Questioners, What Questions Do You Ask About Your Habits?

I posted the other day about “Are you a people-pleaser?” This question is related to the  Four Tendencies framework, which I develop in Better Than Before, my book on habit change. (To hear when it goes on sale, sign up here.)

A key piece of self-knowledge — which is crucial to habit change — is “What is your ‘Tendency?”  That is: How do you respond to expectations?

-outer expectations (meet a deadline, perform a “request” from a sweetheart, follow traffic regulations)

-inner expectations (write a novel in your free time, keep a New Year’s resolution, start flossing)

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

In a nutshell:

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


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

I’m always trying to deepen my understanding of how the Tendencies play out. So over the past week, I’ve been posing some questions. One day, I focused on Rebels.

Today’s questions relate to the Questioner Tendency.

I have a lot of exposure to this Tendency, because my husband is a Questioner.

Being married to a Questioner is helpful to me, because as an Upholder, my instinct is to meet an expectation without questioning it too closely. My husband always questions an expectation before he’ll do it, and I’ve learned to question more myself. This Tendency saves him a lot of work. Sometimes I admire it, sometimes it drives me crazy.

Last night, I pointed to two small drawings hanging on the wall, and said, “Can you please switch these two?”

He said, “Why can’t you?” He didn’t mean it in a bad way, but just — why can’t you do it?

I gave him a look. As an Upholder, I must confess, this response annoys me. I don’t ask him to do much, and when I do ask him to do something, I have my reasons, and I don’t feel like I should have to justify at length every single request. But that’s what a Questioner wants! Explanations, justifications.

I’m making a list of the questions that Questioners pose, before they meet an expectation. Forming a habit is a form of expectation (whether self-imposed or other-imposed), so to form a habit successfully, Questioners need to have their questions answered. They often ask:

Why should I listen to you? (This question isn’t meant in a snarky way, but literally.) What’s your expertise? A friend told me, “When my son broke his arm, I interviewed four doctors. My husband thought I was crazy, but I can’t listen to a doctor unless I have complete trust.”

–Why should I have to do this, instead of someone else? My husband and household habits. Questioners are great at delegating, unless they think that no one else can do something.

–Where can I get more information? Questioners love information and research. In fact, they sometimes complain of “analysis paralysis”; they want more and more information.

–How can I tweak this habit to suit my individual needs?

–Isn’t there a better way to structure this habit? Questioners like to find better ways to do things.

–What problems has everyone else overlooked, that I can identify? Questioners are good at spotting error.

Questioners, what other questions do you find yourself asking? Questioner-observers, what do you get asked? Does this list ring true?

Do you find questioning helpful, or does it become tiresome at some points?

What am I missing?

  • Molly

    I am a questioner and I definitely have “analysis paralysis.” It was much worse in my 20s and 30s, and less so in my 40s. But, here is a real trap for questioners, or maybe just be (and then I am just coincidentally a questioner:)) — when I fail to take action for a period of time, say don’t write for a few weeks, then I start to question if I am really meant to be a writer, whether the world would really go to pieces if I never wrote anything, whether I should just focus on being a good mother and forget about writing (maybe that’s the message my inaction is sending me…that’s the thought) etc. It’s a trap because I can talk myself out of doing things that really matter to me. It’s a form of procrastination, and maybe even a cop out for taking a risk or developing more tenacity, consistency, etc. It is this sort of rationalizing that traps questioners because we like to think of ourselves as intellectuals, or at least as being intellectually astute, well researched, authentic (because of course we’ve done the work to make sure we’re doing the right thing:)). Sometimes questioners just need to follow Nike and Just Do It!

    • Molly

      Just to add: I think the point is that questioners do the very thing they pride themselves on not doing: they fall for their own (shall we say) inner idiot’s bad reasoning (example–your not writing shows that you shouldn’t be a writer).

  • M

    I am indeed a questioner. I share the “analysis paralysis” that Molly described. I think the most important question i ask myself, before i take on any new task or habit is “Why am i doing this?”, “What is the purpose of doing this?” It is very hard for me to take on tasks that is not meaningful to me or “does not make sense” to me. I also like to do extensive research on any new initiative. When i am completely convinced after thorough analysis to my satisfaction, then i can wholeheartedly support and take on the initiative. In general it is good to plan and think carefully before making any new move, the only drawback is that its harder for questioners to take on a good opportunity when quick decision is needed.

