Did the Quiz Help You Decide If You’re Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, Rebel? Some Thoughts

Last week, I unveiled my Four Tendencies quiz, which helps people determine their Tendency. I developed this framework as part of my research on habits for my book Better Than Before.

I’m very gratified that so many thousands of people have taken the quiz — and even more gratified by the notes at the end. The comments are fascinating. Zoikes.

To take the Quiz, click here.

After reading those comments, I’d make a few observations.

First, the quiz is meant to be a tool. It’s not infallible. Your evaluation of your own Tendency matters most.  The particular questions, the particular wording of the questions, may lead to the incorrect answer for you. Use your own judgment.

As one reader pointed out, the quiz is helpful either because it tells you what you are, or because you disagree with the quiz, you figure out what you are instead!

I go into much greater detail about the Four Tendencies in Better Than Before, and in fact, am thinking of writing a short book that  discusses only the Four Tendencies. (Would you be interested in a book like that?)

But Better Than Before doesn’t come out until March, so if you’re interested in the meantime, here are some of my responses to the comments:

Many people argue that they’re a mix of two Tendencies. This sounds sensible. And it also sounds sensible to think that “I’m X at home, and Y at work.” But from my observation, that’s not really true. Whenever I sit down with someone who says he or she is a mix, and put them through some questions, I find that (in my view), that person is actually firmly within one category.

Here are some common combinations, and why people think they’re a mix, and how you might think about it.

If you think you’re an Obliger/Rebel: There’s a very strong affinity between Rebels and Obligers.  It’s very common for Obligers to experience “Obliger-rebellion,” a striking pattern in which every once in a while, they abruptly refuse to meet an expectation. As one Obliger explained, “Sometimes I ‘snap’ because I get tired of people making assumptions that I’ll always do things as expected. It’s sort of a rebellious way of asserting myself.” Another added, “I work very hard to keep my commitments to other people, but I’ll be darned if I can keep a promise to myself . . . Though every once in a while I will absolutely refuse to please.”

Obligers may also rebel in symbolic ways, with their hair, clothes, car, and the like. For instance, Andre Agassi is an Obliger, and in his memoir Open, he describes ways in which he would Obliger-rebel (though he doesn’t use that term, of course).

If you think you’re a Questioner/Upholder or Questioner/Rebel: True. That’s because Questioners come in two flavors: some Questioners have an inclination to Uphold, and others have an inclination to Rebel (like being “Virgo with Scorpio rising”). For instance, my husband questions everything, but it’s not too hard to persuade him to uphold; other Questioners questions so much that they’re practically Rebels, because it’s so hard to convince them to do anything. But they act from a questioning spirit, not a rebelling spirit.

If you think you’re an Upholder/Obliger: Upholders and Obligers share a tendency to meet outer expectations, so in that way, they are indeed very much the same. The key difference is: can you meet an expectation you impose on yourself, that no one else knows or cares about? If you struggle to meet those expectations, you’re an Obliger. It’s true that some Obligers have such a wide sense of external expectation that it almost looks like an inner expectation: “I have to do this because ‘they’ say I have to” when the “they” is society at large; or “this is what people have to do do.” Nevertheless, in my framework, they’re responding to an outer expectation. Very few people are Upholders; many, many people are Obligers.

An important note: It’s not possible to discern people’s Tendencies from looking at their external behavior; it’s necessary to understand their reasoning. For instance, one Obliger told me, “I’m an Obliger. I looked like a Rebel in college, but I was doing exactly the rebellious things that my friends expected of me.” A friend said, “I’m a Questioner. But I’ve had a lot of experiences where the rules were so stupid, that I looked like a Rebel. But I’m not.”

Also, there’s an enormous range of personality, even among people who share the same Tendency. Some people are more or less considerate than others, or ambitious, or conscientious, or judgmental, or controlling, or thrill-seeking. These qualities dramatically influence how they express their Tendencies. A Rebel who wants to be a successful business leader will behave differently from one who doesn’t care much about work. A Questioner who is very thoughtful will have different habits from one who doesn’t worry much about other people’s comfort or concerns. I have an Obliger friend who is tremendously analytical and intellectually curious. So she questions everything…but when it comes to what she does, she’s an Obliger.

Remember, too, this framework has to do with how we meet an expectation, not a requirement. When we must do something, we do it–even Rebels. My Rebel friend started wearing his seat-belt after he got two huge fines. An Obliger might quit smoking, on her own. No one wants to get fired.

