Rebels, If You Feel Like It, and It Would Be Fun for You, I’d Love to Hear Your Perspective.

For my book Before and After, about habit-formation, I’ve been developing my framework of the four Rubin Tendencies. I’m obsessed with understanding these tendencies. (If you want to be notified when the habits book is available for pre-order, sign up here.)

In a nutshell: the Rubin Tendencies describe how people tend to respond to expectations: outer expectations (a work 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.

  • 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 (my husband is a Questioner)
  • Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike
  • Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves (like my friend who said, “In high school, I never missed track practice, but I can’t go running on the weekends now”)


I’m fascinated by all the categories, but right now I’m focusing on Rebels.

Rebel is by far the smallest category (to my surprise, Upholder is also a very small category).

Rebels, if you feel like it, and it would be fun for you, you could comment on your experience as a Rebel.  I’d love to hear anything you have to say, but just to get you thinking, here are some questions:

Are you amazed by what people in the other categories do? I have a Rebel friend, and it’s obvious to me that I, as an Upholder, shock her at times. I told her, “I give myself discipline to give myself freedom.” She said with a shudder, “Freedom means not following the rules.”

How do you feel about meeting expectations from yourself? Say, you want to write your Ph.D. thesis.

Is it different when someone who works for you asks you to do something, compared to when meeting an expectation imposed by someone whom you work for?

Here’s a very odd question. Are you attracted to situations where another institution sets many rules? Whenever I speak about the Rubin Tendencies to an audience, I ask people to raise their hands to show what category they’re in. Rebel is always the smallest category, and once I spoke to a group that had no Rebels.

Of all the groups I’ve spoken to, the group that by far had the largest number of Rebels was in a group of Christian ministers. Also, a commenter once posted, “You’d be surprised by how many Rebels are in the military.” I’m trying to understand this. So, so, so fascinating.

How do you feel about waiting in line?

Do you think that Rebel is the best category? Why?

If you’re married or in a serious relationship, is your sweetheart an Obliger? This is a very striking pattern. I’ve never talked to a Rebel in a permanent relationship with someone in the Upholder or Questioner category. (Makes perfect sense to me.)

These questions are only for your consideration. Answer any way you want — or not at all, obviously.

And if people in other categories have comments, please fire away. Do include your Tendency, if you know it, because it’s so interesting to hear how different Tendencies view the world differently.

You may be thinking, “The Rubin Tendencies are interesting, but what the heck do they have to do with habit-formation?” Of the twenty-one habit-formation strategies I’ve identified, the first, and the most important, is the Strategy of Self-Knowledge. To shape our habits most effectively, we must understand ourselves. And knowing your Rubin Tendency is enormously helpful in figuring out how to set up habits for success.

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  • Rachel

    Prisons are probably full of rebels, but very few upholders. I don’t really get rebels.

    • Grace McNamee Decker

      To the contrary. Many people who commit crimes were raised with EXACTLY that expectation– that they would never amount to much, etc. It’s not necessarily about following RULES, but about self-concept and sense of what expectations apply to you.

    • Laurel

      I think I’m probably a Questioner or Obliger, but my suspicion is that prisons are full of Obligers, not Rebels. It’s not listening to the inner expectations that gets people into trouble, if the trouble is available to them.

      • Rachel

        Interesting perspectives. I hadn’t thought about it from those angles.

  • I haven’t really thought much about this… I’m either a questioner or a rebel. Is there a fine line between the two groups? Might a rebel not resist expectations of influences he or she feels are rebellious? Like a Woodstock effect. I suspect most people would describe the folks at Woodstock as being rebellious, yet from a distance at least weren’t they all similar in their actions and appearances? Weren’t they rebels only when judged against conventional expectations, but in many ways conform to the rebellious norm?

    This topic is fascinating. I can’t wait to read the book!

    • gretchenrubin

      Questioners often have a leaning toward Upholding or Rebelling. They question, but they have a default.
      My husband, for instance is a Questioner with Upholder leanings. Some Questioners, though, are so hard to persuade of the justification for an expectation that they are practically Rebels. But not quite, because they will meet expectations if they’re persuaded that they’re warranted.
      I think you’re right, I don’t think most of the people at Woodstock were Rebels. Probably very few of them.
      An Obliger once told me, “In high school, my parents thought I was a Rebel, but I was doing exactly what I needed to do to meet the expectations of my friends.”

      • Interesting. I suspect, then, that I would be more of a Questioner with Upholder leanings as well. I do question quite a bit, but when I can see a reasoning that would have the expectation make sense (even if it’s my own reasoning) I am pretty motivated to live up to the expectation, although sometimes by achieving the desired “result” in a way that makes more sense to me.

        Really, really interesting stuff.

        • ChrisD

          Kate Fox discusses this in Watching the English. A member of a subgroup may look vastly different from the main bulk of society, but their ‘different’ clothes will amount to a uniform, with everyone else in their subculture looking almost identical. This is not rebelling.

          • peninith1

            Yes, I have often felt that there is a great deal of UNfreedom in being a ‘Rebel’ — it seems like rebels often have no conscious freedom of choice, but just an overwhelming inner command to push back. My constant mantra to my rebel son has been ‘do what is GOOD FOR YOU even if your parents / boss / school would approve of it.’

          • gretchenrubin

            Yes, this is an issue for Rebels, and they often comment on how it’s a challenge.
            Perhaps “CHOOSE what you WANT to do even if others would approve…” might resonate even more. ????

          • Jean N

            A suggestion, from a rebel who grew into a reasonably functional adult: ask your kid what his gut tells him the right choice should be, and then, if you can, walk away before he has time to answer. You cannot tell a rebel child what to do. They thrive on autonomy, and every time you give him directions, no matter how logical or well-intentioned, you’re just feeding his need to assert his freedom. Don’t put the poor kid in the quandary of having to defy common sense, and perhaps even his original intentions, in order to satisfy his own rebellious nature. Also, don’t attempt to play mind games with a rebel child. Your intentions are clear as glass to them.

            The key difference is that the child must be empowered, not directed, to make the right choice. I cannot emphasize enough that his nature is not a conscious behavioral decision: it’s instinctive, innate and intrinsic, and it’s not something that comes with an on/off switch that can be flipped at a parent’s convenience. The best way to wrangle rebel child, in admittedly my personal experience, is to give the kid the information he needs to make a decision, present the issue as a question that he alone can answer, and let him make a decision and act on it without telling you what he decided. That way you become an ally, not an obstacle. You trusted him with information, you validated his personal autonomy, and you let him make a decision without an audience. Audiences = expectations. If he thinks you’re not watching, he won’t need to rebel against your expectations.

          • gretchenrubin

            This is extremely helpful.

            I’ve talked to many people who are parents of Rebel children, and that can be a real challenge.

  • Ella

    Gretchen, you say that “I’ve never talked to a Rebel in a permanent relationship with someone in the Upholder or Questioner category. ” Would you mind expanding on this? Why would rebels be interested in Obligers – who meet outer expectations? I’d have guessed that they would be more interested in someone who meets their own expectations but does not bow to social pressure, like a Questioner.

    • gretchenrubin

      Well, think about it from the other direction, from the partner’s perspective.

      Questioners are very focused on fairness and valid rationales. So a Rebel says, “I’m not going to unload the dishwasher. I don’t care if it’s unloaded, so why would I do it?” This makes a Questioner angry. “Why is it fair that I always have to be the one to unload the dishwasher?” etc.

      An Upholder is very unsettled by the Rebel’s ways, and vice versa.

      Obligers often have an unpredictable streak of rebellion themselves, so they like that in the Rebel. Also, they feel very pressured by external expectations, and resentful that they can’t meet their expectations for themselves, and the Rebel says, “Hey, we don’t have to do that! Who cares what they expect! Let’s do what we want!” and the Obliger gets a kick out of that. And they will also mostly make up for the Rebel’s refusal to meet expectations.

      Though to your point, one Rebel did say to me, “My two serious boyfriends have been Obligers, and though it’s great to have someone do what you want, like give me a backrub whenever I want one, I felt like they didn’t have enough backbone, I bossed them around, so I broke up with them.”

    • peninith1

      I would guess that Rebels would ATTRACT a lot of people who had an overwhelming desire to ‘fix’ them or to smooth their path. Look at the photo Gretchen has so appropriately chosen for this post-the ever swoonily troubled and handsome James Dean, the Leader of the Pack, the classic Bad Boy. Probably that would be the same from the opposite-sex direction. I think of Carmen–a woman so rebellious that she attracts a man who fatally desires to have her and control her. I would imagine that attraction to Rebels could be rampant, but successful relationships with true rebels might be hard to establish and maintain.

  • Linda Charlton

    I am definitely a rebel. Hate rules and regs. Feel they are guidelines and every situation needs to be taken on its own merit. This is how I raised my girls as well. No hard and fast rules at our house. In 1967 I dated my first Black man. Called myself avant garde but that was an euphemism for rebel. The more shock value something had, the more I was attracted to it. In fact, the more my mother hated it, the more married to it I became. In 1977 and 1978 I had my daughters. What a spectacle I was at the over 62 apartment complex where my mother lived. She hated and I reveled in it. I was against the Vietnam war, racism, sexism and for the equality of pay. In the 90’s I marched in Washington to support the Pro-choice agenda (would do it again now). I continue to be anti-war and obviously anti-racism. Very far to the left in my world view.
    I am not sure how I became this person. I was raised in a super-religious home with Evangelical Protestant beliefs. Hell fire and damnation! As I age, I am even more pacifist in my ideas. Since reading The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, I have started reading the Dalai Lama and find his teachings magical. They are transforming me daily.

  • Aaron L

    I’d say the more strict the rules, the less a person on the fence agrees with them, even if they do comply in the end. In the church and military, the expectations are well-defined and at times, potentially arbitrary. In other situations, the rules are easier to follow, so people on the fence probably find it easier to say they are on the fence.

    What I’m saying is by no means a certainty as I’m not speaking from solid evidence but rather my experience coupled with imagination, but rebels likely identify themselves in relation to the rules they oppose. It is possible that rebels have come to the conclusion that the rules do not give a fair reward, therefore, they are not worth expending effort to uphold.

    There are numerous potentialities, so I will cease my speculation. The following is something I know to be true in my experience, and may help you to survey rebels and find clarity with: Almost every person I know who makes irrational decisions, when scrutinized, is actually making them after carefully weighing risk vs. reward. I think your four categories are intrinsically linked to this tendency, but the categories represent the emergent response to the calculation of risk and reward.

    • Aaron L

      To clarify-I really became incoherent-I think rebels are the people who outright oppose the rules, so the more strict the rules, the more people oppose them for being unfair. Furthermore, this is likely due to considerations of risk versus reward, where it is more rewarding to fulfill ones own needs and wants, even with the extreme punishments for doing so.

  • Karen

    I think that I’m mostly a rebel with questioner tendencies. I have followed expectations at times when I believed that the consequences for not meeting them would be severe or unpleasant, but usually I’ve had to strenuously talk myself into it, and justify it to myself (the questioner side–will follow if they make sense). But there’s almost always some initial resistance. I find goal-setting to be more counterproductive than not, and I’m not a people-pleaser.

    Are you amazed by what people in the other categories do? Sometimes. But I think that other categories are pretty well-rewarded in current society, so I understand the motivation. Adolescents, especially, seem to be having goals and expectations shoved down their throats these days. I think that meeting them has become almost a matter of survival for many, whether you actually want to or not.

    How do you feel about meeting expectations from yourself? Similar to meeting expectations from other people. I did write a PhD thesis. It was mostly stringing together papers that I had already published, so I didn’t have to do much original writing. I wanted to publish those papers, I was motivated and excited to see my name in print. So it didn’t feel like an expectation. I try not to put too many expectations on myself. I tend to ignore expectations from any source that are too much work, a chore, or generally not fun or interesting. If I can’t ignore them or get around them somehow, I become anxious and depressed.

    Is it different when someone who works for you asks you to do something, compared to when meeting an expectation imposed by someone whom you work for? Not really. I generally dislike being asked to do things. The exceptions to this are children, the elderly, and students that I am teaching. If someone actually needs me to do something for them that they can’t do themselves, then I am happy to help. But generally I think people would be better putting their own oxygen masks on first before trying to assist others, and I don’t think people should get, or ask for, more than their fair share of oxygen in the first place.

