The Four Tendencies : a Framework to Form Good Habits and Actually Keep Them

The Four Tendencies, a Framework to build good habits

I’ve shared my admiration for Gretchen Rubin before on the blog. Author of bestselling books such as The Happiness Project and co-host of the Happier podcast, Gretchen Rubin is a happiness rock star. Everything she publishes I read, and when I heard that she was going to publish a book on the Four Tendencies, I was ecstatic.

In her recent book, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives, Rubin has laid out a personality framework called the Four Tendencies. The tendencies describe how we respond to inner and outer expectations, like a work deadline, or new years resolutions. She explains that knowing our tendency can help us find ways to achieve the goals we set for ourselves as well as form and keep healthy habits. Here’s an overview of the Four Tendencies framework :

The Upholder

An upholder is an individual who will respond to both inner and outer expectations with ease. They are the high achievers, always respecting deadlines, crossing things off their to-do lists and checking boxes. They crave the gold star of doing what’s expected of them. They easily keep new years resolutions and pretty much accomplish anything they put their mind to. They easily form habits, they just put it on the calendar, and it’s done. Gretchen Rubin is an upholder, a tendency that is fairly rare in the spectrum of personalities, along with the Rebel tendency.

The Obliger

The Obliger is this person you can always count on, no matter what. You can ask them anything and they will comply. They care for others and are a happy to be of service. The only downside of the Obligers is that they are unable to respond to their own expectations. They are on time for car-pooling, but they are unable to go jog before work. This can be very frustrating for them because most often, their inner expectations are priorities to them but they are unable to follow through. Forming habits is difficult for Obligers, but with proper accountability mechanisms, they can manage to form habits. For example, if an obliger wants to pick up running, she can join a running club or partner up with a friend for a morning stroll. Most people fall in the Obliger category.

The Questioner

The second most frequent tendency is the Questioner. Questioners will question all expectations, inner and outer. They will be able to form habits if it makes sense for them, turning outer expectations into inner expectations with proper information or research. They will ask many questions before starting a project, will research extensively, sometimes frustrating others by their incessant questioning. If they want to form a new habit, they should research the benefits of such habit to be convinced of its usefulness. I personally am a questioner and I’ve had parents and employers snap at me because I asked way too many questions. I guess I’m just wired this way!

The Rebel

One of the least common tendency is the Rebel. Rebels reject inner and outer expectations. They have the hardest time forming habits because anything that remotely looks like a rule to follow, they tend to loathe. They have a hard time accomplishing something for themselves also, because they tend to reject their own rules. They do not like forming habits much and Gretchen Rubin says that one of the only ways to make a Rebel do something is to link the action with the identity that they set for themselves. If a Rebel wants to be a team player, he will do his part of the project. If he wants to be lively and youthful, he will exercise. But he will only do so in his own term. Don’t try to stick them to a schedule or tell them what to do. They’ll do what they want, the way they want to do it.

Knowing your tendency allows you to choose the right mechanism to implement your new habit. It can help you find ways around the flaws of your tendency, leading to greater success in your endeavors. Knowing the tendency of your spouse, children or employees can also help you better understand the way they think and react, thus communicating accordingly.

Do you think you’ve figured out your tendency? Gretchen Rubin created a quiz that you can take to figure it out! She talks about the Four Tendencies pretty often in her podcast, Happier. Here’s an episode about the framework. Here are episodes about each of the tendencies :

In her upcoming book, aptly named The Four Tendencies (out this September), she will dive deep into the topic of the tendencies and how you can get the best of your own tendency. I can’t wait to get my copy! You can preorder yours on Amazon via this link. In the meantime, you can check out Better Than Before to know more about how to set good habits.

What is your tendency? How does it affect your habits and your goals? Let me know in the comments below!


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