Also, whatever our Tendency, we all share a desire for autonomy. If our feeling of being controlled by others becomes too strong, it can trigger the phenomenon of “reactance,” a resistance to something that’s experienced as a threat to our freedom or our ability to choose. If we’re ordered to do something, we may resist it—even if it’s something that we might otherwise want to do.

And no one likes to be asked to do something arbitrary or irrational. The desire to know why we should do something, to have justifications for our efforts, is natural. The fact that you question whether you should have to do something that seems senseless doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a Questioner. Again, what matters is what we do, and why we do it.

People often ask, “Can we change our Tendency?” From what I’ve observed, our Tendencies are hardwired, and while they can be offset to some degree, they can’t be changed.

Yet whatever our Tendency, with greater experience and maturity, we can learn to counterbalance its negative aspects. As an Upholder, for instance, I’ve learned to resist my first inclination to meet an expectation unthinkingly, and to ask, “Why am I meeting this expectation, anyway?” Questioners learn to put a limit on their questioning; Obligers figure out how to give themselves external accountability; Rebels choose to do things because they’ve learned the consequences of not doing them, or out of consideration for others.

Learning to make the best of our own nature is wisdom.

P.S. As many readers suggested, I’ve added a category for “Adult children, 27 years or older.” And I was very interested to learn that the term “button-down shirt” is an Americanism: it’s a shirt that has buttons down the front. ***

***UPDATE: It turns out I’m wrong about the shirt. A button-down shirt is one that has a button-down collar, as opposed to a spread collar with no buttons. Go figure.  Am I the only one who misunderstood this term?

Also, I’m collecting examples of the Four Tendencies from literature, movies, TV, etc. Please send along any examples that spring to mind! I.e., Hermione Granger is an Upholder; Ron Swanson is a Questioner.

  • Myriam

    Hello Gretchen! I did the test and the result says that I am a questioner. But I am questioning (!) my result. I am a very critical person, so if an outer expectation makes no sense to me, I probably won’t follow it. But even if an inner expectation makes sense to me, I might not do it… For exemple, it really makes sense to me to eat well and to lose weight, but I can’t keep my good habits for more than two days. I have been doing this for many years. Does that mean that I am a questioner with a tendency to rebel? How can I know?

    • Ruthan

      As a Questioner who’s only recently developed some mundane good habits (working out, not eating mindlessly), it kind of feels like I’d just never been sufficiently convinced before. I always thought “Gosh, it would be a good idea if I reduced my cupcake and beer intake”, but I didn’t really *believe* it — I just thought it would be a good idea because everyone else seemed to think it was. And I’m definitely not much of an Obliger, so I always backslid.

  • Jill

    Huh, I thought a button-down shirt was the kind where the tips of the collar were buttoned down to the shirt. Learn something new every day.

  • Great additional thoughts.

    Re button-down shirts: I’m American and 47, and when I was a kid I don’t recall hearing this term to refer to the garment the phrase refers to now. When I was growing up, we used “button-down shirt” to mean a men’s or women’s shirt with a collar that had a little functioning button at each point. Anybody else with a similar recollection?

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes, a button-down shirt has a button-down collar, too.

      Or maybe I’ve been using this term incorrectly my whole life!

  • Jen

    Hi Gretchen! I commented on your post introducing the quiz that I had gotten Upholder, but my husband swore I’d be a Rebel and a close coworker swore I’d be a Questioner. I talked to my husband more about it (and my mom), and after reading this and taking the quiz again with your points in mind (this is about expectations not requirements; it’s what we do and why, not what we think), I got Rebel and I do think that’s correct.

    One of the things my husband pointed out that helped me see myself a little more clearly is a phrase I jokingly (kind of) call my motto – “Better to beg forgiveness than ask permission.” This is pretty much the way I live my life, even at work. If I want to do something, I do it. I’ll deal with the consequences later. The “how” of doing it (attitude, expression, etc) is different with coworkers, with clients, with friends, and with my kids, but it’s a consistent theme.

    I think I resisted the Rebel tendency because, in my mind, that was someone who kind of lives outside normal society and embraces anarchy. I work for the Federal government, live in the suburbs, and live a pretty conventional life. Another thing that stood in my way was the thought that a Rebel would never achieve anything because they’d resist themselves and others to the point of self-defeat. But I can see now that Rebels just have to WANT to do something, then they’ll do it.