  • Caleb

    One question that I ask a lot is “Do the rules apply here?” Speed limits are a good example. I mainly just drive at whatever speed makes sense. I do the same at work, at church, whatever. I am always asking “Does this make sense in this case?”

    I do sometime fall into “analysis paralysis”, but in some other instances I can easily and quickly make decisions because I know that I will just evaluate the decision later and change my mind if I need to. My grandpa says, “A wise mind changes his mind often, but a fool never does.” This drive my upholder wife CRAZY.

    • gretchenrubin

      Great additional question. That’s definitely an aspect of the Questioner Tendency, to ask whether a rule is appropriate in a certain situation.

  • Jenya

    I am unquestionably a questioner, but the examples on your inner expectations list (write a novel, keep a New Year’s resolution, start flossing) can still be hard for me. I think, what will missing one time hurt? Or, I definitely want to write that novel, but I’m not at my best today, so I’ll just write more tomorrow. I love your loopholes list because it definitively debunks that line of thinking! Until something becomes a habit, I can question my way out of almost any self-improvement.

    However, when something is an ethical stance (vegetarianism, not littering, kindness to children and animals, paying for things that many people steal like songs and movies online, faithfulness to a partner, etc.), I uphold my values 100% of the time, even if there is zero chance of getting caught. I’m immune to peer pressure as well, something I’ve observed to be rare, even though many other people are apparently questioners.

    • gretchenrubin

      Ah, interesting – how loopholes can work with Questioners.

      It would be interesting to see if you could form a self-improvement habit more easily if you explicitly linked it to an ethical value.

      • Jenya

        Would that be using your Strategy of Identity? I’ve seen that come up a lot for rebels, which leads me to believe I lean toward questioner-rebel rather than questioner-upholder.

        I can’t reasonably call myself a full rebel since I live by calendars and to-do lists, happily, but I can see how using some rebel strategies would be helpful to me.

      • I have the same issues. I have I hard time prioritizing low stakes goals, so I find a way to raise the stakes!

    • Sarah

      I like your distinctions, Jenya. This sounds very much like me. I am not good at keeping my New Year’s Resolutions, but it is certainly not because I prioritize other people’s needs over my own.
      And, like you, I am 100% on what I see as the real moral issues. If “Work out daily” and “Do not eat junk food” were moral obligations, I would be in much better shape! 🙂

      • Sarah

        Jenya’s comment makes me think that it might be useful to distinguish between _types_ of inner obligations and _types_ of outer obligations. Example: for outer obligations, maybe it would be helpful to distinguish between proposed & accepted vs proposed obligations?
        If I agree to do something for someone else, I always uphold the commitment. If I sign up for a class, I get there on time every day, with my homework done. If I am in a critique group, I have a thorough critique of the chapter prepared by the day in question. If I agree to substitute teach a class for someone else, I have a good lecture planned out ahead of time. Etc. BUT–it is not hard for me to say no if someone asks me for a favor and I don’t want to do it.
        So: even if I were not good at accomplishing self-set goals, it would seem to miss the point to label me an Obliger–since the only external expectations I fulfill are the ones I agree to meet. (In fact I tested out as Questioner/Upholder.)

        • gretchenrubin

          Can you meet expectations you ask of yourself?

          • Sarah

            Sometimes yes, sometimes no. My friends consider me to be extremely self-disciplined. I have not been successful at maintaining plans to eat healthier and lose weight. In other zones I do well.
            Overall I would say Yes, I keep commitments to myself,.

  • Mimi Gregor

    I am a Questioner to the point where I sometimes do so much research before I make a decision that I get the “analysis paralysis” that Molly speaks of. (GOOD name for it, by the way!) I can be quite indecisive as a result. When deciding to heed someone’s advice on a matter, I always consider the source: that is, I wouldn’t listen to financial advice from someone wearing clothes from K-Mart and driving a beater or jot down a recipe from someone wheeling a cartful of processed food.

    Like Jenya, I have always been immune to peer pressure. I went to high school when everyone was wearing tatty jeans, t-shirts, and no makeup. Except for me. I didn’t own a pair of jeans, I wore dressier clothing, and obvious makeup, because dressing down never appealed to me. I feel that Fashion (with a capital F) is for those who have no sense of Style.

