What Kind of Person Are You? The Four Rubin Tendencies.

Back by popular demand–the four Rubin Tendencies (I keep changing the name of this framework. Any suggestions or comments welcome. Do you like the Rubin Character Index Better?)

It’s very important to know ourselves, but self-knowledge is challenging.  I’m like a Muggle Sorting Hat! I sort everyone into four categories, which describe how people tend to respond to expectations: outer expectations (a deadline, a “request” from a sweetheart) and inner expectations (write a novel in your free time, keep a New Year’s resolution).

Your response to expectations may sound slightly obscure, but it turns out to be very, very important.

In a nutshell:

  • Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations (I’m an Upholder, 100%)
  • Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense (myhusband is a Questioner)
  • Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike
  • Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves


I recently gave a talk at LinkedIn about the Rubin Character Index, so if you’d like to see me discuss each category in  a video, you can watch: for Upholders, watch here; Questioners, here;  Rebels, here, and Obligers, here.

From my observation, I can say with confidence that Rebel is the smallest category, then Upholder–this was a shock to me. I didn’t realize how few people are Upholders. Many things became clear to me once I realized this. Most people are Questioners or Obligers.

Obligers are the folks who are the most likely to say they wish they were in a different category. They say things like, “I wish I weren’t a people-pleaser” or “I wish I could take time for myself.”

Do you find yourself within this framework? If so, does it help you understand how to manage yourself better? Figuring out the Tendencies helped me understand myself, and it has also made it much easier for me to understand other people’s perspectives. Fact is, most people don’t see things the way we Upholders do.

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  • Lloyd Palmer

    mmmmmmm I believe i’m a questioner!!!

  • WadeCollins

    An expert on happiness?. Reminds me of a guy how wrote a book on stand-up comedy. He wasn’t funny but he was deep into analysis of the craft.

  • Cindy Hart

    Upholder 100%

  • Tara V

    OHHHHH NOOOO! Im an Obliger! Im so ashamed!!

  • Felicity

    What I want to know is… do you think we can consciously shift categories? If I’m an obliger (and I am), can I by effort of will or just due to drift through time and experience, become a Questioner or an Upholder?

    • HEHink

      I think it is definitely possible to shift categories, both consciously and unconsciously.

      I believe I am mostly a Questioner, because I really drag my feet about doing things that don’t make sense within my own time frame, or that go against what I perceive as more important to do. However, I have spent a lot of time behaving as an Obliger. Some of this is natural for me, as I do have a pretty strong desire to help people. Some of it comes from having been trained to oblige, from a young age.

      Also, a combination of life events a few years back made my life feel fairly out of my control, so I lost my feel for what I wanted, or for what made sense to me. My life became a series of actions that happened because they simply had to be done, or because someone else needed them done. I had drifted into believing that my plans didn’t matter, because something was bound to come along and pull the rug out from under them. Made me feel overwhelmed and very nearly hopeless a lot of the time – and maybe this is why Obligers feel such a sense of dismay. Maybe many really fall into a different camp, but they have lost sight of who they are and what they really want. It seems to me that true Obligers would be mostly content with their motivation basically to serve others, as long as it’s not to their own detriment.

      At any rate, through time and effort to increase my own self-awareness, I have been able to stop feeling like I’m letting everyone down when everything that needs doing doesn’t get done right away. I am learning to question myself, and have made both “Do what makes sense” and “Do as much as makes sense” two of my personal commandments. I am making a point of setting my own expectations (and making them more realistic), and following them because they make sense for me – like getting up on time, because it really does help my day go more smoothly.

      The more I try this, the easier it gets. Now that I think about it, maybe I’m not so much shifting categories, as finding my true one. So maybe that’s something to think about…if we’re uncomfortable with our categories, might that be because our actions aren’t aligned with our true natures?

      • martisco

        I know this commenter is probably not going to see this – but I agree. Situationally, you can become an Obliger when that is not really your true nature. I am going through a life transition where it is becoming easier for me to honor my inner commitments and easier to ignore outer expectations, which would make me a Questioner. Maybe more of the real me now that my parents are getting older and now that I am poised to take a job change after 25 years. These aren’t temperaments so much as they are tempers… It’s also odd to apply these categories to women because women are often culturally forced into caretaker roles by external situational forces, causing great unhappiness. I like this article but feel it needs adjustment to the realities of the pressures that women (and other “minorities”) face from birth.

