Four Personality Types: Which One Are You?

Assay:  Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how different people respond to rules–and I use “rules” broadly (see below for examples) to mean any kind of instruction to do or not do something.

I love to identify categories. Abstainers/moderators. Leopards/alchemists. Radiators/drains. And I now I can’t stop thinking about these four categories.

To see if you spot yourself in these categories, ask yourself:

How do I respond to an outer rule? A law, a traffic sign, a “request” from a spouse; a work deadline, an admonition from your doctor, an appointment with a trainer, social protocol?

How do I respond to an inner rule? A New Year’s resolution; a decision to exercise more; putting in work on a self-generated project (writing a novel, planting a garden).

With that in mind, consider whether any of these types rings a bell:

Upholder—accepts rules, whether from outside or inside. An upholder meets deadlines, follows doctor’s order, keeps a New Year’s resolution. I am an Upholder, 100%.

Questioner—questions rules and accepts them only if they make sense. They may choose to follow rules, or not, according to their judgment.

Rebel—flouts rules, from outside or inside. They resist control. Give a rebel a rule, and the rebel will want to do the very opposite thing.

Obliger—accepts outside rules, but doesn’t like to adopt self-imposed rules.

Some examples:

An upholder stops at a stop sign at 3:00 a.m. in a small deserted town; so does an obliger. A questioner decides whether it’s safe to stop. A rebel rolls through the stop sign at 3:00 p.m. in traffic.

An upholder can train with a trainer or exercise on her own; a questioner can do either if he thinks it makes sense; a rebel will do neither, because the fact that she has an appointment or an item on her to-do list makes her want to disobey; an obliger can meet a trainer, but can’t get to the gym on his own.

Of course, this is about your tendency. There’s a continuum, and no one accepts or resists all rules, and some people don’t fit easily into one of the four types–but I’ve been amazed at how often people immediately place themselves firmly into one camp. Do you recognize yourself? How does this evince itself?

Each type has its pros and cons.

I’ve just started thinking about this so welcome any thoughts, experiences, additions. I’m going to write more about it soon.

  • I’m an upholder-questioner depending on the circumstances. I think I tend to be more of an upholder with things that I’m familiar with or like and a questioner when the situation is uncomfortable or new.

  • Chelsea

    This post is so interesting. I read it allowed with my husband in the room and we both identified ourselves in one of your categories almost immediately. I love applying these types of research projects to my life because it helps me set myself up for success. I really liked the abstainers/moderators article you did and use it all the time to help keep successful resolutions. Thanks Gretchen!

    • gretchenrubin

      So happy to hear it struck a chord – and is useful.

  • ella

    Interesting post. This is the first one of your matrices where I can’t place myself at all. In some ways I am a classic Upholder (lawyer, first-born child) but sometimes I rebel (i.e., choose not to follow a perfectly sensible rule). I am frequently late in recording my hours (even though I know how important it is), I have been driving around with an expired driver’s license for nearly a year (!), and I am currently very delinquent in scheduling a checkup. I’m quite disciplined about following some inner rules (exercise four times a week, don’t eat carbohydrates) but not at all disciplined about others (get into bed earlier, floss every day) — without regard to how sensible they are.
    I think my compliance depends completely on the consequences: how bad will the consequences be if I DON’T follow the rule? How good will the consequences be if I DO follow the rule? Maybe that makes me a Questioner, but the outcome isn’t dependent on how sensible the rule is; it is dependent on the nature and extent of the carrot or stick.

  • I think I’m somewhere between an Upholder and an Obliger. I impose rules on myself but have a bit more trouble sticking to those sometimes. I would without a doubt stop at that stop sign, though. 🙂 My husband is, no question, a Questioner. I can trace back some of our perennial tiffs to that very difference.

  • PNW Gal

    Ooh, I am an Obliger for sure. With questioner tendancies.

  • Interesting! I think I’m an obliger, moving towards up holder, especially with your gym example! Looking forward to reading your future posts about this!

  • NewGrayMare

    I am so totally a questioner. I’ve had problems in many workplaces because of rules that don’t make sense to me. I just flat out refuse to follow a rule that I find stupid, inane, or serves to feed someones power hunger. If someone takes the time to show me why a rule exists, then I’m more likely to follow it, provided I see the big picture.

  • hydees

    I am 100% a Questioner

  • Olivia

    Ooo, I like this distinction! I’m definitely an Obliger, but hadn’t thought about it in those terms before.

  • peninith1

    I think I’m an Upholder with a nasty shadow insider who betrays me into rebellions that are NOT for my own good. I certainly don’t go through stop lights at 0300. I do exceed speed limits when driving, but at a carefully calculated 5 mph over, using my cruise control to manage myself. I make plans to accomplish things, and I follow through quite often (except when a new and shinier goal pops up before my eyes). But I make all kinds of promises and set all kinds of rules for eating properly and rebel all the time. That’s my one outlier rebellion, and it undermines me. Otherwise I think I’m pretty much of an upholder–with the inner rules dominating. At work I was known for sometimes ‘getting forgiveness rather than permission’ but that was usually more about doing what I knew professionally was the right way to go, rather than the boss-pleasing way to go.

    • gretchenrubin

      A friend told me she was an outward Upholder with a subversive streak. Sounds like that might be you too!

      • peninith1

        LIKE that way of looking at it!

  • Molly

    I am an upholder and a questioner. I’m probably more naturally a questioner, but as I’m getting older, I am more an upholder than I was in earlier years. This may be a conscious choice, though, rather than what I am naturally, as I’ve realized the wisdom of consistency–especially when there ISN’T an outer rule. I’m a bit weak-willed!

    • Molly

      By the way, I don’t consider myself an obliger, as I LOVE to impose rules on myself. I just don’t always follow them to the letter!

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes, seems to me that people do move in different directions with time. I’m an Upholder, but have become more of a Questioner than I used to be. In a GOOD way. A friend of mine described himself as exactly as you have done, on Saturday night.

      • molly

        Gretchen, from your books and what I’ve read in them, you definitely seem to have a healthy questioner in you. I think that must be some aspect of most intellectuals, and I certainly consider you to be an intellectual! I am very (very) interested in personality typing–myers briggs, enneagram, Oldham’s type system is helpful (conscientious, vigilant, etc.), and I really like this one you made. Another thing I have become increasingly interested in is how our personalities change and develop as we grow. For example, I once read about research into how women view their careers over various decades and how we act on scales of introversion/extroversion over the decades—we’re go getters in our twenties, most social in our thirties, introverted AND extroverted in our forties as we take time to reflect on our priorties, etc. I look forward to more of your own “typing” and developments in this specific categorization. It’s interesting to read about the advantages/pitfalls of various type.

  • Veronique

    I am a questioner and have taught my son to be one too. Now that he is a teenager, sigh, I wish I’d taught him to blindly follow the rules. (Just kidding)

  • This is very interesting! The Myers Briggs Type Indicator, (MBTI), based on Jungian psychology, says there are 16 basic personality types; StrengthQuest says there are, I think, 34 basic personality strengths. Your condensation down into four personality types is fun and makes a great deal of sense! I would love to see a list of your references, if you would like to share.

    • gretchenrubin

      I just made this up! No references except my own analysis.

  • Rachel Brown

    I’m absolutely a questioner! I think it works well for me because I’m a scientist, so I’m encouraged to question all parts of my job. Also I think being this way allows me to make good decisions (usually). BOY do I get into trouble though when I start rationalizing my way out of unpleasant tasks!

  • beingjackbutler

    Hi Gretchen – curious to know the origin of this personality schema? Jack

    • gretchenrubin

      Just made it up. But as I’ve talked to more and more people about it, it seems to hold up.

      • beingjackbutler

        Are you familar with The Enneagram of Personality? It gives some robust predictability around these kinds of responses. As well as S and J in Myers Briggs profiles. Good work by the way in coming up with yours – it’s neat.

        • gretchenrubin

          Love the Enneagram and Myers Briggers.

          • beingjackbutler

            I think Enneagram type + dominant instinct will give quite a nuanced response to how people approach the sorts of situations you mention. 6 is the classic questioner. 7/8 more likely the rule-flouting rebel – and probably most so in sexual 7/8s.

  • A definite upholder.

  • I’m an obliger, but I used to be an upholder. I feel very strongly about rules for some reason.

  • Scarlett

    I’m definitely an obliger, which makes perfect sense because I’m a people-pleaser to a fault. When following a rule or resolution doesn’t affect anyone but myself, I have a harder time sticking to it.

  • Jackie

    I really look forward to reading more of your thoughts on this. I am 100% a Questioner, and also a tax accountant. It was just this past weekend that I realized (not realized… accepted) that this conflict (I really could care less about keeping up with the details of what is ultimately a large set of arbitrary rules that make NO SENSE) has been a major hurdle in my success and happiness in my work, and made a concrete decision to shift the focus of my practice. Your post on this was extremely relevant this morning!

    • Sarah

      I do share these thoughts Jackie 100%. I have been struggling with success and career. Is it because I am a questioner? I also tend to be a Rebel or an obliger 50% of the time. Do I need to be an Upholder if I want success?

    • I really feel for you– tax work lends itself to crazy-making rule following. Especially since– in my experience, and if you’ll allow a sweeping generalization– most of your colleagues are probably Upholders.

  • Kathy

    I’m an obliger with a hidden streak of rebel. I live with two rebels (my husband and son) and it can get pretty chaotic. I’d rather be more of a questioner–can one change one’s pattern?

  • Anny

    I am with vincci. I am an Obliger but want to move towards being more of an upholder. I am definitely not a people pleaser though. I can’t wait to hear more about this topic.

  • peninith1

    The Book of Common Prayer (Anglican) has a wonderful prayer that begins “Oh Lord our Governor, in whose service is perfect freedom,” the prayer goes on to ask for guidance so that all our actions will be righteous in the sight of God. Your post is bringing that to my mind. It was a paradox that greatly impressed me when I was younger, and I think has become part of my internal makeup–when one is obeying the dictates of the Divine, the freedom to do RIGHT (Civil Disobedience is the classic example) is always available, though it may mark you as a Questioner or a Rebel.

  • Sophie

    I’m definitely an Obliger – the exercise example fits perfectly. I tried to explain to my boyfriend over the weekend why I didn’t just go to the gym regularly due to my own rules, but need an outside influence. This words it better than I managed!

    • gs

      Yes, this post helps me understand others. My friend’s husband seems to be like you–he is interested in music and wants to learn to sing, but he won’t go to the music class unless my friend accompanies him. He won’t go out for a walk, unless she goes along. I always wondered what was his deal– it makes a little more sense now. I guess it means he has a very strong sense of community, so he is an Obliger.

  • I think I’m more like you, an Upholder, although there are parts of each which I do adopt myself, just to stay wild and wacky! I think it’s also sometimes good to be rebellious, especially when it comes to the oppressing thoughts of ‘failure’ which are often imposed upon us by our associates, so as I say, for me a mix up is perfect 🙂

  • olivia

    Totally an Obliger here… except I wouldn’t stop at the stop sign IF no one else was around and IF I was sure there was no cop around… and I would stop at a red light even if the above two IF’s held… I agree it’s a tendency and not a rule.

  • Why do think these personalities stick? (Kidding, I’m a questioner so I had to put it in there.)

    Though I would propose a possible fifth type: a “Knows-Better” (or perhaps a more clever name). Someone who always sticks to their own rules (because they’re so smart that they came up with them), but rebels against outside rules (because what do you know).

    • gretchenrubin

      I think that’s a Questioner who veers toward Rebel. I have a friend who fits exactly this description.

  • Susanne

    Okay, 99% Obliger here, with a ferocious 1% Rebel — and, man, can that 1% wreak havoc in my life! The Rebel comes out in force when I try to set my own “rules” — set a Resolution, create a diet plan, set a goal, and that obnoxious child inside me stomps her foot and crossed her arms and says, loudly “Won’t, and you can’t make me, so there!” I’d cheerfully throttle her if I could. On the other hand, when my doctor told me to lose 30 pounds or risk diabetes, the weight was off in 6 months & has stayed off for years. LOL!

    • gretchenrubin

      This is why these types are important, and why they came to my attention. If we’re trying to make change, it’s important to pick a method that suits our type. Make a new year’s resolution—or not? Join a running group—or not? See a nutritionist, or not? Clear the house of treats, or keep them around? Etc.