    I pretty much decide on a case-by-case basis what rules/suggestions/demands I will follow, depending on whether they make sense to me or fit my views of what is right and wrong. For instance, I sneer at speed limits, and pretty much drive what I feel comfortable with. I seldom even gaze at the speedometer. But I ALWAYS have buckled my seat belt, even before it was the law. I take more than six items into the fitting room if there is no one checking. I’ve always been the one to ask “Why?” whenever I was told to do something a certain way. Then I’d generally nod my head at the answer and go back to doing it the way I thought best.

    • gretchenrubin

      It’s interesting: Questioners often mention traffic/speeding regulations. (Also, they often talk about how much they hate to wait in line! I’m a bit puzzled about that pattern).

      Let me ask: do you think all drivers should be able to drive at the speed that they think is safe? Would that be a better way of regulating traffic?

      Also: Have you ever disregarded “expert” opinion in a way that made people around you uncomfortable? For instance, a doctor suggested that you take vitamins/statins /etc., and you did your research and decided it wasn’t a good idea, so you didn’t, and others disagreed? Or a college counselor told you to do X, and you didn’t?

      When you do something like take more than six items into the dressing room, are you thinking more…

      n This rule may make sense for others, but not for me, because I’m honest
      n 6 items is an arbitrary number, and probably doesn’t prevent theft, so I won’t go along
      n I enjoy breaking this little rule, to show that I can

      Others feel free to weigh in, as well, on these questions.

      • Mimi Gregor

        I don’t mind waiting in line so much, as long as the line isn’t too long, in which case I wonder aloud why they don’t put on more checkers. I much prefer one long line or taking numbers because it seems more fair — you don’t get stuck behind someone who slows you down while the other lines are speeding along.

        Yes, I think that it may be a good idea to just drive at whatever speed you are comfortable with. Most people have a certain speed they will not exceed, anyway. ( I know I do. And when the weather is inclement, I travel much below the speed limit.) And you only have to travel the interstate to see just how much people abide by the speed limit anyway. Like the drug laws, it is useless.

        I disregard “expert” opinion often. For instance, my dentist suggests that patients get x-rays every year. I don’t. I get them perhaps every five years. Why? Because I believe that frequent, unnecessary x-rays can be a cause of cancer. I am very leery of doctors and the pharmaceutical industry because of how big a business disease has become. (As someone else here said, follow the money.) I also don’t automatically assume that just because the FDA or USDA approves or disapproves of something that that makes it so. Again, follow the money. I think that the reason they disapprove of so much of alternative health care is that it is not very profitable for them. I am much more likely to get acupuncture or massage therapy than to see a doctor about a problem.

        I break the six items rule because it is inconvenient if I have more things to try on. I’m not about to get dressed all over again, get more clothing to try on, then get undressed again. Usually, if someone gets their knickers in a twist about it, I’ll hang the excess just outside the cubicle, then go out in my underwear to change things around. I think the rule is in place not only to prevent theft (which I would not do) but to move things along if there is a line. I only shop during off hours, there never is a line, so I don’t think the rule makes sense, hence, I don’t follow it.

  • Emily

    If someone (esp at work) wants to change the way we do things, I’ll always want to know “why is the new way better?” Also, I’m not sure this exactly relates, but I think about the reason for a rule, and if I’m following the spirit of it, I’ll happily go against it. Like, if there’s a rule about no solo adults entering a playground, I’ll do it anyway (because I just want to sit down and I know I”m not going to abduct a kid). And if there is a rule that you have to check your bag at a store, I’ll never do it unless they make me (because I know I’m not going to steal anything).

    • gretchenrubin

      This is a great example of how Questioners make all expectations inner expectations. If they disagree with the outer expectation, they dismiss it – just as you won’t accept an inner expectation to refrain from an action where you know you won’t do anything wrong.

      Here’s a question: Do you think everyone should behave this way? Is it ok for all solo adults to sit at the playground, if they won’t do anything wrong? Is it wrong to have the playground rule, at all, given that it’s arbitrarily enforced on all adults?

      Are you able to make or break habits, when you want to? What line of thinking do you use?

