Finding The Unlikely Helpmates


Finding The Unlikely Helpmates

Psychologist Martha Beck outlines a new approach to keeping our New Year’s resolutions in “How to (Finally!) Keep Your new Year’s Resolutions” in the January issue of O. Instead of relying on will power, research suggests we will all be more successful in meeting our goals if we rely on other people.

Not exactly a news flash, right?

But the interesting part is exactly whom we should rely on. Here Dr. Beck describes four different motivational—or “conative”—styles. When it comes to solving our problems, or striving toward our goals, we tend to be “implementers,” “follow through,” “quick start,” or “fact-finders” according to this theory.

Sounds a lot like the four classic temperaments to me.

Let’s take a typical New Year’s resolution, and analyze the various ways each of the temperaments would tackle this goal (using what some might call their distinct “conative” styles). Let’s say the resolution is to get in shape, begin a new fitness program. The choleric is the goal-oriented, bottom line, “implementer.” He wants to solve the problem and get on with life, pronto. What’s the quickest way to get in shape and lose 30 pounds by March 1? He signs on for “Xtreme Boot Camp” at 5:30 AM every day of the week. That’ll do it. Until he throws his back out.

The phlegmatic is just the opposite the choleric, preferring to carefully and methodically research all the various fitness programs and various health clubs. There’s also the cost to consider; perhaps a home fitness program might be beneficial. Then there’s getting out of bed.

Next we come to the melancholic. “Are you kidding me? You expect me to join a health club now? I can’t just jump into a fitness program without having a thorough health evaluation and completing research on the most reputable health clubs in the area. I need to identify the trainers who achieve the best results.” Melancholics tend to say “no” until they have processed all the information and are sure that they will be able to succeed in their plan. Then (and only then) they will cautiously dip their big toe in the water. They tend to be slow to initiate but, once they have decided on the perfect plan, they will persevere.

The sanguine (just the opposite of the melancholic) will enthusiastically sign up (January 2nd) for whatever the most popular fitness program is…and will be equally quick to drop it. Sanguines tend to be enthusiastic, creative, and rather impulsive, learning by trial and error what works and what doesn’t. (Think Tigger: Tiggers absolutely love thistles…until he tries them.) The problem is sticking with the program, especially when it becomes boring.

After identifying your conative style, Dr. Beck advises teaming up with someone who is the exact opposite. Someone you are not likely to gravitate toward, naturally. In fact, someone who is likely to drive you crazy. This may be the very person who can help you succeed in your goals.

If you are extremely goal-oriented and bottom-line driven (choleric) then you will be successful teaming with someone who is more sensitive to the subtle and personal details, such what sort of shape you are currently in, what program would work for you. (If you take into consideration these crucial details, you reduce your risk of throwing your back out, two weeks into boot camp!). If you are an extremely choosy perfectionist who tends to over-analyze before beginning any new project, you will benefit from joining forces with a dynamic motivator who can jump start the process.

For those of us who have identified our temperament, this means: a choleric teams with a phlegmatic and a sanguine teams with a melancholic. Each will supply the other with just what they need to keep going. The choleric who wants to get to the bottom line (weight loss, fitness) can really benefit from the phlegmatic’s careful and methodical analysis of the process. In turn, the easy-going phlegmatic will benefit from the choleric’s drive to succeed.

The sanguine, who might impulsively sign up for whatever sounds fun and intriguing (hey, I found a “kick-boxing speed crochet” class!) at the moment can use a little of the melancholic’s careful research and attention to detail. The creativity and enthusiasm of the sanguine will help motivate the rather skeptical melancholic, who otherwise might not be able to work up any enthusiasm for the project. In turn, the melancholic’s perseverance will help the sanguine maintain her program, espec ially when the sanguine gets bored and wants to quit to do something more fun.

This concept of team work for success is, of course, not new. And the specific idea of appreciating other people’s gifts and talents (especially to fill in those gaps where we are weak) was anticipated by Saint Catherine of Siena more than 600 years ago. Our Lord revealed to Saint Catherine in the Dialogues that He did not give any one person all the natural gifts (read temperament or “conative style”)that he or she would need in order to succeed in life, because He wanted us to rely on one another. “I could easily have created men possessed of all that they should need both for body and soul, but I wish that one should have need of the other.”

Saint Catherine had it right. Let’s team with our friends (especially those who are very different) for success in meeting our New Year’s goals. And in the process, we will develop a healthy respect and appreciation for each other’s gifts and talents.






1 Comment »

  1. Melinda-536794 January 25, 2010 Reply

    Insightful and yet very true. I wish I had teamed up with a melancholic; I might not be exhausted from being too rigorous in pursuit of my goals–fitness and otherwise. Being part sanguine and part choleric means my creativity prevents me from ever getting bored with my goals. Unfortunately my body can't keep up with me!

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