      • Cheryl Martin

        Rebels should approach diet and exercise as an act of freedom. Think of being free from sweets. They don’t own me. Giving the finger to fast food places. I believe this method is used in Carr’s anti-smoking book. Don’t let the cigarette companies own you vs. you can’t or shouldn’t smoke. Don’t set up exercise as a chore, but as an exercise in freedom-dancing, walking, or hiking on your on time and on your own terms. Rebels desire freedom. Sometimes letting others have control can bring freedom as well. You’d probably find more rebels in the military than you’d suspect.

  • Katie

    An obliger wants to make other people happy. I am an obliger.

    • gretchenrubin

      Very interesting!

      Obligers—do you feel that this desire is at the core of being an Obliger? The desire to please others?

      In fact, is this the case….that the underlying aims of the types is:

      The Upholder wants to stay out of trouble. (true for me)

      The Questioner wants to feel self-determined

      The Rebel wants to resist control

      The Obliger wants to please others

      • phoenix1920

        Perhaps I’m not sure how you are defining a rebel: is it one who is compelled to break rules or is it one who doesn’t value a rule simply because it is a rule–be it a self-created rule or society’s rule. However, if you define a rebel as the later, I’m a rebel and for me I CRAVE control–it’s why I HATE rules and perhaps why even self-imposed rules don’t work long. Accepting inner or outer rules is permitting something else to control my actions and makes it feel like a straight-jacket. I may say that a rebel want to retain personal control for all decisions

        • intrigued

          The rebel would then be the same as the questioner, where he/she wants to retain personal control for decisions and therefore feel self-determined.

      • m

        Obliger here — definitely feel it’s from a desire to please/not disappoint others, a combination of need for approval and fear of “looking bad”. However, if I disappoint myself by breaking internal rules, no big deal because no one else knew about those rules!

      • Diane

        I’m just now reading this and find it very interesting!! I’m also an Obliger who hates to disappoint others…the “having others watching” doesn’t resonant like the disappointing others does. Thanks for this enlightening revelation, Gretchen!

        I think knowing how I could “oblige” myself might by a key to unlocking why I self-sabotage myself. Is there more information about this?

  • I’m an obliger for sure. I will always stop at a stop sign, yet cannot make or keep resolutions for the life of me.

    I’m horrible at keeping on top of errands or chores. My partner has managed to work around this by politely– yet directly– asking me to do things to help out around the house. Of course I’m happy to oblige, but if it were solely up to me I’d put it off for as long as possible.

    • gretchenrubin

      Interesting that you say “of course I’m happy to oblige.”

      A Rebel and a Questioner would not be happy to oblige!

      • Heidi

        Now this is interesting. I would also be happy to oblige if my husband asked me to do some thing, and the same is true for my friends. But I don’t think anyone gets to tell me I *have* to do something (I object very strongly to that idea), so that’s why I think I’m 100% Questioner. This sort of answers your question below directed at Obligers. I’m not an obliger because I don’t feel obligated, but I do want to please others.

  • Thanks Gretchen, for keeping on thinking critically on yourself and us!

    1) Nonetheless (being a questioner;-)) I cannot avoid asking what is the role of SELF-CONTROL in your scheme. You seem to imply that the required degree of self-control is innate in each of these types (e.g., a rebel would have enough self-control to follow the rules, but just does not want to). Instead, self-control does not always accompany each type. Think of resolutions such as “Don’t loose your temper!”. One can fail to stick at it even if one is an upholder.

    2) I would further think that the upholders vs. rebels distinction has a lot to do with the one between PLANIFICATION VS. IMPROVISATION (an upholder can stick at promises because she has the future consequences of each act before her eyes, whereas a rebel just focuses on today’s pleasure and cannot identify with tomorrow’s miserable state).

    3) I would also add the invitation to reflect more on WHAT WORKS for oneself. Apart from the carrot/stick distinction, I have noticed that some people react only to fun (different than carrot, since a carrot might be a word of encouragement or a gold medal, whereas fun is an immediate feeling).

    • gretchenrubin

      Very thought-provoking.

      Good point about losing your temper. I will say this: as an Upholder with a quick temper, I follow many resolutions that help me keep my temper, and so I’m doing a better job of it. So there are indirect ways to get at these matters. The Rebel might resist any rules aimed at changing behavior.

      I don’t think Rebels don’t see the future. At first, I thought that behavior was about impulsivity but in fact, from what I observe, it’s more about resisting control. The Rebel DOES NOT WANT to follow the rules. But you’re right that impulsivity is a major aspect of human nature…how does it fit in here? excellent point.

      I agree—I’ve made the distinction before between “yes” resolvers and “no” resolvers. I wonder if Upholders tend to be both, or even slightly to the “no”….that’s true for me, and I’m an Upholder. This may be something that affects Questioners the most. My sister is a Questioner, and she’s a “yes” resolver for sure. She coined the immortal line, “Now I’m free from French fries” when she stopped eating fries.

      • Heidi

        This is the first I’ve seen of the yes vs. no resolver distinction. But I must be a yes resolver, because your sister’s line about French fries appeals to me. But if anyone told me I can’t eat them, I’d tell them where to get off. When it comes to healthy eating habits, I’m much better off focusing on the joy of perfectly steamed broccoli than the evils of sugar and hydrogenated oils.

    • phoenix1920

      To the extent that you imply a rebel focuses only upon pleasure and doesn’t think about tomorrow, I don’t agree. Instead, I believe that while a questioner analyzes outer rules and determines whether to accept them or not (and carefully crafts inner rules), a rebel is merely a questioner for all rules, realizing that all rules unnaturally constrict one’s behavior and may not be best to follow always. Even if we carefully craft our inner rules, following these rules by their very nature prevent us from doing something else. If we put on blinders and follow all of those inner rules we carefully crafted for ourselves, we can miss other opportunities. We are constantly growing and changing and too often delude ourselves. Rebels realize that both inner and outer rules need to be challenged. It is not some hedonistic lifestyle where a rebel is focused only on immediate pleasure like the proverbial grasshopper. Instead, we all have ultimate goals–it has nothing to do with which of the four you are. Perhaps the rebel is the most focused on the end result–on the ultimate goal all along. If my definition of a successful life is maximizing happiness or maximizing money, all rules (both inner and outer) should be questioned because any rule by itself is narrowing and eliminating choices that may or may not work in this situation. I know of very few rules that always work well in every situation The rebel is simply aware that rules bind you and have a very wary feeling of being willfully binded. Rules must yield to goals.

      • Thank you, phoenix, for letting me ponder more about the issue. When I think at the rebels I know better (and I have several of them in my family), they seem often to let rebellion play even against (what they told me to be) their goals.

        E.g., they would refute to go to bed early, if they spot I am insisting about it, even if this means being exhausted and unproductive for days.

        Perhaps your depiction is the “best possible option” for rebels? That they discover their own goals and focus on them, notwithstanding rules, rather than having the fight against rules as their primary goal?

        • gretchenrubin

          From talking to Rebels, this is something they struggle with: they resist even rules that they believe would make them happier or that they wish, on some level, to follow.

          • phoenix1920

            The more I think of these discussions, the more I think that
            the categories are not quite right, as least as it comes to the
            questioner/rebel distinctions. It feels like Gretchin has created a type of personality matrix, where we have two sliding scales forming a perfect box, which one side measuring your response to
            an outer rule and the other measuring your response to an inner rule. Are you motivated/driven/accepting of outer rules or inner rules, both, or neither? For a rebel, the response is a “no”: rules, whether they are inner or outer rules, are not motivational at all. However, the discussion and response seems to imply that true rebels
            want to break a rule simply because it is a rule—which is adding a completely different dynamic to the matrix, causing it to not operate as a matrix at all. Wanting to be defiant to rules simply because they exist actually becomes as much of a rule as any other rule
            (i.e., I must break your rules and mine). Then it would be SOO easy to control a rebel (i.e., to get a “rebel” to eat veggies, simply tell her, “Whatever you do, please don’t eat any veggies.”)

            Yet, we are not being consistent because we are not using the resistant to rules when we look at questioners and their response to soceity’s outer rules. Being resistant to rules and want to break rules is different from not being motivating by rules or accepting of their authority over our actions. If we are thinking of those people who are compelled to break a rule because it exists, we have switched our discussion to those with an oppositional personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder—not one’s response to rules as being motivational or not. I think the four personality categories need to stay true by using the same two factors addressed above (our response to inner and outer rules) and thus form a true matrix composed of the two factors. This means that questioners will question outer rules and decide on the wisdom of adopting them, but can be motivated by inner rules which are ones the questioner has adopted for himself or herself. However rebels are not motivated by either outer or inner rules and does not accept them based on the authority that it is a rule. If we are changing the matrix and are asking do you resist rules or comply with rules, then a questioner should be one who resists outer rules and accepts inner rules, while a rebel resists all rules. Or is a questioner one who questions both inner and outer rules and is not influenced by the fact that rules exist, while a rebel is one who is actively resisting rules and wants to break them–both inner and outer rules. For me, rules by themselves don’t have an impact on me simply because they are rules. But I have no compulsion to break them. If I try to adopt an inner rule to help me meet a goal, I know I’ll keep that inner rule only until I feel like changing it, and then I will change it and don’t feel guilty. Which in essence means that I am not really bound to rules and struggle trying to keep/adopt them.

            The more I think of it, the more I think that the dynamic as to all personality categories are involving one’s response to a rule—should our behavior be governed by the rule; do we accept the fact that rules should have authority over us? For the rebel, all rules (internal and external) do not really have authority over our actions. Our actions are governed more by who we are and what is important to us. I will follow another person’s rules, not because I believe in the rule, but because by following that rule, I am showing that person I respect his or her wishes or am showing that person how important he or she is to me. The rule has nothing to do with my behavior. Just because I am a rebel as to my response to a rule does not mean I don’t value others’ perspectives/opinions. If I don’t want to go to a funeral, but it’s my best friend’s mother’s funeral and she needs me, I go. But not because somebody told me I had to. I go because there is an independent need to go. The rule that we should to a loved one’s funeral go has no influence on my decision.

        • phoenix1920

          I love our discussion. Thank you for continuing your questions. I think some of this is covered below, but I think we are talking about two different things–those with a compulsion to break rules and those who simply don’t recognize or adopt the authority of rules over our conduct because our conduct should be governed by us and not some blind allegiance to set, unyielding rule that may not be appropriate in the situation. If you have people in your family that will go to bed late simply because you asked them to go to bed early, that is a different beast and is more of a personality disorder discussed more below. Moreover, if one is truly a rebel and doesn’t like others to control their behavior, the rebel would know that their compulsion to break a rule would be letting others control him or her, just as much as following the rules. If I forced myself to stay up late simply because somebody told me not to, I am as much a slave to a rule as if I forced myself to go to bed early because I adopted a rule.

          I think earlier, you may have mentioned that rebels don’t like to plan, but I don’t see how planning and one’s reaction to rules have anything to do with another. A plan is a goal, a direction. I am SUCH a planner–perhaps I should call it a hobby, I spend too much time planning. I think it is even more necessary for rebels because that is how I accomplish what I do. For example, while neither my husband or I are in construction, when I got pregnant with my second child, my husband and I decided we’d double our house by adding on and doing it ourselves (except for installing the new H/VAC). We broke all the rules, did it our way (but did get it inspected each step of the way), and learned how to do it by reading books and researching. It was so fun, but too much work, especially with a newborn. Rules can be limitations we impose on ourselves, but without those limitations, we need a plan more than ever. A plan, unlike rules, is not a set policy, but changes constantly, as a plan should. Perhaps I spend so much time planning because I’m a rebel (if we define rebel as one not bound by rules, as opposed to defining a rebel as one who is confined to a compulsion to break rules)

          • Thanks Phoenix, reading your comments I realise that planning and rebellion may interact but not necessarily do. If I consider my relatives, colleagues and friends whom I would label as “rebels”, some of them do plan, but generally they tend to plan unrealistically (e.g., doing X in a too small amount of time…) and end up not achieving what they had in mind in the said amount of time because after nights of lack of sleep and pijama all day they need to rebel against their own plans. What is your experience?