      • Emily

        Hmm. I think everyone COULD behave this way, and not feel bad about it (like me), though maybe it’s easier for me and society if some people do follow all rules (thank you, upholders and obligers)! It is undoubtedly easier for me to live mildly lawlessly because I’m a middle-class white lady who no one expects bad behavior from — this wouldn’t work for everyone (unfairly).

        As for habits, you might be interested to hear about my exercise habits. I’d never spend time and money going to a gym, so I decided that I would get all my exercise via transportation – I walk or bike everywhere (no car, no bus). I stopped bringing a lunch so I would walk to Whole Foods everyday (this is where all that gym $ goes!) – a 40 min roundtrip walk that I would never do unless I was hungry. That said, I do make myself do sit-ups and push-ups every day (free), to engage more muscle groups.

        Otherwise I don’t think my habits are that interesting, but I like reading about yours and other people’s. Can’t wait for your book!

  • Jill D

    What questions do I ask?

    1. Who benefits? Or “follow the money” to borrow a Watergate term. This is particularly useful in the healthcare arena (human a well as pets) as well as politics.

    2. Says who? “Received wisdom”, “we’ve always done it this way”, “this is what’s expected” just don’t cut it.

    But in the end just

    3. Why?

  • Heidi Starks

    Does this align with my values? Such as requests for donations, endorsements or linkedin requests.
    I can have a critical eye and before commenting harshly on someones efforts I ask myself the following questions. Will it help the person? Is it important? What is the potential impact on our relationship?

  • killerkitten

    I”m a questioner and I never don’t find questioning useful. Even “analysis paralysis” is OK – when I feel that,I know to take some time away from the question and let it percolate in the back of my mind. With regard ot habits, I woud say the one question that’s always with me is asking myself: Is this habit really so great for me? Or am I just fooling myself? It keeps me honest!

  • anne

    you are re-plowing the same field a lot these days. perhaps if you moved on to a new field, the blog would be more fun to read. i’ve been thinking this for awhile, but hesitated to mention it because i know you take negative comments very personally, as do i. but i also know you like to do your very best work, and replowing is not your best work.

    • gretchenrubin

      I don’t think is re-plowing, but deepening.

      It was very challenging to identify this Four Tendencies framework, and I’ve been astonished by how well it seems to hold up. The Tendencies do seem to reflect a deep aspect of human nature. Which is thrilling.

      I’ve been trying to probe them, to understand them better, to see how this aspect of character can be used to help people shape their habits — and to understand other people better, too, to exist more harmoniously with co-workers, children, etc. If you know your child is a Rebel, you’ll approach things differently from a child who’s a Questioner.

      It’s funny – it’s really hard to think outside your own Tendency. As an Upholder, I really struggle to see the world from the perspective of a Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel. I ask a lot of questions here on the blog, I raise this issue often, because I get so much value from the reader comments. It’s enormously instructive. Readers, THANK YOU. I eagerly read the comments, because there have so much insight and great examples.

      I’m sorry you don’t find it useful. On the other hand, I keep hearing from people who do find it useful.

      Ah, I think back to when I was on my Tigger and Eeyore kick – when I was trying to figure out how Tiggers and Eeyores could live together without driving each other crazy. Some people got tired of that topic, too! But it’s still a subject that comes up practically every time I speak. Some issues are too important to be one blog post.

      • anne

        thanks for reading my comment and replying. we’ll just need to agree to disagree on this one. works for me.

      • phoenix1920

        The more I read about the tendencies, the more questions you ask, the more time I spend thinking about how this affects me personally and how it can help me. Of all of the interesting things you post, I find this one has been the most helpful to me personally in helping me learn how to navigate keeping habits better. I generally ponder on these for about a week, and then forget about them, so delving deeper has been nice for me.

        As a rebel, I have found these discussions incredibly helpful so I now have 2 strategies: (1) strategy of identity; and (2) strategy of pleasure/displeasure. For example, I really enjoy the feeling the diving into my cozy bed, even after the alarm goes off, because the pleasure to me is diving back into bed, being wrapped around by my fuzzy, warm blanket and snuggling up to my dh. I always intend to be there for just a moment, but don’t get back up. However, I have recently moved my coffee maker to my room so the smell of coffee will give me something equally pleasurable to look forward to and I also keep a spray bottle of water by my alarm clock so I spray my bed–which reduces the pleasure of the warm bed. Weird, but it works

  • Maggie S

    This is very enlightening to me –I thought I was a Rebel because I don’t like to follow many rules — but it is because I’m a Questioner. I am a Questioner /Obliger (but I’m ONLY an Obliger if I respect the others authority or expertise)

    I always question authority and that is why I thought I was a rebel–but it is because I want to know if the rule makes sense–it it does I’m willing to follow it.

