Do You Agree About These Motivations of the Upholder, Questioner, Rebel, and Obliger?

Assay: With all modesty, I do think my Four Categories of Personality may be one of my finest contributions to the study of human nature. Right up there with my abstainer/moderator split and under-buyer/over-buyer distinction.

In a nutshell, under this scheme, people fall into one of four categories–Upholder, Questioner, Rebel, Obliger–depending on how they respond to external rules and internal rules.

Upholders respond to both inner and outer rules; Questioners question all rules, but can follow rules they endorse (effectively making all rules into inner rules); Rebels resist all rules; Obligers respond to outer rules but not to inner rules. To read more, go here.

I’m still refining this idea, and I’d be very interested to hear people’s thoughts on my further analysis.

One important question is: what is the main desire or motivation driving the people in the four categories? Here’s what I currently believe. Does it ring true to you?

Upholders wake up and think, “What’s on the schedule and the to-do list for today?” They’re very motivated by execution, getting things accomplished. They really don’t like making mistakes, getting blamed,  or failing to follow through (including doing so to themselves).

Questioners wake up and think, “What needs to get done today?” They’re very motivated by seeing good reasons for a particular course of action. They really don’t like spending time and effort on activities they don’t agree with.

Rebels wake up and think, “What do I want to do today?” They’re very motivated by a sense of freedom, of self-determination. (I used to think that Rebels were energizing by flouting rules, but I now I suspect that that’s a by-product of their desire to determine their own course of action. Though they do seem to enjoy flouting rules.) They really don’t like being told what to do.

Obligers wake up and think, “What must I do today?” They’re very motivated by accountability. They really don’t like being reprimanded or letting others down.

Understanding this is important, because if you want to motivate yourself (or someone else) to do something, it’s key to know how a person will consider and act upon that request or order.

What do you think? Also, what should I call this category of personality typing? I haven’t been able to think of a good name. “The Four Categories of Rules Acceptance” isn’t very catchy.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • mmlnj

    I think this is a fantastic distinction, and I’d love to know more about how — as an obliger — I can manage this aspect of myself. It’s already helped me with working out.

  • Annie

    I think these roughly correspond to temperament types identified by Jung and the Greeks, as synthesized in a book called “Please Understand Me”, by David Kiersey and Marilyn Bates, and probably elsewhere but this is the version I have on my shelf. They group the Jungian/Myers-Briggs types into four character types. SP, Dionysians, are your rebels; SJ, Epimetheans, are your obligers; NT, Prometheans, are your upholders; and NF, Apollonians, are your questioners.

    • molly

      I would go along with this to some extent, but I was thinking that NTs are questioners. They are the investigators of the lot. Also, as an NT, I love love self-imposed rules. I like to see if I can discipline myself, and once I’ve read about (say) a vitamin or healthy food plan, and am convinced by the research that it has some validity, I will impose rules on myself to follow it. I was also surprised to see the NFs under questioners. Interesting. I would almost reverse these two. In a weird way, I guess NFs, who like peace and harmony, are questioners, because they are always trying to define themselves, and want to be perceived under a certain image, though in my experience, they will resist that image once people depend on it (esp. nfp). This is to an extent. They can be very easy to be around because they allow others to have their say and will let others lead as well. Hmmmm….food for thought!

    • gretchenrubin

      As I recall those categories, they encompass far more traits than the external rules/internal rules issue. So that makes it hard to map the two systems together.

    • abn_pdx

      I also think there may be a correspondence to Meyers-Briggs, but maybe not to the letters you’ve identified. For example, I am an INTP and I tend to be a Questioner — I have no problem with rules that make sense, but I hate seemingly arbitrary rules or those that conflict with my values and priorities. However, I understand that INTJ’s like rules and structure generally so they are maybe the Upholders. I don’t know enough about Meyers-Briggs, but the connection jumped out at me right away when I read Gretchen’s categories.

    • RebeccaSparks

      I’m very INTP,-in learning, in problem solving and relationships– but in meeting commitments I’m very much an obliger.

    • Interesting! I’m INFJ, and I would say I’m probably a Questioner, although maybe a bit of an upholder too.