  • Peninith1

    I’ve been surprised to find out by watching myself that I’m quite a questioner. I love the ‘what do you think when you wake up in the morning?’ It’s definitely a combination of ‘what must be done today’ and ‘what do I want to do today.’ I’m upholder enough to meet most deadlines, but if I choose to scorn one, oh well. Self-imposed tasks are what I’m all about. And now that I am retired I really get to impose the tasks most of the time!

  • PaulCurci

    My first instinct was to cringe at the idea that I am, in fact, an obliger. Upon further consideration, though, I’m convinced that it serves me extremely well. As someone who provides daily service to a broad range of clients, being externally accountable (to them) has enabled me to grow my business…often through referrals. I’m also a big believer in enlightened self-interest. Guess that makes me an ‘unapologetic obliger.’ Cringe not, fellow obligers.

  • Michael

    Is there really not a category for someone who is readily driven by inner expectations but often resists outer expectations?

    • marissamuffin

      That’s a Questioner. They turn all expectations into inner ones by only responding to the ones they agree with.

    • gretchenrubin

      From my observation, those folks are Questioners…I’d be interested to hear if you think you fall into that pattern but are not a Questioner.

  • marissamuffin

    Gretchen, this is by far my favorite of your categorizations. I bring it up in conversations all the time because it really is useful to think of yourself in relation to these categories. I do believe though that they are not completely black and white. I identify very strongly with both obligers and questioners at different times, but never rebels or upholders. For instance, the obliger in me absolutely 100% CANNOT wake up in the morning at a set time just because I’d like to get things done. There has to be some sort of “if I don’t wake up now, I’ll be late to work” type motivator or it just doesn’t work. On the other hand, the questioner in me has to ask my supervisors WHY new rules have been set in place before I can give in and just follow them. Without a reasonable explanation, I have a hard time giving in. Im curious, what does that make me?

    • gretchenrubin

      Sounds to me like you’re an Obliger who wants to know you’re obliged to do something. Obligers range wildly about what they feel “obliged” to do—some feel many more obligations than others.

  • D.

    A couple of weeks ago when I realized I am an obliger I was quite frankly devastated. Suddenly it all clicked. It means that I am ultimately unable to live my life the way I really want to live it. I end up doing only what others expect of me. And only if their genuine disappointment is at stake (or I imagine so) – which makes working with coaches useless in the long run (one possible strategy for obligers to get things done). By now I have recovered a bit (from the feeling of devastation) and have started to think about other useful strategies. And I think that just knowing this about myself can be helpful: in some situations I could tell myself: you don’t have to do it; it’s just the obliger in you who feels this urge. I could avoid some people or certain situations, etc. So far for not doing things for others at my expense. But when it comes to honoring my inner expectations, hmmmm….not easy…

  • betsyohs

    Hello, my name is Betsy, and I’m an obliger… I definitely fall in the camp of wishing I weren’t. However, since I first read about these categories, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. And a useful way for me to accomplish the things I really want to accomplish (my internal expectations) is to make them into external expectations. I asked my boss at work to give me very firm deadlines, and to be upset when I missed them. I don’t miss them any more! I asked my doctor to recommend that I cut back the amount of sugar I eat, and she recommended only eating sugar after dinner. I don’t do as perfectly on this as the work deadlines, probably because I see my doctor so infrequently, but I do much, much better than I was doing when I was trying to define and meet my own expectation on this.

  • Yvann

    A question (although I consider myself an Upholder, I suspect I’m really an Obliger): WHY do Obligers place less value/importance on internal expectations? I’m really interested in the motivation patterns here.

    • Abby


      • Shmuel

        Ha ha! Altruism!
        Seriously, There is definitely a small percent of that poplulation who do it because of pure altruism. Like Mother Theresa, or great saints. Most do it because an unstable sense of self and the need for approval to give themselves self worth. Obviously, there is a continuem of purely spiritual and emotional need based reasons.

        • Kellie

          I think there’s another possibility. Some people who are labeled “people pleasers” do, as Shmuel suggests, act out of insecurity. Others follow the pattern because they are in fact _independent_ people who tend not to place demands on others. Operating from the natural assumption “he/she is like me,” they believe the person asking them for favor x is doing so under the same circumstances in which they themselves would ask for favor x–because they are absolutely desperate, because the favor is extremely important, etc. Once they figure out other people are just pushy and self-interested, they have no trouble shutting down the extra favors.
          I think you can distinguish between (a) and (b) by seeing how hard it is for the person in question to start saying “no.” For some people, it’s very easy.
          I think a lot of life solutions come down to figuring out how you’re different from the people with whom you interact.