    Another thing I didn’t understand clearly was that Rebels would resist habit. I am a physique competitor (the Bikini division of bodybuilding, a fitness model sort of look). I am very regimented about my diet and workouts. I thought, “No way would a Rebel live this way.” But this is something I do entirely because I want to, entirely the way I want to do it. I do it despite the fact that my husband doesn’t understand it. I do it despite the fact that my friends think it’s weird. I do it despite the fact that it is a lot of work. I do it because I want to.

    • Jen

      Also, I think I confused “desire” and “expectation.” With respect to my diet/workouts, I was thinking of those as expectations I was upholding. But they’re really not, the more I think about it. They’re just things I want to do to get to a goal I want to achieve. I rarely ever place specific “expectations” on myself. Very interesting stuff!

      • Jen

        Ha! I was just re-reading some of your work on Rebels. Interestingly enough, I was in the military and my husband is in fact an Obliger! I also often find myself doing things just to prove a point, even if I don’t really want to. “Oh, you don’t think I should do X? I’m doing it. Twice.” But again, previously, I was thinking of it in terms of expectations–as in, once I decide to do X to prove a point, I do it or die trying so I must be an Upholder. You’d think a person wouldn’t confuse Upholder with Rebel, but I totally did!

    • gretchenrubin


      Fascinating about your Rebel experience.

      It’s interesting that you note that your friends think your exercise is “weird” – I know another Rebel who exercises regularly – by running barefoot. He takes great delight in the stares he gets. Rebels want to do things their own way.

      • Jen

        Yes! I love watching people’s faces when I tell them I’m a bodybuilder (I look slim, not bulky), or when I say I was a mechanic in the Navy. I get a kick out of defying expectations. The whole Rebel thing seems so obvious now – I don’t know why I resisted it so much! Being rebellious, I suppose… 😉

        • Caroline G

          Jen, that last sentence hits the nail on the head for me! I always think of a certain tiresome ex- when I think of the word rebel. He was exhausting. I suppose I (we) can be, too.

    • Mimi Gregor

      I love that quote! “It is easier to get forgiveness than permission” is the Oscar Wilde quote that I always use when I do something that I know would not be approved of, but I want to do anyway! Of course, in the end, that obviously wasn’t the case with poor Oscar; he got neither forgiveness nor permission until long after he was dead.

  • Gillian

    Gretchen – I’ve been thinking more about the Tendencies and people I know and am wondering how the Tendency model works with people with Aspberger’s Syndrome (a high-functioning form of autism)? I suspect that someone I know has it. I doubt he has been diagnosed as such but from my observations and what little I know about the subject, it would seem to fit well. This man is an extreme introvert and I suspect mainly a Rebel. Do you have any experience mapping your Tendencies for people with such conditions? Would the responses to expectations still apply in these cases in the same way they do for the rest of us or are there other things at play?

    • Gillian

      Another question that applies to myself – I am, and always have been, a very low-energy person. This can, of course, prevent me from carrying out my expectations for myself. It’s not that I can’t hold myself accountable, it’s that I have a limited amount of mental and physical energy. What I spend in one place isn’t available in another. Or maybe this is just a big excuse (loophole?) that I have to get over. Do you have any thoughts about how other personality traits and conditions affect one’s Tendency?

      • gretchenrubin

        Hmmmm…from the way you’ve framed the issue, I’d say you’re an Obliger. I don’t think a member of the other Tendencies would perceive the issue you describe in that way.

        It’s absolutely true that the Tendencies look very different, depending on other aspects of a person’s personality: the level of consideration for others, ambition, thrill-seeking, intellectual curiosity, etc.

      • PolarSamovar

        This sounds like prioritizing to me. It comes down to how you weight the consequences of dropping something.

        You’re an Obliger if you consistently place outer expectations higher on your priority list. If, for example, “not disappointing someone” is consistently more important to you than “take care of myself” — then you’re an Obliger.

        I’m a very low-energy Questioner. While some of my priorities also meet outer expectations – i.e. I’ll go to work if I’m tired, rather than take a nap, because I want to keep my job – many of them don’t. I had a rough year last year, and The Holidays were too much for me to face. So I skipped them. Didn’t send gifts (except to my 5-year-old niece), no cards, didn’t go to parties, didn’t decorate. I think that an Obliger would have tried to gut it out, for the family, and maybe dropped exercise or healthy eating in order to have enough energy to get the shopping, decorating, and cooking done.

        • gretchenrubin

          No, I really don’t think it’s a matter of priorities.

          I think it’s a matter of ACCOUNTABILITY.