          • phoenix1920

            I can be unrealistic in my planning (and hide my to-do list from dh because it stresses him). I think this may very well tie into rebel/no limitation characteristic. I think you are right–not all rebels are planners. But I do feel being a rebel makes it more necessary for me to plan. When I embark on a project, I am all in–it’s all I do. I’m not so good with doing anything in moderation. Part of me resists setting more realistic goals because I tend to work harder in trying to accomplish a more difficult goal–but if I don’t complete the goal in the time I had initially planned, I just revise and adjust the plan and will eventually accomplish that task. Challenges (especially mental challenges) really inspire me and make me strive my best. Work hard, play hard. I wonder if I’d accomplish as much as I do if I set more realistic goals, or if it would permit me to get lazy.

            I don’t feel a need to rebel against my own plan. A plan is flexible and I change it when I need to. I don’t really understand the point of rebelling against your own plan. If you don’t want that anymore, you just change it–why is there a need to rebel against what you want?However, what you may be seeing is a depletion of willpower. I think Rebels often end up using Willpower every step of the way, while an Upholder/Questioner feels an natural tendency to obey those inner rules you set for yourself. The more willpower you use, the more you deplete until it’s gone and then you’re more prone to indulge. It’s like Cruise-control. If you feel a natural compulsion to keep a rule, you have a working cruise-control. While there are times a temptation may come along for the Upholder/Questioner, they can use willpower to stay on track. So it’s only being used in the face of a temptation. However, rebels (and obligers) don’t have a working cruise-control for those inner rules, so they have to rely more on willpower, which is like a muscle and can be depleted. I love reading on these subjects and forgot if it was in Habit or Willpower where the author discusses keeping a resolution is like riding an elephant, but you can’t rely solely on the rider to keep steering the elephant in the right direction because willpower is a finite resource–the rider eventually tires from continuously pulling the reins on the elephant to go in the direction the rider want.

            As to any desire I’ve had to break a rule/plan, the only time I really struggled with a compulsion to break rules was when I was in an inferior position (a child living at home) and my parents tried to impose all these rules that were contrary to who I was. If a friend needed me and it was important, I’d be there–regardless of the rule or curfew. But still, it wasn’t a need to break a rule–I didn’t like somebody else telling me what I had to do–I just wanted to breath, to be free to make my own decisions. I moved out at 17. I also struggled when I first got married because there were all these silly rules. I’d feel inclined to break them, but only if I could be there when he noticed so I could see that little annoyance cross his face and could tell him that I got him. It lasted for a brief time, and in looking back, I’m not really sure why I enjoyed that. Perhaps I was picking on him and all those silly requirements, or perhaps I was still immature when I was first married.

            If there is a Rebel who feels an actual compulsion to break a rule, I’d love to know why. It’s one thing to feel no boundaries by rules, but being compelled to break a rule feels like you’re no longer free to make your own decisions. Now, you have this compulsion pulling you in a certain direction–ugh! I would feel suffocated if I had such a compulsion

          • elisa freschi

            Thanks Phoenix. I think that part of our partial disagreement is just terminological. The rebels in my family tend to set goals which are, as you said, really challenging. They do not react well to more realistic ones (they tend to be lazy if they only have to work for a smaller goal). But I would still call it being a bad planner, because —at least in their case— they never end up having everything done as they had wished and in the time they had wished. In their favour I have to say that this lack of realism in setting goals makes them able to set also very ambitious goals for themselves, the kind of goals I would have been scared to face.
            As for the “compulsion” to break rules (ultimately leading to a sort of jail), I guess this applies to closer relations (typically with a spouse, a parent, an older relative or a colleague being in a superior position…). How do you avoid this loop with your husband now (if I may ask)?

            My solution with “my”rebels is to avoid telling them what they should do and try instead to create a fun environment so that they might want to do it (e.g.: instead of telling one “Help me in organinzing this conference!” I would say “We still have an empty slot: it would be great if someone could step in with an idea for a great panel…”).

          • phoenix1920

            I smile as I read this–I think you are right some of the disagreement is terminology. I would never say one is a poor planner if their ultimate accomplishment is different from initial plans and the time frame is longer (unless it is a team goal with lots of people involved where coordination is necessary). To me, plans should be able to change as circumstances change. I had “planned” out what kind of mother I’d be, but when my children arrived, I realized that I needed to be kind of mother my children needed based on who THEY were. When we were adding the addition, it took us longer to understand wiring because we had some 3-way and 4-way switches, which was more complicated in figuring out than I planned. But I am happy with the project at the end of the day–and that’s what matters.

            The more I think of any compulsion or desire to break a rule, the more I’m not sure I’ve actually experienced a desire to break a rule simply to break it. When my husband and I, as newlyweds, battled over the toothpaste lid, I hated his rule, but I think I really hated his reaction to the lid–I started leaving it off on purpose to pick on him (and maybe to get him to stop getting so frustrated over it). We resolved the issue by buying snap lid toothpaste. I think most conflicts were resolved by finding ways to avoid them–or perhaps we both adapt. He used to get irritated because I drive on the grass to get the mail (my arms are too short to reach it from the road). I told him I wouldn’t do that anymore if he brought in the mail, but he forgets and eventually, it stopped bugging him (or he stopped mentioning that pet peeve of his). In my mind, if it bugged him enough, he’d bring in the mail on the way in, but he doesn’t. We really don’t have any issues, though. But we also don’t have the marriage where one person’s say is more important than the other. I have a boss and I write things for her, but her name is on the top so of course it should be as she wants it. I will mention to her when I think something needs to be revised or is wrong; she listens and makes the ultimate decision. It’s not a problem for me; I think it’s pretty amazing where I can have a respectful debate with the boss and she listens but does not always agree. As to parents, well, they’ve learned the time for their rules over me passed a long time ago. If they want me to do something or visit, they ask and if it works out, I will. I love them and want them to be happy, but their happiness is not dependent on me and my actions. We are each responsible for our own happiness. If they ask too much, I push back and let them know. But if something is important to them, I want to know because I will accommodate it if I can

  • lizziejohns

    Yes, I am definitely an obliger. Can’t ever keep a resolution for more than a week.

  • AliB

    been thinking about this today as no category seemed quite right –
    I’m a questioner but more than that – I don’t like rules but not because
    I’m a rebel – its more that I don’t want to be restricted by myself or
    anyone else – rules feel a bit like a cage

    • gretchenrubin

      Rebel! Rules feel like a cage…you don’t want to be controlled.

      • AliB

        Haha! I was thinking more soft and ‘free spirit’ but happy enough to be a rebel!

  • I think I’m a combination of an obliger and a rebel. I mean, the thought of rolling through a stop sign at 3pm in traffic sounds a little extreme, but I do set myself up to rebel against my own rules and requests from others, in defiance. I know this, but I want to know WHY this is. Thanks for reminding me to think about it a little bit more.

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m very intrigued with the Rebel. It is so the opposite of my tendencies as an Upholder. How do Rebels work with this temperament to get things done? Rebels, speak up.

      • phoenix1920

        There are definitely parts of me that are a rebel–but for me, it’s not to flout rules just to flout rules. If the rules control our behavior, why should I follow them when I didn’t agree with them and they may not make sense? I have this urge to break rules because they constrict you and can make you a puppet. If somebody else knows your internal rules, they can control you or inadvertently bring you pain trying to control you by pushing your buttons. For example, if you have a coworker who knows you will not let the team down, she can slack off, knowing that not meeting a team goal will frustrate you and drive you crazy so much that you are compelled to pick up the slack. Or if a friend knows that you are a gold-star junkie, your friend can unconsciously use that, not realizing the toll that your “yeses” may take on you. There are people who have followed other’s rules all their life, not wanting to disappoint and afraid of disappointing those who love you. Those are chains, tying you down and keeping you in fear if you act in a manner so that they will continue to love or value you as highly. Have you ever been in a situation where the harder you work, the higher the bar is lifted and the more expectations are given to you? But then your harder work is taken for granted? There can be a wonderful freedom in breaking the rules and expectations.

        As to your question as to how they get things done, rebels are there because they WANT to be there–they want to do something. It’s not because they have to. We all have more things on our to-do list than we can possible accomplish in this life. I think rebels focus on the things that bring them the most joy. Too often, by setting too many rules or following too many rules, we don’t have the freedom to explore other paths. Some people’s favorite transportation is a bus–with a scheduled route at a scheduled time. Others may prefer to drive, but the options are still limited by roads. Finally, some love to fly, where there are no roads, or even a set altitude–with all possibilities open. We can over logic ourselves. We think we know ourselves best, but at the end of the day, sometime our favorite memory is discovering that hidden cave we never knew we were looking for, until we found it and our soul sighed with contentment.

        • gretchenrubin

          But here’s the question.

          I understand how a Rebel can do something that she or he wants to do.

          But all of us have things to do that we don’t really want to do. Go to the gym. Show up at a relative’s house for dinner. Meet a deadline for an important client, simply because the client wants that deadline met, not because it actually matters. Keeping track of expenses.
          How does a Rebel deal with that?

          The Rebels I’ve talked to say that they simply can’t/won’t/don’t make themselves do these kinds of things.
          I said to a Rebel, about myself as an Upholder, “I give myself limits to give myself freedom.” She said, “Freedom means no limits.” Very different points of view!
          As an Upholder, I’m far too willing to accept rules. That’s what I’ve learned about myself.

          • phoenix1920

            In looking to the examples, none of them really have to be done. I don’t think a rebel is one that rebels against all rules, but knows that rules aren’t rules at all–guidelines may be a better word. There are a ton of things that we think we have to do, but I typically procrastinate those things and sometimes realize they weren’t needed at all. I am struggling to find things that I completely did not want to do, that turned out to be necessary. Filing taxes? no, because we usually always get at least some money and I use that money as a reward. In law school, I really wanted to be on LR, but procrastinated writing the paper over Christmas break, and then I graded on after all. I have procrastinated against a deadline, but then there is an exhilaration in seeing if I could make the deadline when I have only a short time to finish up a 2255–and do it well. At times, procrastination can lead to undue stress because it is in the back of your mind, but then you want to get that task off your list because you don’t like the stress. So again, it becomes something I want to do. However, I didn’t skip doing it earlier so I could relax and read a book–I had other deadlines too. It’s been years since I tracked my expenses; I am the person who doesn’t always show up to the ILs for Christmas dinner. I grew up thinking there were so many rules we had to follow, but too often find that the rule we thought we had to follow isn’t necessary.

            Perhaps the answer to your question is that the rebel can find the joy in doing the task, and for those completely joyless tasks, has found that those tasks are not necessary at all. In addition, as you’ve mentioned, there are probably few who are only one or the other, so that factors in as well.

          • gretchenrubin

            Here’s a question.

            Your spouse really wants you to do something that you don’t want to do, and that you think arguably doesn’t need to be done at all, but that you acknowledge is important to your spouse.
            Do it, or don’t do it?

          • phoenix1920

            It depends. My spouse and I used to have that literal proverbial battle over the toothpaste lid. Boy, did it annoy him when I left the toothpaste lid off! But I really struggled with putting the lid on the toothpaste because I hated the fact that I was putting it on because of that–and I was newly married so it was a bit of an adjustment for a rebel. Part of me really liked to pick on him and all his rules that we now needed to agree on for marital bliss. (It was harder for me for those little things because I didn’t understand the big deal–and in truth I was more tempted to leave the lid off when married than I ever did when I was single) But now, the only time this comes up is over big things like ILs. The fact of marital bliss changes the dynamic because marital bliss and reciprocity creates its own logic and motivation on its own. In all truth, I still don’t always, but I try. If there was something I really didn’t want to do and something he really wanted and logically I get his POV, my first inclination is to debate or negotiate. But the fact that I do it out of love, changes the dynamic–because again the motivation is showing love to somebody so special. This effect is even stronger as to my children. They are young and I have done things completely out of my comfort level just for their happiness, but then their happiness becomes my happiness–so again, it becomes something I want to do. There is no debate–no choice on my part.

