How Does a Rebel Change Habits? One Rebel’s Clever Solutions.

In my (bestselling) book Better Than Before, I set forth my “Four Tendencies” framework, which divides people into one of four categories, depending on how they respond to expectations. To take the quiz to find out your Tendency, go here. To read generally about the Four Tendencies, go here.

Since Better Than Before came out last month, I’ve talked a lot about the Four Tendencies. It’s definitely one of the things that readers are finding most interesting.

I love it when people tell me about their ingenious ways of working with their Tendency, in order to change their habits. For instance, I was impressed with an Obliger who figured out how to build a system of external accountability for getting up at 6:00 a.m. How would you do that? I wondered. Her solution was brilliant: on HootSuite, she’s teed up an embarrassing Facebook post that will go live at 6:15 a.m., unless she gets up in time to disable it. Problem solved!

I got an email from a Rebel, Lucia, who came up with some terrific ways to work with her Rebel Tendency to shape her habits.

Mastering habits is a particular challenge for Rebels, because of their general opposition to anything that feels like a chain or a pre-commitment. In fact, I’ve been struck by how many Rebels have contacted me, to ask about how to shape their habits — and so I asked Lucia if I could post her solutions, because other Rebels might benefit.

Lucia writes:

I had such a lightning bolt moment when I read Better than Before and identified my tendency. I’m a Rebel, and while I take distinct pride in this tendency, it is quite a difficult one to work with when trying to form habits!

The areas where I’ve struggled most have been, like a lot of people, food and exercise. I managed to adopt an exercise routine last year when I began weight lifting and boxing with my male friends. After reading your book, I realized why I have been able to maintain this strategy for so long — women typically don’t lift weights like men (bench presses, etc) and women typically don’t box. Subconsciously, the act of exercising in a way atypical of my gender has been satisfying my inner Rebel, and so I have able to stick to it. I take pride in saying, “I can leg press around 300 lbs.” Most people say, “Wow, that’s a lot for a girl,” and I think to myself, Yes, that’s right, ‘for a girl!’ I am unique and my exercise is unique!  [Here, she’s using the Strategy of Other People — Rebels delight in doing something in their own way, with an approach that’s different from others.]

Additionally, I realized why I have not been able to conquer my food habits in the same way. I read (and loved) Gary Taubes [who wrote the book Why We Get Fat, which I write about in Better Than Before] around the same time I started lifting and boxing. Since then, I have gone through cycles of climbing onto and falling off of the low carb bandwagon. Now, thanks to Better than Before, I know why! I was trying to force myself with science, and rebels listen to no one. Not even Gary Taubes (Step 1: Identify the problem). I had to think of ways to make eating healthy feel like a freedom and a choice, rather than an obligation. [This is using the Strategies of Identity and Clarity: the Rebel decides, “This is what I want, this is who I am.”] This was quite difficult, because eating healthy is such a highly encouraged habit in society. Whenever I hear people talk about “feeding their temples” and “nurturing their bodies” I grow resentful and annoyed.  So I came up with the following strategies to make eating right feel like my own special, contrarian decision:

1) Restrict quality, not quantity. Allowing myself to eat as much as I want takes the edge off of the restrictions that come with the low carb lifestyle. Whenever I get the urge to snack mindlessly, I tell myself to eat as much as I want of the low carb food in my fridge. And suddenly, the burning desire goes away.

2) Relish in cooking, and cooking things that are unique. Not many people cook all their meals, and I take pride in the fact that I do (how many people, especially 23-year-olds, make beef bourguignon?). [This is another way of using the Strategy of Other People.]

3) Relish in using foods that are demonized by misinformed nutritional science. Bacon. Steak. Butter. [This is yet another smart use of the Strategy of Other People.]

I have countless more little tricks (I’m an Abstainer) and strategies (Convenience — I prep all my meals on Sundays so they’re easy to grab). In summary, I cracked it! I have been able to keep the habit for several weeks now and am noticing the difference!

I never would have identified my Rebel tendency and been able to tackle my food habits in this way without you.

My father would like me to add that he has known this about me since I was a four, when I would wrench books out of his hands and insist hotly, “I can read it myself!

This is a great example of the fact that we can master our habits, if we do it in the way that’s right for us. When we take into account our own nature, we can set ourselves up for success.

But when we search for one-size-fits-all solutions, they often just don’t work.

How about you? Have you come up with some ways to work with your Tendency to shape your habits? As I’ve been on my book tour, I’ve loved hearing all the stories.

  • Kate

    I have a child who is a rebel…I struggle every day to try to figure out how to parent her, and how to get her to develop good habits for herself. If Gretchen wants to write a parenting book about how to parent rebels, I will gladly be your first customer!

    • penelope schmitt

      My rebel is now an adult. I definitely wish there had been a guide book.

      I kept saying ‘do what is good for you even if your parents would approve.’ but even that did not quite seem to get through.

      • penelope schmitt

        P.S. very proud of my rebel, but have certainly been a worried Mom many times!

    • Phoenix

      How old is your rebel child? Having a rebel child can be one of the most beautiful experiences–because they generally aren’t looking to conform to any group, which most kids do. They want to find out who they really are, and your job as a parent is to help your child find out who they will be as an adult. If you have a child who is truly a rebel, give them more responsibilities and more chance to fly under their own wings, so long as they can maintain trust. You don’t focus on the good habits–you focus on the end result or the immediate joy that a good habit can bring. (Exercise is fun so do it because it’s fun)

      Too often, I think parents will consider their children to be rebels simply because all children will reach that age where they need to establish their own autonomy and we as parents want to hang on a bit longer. I don’t believe that being a rebel is a stage. Children were built to become more self-autonomous as they age so they can be responsible adults–and part of that is means they are less and less susceptible to the influence of their parents. If you have a child who is equally unconcerned with peer pressure and does not want his or her friends telling her what to do, that is a rebel.