    Are you attracted to situations where another institution sets many rules?
    Sometimes yes. I don’t think this is an odd question. However, I did leave the Christian religion over what I thought were unnecessarily punitive and nonsensical rules, so I’m somewhat surprised that Christian ministers have so many rebels in their ranks. I am attracted to work situations where the rules are clear and explicit and are set by the employer. I think that many workplaces use “autonomy” as an excuse to set vague, capricious, and arbitrary rules that change at the boss’ whim. I hate workplaces that let you have “independence” and “decide” what you are going to do on your own–and then measure your performance against a hidden standard of rules that they didn’t tell you about but you were just supposed to figure out by osmosis. I.e. you can be independent as long as you agree with us.

    How do you feel about waiting in line? I don’t mind as long as I have something to do (play on the smart phone, chat with the person next to me, whatever). I actually view being patient and not minding waiting in line as a rebellion against the cultural expectation that I should consider myself too busy and important to wait in line like everybody else.

    Do you think that Rebel is the best category? No.
    Why? I rebel against the expectation that there is a best category.

    If you’re married or in a serious relationship, is your sweetheart an Obliger? I don’t think so. I think my husband is an Upholder.

    • gretchenrubin

      Interesting responses…

  • Summer D

    Fascinating topic! And so true 🙂 I am an Upholder… Definitely. My husband is a Questioner. What I find most interesting is my Mother and Sister would both be obligers. They think I am ridiculously disciplined, and I can’t understand why if they want to do something they just don’t do it!

    I don’t think I have any “Rebel” friends. Although definitely an Obliger friend verging to Rebel… Which may be why she thought it was so hilarious when her two year old son came home from a play date at our place spouting “we know the rules”! (Hmmmm… Actually, that child may be a Rebel… I wonder what age these traits exhibit…)

    • gretchenrubin

      Perfect example, with your family, of how knowing people’s Tendency helps you understand them better. SO MANY things became clear to me when I realized that I was an Upholder, and most people aren’t.

      I think it’s hard with children to know what Tendency they are, but I do believe it’s probably hard-wired.

      • Ruth

        Gretchen, I’ve seen you say, “SO MANY things became clear to me when I realized that I was an Upholder, and most people aren’t” a lot. I would love to see a post about what those things were, because I don’t think I’ve quite grasped exactly what that did for your perspective.

  • dianalane

    I’m generally an upholder – except when it comes to external expectations where I believe my personal autonomy trumps the social/cultural expectation. For example, I didn’t go to my college graduation. I also eloped rather than have a big wedding. I didn’t want to do these things, and I believe it’s my prerogative to do what I want when it’s about me. Therefore, I would say I am an upholder regarding inner expectations and a questioner when it comes to outer expectations, because I will meet outside expectations that make sense to me (e.g., vaccinating my kids against fatal illnesses, driving the speed limit, wearing seat belts, etc.).

    • gretchenrubin

      You are a Questioner.

      Questioners, in a sense, make all expectations inner expectations, and that’s what you’re describing.

      • dianalane

        Interesting. I appreciate your insight 🙂

  • Danna Olsen

    I think I’m mostly in the rebel category but maybe a mix between a Rebel and a Questioner. I don’t consciously and intentionally resist expectations and rules…. but there is something in my nature that questions rules and authority. I feel like maybe I’ve always been sort of a rebel looking for a cause..and I find them. In a very large structured organization there are many rules and policies that, more often than not, might make sense in the majority of situations and serve an important purpose… but don’t accommodate all situations. Many, maybe most, rules/policies should be thought of as guidelines and not prevent people from using their brain and really thinking about the best course of action.. if that makes sense. When I find exceptional situations that should not be confined by an existing rule or policy, it can be an energizing challenge or a source of intense frustration… I find that there are a lot of black and white thinkers that seem to blindly accept and follow these rules/policies. Here’s a specific example. I work for a large university hospital as a nursing assistant. I discovered that they would not cover tuition reimbursement for my schooling because… get this! Public Health is not on there list of “workforce needs!!” I was beyond upset when I brought up this issue with H.R. – the woman kept reading me their policy. I kept trying to explain that I could in fact read the policy.. but that it was an outdated policy that should be reconsidered- it should be an embarrassment that public health is not a recognized work force need, especially at a hospital associated with a school of medicine that recently changed the name and mission etc. to include an emphasis on public health (the school of medicine and public health)!! Obviously I’m still upset about this one because I didn’t have the time and energy to keep fighting… I needed to concentrate on school. I recently finished my MPH. While it won’t benefit me financially, I hope that there will be some opportunity to prove/advocate for public health to be added to their workforce need list in the future.

  • Danna Olsen

    One other personal experience. I always HATED to run but would wished I was a runner and could enjoy it. I moved to a location with a beautiful path to run by a lake and was determined to try to become a runner. Friends tried to support me by giving me tips and programs (e.g. run for one song, then walk for one song/minute, etc.). Well it didn’t go very well at first.. it felt like torture UNTIL I was true to my nature. I gave myself permission to walk whenever I felt like it.. no outer or inner expectations guided me…I took a listen-to-your-body approach. I loaded my iPod shuffle with music that was energizing.. that felt better to run to than to walk to.. Running because a stress reliever that felt freeing instead of something I was torturing myself with to burn calories… It was a mental change that made all the difference.

    • miracle12345

      This feels like a good idea to get motivated.

  • Tamas Kalman

    if you really want to hear about rebels, wouldn’t it be wise to name the title this way: “rebels, you are not allowed to tell your opinion about this article” ? =)

    • gretchenrubin

      I tried to emphasize freedom and choice, but contrariness might have been better!

      • Jean Nolte

        Nah, contrariness isn’t necessary. You’re not in a position to expect any of us to do anything, and there’s no need for us to rebel against an expectation that doesn’t exist in the first place. The question is inherently interesting, and we stand to benefit from the outcome of your work, so in this case it’s easy to help.

    • Frustrated

      Ha ha ha — married to a Rebel and I understand this !!!

  • KatieB

    I wonder if children experiment with the four tendencies and through their experiences develop one tendency most strongly. My son (and all 2 year old for that matter) seem to be rebels. I only have one child though, so perhaps I am way off the mark. Maybe all of us are experimenting with different tendencies to figure out which one fits in most circumstances for us at particular times in our lives. Can we change our tendency? I was an Upholder 100% until I had children. I switched to a Questioner, but wonder if I am as happy as I was as an Upholder because switching to a Questioner is kind of fighting my true nature (which is exhausting)!

  • KatieB

    I pinned this link and it seems to mesh with what you have to say about the 4 tendencies. It puts children into 4 categories and discusses how to discipline and support each accordingly.

  • Blair424

    I’m a Questioner with Obliger leanings. I have a question for Rebels: How do you feel about people trying to do nice things for you (for example, sending you a card or giving you a gift)? Do you like it, or do you resent it because you feel it places an expectation on you to reciprocate? By the way, I knew a Rebel, and she was a devout Catholic!

    • Jean Nolte

      Personally, I do sort of resent cards and gifts, and it is at least in part because they come with the expectation of not only reciprocity, but forced expressions of gratitude. It’s not that I’m not genuinely grateful for the kindness that someone tried to show me – it’s that being expected to express thanks in a predetermined way makes me reluctant to express that thanks. I then wind up feeling guilty because I’m late on thank-you notes, but guilt isn’t really much of a motivator for me, so… it’s a vicious circle. You know what else is obnoxious, at least in my opinion? Surprise parties. Or parties in general, for that matter, or any occasion where I’m expected to produce a certain predetermined set of emotions. I don’t celebrate my birthday if I can avoid it. Christmas is easier, because everyone gives gifts all at once, so any necessary reciprocity is knocked out in one day. Thank-you notes are another story, though. Ugh.

      • Blair424

        What’s the best way for people to be friends with you? If they don’t ever say and do nice things for you, then you won’t want to be friends with them because they don’t ever say and do nice things for you. But if they say and do nice things for you, then you won’t want to be friends with them because you don’t like being expected to say thank you and reciprocate.

  • Lisa

    Gretchen, I am a Questioner, and I was about to respond that my husband is a Rebel…but that’s not exactly true. Have you considered there might be a fifth category? I don’t know what to call it, but he’s basically the inverse of an obliger. He is very strict with meeting internal obligations (completed P90X program, always goes above and beyond on his work, not because his bosses expect it, but because it’s what he expects from himself). However, he’s very rebellious in a “don’t tell me what to do” way when outside forces try to get him to fall in line.

    • gretchenrubin

      That’s a Questioner. Questioners can meet expectations which they’ve accepted for themselves.
      Questioners often have a leaning toward Upholding or Rebelling – meaning, they either readily or very reluctantly accept others’ arguments about what expectations should be met.
      Sounds like your husband is a Questioner with Rebel leaning.

      • Lisa

        Ah, I see. Yes, I think you’re right! Questioner with Rebel leaning.

  • Randee Bulla

    I’m a Questioner married to a Rebel for nearly 13 years. Yes, it certainly is interesting, but we have a wonderful relationship. What has really helped is that I’m really sensitive to how to communicate with him so that even the most basic conversations don’t turn into a fight with him thinking I’m trying to control him. On the flip side, he never tries to control me either, so it works out great. And when he knows he “should” do something, but doesn’t want to, we discuss it to figure out what he wants to do and what he likes so that he can use those parts to motivate him. For example, he works out so that he can more enjoyably brew his beer as the equipment he’s built requires him to be very physical. So we very frequently go into projects or things that need to be done by looking at the positive in how he feels about it and what he’ll get out of it. For example, he doesn’t really mind changing out the dishes, but HATES doing laundry. Well, I’m not going to do all of the chores, so I offered to do all the laundry if he did the dishes. It totally worked in this case, and for many others (it was also a win for me because I hate doing dishes). Not all discussions turn out this well, and there are times I just want to yell JUST DO IT (which rarely ever works). But I think what really helps keep us going is continuing to work at being happy…with both of us being happy with him being him and me being me and focusing on win/win as partners in this together..

    • gretchenrubin


      You’re my first example of a non-Obliger spouse to a Rebel.

      I have to say, as an Upholder, to me it sounds exhausting to have to “want” to do everything (as a Rebel does), or to persuade/coax/frame tasks so that the Rebel “wants” or “chooses” to do it (as a spouse of a Rebel). I just want it to get done.
      It’s very hard for an Upholder and Rebel to grasp each other’s notion of freedom!

      • Randee Bulla

        We met at work and became coworkers with respect for each other first (to keep his job he did have to do what I told him, but to keep mine I had to learn how to compel others to do what i needed them to do with people even more stubborn than he was). Then we became friends, then soul mates. I think this set a different tone to our relationship to start. In fact, the first time I remember meeting him was when he was told what to do by another manager (who was out of line) and he flared up and gave her what for (professionally). I was very attracted by his ability to speak his mind, which wasn’t where I was myself at the time. As we moved from that stage of our relationship into where we are now (more mature, different work lives, etc.), we worked on how to set ourselves up to succeed going forward, because yes, rebellion could be as frustrating and exhausting as it was attractive. What really helped is that we decided to focus on the You, Me, and We. We each have very different interests and hobbies and have a great time pursuing these activities on our own. We give each other the freedom to throw ourselves into these things and come back to the We refreshed and energized. For the We part, we figured out how to set up our lives in a way we were both happy. More work? YES. Worth it? An even bigger YES! And I can say that for the most part, it is now very easy.

        • Anne Maria Remple

          I’m relieved to read this! I’m a rebel and my fiancé is a questioner (and it makes sense that sometimes his questions make me feel controlled). Thanks for posting!

      • Msconduct

        I’m a Questioner with Rebel tendencies. Although I’m mostly satisfied with questioning and acting on my own perspective, I know that my default when there’s something “everybody” is doing is to automatically take the opposite position, as I’m suspicious of the truth of something when I think people might be going along with the crowd because it’s cool.

        From both my Questioner and Rebel perspectives, I have to want to do something, but I find it the opposite of exhausting. Rather, it’s exhausting having to go along with something being forced on me by an outer expectation. For example, I dieted on and off from ages 15-30 and I hated every minute of it because I had to follow a prescribed eating plan. I gave up diets at age 30 (what a relief) and developed a much happier relationship with food where I felt much more in control because what I ate was my choice. When I wanted to lose weight again, it was much less exhausting to diet because it was clear to me that now the diet was also my choice. I hope that makes sense!