          • molly

            This is a very interesting discussion. As an upholder and intellectual questioner, but not a true rebel, I have butted up against rebels. On the one hand, I almost envy their ability to reject rules they don’t agree with or even conventional niceties. On the other hand, I find them selfish, hedonistic. Although any “type” can be a rebel, as the discussion is going, it reminds me of how the ISTP in the myers briggs is described. I read quite about this type at one time b/c I happen to know a lot of them in one side of my extended family, and they are an enigma to me. In some of the better discussions of type, I get from it that THESE types of rebels at least, live by an inner code and they will bind themselves to their fellow comrades or causes they believe in, but at best, they will only play along for a bit (perhaps if they have a sudden urge to keep peace) with social conventions they don’t agree with, etc. (I agree with the person above…they just won’t go to the funeral.) They are likely arbiters of change in banal social rules, but they can also do A LOT of rationalizing of their own behavior. What seems like action based on principle or justice to the rebel can be laziness or obstinacy masquerading itself. At least to me! (Not just in the ISTP, but in rebels, in general.)

          • Diane

            I always tell newly married couples to buy two tubes of toothpaste…one for her and one for him…that way each one can do what they want with their own tube…for only a few dollars, this conflict can be avoided.

          • phoenix1920

            One more thing, I realize the four categories are works in progress, but I would slightly edit how you classify rebels. They don’t want to flout all rules simply because it is a rule–they simply question both internal and external rules and recognize rules as being a method to establish control over one. A rebel doesn’t necessarily feel an independent compulsion to obey and follow rules simply because they exist–either external rules or internal rules. However, fidelity is a rule that I wouldn’t never be compelled to break and one that I don’t feel is confining by definition. I think the term “rebel” can often be misconstrued and broadened too far. People can think of rebels as hedonistic, focused only on what currently feels good, etc.

          • Very interesting point. Nonetheless, I think that there might be some overlap between hedonism (understood as the search for immediate pleasure even at the expenses of a later, bigger one) and rebellion.
            At least as far as my experience reaches, rebels might become their own enemies (see my other reply to you), insofar as they are too keen to break rules, even if this leads to unwanted results. And this latter point lets me think that they tend not to be planners (or at least that there is some overlap between rebellion and improvisation).

          • phoenix1920

            I do find that it is so interesting how we learn more about ourselves as time goes by. I am ambitious but a rebel. I thought I had always wanted to be EIC at LR, because I thought it was the best job to have. But being a rebel, after becoming Articles Editor, I learned that I just could NOT run to be EIC because to me, that job meant you had to uphold BB rules, even if they didn’t make sense or look right for certain oddball citational quagmires. There have been certain choices I turned away from because they did not fit me. So perhaps that is the best example of what happens to me when I face things I really don’t want to do–but it changes me and I make course corrections as a whole. In fact, it’s how I chose my career: I was not sure at all whether I could practice law where I was required to support a position solely because that was the position of my client. I found the place where one has the freedom to research the law as a whole and find the right answer without simply adopting the position of one party or the other. The law as a whole can be clarified and corrected.

          • Not being a rebel myself, but having many rebels in my family, I would say: they just DON’T. They don’t go the old aunt’s funeral, if they do not want to. They do not check the engine’s oil (if someone else insists for them doing it). They don’t eat healthy (if someone else asks them to do it).
            The best way to have them do this sort of things is not to ask and to wait for them to want to do them (as explained nicely by phoenix1920 about procrastination). This might mean that they will never want to do them. But in any case the result is not worse than if you had shouted at them every day.

          • gretchenrubin

            This is what I’ve observed, too.

            And it does seem that the least effective thing you can do is to tell/ask them to do something!

          • yes, although it might be difficult to bite one’s lip. And the whole thing is especially challenging in the case of close relatives or colleagues, whose rebellion has an influence in one’s own work/family life.

      • peninith1

        Rebel–that would be one of my kids. One of my mantras for him when he was in his teens was “Go ahead and do what is right for you EVEN IF your parents will like it.” The only rules that have ever made sense to him are the ones he has made up or discovered for himself. This made school and homework a nightmare for him. His most famous statement about homework?: “You can’t make me do this! I’M an American Citizen!!” Being a rebel can be awfully hard on a person. I think that if you truly march to the sound of a different drummer, you tend to have a need to create rules for yourself. Life can be difficult because so much more is not only a choice, but a gauntlet thrown down that you have to figure out how to ‘redo’ your own way. Now he’s in his 30s, my son is creative and imaginative and pragmatic and practical and delightful, although he still does not like to fit the mold in any way, and can sometimes suffer accordingly. On the other hand, he’s the one who recently rode a bicycle from coastal NC to New Orleans in 31 days. Accomplishments like that are hard for someone as un-iconoclastic as me to even imagine.

  • Janet


    This post is so interesting. Thinking about it, I can see that I am a natural Questioner at the heart. But as a young child, definitely an Upholder in Catholic school. In adolescence, a Rebel on the sneak and Questioner directly to parents and teachers. In middle age I began exploring the Upholder again, and now I am pretty much all three, dependent upon what area of life we are talking about. For example, after Questioning something I will definitely Uphold if it makes sense to do so. At the same time, I can easily say no to those in authority if I don’t believe in what they are telling me to do. So, a Questioner at the heart.


  • Chris

    I think I am a questioner with a tendency towards obliger who desperately wants to be an upholder, at least in the areas of following through a project and fitness. It is easy for me to go to a gym class but I can rarely get myself to exercise on my own. I wonder what it is that could motivate the different types to get things done? For the obliger in me it might work to use another person for accountability so I am obliged to report to someone else if I exercised – although this sounds rather strange….

    • gretchenrubin

      This is the KEY! Knowing your type helps you figure out how to set things up so you can keep your resolutions.
      For an obliger: work with a trainer, walk with a friend, join a running club, ask a friend to email you every day to make sure you went to the gym, get a dog, walk your neighbor’s dog…anything that gives you external obligation.

  • jr dline

    I think I’m a combo of the middle two. I’m a questioner in some situations like work. I’m a rebel in other situations. I will definitely break rules in pursuit of a photograph and sometimes just for the ‘fun’ of helping people outside of their box or pissing them off as the case may be. rofl

  • I am an obliger but am sure I will find more happiness in becoming an upholder. MY inner rules/I should certainly be as important to me as the universes outer rules.

  • QUestioner without a doubt! It drives my children crazy. But it has worked for me quite nicely.

  • An upholder/questioner with just enough rebel thrown in to be interesting. I’ll do a task to the utmost, once I’m sure it fits my values and goals, unless someone has *ordered* me to do it in which case they can find someone else…

  • Naomi

    I’m a questioner and I agree that we want to feel self-determined. I feel that must know the why of something before I can get on board. It definitely slows me down and makes it hard for me to take direction at times. Great topic!

  • Dave Almighty

    Upholder – accepts rules. I am uncomfortable with this narrow grouping. It seems to me we need to salve some existential wound and define ourselves. I am an upholder as I uphold rules, is this really a positive or should it be aspired to? Nazi Germany. Think about that point, it isn’t a massively clever point but blindly accepting rules isn’t a positive. Ok, I am a questioner, great idea…perhaps more objectivity…up until we question gravity on a ledge or the heat from fire. Some rules are worth just upholding. I am offended in real terms by this cheapening and limiting of the human condition. We have nearly 7 billion people on the planet, to categorize them into four groups is arrogant and potentially ignorant in the extreme.

  • Yahaira Lidia Reyes Jimenez

    I think I am a questioner and an obliger at the same time, sometimes I even question the rules I set only for me and argue with myself whether I should follow them or not. Very Very frustrating, I find it hard to be happy with such a duality 🙁

  • Joe

    I am a questionner. But believe that i cannot be successful without all types of people to support me and excell through their particular personality skills.

  • peninith1

    This is an amazingly interesting post. Now here’s what I’m thinking–unlike other personality typologies, this is one that maturity should help us to mold a lot. Frankly, I think that the Questioner is the most mature type, the upholder is the typical ‘oldest child’ or adult in authority, and the obliger and the rebel are children who want to get their way by pleasing or by refusing to be controlled. I am quite a bit of an upholder, but I see that as a default mode that mostly makes life easier–why put yourself to the trouble of explaining your deviations from the rules? The obliger is apt to be subject to every wind that blows, and while keeping a promise to the nearest person, may be breaking one to another, and not keeping faith with him- or herself. The rebel is often simply opposing, and not making considered choices. The questioner is thinking things through– do they make sense?

    • I agree that although we have our default tendency, we can choose to become more nuanced.

      As an oldest child, I am naturally an upholder/obliger but I’ve learned to be more of a questioner in some situations in order to maintain boundaries and keep my life aligned with my priorities.

      I agree that being too much of an obliger or a rebel is not helpful for your life because in both cases you’re making yourself a victim instead of practicing an internal locus of control. I know as a time coach that people in these spots have to learn to respond differently in order to take back control of their time.

      To your brilliance!
      Elizabeth Grace Saunders

      • Lisa

        I don’t know that being an eldest makes one a natural upholder/obliger. I’m the oldest, and I can’t think of a time when I’d have strongly considered myself either. Not even in junior high, when everyone is trying to be like everyone else.

  • Julie

    I’d say I am a questioner. But I find the outer / inner rule part more interesting. Inner rules are easy for me to follow, and I follow them exactly. If I make a personal commitment to something, I almost always follow through. I can be quite strict about my personal commitments (as a personal example, I’ve never had a BMI above 18.5 and I’m trilingual) but find it very difficult to adhere to outside rules. If I’m told to do something that doesn’t make sense to me, I find it hard to do. I also find deadlines imposed by others hard to meet, and I often cancel appointments on whims. Does that mean I’m an upholder of inner rules and a rebel of outer rules? This is somewhat shameful, and I really hope to become more respectful of outer rules before having children. It’s nice to have names for things I’ve been thinking a lot about. Thank you!

    • gretchenrubin

      In my scheme, you’re a Questioner. When you set rules for yourself, you see their logic and benefit. But you don’t feel the same way about other people’s rules if “they don’t make sense to you.” This is a Questioner’s way of thinking.

  • Sherry

    I am very intrigued by this assay. No one has ever put these personality traits into this perspective before. I am a total Obliger. Will do what is asked and even run with it. But self-motivation is hard for me. Diets are impossible to stick too, as are excercise programs. This post is one of the reasons I love your site/insight.

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m going to write another post about this, but what about these ideas for eating and exercise—to give you the feeling of obligation, of externalized discipline:
      Work with a trainer

      Make a daily exercise date with a friend

      Go walking with a friend

      Walk your dog; walk your neighbor’s dog

      Decide that you will only get some essential item after a 1-mile walk to get it (e.g., you walk 1-mile to get your morning coffee or newspaper) (this obviously only works in some places)
      Work with a dietician

      Make a deal with a friend that you’ll be accountable to her or him for certain eating habits
      Start a weekly habits group to give you lots of accountability

      Also, Obligers, here’s a question: Do you need to feel OBLIGED to others, that you will let them down personally, or is it enough that you feel that others are WATCHING, that you’re being held accountable by them? For example, yes you can show up for track practice, but you don’t run on your own on the weekends; but if a friend would ask you at the end of every week, “When did you run this week? Did you do it?” would THAT make you more likely to run? Or not? Along those lines, have any Obligers done Weight Watchers or a similar program? Does that help?

      • Molly

        Interesting question. As an obliger, I am motivated by “the rules.” My husband jokes that I have an inner sergeant rather than an inner child! This is just me, though, and I can imagine that others are more motivated by thinking of others watching. I’m sure I do that, too, as at least some obliger-ness comes from wanting to be a good girl or good boy, I’m sure. (Maybe at it’s less healthy levels.) This isn’t always a bad thing. When our children were little, the women in the group I was in would joke that peer pressure wasn’t always a bad thing, as it got our kids to do good things they wouldn’t have done, except for seeing the other kids doing it. By the way, David Hume has a discussion of this in the Treatise on Human Nature. He argues that when we don’t have a “natural” trait, such as affection towards children or a feeling of fellowship towards others, through the association of ideas, we can still be motivated appropriately just by the mere thought of what people would think of us IF they knew what we were doing. He thought this was the main source of “oughts,” rather than reason, as Kant thought. I don’t agree fully, but I’ve always thought there was something to what Hume says here.

      • Chris

        A friend asking me every week if I exercised would definitely make me run, exercise or whatever. I could not say exactly if I felt obliged… it feels more like “breaking a promise I made” and feeling bad for breaking it (but not for not exercising *g*).

      • Lorena Dinger

        For me, it is definitely a sense of having to do the right thing, but somehow without an external rule or deadline, I don’t have enough sense that it is the right thing to do, so I think deep down there is some concern about disappointing others (though being ridiculed by others for my rule-following behavior is much more of a problem and doesn’t seem to bother me that much). So for me, having a friend ask whether or not I exercised or ate right or did whatever else I was supposed to would be sufficient motivation most of the time. I would feel very guilty if I had to say no, and I am too honest to lie.