  • aleishacd

    I find these categories very interesting, and as an Obliger, I think we are most apt to want to change our category b/c we see ours “not the right one” — fitting perfectly with our “people pleaser” sort of personality. I think my O nature comes from childhood (psychobabble ahead: lol). It was sometimes very emotionally chaotic; I never really knew what to expect from a key person in my life, so I was always trying to “be good” and do the right things (stay out of trouble, get good grades, etc.) in an attempt to control the chaos and volatility around me. My own goals/wants/needs were never the priority – it was always about keeping the peace. And for the most part, that has translated into adulthood. Being an Obliger served me at one point as a sort of survivalist tool; now, I just do it out of habit and to my own detriment. I think, too, that Obligers more than most have a big fear of failure — thus, we often don’t really attempt those internal goals b/c if we fail, others (eternal) might see us as failures. Food for thought.

    • Mejsh87

      Oh my goodness – it’s like I wrote your post myself – that’s exactly what it has been and is like for me… and I definitely wish I was more of an Upholder or Questioner.

      • Grace

        This is not my first launguage so excuseme for the errors, is exactly how I feel most of the time, add to it that I come from another culture that gives more atention to men, us woman it´s always second best . and to keep peace I always find myself doing the same things over and over.

      • I recently gave a talk at LinkedIn about the Rubin Character Index, so if you’d like to see me discuss each category in a video, you can watch: for Upholders, watch here; Questioners, here; Rebels, here, and Obligers, here.

    • Abby

      I agree with Mejsh87. It seems aleishacd wrote this post on behalf of me. I am an Obliger. In my family everyone was either Rebel or Questioner. This led to daily volcanic eruptions in our family. So I became self appointed peacekeeper and tried to please everyone so that there could be peace. Now it has carried forward to my married life also. I don’t know how to change.

  • Sonny

    This reminds me of the system of dividing characters into Good/Evil and Choatic/Orderly, which I think is also an interesting way of diving people into four groups. (Although I doubt most people would put themselves in the Evil category)

  • Katherine

    I think it’s pretty funny that most of these comments are from obligers and upholders and a few from questioners, but the rebels can’t be bothered.

    As for me, I feel like I’m a complete blend. I hate getting in trouble, but nobody’s the boss of me, and I have to know WHY and it drives me crazy when some arbitrary rule makes no sense (like speed limits). My biggest motivators are

    1. loving doing it for its own sake (the wind in my ears) and

    2. crossing it off the list (but it only gets on there if I know the reason why).

    Gretchen, do you know the story of how Kirk Douglas’s dad quit smoking?


    Classic rebel motivation.

    • gretchenrubin

      What a terrific story about Kirk Douglas’s father. I love that.

    • Br_t

      Glad to see someone else out there is also a complete mix of all four types! I also agree with you that crossing things off a list is a big motivator for me as well, but not just anything makes it onto the list. That was a great way of putting it.

  • CB

    I believe one’s personality can change throughout life. I was a Rebel until I noticed I got into trouble I didn’t want and wasn’t getting my needs filled. I became an Obliger in 2nd grade to get along, but I was miserable until my late 20s. I became a Questioner in my 30s and I find that’s the ideal balance between rebelling and obliging. I’ve always needed a mix of internal and external motivation that make sense to me to accomplish things.

  • Tanya C.

    Your Rubin tendencies can be easily “cross-walked” with the “True Color” personality types! Questioners = Greens; Obligers = Blues; Upholders = Golds; Rebels = Oranges

    For a fun video that briefly explains each True Color color type, check this out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5mqcLqTft3U

    • gretchenrubin

      To me, doesn’t seem that the two frameworks line up very well.

      The Rubin Tendencies look at one very specific aspect of personality, doesn’t try to make a more general assessment.

      • mom2luke

        omigosh, Gretchen, you are Gold and you love gold stars…just saying maybe there is some overlap!

    • mom2luke

      Well, I’m a questioner and my favorite color is green, so there you have it, n=1 , but true for me!

  • ritu kaushal

    I have been thinking a lot about this. Is it possible for someone to be both an obliger and a rebel? Or is that too much of a split personality? I have been a big people pleaser. But there are also several ways in which I rebel against rules – I hate imposing too many rules on myself, I hate it when someone tells me to do something – I often feel like doing the opposite (which feels freeing). Can you be both? Or is there a fundamental difference – maybe one part comes from conditioning, and the other from my true nature. Is that possible ?

    • gretchenrubin

      Obligers often have a streak of Rebel in them. They Oblige, but at various points, they refuse to meet expectations – sometimes quite spectacularly.

