Take This Poll: Are You an Upholder, Questioner, Rebel, or Obliger?

Every Wednesday is Tip Day, or Quiz Day, or List Day.

These days, I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about my Four Categories related to rule-following (I still need a clever name for the set). For me, this scheme–of Upholders, Questioners, Rebels, and Obligers–sheds a real light on certain aspects of human nature and behavior.

I’m very curious to know the relative size of the four different categories, so I’m posting this poll. The results won’t be scientifically valid, but still, it will be interesting to see how the numbers fall.

If you don’t know your category, read the descriptions here and here. I myself an Upholder.

customer surveys

Based on your own experience, what categories do you expect to be largest and smallest? Or do you expect the four categories to be roughly equally well-represented? I have my own view—but won’t reveal it yet.

  • Liz

    I loved this Assay — it was actually really helpful to me to understand why I get so mad at people who don’t follow traffic rules, but I myself can’t stick to a diet at all — because I’m driven by outside rules but no inner ones! And here I thought I was just a hypocrite! 🙂

  • erin brain stead

    I am a Questioner for sure, with a bit of Rebel. Some has faded as I’ve gotten older and HAD to meet deadlines for my business. Otherwise it’s my reputation of the line. But, ugh, at times I really feel like I’m fighting my self!

  • I am definitely a Questioner. I don’t rebel for the sake of rebelling nor do I take what is given to me without skepticism. Are either of those good ways of living? It seems that the Questioner is more balanced and is more viable, something I’m happy to be identify with.

  • Laura C

    Former rebel who has spent a lot of my life realizing that that doesn’t serve me well. Now I am an intentional Questioner.

  • Summer

    I am a full time Obliger, part time Questioner, an aspiring Upholder, but never much of a Rebel.

  • Andrea

    I’m a Questioner. Personally, I think the Rebel category will be the smallest, since a Rebel will tend not to do what you ask them to.

    • That’s a good point!

    • I agree. Plus: the rebels I know are convinced not to be ones. They describe themselves as upholders-questioners who only happen not to do what they should (according to their own descriptions of what it is) because of external circumstances.

  • Kristen

    Very much an Obliger (with a little bit of the guilt of an Upholder when I fail to follow through on something I set out for myself), but not terribly happy about it. I’d prefer to be a Questioner. I think I need to learn to accept my spots more or something. 🙂

  • Debbie M

    First, I hardly think your blog readers are a random sample. They are questioning how to be happy.

    I tend toward upholder, which is how I voted, unless the rules are crazy out of whack, then I’m a questioner. In other words, when rules are merely annoying or obnoxious, I’ll go along. But when they’re stupid or otherwise wrong, I question them. I do try to work within the box (and can be quite creative), but when that’s impossible (while still doing a good job and being happy), then I’d rather go outside the box than give up/succumb.

    I do like checking things off a list, which helps me be able to stand jobs with a lot of boring, though necessary, job tasks. And I don’t like to prioritize–I like to have enough time to do everything. However, I also dislike being bored, so I often have more possibilities than I have time for, in which case I do like to prioritize. In a rule-following way: I need to have some intellectual activities, some social, some creative, some physical, some spiritual, etc., so whatever’s lacking at the time gains urgency.

    I enjoy thinking, understanding things, and figuring things out too much to be a straight upholder. And I find most upholders to be kind of boring (I said most!), which makes me feel bad about myself. Virtually all of my friends are questioners–I find them to be the most interesting and fun.

    **

    Your personality traits remind me of the four in True Colors:
    Gold – detail-oriented types/control freak/bureaucratic types (like your upholder) – they are the people who keep things working

    Green – “creative” – thinkers/geeks (like your questioners) – they are the people creating inventions

    Red/Orange – live-fast-die-young types/risk takers (like your Rebels) – they are the people making life interesting

    Blue – social people persons/doormats (like your obligers) – they are the people who help us get along with each other

    My favorite test to see which one is you is to answer this question: You can make either 90,000 per year, getting exactly 1/12 of it every month, or $150,000 per year, getting some random amount every month (but by the end of the year, you end up with $150,000). Which do you pick and why?