  • Megan Gordon

    Do you think it’s possible to cross over? I find myself hovering in between an upholder and a questioner, although I think I lean more toward questioner.

    • gretchenrubin

      Questioners often lean to one side or the other – to Upholding or to Rebelling. They question, but they have a default tendency. Sounds like that’s where you fal.

      • HEHink

        Thank you for that clarification! I think Questioners (which I’m pretty sure I am) may have the toughest time identifying themselves, precisely because we will act within any of the other categories, given the right reason.

  • My first inclination was to say I am a Questioner but on reflection I definitely have moments of Upholder and moments of Rebel. I bicycle for transportation, and on a bike a stop sign is so often treated like a yield sign. I hate that practice because it angers motorists (unreasonably so–but that is another topic). Yet I sympathize with it too, because why stop if there is no traffic and lose all your momentum? So I stop (Upholder) but I don’t lecture those who don’t (Questioner). When I go out of town I drive, and I drive less than the speed limit, but not because I’m worried about getting caught, it’s because I don’t feel safe driving so fast (Questioner). Then there are times on my bike out on a lonely highway with no traffic in sight for miles, and I weave back & forth across the entire road for fun (Rebel).

    • gretchenrubin

      You sound like a Questioner to me. Even in your Upholding and Rebeling, you’re explaining why those actions are sensible under the circumstances. That’s a very Questioner approach.

  • Obliger in a red hot minute. But I don’t like the name because it implies “people pleaser”, which I do not want to be!

    • gretchenrubin

      Do you have a name you’d suggest? You can’t IMAGINE how long it took me to arrive at “Obliger.” I really love it, I have to say, but always open to other suggestions.

      • PNW Gal

        I am an Obliger and I don’t like the thought of being a people pleaser
        either. I
        think Obliger is a actually a very good word for my rule following
        or lack of rule following tendency. The people pleasing, the desire not to let folks down or to be reprimanded, is a side effects of
        being an Obliger. I feel obligated to stop at a crosswalk and wait for
        the walk sign to appear at night in the rain. I feel bound to get up
        early and make lunches for my young children. I feel the moral
        imperative correct the credit that shouldn’t be on my account. These are rules I follow because they are external pressures. However,
        the moment I put try to constrain myself with a rule be it one to eat more veggies or get up earlier (to do something other than what I think ought to be done) or floss every night I start to chafe and break the rule.

      • Heidi

        What about “Cooperator” or something like that but less clumsy? That’s what I keep thinking in response to all the people who say they’re Obligers but don’t like the name because it makes them seem weak-willed or something. Cooperation is a valuable trait in a person, and I keep wanting to tell these people it’s a good thing that they don’t instantly argue with everything. (I mean, somebody should question everything, but if we all did it, nothing would ever get done!)

      • Cheryl Martin


  • melacey727

    I’m not sure which category I fall into except I’m sure I’m not a rebel. I wake up in the morning thinking of the Gottas, Haftas, and Wannas. Gottas have a bit of imperative to them, like finishing a report on time, or paying bills, or going to appointments. Haftas are those things I should do every day, or regularly, but which don’t seem to matter much in the short term, like flossing teeth, or laundry, or exercise, but which matter a lot eventually if I stop doing them altogether. Wannas are purely for self-satisfaction, like seeing an exhibit, or eating lunch outside, or reading, or taking a nap. I try to be sure there’s at least one wanna in every day’s schedule, especially if the day is heavily loaded with gottas. Make sense?

    • gs

      What about the “Buttas”? I am talking about the things you have to do because of the people who own your butt. I’m kidding, of course, but there are things you have to do because of people you are in a relationship with. Examples: your husband has run out of shaving cream and he wants to make a run to the grocery store; your son has a project due at school and he wants you to find a photograph of himself with his best friend in seventh grade; your colleague has made a mistake and she wonders if you can spare some time to help her with it; your friend wants you to take her dog for a walk . . . Maybe Upholders are people with a lot of “Gottas” on their list or people who get their “Gottas” done first. Maybe Questioners have a similar relationship with Haftas, Rebels with Wannas, and Obligers with “Buttas.”