      Also, “reactance” is part of human nature; we all like to decide for ourselves what to do and how to do it, and we resist when we’re feeling that we’re being controlled.

      • ritu kaushal

        That’s interesting. Yes, I do think the Obliger description fits me more. I identify with what you say about Obligers meeting outer expectations. I volunteer as a reading tutor and I almost NEVER cancel a class. I’ve not missed any of the photography classes I am currently taking.

        The only thing is, in one of the classes, the teacher hasn’t taught very sincerely and I almost feel that I would be better off missing a few classes and doing my own creative work. Still, I show up. It’s hard to figure out whether it’s because I am an obliger or because I want to look good (although it really doesn’t matter really) to the teacher and it’s approval seeking, which i think IS different from obliging, because I have become less of a people pleaser over the last few years.

  • Sylive Sanders

    Gretchen, do you have a quiz for this or do you just figure it out based on the descriptions?

  • Meg Clare

    It seems as tho I fall into a combination of categories. I like to know why in many cases, it makes me feel informed and equal, its often something I will do anyhow, but seeing as you have asked, then why? Also, there is a lot of rebel in me, I am getting tired of breaking promises to myself. At the moment every time I decide to do anything, make a change ie: start one habit, I find a way to sabotage myself. Not sure there is a category complicated enough for me to fit into, sigh.

  • barbarastreisand

    WHY should I fit myself into one of 4 categories? : )

    • RyAgijon

      That’s easy. You’re a responsible Questioner.

  • Iva @ This Side of Perfect

    Definitely an Obliger with a strong tendency to self-sabotage internal expectations when they become external (for example – getting that accountability partner). What I find helps me “finish what I start” with internal expectations is to question why I’m doing them. If I can logically “convince” myself that what I’m doing is actually good for me, then that internal expectation becomes somewhat of an internal-meets-external in that I have that accountability – “Why am I doing this? Oh, because [fill in the blank] said [fill in the blank].”

  • amy

    I find that I meet my own expectations but rarely listen to or am given ones from anyone else. Does that make me am obliger?

    • gretchenrubin

      That’s a Questioner.

  • David Burton

    Can you be both a questioner and an obliger whilst trying to uphold. I am more likely to meet others expectations than my own but I wouldn’t do it without questioning first. Also if I questioned I would try and meet all expectations starting with the external ones. Dots that make sense

  • Tor Brand

    I used to be an obliger 100%- I can identify with trying to ‘keep the peace’ and trying to keep my head down. Also my ‘self-esteem’ was so low (I didn’t have any), that ‘people-pleasing was the only option (and I am very altruistic anyway). Then I married a very (emotionally) abusive man and the only way I could survive was for my Questioner / Rebel streak to come out. I am still an obliger / altruist but now I have to question why occasionally and I rebel against control / suffocation. Anyone else identify with this?

  • anniek

    Another tool I really really use to understand the people around me is astrology. I know this is not a discussion about that subject, but thought I’d throw it into the mix.
    For example, once I know that a certain co-worker or friend is a Virgo, I can cut them all kinds of slack for their perfectionist ways. And admire their strenghts and not take things so bloody personally!
    The Four Rubin Tendencies seem like an easier tool to use on oneself, then trying to suss out what your compadres may be. If one was interested in taking that perspective.

  • Melissa Hall

    I think I am DIVERGENT! I scored 7 Questioner, 6 Upholder, 5 Obliger, and 3 Rebel. What does it mean if you score so closely on the categories? I was also surprised that Rebel wasn’t higher- I suspected my results would be mostly aligned with Rebel. How interesting!

  • Maddy

    I so wanted to be a Rebel. Turns out I’m an Obliger…The part of the quiz that sealed the deal for me was “I’ve given up on making New Year’s resolutions, because I never keep them”

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  • Jamie

    My overarching type is Questioner. However in certain circumstances I’m an Obliger. I can’t seem to force myself to exercise regularly, so I became a fitness instructor. Creating a situation where I have to be there no matter how I feel has been great for me.

  • Nina

    I’m sorry, why does Obliging have such a bad rap? Can we not celebrate those who think of others first? I guess it makes a difference if you’ve fallen into that tendency or it’s something you’ve chosen deliberately but I find it very strange that everyone seems to think caring more for others is a bad thing rather than something to aspire to.

  • Robyn

    Questioner, no surprise, I question if the question, constantly looking for answers or possibilities.