    Ready with your answer?

    Gold – The 90K.
    Green – No, the 150K.
    Gold – But what do you do in the bad months?
    Green – You save up for them.
    Orange – Save/schmave. You wing it.
    Blue – (silent; probably will ask spouse what to pick)

  • cruella

    I expect the Obliger category to be the largest, because that tendency seems very human – you want to avoid conflict (in a broad sense) so you follow rules imposed by others so as to avoid confrontation, explanation etc. Your own inner rules and decisions har easier to worm out because you only have to answer to yourself.

    • gretchenrubin

      I agree that the Obliger category will be one of the largest – but for people in every category, I’ll wager, those folks believe THEIR tendency is the most natural.

  • discoveredjoys

    I wondered if the rule following categories might not correlate with the 4 main Keirsey Temperaments –
    Upholder Guardians (40 – 45 percent of the population)
    Questioner Rationals (5 – 10 percent of the population)
    Rebel Artisans (or Hedonists) (30 – 35 percent of the population)
    Obliger Idealists (15 – 20 percent of the population)

    Now since the results are showing rather different percentages, either my hypothesis is not confirmed… or the ‘population’ of people willing to vote on this assay do not reflect the general population. Or possibly the descriptions of the rule following types bias the probable responses. More research needs to be done as they say.

    • Heidi

      Your second possibility was my first thought. My experience is that questioners are not a huge part of the population. So now I wonder, if this is the case, why would questioners be more likely than everyone else to read Gretchen’s blog (and take the survey)?

      • gretchenrubin

        Hmm…from my observation, I believe that Questioners are one of the two largest groups, along with Obligers (which, if I had to guess without looking at the poll, I would put as the biggest group).

        • Aleisha

          I think a lot of people *want* to see themselves as questioners but aren’t usually. Maybe in your social group you do see more questioners… I think most people are obligers, then upholders, then questioners, and then rebels.

          • Aleisha

            Also want to add that I teach 5-year-olds and they tend to be at the extremes: either upholders or rebels. No questioners or obligers really. As adults, the rebels are forced to adhere to societal rules/norms and tone down to questioners whereas some of the youth upholders can’t keep up with the demands coming from both the inside/outside and become obligers.

  • Kathleen McLaughlin

    I’m an Obliger. I think Obliger will be your biggest category because they’re the ones working on improving the inside to match the outside; Rebel will be your smallest category because they’re probably not reading your blog anyway 🙂 .

  • DarleneMAM

    Gretchen, it was terrific to listen to you speak in Montclair, NJ last evening; I did a 2-week Happiness Project you devised for me back in October as part of an appearance on The Katie Show. I enjoyed meeting you and the benefits “stuck” with me.

    I am looking forward to reading your next book too; I love the topic! I’m an Upholder. Always have been. And I think it will be the category with the fewest number of people in it.

    • gretchenrubin

      Thanks so much for coming to the event! I’m thrilled to hear that my work resonates with you.

      And great to hear from a fellow Upholder. I think the Rebels may be even fewer, but from my observation, those are the two smallest camps.

  • Melissa Rohwedder

    I’m definitely a questioner with upholder tendencies…but I really wish I were a rebel, but it just doesn’t make sense.

  • Leisa729

    QUOR = Questioner, Upholder, Obliger, and Rebeler

    What makes your quor?