    • Aha! I’m a Rebel married to a Questioner. 🙂

  • What about those who focus on inner expectations and not outer? Do they have a category? Because I find that the most important – honoring yourself and respecting your self enough to meet your own expectations and goals, because in the end that’s the only real thing you feel and you can only live your own life. Expectations from others are just subjective opinions of what they think you should do.

    • gretchenrubin

      Those are Questioners. Questioners follow only expectations that they question and mindfully endorse, so they make all expectations inner expectations.

  • peninith1

    My older son is a rebel. He is highy accomplished in his chosen expertise, but I have always found it agonizing to watch how he can manage to stand in his own brilliant way because of his need to rebel. Creative, sometimes inspired, amazingly expert at what he wants to do–but don’t tell him what to do or how to do it!

    Example (parents of young ones, I bet you’ll recognize this): 4th Grade homework assignment to write a sentence at least seven words long making correct use of vocabulary words for the week. First, he would utter a long, wonderful, elaborate sentence. But would he write that down and give it to the teacher? Oh no, she asked for 7 words, and he would give her NO MORE! So he would struggle forever to reduce his thought to the 7 words which were all she was going to get!! And no, he is NOT an upholder in disguise. His blanket statement about homework at this same age was: “You can’t make me do this! I’M an AMERICAN CITIZEN!!”

    Gotta love ’em, but it is a challenge to live with ’em!

  • Blair424

    When I tell people about Upholders, Questioners, Rebels, and Obligers, I call them the Four Rubin Expectorants (because they describe how people respond to expectations).

  • Rebekah Hamon

    I am a rebel. And not in prison, as one of the comments supposed.

    What perplexes me about people in other categories
    – how they won’t say what they want and make it happen
    – When I am just going about my business of making my life how I want it, or changing something that I can’t live with anymore, I can inadvertently step on toes, because it suites other people to have me do something differently.
    – how close-minded they can be to out-of-the-box solutions that would work perfectly for the situation. Example: My husband can’t imagine using something in a certain way unless it is sold for that specific purpose. Luckily I do it anyway, and he can see after the fact that it works really well. So far this has worked out for us. Knock on wood.

    How I feel about meeting expectations from myself: I have lots of ideas about the way things should be, but I think it is harder for me to make them happen than it is for other people. I mostly have this problem with large projects. However, there are many things that I view, not as “expectations”, but as “this is the way I want it” which helps me accomplish A LOT. For instance, my house is super clutter free because it is very important to me. I don’t see it as an expectation to clean my house, but something I want and can’t stand any other way. Here are some thoughts that help me get things done:
    – cleaning the garage (my husband’s favorite task that always “needs” done) – “I’ll get to spend time with my husband! We’ll laugh and have a glass of wine while we do it! It’s going to look and feel so great when we are done! He’ll be so happy when we get it clean!”
    – making dinner – “Wow, look at me, I’m a really good cook! My kids are going to feel very cared for when they sit down to this great dinner. This will really smell good when my husband walks in the door. I am going to feel very crappy if I don’t make a healthy dinner for my family, so not doing it is NOT WORTH IT. Just do it, you’ll feel good about yourself, and if you don’t, you will feel like a loser.”
    I’ve also had to learn to have better self talk. For instance, because it is hard for me to make myself do things when I don’t want to, sometimes I don’t exercise, and my mind tends to say “Look at you. You missed 2 workouts this week.” But then I say to myself, “No, you worked out 3 times this week, which is an improvement from last week’s 2 times!” I can get down thinking of the things I didn’t do that I should have, and it is more helpful to change that to thinking about what I did accomplish.

    I do decide on the day’s tasks based on how I feel, but generally it is a positive experience such as, “What can I get done today that will make me feel great? What is the thing I most want to accomplish today? What will make me happy at the end of the day when I am reflecting on what I accomplished?” I also take breaks between tasks to play a game on my phone, then I get up and get going again.

    Doing tasks for others: I am big into planning ahead (school projects, evening events, weekend plans to clean out the garage) because I need time to wrap my head around what’s ahead. I think this is probably what you are talking about when you talk (in your linked in video about rebels) about your rebel friends getting their exercise in by anticipating and making it a pleasurable thing. If my kids came home from school and said they had a school event that night that I didn’t know about, we probably wouldn’t go. If my husband suddenly announced on Saturday morning that he wanted to clean the garage with me that day, I wouldn’t take it well, and likely it wouldn’t happen. My kids are very independent – they make their own breakfast, lunch and snack, do their own laundry, have a room of the house that’s their responsibility to clean, etc. I don’t see it as a bad thing…I see it as teaching them life skills while I’m still here as a cushion when they need help. My husband: I have not been good about doing things for him in the past, and he is very independent anyway. He just had spinal surgery and I’ve been helping him more because of that. I’ve actually enjoyed it. I don’t mind doing things for other people if they actually need my help. I don’t enjoy doing things when it is just for other people’s convenience, or on another’s whim. Good or bad, that’s just how it is. Requests from my children (someone who I am in charge of) I sometimes feel inconvenienced, but I try to say yes and be loving & gentle. Requests from my husband can make me bristle, unfortunately. He flies by the seat of his pants, and normally his request is for “right now” or “today”, which is hard for me to accommodate. I tell him “I can get that done by XX date”, but not today, unless it will fit into my day.

    I am not attracted to institutions where other people set the rules. I belong to a church where there is no written doctrine except for the Bible, which is open for interpretation by each person.

    I have no problem waiting in line, because I want to be in the line. If I didn’t, I would leave and come back later when there is no line. That being said, I shop when there are no lines if at all possible, and I seriously consider before going somewhere where there will be a huge crowd. Getting mad at lines is pure silliness if you continue to choose to stand there

    I don’t think rebel is the best category, but I’m very happy being one. I don’t think there is a “best” category, just different types of people. I’m glad my husband is different from me so that we can offset each other. If I could choose a different way to be, I think I’d choose Upholder.

    I can see tendencies of the Obliger, Upholder & Questioner in my husband. I’ll have to watch your videos on those to know more.

    • gretchenrubin

      This is so interesting. Thanks so much for your thoughtful response. I’m so intrigued by your thought processes…a great example of how Rebels (and other categories) can learn to work within their own natures to get done what they want to get done.

  • Pingback: Rebels, If You Feel Like It, and It Would Be Fun for You, I’d Love to Hear Your Perspective. | Choto Mitho()

  • rubyratt

    I am an upholder and HATE it. I can’t even talk myself out of doing something that makes me miserable if any part of me thinks somebody else might be disappointed (or if I’m being truthful, I will be disappointed) . Being an upholder is what brought me to the “happiness project”. I’m so busy upholding that I just can’t seem to find “joy” in life. Where is the joy?!

    • rubyratt

      Gretchen- would you say that upholders fantasize frequently about being a rebel? I get so mad about my upholding and start visualizing ridiculous things like……not showing up at work, or quitting my job and not telling my hubby……or running away (I have two kids).

      • gretchenrubin

        You really sound like an Obliger! Obligers have a streak of Rebel.

      • Lauren

        I found this post interesting…
        Just like you say you fantasize about doing rebellious things, I am a rebel and actually find myself fantasizing about living like an Upholder. Every night before I fall asleep I go through how I wish I could live the next day.
        For instance, wake up, go for a run, make a healthy breakfast, get all of my work done, get chores done, etc.

        • gretchenrubin

          So interesting!

          Now that you mention it, many Obligers have said that! They act out a streak of Rebellion, but they wish they could be Upholders. I hadn’t noticed that pattern before.

    • gretchenrubin

      Hmmm…are you sure you’re not an Obliger? You sound more like an Obliger, from that brief comment.

      If you’re an Upholder, at least for me, the secret is to make a set expectation for yourself for JOY. Put fun activities ON YOUR CALENDAR so they have the same gravity as a meeting with colleagues. E.g., lunch with a friend, reading for fun, watching an old favorite movie, etc. Also, work hard to have clarity of your expectations for yourself. Upholders hold inner expectations with the same weight at external expectations – if they’re clearly identified. By getting clarity, you will unleash Upholderness on those inner expectations. (This is what happened to me when I finally realized that I wanted to switch from law to writing.)

      If you’re an Obliger, the secret is external accountability. Do something with a friend who will be disappointed if you don’t show up, hire a trainer, a coach, put yourself in a situation where you’d have to pay late fees or let someone down, use your role as a role model for others to do something for yourself. (E.g., take piano lessons with your kids; your kids will know if you don’t practice or show up for lessons).

  • Jenya

    Gretchen, do you find that people have the same expectations for themselves as they do for others? In other words, do rebels respect the freedom of other rebels or get annoyed by it? Do obligers relate the best to all the other types?

    I was thinking about this because my in-laws have heavy “upholder” standards for visits and “special events.” They’ll create an event on a whim and refer to it as an annual command performance starting with the first year. As a questioner, I just can’t understand this line of thinking, though I do understand obligers and rebels perfectly well.

  • dogbaker

    I believe you can be two types or change from one to another I was a rebel and have always been a questioner

    • dogbaker

      ps my husband is a upholder

  • elisa

    I am a questioner, in the sense that I can make myself do almost everything, but only if I am convinced about the goal I am aiming at. And my husband is a rebel (and so is my sister, my son and many good friends —I am surprised that there are so few rebels around apart from in my life!). As long as I tried to have him come back home to dine with the family, he came back later and later. Same with picking up the children from school or doing “family things” together. He might like these chances, but just feels “bounded” at the idea. By the way, he rebels also against himself, so that for years he worked little or nothing at his PhD thesis, although he would have liked to (just could not resist the desire to do something else). The only ways I (or he) can make himself do something are:
    1. have fun while doing it (playing tennis instead of going to the gym)
    2. conceive of X as a way of rebelling against something else (e.g., my husband managed to eventually write his PhD because he left his job, rebelling against family, friends and bosses, in order to focus on his studies)

  • BeccaB

    Your Rubin Tendencies remind me of four conflict styles I learned about as undergrad during an interpersonal communication class. The four styles represented the ways people respond to conflict situations, and were outlined in the book below. The styles included: Accommodator (similar to Obliger), a Competitor (similar to Rebel), a Compromiser, and a Collaborator. This text would be an interesting addition to your research:

  • katweetie

    Randee’s story is very inspiring. I’m an Upholder/ Questioner married to a Rebel for about 3 years. We struggle a lot. In reading your post, I think I’m often the “institution with a lot of rules” that he was attracted to. There must be something in it for me too, but I sort of can’t remember it at the moment. Maybe I always wanted to be more carefree and less disciplined. I don’t know – we’re kind of in the thick of it right now, with occasional really rewarding moments – but I hope we come through to an easier place.

  • Stephanie Hoffmann Elms

    When I first read your 4 tendencies, I was pretty sure that I was an upholder. After all, I am a people pleaser and try not to rock the boat. What I could not figure out however was that being an upholder did NOT come easily for me and I always struggled with it. So I started to think that I was a “failed upholder”. I did not recognize myself in the rebel description at all…that was my brother, I was always the “good girl”. Then I read how rebels motivate themselves and it hit me like a ton of bricks…I *am* a rebel. I hate exercising, but since I started walking with a friend I look forward to it…not because I am doing something “good” for myself but because I have fun talking with my friend. I realized that I don’t want to clean my house because I “want a clean house” bur rather because I want a clean oasis when I can enjoy reading a good book. It is a subtle shift in thinking, but actually quite huge.

    Now that I look back on things I can definitely see where I am a rebel…I homeschool my kids and am actually fairly alternative in many ways. And I like that. But I’ve always thought that I came to those things kind of kicking and screaming…truth is that as I have gotten older, I am finally starting to embrace who I am instead of fighting who I am (had a similar realization that despite being a very strong ENFP I have always tried to be more J-ish, thinking that is the “right” way to be) So do you have examples of rebels who because of their upbringing tried to over rule their own rebel-ness? I was usually not successful at it which led to a lot of angst and disappointment in myself which is a shame now that I see it was denying who I am. It has been very freeing to start embracing the rebel that I am…life is much easier this way.

  • Serena

    Are you amazed by what people in the other categories do?
    Occasionally I am surprised by other people’s obedience to what other people request of them. When people say their reason for completing a difficult task primarily because someone else told them to, I find that I do not share the same motivation. For example, on my running team, most of the girls are able to run and sustain pace just because the coach tells them to while I often struggle. Or my boyfriend constantly takes tasks that he does not feel like he can accomplish because he is easily convinced by other people. I find that I am not so inclined to follow suggestions or am at loss as to why he doesn’t just refuse.