    • gretchenrubin

      Some Questioners have an inclination to Uphold – that’s my husband. He questions, but it’s not hard to persuade him to follow an expectation. (E.g., he did switch the frames without much argument.)

      Some Questioners question so much, they’re practically Rebels. They’re Questioners with in inclination to Rebel. They do something only if they believe it’s justified, and they think very few things are truly justified, or they want to follow their own judgment to a very striking degree. A friend is a Questioner with an inclination to Rebel, and he altered his cancer treatments, because he trusted his judgment more than his doctor’s. But he’s not a Rebel.

  • Penelope Schmitt

    I have BECOME a questioner after being more of an upholder / obliger in my earlier years. I have a close friend who is REALLY a questioner: he always analyzes and researches before buying or deciding. I have become persuaded that there are two aspects to this–he really does have conscious and rational reasons for ruling out some choices; he is satisfied with the choices he makes; he is usually very well informed. He questions authority as a matter of routine. He looks for the flaws in the argument from the get-go.

    I on the other hand would like to be more of a believer (ok, I’m lazy), and will try to follow directions. Yet if I find that something doesn’t work as promised, I definitely question and try different approaches to see what works for ME. Questioning has been a factor in improving my personal health habits and reducing my reliance on medical solutions. However I HATE ‘research’ and often make decisions rather impulsively. My questioning comes after the fact, and only if I am dissatisfied with my initial ‘intuitive’ choice. This has applied to big decisions like geographic moves and major purchases. Over time, I believe I have learned to be a little more deliberative–but only a little. The paralysis of analysis will not likely happen to me. Procrastination is more of an issue.

    • Interesting! I am the same in that regard. I always wondered if it’s possible to change tendencies over time or in my case rather, acting like another tendency for far too long because you somehow feel you must.
      I also have a friend that is exactly how you describe it and he made me realize and come back to my original questioner tendencies a lot (the process started before, but spending more time with him really accelerated it).
      But then, though I tend to make emotional decisions in many areas like you, I LOVE my research. Though even that “grew back” more, parallel with my questioner tendency coming back to the surface.

  • caitlingracie

    I emailed you about this yesterday (pure coincidence–I didn’t see this post until today), but I realized that I’m a Questioner because I often question myself. If I’m doing something that is slightly difficult, like getting up early, I need to have a good reason for when I ask “why should I get out of this warm bed?” or I’ll just roll over and go back to sleep. It’s much easier when I have something that I need to do early that morning.

    I don’t really get “analysis paralysis” anymore, but I used to fairly often. One way I’ve gotten around that is to make a list of my needs/wants before I start researching. Once those are met, I stop and go with whatever I’ve found first that best meets my needs. I believe this is called being a “satisficer,” and I think I read this on Laura Vanderkam’s blog.

    I think part of the problem is that as Questioners we often ask “What if? What if there is a better doctor, plan, deal, gadget, etc.?” and then worry that we might miss out if we don’t do our due diligence. Aside from figuring out what I want/need before looking into something, I’ve also let go of the illusion of control. Because Questioners are questioning, they feel more in control; when they’ve done thorough research, they feel they’ve made the best decision they can and controlled what they can. Of course, sometimes they just continue to question their decisions, and that can be stressful as well. This is why I put limits on my research, and once a decision is made I let go. Life is full of adjustments and readjustments, so I try to live and learn and readjust if needed.

  • I am a questioner-you totally described me. I analyze businesses after I leave-how they could be better etc. I also look at websites and can see what’s working and not working. I’m thinking of getting into user interface as a second career 🙂

  • Hi Gretchen, I’ve just discovered The Happiness Project and I’m so excited! I can see instantly that I’m 100% Obliger and yes – I have no difficulty meeting all outer expectations, and am completely incapable of meeting any internal ones. Here’s my thought – I wonder how many Obligers are overweight? I’d love to know if we have a tendency to ignore our personal needs to the extent that we find it difficult to put ourselves first with our diet as well as other health requirements?!