  • I’m somewhere between upholder and questioner. More questioner, I think, because I’m most likely to spend my alone time (that is, time when no one is watching) doing what I think is best. I wash my dishes because I want a clean kitchen, not because I think it’s how a kitchen should look. I run all the time because I like to run and find it makes me a better, happier person, not because i feel like I “should.” But when I’m at work, I’m an upholder. I do what I’m told (though I do question/tweak those commands from time to time) and do my best work for my colleagues.
    I sent this to my sister. She would LOVE to read about your categories and personality ideas. So expect her comments to turn up en masse 🙂

  • Robert Ortiz

    Full time Upholder, part time Questioner. Holding the line on policy but at the same time questioning if the process can be better. Biggest pet peeve, “We’ve always done it the way.”

  • Heidi

    I’m surprised to be in the largest category (questioner). I’m never in the largest category! But my favorite bumper-sticker-like saying is “Stupid rules are made to be broken.” If I weren’t a questioner, I’d be a rebel. I truly enjoy breaking stupid rules.

  • I’d say Obliger–I don’t cross streets against the light even if the street is empty, so I know I follow outside rules.

    I do, however, have a terrible time following inner ones. Resolutions, for instance, don’t work easily. It’s a struggle.

    However, I DO rebel against people telling me what to do, especially if I was already planning on doing it. When I was a teenager and I was cleaning my room or making my bed and my mom would shout from the other side of the house, “make your bed”, I’d get so angry. Now the idea wasn’t my own and I’d get no credit for doing it on my own. I’d want to tear apart the bed and ignore it. I often feel the same way as an adult–tell me to do something and part of me wants to dig in my heels, especially if I already knew I needed to do it.

    • gris

      Exactly what happens to me, I think I’m part obliger, rebel, and questioner

  • Heidi

    I’m starting to question my original self-diagnosis. You know how a mixture of cornstarch and water gets stiffer and more resistant the more you push on it, but if you just let it sit, it turns into a puddle? A friend of mine told me once “That’s you!” And she’s right. If someone tries to make me do something, I resist instantly, but if they ask nicely, I’m very likely to do it just to make them happy. And if they say, “I think you should do X, because…” then I evaluate their reasons for myself. So does that make me a rebel or a questioner? (I’m sure I’m not an obliger because people who don’t ask nicely get nowhere at all with me, and I can still say no when they do ask nicely.)

    • gretchenrubin

      Questioners tend to come with a leaning either toward Upholder or Rebel – they question, but with a default tendency. Sounds like you are a Questioner with a Rebel flavor.

  • Randall D

    What do you think of the term “Authoritative Disposition” to describe this notion?

  • Angela Barnett

    Here is a name suggestion for your Four Categories:
    The Personality Tenets. (Tenets being a belief system or rules and
    your categories are about following or not following rules). Btw I am an
    Upholder so when somebody throws out a challenge it goes straight onto my To Do
    List.

  • Now that I am retired from my corporate identity, I think I am more of a rebel and questioner in my own space, but the obliger still shows up strongly when time is tight.

  • Chrissy

    What about the person that will follow their own (inside) rules but not the outside rules? Essentially, the reverse of the Obliger. From your Mar 27th post, I am thinking this is could be a Questioner, but it could almost be a fifth group. Of the 4 choices and given your explanations, I am a Questioner with mild Rebel tendencies. My type might show a little with wondering about a potentially 5 option. 🙂 Oh, and what about “Rules Acceptance Taxonomy”, “Taxonomy of Rules Acceptance” or “Instruction Response Taxonomy”?

    • gretchenrubin

      That is the Questioner – essentially, they follow only rules that are “their” rules. And they do indeed often show a tendency toward Rebel or toward Upholder, as a Questioner (they’re inclined in one direction or the other, with their questioning).

  • Anita Zhan

    I am one of the 50% Questioner

  • I’m an upholder who aspires to be a questioner. Years of academic achievement gave me the habit of following external rules and goals. But I think questioner is the most rational choice, no? Why follow rules that don’t make sense?