          This is really a very key distinction.

          Obligers often beat themselves up, “Why can’t I make myself a priority?” don’t worry about that! figure out ways to build in external accountability.

    • gretchenrubin

      That’s beyond the scope of my experience.

    • PolarSamovar

      My husband had Asperger’s, and he was a Questioner. To an outsider, especially when he was younger, he probably looked like a Rebel. But that is because he was sincerely oblivious to many outer expectations. As he got older and learned about various societal expectations, he would weigh each one and decide whether it made sense to meet. Sometimes the consequences of not meeting certain expectations would also be unclear to him (whereas they may be obvious to a neurotypical person); so his judgment would look peculiar. He became much more outwardly conventional as he gained life experience, but each step toward seeming conventional was one he took because it made sense to him.

      One of the things that brought us together (I am also a Questioner) is that when he questioned things neurotypical people find obvious (why do we have to wear clothes in public even when it’s not cold? Why don’t men wear dresses, when they’re so comfortable?), I’d be interested in the questions and sincerely explore the idea with him. Most people got annoyed and thought he was being deliberately provoking by questioning, testing, and sometimes flouting conventions. But he wasn’t trying to offend anyone, and his actions had nothing to do with what other people expected; he was just a very curious person.

      Many years into our marriage but before we knew he had Asperger’s, I lost my patience one day and asked him, “why can’t you do anything the normal way?” he, also frustrated, answered, “Because first I’d have to figure out what the normal way is, and then I’d still have to figure out whether that was the best way! It’s just adding an extra step!”

      All that said, I believe these tendencies would be individual traits, and not consistent among Aspies.

  • older with attitude

    Fascinating stuff. I was however a bit miffed in the personal information section at the quite fine calibration (if that’s the right word here) of ages between 18 and 61 but the over 61’s were just lumped together. I don’t expect it was meant to be ageist but it comes across that way…like what’s the difference 60, 70, 80, 90?

    • gretchenrubin

      Hmmmm….I don’t know why that is. This was the demographic categories that the test designer plugged in, I didn’t even look twice at it. I’ll try to find out.

  • Penelope Schmitt

    I think a ‘button down shirt’ is one in which the collar tabs have buttons that button it down to the shirt front. Very popular in the 1960s and later a quick way of saying someone who is a ‘straight arrow’ or a ‘suit’

  • Elizabeth

    From literature: I think Elizabeth Bennett in Pride & Prejudice would be an upholder, whereas her counterpart in Sense & Sensibility, Eleanor Dashwood, would be an obliger. Marianne, Eleanor’s sister, is a questionner. Do you agree?

    • gretchenrubin

      Hmmmm…. Interesting! I have to go back to the novels.

    • Jenya

      Elizabeth Bennett is a classic questioner, in my opinion, like many heroines in novels. If she were an upholder (like her sister, Jane), the story probably wouldn’t happen — she’d have married Mr. Collins.

  • Debra

    Really helpful clarifications. I wrote a bunch more stuff but lost it when I logged in! Drat.

  • Ellie

    Yes, I hope you do write a short book about the Four Tendencies!

    As for the quiz, it opened a great inner dialogue. I tested as an Upholder (what I end up doing), but I am a Questioner (what I am really thinking and want to do). I thought about the disconnect and think I have figured it out. I am conditioned to “do the right thing” and “follow the rules”, but internally I question. I am getting better about realizing this and if the task/issue is really silly or doesn’t make sense, then I won’t do it. This feels better as it aligns with my inner tendency. Fascinating!

    Csn’t wait for your book to come out. The emails/blog about the book content has been interesting and helpful, learned a lot and implemented a few new good habits

    • gretchenrubin

      Terrific! I’m so happy to hear that.

  • Pam McKee

    So glad you wrote this Gretchen, I was not surprised to come up with obliger when I did the quiz ..however I am very aware that often, when someone wants me to do something (particularly my husband – eg: ‘we should do a study every day together’, ‘we should go for a walk every day together’… both good ideas.. but) I feel pressured and Il dig my heels in and wont do it… of course then the guilt is there because I haven’t lived up to the expectation 🙂 So looking forward to reading the whole book 🙂

  • Maryalene

    I don’t have anything deep to add, but a button down shirt to me has always been one with buttons down the front!

    • gretchenrubin

      Me too! it never occurred to me that that WASN’T what it meant!

