The Four Tendencies

Categories Happiness, Know Yourself Better

As we have mentioned several times on this blog, we are both in love with Gretchen Rubin and her sister Liz Craft. We diligently follow their weekly podcast, Happier, in which they discuss life hacks on how to be happier, how to create good habits, as well as how to know yourself better. Gretchen has developed a framework she calls the The Four Tendencies and has even devoted an entire book to the subject. Through her happiness research, she discovered that people fall into one of four personality tendencies–upholder, obliger, questioner, and rebel. Her theory is that if you know which tendency you are, it is easier to create and keep healthy habits, which in turn make you happier. On her blog, Gretchen explains that individuals can be sorted, “by how you respond to expectations: outer expectations (a deadline, a “request” from a sweetheart) and inner expectations (write a novel in your free time, keep a New Year’s resolution).” She concisely breaks each tendency down as the following:

  • Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations
  • Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense
  • Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike
  • Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves

If you can’t determine which tendency you are from her descriptions, you can take her free quiz.

We have both taken the quiz and weren’t surprised by the outcome: Andrea is an obliger and Annie is a questioner. But is it really true that knowing your so called tendency can really make your life happier? We decided to each describe our experiences with our tendency and how knowing ourselves better has impacted our lives.


As an obliger, I need outer accountability to meet inner expectations, but have few problems upholding expectations involving others. For instance, when I’m asked to volunteer for various tasks at my children’s school, I can easily meet these expectations. However, when it comes to dragging myself out of bed on Saturday morning to run, I find it difficult unless I’m meeting a friend. After I realized my tendency, I knew that I needed to change a few things in order to stick to a few habits. First, I realized I needed someone or something to keep my running in check. I signed up for the half marathon with Annie and started a training program. Knowing that I had to be prepared for running 13.1 miles, kept me running, even in the early cold mornings of September. I also joined a local women’s running group to keep me motivated. In the end, I was ready for the race and felt accomplished as I didn’t miss a single training day. Second, I want to read more non-fiction. Therefore, I began to utilize my local library to check out books. Knowing I had a due date to read the book by, motivated me to finish a book instead of simply placing it back on the shelf unfinished. Additionally, Annie and I usually choose non-fiction to read together which keeps me in check to keep up with her. Thirdly, I tend to procrastinate with tasks at home that only impact me or that I alone care about. For example, I dislike meal planning. However, with three kids and a husband who doesn’t really cook, this task falls on me and is actually a necessity if anyone is going to eat a nutritious meal. I instill Gretchen’s happiness hack she calls, “for my future self,” to keep myself accountable. I tell myself, “Andrea you are doing this because your future self will appreciate it and rejoice once it is done.” Sure enough, as each evening approaches, I’m thankful that I know exactly what I’ll be cooking and that I actually have the ingredients to do so. I usually give myself a pat on the back. Even though, these all seem like simple hacks to keep myself accountable, they have actually freed up valuable thinking space in my head, providing me with more opportunities to laugh and be happy since I’m not feeling guilty for not running, or worrying about what’s for dinner. Knowing my tendency in this way has definitely impacted my life for the better.


I am questioner which means that I will question all expectations and meet an expectation, both inner and outer, only if it makes sense to me. I’m not sure if I have benefited from knowing this, at least when it comes to forming habits. I am a big believer in trying to understand oneself and this has opened my eyes about why I won’t do certain things. I think the main problem is that even if I know the reason why, if I don’t agree with the reason or if it’s not a good enough reason then I won’t do it. Or if how it was implemented isn’t how I would do it, then I won’t do it. An example would be the locks my apartment management installed on the recycling and trash dumpsters. I understand the reasons why they did it (to prevent people from dumping into them, to prevent homeless people from digging through it), I just don’t agree with how they did it. They put both locks on the actual dumpsters. The dumpsters are enclosed in a wooden fence with doors. This fence makes it even darker at night when you are trying to put in a combination. There are a few times when I have given up trying to unlock it because I couldn’t see to put in the combination. The lock for the trash dumpster is on the far end so if you have to open two doors to get at it. What I think they should do is put the locks on the wooden doors of the fence. An added bonus of having the locks on the wooden doors of the fence is that we would be able to use the street lights to allow us to see the combination. If they would do that, then I would use them. Right now, I hate them and absolutely refuse to lock them back up after I use them. As you see, it’s not just knowing the reason behind something but believing that it makes sense as well. I also find that I have to keep reminding myself of the reasons why I am doing something. Working out still does not come naturally to me and I have to constantly remind myself why I need to be doing it. I will soon be putting up reminders of why I need to move purposely every day and a calendar so I will do it. Hopefully, this constant visual reminder will help. I’ll let you know. I preordered Gretchen’s new book about the four tendencies and I am hoping that there will be some insights in there that will help me utilize my tendency to help me form habits and not be a roadblock.


Take the quiz and let us know which tendency you are. We love hearing what other people think of this framework and how you have used your tendency to help shape your life.


Your fellow travelers,

Andrea and Annie

4 thoughts on “The Four Tendencies

  1. To my utter shock, it seems I’m the Rebel type? I was certain I’d be a Questioner, or even an Obliger (I probably was this when I was younger), but reading the description, it does make some sense.

    I love these newer categorical observations of the human psyche. Love languages, the Myers-Briggs, etc. I love how interested in understanding ourselves humanity has become in the last few decades. Self-examination can be dangerous if you get in too deep, but it can also be hugely valuable.

    1. I know the new book talks about how you can be a mix of two tendencies. I haven’t read it yet but I’ll look it up tonight and see if there is any insight into that.

  2. I got The Upholder and it makes complete sense to me! I’m not sure if it told me anything new about myself overall, particularly in the workplace, but I like the way that the description framed how best I could create and stick to habits.

    1. That totally makes sense to me. I have the new book but haven’t had a chance to read it. You are welcome to borrow it after I read it to see if you gain any more insight into your tendency.

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