  • PNW Gal

    Based on your previous post, I id-ed myself as an Obliger. You might be interested to hear that every weekday, I wake up and go through in my head of all the things I must do. “I must make lunches, I must take a shower, I must wake the kids, I must do laundry, I must go to the grocery.” I always end with I must get up. AND I really hate to be reprimanded or to feel letting others down.

    • gretchenrubin

      That is SO helpful. Thanks for weighing in.

  • elibbybeth

    I’m a total obliger. As a music teacher, I’d love to figure out what my students are and see what I could do to make them practice more! haha.

  • Mindy

    Rule Response: 4 Types

    • Mindy

      I’m a questioner for sure. My husband is 100% rebel. I am always walking on my tiptoes when I ask him to do something for me… because if he forgets and I ask again, I’m nagging! He’s wonderful, but his rebelious-ness is so frustrating!

      • gretchenrubin

        Yes, it’s tricky with a Rebel. They have to WANT to do something.

  • peninith1

    When I think about how I order my day, it goes like this. I have a morning coffee and computer routine that starts very early, before others are up, then I have a ‘getting ready for the day’ routine (shower, dress, make the bed, take meds, make notes in a journal), then I get down and make a ‘to-do’ list. On this list I dump all the things I can think of that I want to do or that are actual deadlines or appointments. Then I start ‘doing stuff’–and I always put on the list and aim to get done some things that I care to get done and are a matter of perfect indifference to anyone else–like sew, play the piano, work on a Shutterfly project, and so forth. I NEVER expect to get done everything I put on the list, and everything I do, including the obligations, feels like its my choice to do it. I might include a ‘have to do’ thing like Taxes for quite a long time before I actually do it (by the deadline). I might do something else entirely that didn’t start out being on my list. I never feel that my ‘to do’ list is hanging over my head, it’s just that I want to remember what’s to be done.I don’t do things in any particular order, except to show up for appointments very much on time. I get great pleasure and a sense of accomplishment from ‘crossing items out’ with a bright colored highlighter. So I feel very motivated to ‘do stuff’ and I do meet deadlines. But I honestly would have a hard time prioritizing things in a least to most important order, except by due date. Oh, and I ‘skip around’ a lot. Yes, I’ve got the freedom of being ‘retired’ but I used to work the same way when I went to an office. What in the world does this make me?

  • Thinking of a better name for this. How do YOU do today? Four ways of thinking about rules. Or something along those lines maybe.

  • Terra

    hmm.. maybe I started out as a Rebel, then became a Questioner and now am working on Upholding. I have a strong freedom instinct, but I try not to let it be the master of me. Often, a lot of the things I don’t want to do happen to be great teachers for me. I think “The obstacle is the path,” fits somewhere in there.

    • gretchenrubin

      What a terrific, succinct way to phrase this Rebel quality: “I have a strong freedom instinct but I try not to let it be the master of me.”

      That’s the curious thing about being a Rebel – by resisting what is asked of them, ironically, they can end up being controlled by others, just in the opposite direction. Or controlled by themselves—exactly as they DON’T want. Your articulation of this is a great way for a Rebel to channel that desire for freedom.

  • HeatherY

    QUORUM – Questioners, Upholders, Obligers, Rebels: Understanding Motivation

    (or QUOR∙UM for a logo-esque look)

    “the minimum number of members” – or Latin for “of whom” both work as well.

    You’re welcome. 😉

    P.S. I’m a Q.

  • HeatherY

    QUORUM – Questioners, Upholders, Obligers, Rebels: Understanding Motivation

    (or QUOR∙UM for a logo-esque look)

    “the minimum number of members” – or Latin for “of whom” both work as well.

    You’re welcome. 😉

    P.S. I’m a Q.

  • HeatherY

    QUORUM – Questioners, Upholders, Obligers, Rebels: Understanding Motivation

    (or QUOR∙UM for a logo-esque look)

    “the minimum number of members” – or Latin for “of whom” both work as well.

    P.S. I’m a Q.

    • HeatherY

      Will my comment stay if I reply to it?

      • HeatherY

        Oops. Sorry for the multiples. 🙁
        Obviously I thought the bad karma of my smugness was preventing them from sticking. Guess I was right, ’cause now I look like an even bigger jerk. 😛

  • I think this is a fantastic distinction…but maybe you sholuld find inspiration at

  • Alex Koay

    The types does make a lot of sense, but it occurs to me that it should be further extended slightly.