      • robin

        I’m an Obliger who has done Weight Watchers twice. Once with a friend, where it worked very well, and once by myself, where it was much less effective. Having that outside influence and obligation really made it go that much further. I personally think that it is less about people watching me, and more about the letting them down that gets under my skin and forces me to create good habits (or work harder).

  • AliB

    Ah, now I have read Phoneix comments and your replies I must agree I am a rebel albeit with the qualifications mentioned by Phoneix – all struck a chord:

    rebels get stuff done because we Want to – in the right situation we are very self-motivated, independent and good at chasing the things we want in life

    the downside is that we can be selfish and very bad at doing the things we don’t want to do – I changed careers because I couldn’t meet what I felt were unreasonable client demands, I’d rather live in a tent than have to count every penny (although my husband is now in charge of expenses!)

    the toothpaste lid made me laugh a lot – I get grief from my husband for not cutting the bread neatly and for leaving the lids off cordial bottles – I tease him for this fussiness and sooo want to do it more, but most of the time I force myself to put the lid on, and I get him to cut the bread!!

    Also, I agree that rebels are not compulsive disobeyers but constant questioners – the reason I put myself as questioner first was that I don’t rebel against all rules – I appreciate some rules because they facilitate what I want in life – I love policemen who shut down parties at midnight as I’m someone who can’t sleep with noise. I fully support rules that protect wildlife and nature and heritage. I agree fidelity is an important rule that I have no compulsion to break.

    I agree rebels maybe just place goals higher than rules – if we want a happy relationship we sometimes have to put lids on!

  • Jeanie

    Wow-I feel I have learnt a lot about myself from this post- definetly an obliger- can follow others rules but never my own-such as give up coffee in 2013 ( I am reading this drinking a fresh mug!) thanks

  • Grace

    I am a questioner. As an attorney this can be a useful trait but I am currently in a work situation where I have an ineffective boss that makes decisions that seem irrational to me. Four months in this situation has pushed me to the brink of depression and I have to use mindfulness techniques to keep going. Some of my friends do not understand why I am so unhappy. It is a well paid job with a good company and my boss is not a bad person or a mean person (I have dealt with both before quite happily). I can see now that this is a difficult situation for a questioner to be in! I am determined never to take a job in the future where I report to a person who I do not respect professionally.

    • Lilian

      I am in exactly the same situation and can totally understand your point of view. My boss is extremely incompetent and unfortunately I have to follow his rules 🙁 Best of luck for you!

      • gs

        I am a Questioner. It’s really convenient for me that I teach– I get to question all the time! In fact, I get to question other people’s questions! 🙂

  • jtmayer

    A questioner, without question! This is the first time I’ve wholly fit into a personality category. It can be a rather annoying trait, though. I often spend so much time trying to find an answer but don’t. Is it because there isn’t an answer or it’s just not the one I want? Or, as a questioner, do we EVER truly find the answers or merely decide to settle for what we get? UGH! It’s exhausting, at times.

  • Lorena Dinger

    I am definitely an Obliger. I’m very good at meeting deadlines, and I drive my friends nuts with my need to “follow the rules” even when it makes no sense to them. But I feel so WRONG if I cross the street when I’m not supposed to, even if there is no traffic that I can see. Despite that, somehow I just don’t seem to make much progress on projects when there is no externally imposed deadline. It’s very frustrating. Hiring coaches has helped, because they can hold me accountable, and then I actually get stuff done.

  • kate

    Questioner. Though I’m far more likely to follow inner rules than outer ones. I guess because I’m more likely to see the logic in the inner ones.

  • Oh, I am totally a Questioner. I’m a Meyers-Briggs INTJ, and our motto in life is pretty much “Yeah, but does it WORK?” If it doesn’t, off we go to find a better way, and it’s not too important what anyone else thinks about it (although I do abide by the law, of course). It’s all about function over form for me. 🙂

  • ER

    I’m totally intrigued by this assay. I am an obliger, for sure, except in the exact example you gave (and I ignore stop signs when it is safe/or they are in parking lots). I’m very motivated by making others happy, or making sure they still like me, but if you take me to an exercise class, I will just not do it. Every time the instructor gives direction, I think “make me”, and am WAY more effective at working out on my own.

  • phoenix1920

    Clearly, this post has my mind constantly turning it over–and I think it has struck a cord with many based on all the responses. But there are a few things that need to be tweaked. First, as I mentioned in a comment above, I think both of the questions need to be answered in the same manner (i.e., are you compelled or not compelled to follow X rule) I think adding in a third potential answer (are you compelled to break the rule) means that there need to be at least 6 categories because now you have 3 values: a positive, a zero, and a negative.

    Second, I am so not an Upholder, but I am not sure the desire is at the core of being an Upholder is to stay out of trouble. I would call myself a rebel, but I follow rules where the consequences are undesireable. If my license is past due by a year, it’s a felony in my State–which means my career is over. I think many people will follow rules in order to stay out of trouble, even if they disagree with the rule. But why is it that an Upholder follows his or her self-imposed rules? If you have a rule to work out every day, you don’t get in trouble for not working out for a day. So it doesn’t seem to me that staying out of trouble would be a reason to obey self-imposed, inner rules. Is it that Upholders have a need for order and predictability? Just a question, because I’m fascinated but baffled by Upholders.

    I also don’t think at the core of a reble is to resist control. I think it may be the opposite. I feel being a rebel provides me with more control because I have more freedom–I can change course on a dime; I can do anything and don’t have to listen to people who say something is impossible. So perhaps having freedom is a core belief. That could also fit me.

    Finally, I think you were pondering what makes a rebel do something that the rebel really doesn’t want to do. I have been turning that over, because it’s hard to find things I completely and totally don’t want to do that I made myself do. But on the other hand, I often do a lot of thingsI wish I could skip, but I do because I don’t want the consequences. I hate shots with a passion, but have undergone IVs when I was giving birth and getting a lump removed because they had to be done. I also do things I would prefer not to because it is important to those I love and is a way for me to show love.

    But perhaps you were talking about how the rebel keeps resolutions, goals, or otherwise remains on task. I think the key for the rebel is that the goal really has to mean something. Increasing my happiness is important to me, but I have a very hard time following the advice to go to bed early. The evening is my quiet time where children are asleep, but my mind is so active. Even if I went to bed early and tried to get up early, my mind isn’t active in the morning, but will constantly seek to daydream, even after I’m up. It’s soo unproductive! So I haven’t kept that resolution. But things that do work: when I go on a financial diet, I stop visiting stores like Target. But I don’t tell myself I can’t–instead, I’ve freed myself of having to run errands to stores. When I need to run out to Target to buy a birthday present, I go right before the party so that I will struggle getting to the party on time, which means that I only have time to run in a grab the item I’m looking for. When I go on a diet, I tell myself I “get” to eat one carb a day and load my plate with half veggies. Nothing is off the list And this perhaps may make you really happy as an author: to stay true to my resolutions, I re-read books that discuss whatever goal I’ve made for myself on a nightly basis because doing so re-affirms the strong reasons why that goal is important and helps me to adopt that mentality, reminds me of the importance of the goal.
    In my opinion, if a rebel is not working on doing things to accomplish his or her goal, then my inclination is that the goal is really not that important to the rebel in the first place–and the things that the rebel is spending time doing is more important to the rebel than the goal. We’re all had things that we thought we should do or thought we should love or thought we should be. When I find myself not working as hard toward one goal as I feel I should, I often realize it’s because it’s not really me. I can tell if my heart isn’t in it, and that is my clue that it’s not for me.
    Perhaps an upside to obligers and rebels who aren’t very good at adopting and keeping their own inner rules is that it does provide a means whereby we are more likely to stay true to our own self.

    • gretchenrubin

      This is so interesting. I’m trying to figure out, from your description and from my categories (which may not be correct, as you point out, which I’m also trying to figure out), if you are a Rebel or a Questioner. I need to talk to more Rebels to figure this out…but I think you are a Questioner with a tendency toward Rebel; there are also Questioners with tendencies toward Upholding.

      When I talk to Rebels that I know, they feel free, and they value freedom. As an Upholder, their approach to the world does NOT seem free to me. I told a Rebel friend, “I give myself limits to give myself freedom,” and she said, “Freedom means not accepting limits.” (Following a rule because otherwise you go to jail or pay a fine or get sick is not “choosing” to follow a rule, to my mind.)

      Your insightful points are making one point more and more clear to me: It’s very, very helpful to understand your nature, because that allows you to make decisions—career decisions, type of workplace decisions, how to frame something a change in eating habits, interaction with your sweetheart—in a way that suits your nature.

      Here are some questions for everyone—how would you react in these situations BE HONEST:
      Your sweetheart says, “It really bugs me to see your dirty dishes in the sink. I end up dealing with every single dish. Would you please put your own dishes in the dishwasher?” You don’t want to. What do you do?

      A colleague says, “The report is due Friday. Your part is due Friday, I know, but for me to do my part well, it would be very helpful to have your section by Wednesday. Could you get it to me by Wednesday?”

      You joined a gym. Some days you feel like working out, some days you don’t, and you probably end up going once a week or not at all, which you know is better than nothing but could be better if you want to be healthier. Is there a way for you to get to the gym when you don’t feel like going? Do you feel that you need to choose/desire to go to the gym EVERY TIME?

      • phoenix1920

        Thank you for continuing the conversation–I too am SOO very intrigued and am always looking for new ways to help stay focused on the goals I choose. Knowing my nature and what works is very helpful.

        For me, I consider myself a rebel because I feel inner and outer rules are really more like guidelines. I can’t accept the authority and follow a rule simply because it exists as a rule. Instead, each time I follow a rule is a conscious choice–be it an inner rule or an outer rule. I abhor inflexibility, which is what rules are. But as we agree, the definitions are still being mulled over and I have no compulsion to break a rule. I just posted a response to Elisa that to me, feeling a compulsion to break a rule is just as abhorrent and stifling to me as the compulsion to follow a rule because it’s not free will–timshel, in Steinbeck’s terms. When you talk to your Rebel friends, I would be so very interested in hearing how they rectify that tension–because they seem as bound to rules as an Upholder, but just differ in their approach and will naturally break the rule as opposed to upholding it. I have no interest in letting a rule influence my decision at all–one way or the other. I am influenced by my values and desires, my friends’ and loved ones’ needs, and logic/consequences. I have the freedom to make my own decision, based on those influences and the fact that there is a rule means nothing. I control my actions and have limitless freedom to make what choice I believe is best at that time.

        As to your questions, my honest answer to my spouse is I would comply–his request is logical, his need is important, and it would be unfair for me to expect another to take care of my responsibilities and messes. But I’d ask him to remind me if I forget and if it was a holiday where the kitchen was a mess with lots of dishes, I’d let him know I wasn’t doing it then because I hate being around food after I’ve had a big meal. As for the colleague, her request is logical, but it would depend on whether she is thoughtful as to my needs, and whether I could get it to her and keep my other commitments, and how much notice she gave me. I am making a choice and have the freedom to accept or not, but her needs, basic fairness, and logic are important factors.

        The last question is more interesting. That is an inner rule, which affects only me. This is where I think questioners and rebels really differ. I simply cannot rely on myself and my willpower to go every day. I want to be healthier, but it is not a top goal and I have no timeline. A trainer wouldn’t work because I can cancel the trainer–she’s paid, so canceling isn’t a big deal. The only way I know that would work is to meet up with a friend. If I had a friend who was counting on me and wanting to lose weight herself, I’d go to meet up with her, have fun with her and chat, and work out. I have to give myself a reason that I would WANT to go–chatting and working out with a friend works for me. But that has now turned the motivation to something where it’s not relying on an inner rule. Or if I was a person who liked to exercise as a hobby, I could go everyday–but the question implies I am making myself go and I don’t always want to go. I have also been successful in a short burst by doing a program on my Wii where you had to meet an avatar 4 times a weeks to complete a 90 day challenge–it could not be reprogrammed and I liked the challenge, but knew it was for a short time and I didn’t have a set time or day. I just needed to do it 4 days each week.

        • gretchenrubin

          For what it’s worth, in my scheme, you are a Questioner not a Rebel.

