Want to Know Yourself Better, to Shape Your Habits Better? Take This Quiz.

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

This Wednesday: Want to know yourself better, so you can shape your habits better?

Did I mention that I’m working on a book about habit-formation? Oh right, maybe I did. It’s called Before and After (sign up here if you want to hear when the book goes on sale.)

One of the themes of the book is this: If we want to foster habits successfully, we must know ourselves. People often assume that the same approach will work for everyone, that the same habits will work for everyone, and that everyone has the same aptitude and appetite for forming habits, but from my observation, that’s not true.

For instance, it was to try to understand the varieties of human nature that I came up with the four Character Tendencies. (Formerly known as the Rubin Tendencies, until some folks objected–still trying to come up with a better name–suggestions welcome.)

It’s hard, however, to know ourselves. And it’s hard to know the aspects of our nature that are relevant to how we might form habits.

I came up with a list of questions to help me understand myself better. Consider for yourself…

The rhythm of my days

  • Would I rather be ten minutes late or ten minutes early? (Oscar Wilde wrote “punctuality is the thief of time,” but I’m always ten minutes early.)
  • What errands do I regularly do? How many times each week?
  • How much control do I have over my time: what time I get up, go to work, go home, go to the gym, leisure time?
  • How much time do I spend commuting or taking other people to activities?
  • Would I like to spend more time with friends, or by myself?
  • At what time of day do I feel energized? When do I drag?
  • Do I like racing from one activity to another, or do I prefer unhurried transitions?
  • What activities take up my time but aren’t particularly useful or stimulating?
  • Do I want to spend more time outside?
  • What stores do I often visit—for necessity or for fun?
  • Do I have several things on my calendar that I anticipate with pleasure?
  • What does my ideal day look like?
  • What can I do for hours without feeling bored?
  • What daily or weekly activity did I do for fun when I was ten years old?


My values

  • Do I find it easier to do things for other people than for myself?
  • Do I find it easier to spend money on other people than on myself?
  • Do I fear that adopting regular habits will stifle my creativity?
  • Is my life “on hold” in any aspect? Until I lose weight, finish my manuscript, get a promotion?
  • Am I always working, or feeling that I should be working?
  • What’s most satisfying to me: saving time, or money, or effort?
  • Does it bother me to act in a different way from the people around me?—say, not ordering a drink or dessert when everyone else is doing so? Or do I get a charge out of it?
  • Does spending money on an activity make me feel more committed to it, or not?
  • Do I spend a lot of time on something that’s important to someone else, but not to me? If I had $500 that I had to spend on fun, how would I spend it?
  • Who are the five most important people in my life? Do I wish I could see more of them?
  • Do I like to listen to experts, or do I prefer to figure things out for myself?
  • Does paying with cash make spending money seem more “real” to me than using a credit card?
  • Am I motivated by the thought of winning or losing a bet?
  • Do I embrace the rules or flout them?
  • Would I be happy to see my children have the life I’ve had, more or less?


My habits

  • Given my existing habits, what kind of life should I expect to live?
  • How do I spend money? (Look at my checkbook and credit-card statements.)
  • How do I spend time? (Look at my calendar.)
  • What do I do with my weekend afternoons?
  • What medications do I take regularly?
  • What foods are in my fridge and cupboards?
  • What are the last twenty photographs I took?
  • Am I more likely to indulge in a bad habit in a group or when I’m alone?
  • If I could magically, effortlessly, change one habit in my life, what would it be?
  • If the people around me were able to change one of my habits, what would they choose?
  • Of my existing habits, which would I like to see my children adopt? Or not?
  • Do I lie about any of my habits?


Do you find any of these questions particularly helpful, in thinking about what habits you might like to acquire, and how you might structure them for greater success?

For instance, a while back, in a similar context, I posted the question, “Do you like competition?” and a reader commented that once he read that question, he realized that every time he’d successfully exercised, there had been an element of competition, which he loved. So he changed up his exercise habit to include competition, with great success.

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  • Blair424

    I’m not sure I like the name “Character tendencies”. It makes it sound like the tendencies have something to do with how much character you have. When I tell people about the tendencies, I call them the Four Rubin Expectorants. But I’ve been trying to come up with a name that draws an analogy with blood types (O=Upholder, A=Obliger, AB+=Questioner, AB-=Rebel). I still think you’re missing a fifth tendency (blood type B), which would describe people who respond well to inner expectations, but not outer ones. Don’t know what you’d call this tendency (Jerk maybe?).