    • gretchenrubin

      Sidenote: Although Obligers do often characterize their actions in ways such as “ignoring personal needs,” I think it’s more helpful to think about “lacking external accountability.” The answer, for Obligers, is to create external accountability.

      I wonder if Obligers struggle with healthy eating more than other Tendencies…that would be very interesting to know. Good question. For some reason, I doubt that they would be correlated, but I’m just guessing.

      • Gillian

        Based on your quiz to determine tendency, I am part upholder (6 points), part questioner (6 points) and part obliger (4 points) with zero rebel tendencies. The Obliger part of me is the part that makes weight control and sticking to my own eating patterns the most difficult. e.g. I will have pancakes for breakfast or cake on Sunday afternoon because my husband would like these. I enjoy them too but left to my own devices would indulge much less often. I am not prepared to make 2 different meals and he wants to share the meals with me so I give in to the temptations. This has become somewhat easier in recent years because he accepts that weight control is important to me and so tries not to put temptation in my way too often.

      • PassivePatty

        I am very much an Obliger. I am first born and grew up with the expectation of sacrificing for the good of others in a very strict Christian home. I learned to stuff feelings of this is not right for me.

        I adhere to rules to the ‘T”, like no speeding tickets.

        The downside is lifetime of mental illness basically because I met every external demand and neglected myself. The inner turmoil has stressed by GI tract severely.

    • gretchenrubin

      Also, thanks for your kind words!

  • PolarSamovar

    My question #1 – is this (action, policy, expectation) necessary?

    I’m a Questioner, but also a rule-follower. I tend to assume that there’s a reason for rules, because why bother to establish and enforce a totally arbitrary rule? I value social cooperation, and thus respect rules unless I find them immoral.

  • Jeanne

    I’m a Questioner, and really can’t imagine being any other way. I suppose all groups feel this way. The thing about being a Questioner is that it’s sort of double duty. After we decide that an action has enough merit to not simply be rejected, or can’t be rejected for some reason, then we have to figure out how to handle it. Should we uphold, should we rebel, should we oblige? Part of my questioning comes from really hating to waste time. Then one day, I decided to stop and figure out what I mean by “wasting time.” Do most Questioners like to have clear definitions in their life? I do. Just doing nothing is not necessarily wasting time to me. So what is? Doing things that don’t need to be done at all or doing things the hard way (both in my opinion, of course). I question also because I hate being bored. Again, not just not doing anything. I define being bored as being somewhere I don’t want to be or doing what I don’t want to do, and having all these ideas about something else I could be doing instead that would be ever so much more enjoyable or productive. Lectures, classes, parties… these can all be crushingly boring, and I use my Questioning abilities to avoid them if possible (they can’t all be, of course). Just being by myself or not doing anything at the moment is not boring to me. I don’t bore myself, someone or something has to actively bore me. So one question I might ask is, “Is this choice going to be a boring waste of my time?”

  • Kathy

    You just cleared up some confusion I have with my husband… Oh my word, he is a questioner! I always wondered why he answered my requests with questions… Now that I know why, I’ll provide explanation and hope that will help us both. Good to know!

  • Lisa

    This subject is SO fascinating. Apparently you have a tendency quiz, and I would love to know where this is located. I am having difficulty placing myself. I definitely question a lot of things, but I’m also a people-pleaser. For instance, if my boss asks for something — I am definitely going to do it. However, many of the work “rules” seem ridiculous to me and I won’t follow them unless someone tells me I absolutely have to — like not letting my employees make up their late time at lunch (after all, why not?). I don’t follow the speed limit (in fact people who drive UNDER the speed limit make me kind of crazy). However, if a No Trespassing sign is posted, I won’t go inside even if I want to.
    This discussion has caused me to think about how these tendencies would play out in the workplace — maybe your next book? At the office, I hate it when other people question me and don’t trust that I’ve done the research — because of COURSE I have. However, maybe I could work better with others if I understood where they were coming from and that it’s part of their personality and not a personal insult. I am wondering if I have a different tendency at the office than I do at home. Hmm…

  • Randee Bulla

    I’ve found over the past year that the only real way I’m going to form a habit that is difficult for me to make has been to ask myself “How bad do you want it” and then the answer HAS to be “Bad.” This was after following your blog and reading your books that I realized how I think and react to different situations. It doesn’t matter how good something is for me, or how much pressure there is for me to do something, if I don’t really, really want it, I’m just not going to do it. I’ve been trying for years and years to do certain things and have found that this is THE question/answer that will determine if the habit will stick. If I find that I don’t want to make the change that badly or I dig deep and figure out that I’m really doing it for someone else, then that’s not going to work for me no matter how many rules or internal/external accountabilities I put in place. I also use knowledge of loopholes and different rules/tendencies to set myself up for success.

