expectations
  • value authenticity and self-determination highly

However, they can

  • frustrate others when they refuse to do what they are asked
  • be unaffected by people relying on them, going against rules, deadlines or social etiquette
  • be at risk of igniting the spirit of opposition
  • frustrate themselves by their own rebellious nature in personal expectations

Managing your tendency for success
If these tendencies are hard-wired, as Rubin suggests, how do we manage them? As with change, there are a few key steps.

  • be self-aware – know your own tendencies
  • accept your habits – recognise their contribution to your success and areas to be managed
  • act – learn to counteract any negative tendencies by questioning yourself and your actions, noticing your own behaviour

It seems there are more questioners and obligers than upholders and rebels. When working with others, you will probably have more success if you consider their tendency and recognise the best way to work with it.

Success in all aspects of life
People who have worked out how to work with and “exploit” their tendency to their benefit as well as to offset its limitations tend to have the most success.

By understanding ourselves and others better, we help ourselves to build happier, healthier, and more productive lives.
~ Gretchen Rubin

Would this be useful for you in achieving greater success at work, at home or socially?

Rubin, Gretchen. 2015. To Form Successful Habits, Know What Motivates You. Harvard Business Review, 17 March 2015.


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