  • George Beaufoy

    the human quadripolar Fixed Cross cycle,=seven-two-four-six,-=nineteen= one=whole-complete .see!upholder=(9)=”Divine/Expression Questioner,=(8)=Cosmic/Creator.!Obliger,= (5)=Life /Power.–Rebel=(6)=Word/Truth.=9+8+5+6=28=LIGHT-CREATOR=10=!+0=(1)=one whole complete Consider 7(seven)-“2(two)-4(Four)-6(six)= clue !-seven=15455=20=2+0=(2) over to you.!687.-777-(3)??

  • George Beaufoy

    logus No ten=255=12-Spirit/energy =(3)=,=28955=29 will/divine=11=Perfect-being =(2)two=256=13=(4)=FATHER.FOUR=6639=24 wisdom/universe,=(6)=Word/Truth=Six=196=16 =Spirit/Triune,=(7)=JESUS-CHRIST.=2+4+6+7=19=perfect/love,=10 whole -complete.

  • Walker VII

    What about people who only respond to their own expectations of themselves but not others?

    • gretchenrubin

      That’s Questioner. They turn all expectations into inner expectations, because they only meet an expectation if they endorse it.

  • Beth

    After listening to these, I am not sure which category I would be in. I find myself sort of fitting into two of these categories? Obliger and Upholder. How am I meant to know which one I am?

    • gretchenrubin

      Can you keep an expectation that you impose on yourself, without accountability to anyone else? Do you feel the same pressure to keep your promises to yourself as you do your promises to others? If so, you’re an Upholder.

  • Thinker

    Why do you not have someone who meets inner expectations, but not outer ones?

    • gretchenrubin

      That’s a Questioner – they turn all expectations into inner expectations.

  • Mia

    I think I am an mix of questioner, rebel and obliger – is that possible?

  • ladbrady

    How does one get assigned to a category?

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  • sanda

    i wished …i wished upon a star that you would’ve had a better picture idea than hogwarts to accompany this article

  • Agha

    I think i am obliger… still thinking i am so confuse!!!

  • Agha

    I think i am 50% Rebel & 50% Obliger…

  • Curioser&curioser

    Is it possible that Rebels appear to be the smallest category because they may be least likely to take such a quiz? And that Upholders feel their obligations won’t allow them the time? (Or they never have a problem with motivation and so don’t look into the question?) Whereas Questioners want to find out about the science and about themselves and Obligers feel that they should.
    (Can you tell I’m mostly a Questioner with Rebel leanings? I thought I was also an Obliger, but I find myself rebelling against obligations….until they’re fully justified.) 🙂
    Thanks for writing this, Gretchen!

    • gretchenrubin

      Could be – though from what I observe in the world, it seems obvious that Rebel is the smallest category, and Upholder is also very small, and most people are Questoiners or Obligers.

  • Ted521

    Hmmm. This raises the interesting question: which house of Hogwarts has which tendency?

    Clearly, Upholders belong in Hufflepuff, Questioners in Ravenclaw. That leaves Gryffindor for the Obligers and Slytherin for the rebels? Certainly anyone willing to risk their life to save the rest of the world is more motivated to meet the expectations of other than of themselves. I guess it makes sense.

    • gretchenrubin

      No, I don’t think it tracks like that.

      For instance, Gryffindor Hermione is a 100% Upholder.

      The Four Tendencies describes just a tiny slice of our personalities – qualities like ambition, risk-taking, intelligence, consideration for others are all mixed up with that.

  • obligermd

    My husband and I recently read the four personality descriptions during a car ride to NYC. We agree that I’m an Obliger and he is a Rebel. This categorization helps me understand some of the dynamics in our relationship. If I ask my husband to help declutter our garage this weekend, he is unlikely to do it. How do Obligers and Rebels adopt positive habits as a couple, family, and household?

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  • Kelly Godfrey

    Just heard your interview on Prime Time Radio. Although I can determine where I fall in the Tendencies from their descriptions, I was certain you mentioned a quiz.

  • Where do I fit?

    I’m a mix between Obliger and Questioner. Actually, I think it might be more accurate to describe myself as a Selfish Obliger. I respond very well to external circumstances/structure/consequences – but only when they affect ME. I can’t really motivate myself very well to meet an Inner Expectation even if I want to/it makes sense to me… it’s much easier to do so when I have a personal deadline/consequence in the outside world.

    I am not a people pleaser and I often slack on my commitments to others. Yet I also slack on my commitments to myself, unless there’s an outer expectation that would affect me. If there’s an outer expectation that affects others but not me, I’ll probably slack on that too. So I think I’m a Selfish Obliger.