    For work, I’m constantly asking how something can be done better because
    I can’t stand to do something arbitrarily. I don’t like my time wasted
    and I don’t like to waste the time of other people. So I am constantly asking questions,
    reorganizing, and retooling how different tasks or processes are done so
    that they are as efficient and easy as they can be at that time. I
    don’t worry about getting something perfect the first time anymore
    because I really believe in continuous improvement. Rules or situations
    change and I’m always learning new technology and skills so I just go back to the drawing board
    or make tweaks whenever it makes sense. My managers love it and I really enjoy the
    process of making something better for myself, but I get just as big of a
    rush making something better for others.

  • Susan

    I watched all four tendency videos. As an upholder with strong inner expectations, I really Iike the self-definition all the tendency index asks you to do. Until I heard “the rules beyond the rules ” in the Upholder video I thought I was a Questioner because I’m okay with innovation – don’t have that ingredient or two for a recipe-no problem. Pattern works better with another stitch or yarn- no problem. So long as it still can feed guests or make a good gift. Now I realize that’s just ” the rules beyond the rules,” of an Upholder, a strong sense of inner expectation, which can get confused with a Questioner tendency, or lapse into unhappiness when the outer expectation conflicts. Now I’m not sure what to do to make or break habits with that understanding.

  • Hilary

    My questions are always: How could this be done better/more efficiently? What is the goal and does this meet the goal? Why do we have this goal in the first place? Is there another way to look at what this person said/did (in other words, what was the real intention of this person)? Is this the best use of time?

  • JS Ritchie

    I’m a questioner with a healthy dose of rebel. (And thank you for helping me figure this out.) A lot of the time, I simply want to know why the person is asking me specifically to perform the task. With the example of your husband and the pictures – similar requests occur in my house – my immediate reaction is, if you want it done, why don’t you do it yourself? I rarely, if ever, would make the reverse request ( e.g., can you run downstairs and get me some cookies? If I wanted cookies, I’d go get them myself.) This is the fundamental struggle I have facing obligations, large or small, imposed by someone else.

    There’s an undercurrent of independence and self-sufficiency in the questioner / rebel makeup. And there has to be some measure of dependency that underlies the obliger / upholder to believe that making those demands is no big deal – if asked, they would perform the task, so what’s the big deal?

    • gretchenrubin

      You raise an excellent point, which is how the Four Tendencies interact with the HUGE issue of SHARED WORK.

      Read about the crucial issue of shared work here:

      People of different Tendencies have very different ideas about what needs to get done, and they have different ideas about whether and to what degree others should help.

      In the case of the frames, the shared-work issue came in this way: it’s too boring to relate, but the frames were part of a much larger household project which, for logistical reasons, I did 95% of the work. So my view was, Hey, I did all this work, I’m asking you to contribute this tiny effort – more just for the symbolism of it – and you’re all like, “Why can’t you do it?” That made me mad.

      Also, this becomes a problem when you’re not dealing with two basically self-sufficient adults, but a team made up of people of different levels of work; parents taking care of small children or pets; etc.

      Also, I rarely impose expectations, but it wearies me to have to explain everything. Questioners, of course, need those explanations. This plays out in my household frequently.

  • what’s the fastest way for me to implement this? How can I turn this into a replicable system? what will get in the way of it working? why is it not working?

    just a few questions from an eternal questioner…

  • Steffen

    Should I write a comment? Will writing this help me? Will writing this help someone else? How does registering work here? Should I really write a comment? Will I get an answer? How will I see if I got an answer? Will an answer help me?

    Asking “Will doing this make me feel better now?” instead of “Will I feel better at the end of the day if I do this now?” is a major source of problems for me. It makes me procrastinate so often.