  • Anne

    I’m an Obliger; however, when a sense of justice is on the line, then I’m clear on ‘doing the right thing’… so if a mob/government mentality ensues and says it’s okay to give rights to one group but not another, I lean into my own morality and will speak out. I also think I come from a generation where education meant teaching someone WHAT to think through fear (not necessarily a good thing). With the advent of the internet, information is at one’s fingertips, which fosters the notion of HOW to think (without guidance can be dangerous… a lot of inaccurate information out there!). It would be interesting to compare this same survey from the 35 and beyond crowd to that of the 15 to 35 crowd. I can only guess that the percentage of Upholders and Obligers would be highest in the older group, whereas the percentage of Questioners and Rebels would significantly increase in the younger group. My experience is that the 20-something group sees rules merely as ‘suggestions’ i.e., coming to work on time, choosing what bits of their job they like and only doing those bits and being completely and utterly stunned when their boss proposes that they need to step up their work ethic, meeting deadlines, waiting to manage their person/social networking until after work hours, etc. This attitude seems so foreign to me (especially as an Obliger), but perfectly sensible to them (not all 20-something adults of course, but the majority, in my experience). I wonder if we’ll manage to reach some kind of balance. Or will their children long for rules and boundaries? Are we perpetuating a cycle where one or two traits are always on the fringe?

  • gris

    I’m really confused. My first thought was that I’m an obliger,but at the same time I don’t like people telling me what to do (rebel) and I also follow only what I think its right (questioner). Can there be mixes of types?

  • James19

    i’m somewhere between a questioner and a rebel i suppose

  • Questioner, with rebel tendencies. Being an all out rebel takes too much energy for me to maintain anymore, that was surely me as a teenager though. Very fascinating and insightful Gretchen, keep writing about this subject!

  • Kultamuru

    This is an interesting topic, and I for one wasn’t able to just stick to one category as Summer has pointed out, there are different tendencies at different times / situations. I suppose the poll would show more how people view themselves to fall into those categories, but not necessarily how they really do things in real life?

  • Cheryl Martin

    Rebel and I’m a writer(genre-YA fantasy). This quiz was retweeted by an urban fantasy writer, and that’s where I saw it. Lot’s of rebels out there. We never have a set schedule- even for sleep or meals. Up at night-lots of rebels on YT and twitter. Encountered many in the coupon community, book reviewers, movie reviewers, general ranters, life observers, and comedians. Artists, muscians, drivers and some professors and teachers. We are out there. We are fairly miserable when we “have” to do something. Realizing I don’t have to do anything a few years ago lifted me out of years of unhappiness. Finally finished my university degree(at age 36) after this change in thought process. Also started to exercise more regularly. I never do anything just because it needs to get done. If I think like that I won’t do it. I have to use Jedi mind tricks for household chores, my daughters school functions, bills etc. I tell myself I choose and want to do this task for reason x,y or z. The best reason to do anything is to get it out of my head and gain more freedom by not having to think about it. The more free I feel the more productive I am. I also associate freedom with my primal sense of safety. Feeling not free feels not safe. Also I do love to challenge policy and will often write politicians or get in verbal arguments with gatekeepers as to the ‘whys’ of things. Also with my daughter (also rebel) I explain to her the societal reasons why people do things a certain way. Why a fight leads to escalation of conflict. I have always tought her to use her voice and questioning powers for positive reasons. How girls can to use there voices to ban together in school against aggressive boys especially sexually aggressive boys. How to stand up for gay friends. This helps keep her focus away from questioning the teachers in class(and keeps me from going up to the school as much as when she was in years 3-5). In elementary, I spent a lot of time explaining about how she has a certain energy and she can influence the mood of the classroom. This reinforced her own sense of power and autonomy, and helped her want to help the teacher by telling the other kids to be good. Which was still problematic in it’s own way. Some teachers really like her. She has no fear of adults. She encourages her gay friends to come out and she stands up for them. In the 5th grade she had a back brace, but she still performed a song in the school talent show. She’s the bravest person I know. My biggest task is to keep her on the right path-that is keep her Gryffindor and not Sytherin. I tolerate a lot of behaviors that I was punished for as a kid. So by high school I was whispering at the back of the class and not really engaged. Sort of took my rebel self underground and pretended to be doing what I was supposed to do. I still argued with my teachers in high school and college. Got very into Amnesty International and the grunge scene. But I struggled and got very depressed. The problem with rebels is that if they don’t have good mentors they can get very lost. They feel bad and wrong and screwed up. They can spend a lot of time trying to change themselves to be good. Self-acceptance takes a long time, but it’s very freeing in the end. Rebels need to exist to say hey this o-ring design sucks, the mega-company finances are lies, this oil drill could malfunction, and hey don’t touch that girl when she’s passed out. A rebels best asset is their voice of dessent. We should’nt try to school it out of them, or corporate culture it out, or shame it out. It’s there for a reason to protect us all.