    Example: I signed up for a school enrichment program and was assigned an Accountability Mentor to help me stay on track; we discussed deadlines and milestones for me to accomplish. This sort of outside expectation usually helps me. Yet I soon realized that I didn’t care for the program and I felt like it wouldn’t be beneficial to me, so I totally slacked off and constantly disappointed my Accountability Mentor, making myself look bad and frustrating my mentor in the process…. and I really didn’t care. I still don’t care. So I don’t think I’m exactly an obliger, because I don’t meet outside circumstances that I don’t care about and I don’t care about disappointing others.

    Counter example: I want to study a lot of extra subjects that aren’t required for my school because they are interesting to me and I know it will benefit me greatly. But I have a LOT of trouble meeting this Inner Expectation for myself, because there is no immediate outside circumstance/deadline/structure that would result in a negative consequence for myself if I don’t do it. I won’t get a bad grade or be negatively affected if I don’t study these optional subjects, yet I really want to and I know it would positively benefit me if I did. But I have trouble with forcing myself to do it. So I don’t think I’m purely a Questioner because it’s hard to do things that are important for me if I don’t “have to.”

    It may sound as if I’m a Rebel, but I’m sure that’s not true, because I do very well with external expectations that “apply to me,” whether it’s a school subject I care about or a school subject that I NEED to perform well in for my benefit. I also do things for other people that I care about without resisting, although I may slack off a bit. I never ever have the Rebel thought process of “I’ve been told to do this/I need to do this, so I’m going to automatically resist it (this thought process makes no sense to me)” ……no my thought process is more of a Questioner – “Does this make sense to me/apply to me/do I care about the person who wants me to do something? Then I’ll do it (or at least try to).”

    I suppose I’m a Questioner with Obliger tendencies? Or an Obliger with Questioner tendencies? Or just a Selfish Obliger? I don’t know. But this has been illuminating and will help me as I try to come up with strategies to help myself do what I need to do.

  • st4rchy

    I would add to your discussion of rebels who exercise, that I–a rebel to a T, you got me–exercise because I feel badass, when I run when most people find it too hot or too cold to be outside, or that I ride my bike through New York City or along 9W. There has not been a day in the past two winters that as too cold for me to run. In new York City. In whatevber windchill everyone was whining about.. Bring it. I dare the weather to be too cold for me. It cannot. Second, when I do this, I steal pleasure for myself from the workaday world. I take an hour of sunshine. I take an hour of pure pleasure in the pool. Oh, are you missing out on the ecstatic fulfillment of cardio because you think it’s about pain or it’s only for jocks? The outwardly nicer part of me wishes s/he could convince you but the rebel in me says, too bad, sucker.

    • gretchenrubin

      Love to hear this example of channeling the Rebel energy to get where you want to go.

  • Mollie Cook

    I took the quiz and found out I’m an Upholder! The detailed report of an Upholder fits me really well-. EXCEPT the part about meeting dead lines. I do always meet them, but often at the last minute. I hate this about myself; I bought your book Better Than Before to learn how to change this bad habit. I need to be more disciplined in my research so I’m not writing papers at the last minute.

    • gretchenrubin

      You may be an Upholder who is also a Sprinter.

  • NanC

    What if you’re an upholder AND an obliger????

    • gretchenrubin

      You can’t be! To be one is not to be the other.

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  • vert-i-go

    Oooh Kellie I think you’ve hit the nail on the head.

    I can see that there may be some people who have learnt the obliger behaviour (side point but I wonder whether they are hiding a true preference and therefore more likely to have obliger rebellion).

    But that doesn’t really describe me. I’m happy to be an obliger – I get a lot out of being a person who will help other people and for being known as reliable. I’m not pretending I don’t face some of the difficulties, but once you’re open to them you can manage them.

    Although I find Gretchin’s categories and books interesting- it worries me that we talk about being an obliger as the bad one.

    It’s not! its just that it comes with difficulties that are different. Gretchin’s book is about making habits with internal motivation – so yeah maybe this is where us Obligers struggle. And therefore need to more consciously use strategies to structure learning.

    But I bet the others have issues in other ways. Like if you are constantly questioning and/or rebelling that could be really detrimental to teamwork when external motivation is essential.
    And the thought of being an extreme upholder fills me with dread. A few of my friends are like this (probably extreme) and they struggle to let go of things.

    I’m wary of any categorization system that has a good/bad association. In my experience any trait has both good-bad consequences, its about context and appropriateness.

  • mom2luke

    Just reread this blog. I like Habit-Forming Tendencies way better than Rubin Tendencies.