    • gretchenrubin

      That’s a Questioner. Questioners make all expectations into inner expectations.

      • Blair424

        The people I’m talking about are self-centered, inconsiderate, and undependable. And it’s not because they resist outer expectations or don’t do the ones that make no sense to them; it’s because they just consider their needs more important than other people’s. Is your husband (a Questioner) like that?

        • Penelope Schmitt

          I think you are talking about narcissistic people–and that’s not a tendency, it’s a pathology!

          • Blair424

            Good point!

  • ritu kaushal

    I am actually not spurred on by competition – that was useful to think about. Also, although I hate to admit it, spending money on something won’t make me more committed. I have been thinking of joining a gym or an exercise class and this has made me feel that maybe I should stick to doing something on my own.

  • BethHynes

    I was a bit surprised by the question “Do you want to spend more time outside?” and I realized that yes, yes I do want to spend more time outside. I’ve been trying to walk to school more often (a 30-minute stroll down snowy streets). My primary goal for this was to get more exercise. I think it may help me in my endeavours if I recognize that not only am I getting more exercise, but I’m also getting a chance to spend time in the Great Outdoors.
    And the question “Is my life “on hold” in any aspect?” is one that I’ve thought about before, but verbalizing (or writing down) all the things I’m keeping my life on hold for has helped me see that at this rate I’ll be on hold for at least the next 10 years. Life is too short to be wasting it like that! Thanks for this list, it’s been helpful 🙂

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m very happy to hear that the questions were thought-provoking.

  • BKF

    I prefer the Rubin Tendencies to The Character Tendencies. I am not sure which type I am. I find myself manifesting each of the types of reactions at different times…are these supposed to be hard and fast categories? If not, how about the Rubin Inclination Index? (Or the Rubin Proclivity Index? Although i prefer the former.) I like including your name in the title. I don’t think you should try to please everyone (including myself.!:-))

    • gretchenrubin

      Good advice!

    • AnnaKate

      I like the Rubin Tendancies as well. The Character Tendencies is too vague. I like that it has your name in it because it is a reminder of where the information came from and I like that point of reference it helps me remember what the Tendancies are all about. I really enjoy thinking about them. I think and talk about them all the time.

  • debbiedarline

    Here’s an idea! What about the four “Rubin Responses” because of the four different ways of responding to rules: Upholding, Questioning, Rebelling, Obliging.

    • BKF

      I just thought of that too – must be telepathy- and woke up to type it in! Or Expectation Reaction Categories or Expectation Reactions?

      • BKF

        The Four Rubin Reactions?

    • gretchenrubin

      But that uses Rubin, which some people object to.

      • gilcarvr

        “some people” will always always react negatively… no matter what you decide to name them… I’d stick with your Rubin Tendencies too…

        You collected and grouped them…

  • Dorothee

    Very helpful. Thank you 🙂 I just realized, it’s pretty hard to tell, what I do solely for fun. I always feel under pressure if I plan something to be ‘fun’, because I’m easily disappointed if it doesn’t turn out as fun as I thought it would.

  • Msconduct

    The most useful question for me was “Do you want to spend more time outside?” I work from home, enjoy it, and even exercise at home – I need to make a conscious effort to uproot myself from my cosy nest and get outdoors, which I do want to do more of. Thank you!

  • Penelope Schmitt

    An excellent list indeed. I keep one around that I was given by a local person who does ‘life coaching’ that I refer to every now and then. Some good questions there that are really intended to tease out your GOALS and WISHES–like ‘does your home reflect your tastes and personality’? ‘do you have enough money’? are you ‘putting up with anything?’ . . . that’s like the ‘is your life on hold’? question.

    I have shifted from a living solo state to having my elderly Mom live with me. That has to some extent put my life on hold, with limitations on travel (I do, but I arrange for someone to look in while I am BRIEFLY gone), many routine errands and doctor appointments added to my schedule, learning to live with another’s wishes and requirements, and confronting my own lack of patience at times. I can’t always just do what I would like and I am never, NEVER home alone. This has made a huge change in the ‘rhythm of my days’. and I expect that to become more demanding as time and fragility advance.