    How do you feel about meeting expectations from yourself?
    Although it depends on the task, it often takes a lot of motivation and constant reminding THIS IS WHAT I WANT and DO THE RIGHT THING. I feel this is one of the many downsides to having a rebel tendency.

    How do you feel about waiting in line?
    Long lines usually do not bother me because they’re normally for a reason I enjoy, such as a bus trip to NYC or a rollercoaster. Short lines, however, are another story. I often catch myself cutting food lines (I eat most of my meals at dining halls) without meaning to be rude and I am probably unnecessarily driven to calculate the shortest line at the cashier.

    Do you think that Rebel is the best category? Why?
    Absolutely not. If I could chose, I would be an Upholder. My theme for this year is to LISTEN. Listen to others (especially my parents, coaches, and others who have my best interests at heart). Listen to my body. Despite my best attempts, I know I have an internal desire to “thwart the system” even if its against what’s good for me. WHY?! If I could answer that, I am sure 99% of my problems would be solvable.

    If you’re married or in a serious relationship, is your sweetheart an Obliger?
    Absolutely. As I mentioned earlier, my serious boyfriend is a complete pushover and I often admire him for it. I only hope it doesn’t become a problem for us in the future…

  • Charlene

    Interesting observation that clergy people tend to be rebels. As one of “them” that statement resonates. Clergy think of themselves as called and therefore different. They have the blessing of their colleagues, congregation and God, which sets them above many things in life – including rules. Competency is not necessary once education credentials are earned –clergy just ARE. In their church community, clergy are the person of last resort, final judgement and the buck stops here – even when the church is governed by a board and work done by a well developed committee system. Leadership is optional because they cannot easily be removed from their
    position. Clergy have a great deal of freedom even in organizations with
    established hierarchy. In the local church they have the final word on how scripture is interpreted publicly, how others should/can/will live out the corporate life toward which the scriptures point us, and so many other things. This protected freedom and status can tend toward a dark side – one which has been exposed repeatedly across history.

    The clergy who “get it” rise above the dark side of the questioning and freedom loving rebel and submit themselves to personal discipline. If they did not have the rebel tendencies, the discipline would not serve its purpose. They need to question all things if they truly believe the principles by which they live to be important. Blindly
    accepting anything you are told is sheer folly and applies to the understanding
    of the divine as well as commerce, for example. They must apply those principles to their own life in order to teach them to others for the life unexamined
    is not a life fully lived. They have to have a streak of great self confidence and an ability to vision and move others toward that vision – even though it is all counter intuitive, and quite different than the normal rut people plod.

    People often think of religion as a set of rules to be followed so a rebel as spiritual leader may seem strange at first glance. However, it is the perfect standpoint for a spiritual leader. Spiritual life begins with rules “Thou Shalt or Shalt Not” as that is easy for a beginner to understand. People get stuck on rules and think that is what defines spiritual living. Not so. As one grows in life experience, self knowledge and awareness of the divine one begins to know that rules do not define spirituality.
    In the Christian understanding it truly does boil down to the basic – love one another, love God. No rules are needed for either of those when fully realized. Richard Fowler explains this growth in spiritual understanding in his book The Stages of Faith.

    I consider myself a rebel. Not in the negative sense that many seem to give that notion, but in a positive manner. America was made free by a bunch of rebels – people who questioned the status quo. Technology, medicine, theology and countless other fields have been advanced by people who resisted the expectations of others that there was nothing more to be learned. (And as a true rebel, I am responding to your questions without giving a direct answer –LOL!)

    As we discussed this at dinner we wondered if a balanced life requires working from each of these standpoints at different times. We are all rebels in that we see there is
    a great deal of freedom in choosing your own path – not necessarily because you
    are compelled to “push back” as one commenter said, but because that is what
    you believe. Yet we see that there is a certain amount of life that is obliging – doing things that will make family life more pleasant/healthy/productive, such as cleaning. If there was truly a choice in the matter, we’d all rather be doing something other than loading the dishwasher or sweeping. If it is done in a reciprocal manner, then it
    is not obliging because we have corporately internalized the motivation which
    you’ve said is what questioners do. The expectation that we will live in a relatively
    orderly household is somewhat imposed by outside expectation from visitors,
    family members and the health department – but is also upheld by our own
    internal expectations that we maintain a “civilized” household. Is this adopting different traits at different times possible? Or are people always stuck in one mode?

    • gretchenrubin

      This is so fascinating and helpful.

      As you suggest, I think it’s right that as we grow in experience (and, we hope wisdom), we learn to counter-balance the negative aspects of our Tendency, to check our natural inclination. I know that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to be much more of a Questioner, which is an important balance to my Upholder Tendency. Or I’ll ask my husband, “Is this something I have to do?” My instinct is to do it, it it’s an expectation, and he reminds that I don’t have to, if I don’t embrace that expectation mindfully.

      Also, people fall along a spectrum within their Tendency. Some people learn to manage themselves, and their Tendency; some really struggle to figure out how to work with their own nature. For instance, many Obligers have figured out – even if they haven’t put it into words – that they need external accountability, and they show great creativity in establishing that.

  • Jamie

    I am good friends with a very nice rebel. She came here from Germany for school. Her husband proposed after 6 days of knowing her, she said yes. She homeschools. Of course! (Which is an especially rebel thing to do since It’s illegal to homeschool in Germany.) Anything that average people do she finds a more interesting way to do it. Her son rides a wooden bicycle. No plastic toys except for Legos. She bought these weird cloth floaties from Germany (that don’t work particularly well) when her son was learning to swim. She can’t just put regular floaties on her kid, or let him ride a garage sale bike. She refuses to go to Disneyland. She lives in a 1000 sq foot house and never whines about wanting more square footage. I think she really loves being European and a little different in our American society.

  • Chris

    I believe I’m a rebel. I didn’t really think I fit squarely in this category until I heard my inner monologue exclaim “I’m not letting Gretchen Rubin define me”.

    I suffer from ADD, which I think creates really undesirable results when compounded with the rebel mentality. In high school I started taking ritalin because of my inability to focus. I felt motivated and my focus increased dramatically, but by what right did this drug have to control my personality traits? You think you can just pop in my mouth and make me better, even though it’s also exactly what I want? So my focus increased, but my grades didn’t. These thoughts weren’t in my head at the time, but looking back it makes sense.

    I’m really fascinated by the mind’s relationship with itself. I’m often saying to myself “I really want to be more productive and focused, I can’t believe I wasted another day doing menial things instead of something I’m passionate about”. But this is a self-inflicted wound which is caused by another part of my mind that’s presumably saying “listen, I get you have life goals, but at what cost? If I relinquish control then you’ll lose all identity of self. Life will become a massive LSD trip”. It seems my mind doesn’t want to let go of its default settings. This clip probably summarizes it better:

    I’m not amazed at all about what people in other categories do. Feeling satisfaction from checking things off lists, questioning expectations of others, responding well to outer expectations all make complete sense to me. A lot of the responses to expectations from others are ambitions of mine. I’d give almost anything for productivity hacks to work for me. I’m beginning to think I understand them better than I understand myself.

    After reading your descriptions of a rebel, it became easy to see how it’s affected other areas of my thinking. For instance, who is the government to tell gays they can’t marry? Who are they to tell straight folk they can? My HOA thinks they can tell me where to place my trash can? I’m supposed to follow these 10 commandments? By the way, I’m amazed and confused that Christian ministers are largely rebels. I need to think about that more.

    My wife is probably a questioner, our relationship is rocky. When I feel distant from her and try to fix it I often come across as insincere and fake. I guess it’s because she’s always questioning my true intent, or my rebelness is forever embedded in the minds of others. When she looks me in the eyes in an arguement, I can tell she is giving more weight into figuring out what I’m “actually” thinking rather than the words coming out of my mouth. I think this makes progress difficult. We probably also suffer from the same things other couples do when one is a rebel, issues with chores, planning, etc. But I honestly don’t think it comes from me trying to be difficult, it’s my default setting. Or maybe I’m just trying to justify my douchebaggery.

    Overall I’m now ashamed and embarrassed to be a rebel. It seems to be the most immature and childish of the four. I can’t help but think where I’d be in my life if I loved checking things off lists. But I did respond to this article because you told me to, so I got that going for me, which is nice.

    • gretchenrubin


      I was especially interested in your response to medication. Medication “adherence” is a big issue in health, and your train of thought is very illuminating.

      To be clear, it wasn’t that the Christian ministers in that group were MOSTLY Rebels. No! Only a tiny percentage of the group, maybe 8 or 10 people, was Rebel. Nevertheless, it was more Rebels in a single group that size that I’d seen before.

  • Lauren

    I am in the Rebel category because I am the biggest procrastinator I have ever met and I find it extremely hard to keep myself motivated to do anything and everything unless I am completely passionate about it at the time, regardless of how important it may be.
    Despite these problems, I have very little stress in my life and I am very happy. However, I am constantly frustrated with myself because I still cannot understand why I can’t just force myself to get things done. For example, right now I am supposed to be working on a project that is due tomorrow morning that I have been putting off all week. I have two projects overdue that I have not started, I put off talking to my University’s financial aid about my tuition, and now I have to pay an extra $50 late fee. Tomorrow I am skipping one of my classes for the third time in a row to go to a concert that I have been trying to get tickets to for months. I haven’t cleaned my apartment in weeks, I keep putting off hunting for a job that I desperately need, I am very bad at budgeting money and usually spend it ‘in the moment’ on food and alcohol, I am always down to drop everything in the name of having fun, and I never make new year’s resolutions because I gave up on forcing myself to follow them.
    It seems as though the only way I am ever able to get anything done is if it is my very last chance, or, if I need to prove something to someone. I never feel the need to prove anything to myself because in my mind, I already know that I can do it. I have tried to reward myself whenever I accomplish something, but that rarely helps because in my mind I know that I can easily give myself the reward anyways. I make lists, I try and create routines for myself, and I do follow these for a little while, but I always end up giving up. Sometimes I get bursts of productiveness or I become very passionate about something that I’m working on so much so that I can stay up for hours on end working non-stop. However, these moods come out of the blue and very rarely.
    I am a very creative person and am attending a school for Graphic Design. I get very good marks in school, I am confident in my work, but I find that I could do so much better if I gave 100% to my projects. In the past, I have given myself the excuse that I cannot be creative all of the time, therefore I don’t always need to work on assignment. But I have realized that it’s not about creativity or being inspired. It’s about forcing yourself to work long enough that you can make yourself get in that mindset.
    This is becoming a huge problem in my life not because I am scared of not succeeding, but I am scared of not being scared of not succeeding. I do have goals in my life but for some reason I have talked myself into thinking that if I want it badly enough, that I will work for it. There are things that I want badly in my life, but I still can’t force myself to work for them.

    I am very amazed at people in other categories. I wish that I could have their mindset sometimes. I live with two roommates who are 100% Upholders. And I know that they get very frustrated with me because they do not understand how I have such little stress in my life. They work their butts off at their jobs, at school, and in their relationships that they completely tire themselves out to the points of having nervous breakdowns. They are paranoid about problems that I don’t even think about. They plan for the future, and often worry so much that they create problems in their lives that didn’t even exist.
    I have actually had some problems with my roommates because of our clashing personalities. I have often been the person that they come to talk to about their problems. And I have often been in fights because they cannot understand why I am so down to earth in stressful situations.

    I only meet expectations that I have for myself if I am really interested in them. For instance, I am going very in depth with this response on your website because it interests me a lot. I haven’t even spent this much time on my schoolwork today. I do not doubt myself at all about my capabilities because, like I said before, I am completely confident in myself. When I finish a project or do something that makes me proud, I love that feeling. But I don’t NEED that feeling because I am perfectly happy with what I have, in this moment.

    I am more likely to do something that someone asks of me if I like them, and if I want to help them. When it comes to school, and personal goals, I know that I am only ‘letting myself down’, which is okay. However, when it comes to work, I always do what I am told, and give 100% on the job. This makes sense because when someone is on my ass about finishing something, or if someone intimidates me, or if I need to prove myself to someone, I can get the job done no problem. But in any other situation, with family, friends, relationships, or with myself, I am a complete rebel.