  • Michelle

    The quiz put me as a Questioner. It’s right on the money. I’m a classic questioner at work and in my personal life. I’ve heard people say that I’m going to do what I want to do and when I make up my mind, there’s no “talking” to me. I’ve been told in meetings to just stop asking questions and my boss would talk to me later. I know I have a little of the other three in me depending on the situation but I think even then it comes back to questioning in the sense that I will still justify with myself my actions/reactions/behaviour.

    I’m definitely interested in a book on the tendencies.

    I’m from the American Midwest, 40 years old, and I use the term button up (not down) and it means a shirt with buttons from top to bottom.

  • disqus_7owpKlWNsb

    What if you think you are a Questioner/Obliged, when the quiz named you as a Questioner?

    • gretchenrubin

      How do you respond to inner expectations? Do you find it easy to meet an expectation that you set for yourself, even if no one else knows or cares about it?

      If so, you’re a Questioner.

      If not, you’re an Obliger.

      The two Tendencies are opposites. Questioners essentially meet only inner expectations (they won’t do something unless they agree with it) and Obligers meet outer expectations (but struggle with inner).

      • disqus_7owpKlWNsb

        I would definitely have thought of myself as an Obliger, I often struggle to motivate myself to do things that are purely for myself, whereas I don’t like letting others down. But it’s interesting the quiz named me as a Questioner given that I’m a scientist and asking questions is an important part of my professional identity. Would love to learn more in your book.

  • Emily

    I’m thrilled that you have added the quiz to your blog. It was helpful to have prompted questions to help determine what type of tendencies I lean towards. I’m excited to know that I am a Upholder and will be sure to read up more about Upholders through your site.

  • Jeanne

    Quiz was fun, though I already knew that I am without a doubt a Questioner (big hint: I cannot even imagine people doing things without questioning them first.) But regarding the combos, I haven’t seen you address the idea that after a Questioner questions, they still have to decide how to act. Should I oblige, uphold or rebel in this situation depending on the circumstances? I don’t read every word you write everywhere, so you may have talked about this, but it seems to me that every Questioner must have a secondary tendency, like more obliging or more rebelling.

  • An Obliger

    I’d be interested in hearing more about couples in which the two partners are of different tendencies. I’m an Obliger and my husband is a Questioner. Only when I told him about your framework did he understand why I want him to ask me at the end of each day if I’ve eaten healthy that day. Before that, he thought it was a really weird request, because if I wanted to eat healthy, why didn’t I just make up my mind to do so?

    He also noted that it would be interesting (maybe you do this in your book already?) to discuss how culture overlaps with the tendencies, i.e., some cultures, as a whole, tend more toward respecting authority or toward individualism.

    • gretchenrubin

      Obligers (appropriately with an “O”) at the Type O of the Tendencies, the universal – they can pair up with any Tendency.
      For instance, they are the ONLY Tendency (for the most part) that pairs up well with Rebels.

  • Interesting! I found out that I’m a questioner. That was a fun quiz!

  • Name

    Actually, I think both definitions of a button-down shirt are correct. Either that, or the definition has changed. Probably the more likely possibility. When I was growing up a button-down shirt was one that had a button down collar. However, now when I see an advertisement for a button-down shirt it NEVER has a button down collar, but rather buttons down the front.

  • rachael

    Just to add to the discussion, when I saw my result as obliger I felt bad (I wanted to be an upholder!) But it’s true I ‘yield’ to others as I often say. As a highly self motivated obliger, it’s not that I don’t prioritize my own expectations, I do go to great lengths to meet them. But at the end of the day I am sometimes spent by people pleasing and decide I would rather be kind of self and let self off hook. It’s a bit of a cycle :-s!

  • Caroline G

    I was quite surprised at the results, Rebel. I’d have thought I was a questioner. but the more I considered it, and your further comments helped A LOT, I realized it is probably true. Alas. I would LOVE a book on the Tendencies and how to cope.

    Also, from a mobile device, the questionnaire freezes every time when I try to answer the age question. I’m running a Samsung 3 with it’s standard crappy OS. If that helps. Thanks again for putting this out for us all.

  • Audrey

    This quiz was very helpful! I follow your work closely and have assumed that I’m a questioner. I took the quiz and it said I’m an upholder. I thought about it for a long time and realized its true. I think that I just really wanted to be a questioner…..that seems cool and sensible and an upholder just seems annoying and goody goody. But it’s true… I love to meet expectations, including ones I set myself. I’ve changed major habits in my life that no one even knew I was trying to change. I love goals, resolutions, charts, and lists. So this quiz was important for me to see myself as I am, not as I would like to think I am. Thanks!