    • mom2luke

      Just reread portions of Better Than Before. Now I think the Four Fateful Tendencies is better. Like Love, Fate determines so much of our lives, but mindfully focusing on our habits can change our fate!

  • Alex

    Gretchen, this is great. I have your book Better than Before from audible and I was trying to find a list of all the tendencies including the overbuyer, small steps, moderator. Do you have a place where they all are located?

    • gretchenrubin

      In the chapters on the Four Tendencies and Distinctions in Better Than Before.

  • Kay

    I’m new to this..very interesting! Love your work here first of all. I wonder if a person can be a “cross type”, like an obliger/rebel. some traits on both types apply to me..

  • Donna

    Hi Gretchen
    I bought your book Better Than Before and took the quiz – twice! I took it twice because I came out as an Upholder first time but thought I was more of an Obliger. I took the quiz again after reading the book and it still came out as an Upholder.
    I used to be good at keeping internal and external commitments but over the past few years I seemed to have struggled with promises to myself.
    I recently left a job I had been at for a number of years and on reflection, I think that the environment I was working in influenced me to be an Obliger and I ended up with burnout. I won’t blame the environment as I allowed that to happen, but I wonder how many other people get caught in that kind of vicious circle.
    I am also in my final year of a doctorate and I have really struggled with my motivation over the past few months. I was thinking this probably meant I was an Obliger. Now I think it is because the work I need to do is not clear as I am learning to be a researcher and I don’t have mastery over what I am doing. Does that sound right?
    I really love your book and blog. I was even at the hairdressers the other day and overheard a conversation about someone who ‘never puts herself first’ and I was thinking – that’s an Obliger!

    • gretchenrubin

      This quiz is meant to be helpful, and for most people, it rings true, but you should TRUST YOURSELF and if you think you’re an Obliger, I would trust your own sense of yourself. (Also, many people are Obligers, few people are Upholders). The two Tendencies overlap, so you may also be one Tendency, with a very strong leaning toward the other – either an UPHOLDER/Obliger or an OBLIGER/Upholder. The key is: for Upholder frustration, the answer is CLEAR ARTICULATION OF INNER EXPECTATIONS. For Obligers, the answers OUTER ACCOUNTABILITY FOR INNER EXPECTATIONS. Good luck!

      • Donna

        Thanks for getting back to me Gretchen. I am trying out a few new strategies and I think I am probably an UPHOLDER/Obliger . Regardless I am trying a few new things and having interesting conversations about tendencies with friends.

      • Dawn Kelley

        So I just found your podcast and am on episode 20. But glad I stumbled on this particular comment. Your Quiz said I was a Questioner, which didn’t make sense to me at first. I just KNEW I was an Obliger. But maybe I can be a Questioner and still be a people-pleaser personality. I use to train at work and I was always big on “whys”, I trained people by always giving them a “why” because I felt like a why was every reason to do something right – and when the “why we do it this way” didn’t motivate people to do it that way every time, I did not understand it. I have always loved and wanted a loved to help people, but a “why” did solidify me far greater than vague reason. If I understand “why” something has to be done it does gain more priority to me and with habit change, when I can reason “why” it should change and make those reasons outweigh reasons not to, I am more motivated. That being said I am a people pleaser still. I love to make people happy, but certainly my general motivation in completing task is in a defined “why” and I will go against the grain of people pleasing if the “why” to go against it is strong enough.

  • Andreia Reis

    Do you think we can change category within our life? I am a big obliger now but i feel that in my life I have been already, a Rebel (teenager) then a Questioner (just after) then an Upholder (and a very strong one – about until 8yrs ago) and now it’s as if I only respond to outside accountability … it’s as if i’m not bothered anymore…is that possible? DO you think it’s possible? And would I be able to go back as I don’t like it like this? Thanks for your insights, i’m loving your books and your blogs xx

  • Kirsten Simons

    I have read your book more than once now and was very interested in doing your test to work out my tendency. I knew straight away I am NOT an Obliger, however the rest of the tendencies were a mystery. If you asked my mum, she’d say I’m a Rebel and if you asked my husband, probably Upholder (the test says Upholder).

    I’m bad at doing things in any conventional way, I will succeed but on my own terms. Some of my greatest achievements were as a result of someone telling me they didn’t think I could or should do something, creating irresistible urge to do it and show them wrong.

    On the other hand, I LOVE lists and organisation, as long as I am the one who imposes them. I make quick decisions without having to ask too many questions, based on my intuition and I get stressed and nervous when I’m unsure of others’ expectations of me (I feel like if I know them I can decide whether to follow them or not. I also really like to be liked, weirdly enough). I hate to live chaotically and want to feel there is an order that I understand in my world.