    To me, following (upholding), questioning and resisting are all actions on one axis, in that order on the spectrum: either you follow a rule (without question), you question a rule or you resist a rule. You can’t follow (blindly) and question a rule at the same time.

    The inner and outer seem like axes by themselves, since you can be upholding inner rules but resisting outer ones, or upholding both, or a lot of other combinations!

    So I’ve come up with a notation for this: F Q and R for the action, and two positions denoting the inner and outer (the first is outer, and the second, inner). To make it more obvious whether it is inner and outer, the inner is lowercased while the outer is capitalised.

    So a Ff would be a full upholder, upholding both inner and outer rules.
    But an F* or a *f would only follow some rules but not necessarily all.
    A Q* or *q would be your questioner, and so on and so forth.

    So by your definition:
    Upholders would be Ff.
    Questioners would be Qq.
    Rebels are Rr.
    and Obligers are Fr (I put Fr because as per your definition they accept outer rules, meaning they aren’t questioned, and they do not like self-imposed rules which would mean they resist them.)

    And by this extension, there are still a few combinations yet to be labelled.
    I’m more of a Qr which is why I thought the extension was necessary. I don’t accept outer rules unless I question them first.

    • molly

      Interesting, I stated in a comment below that I do question/research norms and rules, but once I am satisfied with them, I can be pretty strict at imposing the rule on myself. I guess I am a Qr on your scale?

  • Veronique

    I really love your point that if you want to motivate someone or yourself it is important to know how they will act upon your request. This may be a brilliant teaching tool.

  • molly

    While pondering these categories, I was reminded of a test I took in college, the California Personality Inventory, that had some similarities to this typing. It may help you, Gretchen, in further developing your four categories. The four types are: alphas, which are externally oriented, and rule accepting, the Betas are internally oriented, and rule accepting, the Gammas are externally oriented, and rule questioning, and the deltas are internally oriented, and rule questioning. The CPI mentions rule acceptance/questioning, but it doesn’t specifically address the four dimensions you address. There may be some fodder for your categories in their discussion though. Here is link to a site that breaks down the four categories and some sample questions are included: Good luck! I love this kind of stuff!

  • marlyss

    Obliger for sure! I hate letting people down, or even saying no. That doesn’t really work out so well (turns out saying no is an important skill in life) so I’m working on being more of a questioner. My theory is that our education system rewards kids for being Obligers, but in the adult world it’s Questioners who feel most content (because they aren’t dependent on outside sources for their motivation).

    Ooh, I’d love to hear how people of all four types have developed workarounds for their own motivational style! A series of posts, maybe? I am so motivated by rules that in order to deal with my fear of failure I developed a rule: I need to fail sometimes. When I’m feeling bad about making a mistake, I think of this rule and sort of mentally check “failure” off of my to-do list, and it makes me feel better.

  • Oh my, I thought I was an upholder until I read your definitions… Can I take a mix? I’m more rebel, but could pass for a few of the other traits,,, Great thoughts, got me thinking!

  • Amy H.

    I am an Upholder, and I definitely wake up and think, “Upholders wake up and think, “What’s on the schedule and the to-do list for today?” The rest of your description fits me well, too — very motivated by execution and getting things accomplished.

  • I’m a Questioner to a tee. My wife is definitely an Upholder, and your descriptions of the motivations gave us some clarity on how and why we think of things differently. Thanks!

    • gretchenrubin

      Terrific. I’m happy to hear it strikes a chord with you.

  • Scarlett

    I do agree with your motivations, at least for obligers, which I am–your description fits me perfectly. The idea of being an obliger was bumming me out, because I’d rather be a free-spirited questioner or rebel. The “being accountable” motivation seemed boring and uninspiring. I was wondering if I could change myself, but then I decided to embrace it and think about it positively. I realized that being “accountable” doesn’t necessarily mean I’m only motivated by authority figures or something, it means that I work well in a partnership or a team. For example, the times in my life that I was really excited about exercising, I had a workout buddy. I’ve got a lot of goals I’m always working on (getting to bed earlier, eating healthy, etc.), and I realized that if my husband and I were to work on them together, I’d be much more motivated because he’d be counting on me, too.