  • JanieMary

    Hi Gretchen, I saw your talk at 99u recently and it was one of the highlights of the conference for me. Thank you!

    I’m a CEO and I lead a team that I am continuing to build, and so thinking about the four types you describe is super useful for me. We have one through and through Rebel in the team and I really want to channel his energy and creativity but both he and the rest of the team are finding it a challenge to marry his quest for constant new ideas and creative challenges with our business priorities. You mentioned one strategy for this along the lines of ‘I bet you can’t…’ do you have any others? I’ve been searching around online and haven’t been able to find much hence the question! Super super grateful for any thoughts you might have.

    • gretchenrubin

      So happy you’ve found this framework useful!

      The key to rebels is that they want to do what they WANT TO DO. So convincing them that they’ll enjoy something, that they’d like to do it, that they’d find it satisfying, can work. Also
      I dare you.

      I bet you can’t…

      Emphasize their CHOICE.

      Rebels will sometimes CHOOSE to do something out of love, respect, affection, etc. They won’t do something because you tell them to do it, but they’ll do it because they want to do it FOR YOU.
      Remember, too–often the more you push the more they will resist.

  • roy marvelous ϟ

    I’d say I’m a Questioner with Rebel tendencies. But have learned over the years that it’s useful to be an Obliger for less important issues.

  • thatgrl6

    I am a loyal follower of ‘Positively Positive’ on Facebook and they
    shared your page with an excerpt from your blog. It immediately struck a
    chord within me and I had to read more! I have really enjoyed finding
    your page and reading your insights. With the four personality types, I
    would describe myself as an ‘Obliger’. I am someone who strives to meet all rules but have a more
    difficult time meeting my own self imposed higher standard. My employer
    may ask me to do something or have rules to follow, which I will follow
    “to the letter”. However, I often expect my performance or the results
    to be something closer to perfection or exceeding the expectation. This
    does lead to quite a bit of unnecessary stress or sometimes unrealistic
    self expectations. Although, I do dream of being a Rebel once in while
    🙂

  • Katy

    I am a questioner and I am not surprised it is the highest on the vote. This site would attract questioners, we are always seeking. You may have bias in your results 🙂

  • Absolutely katy. I knew this that questioner going to get highest votes. I always ask questions and one day I will have all the answers. 🙂

    Regards,
    SoGoSurvey

  • lannabanana

    Is it possible you’re getting low results for Rebels because they don’t tend to frequent your blog? It’s pretty Upholder-driven; maybe they can sense that and stay away, or never make it here in the first place.

    I’m sure you’ve already thought about this; I just wonder where you’re getting your corroborating (lack of) Rebel votes, if not from here.

    • gretchenrubin

      That’s true about responses, but judging from the world, Rebel is the smallest category. They are very noticeable! And few and far between.

      Also, I speak a lot, and when I ask audiences to raise their hands, Rebel is always by far the smallest category.

      I’ve been truly surprised by how small the Upholder category is. Not as small as Rebel, but pretty small.