          • phoenix1920

            Then I would say under that scheme, a Rebel’s main drive is not control but to thwart expectations and authority. If a Rebel is driven to take take a certain action simply because a rule exists, the Rebel is as influenced by a Rule as an Upholder, but will take the opposite approach. If you define Rebels as people who want to break/flout rules, I think you should break up Questioners into two categories to distinguish between those who don’t necessarily follow outer rules but question them and decide which ones to keep (thus moving them into an inner rule) but once they do adopt an inner rule, they can keep inner rules; as opposed to those who cannot abide by rules as rules, whether they are inner rules or outer rules, and will choice their course of action based solely upon whether it works at the time. The ability to keep inner rules is a very important distinction in determining how one can keep goals and resolutions. An obliger must transfer inner rules to outer rules in order to keep them (i.e., join a group or make a commitment to another person); the first category of questioner can transfer an outer rule to an inner rule based on logic. It is much harder for a person who doesn’t follow either inner or outer rules, but instead governs behavior only by current circumstances/logic/consequences.

      • mellen

        These questions are tricky because they have a lot of layers to them.

        1. I would get away with not putting the dishes in the dishwasher sometimes, but I’d feel bad about it. But suppose he asks again! And for some reason it’s really important to me — then what do I do? For me I’d try little tricks: visualize the empty sink so I’d remember my goal; do a silly dance for 5 seconds after I put away the dishes; free hug for me if I put away the dishes; and so forth. After a while it would finally be a habit. Sometimes at our house the silly trick becomes the habit: the morning tooth-brushing parade has been going on for many years.

        2. It would depend in part on how much I like and respect my colleague, how on top of things they are, whether they’ve helped me in the past, and how easy the task is. I think it is likely that I would like having the extra incentive to finish early, so I wouldn’t still be fiddling with this report on Friday.

        3. I do need to be able to make time to go to the gym, so there has to be some drive to go. Here are a few things that have motivated me to go to the gym in the past or are motivating me now. I saw a mention of a study
        showing cute gym clothes can be motivating and I’d say
        mine add to the fun of the gym, although expensive tools do not always motivate. At one point I started going to the gym a lot mainly because I didn’t like my job and it was a way to get away from it. Another time I joined a walking club at my gym that does a 1/2 hour of stretching and then a 2 mile walk; it’s social, and I’ve made a friend that I like to see. My best success is my current situation of having a really strenuous activity that I like to do once a week, and if I work out at the gym the rest of the week, I get better at my fun activity. For me an added wicked bonus is that my gym has individual TVs over each of the cardio machines and I don’t have a TV at home — do bad to do good. Exercise also doesn’t have to involve the gym if that doesn’t motivate, but for me I find it easier to exercise at the gym than at home.

        Right now I’m trying to figure out how I can motivate myself to use my new chinup bar. I’m thinking the solution will involve kisses or silly dances for me.

      • Heidi

        I’m answering in reverse order. First, the gym is a problem, and always has been. These things sort of work, some of the time: Tell myself I’ll enjoy working out once I get there (true story, so why don’t I want to go? I don’t understand me.); Take something interesting to listen to on my ipod – podcasts are better than just music; Promise myself a treat afterwards. Lately I’ve been trying to make it a habit, something I do every Tuesday just because it’s Tuesday. That isn’t working either.
        The report would depend on a few things. If I was already thinking Friday was a difficult deadline, I’d say “I can’t have my part done in final form by Wednesday, but if you tell me exactly what you need from my report, I’ll try to get that part to you by Wednesday.” If they just need some data, for example, they can have that before I’m done with the writing part. Or if they need the writing part, they could have a rough draft. And they’re ONLY getting this level of cooperation because they asked nicely. If a colleague (not a boss) demanded something like that, I’d tell them they’re out of luck (and I’d be working hard to be polite about it).
        As for dishes in the sink, if I really didn’t want to do the dishes, I’d look for a compromise. Could I do some other task that he hates, in exchange for his dealing with all the dishes? If we both hate dishes, we’re going to have to share, either by taking turns on different days, or we each deal with our own, or something. I’m pretty creative at coming up with a million ways to handle stuff like that, which is helpful if the other person is willing to negotiate.

  • Dharmender kumar

    your blog is nice ,sounds questioner great i’m a questioner. I follow rules according to judgement.I also like obliger i want go for training but break the promise every day.

  • When it comes to commitments, I’m an Obliger: if I have a duty or commitment to uphold, I’ll do it, even if it’s inconvenient/annoying/silly. I can’t work out on my own, but when I had to meet with a trainer twice a week early in the morning, I was willing to wake up to do it. And I *hate* being up before 10 AM, so having to exercise so early was a challenge I was willing to meet, just because I had already committed to it.

    In everything else, I’m a Questioner. I’ve always been one, and it works well since I study physics. I’m taught not to just accept theories and equations; I need to understand why they make sense first. If possible, I prefer to derive an equation so I can better utilize it, since I’ll have a better grasp of where it came from. Outside of studies, I don’t deliberately disobey laws, but I do evaluate thing myself rather than blindly follow arbitrary rules. For example, I drive at a speed that feels safest to me, rather than exactly at the speed limit. I don’t skip Stop signs or run red lights, however, no matter how empty the streets are; I just feel safer that way.

  • David Rickert

    I didn’t read all the posts, but it seems like there should be a category for someone who doesn’t follow outside rules but can adhere to inside rules.

    • gretchenrubin

      That’s Questioner. A Questioner essentially makes all rules inside rules, because they only follow those that they decide meet their standard, whether self- or outer-imposed. But as you’d expect, rules that they impose on themselves have validity.

      • Allison

        I think, for parallel structure, you’d have to have a category where a person steadfastly followed their own rules once made, rather than sometimes not following a rule they had made, due to shifting judgment (and this person wouldn’t give a care about externally-imposed rules, holding themselves “to their own standard”). In the exercise example, this would be like a person deciding to run a marathon, say, and then forcing themselves to continue training and competing, even if they got hurt, got a big project at work, their child got seriously ill, etc., and continuing with the plan even when it became unreasonable even by their own standards of judgment. By the way, this is fun, and I am definitely a Questioner. My husband would possibly be in this fifth category that David Rickert proposed and I tried to define here.

  • Nini this post and love the comments. I realize from reading the descriptions and reading the comments that I am mostly a quesitioner, but definately have obliger tendancies. For example, I just signed up for a three month fitness program that will make me part of a small group, with a personal trainer, and the person losing the highest percentage of weight will get a prize. It will be my own personal “biggest loser” I did this as I realize I just suck on my own, but won’t let other people down and will do something I know I need to do and has additional external motivators. It drves my husband crazy that at 2am I will stop at a red light and check if it’ safe..then proceed…and not wait. My mother in law told us at Christmas we could not have any alcohol until theh other guests arrived, because HER other son tends to overinduldge, so I had a drink to in advance on prinicpal, as “nobody is going to tell me what to do and how to live my life” LOL… When my teenage son was wrongfully ticketed for riding his bicyle in a poorly marked “no bike” zone of a public park, and given a $100 tickets (to a 13 year old kid!) I insisted he challenge it (we won) but he thought he had to automatically shut up and pay it…so am trying to instill the “questioner” tendency in him as well…LOL..

  • I think I’m a rebel. Help me! How do I stop myself from resisting everything?!

    • gretchenrubin

      Rebels, how do you do this? from the Rebels I’ve spoken to, it’s something they struggle with. Or not!

  • Katharina

    I think another angle to look at these distinctions is to think about how people relate to the human condition – that we are all mortal, vulnerable human beings and that everything is finite and transient. How people relate to this fundamental, existential “rule” may reveal a lot about their happiness potential. So an upholder who embraces rules to set him/herself free may do so embracing the finiteness of life, the eternal condition humanaine (concretely manifested in budegting acknowledging limited funds etc.) and a rebel may try denying finiteness by living as though there was no end (to their funds, their health etc.) attempting to fend off the painful limitations of human life. On the other hand, an upholder may exhibit “clinging” behaviour (to borrow Buddhist terms) thinking that if they abide by the rules (eating healthily, working out, etc. ) that painful aspects of the human existence can be magically warded off because they are doing everything right. By eschewing rules, Rebels may be onto something – that these rules are expressions of transient grasping. So the question at the heart of this seems to be how people cope with the limits human freedom.

  • AliB

    Great assay because I’m still thinking about this! Am I really a rebel? – surely I would have been in more trouble in my life – I don’t generally break the law – I’m relatively sensible. Perhaps I am more a questioner who tries to reduce rules as far as possible?

    I would put the dishes in the dishwasher because that sounds fair, I would do my very best to provide the report early (perhaps by Thursday!) as that request also makes sense, however, I would not go to the gym unless I wanted to. Then again, I don’t think I would get in a situation of struggling to get to the gym – I’ve had times of being a gym-addict, have run a marathon and now I swim instead but I’m realistic about how often I’ll go and I generally predict correctly.

    Importantly, my sports are all solo-sports. I hate to make appointments with friends for exercise or play team sports as I really do NOT want such a commitment and would resent it before I got anywhere near. I won’t join a gym unless I’m actually going to go, equally, I would never place an arbitrary rule upon myself to go Mon, Wed, Fri – aghh no – might aim for 3-4 times a week but go only when I want to – I suppose I make internal rules but only at the last minute – “I didn’t go today so I’ll go when I wake up, as long as child does not wake in the night” (note I do not like to specify a time and there are get-out clauses!).

    I definitely try to limit the restrictions on my freedom as much as
    possible and maximize flexibility/personal control – perhaps it is the questioners who are the control freaks rather than the rebels!? (a rebel is not in control if
    he/she feels compelled to do the opposite of the rule rather than freely
    choose what action to take). Could there be a rule-avoider category?

    • gretchenrubin

      Questioners definitely come with a Rebel slant or an Upholder slant – the way that they lean in the way they answer their questions. I’ve met both types.

  • punterjoe

    I’m not sure whether I’m a questioner or an obliger. I’ve long believed civilization runs on the honor system… we expect certain behaviors from each other (like which side of the road to drive on), and I obey these conventions because they generally make things run smoothly. Yet I bristle at seemingly arbitrary rules. Not seeing their purpose, I’m inclined to test them, and bend them. I will hesitate to outright break them without fully understanding the consequences and being willing to risk them. So what does that make me?

    • gretchenrubin

      Are you good at imposing rules on yourself?

  • unadiane

    I am a questioner now, but for the first 30 years of my life I was an upholder. I was raised in a religion that was very strict and where it was absolutely unacceptable to question anything! At age 30 I left that group and started to think for myself. Now I question EVERYTHING! I am determined to never allow myself to be sucked into that kind of obedient, unquestioning mindset again. Now, if there are 8 rules, I may accept 6 and decide I simply cannot meet the other 2. And I’m good with that!

  • I am a stone-cold questioner.

  • Gretchen, I had to come back and let you know that I shared this post with my team at work, and we’ve all been having fun trying to figure out what personality type we have when it comes to rules. The results: We have 1 upholder, and 3 rebels. Eek!

    But it was a good exercise to understand how we work so we can work better together. Thank you!

  • Blue

    I’ve been thinking about Rebels after reading this fascinating thread. I think my husband may be one. On the one hand, he’s very punctual and has an amazing work ethic. On the other hand, he pointedly refuses ANYTHING if the most important reason to do something is ‘because someone told me I should.’ He needs things to be his idea, or at minimum he needs things to be more his idea than they are anyone else’s.

    He waited until his thirties to get his driver’s licence, for example, because his sister kept telling him he should get his driver’s licence. Even when he finally decided HE wanted to have his driver’s licence, he didn’t tell anyone that he was taking lessons because he didn’t want to deal with all the ‘Finally! Good boy!’ comments that would only put him off. And yes, this has been a considerable drawback for him – he could’ve had the freedom of driving himself around town YEARS earlier, and since he didn’t want to get a motorcycle licence before he had a car licence, and he LOVES motorcycling, he prevented himself from getting something pleasurable. Something similar is coming up now. He wants something, and he’s going to keep getting it a secret from everyone (except, hopefully, me) because he doesn’t want to deal with ANYONE’s input.