    Anyway, thanks, Gretchen, for getting me thinking about things, and for your great advice!

    • Cheryl Martin

      When I think of obligers I think of health professionals. They have a deep since of duty in all areas of life. They are caretakers.

  • Shari

    I thought it was interesting the other day when my husband made a comment about something being more fun because he was breaking the rules. I responded that I actually would have trouble enjoying something if I knew I was breaking the rules. I am probably mostly an Upholder with a little bit of questioner thrown in.

    • gretchenrubin

      Good point!

  • Lisa Y

    I’m a little late to comment on this but I wanted to say that I find this very helpful. I’ve always been hard on myself about what I’d call my lack of internal motivation. In order to get things done, I MUST have external demands–deadlines, late fees looming, people who will be let down, etc. It has always made me feel bad about myself that my motivation has to be the threat of consequences. So to see that this is an entire category–and one of only four–makes me feel like I’m not just a weak person.

  • AliB

    Love your categories but even Rebels have to have ‘to-do’ lists! However, as a Rebel/Questioner I certainly don’t start at the top – in fact some things do linger on the list for months and months and if its a sunny day the list may be lost, or I’ll add in some new things that I want to do today – so maybe you’re not far off!

  • Caroline Roberts

    A rebel I think. Or a questioner with a rebellious streak! I don’t enjoy flouting rules but don’t try and tell me what to do or when to do it. I frequently ignore my own to-do list and would love to know how to sneakily motivate my rebel self to do what has to be done!

    I agree that sometimes we can be controlled – tell me to do the opposite of what you want and I’ll oblige by doing what you wanted in the first place.
    I think a motivator (for me at least) can be an attitude of “prove them wrong”.

  • Malathi Karpur

    Good categorization ! Where would you categorize a procrastinator?

  • I read the other post and thought for sure I was an obliger. But given the way you described them in THIS post, I’m also a questioner. Interesting.

  • Angela Barnett

    How about ‘The Four Personality Tenets’ as a name. (Tenets being either a belief system or rules and your categories are about following or not following rules). Btw, I am an Upholder and when somebody sends out a challenge it goes straight onto my To Do list.

  • ETB

    I am glad to see so many other obligers out there! I too was bummed that particular category fit me the best, but that there are so many others makes me feel better about it. 🙂

  • Based on your descriptions, I’m definitely a Questioner (but with a touch of Rebel). I think you’ve done a great job of analyzing and describing these general categories of how people are motivated.

  • Kate Kelchner

    So interesting! I’m curious how the four types you identify relates to the Herrmann brain dominance model that breaks up thinking and motivation into four types: (A) logical/analytical, (B) organized/detailed, (C) interpersonal/emotional and (D) holistic/intuitive.
    More here:

    I recently attended a seminar that discussed the Herrmann types and I identified with type (B) sequential/organized and very detail oriented. This seems very similar to your Upholders type.

    I see aspects of people I know in the other personality types you identify, although honestly the Obligers seem like Upholders with no self-esteem. Or like lazy Questioners.

  • Meredith

    Questioner. You want me to do something? Make it make sense to me and chances are, I will.

  • Doop Doop

    Oh my gosh – an obliger married to a questioner. This explains A LOT!!! Very insightful. Thanks.

  • Cheryl Martin

    The 4 Morning Motivations What -is on the to do list? -must be done? -needs to be done? -do I feel like doing?

  • Michele Tzafrirah Leidhecker

    I immediately chose Questioner for myself, with some Upholder tendencies. My husband chose Obliger for himself and I added a touch of Rebel. I’ve always thought we had very similar temperaments and interests, yet our motivators are complete opposites! Which is why I don’t understand how he just does the things that need done. This is most evident when looking around our house!! I tend to feel like chores are not worth doing, because I don’t feel like doing them most of the time. Every so often, when I DO decide they need done, I must do them to their fullest extent without compromise. He is good at starting chores, but only skims the surface, never really finishing the job. Once he gets “just enough” done, he goes off and doe his own thing. I will not start a task, because I know that I will not be happy until it is completely done. I’d rather not start if I can’t finish. We make a good pair when he starts chores and I finish them! Not so much when I ignore them and he puts them off to work on his own projects.