    I am usually completely fine with waiting in line, because its just something that I have to do. I am a very patient person and believe in living in the moment and accepting things for what they are.

    I do not think that being a Rebel is the best category. I don’t think that any one of the categories is better because they all come with pros and cons. Being a rebel has made problems in my life, but it has also been a great quality of mine when it comes to how I look at the world. I am a very calm, understanding, down to earth person because of this. I hardly stress about anything, I always do what I want to do which has made me very happy and fulfilled. I have seen people in my life create massive problems and have suffered from mental issues because of the way they think and the pressures they put on themselves. I am very happy that I am not like this. I am very good at being accepting and happy with what I have in my life.

    I am in a serious relationship at the moment, and my boyfriend is exactly like me. Which is pretty hard to imagine. We are very much the same person when it comes to meeting deadlines and personal goals. Our relationships with other people are the same, our views on life are the same, and our personalities are the same. Because of this, we have a lot of fun together. We are very accepting and understanding of one another, and our relationship is 100% problem-free.
    Being in a relationship with another Rebel definitely has a down side. Since there are days when we just don’t get out of bed, or leave the house to do anything. When we are together, we don’t usually get anything productive done unless we really want to. We also talk a lot about just dropping everything one day, renting an RV, and driving across the country. Which I think explains a Rebel’s thought process pretty well.
    Sometimes I think that I would do a lot better if I was in a relationship with someone of a different personality trait. If my significant other cared more about setting and accomplishing goals and ‘following rules’ I would feel that I would have to prove myself to them so they wouldn’t think that I was a lazy unproductive person. But then again, I don’t think that the relationship would be as fun or exciting!

    I find this whole topic very interesting. (Obviously, since I wouldn’t have given it the time of day if I didn’t…) I seriously believe that I am in dire need of changing my thought processes. It may not have created huge problems for me now, but every year, I am beginning to have more and more responsibilities in my life and I am scared that I will not be able to keep up with them.

    • gretchenrubin

      Not to get into some kind of diagnosis! But here I go–

      sounds to me as if you might be an Obliger, not a Rebel. Different Obligers have different settings – some feel obliged to meet just about any external expectations, some, only some external expectations. For instance, feeling obliged to meet all work obligations, but not family/home obligations (even though these are arguably external, they somehow “read” internal to some Obligers) is very common.

      For Obligers, the key is external accountability – as you say, when someone at work “is on your ass about finishing something.” Try finding ways to put external accountability on the things you want to get done.

      If you’re in fact a Rebel, the key is to focus on WHAT YOU WANT. “I’m completing this project because I WANT TO.” “I’m cleaning up the apartment because I ENJOY A CLEAN SPACE.” Etc. Don’t try to FORCE YOURSELF, because that may make you resist even more.

      Also, consider impulsivity. Sounds like that may be an issue for you. Habits help with impulsivity!

  • Lexie Lou

    According to all who cross my path, I am a rebel. Personally I think that pigeon holing myself into 1 of 4 categories is like doing a Briggs-Meyer test. Fun but pointless. Because people are far too complicated for such a simple tick box. Having said all that – which sounded snarky but isn’t really – here are my answers to your questions:
    How I view the other categories – Many of those in my family are upholders. It used to be that I would horrify them but now they just expect that my natural response is to buck the trend even though what I think, feel, read, watch on TV or even my travel destinations mean something to me. I have tattoos, they don’t. They all nearly fainted. At work though the situation is different but then I am also. I am less willing to fall into line (which grinds me to do with my family) and give my opinion quite readily which is akin to “corporate suicide”. I have a science degree but ended up working in law enforcement and now the state government. I hate it but it suits a higher purpose. My boss who is a pompous, egotistical upholder (and is known high and low for just those qualities) has been on the receiving end of my acidic tongue. This has had me labelled as a cold-hearted, rebellious, intimidating loose-cannon. To which my response was “stop flattering me”. I need the job, he needs my skills and intellectual property so we compromise.

    Somehow though all the men I have dated have been “Questioners” and these have been relationships of 3+ years – but I like to travel, watch Japanese anime, extreme sports and just up and go somewhere to do something randomly because I got it in my head to do it (ie. I decided to get up one morning and go for a 45km ride despite the inclement weather outside – my then partner begrudgingly nursed me through hypothermia and lectured me on asking around for a 2nd opinion before doing something). Why do we need to research the pros and cons? let’s just do it….. so those relationships don’t work ultimately. Strange but true as a Gemini I seem to attract Cancerians and Pisceans which astrologically are questioners. My mum raised me on astrology (and it goes against my studies in physics but anyway) perhaps why these people enter my life is because they represent the very thing I deny within myself – the value of an outside opinion or guidance. I’ve met obligers but are not attracted to them. They seems so downtrodden. At age 36 I am a confirmed singleton. Much to my family’s horror – but Melissa you have so much to offer – but I really can’t bring myself to settle being in a relationship with just anybody because people think it’s a bit sad if at my age I’m not coupled up fearing I’ll regret it later on. Perhaps if I find someone who, as my friend Rob says, can keep up with my pace, I might change my mind.

    I am not sure why as a rebel I am attracted to a career where my daily life is defined by rules. I suspect that as both my parents were in the Navy, I know how to work within a confined space. As a kid I was always in trouble. I would want to do something and my mum would just say No. So with much glee I would do it again only deliberately change my methods but in such a way as to still reach the desired outcome. She was less than amused! Perhaps what attracts rebels to careers where strict rules are set is the need for a boundry to bend, flex and break. Left to my own devices for a long period, I become quite restless and unproductive because there are no rules to break or no to-do list which at the end of the day I look at and think “hooray I didn’t do any of those things”

    Waiting in line – my dad is of British/Ukrainian heritage, they know how to stand in line and so do I after living in England. My mum is of German/Danish heritage so if I tap into that side of my family well I just put on my Viking helmet and wage a war 🙂 Just kidding – ultimately it really depends at what as at the end of the line.

    I don’t know if rebel is the best category but I can’t regret being a rebel when it is the only thing i have ever known. The grass may look greener but we all know it isn’t. People just need to be content with who they are.

    • gretchenrubin

      Holy cow so FASCINATING about how you’re attracted to settings with strong rules. Rebels seem to go to areas of lawlessness (post-Katrina New Orleans, disruptive technology) OR places of strong rules (military, clergy). SO INTERESTING.

      A great example of how the Tendencies play out in the workplace and family. The Upholder/Rebel combo is particularly a challenge.

  • Wren

    I am new to your blog. This is an interesting topic! I am a rebel with questioning tendencies and my husband is a questioner with strong upholding tendencies (or maybe he’s the other way around). When I first read your categories, I thought, ” what about those of us who set and meet inner expectations but rebel against outer expectations? That’s me. Except I really do have to WANT to do something to get it done. Time is the greatest rebel-inducing challenge of outer expectations for me. I work well independently and am task-oriented rather than time-oriented. Time has been a VERY difficult construct for me to handle appropriately within society. After all these years of living in the uber-productive D.C. area and raising two children, etc. I still fantasize about living on ‘island time’ and what my life would look like without worrying about the clock. And, no, I can’t work a job with set hours every day. I work as a mom, therapist, and with art as a hobby. It works for us, perhaps because one of my husband’s favorite tool is the clock. He can stretch time, use time, etc. more effectively than should even be possible.

  • Rebecca

    Hey Gretchen!

    I’m totally a rebel — but I feel like a very lucky one.

    So rather than saying “No!” to expectations — internal or external — I don’t really care what the rules are and do exactly what I want to do.

    Thankfully, what I love to do is fairly aligned with our society. Learning, problem solving, leadership and chasing adrenaline tend to be my biggest drives. But even those I can’t depend on all the time — but they tend to be around enough that I can get by on them.

    Above all I love defying expectations — in a way that totally trumps everything. Nothing is quite as satisfying for me. Although, admittedly, a lot of people don’t appreciate it.

    How this has manifested in my life:

    1) I was an excellent student, but never a teacher’s pet.
    For example — I went to Yale from a tiny public school, even though I officially failed sophomore through senior year for missing too much school to go skiing. Or I used to challenge myself to see how little work I could possibly do for the highest outcome. Like one day after coming back from a week of skiing off, I walked into a test in AP World History — I didn’t even know what part of the world it was on — and got such a thrill out of bullshitting my way through it.

    2) I had to quit jobs as soon as the learning curve slowed down.
    My early career was a series of amazing successes (moving up 6 rungs of corporate hierarchy in less than 8 months, getting double the territory of any other sales rep, with way better returns) — BUT, as soon as I figured out how to do the job really well… it was time for me to go. I didn’t want to DO the job — I wanted to reinvent the job! And re-invent I did.

    3) I am a really high earner.
    I am one of the rebels in a space with no rules — on the edge of technology. I work for myself, contracting on projects that I am really interested in and challenged by. I tend to have a SPRINT! and then rest pattern. When I don’t really feel like working, which happens sometimes, I keep in mind that being a high earner enables me to have this freedom:

    4) I pay for people to do all the stuff I don’t want to, but want done.
    My partner – a questioner – gets REALLY frustrated with me b/c “I’m not going to do the dishes. I don’t care if they are done right now.” So I just pay people to do as many of these things as possible for me. I have an assistant who tracks my family’s birthdays. I have a housecleaner. I bring my dog to daycare if I don’t feel like walking her. I have a stylist — because I don’t care about clothes, but I recognize that my ability to lead is impacted by the clothes I wear! In other words, when I know I don’t want to do something, but I still want the outcome, I just pay for it.

    As I mentioned, I feel extremely lucky that my inherent drives and desires really align with “success” in this world — and that my desire to defy expectations for the better is pretty innocuous in terms of what rebels could want.

    But I’m unquestionably a rebel. Just one that really desires and values excellence.

    • gretchenrubin

      Your comments are a good example of the fact that if Rebels WANT something they can do what it takes to get there. If that’s what they WANT TO DO.

    • Clayton Hansen


  • Jean Nolte

    Long Rebel answer, but you asked:

    Are you amazed by what people in the other categories do?

    Not amazed, but I’m definitely envious of Upholders. Their decision-making seems to be part of a cause and effect process, whereby they make a decision to take an action, and that decision itself becomes the first step taken in execution. Does that sound right? I envy that causal relationship between decision making and execution, both because it’s inherently productive and because society tends to operate from the assumption that this is “right” and obvious way to think. My experience is quite different: the decision to do or not do something is not connected in any way to the “start” impetus. Moreover, being told or expected to do something creates a “stop” sensation that I have to actively overcome.

    Husband:“Can you empty the dishwasher?”

    My brain: “Well I was going to, but now you went and asked so I can’t. So no.”

    The best hope I have of getting chores done around my house is to pre-empt any requests that they be completed. Second to that, I need to find intrinsic value in the task, or at least a material result that I actually care about achieving. Example: closet needs cleaning. I’m out of space, stuff is spilling out hither and thither, and the chaos is driving my long-suffering husband crazy. I won’t clean it because it’s a mess. I won’t clean it if he nags. I don’t care if my mother-in-law sees it (it’s good for her constitution). I certainly won’t clean it because I harbor some fantasy of being a naturally organized person. I might clean it if I can’t find something. I’ll probably clean it if I just arbitrarily decide that I’d like a clean closet, and I’ll definitely clean it if I come up with a new way that I want to organize everything.

    I can remember my poor, exasperated mother looking down at me and saying, “WHY do you always have to be so contrary?” To which I replied, “I’m NOT being contrary!” True story. We laughed later.

    How do you feel about meeting expectations from yourself?

    Same, unfortunately. Wanting the result of an action has no bearing on whether I beginning the action. Certain emotions are more likely to push me to action than others. Pride is a good motivator for me. Guilt is useless. I enjoy pushing boundaries in any form, so occasionally an external challenge can motivate me, though I’d have to find the subject of the challenge inherently interesting.

    I’ve been fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to be naturally academically adept, so the fact that I rarely did homework wasn’t much of an issue until college. My college grades were all over the map – if I thought the professor or subject was interesting, I’d ace the class. If I didn’t respect the professor, or if the subject wasn’t interesting, I’d have a C, D, F, Incomplete, Withdraw, whatever, and while I wasn’t happy about it, grades never really had much hold over me.