    In our relationship, that can get tricky. If I want him to do stuff, I really have to cart out all the vulnerability I have, so he can see that something means a lot to me and HE can decide that it’s a good idea to do what I ask, because he loves me. Strangely enough, he talks about that in terms of ‘so, is this a rule (that I need to uphold) or a preference (which I can weigh against my own)?’ Rule = better. But if I were to really give him a rule, he’d balk.

    (A friend of mine is also a Rebel, to the point where she doesn’t like anyone to introduce her to new things if it’s introduced with “This is awesome! You’ll love it!” – she’ll immediately take a dislike to it without even taking a look. Being pointedly neutral, like handing her a cd saying “Here you go, a cd with things on it” works to not predispose her against a band. For her, it’s not a really great way to be. While she has an admirable way of never getting herself roped into things she doesn’t like, it also stands in her way of getting the things she DOES like. If a man is in any way interested in her, for instance, she’ll already dislike him. But going after men who are NOT in any way interested in her doesn’t set her up for healthy relationships either.)

    Not sure where I fall. Somewhere on the Questioner/Obliger continuum. I happily oblige PEOPLE, but I question institutions and rules divorced from their intention (although I’m also a big scaredycat who’ll obey a rule I disagree with if breaking it’d get me into trouble – I’d rather agitate for change while keeping on the ‘correct’ side of the rules). I’m wishy-washy on keeping up with my own rules, but that’s mostly because I tend to set too many goals at the same time, making it impossible to stick with all of them.

    • gretchenrubin

      This is so illuminating.

      As an Upholder, I’m fascinated by the Rebel point of view. I have a Rebel friend and am planning to take her out for coffee to quiz her about it!
      Your comment highlights something that seems very important to me: if you’re trying to motivate/encourage/nag someone to do something, it’s VERY helpful to know what category they fit into.

  • mellen

    Reading this assay it seems like the difference between my husband and I is that he relishes habits and I fervently resist them. He is probably an upholder, always follows doctors orders and makes up routines for himself from how he preps for work to how he preps for bed at night.

    Perhaps I’m a questioner, always wanting to know what it would be like if we did it a little differently. I absolutely love your books, but have trouble with ongoing resolutions or any kind of habit because I seem to seek variety in every moment of my day even though I’m not very adventurous in seeking adventure outside my home/work/family. I have to sneak in habits by just thinking what I’m going to do today, and doing the same things that I did yesterday, but not thinking that it’s because I’m following a rule. I’m doing it this way because I want to. Really.

    • gretchenrubin

      Fascinating. Let me ask you:

      –how do you respond to external rules? The speed limit, a work deadline?
      –am I right that your resistance isn’t a matter of not wanting someone else to call the shots, but more out of a feeling of wanting to have an authentic experience, to have your actions arise from a present desire, rather than an earlier commitment to an action?
      –if so, what strategies do you use to make yourself do something that you definitely DON’T want to do, like a boring task at work, the laundry, or whatever?

      • mellen

        These questions were really interesting to think about. Thanks for the inspiration!

        I worry that I -want- to be a Questioner. It sounds so sophisticated!

        –When I have time, I go slower than the speed limit because I get better gas mileage on the gas mileage meter (“Measure what you want to manage!”). Potentially getting a speeding ticket is a big disincentive; I try to do right and feel that I’m basically a good person, so it is very dispiriting to get a moving violation. In general I don’t do well with authority and would rather just put some distance between it and me. I have had the experience that someone else mentioned of not wanting to follow the directions of a fitness class teacher, but that’s rare and depends on the person.

        Your questions make me appreciate my life more because it seems like I don’t face a lot of deadlines. My work group is small, quirky, and forgiving of mental health days although my boss expects very occasional miracles. My husband is willing to take out the trash and wash dishes although he prefers when we do these things together. “Knowing myself” has helped me get where I am.

        –“Authentic experience” sounds right, but usually it feels like being overly impulsive. Several years ago I had a coworker that described something that I could really relate to: he said that he liked to attack a task as soon as he thought of it because he felt much more inspired. If he put it off till later there was a good chance he wouldn’t want to do it.

        –I’m having trouble thinking thinking of things that I DON’T want to do. Things that I don’t do (but should) seem to fall into three categories:

        1. I’ve got some weird mental block.

        2. I’d rather do something else.

        3. I forget to do it.

        Those things respond to some problem solving (“Identify the problem!”).

        1. Things I don’t do because of a weird mental block:
        I don’t mind researching plane tickets online, but I have a lot of trouble finally clicking the purchase button. I often have to get up from the computer and have my husband do it or just gird myself, pull up my big-girl pants and do it myself. Decision making and committing are tough for me. I believe you wrote about the perspective trick? — Will it matter in a day, a week, a month, a year if I make the wrong decision? Sometimes helps sometimes doesn’t. Sometimes Secrets of Adulthood help: If you really want something, and it costs less than a pair of shoes ($100 in my mind) just buy it.

        2. and 3. Things I don’t want to do because I forget or would rather do something else.

        These two seem to go together. I think of something to do and I forget that I wanted to do something else. Yesterday I was inspired to shop online for window shades instead of cleaning the bathroom. What would have helped is something I’ve been working on: I try to keep a notebook and write down what I’d like to do today and I keep it around to refer to. If I actually remember to look at it, I do find that it helps. I might not get everything done that I planned to, but perhaps it allows me the freedom to rearrange my schedule on the fly without also having to remember what I wanted to do.

        More tricks: Have something to do after the thing I don’t want to do; this gets me more focused on the future after this task is dead and gone. When I’m angry is a good time to tackle a disagreeable task because in that mood I won’t put up with a lot of nonsense even from myself. I have once successfully used the FlyLady method of 15 minutes per day for a week to clean an area of the house, but it does actually take a fair amount of discipline to come back to the 15 minutes every day, and I’ve never successfully used that method again for more than a couple of days. In the past I successfully went on a diet for several months and lost 20 pounds, but I probably will never successfully diet again, so I try to stay really active every day instead. A lot of tasks can be “reframed” into interesting
        intellectual exercises. Once I’m trying to figure out how to do it, I can at least get part way into it.

        I was recently reading your books, the sections about marriage. I really see that when I’m frustrated with my dh, he’s almost compelled to do the things I don’t want. When I’m accepting and loving with him he is happier and often does the things I suggest. I think he needs a lot of “Gold Stars” too. Your books really bring that home and help me be a better dw.

  • Verne Alexander Yu Ahyong

    I’m an obliger, which is why I’m an excellent follower and team member, but not a very good leader, unless I have someone constantly giving me advice and inspiration.

  • Sally Martin

    I always thought of myself as an Upholder but based on your types I am an Obliger. That distinction about internal and external rules is really helpful in understanding my own (mystifying at times) behavior.

  • Tammy

    I’m a questioner, my husband is a rebel/questioner and my daughter is a rebel/questioner. We have an interesting household. I don’t get the cut off your nose to spite your face behavior in the rebel type. My daughter once told me to threaten her with a year of no tv instead of a week because if she faced a year without tv it might be enough for her to stop the acting out she was doing at that moment. She was 8. That’s pretty extreme to me.

    I question everything and even if I don’t agree will follow the rule if it helps me get to the end result I want.

  • Dani

    It was obvious right away that I am a Questioner without a doubt. Sometimes I wish I could turn off the incessant questioning of everything around me and just take someone’s word for it sometimes – it can be quite exhausting – but overall, I think it’s a good trait to have. I also think my husband is an Obliger, but I haven’t asked him yet what he thinks – it will be interesting to see if he spots that in himself or not.

  • JNM

    Just got to this post from your monthly email update. I am definitely an obliger — which frustrates my boyfriend to no end (even though I think he sometimes has obliger tendencies, too… I think he’s a bit more of a questioner, though 🙂 ). I absolutely have the hardest time sticking to goals I want to set for myself, and sometimes ask for his outside help. Sometimes, though, he rather forces it on me, because he knows I want to do it! For example, he was out of town for 3 weeks on business, and knew I was sitting in the house bored, wanting to do something but not quite able to muster up the energy to do so. A mutual acquaintance of ours was throwing a party during that three weeks, and he kept asking if I was going to go by myself. Finally, he told me that I should go, and that he’d RSVPd for me! So, since they knew I was going, I went. Similarly, I’d been complaining about wanting brush up on my French, till finally he told me I should go to the library and pick up some French books to read. He said if I didn’t have any when he got home, he’d be disappointed! I do much better with goals, it seems, if I run the risk of disappointing someone when I fail to do something. (And yes, I do stop at deserted stop signs.)

  • As a questioner (which makes me a research junkie as I always have to find out…) with a strong dose of rebel-I do think as one post stated there are many layers. With ADHD, some acts may look rebellious, but are better attributed to either attention loss or total focus. I also think as we move through life’s stages we also may move from one of the four categories. Bringing up my children, I was much more of an upholder as it made for a smoother household and less chaos. We ate in the diningroom every night with the good silver/plates etc and Vivaldi playing. Today as my children are all married, I cook perhaps once a year, and am quite rebellious when it comes to my home. I really have dropped the people pleasing (dear god finally!) and live my life with more “me” in it-which can come off as rebellious (and probably is.) I also like my rebel part-I think of it as what makes me silly and able to laugh at myself as I am not surrounded by rebels-so I need to be able to poke fun at myself.

    • gretchenrubin

      Good point. I do think that different times of life bring out different aspects.
      You’re also right that what may look like “rebel” may be very different…

  • Marie

    I’m struck by how many commenters are Questioners. I am definitely an Upholder. I have been offended a few times when people have said I am a rule follower (seemingly out of the blue, to me) because they said it with a sneer like rule following is a bad thing. Reading this makes me think they must just be a different category! To me, being guided by internal and external rules gives me order, satisfaction, peace of mind, and makes me very driven. As far as I’m concerned, it has been wonderful for my career, finances, family and social life.

    I recently married someone who I would classify as a Questioner. He is highly motivated by what’s important to him, but not at all by what isn’t. It is a different approach to life, but we are learning a lot from each other.

    • gretchenrubin

      As a fellow Upholder, I agree. I love being an Upholder – despite the fact that it does have its drawbacks.

  • Chris Hahn

    Lately, I’ve been attuned to the contextual nature of decision-making. When I worked as DJ, couples would always say, “No Chicken Dance!” in our pre-wedding consult. However, when Aunt Ida asked for the Chicken Dance at the wedding, they nearly always changed their minds. So, the more interesting question to me is how far people need to be pushed to break a rule, and under what circumstances.

  • Heidi

    I’m a questioner, 100%. Like so many, I could categorize myself instantly. I’m curious, and I’ll be reading further, to see if you have counted up how many people are in each category.

    • gretchenrubin

      What a good idea! I’ll figure out how to take a survey of readers. Not scientific, but would be interesting to see the percentages.

  • Tori

    Love your categorizing tools. Now, thanks to you I know I am an abstainer, an alchemist and, true to form, a rebel that wishes she were more of a questioner. Sigh.

  • I am in exactly the same situation and can totally understand your point of view. Maybe yoy should change you point of view..look at

  • Lisa

    Having only four categories makes this, by necessity, pretty broad, and for big-picture folk, it’s probably plenty. I’m apparently a small-detail folk; I sometimes think Myers-Briggs isn’t specific enough.

    Took about three seconds for me to put myself into the Questioners camp. If a rule doesn’t make sense, but I’ll get in trouble in some way if I disobey it, I will obey it, at the absolute minimum.

    To use your example, I will stop at a stop sign at 3 am on a deserted road. Not because it is a rule or law, but because I will get caught. I will stop at a stop sign, and use my turn signal on a busy road at 5 pm because it’s dangerous not to. I will stop at a light but not use my turn signal if I’m in an obvious turn lane. Well, once in a while. If I’m not in an obvious turn lane, it makes sense to use my signal, so the other drivers know what I intend to do. Switching lanes, turn signal yes if busy, no if I’m the only car in the immediate vicinity.

  • Need to have a more detailed look at this, but looks really interesting. I have been doing something in a similar vein to this with a mindset of Gamification I will read more 🙂

  • Hajar

    I see myself as a Questioner/Rebel , I do what i want to do , I don’t like to receive orders , in social life. But on the same time , I accept rules withing a company , I like to follow its policies ..ect ..I also follow civil rules /law when they’re reasonable to me other aspects of life , Im more of a rebel , I like to be different , I like to do things my own , I don’t like how people follow without questionning what society force us to do !