    Is it possible to be a Rebel with some Upholder tendencies or are they just totally opposite? I am confused!

    • gretchenrubin

      You sound like a Rebel. The key question is, if someone asks or tells you to do something, are you likely to resist? How do you respond to an expectation? Other factors are just aspects of your personality. Not all Rebel look the same!

      • Kirsten Simons

        Well I’ve kind of resisted asking these questions because I didn’t want to be stuck in a category. Haha ironic that is 🙂 Sounds like your assessment it correct.

  • Leslie Scott

    I have taken your quiz probably 10 times over the course of the past two years and keep getting either Rebel (i’d say 60% of the time) or Obliger. I have always thought of myself as a people pleaser but when I actually think about my people pleasing, it comes from actually wanting to have a positive helpful effect on people (i.e. babysit their children or buy them an amazing birthday present or get that project done early to actually make them proud/happy) rather than to meet their expectations. In fact, if they were to tell me exactly what to do to please them, I probably would not do the exact opposite but I definitely wouldn’t do what they wanted me to. Anyway, either way I find it extremely hard to make lasting habits. I exercise by tricking myself that its only 10/20 min., I say I’m just going for a 20min walk/bike ride or 10min run and find myself wanting to go longer once I’m out in the fresh air doing it. I have tried to tie myself to a training partner in the past but find I just don’t care if I let them down by not going, “if they really want to go, then they’ll do it with or without me” is the fairly defiant attitude I take. I have missed countless appointments, even when realising in time to make them but can’t decide if I am just not mentally tied enough to a doctor/dentist/whatever to be obliged into going or if I am just a rebel and not going because my diary says I have to. Anyway, food for thought. PS. the very first thing I think when I wake is DEFINITELY – what do I want to do today 😛

    • gretchenrubin

      You are a Rebel. Absolutely.

      • Pravin Bali

        Whenever i have really wanted to do stuff, nothing really could stop me. I know im reiterating what you said in your book, but i really couldnt find any rebel here, except for this one here,who looks rather confused, though is sure showing all my signs.
        When I went for my physiotherapy sessions I was late only once and didn’t miss a single session, not even the day when i had a fever. He had to ask me to leave.
        When I wanted to learn bike, for an entire month I woke up at 6 5 or 7 in the morning depending on the type of practice i wanted to do. Need heavy traffic, left home at 7, drove with all the school and office goers. At the beginning though, I prefered to leave early.
        And yes I learnt bike at 23, and Im still unemployed, and still trying to get a hold of my tendency, to get into habits, to do the regular stuff, and not imagine about the fifth dimension or some other stupid theory. And its also really hard not to obsess, about criticism. The only way to get my head still is to come to reasonably positive conclusions about what has been said. Pardon my english. not my native tongue.
        Your book says very little about rebels, hope you could share more information about this type.( for some odd reason i didnt want to write “hope you could share more info about us, and instead wrote this”).

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  • cris

    I just learned about you, Gretchen, and I find the topics that you deal with extremely interesting and helpful.
    I myself feel identified as both a questioner and an obliger. I ONLY commit to the tasks that I really understand and that I feel that make a point in my life or my job (questioner), but then when I find those tasks, I devote myself to them to the point of forgetting my own stuff and putting myself at the bottom of the priority list (obliger). It is a very tiring thing because when there is no external task that I totally relate to, I feel myself struggling to find out what to do, because then I have to focus in myself and that’s when the confusion starts…

  • Jessi Caca

    Can an obliger HATE rules? I don’t like making rules and I don’t like hearing rules, but habits-wise, rules (and external accountability) are the only thing that work. I like “diet” plans like Trim Healthy Mama that have rules. I need to check in with friends that I exercised, etc.

    I’ve always felt kinda skeptical (questioner) and definitely rebellious, but I am definitely neither of those, habits-wise.

    I am also definitely an ENFP, if that’s been considered with these by anyone.

    My epiphany this morning was maybe I hate rules because AS AN OBLIGER, I will want to obey them, regardless of their value. So I resist rule-makers?

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  • Amber Joan Ryder

    Do you think the 6 characters on friends fit into these tendencies? Maybe Joey and Pheobe are rebels, Monika is an upholder, Chandler and Ross are obligers, Rachel is a questioner. Do you think we relate better to a character on tv the more they fit into a particular tendency?

    I am an upholder and enjoy categorizing.