  • SusaJayne

    Questioner for sure. My Dad used to say I was being a “guard-house lawyer” because I could not stand to follow arbitrary rules and was always trying to find out what was at the bottom of things. But once I have decided something is right, I’m pretty determined to do it, come hell or high water. I’m surprised to see so many obligers. Then again, maybe not, since I do tend to feel more different from than similar to other people.

  • Laura

    I am a Rebel raising a Rebel daughter. Oy! My poor husband is an Upholder. I have a much easier time getting my daughter to do things than he does. Perhaps because I am better at explaining why she should want to do something. I’ve learned that if you say No to too many things, you miss out on a lot. Sometimes it pays to do the boring stuff so you can do more fun stuff later. I am also a big believer in being fair and treating people well because of “enlightened self-interest.” A hard concept for a 5-year old!

  • Lotte

    HI I am a nerd reader when it comes to new ideas on how to segment people, however I am also a strong beliver that when all comes to all, it depends on the day you question a person. I for one can be all of the above. But seen from a marketing point of view it can be useful, because it’s a way of defining your customers.. I salute you to find this new way of segmentating and look forward to your testing in companies..

  • Bob McInnis

    The Four Stages from Conformity to Courage. I really hoped I was still a Rebel but I seem to have mellowed into a Questioner.

  • Muhammad Chegeh

    I agree with the above motivations

  • Ursina

    Hi Gretchen!

    I really like your work :-).

    I actually think I am some kind of mix. I am an upholder with outer expectations and a questioner when it comes to inner expectations. Which as a result makes it much more easier to do things for others than to do it for me (so puts me into the obliger category to some extent). What do you think? Have you news of similar mix types?

    • gretchenrubin

      I’d say that you sound like an Obliger. Do you find it easy to make yourself keep expectations you impose on yourself? Or do you tend to question them until they aren’t met?

      • Ursina

        Thanks for answering. As soon as I find the expectations I impose on myself really ‘worthy’, I do meet them. This just takes a long time sometimes. But I think you are right. I am an obliger, that learnt to look after myself a bit more.

  • Aaron L

    Hey Gretchen, so far so good! I myself have observed this distinction between people and thus far, it works very well. I wouldn’t say it is the solution to everything people are, but it is definitely a good measure. In offering a name to these, perhaps ‘The Four Motives for Compliance’ would be suitable.
    I myself am a questioner, in that /I/ must decide upon my actions. Above all, it is not freedom from consequences I desire like the rebel does, but rather freedom from irrational decisions and inefficiencies. The question I usually ask in the morning is more along the lines of ‘What have I /decided/ I need to do today? What other decisions must I make today?’. Largely, I try to regulate myself, balancing desire and expectation fairly, while I’d imagine a rebel doesn’t care to find a balance in the first place.
    It seems a rebel and an obliger occupy opposite sides of the desire/expectation fulfillment dichotomy, while upholders and questioners attempt to fulfill both desires and expectations; the upholder by using all available energy to do so, while the questioner chooses to carefully apply energy where it has the largest effect.

    Finally, I consider ‘desire’ to be personal needs and wants (physical, mental), as well as sudden impulses to do fun things. Meanwhile, expectations includes all manner of obligations, including ones that are flexible, such as birthday gifts, spending time with people, etc. Hopefully I’ve given you some insight and maybe helped you to refine this idea of yours 😉

  • So if I’m an Oblgier and want to run my own business, the I should have a business partner or a great coach to make it?

    • gretchenrubin

      Whatever form of external accountability works for you. Maybe multiple forms of accountability.

      • 🙂 What a quick response! Great speach on 99u and thanks for the advice! I met an inspiring coach and I hope she will keep me running. Lucky people who are internally motivated.

        Greetings from Poland.

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  • Jennifer Crow

    These do correspond to the Jungian temperaments. NT is the questioner, NF is the obliger, SJ is the Upholder, and SP is the rebel. Always fascinating stuff.

  • Jennifer Crow

    Sorry. I misspoke. SJ is Obliger while NF is upholder. NT is questioner, SP is rebel. Loosely interpreted.