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m so happy to hear that you found it useful.

  • Anne

    I am commenting late, but I thought I would write to say that the quiz has really opened up my eyes! I thought of myself as an Upholder who kind of “regressed” into to an Obliger if life got really busy, but what I realized from the quiz is that I’m definitely an Obliger at the core who has found a lot of strategic ways to hold myself to Inner Expectations. What we “resort to” when times get tough is probably our real nature, which we can try to build and improve upon, but never really change.

    I am a runner and have been forever, and I don’t need any external commitment in order to get myself up and go running most every day – which was kind of the foundation of my belief that I was an Upholder. What I realized though was I started my running habit when I was 14, and initially it was in response to getting in shape for high school sports seasons and always wanting to make the team/impress the coaches/break the time records when the season came around. After eight years of running like this in high school and college, it’s almost like running hardly takes inner motivation anymore because it’s so programmed into me! Not to mention other people expect it of me and would think it was crazy if I stopped. And I actually enjoy the process of meeting outer expectations, which is probably why I’m training for my fourth marathon.

    When I realized that I was definitely not an Upholder was when I read the part of the description that says they “often finish projects early.” I always meet deadlines, but I never finish projects early. I am pretty adept at calculating exactly how much time work is going to take me, and I just fill my time up with particular commitments until I need to get started because I know starting before then will often just make the same task take more time. I think that I am just an Obliger who feels very, very committed to her word; i.e., even if I just tell someone that I’ve made a particular resolution, that’s enough to make it “real” for me, even if that person never specifically held me to it or asked me about it again.

    Interestingly, my boyfriend is a rebel. Until reading all the comments here and reading about rebels some more on related posts, I don’t think I really understood the connection, but there is definitely an affinity between the two types. Dating him for a couple of years I have really begun to understand how much he will frustrate even himself with his own inability to do things he knows he is “supposed to.” All I can say is – technology is a blessing! When I finally “made him” set up automatic bill pay, at least he can have those bills pay themselves without having to take the action every month.

    The other thing that’s interesting is that he conceives of expectations totally differently than I do. He maintains a fish tank that requires a lot of dedication to keep clean, etc., and he also does the majority of the work for caring for our dog, and I have never seen him skip a beat in terms of meeting those obligations, getting the water changed on the correct day, etc. I think in this regard I have come to know the power of attitude; he doesn’t see taking care of his pets as an obligation or an expectation – that’s what he LOVES to do! I’m almost hesitant to ask him about it in case he starts to see those tasks my way…

    Anyway these categories have revealed so much for me about how people operate. At one point you asked for examples of characters from literature who fit in the categories; I found it interesting that MANY of my favorite childhood characters are rebels! I’m thinking of Harriet the Spy, Eloise in the Plaza Hotel, Maria from the Sound of Music (although she may be a Questioner who leans heavily towards Rebel)… all female characters who I couldn’t get enough of when I was a kid. I sometimes wonder if girls are more inclined to be Obligers than the rest… maybe there’s a part of me that wants to just throw it all out the window, eventually : )

  • Reyhana

    I did the quiz – & was not surprised at all. I am a Questioner.. And proud of it too

  • Lauren

    (If one believes in prescriptivism) it’s technically correct that “button-down” refers to the collar-tips buttoning. But “button-down” is also commonly used interchangeably with “button-up” to describe any collared shirt with buttons on the front. I don’t know if it’s a regionalism or not. (I grew up in Georgia, for what that’s worth, but I’ve had this debate with others in the area who use it the “correct” way.)

  • Hello, you used to write wonderful, but the last few posts have been kinda boring… I miss your great writings. Past several posts are just a bit out of track! come on!

  • Cecile

    great clarifications – thank you! (reading all the comments and boiling down the insights can be challenging, but this post achieves just that).
    Following these clarifications, few natural questions:
    (a) if the Tendencies tend to be hard wired, where do they come from in the first place? How much does it have to do with parents model and parenting style?
    (b) If “very few people are Upholders; many, many people are Obligers.” , why would that be? Something cultural, something to do with how we are brought up, something to do with an optimum mix to live in a peaceful society?
    (c) How does the mix of 4 Tendencies vary across countries?
    Looking forward to the book and the book tour (San Francisco South Bay stop for me).

  • Joia

    Hi Gretchen,

    I think there’s another dimension of these tendencies that’s worth considering, that of how the person presents to the world.