  • Nice! This really made me think about myself. I am a questioner but sometimes an obliger. This is an interesting topic, can you site me more articles like this?

  • Sarah

    Hello, Gretchen.
    I just saw your Four Tendencies quiz & took it. Posting here since it’s a more recent thread.
    I scored Questioner (8) > Upholder (5) > Rebel (2), Obliger (2).
    When I first tried to pick a Tendency, I wasn’t sure which would best describe me. After taking the test I thought, Yep–that seems accurate.
    In the interests of helping out, I asked myself what results would falsify the Tendencies scheme or point to a need for refinement.
    It seems likely that a lot of people will score like I did: high on one Tendency, medium on another, and low on the other two. In another personality framework, my results would be called “Questioner with an Upholder wing.”
    If the scheme rests on a 2×2 +/- matrix (Inner/Outer), wouldn’t the combinations of Upholder & Rebel and Questioner & Obliger be predicted not to exist? I skimmed the comments list for a couple of posts and noticed that some people described themselves as Questioner/Obligers. I didn’t see anyone who described himself as an Upholder/Rebel.
    I wonder if the Questioner/Obligers are actually one of two things: (1) Questioners who have made the faulty assumption that other people’s requests are made under the same circumstances in which _they_ would ask for help (=very difficult situations). If this were the case, it would certainly be kind and reasonable to agree to the request, and not evidence of people-pleasing. Or, (2) Obligers (people-pleasers, although I don’t like the term) who have thoroughly internalized certain external expectations–for example, people who need their house to be extremely clean because their mother expected it. So this is an external expectation that is being misread as an internal expectation.

  • Molly

    I love this! My partner and I both fall somewhere between Upholders and Questioners. This could be a recipe for disaster, but for us it seems to work as we switch back and forth depending on what we are talking about. I have worked very hard to move away from being a people-pleaser all the time. So exhausting and a motivation killer after a short while, especially if it is not recognized.

    I am psyched to have stumbled onto your blog and will definitely check out the book.

  • Did the test, my first reaction was to question it. LOL! I had my doubts that I was questioner until this line: Questioners love information and research. In fact, they sometimes complain of “analysis paralysis”; they want more and more information.

    Haha tell me about it. Before I do anything I research it soooo thoroughly that I get exhuasted. And if I do adopt a habit, or try to anyway, I try to jury-rig it to suit my own personal needs. 😛 Yeah, I suppose I’m questioner all right!

    And the part about – why should I do this? Often, at work, if someone imposes a rule, the first thing I would say is: “Why should I follow a rule that doesn’t make sense to me personally?”

    Now how do questioners make habits stick – that’s what I want to know!

  • Sarah Elaine

    I know this was posted a while ago, but I’m just curious – I know you’ve said that questioners break down into those who tend to uphold and those who tend to rebel. Have you seen that one of these is more prevalent than the other? I am undoubtedly a questioner/rebel and I’m wondering how common that is. Thank you!

  • “What is the end game/ultimate goal?” and “what is the emergency?” Also, it’s very possible to be a questioner who isn’t dominated by logic, but is influenced by emotion! A lot of times it’s my own emotional hang ups and baggage I need to question.

  • Dillon Julius

    Great post! I love that that you’re taking a deeper look into “normal” behavior and seeing that we are all different and have specific ways that we interpret and work through our world.

    This post helped me realize that I’m a Questioner/Rebel. The crazy part is that I’m 29 and have struggled with my personality type through school and young adulthood trying to figure things out on my own. Relationships have also been very difficult. It took me 29 years to realize that I’m not crazy, I’m just different and need to learn how to run my operating system.

    I’ve been reading a book called “Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life is Your Hidden Strength” by Laurie Helgoe. It has shed a light on many of my tendencies and I think you may like it. There’s a huge overlap in Questioner and Introvert tendencies.

    Thank you for helping people understand each other and get along better. Peace comes from understanding.

  • Annie

    I’m a Questioner (and a new reader who’s exploring old posts). These aren’t the sorts of questions I ask at all! They sound like Rebel questions to me. None rang true!

    In the picture switching scenario I’d want to know why you put them that way originally, why you changed your mind, if you’ve considered whether you want to swap one for another picture, what problem you’re trying to solve and if this is really the solution.

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