    Essentially, in order for me to accomplish something for myself, I have to mentally remove all sense of “expectations” from the task, along with any notion of success or failure. I reframe the task as optional, and examine it to find some aspect of the task itself that I enjoy, and some aspect of the end result that I want. Ideally, I’ll reframe whatever I want to accomplish into an adventure, which is how I managed to graduate college and how I’ve made most professional advances.

    Is it different when someone who works for you asks you to do something, compared to when meeting an expectation imposed by someone whom you work for?

    Sometimes. I actually do enjoy helping people, teaching, mentoring, etc., so if someone asks me for help, I’ll explain, guide or advise until their ears fall off. This actually makes me seem very patient: I’m more likely to take an hour to teach someone how to do a stupid task than to take 10 minutes to just do it myself. If I’m stuck with the task, I’ll probably try to delegate it. If that doesn’t work, I’ll take a minute to examine whether the task needs to be done at all. THEN, and only then, will I do the stupid task, usually with the benefit of last-minute deadline adrenaline.

    This is all assuming it’s a stupid task. If it’s one that I’d actually like to do, then sure, I’ll do it. I’ll just make sure the asker learns thoroughly while I do it, so we never need to revisit this unfortunate situation. I’ve said many times that if I have to micromanage someone, I’d rather fire them and hire someone who doesn’t need hand-holding.

    If someone I work for asks me to do something, I’ll do it if the task is necessary, is intrinsically valuable, and if the asker is someone I respect. In a work situation, respect trumps everything – I absolutely cannot complete a task for a person if I do not respect that person, so I don’t tend to work for people I don’t respect for very long. I also have trouble completing stupid (in my opinion) tasks for people whom I do respect, and I won’t hesitate to find a work-around, an alternate option, a better way to do the task. Often times, I can burn through tons of tasks by finding better, more efficient ways to complete them. In other words, I’m terrible about meeting expectations, but I’m stellar at exceeding them. By contrast, I frequently fall victim to self-sabatoge when I’m expected to do something regularly and therefore I just can’t (TPS reports?). Routine brings my Rebel tendencies out in all their glory.

    Are you attracted to situations where another institution sets many rules?

    No. I believe almost all rules can (and should) be flexible, and I do not work well at all within any kind of rigid system. Guidelines work, best practices are (occasionally) useful, and new ideas are great, but “rules” imply a system that already has its own answers figured out, and is disinclined to change existing systems. I change things by nature. I can’t help it.

    I’ve been known to shake up an otherwise rigid system. I taught a 5-week class called “Sex, Drugs and Rock n Roll: What Parents Need to Know” for parents of teens at my church for my Girl Scout Gold Award project. I was 16 at the time. If there’s any flexibility at all, I’ll find it. If not, I’ll just leave.

    My ideal work environment is one where I’m given a result that someone else (boss, client) would like to obtain, and given total freedom as to how to accomplish it. I can work within a (reasonable) budget, but I cannot abide micromanagement. I’ll give you the results you want, and probably more, and I can promise that I did it legally and morally, but don’’t ask how I did it. Smoke and mirrors.

    I do consider myself a devout Christian, but I can’t even do that in the expected way. I’m a feminist. My theology makes the fundamentalists scream, and don’t even get me started on Calvinism. I have a pretty good inner compass, and it guides me in a way that no dogmatic set of rules ever could. My faith is intrinsic and self-sustaining, or I wouldn’t be able to pursue it. The book exists in service of faith for me, whereas the rules, the structure, the leaders and the followers are all incidental.

    How do you feel about waiting in line?

    Sort of fatalistic, I guess. I don’t enjoy waiting in line, but no one is compelling me to be there. In fact, everyone else in line would probably be happy if I left. I, however, want my groceries. Or my cab, or whatever. So I wait, because, dammit, I want what I want and I’ll get it whether everyone else would prefer I leave or not. Sure, I’d rather the entire line evaporated, but I think of lines as more akin to, say, an unexpected rainstorm than an imposed expectation. They’re a natural consequence of supply and demand. I, for one, demand my groceries.

    Do you think that Rebel is the best category? Why?

    What a funny question. 🙂 Are there people out there who pick favorites? It certainly seems more convenient to be an Upholder on a day-to-day basis, though those people seem to stress themselves out more than I perceive to be necessary.

    If I had to pick a “best” category, I’d probably go with Questioner + Upholder tendencies. If I understand the theory correctly, they’re the ones who generally meet expectations, both their own and others’, but they’re able to apply some skepticism to expectations imposed on them extrinsically. If that’s right, then that seems like a healthy approach to me.

    Being a Rebel can be both a curse and a blessing. It would have been helpful if, “Because I asked you to,” had been sufficient reason for me to complete my homework in a timely manner, but my contrary nature serves me well when a similar line comes from a strange guy holding a drink at a bar.

    If you’re married or in a serious relationship, is your sweetheart an Obliger?

    I am married to an Obliger, with Upholder tendencies when he’s on a creative streak and Rebel tendencies when he’s under stress. He’s a big part of how I’m able to look like I function well in the normal adult world. He mails the rent check, which is nice because I always resent it being due on the same day ever month. He deals with trash day, and moving the car for snow plows, and he makes sure the peskily regular bills are paid on time. (I really hate punctuality.) I, however, handle our investments. While we talk through big decisions, I’m usually the final word and he’s more than happy to not carry responsibility for the final decision. I do enjoy pushing at the edges of his Obliger tendencies, and I think he enjoys having me around as a safe place to rebel.

    • mellen

      My husband also seems to be an obliger — pays the bills, takes out the trash. He also handles balancing all the day-to-day finances, and I’ll occasionally and randomly look at investments.

    • Anne Maria Remple

      I think you’re my twin sister! 😀

    • Clayton Hansen

      Great post.

  • ellatran91

    I’m a Rebel and ENFP so naturally, I hate routines and rules. In order for me to get things done, I have to trick my mind with a dare by repeating these two mantras:
    • I’m a REBEL who can stick to a routine
    • I’m an ENFP who can follow through and ship projects

    These two sentences have some kind of challenging and contrasting qualities that excite me. In a way, it’s a rebellious thing to be a Rebel but one who can do disciplined things that you don’t expect.

    I love being a Rebel or in the ENFP description a “wild child” but it does get exhausting. I also have the tendency of being a questioner so in addition to breaking rules, I ask “Why” all the time.
    Fortunately, reading psychology posts like yours helps me understand myself better, thus I can work with my natural state, adjust my internal monologue, and self-improve to achieve my goals.

    • Kate

      This is way, way late, but I’m so thankful for your comment! I’ve been searching through Gretchen’s posts trying to find more info on Rebels and really need to read her book. I’m contemplating a career change and struggling to understand what type of work might be best for me. I’m also an ENFP, so your comment and your mantras are SO HELPFUL to me! 🙂 I need to be more accepting of these two things and try to just go with the flow. Thank you!

  • ErrinCorrin

    I am a rebel all the way and have been incredibly confused about my draw towards the military and now, police work!?!? I cannot stand being told what to do when I know my way is better for me and the overall goal of what is to be accomplished… yet I decided to be told exactly what to do. I can complete whatever task well, but then I decide that I know a better way. This drives the other category types absolutely batty! I can not help it, I have to be me! Why do I choose this for myself? I’m frustrated with the convention as my administration is confused by my rebellion of their ways. I guess I can say, I’m trying to figure out this paradox myself. Do I choose the convention so that I can rebel?

  • anne emmanuelle

    Thank you Gretchen to open this fascinating discussion.
    Pardon my English… I am writing from France where your tendencies also match the French behaviors.
    I think I am mostly a Rebel. An unhappy rebel with Questioner habits. Surrounded by Rebels. And wishing to be an upholder.
    I have worked with my peers, in Rebel (artists) or Questioner (scientists) environments. Trying to manage them (and struggling with it) or give them advice (easier). People say that I am naturally attracted by challenges, complex problems and environments and catch 22 situations… Like an Obliger?
    I naturally reject and resist all authority, unless Rebels ask me… In general, to make me do something, you need to give me the big picture and the goal. Not the task. I
    have to find my own way. Whenever I feel like it.
    On the other hand, I can be lost without a frame. My best me is when I can REACT to something.
    I am very sensitive to people’s attitude and to stress. And feel very easily drained by
    people’s needs. But working on it.
    Maybe I am a Rebel with a big Obliger tendency. Or an Obliger with a big Rebel side.
    My husband is a HUGE Rebel-Questioner (he is self-employed and couldn’t work within a group, but he is brilliant with setting up his own ideas, and very
    good manager when it’s his own plan), my daughter too with Obliger habits (she
    resists, and then when she wants she is a Ferrari – or the other way around). My
    son is a 100% Rebel with Questioner trends (whenever he wants and when he
    understands). Sometimes at home, the atmosphere is thick with anger and stress
    (when all these people believe that the others are trying to manager them and
    taking up their freedom). Sometimes, it’s just so much fun!
    I am attracted to Upholders at work. But I find them a bit “grey” in my personal
    life (too positive and uplifting – sorry…, but it may also be cultural, the French being brought up as professional “naggers” and “negative thinkers”). However if I could choose I would love to be a Rebel with an Upholder attitude.
    I find your ideas and thoughts really fascinating and appealing and feel ready to test them and drive a Rebel family towards happiness.

    • Clayton Hansen

      You’ve got some very helpful insights here, in particular when you mentioned that, “To make me do something you have to give me the picture picture and goal. Not the task.” Thats exactly how I am. What do you find helps you to avoid the drain of other peoples’ needs? I run into that a lot (especially working as a healthcare provider).

  • Guest

    I’m a rebel, and I identify a lot with the experiences and thought processes other rebels have described here. I’m struggling right now

  • A funny story of my teen rebel years. I wanted to take college classes while I was in high school, but the high school counselor said I couldn’t because it was against the law. Went to the library, photocopied the law, came back and pointed out it said nothing of the kind. He still wouldn’t let me go to college, so I actually switched schools to the alternative school. My senior high school year, I had English, Physics, Horticulture, and (I can’t make this one up) Independent Study Table Tennis. In college, I took French, Calculus, and some other stuff.

    I’m a Rebel with some Questioner tendencies (except I hate asking questions). I love puzzles. Adore them. To me, writing software is like a big puzzle, so how I approached software engineering work motivation was, basically, “how can I make this puzzle better today?” I’d always go for the problems I found more interesting to solve, which often wasn’t what I was supposed to do.

    The thing is, after decades in the field, I found I was miserable. I really needed a few months of detox before I realized that I didn’t want to work in corporate any more. I’d been working on various books while trying to figure out what to do next, then realized that was what was next. So here we are.

    After earning an M.S. in Computer Science (my “day job” degree), I followed with an M.A. in Writing Popular Fiction (my “avocation” degree). I call them my left brain and right brain degrees, but internally I think of them as my “outer” and “inner” degrees.

    Geting to the point of two graduate degrees, well, Jean describes my issues perfectly. I almost never studied, which meant that I had no idea how to actually work once I got to that point in life. I usually aced tests–except for the time I failed that Calculus test. But it was cool, I’d passed Calc before…. I honestly never cared about what grade I got in a class so long as I passed it when I cared to. Every single one of my transcripts has blemishes on it. Some for good reasons (my first husband died during my first semester in grad school), some for bad (I just couldn’t be bothered).

    My Questioner (with some Upholder tendencies) husband and I have had some communication problems, but this has given me a framework to understand what the perspective difference is. But see, because I always have the “I do what I want” thing about it, I can’t

    I’m not amazed by what people in other categories do so much as I’m amazed at their ability to focus. I have way too many things I enjoy doing, and being a Rebel, I do them. What this means is that I often get discouraged when hitting The Dip (as Seth Godin calls it). Working through The Dip can be very hard for me. When writing a book, I generally hit The Dip somewhere between 1/6 and 1/3 of the way through. I’m there now in my current book, thus I’m over here answering your questions.

    As an example of focus problems (that turned out pretty well): last Wednesday, an author whose work I love said he wanted a t-shirt and I offered to design one. I had one later that day, and I really loved it. He loved it. Lots of people ordered them. But it was a bend in the road, something I didn’t wake up expecting to do. I didn’t have a time budget for it. I enjoyed it enough I’m going to plan to do more of it (one every month or two).

    For managing longer projects, I’m a numbers geek. Because I’m writing, I’m keeping track of daily word counts. I wrote myself a little app that gives me more motivation by graphing my goals. Quantifying my productivity gives me measurable progress toward the long goals that are harder for me to reach as a Rebel.