  • Mary Belote

    What about Rubin Rubric? Everybody in our school county knows the word, since it is an assessment tool used in the schools, elem through high school. I bet the term is used in lots of other school districts/colleges. You can add other descriptive words as you want in the middle = motivational, response, propensity, etc. Ex. Rubin Expectations Response Rubric. These descriptive words can hang around until the tool is well known and then just shorten to Rubin Rubric.

  • Stacey

    I remember reading this post when you first posted it and my very first thought was dismissal and resistance. Just took the quiz, and I bet you can’t guess which category I fall into. 😉

  • shris

    So I took the quiz and it said I’m a rebel. I was rather surprised by that. I have no issues meeting deadlines at work, being part of a team, keeping my end of the bargain, etc. I can set my own deadlines for stuff, work to other people’s deadlines, and usually not have any difficulty about it. I do have a bit of resistance with projects I feel are unclear or unending, but I can usually get beyond that.

    At home, on the other hand, I am almost entirely rebellious. Setting up a ‘household routine’ of any kind or forming good-for-me habits, those are all short-lived. OTOH, if my husband says “we really need to do something about X” then it flips a switch and I’m all over it until it’s done. So I can easily see several of your categories in me in different situations. So while the categories themselves are interesting, I’m not quite sure what to do with them. How can I use my methodical self to work on habits when the rebel side is sitting in a corner saying I don’t wanna?

  • Sihui

    Thank you very much for your quiz! It is a great way to get to know yourself a little bit better (/acknowledge something you already knew was true…). I am clearly an obliger and have experienced exhaustion and overwhelm in my life simply because I can’t say no and don’t take care of myself. However, the advise you give for obligers doesn’t really work for me. As soon as I read the advise to create external accountability, a little voice inside my head said: “What? So now I am supposed to take care of myself by letting other people tell me how to do it? How am I doing something FOR MYSELF if I let other people be in control of my inner expectations – essentially turning them into outer expectations?” I don’t know if this is the 10% rebel or questioner inside me, but I have experienced that I can most effectively learn to create habits for myself by doing it – litterally – for myself. Seeing a therapist/talking to a close relative when I feel like it is okay if we only speak about the general level of progress I am making, but I want to be in control of the details and don’t want to feel OBLIGED to report to anybody on a regular basis. Somehow I feel that this would corrupt the whole process.
    Also, speaking about motivation, while I am clearly an obliger who is having a hard time to unlearn being a people pleaser, I have still always hated to think that I have to do things. I very rarely use the word “must”.
    I think there are two reasons for me being an obliger: In my family, I was somehow (unconsciously) raised to find happiness mainly in caring for somebody else and did not learn to put up boundaries to protect myself and my energy from draining. On the other hand, I am interested in a lot of things and easily get enthusiastic about political topics, new hobbies, research areas etc. While this can be a good thing I am driving it to a point where I simply can’t prioritize in any sense. These two characteristics combined with a love for self discipline and hard work (I hate to be a quitter!) do of course lead to exhaustion. But I am not exhausted because I have to do a lot of things, I feel that I am exhausted because I simply cannot prioritize the things I want to do. I want to be there for other people. I want to engage more in politics. I want to do perfect at every job. I kind of want to be a superhuman upholder, but fail because when I am totally overwhelmed (again), the obliger in me is the one who takes over the steering wheel and just decides that in this dramatic situation, outer expectations come first. (Of course, later I will have much more time to fullfill my inner expectations…) So while in the first place I avoid to think that I must do things, simply because I cannot prioritize I end up only doing what I really must to. The result is very much a desperate obliger, but the motivation was not simply to oblige.
    I constantly feel bad if I don’t meet my inner expectations and I can easily follow through with projects/habits nobody but me kows about. I don’t necessarily need external accountability, but I need to set a clear goal for myself and consciously decide to prioritize this one project/habit, because otherwise it will just be one of too many things I am juggling with in the midst of overwhelm.
    Like an upholder, I wake up thinking “What is on my to do list today?” This question is driving me most of the time. But due to my weak prioritizing skills, again and again I end up overwhelmed and that is when my inner obliger becomes dominant.
    I don’t really know how to make sens of this in terms of a more sophisticated categorization of motivations linked to the categories. I mean, of course they are all ideal types and us real types don’t fit them a 100%, but as a lot of obligers try to avoid their category and learn to say no, I wonder whether most of them really consciously thinks that they must do everything they do. If most of us obligers are in this category against our better judgement, we might have motivations that stem from another category. As soon as poor organizational skills come in the way and we cannot juggle outer and inner expectations anymore, we sadly go back to our default behaviour: to at least meet the immediate outer expectations and as soon as you have done that go back to trying to be an upholder… It is a vicious circle you can only escape from if you work on your organizational skills and learn to prioritize concerning both inner AND outer expectations. Upholders on the other hand have to to have good prioritizing skills if they don’t want to end up with a burn out.
    So while I might always have an inner tendency to oblige as kind of a default setting, my outspoken motivation is to be an upholder, not to please everybody but myself. And if I can get better at prioritizing by working on my organizational skills and setting up rules/habits for myself, I might look like an upholder – at least to everybody who is not a psychologist or whom I haven’t given this whole sermon about being an obliger… I guess I am not the only obliger working on this.