  • JennyK

    When I’m not upholding…I’m obliging.

  • Jen

    I fall somewhere between a questioner and an obliger. I follow outside rules (generally) but can blow them off if I think they are silly or not necessary. But I never stick to my own imposed goals / rules.

  • I’m an obliger for sure.

  • HL

    Definitely an obliger, although with some rebelious tendencies depending on where/who the rules are coming from.

  • Shel

    I am a recovering obliger. I am working hard on trying to do things because I want to do them, but it is really hard. I can’t even fix myself a meal. I am interested in the idea that my response might have to do with a sense of community versus a lack of sense of oneself. I managed to go a year without flour or sugar by never letting a crumb pass my lips because I thought I could help my son, but now I can’t seem to make the commitment again. I have to eat everything so that food won’t go to “waste,” because the food is “special,” I won’t appear to be holier than thou, or people won’t feel like they have wasted their effort on me. Ridiculous, I know. I agree that being an obliger can be just as destructive as being a rebel. I guess being an upholder can also be destructive. I think it is cool the way that children are encouraged to be questioners these days.

  • Amygdaloides

    My sister sent me some of your personality categories and they reminded me a lot of the Dungeons and Dragons Alignment charts of Ethics and Morality. You should look them up, they’re really interesting and surprisingly applicable.

  • Caroline

    I’m an obliger who would like to be an upholder!

  • Helen

    I am an upholder but every now and then I am a questioner and occasionally I feel strongly about something and burst out being a rebel. And because I’ve been an upholder most of my life, people expect me to be a upholder and get shocked when I rebel. And more than anything, I want to be able to make some rules myself and have people follow my rules instead of either upholding, questioning or rebelling other people’s rules. Recently I quit on my job because I just cannot stand the warped way my ex-boss does things and how I was treated. It was a good job, challenging, well paid, gives me room to make rules within limits and more importantly, in a different country (UK) that I love. I gave all that up and return back to my country which I find stifling. It was an extremely painful experience. But till now, I still wonder what would I have done if I am to face this situation again.

  • Quinn

    I’m a questioner, completely. I like (some) rules, however when I feel like the rules go against my better judgement or beliefs, I’m going to bend them to meet my own requirements. I think rules are just guidelines, everything doesn’t work the same for everyone.

  • treehugger

    I am an obliger. I have more trouble following self imposed rules because I am a procrastinator 🙁

  • jake

    Your last paragraph switching between ‘he’ and ‘she’ through me for a loop and made me lose focus. :/ too much political correctness makes my mind shut down.

  • jake

    Wouldn’t anyone consider himself a Questioner? Even most people who are ‘Upholders’ or ‘Obligers’, according to your paradigm, didn’t always hold that view and ultimately got there after lots of questioning. For instance, I grew up a ‘Rebel’ and firmly believed rules were made to be broken. As I matured I realized that these rules (not merely social rules) exist whether I want them to or not. So now, I’m as firmly grounded in my beliefs as anybody can be. However, I was just as firm in my belief as a Rebel that ‘all rules are meant to be broken’ (since I treated this maxim as a rule). So am I still a Rebel; or am I a Questioner; or a self-actualized Upholder? Is understanding that we are all ultimately Upholders, despite our (falsely held) beliefs that we are ‘Questioners’ the highest of behavioral-psychological aspirations?

  • Questioner with a hint of rebel for sure! There is nothing I blindly accept and there is nothing I hate worse than being told I CAN’T do something or I HAVE to do something – these bring out the rebel in me and set my stubborn into overdrive!

  • Anon

    Interesting idea. I would put myself as a questioner. Sometimes I feel compelled to follow external rules (even if I don’t agree), sometimes I ignore them or oppose them. I set myself rules, but often won’t put too much pressure on myself to follow them as one of my goals is peace of mind. It depends on how strongly I feel about the rule, and whether in the moment I feel more strongly about the alternative.

  • Lena Mumenthaler

    I just read this post and had to comment because I am definitely a rebel. Whenever I have an obligation to show up (when I took singing lessons, for example. Or when I joined a dance class, or took up running) I have the inclination to rebel against this commitment. It takes the fun out of something I really enjoyed doing beforehand.
    Now I have to figure out how to change my natural inclination, because really, this is no way for a grown woman to live her life.

  • intrigued

    I’m an upholder/obliger. My reasoning for upholding rules was that rules are for the benefit of society as a whole. As such I would follow them to a tee – no cutting in line; no movie theatre hopping; no usurping another’s right; caring for another’s property; no taking advantage of another. Over time, however, this same trait became very limiting. It totally killed creativity and imagination, and confined the potential in life, to a point where on a social basis, I now wonder if, surrepticiously, rules are a ploy to control a society by conditioning it.

  • katie

    depends on the situation but mostly questioner

  • Jennifer Hoppins

    I am an upholder and have a very difficult time remaining neutral when I observe injustice.

  • Ames

    I’m an obliger. So, my question is, how do I self-motivate? Because I only seem to accomplish outside goals and can’t seem to motivate myself to do things (even if I am reporting to someone my own goal).

  • InterComm SAfrica

    When you log in your comment disappears. Always copy the comment to your clipboard before logging in.

  • Fayola

    Wow. I’m a questioner for sure. I have gone through my entire life with people telling me, “some things you just have to do, because you have to!” My parents, teachers and bosses, they all get interrogated about whether what they are asking me to do makes sense and why. Poor things…

  • Katie

    Gretchen, I saw you speak about this at WDS in Portland and I was amazed. It helped clear up a LOT! The friend I was with is a rebel and now I understand her better. I am definitely an Obliger which is why I am having a harder time being my own boss (running my start-up) than when I had one I had to report to in an office. My question is this: Is it possible for Obligers to be CEOs and entrepreneurs or are they really destined to just work for someone else? Thanks!


    • gretchenrubin

      The key for Obligers is external accountability, so I think that they will do much better when they set up those systems. Work with a coach, work with an accountability partner (another start-up CEO, a friend, etc) who will hold you accountable, create external deadlines with consequences, etc.

  • Katie

    Oh and I think you need to pre-sell your book on habits soon as I know many people that will buy it!

  • Janine Gilmour

    Just stumbled on this one and I’m intrigued by the discussion. I see many signs of being a rebel, especially in the way I simply HATE to have anyone schedule my time or “tell” me what to do. It’s a reflex that I work to soften. In other respects I am a total Upholder. Rules of the road are, well, rules. Not suggestions. I’m a bit stuffy about “should and shouldn’t that way. I wonder if the opt-in, opt-out of things just means I’m a Questioner? Ha!

  • Rachel

    I am a questioner. Screw the rules if they’re not rational!

  • Ellen Durand

    What are the pros of being a rebel? I see the rebel type as emotionally immature. If you are reacting to every rule/demand/request by saying No, you are just as much in thrall as the obliger, who responds with an automatic Yes. The key word here is “react.” In my view, the upholder and the questioner are the two types who truly act, rather than reacting. BYW, I see myself as an obliger with upholder leanings.

  • Suzanne

    how bout this: I am a rebel and a questioner at heart – I hate it if someone tells me to do something. I hate it even more if others try to determine my social agenda (example: ask me in september when to have the family christmas diner, or ask me more than a few days in advance if I can do this or that next weekend… I don’t know! It depends: on the weather, my level of energy, my mood etc etc). But as I am also a rational human being at times trying to improve myself, I get outside help to oblige (sports,study). Does that make me a mix of all three types?

  • Anon

    I liked this! Very insightful… I’m defo more of a questioner when it comes to rules…
    You should look at this idea you have in relation to the traditional four Greek personality types: Sanguine, Choleric, Phlegmatic and the other one… (Something to do with melancholy…)

  • Jens Reineking

    I respond well to outer expectations (but I also question the rules) but am very poor with the inner ones – even with accountablity in place.
    I don’t know if I haven’t found the right accoutability yet or if I’m using the wrong strategy altogether and should embrace my rebel when it comes to inner expectations.

  • Great site!Here

  • Sam Jost

    Of course, as a Questioner I have some more ideas about this.
    For example, if someone I like has a request and makes in a nice way, I’ll be 100% upholder.
    But if someone tries to get me to do something (even something I want to do) but does this in a unpleasant way, I’m 100% Rebel (even though I notice that I only rebel because the other is behaving like an asshole and don’t really want to rebel – takes me an effort to do the stuff, even when I like it).
    So I’d say this category can Change due to circumstances.

  • JeNee

    According to the habits quiz, I’m a rebel, but I would never blow through a stop sign in traffic!

    But, for the most part, I tend to resist and resent others telling me what to do or attempting to otherwise control my behavior.

  • Sarah

    How about those of us who are half Obliger, half Rebel? Largely obliging and succeeding in the world as a good person, but then get so tired of obeying all those “shoulds” that I resent and rebel. Until I stuff myself back inside the Obliger persona. Oh, for enough cognitive discipline on these warring emotions to fully become a Questioner!

    • gretchenrubin

      That’s obliged-rebellion — I write about that pattern at some length in Better Than Before!

  • Kay

    If I could explain my ex husband in computer speak, he is PC
    My new partner, is MAC

    What’s strange is that my old life wasn’t bad. In fact there were plenty of great things about it. But I was numb. My ex didn’t drive me to do anything more. He said yes to most things I asked. He accepted the status quo rather than challenging. I called him boring at the time, but I was just uneducated.

    For me, I was so young (18 at marriage and 26 at divorce) and naive that his total and complete acceptance of me allowed me to form bad behaviours. In doing some recent research on habits, though your book, I’ve established that I am an Obliger.

    My ex, I am quite confident is an Upholder. So, you take one person who is an Upholder (just follows through on everything) and put them with an Obliger (who needs people to need her to do anything for her to do it), and what ends up is me, the obliger not growing and developing because no one expects me to.


    And my ex never expected me to change because he is an Upholder.
    Therefore, as an upholder, you just grow, change, follow through and develop
    because that’s what Upholders do. He missed, as did I, the fact that I needed someone to drive me. Being away from family in Australia on my own, I got stuck in my own whirlwind of just “getting things done” rather than growing, for my sake, my partners sake, but most importantly my children’s sake.

    Fast forward – I left the marriage. And it’s tough.

    But s an up side, now, I am with my new partner, who is a questioner. Result = he expects me to change. Or correction, I FEEL like he expects me to change, in fact I don’t think he wants that at all… BUT he questions everything I do.
    So when I can’t find the “right” answer; and I mean “right” as driven by my own internal morals; the obliger in me feels like I’ve let him down, so I go seek answers on how to fix it… in turn bettering myself.


    • Revie

      Your story helped me understand my situation. Thanks for sharing it.

  • Tiffany Melius

    Do you have any blog posts on strategies each of the tendencies can use to best change their habits (rebels especially)?

  • Briella Richardson

    I am a questioner. I need logic behind most things a person tells me. I am an avid reader, quite knowledgeable on a subject or two, therefore, if I don’t feel that there is any validity to their method, I question. I’m pretty discipline with my inner influences. I usually follow the rules but will rebel. Choleric, phlegmatic would describe it better.

  • mann

    So what would be a good way to persuade a rebel type personality person to do as you want, I am thinking of this example instead of asking are you going to the gym tonight? lets ask are you not going to the gym tonight ? so to persuade rebel people we must ask or tell statements using a lot the NO word in a sentence or a question right? or don’t do this or that even though you want that to happen

    • gretchenrubin

      Interesting! I never thought about it quite this way. Not sure it’s about using NO or about not arousing their resistance to control.

  • Jeydo

    Linking to the Quiz, since ‘none’ of the links here shows it:

  • Pingback: Morning Magic: 4 Reasons Why I Write Morning Pages()

  • melzent

    I keep trying to get my adult son to take this. He utterly refuses and in fact mocks the whole idea.

    So I’m just going to go with rebel.

  • Pingback: EP 024 – Getting Back on the Horse – Pattern Interrupt()

  • Pingback: How to Say No as an Obliger Personality – Life Goals Mag()

  • Pingback: 10 things I've finally forgiven myself for -

  • I’m a Rebel because I fear the current Age of leadership who want you to follow them while intentionally neglecting your needs. I rebel from being abused. I rebel form tyranny. I rebel form cults, groups, religion, insanity. I want to be FREE INDEED. I’ve had my good days, and I have had my bad days, but I fight to be free indeed daily. #RebelCode