    I’ve never really been a manager, so can’t answer that question. I was too much of a rebel to ever want to be in management. They have to be in early!

    I don’t like where another institution sets many rules, but I do have that Upholder tendency of wanting to know what’s expected of me. The earlier I know that, the more time I have to set up the internal machinery. Sometimes, that can feel really elaborate, much like the Rube Goldberg contraptions in OK Go’s music video for “This Too Shall Pass.” Essentially, I have to invent new coping machinery for each new situation.

    In the short term, I can put up with a lot of rules, but they start to chafe pretty quickly.

    • gretchenrubin

      I had a very interesting conversation with a Rebel the other day, who explained to me something that I found very puzzling: why some Rebels work well in environment with lots of rules.

      If I understand it correctly—and you touch on this—it’s helpful to have rules defined, because then you feel free to do things your own way. You need something to bump up against. You need a structure against which to define what YOU want – how you want to do a project, how you want to spend your time, etc. It’s important for Rebels to do work in their OWN WAY, but they like to know how they’re supposed to do it, so they can do it differently.

      Is this right?

      This is so fascinating to me…reminds me of the Obliger-Rebellion streak….these two categories contain their opposites, but from what I can see, Upholder and Questioner categories don’t. Maybe this is because of reactance…U and Q categories follow their inner expectations, so perhaps don’t feel that reactance.

      • It’s more like I need tentpoles rather than a full-blown structure. I need some guidelines to operate within. I don’t like rules per se, but I don’t like being surprised about boundaries. In that sense, it’s very important to me not to change any rules I consider significant–but it’s also difficult for others to predict what will feel significant to me. A change of policy about what coffee a company serves can have a much bigger effect than getting one fewer paid holiday next year.

        It’s also interesting that where I’ve been most successful, I’ve pretty much been off doing my own thing that needed to be done under a loose charter of “these things need to get done, but they aren’t going to take all your time.” So I’d spend my time doing other things that needed to be done that other people had ignored or given up on. My best managers have been the ones who’ve let me dive into these weird side projects. One saved a company from a three million dollar lawsuit. Another fixed a core problem for users in one office that made our project unusable for them.

        I’m hearing myself say this several different ways: I need mental space. I need to feel like I have room to move and do things that are fun and different within the framework of what I’m supposed to do.

    • Quixsemiotic

      I am a rebel. A sometimes in-your-face one on things I consider of ideological import. A passive-aggressive one on everything else. Basically, if I am told “do not”, I am going to do it. For the record, my childhood was oppressive and I learned not to ask for permission…and don’t get caught and have to ask for forgiveness. In case of the latter, repent, repent, repent and then do the same bad deed again. And don’t get caught…for real this time. Also for the record, I’ve been diagnosed with ASD and ADHD. So feel free to surmise what’s led me astray. The constant duplicity is a horrible, stressful way to live. But it’s addictive and I don’t know how to be any other way. I am terrified I am a sociopath. I want to be good, but know I am not, and this pains me. It also makes ensuring others think I am good is a daily show for me. There is a script. And I can’t ever get to know anyone too well…because there’s only so much material, so much script…then I panic and want to call out “Line, please!” But there’s eventually no more lines for me to feed…or be fed. To keep from being “found out”, I’ve moved around, changed jobs, ended relationships. Would it be easier to be authentic? Probably — but I’m still waiting for the script to make it out of the galley room so I can learn the part.

  • ktdetails

    I’m a rebel. It’s really frustrating. I can’t stand when anyone says — “you should” If I wanted to do it – it can suddenly make me not want to do it – just because I’m being told to do it. I think I’m married to an obliger who thinks he is a questioner. Have you discussed anything about Rebels and Addiction?

  • Melly

    Yikes. I’m clearly an rebel and am appalled that you find them often in the Christian ministry and the military.

  • Melly

    And this further makes me wonder if somehow people who rebel against rules and people who like to control others are getting mixed up in your results. I HATE the idea of controlling others in any way; I don’t want other people telling me what to do, so why would I want to do that to them? As such, I can think of few professions more personally offensive to me than many of those (especially high-ranking ones) in the ministry and the military.

  • miracle12345

    Hi this is fascinating. I think I’m a rebel because I usually just do as I please and actually whichever thing is most convenient. So sometimes I comply. Other times I rebel. However when there’s no one watching I cannot be bothered to comply at all. As in there are things I want but when I try to do them I become miserable. I cannot force myself to do anything. – interchangeable with- I don’t want to. I also think I admire other rebels… simply because I identify more with them… and their achievements seem to give me positive impressions because as a rebel and as a person because I understand it. I’m not a super hard worker let alone a hard worker in fact I hardly work. People have sometimes told me how motivated I am. This one particular field I was highly motivated about , I was attracted to it for various reasons- I liked it 😛 :/ and nobody pushed me . I pushed myself. I was the only girl. And the only weird one.(no actually I wasn’t)
    I’m wondering how your ideas fit in with nature vs nurture? Autistic spectrum disorder? And do the different groups overlap because I think they do .
    Sometimes I would wish other people would see me as a hard worker, driven , kinda one or two dimensional, interested in dominating the world around me, And I’d try really hard. To try to be that way. I thought I could fake it til I made it but then I realised there were better things to do.
    I’m seriously doubting this is good enough to write… and this theory doesn’t seem very mathematical but it DOES make SOME sense to me…
    Please reply

    • gretchenrubin

      I believe that genetics play a very big role in how we develop, so I think there’s a very big genetic piece to this.

  • asoom_n

    I’m a rebel and what I started doing was making a lot of small changes that all added up to one major life overhaul. I also tend not to think to much about the changes because I don’t want to give myself excuses to stop.

  • amanda

    Have you found that Rebels embrace being labeled as a Rebel? It seems like many people would be offended by this label, but perhaps not folks that fall in this category?

    • gretchenrubin

      They seem to enjoy it, for the most part.

  • P

    I am a rebel. When my husband or in-laws expect something from me..i sense it..and i just dont do it. On the contrary I will be very good, disciplined when they are not expecting anything. I try to ‘think’, about eating good food or exercising, but it completely depends on my mood..and the resolution is no more a resolution by the end of the week.
    On the contrary I am very strict about what my family is eating, there will be nutritious food on the table, and i will be sneaking on chips !!

  • Ti

    I’m a Rebel and I love the subversiveness of working in institutions with a lot of rules. It’s like being set loose on a giant chess board dressed as a pawn when you know you’re actually and always a player. Working at places with lots of rules lets you pass as an Obliger or Upholder and have all the secret spy fun of being your Rebel self. A steady job in a rules-rich environment is returning to home base and being given money before you return to the fantastic game of tag that is your Rebel life. (I was on the fence as to whether I was REALLY a Rebel, but I think I just saw how it works for me. I know that it’s hard for me to make plans because I don’t know if I’ll want to do something in the future and ‘if I want to’ is a big deal for me.) Thanks, Gretchen! I’m reading the book now and love it.

  • Karen Smith

    I’m an obliger and have have just come out of a relationship with a rebel/questioner. If only I had read this article before I entered into it – it has been so helpful! He was someone who refused to meet all expectations of others, and fought against “expected” engagement or interaction, incuding making plans or arrangements (even though he would say that if he made himself go along with the plan he found he actually enjoyed it. Talk about making life hard for yourself.)

    My take on this was that he was a selfish, negative, stubborn, immature and insecure individual, all the outcomes of a very damaged childhood. There was a fundamental disconnect in the way we approached both life and our relationship, so no wonder if failed. Even at the last hurdle, when we broke up, he was true to type and refused to engage in acknowledging or responding to what was happening.

    To me, obliger and rebel are the worst kind of co-dependency – one person who eternally self-sacrifices and the other who does exactly what they want, all the time. Lesson definitely learned.

  • Clayton Hansen

    (I am a Rebel) Interestingly enough, I used to be a staunch Upholder. I don’t know if that was a facade, and I simply gave in, but I had a distinct “Personal renaissance” a couple years ago (at about 30 years of age), and flipped entirely down to Rebel status. Looking back, I see a lot of Rebel tendencies that were stifled or culturally (family, religious, or other) prohibited. I have a couple ideas of approaches that have worked for me, but it’s always a work in progress as a Rebel. As soon as I sense something is too solid/standard, I immediately resist/run…so i’ve noticed that my approach is always in flux. It’s not just that I wake up and ask, “What do I want to do today (or right now).” It’s also that I regularly have to wake up and ask, “How would I like to approach myself today (right now).” Yes, I realize how crazy of a situation that puts me in. But I embrace it, and I see a TON of upsides. I also naturally enjoy being out of the herd, so that makes it easier to embrace the predicament. But I digress. Two things that work for me; 1) I keep a ton of good options available at all times. I am not committed to any of them, but I get to choose which I want. Workouts for example. I want to work out, and I stay VERY/competitively physically fit. But, it doesn’t work to “Run on MWF.” Rather, on Monday I think to myself “What would I like to do today?” and do that. No matter what. So, I might not run for a month. And then I might run every day for a week. But, as long as I am choosing what I want, and doing something I enjoy then i’m consistent. And the more options I have, the less chance there is that I won’t want to do any of them (ie, running, interval training, hiking, rucking, biking, strict weight lifting, crossfit, plyometrics, long duration, short duration, etc.) In this same vein, if I don’t like my options, then I’ll end up just being a bum and not doing anything. So, when I catch myself in an unproductive state, I look at myself as being chained to a limited set of options and forced into being unproductive. That thought drives me crazy, and I immediately start to explore other options (there’s always another option) until I find something I want that is productive. So, I tend to have a number of things going in any given area of my life (I am reading about 10 books right now, have about 5 business projects going, etc), but I manage to be one of the most productive guys I know. 2) I do respond well to challenges, but those challenges need to come from an external source. So, I need to be able to “win” in situations, or work against something/someone rather than for something/someone. It helps to have access to, and even go-to sources of things that get me worked up. Stuff that pisses me off. Because even if it’s not related, it gets me in “The zone” and my productivity shoots through the roof. If everything is even keel, then I turn into a bum. I need adversity to function. Other than that, there is still a lot for me to figure out. Other than these comment forums, is there anywhere else where Rebels gather? It would do me a lot of good to engage with the rest of the Rebel community. Oh, and the questions that were mentioned in the post. I am married to an Obliger, and she’s amazing 😉 I can’t stand lines, mainly because they are so useless in so many ways. And the ultimate line, traffic, drives me insane (no pun intended.) It’s not the people that bother me, it’s feeling trapped. Trapped in a broken system/process that got us all into the mess to begin with. #hulksmash I feel like Rebel is the best category, because I feel like to varying degrees, all the other categories aren’t free. Sucks to be them.

  • Jimmie Hammel

    The more I think about it, the more ways I see that my ‘rebel’ attitude has permeated my entire life.

    I can be completely exhausted, and I will refuse to go to bed just because my husband says, ‘you look tired. you should go to bed.’ My immediate response is ‘not tired. don’t wanna.’ What am I? A five year old?

    I refuse to follow recipes. If I want to make something new, I will search google for 3 or 4 different recipes, then create ‘my own’ version. Which I then name ‘Jimmie’s pizza spagetti’ or ‘Jimmie crab dip’ or ‘super-duper Jimmie tex-mex scrambled eggs’. I can’t even follow the instructions on the back of a box of Mac and Cheese without adjusting the boil time, and the milk to butter ratio.
    It’s not like I know what I’m doing either. Some (if not most) of my ‘Jimmie version’ stuff turns out completely inedible on my first try. . . And it’s not like I enjoy cooking, or want to try out something in a new way… I just cannot follow someone else’s directions.

    I’m more likely to read a book if someone tells me that I probably wouldn’t like it, than if someone tells me I would.

    In high school, I automatically hated any band that one of my friends liked.

    You know that “Learn to say no” advice that you get from time management books? I never understood that. “No” is my default response to everything.

  • Ashley

    Are you amazed by what people in the other categories do?

    Well yes, Upholders I am in awe of their discipline and productivity, I wish I was an upholder- my life would be so much easier! I am puzzled by obligers and their willingness to stay in an uncomfortable position. Ex) My friend hates her job but has not found a new one-for a year! ( Maybe this is not true for all obligers)

    How do you feel about meeting expectations from yourself?