    I’m a Questioner (got the answer, thought “That doesn’t sound quite right”, laughed for about 5 minutes). But I grew up in a Tiger Mom household in which failing to meet external expectations met with mental and emotional abuse (doing serious therapy right now as an adult). If you’d asked before the quiz, based on thought patterns, I’d have guessed I’m a failed Upholder. I get extremely anxious about failing other peoples’ expectations, but also have a little voice inside that says “Nope, not doing it” (which then swings back to feeling terrible, etc.).

    Most people are not going to have the same extremes in conflict that I have, but there’s something to be said for how clearly one’s tendency is expressed through social conditioning. My sister, for example, has an Upholder personality (her background sounds very much like yours, actually :)), and she flourished in our household and has in her career since then. Were we both to use your tendency-based methods to improve our habits, she would probably have an easier time applying them because she has clearer access to her type.

    Just $.02.

  • MJS2015

    I am interested in why you think these types are hardwired – do you think there is a genetic dimension / or why do you think they are not something born out of learning or conditioning? Also why you feel they are not contextually affected. For example would certain professions be more likely to create professional culture, ethics, and practice principles that result in conditioning those in them to be more of one of these types than others? Or would you say them being that type would lead them to want to train to do that kind of job? Do you assess children and are you considering longitudinal research to see if these types remain static or are dynamic over time? Perhaps those on your site who test could opt into such research if you were interested in doing it?

    Also interested in your thoughts about, to what extent there could be a process element to the types – say moving from Obliger to Rebel to Questioner to Upholder? In a process of growth and development for example – moving from being more affected by conditioning and others and moving towards autonomy or self responsibility?

    You could see these types also like a deveopmental pathway – young children first adhering to external expectations but not knowing themselves enough yet to understand or adhere to their own; adolescents also not yet strong enough in self knowing and pulling away from external authorities and needing to find their own way through freedom and self determination; then early adulthood learning to trust their inner world yet still question the world around as they decide what they are going to commit to in life or believe in or align with, and then later in later adulthood having a developed capacity to honor their own expectations of themselves as well as those others have of them? In this way, could it be that a type is where a part of development could be stuck or at currently and could mastering the challenges or shadow of that type allow movement to others to again master the learning there to end the self development cycle with feeling able to balance inner and outer expectations?

    And why only 4 – how all human beings no matter what age, race, gender, country or circumstance they live in etc., can be grouped into 4 types?

    Do you think Rebels might not be ‘rare’ just less likely to answer quizzes that seek to define them or box them into a category? Perhaps Upholders are less curious about themselves if they are feeling pretty ok about meeting expectations of self or others so also are less likely to do quizzes to work out how to do this better?

    Would be quite good if you produced the results of the quiz as a pie graph showing the dominant type however the percentage of other types within the odd questions people answered that fitted with the other types. I think this could help make sense of people feeling they were a bit of other ones as well at times.

    I am also interested in the relationship dynamics that fall out of these types – where some types are more opposed so in a work or relationship sense their preferences / response to expectations are going to be more opposing with some types than with others or also whether certain people bring out latent aspects of other types in others – i.e. authority figures that are overbearing and dictatorial bring out the obliger or rebel more and the more open minded collaborative authority figure bring out the questioner more … have you seen these kinds of patterns when people talk about work or relationship issues?

  • Mato

    For example “The Simpsons” family. Bart is a rebel, Lisa is an Upholder. Marge is an Obliger and Homer is a Questioner.

  • DrJenX

    As a Game of Thrones fanatic, I’d like to suggest Eddard Stark and Brienne of Tarth as super-upholders. So much so that it gets them into REAL trouble.

    • gretchenrubin


      I’ve been thinking about Stannis. He doesn’t even WANT to be king – he feels that he MUST be the king, because he’s the rightful heir.
      Great point about Eddard and Brienne.

  • Melanie Jansen-Donohue

    I got to the end of the quiz and wasn’t actually given an answer as to what I was? When does it actually pop up and tell you what you came out as? I think I’m definitely a questioner with regard to outer expectations but I’m puzzled because I feel like I do struggle to meet some internal commitments? But only some, other internal expectations I have no trouble meeting.

    • Michelle

      I had the same experience (and I am a questioner.) you need to scroll down on the screen before it asks what you think of your result.