  • Brenda Schultz


    I listened to your 25 minute podcast that spoke about this subject. I wanted to know more so I googled Gretchen Rubin Motivators. So, I suggest calling it something that has the word “motivators” in it.

    On the podcast you gave suggestions for the Obliger. I googled the blog because I wanted the tips or suggestions for the other three types of motivators.

    I took the quiz and affirmed my guess that I have a Questioner Type of Motivator with 6 of the characteristics, although I have some of all four types. I am pretty much the polar opposite of the upholder except that I hate making mistakes or letting people down. It is shameful to me. However, that doesn’t motivate me. It just makes me put myself down.

    Obliger has the second highest score with 5 although I changed one ” Even if someone is enforcing a deadline, it is hare for me to get work done.

    And although Rebel had only 2 they both hold a lot of weight with me. -If someone tells me I can’t do something, I think, “I’ll show
    you,” and I do it.
    -I’m not particularly persuaded by arguments such as, “People are
    counting on you,” “You’ve already paid for it,” “You said
    you’d do it,” “Someone will be upset if you don’t,” “It’s
    against the rules,” “This is the deadline,” or “It’s rude.”

    I often feel burned out, I am always behind, I am almost always late, and my to do list is a mile long! I really need some tips on how to meet deadlines and be on time. I am starting to abhor the phrase, “in a timely manner” because I just can’t seem to do anything in a timely manner.


  • Faberge&Boots

    I am a long time follower of you. Finally decided to participate in conversation. I own and read all your books , tried to follow and really change and stick to habits, and tried to do the project, but as with everything – I start something very actively but will never come through with that.
    I really want to live happier life on daily basis, get into good habits that will benefit me and people around me.
    I think I changed with age, I used to be able to operate of will power and it worked, now it doesn’t work . According to the quiz , I am a REBEL. THANK YOU. JULIA

  • Rick DeLong

    I’m a Rebel. The question I ask myself every morning and countless times during the day is, “What do I feel like doing?” Conscious resolutions I make are constantly overruled by unconscious forces I seem to be poorly aware of. A continual challenge in life is discovering and rediscovering the nature of the unconscious forces guiding my actual behavior and trying to integrate them into my awareness so that I can better guide myself consciously. To achieve great results and happiness, I have to be on the lookout for whatever I feel like doing, and exploit it in the moment. I have to look for ways to influence myself that bypass my own consciousness. It’s tricky, but interesting, and at times incredibly productive.

    • Rick DeLong

      And of course I have been self-employed since the age of 25 and am practically unable to work for others, have difficulty keeping deadlines, etc. etc. But I am also incredibly skilled in my areas of focus. Never planned it that way. It just happened…

  • belindaang

    Just came across this when I was googling “The more I am being told to do something, the more I don’t want to do it. While I’m happy to do what I need to do when I’m being gently asked, I hate it when someone assumes authority over me, even when it’s myself. This is in contradiction with the culture I am trying to build in my company, where we are promoting openness and transparency, and we work in scopes and not hierarchies. But it inevitably makes me angry when someone tells me to do something, especially openly. I will resist answering, or if I do, prefer to do it in private though with much angst. I have not taken the quiz, but it seems I’m definitely a rebel.