    One word: Hell. Ambition + Rebel + “you can do whatever you put your mind to” = Hell. I have to constantly rethink, and re-engineer everything my way, it is exhausting and I end up not being at my best. It takes years and a lot of mental, emotional and sometimes physical space for me to adopt lasting habits (That I want to adopt anyway but can’t just to prove that I cannot be controlled, bought or manipulated)

    Are you attracted to situations where another institution sets many rules?

    Yes, Although I don’t belong to any. It would be huge weight off of my shoulders to have things preset that I can follow (provided that I agree with most of the rules or at least the philosophy they were guided by) Then I could focus on pushing through other limitations or other boundaries (Bigger ones!)

    How do you feel about waiting in line?

    I think waiting in line is the number one reason I dislike shopping and going out in general. I cannot even handle mild traffic. If I have more than three red lights in a row I start getting frustrated. Then, I have to continually remind myself about patience and the fact that other people have places to be too. It’s a good time to practice “being in the now”

    Do you think that Rebel is the best category? Why?

    At first I wanted to say no, upholder is the best category – all they have to worry about is too any obligations and that’s easy! Of course, as a rebel that is easy for me who says ‘no’- just because I wanted to say no. So in retrospect, I guess rebel is the best category for me. I get to be my sassy “I don’t DO instructions” fiercely independent self – I have no choice but to like it 🙂

    • gretchenrubin

      Wow, so much to ponder here. Thanks for your thoughtful response.

  • Anabel3

    Are you amazed by what people in the other categories do?

    That fact that someone can make a schedule or to-do list and follow it is INSANE to me. I’ve tried so hard, and it never works. I’ve organized accountability groups only to watch them crumble. My husband (upholder), conversely, can exercise because that’s when he said he would. My mom (obliger) has worked-out 3 times a week for 15 years by becoming a fitness instructor. But questioners drive me crazy. You don’t learn to draw by debating the pros and cons of drawing vs. painting. No patience for ditherers.

    How do you feel about meeting expectations from yourself?

    I feel enormously frustrated by my failures to follow different habit programs. It’s taken me a long time and a lot of flossing to re-build some trust in myself. I have to choose to floss everyday, and I’ll race myself too. I often feel a lot of anger toward unknown entities for “forcing” me do a thesis or paper. I’ve gotten extremely angry during standardized tests. For “roping me” in. And then I’m angry at myself for not being able to do things that everybody else seems to do without the angst. I can’t do the same thing the same way twice, no matter how hard I try. It’s like there is a gremlin in my head.

    Are you attracted to situations where another institution sets many rules?

    Yes. I practice in a Japanese martial arts dojo. I enjoy hierarchy and deference, mostly because I view it as a social construct rather than anything inherently true. I was extremely Catholic for a long time, but now I’m in academia, which gives me a fair amount of wiggle-room. Highly structured environments are like being given black and white paint and told to paint a rainbow. I find I enjoy that. What I struggle with is consistency, and people are constantly needing something done the same way every time. This is extremely difficult for me. People sometimes perceive me as self-motivating, productive, like an upholder, but they have no clue about my daily “schedule.” The reality is I achieve this illusion by giving myself very few choices.

    How do you feel about waiting in line?

    Indifferent. My husband hates lines, and it ticks me off that it would stop him from doing something he wanted to do. Sometimes I like to wait because it gives me time to think or check emails or people watch, and other times I’ll go to a completely different restaurant to avoid it. Meh.

    Do you think that Rebel is the best category? Why?

    It is a horrible, terrible category. You have a gremlin in your head and no one understands why you’re angry. You can’t have a nice, normal wedding, or a nice, normal life because you undermine yourself. Exhausting. Ditto Ashley. Every day is a jazz performance, and you’re constantly making it up as you go. Pleasurable for some, but sometimes I would like to make a plan and follow it as I’ve seen other people do. Marriage to an upholder is good, though, because everything gets done and I piggy-back off his daily structure. I do tasks my way and he doesn’t impose. New things feel the same as old things to me, so I’m basically happy wherever I move. I am generally on time everywhere, eat locally, exercise regularly, am more or less fit, and can hold a job and have a good marriage. I made the decision to be reliable, a good friend, healthy, patient, socially-conscious person. In every circumstance, decisions are made through that deep filter although imperfectly.

  • Rebel Guest

    In first learning about your Four Tendencies, I immediately assumed that I’m a Questioner. As time went on, and I thought of it more, I began to suspect I’m a rebel. I’ve just taken your quiz, and was confirmed “Rebel”, to my dismay!

    Are you amazed by what people in the other categories do?
    Not really; people seem to vary widely, in my opinion. I may not share their tendencies, or understand their tendencies, but I’m not surprised by others having very different tendencies.

    How do you feel about meeting expectations from yourself?
    This is where “to my dismay” comes in! I can’t even do what I want me to do? What the heck; how is my life happening? And, yet, I’ve completed some difficult, long-term, self-directed tasks, such as passing the CPA exam, and obtaining the license in two states (LOTS of paperwork, even with only one exam). On the other hand, I generally fail when I try to set up schedules for accomplishing tasks that aren’t “very important” to me (exercise, housekeeping tasks). I wish I were more able to make myself accountable to me.

    Is it different when someone who works for you asks you to do something, compared to when meeting an expectation imposed by someone whom you work for?

    Hmmmm….this may be the case. I tend to more understanding with “subordinates” than superiors. I enjoy teaching and training, and find it easier to be helpful and available – and dependable – in that role. That said, I’ve had a very good reputation as “reliable” as an employee, as well. Although most of my life, I have been self-employed.

    Are you attracted to situations where another institution sets many rules?

    I’m a Certified Public Accountant in tax practice. Deadlines, and nonsensical, arbitrary rules are all I deal with! However, I do this as a self-employed person, controlling my own work life and client base.

    How do you feel about waiting in line?

    I very, very, very rarely would wait in a line that’s longer than an hour. A few minutes, I don’t care at all, whatever, we all have to wait our turns. However, if I approach a restaurant, for example, where they say the wait is 45 minutes or more, my usual response is “I’ve never been that hungry in my life”, and to leave.

    Do you think that Rebel is the best category? Why?

    No; I don’t. I would say Questioner is the best category. Outer expectations do very little for me. Other’s rules or expectations just aren’t important. I don’t pretend to control other people, and I don’t accept their control of me. I do, however, think we should all “just be grown-ups” and do the right thing, I think it’s each persons own decision, however, what the right thing is. Again, we’re all grown-ups. However, I’m frustrated by myself when I decide the right thing is to exercise, or clean the bathroom on Wednesdays, or whatever, and I continually fail in my OWN goals.

    If you’re married or in a serious relationship, is your sweetheart an Obliger?
    My husband is a classic Questioner, and has a LOT of trouble making decisions without massive amounts of information. It’s frustrating for me, and I often wish he could “just pick one, it’s not a life-or-death concern!”

    My question for you, Gretchen, is…Is there hope? I’m a successful, responsible adult, but “self-improvement” now seems impossible. How does a Rebel get Better than Before?

  • Alycia Hershey

    I am so confused about my relationship and our two types. I feel like I am totally an upholder. I am mostly certain my partner is a rebel. Which both drives me crazy and excites me because I like his sense of freedom and how he breaks the rules. When I am driven by rules (whether set for myself or outside rules). He mentions to me often how he is so attracted by my discipline and self control and ability to work hard and get things done and be a self-starter etc. Reading this it seems like it’s impossible for these two types to be in a successful relationship. The only way I feel like I can make it work is by setting up expectations and explaining to him that this is my schedule and these are the times we can spend time together and I don’t care what you do. Honestly it still doesn’t matter because he changes his mind all the time anyways. I know I’m not an obliger because I put my own needs equal to/before others all the time. I work with obligers (my dad and sister) and I get SO frustrated when they don’t stand up for what THEY really want and they just do things for everyone else sacrificing themselves. (I get it it’s nice and everything but they matter too). I’d love some resources to learn how upholders and rebels can get along better (communicate needs clearly etc.). Any tips?

  • RC Cola

    “If you feel like it, and it would be fun for you…”

    This smells like you are trying to manipulate us into responding. So, no way!

    Wait a minute… Crap!

    Haha, seriously though, this is the first personality framework that has absolutely nailed my personality type. It explains so many life decisions and tendencies. I can’t stand conformity (yet served in the military), started a business, etc, etc. I’m blown away right now. Looking at myself through this lens will be incredibly helpful going forward. Thank you!

    My sig other is a rebel as well. It’s amazing, and very frustrating at times. I adore her. Any thoughts on that?

    Rebels aren’t the “best” per say. But, I’ll bet that if you looked at the people who really make an impact on the world. You’d find people like this…

    “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
    – Steve Jobs

  • Audrey C.

    I am a Rebel. Even though this is a couple years old, I totally have to answer your questions because you asking is stroking my Rebel ego. I’m just being real! lol

    Are you amazed by what people in the other categories do?
    I honestly don’t care what people in the other categories do unless it benefits me, or directly interferes with my schedule. I relate with all of the other tendencies very strongly, so I understand where each is coming from and how they function. I often function in the same ways if I choose to. I think they are limited by their tendencies, while I have the choice to mold myself and behave differently in different situations. I’ll often describe myself as an actor in life, as I utilize varied personas to be successful. So while my Rebel tendencies are still present internally, I will purposefully mirror the behavior of the Upholder, Obliger, and Questioner in order to accomplish goals. Unless I feel too strongly about something. Then my Rebel takes over obviously.

    How do you feel about meeting expectations from yourself?
    I don’t like to put too much pressure on myself, because I’ll just end up throwing my plans out the window if it’s too much. For example, the other night, my husband (an Obliger) was asking me detailed questions about my plans for the next day. I answered vaguely, because I wanted to keep my freedom if I chose to divert from my plan. He kept asking more questions, and I started to feel like he was keeping tabs on my day to manage me. I started to feel trapped in my plans, and I saw myself doing it, but couldn’t help blurting out “Or maybe I’ll do something completely different.” He asked “What else would you do?” To which I responded “I don’t know. Whatever I WANT.” And it’s not like I was going to be irresponsible and do a bunch of fun things, I want to do productive tasks. I just don’t want to be held to it. Touching on that, I HATE “to-do” lists. What really works better for me is creating like an “option” list. So I can see the things that need to get done, but I still have the freedom to choose which one I feel like doing without the pressure of completing everything on the list. Crossing off a few items is satisfactory enough, I don’t need the whole list done, UGH! BARF.

    Is it different when someone who works for you asks you to do something, compared to when meeting an expectation imposed by someone whom you work for?
    Well in my work environment, I have no problem with anyone asking me to complete a reasonable task, wether they work for me or supervise me. Personally, my work ethic is very important to me, which would translate in my type as making sure people see my authentic self. So at work, I love meeting expectations in order to show how damn dependable and competent I am. Hierarchy doesn’t matter to me in general since I am more team oriented, believing that everyone has unique individual skills. And if I am comfortable enough to let my Rebel come out at work, she knows no discrimination.

    Here’s a very odd question. Are you attracted to situations where another institution sets many rules?
    Yes. I love doing very seemingly boring mundane work that others hate. I love policies and enforcing rules, correcting grammar, instructing, and creating training and policy manuals. And I am always SO excited to invite everyone to correct me if I am wrong as well. It is comforting to be very correct and follow a structured set of rules. I am a creative artist type, but don’t work in any creative field because it would be exhausting to be forced to think outside the box all day. That’s what I do for fun, I don’t to ruin that. I started a photography business, but kicked it to the curb because it was sucking the life out of me. I dreaded going to a shoot, having scheduled creative time. My creativity is spontaneous and I WONT schedule it again.

    How do you feel about waiting in line?
    Depends on my mood. But I generally don’t care and just accept it. Usually I’ll even be singing a song in my head and slightly bounce around to my own music haha. Always trying to be the AudBall out. Unless someone is waiting for me and I didn’t anticipate the extra time. I LOATHE wasting other peoples’ time. To me, it translates to literally wasting their lives – they will never get that time back because I didn’t plan ahead well enough.

    Do you think that Rebel is the best category? Why?
    Yes. Because I’M in it! It’s an exclusive club haha. My mother has always notoriously, sarcastically, called me “modest.”

    If you’re married or in a serious relationship, is your sweetheart an Obliger?
    Yes! I thought for sure he would be a Questioner, but I guess that’s just my Rebel scrutinizing the few questions he DOES ask. It must be overwhelming for me if I were to be with one of the other types! Oh my!