  • Melanie Jansen-Donohue

    Hi Myriam,

    I just read your post and it is almost exactly what I just posted for myself! I have now reflected and decided that I am actually an obliger. I recoiled from the idea of being an obliger because I thought they would all be doormats! And I am no doormat – I asked around my friends to see what they thought and they agree about me not bring a doormat. And I would have said that I meet internal expectations fine but there are always a few that I never seem to get on top of. On reflection I realise that I have recognised already my tendency to need external accountability and I do it so unthinkingly that I thought I was meeting expectations on my own. For example if I know I need to read up on something for my own knowledge I will book myself in to do a teaching session on it for my colleagues and students – this drives me to actually read about it otherwise my presentation will be terrible. If I want to exercise more I hire a trainer or enter a competition. I have a very questioning personality so I do question a lot of outer expectations and I am also very assertive so if meeting an outer expectation isn’t something I want to do or think will be good for me then I simply don’t do it. I can’t say I’ve ever felt anything like obliger fatigue. So while I don’t really think my response to outer expectations is particularly obliger-like, how I make myself do internal expectations is definitely with external accountability. Perhaps my other personality traits are offsetting outer obliger-ness? But either way – recognising why I’ve been successful at meeting most inner obligations has been very enlightening. Now to go find a system of external expectation for the few illusive internal expectations I’m not meeting!

  • Mo McKibbin

    I don’t know. I think this test/personality analysis is kind of bs. I took it twice because there were a few questions I was totally 50/50 on. More than a few. I mean, for every question I could think of a scenario in my life where one question or another would be correct, and some I was like- welp, none of these sound like me at all, but whatever – I know it’s a tool. I took it and first I was an upholder. Sure, I can see it. Curious, though, I took it again on the questions I was 50/50 on – and I came out rebel. Those seem like two…very contradictory personality types. Sounds like Jen and I would be friends. Anyway, I think there are some holes in this test.

  • V

    Interesting. I often feel like I’m a Questioner/Obliger, but this fits with my personality generally being rather dichotomous. I think, at least now, I’m more a Questioner. I might have been more an Obliger when I was young, but age makes you put up with less BS I guess!

  • Amanda Francis

    I will have to give this a lot of thought and introspect on how I handle expectations. I feel all over the place and I am curious why.

    I’ve always considered myself to have very high internal standards but very often fail to meet those standards. I feel extremely guilty most of the time for not meeting expectations (mine or others) because I want to meet expectations and feel like I should. I might be late and then feel so bad about it that I blow it off like I don’t care but I really, really do!

    Does this mean I’m a dysfunctional upholder or just a plain rebel?

    • gretchenrubin

      This is so interesting!

      Hmmm….I wonder if you are an Obliger who falls easily into Obliger-rebellion.
      But is it possible to be, for example, an Upholder with low impulse control? Or is it necessary to being an Upholder to be disciplined?
      I don’t think you’re a Rebel. Rebels don’t feel that they should meet others’ expectations.
      I guess the question is, if you want to meet expectations, why don’t you?

  • Lori Moulton Booty

    I came out obliger on the quiz, but I really think I’m a questioner. I will do what my boss says, but I may not do it on time or put much effort in unless I understand why I’m having to do a task. If I buy into the task, I will rally others as well. I also love to learn and research information. I’ve found that I’m at my best when I’m learning new things.

  • Brandon Snead

    As much as I like the idea of these traits, I had a huge challenge answering every question. Is it possible that I read too much about the traits before taking the quiz? None of the possible answers seemed to fit my style. …maybe I’m too much of a rebel to even answer the questions how they’re written?

  • Megan

    Is it at all possible to be an Upholder/Rebel? I scored 9 for each and went back through and did it again. Based on the diagram above, it doesn’t seem possible, but based on my personality, I can see it. Thanks!

  • Pingback: Time to train my squirrel named Larry – My Day in Orange, VA()

  • katherine

    I misuse this term as well. I think saying ‘button down’ is a shirt that buttons down the front is a generational thing as well as an Americansim. ‘in the old day’, a shirt was what we now call a button-down shirt, otherwise it was a T-shirt. But now ‘shirt’ is a much more general term as style has evolved.

  • Pingback: What’s your change project for 2017()

  • Essie

    The quiz told me I’m a rebel, but I know that I’m a questioner with rebel tendencies. I am committed to habits that I’ve investigated thoroughly but I will act defiantly when somebody else gives me rules or instructions that I feel are meaningless or petty.
    I wish I could reign in my oppositional side a bit more, it tends to get me in trouble, primarily for running my mouth!

  • Pingback: Self Care Sunday.... Week Two: Travel Tips - Nourished By Regan()