    Interestingly, after taking two of your 21-day challenges, I was able to ‘shift the focus to myself’ and start working on new habits of exercise and eating that have greatly helped me to feel like my own person in the midst of all this change. I would not have thought that working to establish new, desirable habits would have been such a great way to learn to tolerate my loss of solitude and freedom to just ‘go’ whenever and wherever.

  • Barbara Littleford

    Gretchen, you go ahead and name the character traits anything you want. Naming them after yourself is appropriate, as you came up with them. I doubt if anyone would dare tell a man he couldn’t name something he invented after himself. The reaction of some people to this is blatantly sexist. As I’m eleventy-hundred years old, I no longer care what short-sighted people (who do not care about me) think. You could be light-years ahead of me, as I only recently came to this conclusion, if you decide to ignore the nay-sayers earlier on in your life. You go, young woman!

    • Penelope Schmitt

      Heartily agree!

      I did like the term ‘Expectation Responses’ someone used. That describes all four — and yet tendencies is right because it is our FIRST impulse, and the challenge to CHOOSE our response is always, always there.

      • BKF

        I suppose you could call it the Expectation Reflex? With or without Rubin?

      • BKF

        you could call it the Expectation Reflex with or without Rubin?

    • Jamie

      I also agree with Barbara. I’m a childbirth educator and you would not BELIEVE all of the things men have stuck their last names onto in regards to the FEMALE act of childbearing. Case in point: Ferguson reflex. That feeling you get like you have to poop but really it’s the baby and it it’s time to push. And let’s not forget Andrew Kegel and his “Kegel exercises”. So you go with Rubin Tendencies if that’s what you like.

  • jenny_o

    The folks who object to Rubin Tendencies because it has your name in it are not necessarily in the majority, they may simply be more vocal. I came here to tell you that, and am pleased to find others saying the same.

    I find the questions about my children are extremely helpful – what habits of mine would I like them to adopt, or not adopt. Those questions seem to provide a white-hot-laser focus on what I objectively consider good habits and bad, whereas when thinking about myself in the context of my habits, I am more apt to say (silently) “I know it’s not the greatest habit buuuut …”.

  • debbie

    Please keep “Rubin Tendencies” !!
    agree with AnnaKate and Barbara
    “Be Gretchen”

  • Lynn

    First, I have to say that I like the name for the Rubin Tendancies a lot, I really hope you decide to keep it.

    As for the list, there is a lot there and I need to think about it. 🙂 I think I see that you have a wide range of topics to help a person identify what their areas of frustration are. What works for you and what doesn’t? What motivates you and are you taking advantage of that or not to help you make a change / form a good habit.

    I’ve been making a deliberate effort to suss out what exactly IS the life is I want to live? The thing is that this has been an evolving process and not covered in one checklist. Instead, I’ve had a few checklists, of sorts, as I reached each milestone.

    I had to first distill my values, and discuss with my family and friends to gain consensus that no one of us should have to compromise our values or morals. We talked about each habit that triggered a feeling or behavior the other doesn’t like. For me this was huge, as it allowed each of us to hold that person accountable for their habits that weren’t healthy for us, and set boundaries. It also helped us separate what ‘should be’ from ‘what is’. We also found that many of our habits were triggers by habits of others, so this helped us all.

  • BKF

    I have been racking my brains about this. Here’s another suggestion: “U’RE” Tendency (ies) (Usual Response or Reaction to Expectations). You could try different versions of it (The RARE Index- Rubin Average Response to Expectations; UR Tendencies; etc). It might be catchy …U’RE a Rebel etc….(Or just a terrible idea!)

  • Peggy Stewart

    I haven’t read all the comments, so forgive me if this is a duplicate. How about “Expectation Tendencies” or “Rubin Expectation Tendencies”?

  • RachelGrey

    The [Rubin] Compliance Matrix, because it is two-dimensional… how compliant one is, and the internal/external nature of the expectations being placed. My two cents. 🙂

  • Sophia

    Great questions! plenty of food for thought here…

  • DJ

    I vote as well to keep Rubin in the title. You have come up with a powerful concept that has already greatly helped me in better understanding my own behavior patterns as well as those of other people in my life. The word I have a problem with is ” Tendencies.” I think you need a clearer, more descriptive term-maybe along the line of “Rubin Motivational Styles.”
    I am eagerly looking forward to seeing your new book published!!

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