      • oldbushie

        I’ve always been a Rebel through and through. When I was 10, I saw how teenagers were stereotypically portrayed and said “I resolve to never be like that”. Many of my friends were non-conformists as well, and I really enjoyed my time in high school. Cliques just weren’t my thing, and I never even felt any kind of peer pressure at all.

    • Laura

      As a rebel adult raising a rebel child, I tell my husband when he gets frustrated, I was a terrible toddler/child but a relatively easy teenager. If our child gets in trouble you KNOW that was her idea. Us rebels do not get swayed by peer pressure too often.

  • Gretchen, thanks for sharing Lucia’s comments. After reading your book I have realized that I am a rebel too—but this is a VERY new realization and I haven’t been quite sure what tricks to try.

  • i have not read the book but I am pretty sure i am a rebel, thanks for sharing!

  • Bonnie

    Gretchen, thank you for a brilliant discovery: I’m a Rebel too! At first the news just sank me deeper in the sad mood I was stuck into since quitting my job to pursue my own dream… with very little success. No wonder I couldn’t get organized, get things done, or stick to my diet! But was I going to end up a loser like my Rebel father…?
    At last it struck me: I’ve got to quit trying to do things the way one is supposed to, And honor my way of doing them.
    And what’s my way? Well, I really function in bouts of, you might say, “inspiration”. When I get an idea for something I need to start working on it asap and keep going until I’m done. It can be an article, a new product, or doing yoga, cooking a dish or decluttering my desk. Don’t try and tell me do that in the scheduled time tomorrow or next week, because then I probably won’t feel like doing it and I’m going to procrastinate. Let me do it when I want, even if it’s the middle of the night, and you’ll be amazed how quickly, efficiently and beautifully it comes out.
    Yes, I can do things quite well when I do them my way! Enough beating myself up for not sticking to a schedule!
    So I’ve taken a resolution: I’m going to tell my kids and partner that’s how I really function and I’d like to make room for that in our life. That means, maybe there’ll be beef bourguignon on the table tonight, or maybe we’ll order sushi while mama works on her website. Maybe I’ll take a nap today after working all night or maybe I’ll take you out to buy some new clothes. I know I was already unpredictable, anyway. I’m going to be more so, but I hope in a better, more joyful, more productive way.
    You know, Gretchen, I think they might come out winning too…
    Thank you for a great insight. I feel liberated.

    • gretchenrubin

      Terrific! I’m so happy to hear that it’s helpful to you.

    • oldbushie

      I’m the same way! I often do things “as they occur to me” and I often trick my brain into wanting to get things done by repeatedly walking past stuff like a dirty sink.

      “Oh, I’m just refilling my water glass, but while I’m here…”

      One of the other things I’ve noticed is that I’m much more likely to do things if I know how to get them done most efficiently. I hate wasting time.

    • disqus_RyYH369i5z

      Wow, I’m just like that too and it’s been kind of an epiphany, bringing in a new light a work problem I’ve had for years ! I know you’re not supposed to say you only do stuff when inspiration strikes (I’m a writer, thought I was just terminally procrastinating) but it works so beautifully to only follow the flow and then notice afterwards all the amazing stuff you’ve produced. And as you say, it may be a work of art, an apfelstrudel or a website, but whaddyagonado ? Things tend to get done in the end, maybe even in time, but only in the flow.
      Also, I can only work if I turn tasks into fun, and reinvent a whole new way of doing them (sometimes losing time when I first come to grasp with a new aspect of my job because of that). Once things look fun right now and correspond to the identity I’ve set for myself, I can power through. Goals, objectives, deadlines (aaaaarrrrgh deadlines), or the kicking of my butt don’t work. Identity and fun do. Aaah, this rebel stuff explains so much. I’m not going to pretend anymore either. THANKS GRETCHEN. it’s lifesaving.

  • Sandra R

    Gretchen thanks a lot. I’m sure this is my book. But, please, can i found it in spanish? i’m living in Bogotá, Colombia and i understand reading english but i prefer in spanish in order to focus my mind in what you are saying to me. Thanks thanks a lot.

    • gretchenrubin

      It will be published in Spanish – not exactly sure when, but it will be.

  • Mimi Gregor

    I’m a Questioner, not a Rebel, but I can relate to what she says about why she eats healthfully for a slightly different reason. Because of my need to research things before I make up my mind about them, I know that a lot of the foods that were previously demonized are actually harmless (my lard pie crusts are spectacular!) and food that most Americans eat every day (processed food, partially hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup) is really bad for you. So I take pride in not only making more intelligent choices than most, but in actually cooking from scratch to achieve a healthful diet. I realize that this is very supercilious of me, but there you are.

  • Susan

    I started a huge project with an Obliger. The easy part was that it was relatively predictable how to make sure he fulfilled his obligations. Scheduled accountability to me or the project and reminders there are others monitoring. The difficult part was this Obliger obliged to too many things and people. It’s whoever or whatever threw a request for accountability in his face at any time,even another person NOT on the project. I felt like a terrible nag,  but if I didn’t make myself the object of accountability, I perceived the project wavering.I paused for reviews of the collaboration – met with still more verbal obliging! Not a questioner- consensus explanations met with frowns.

    Better than Before helped me like my bias(used to find it conflicted.)  As an Upholder, I shifted my outer expectations to have him account to OTHERS IN THE PROJECT AT A CERTAIN POINT in the work, and to my inner expectations to continually to revise the project and the collaboration. 

  • Fran E

    Gretchen I have a question. After reading this article I finally took the test. I´m an obliger, which confused me at first. After much thought, I realized that at work I do what I´m being told, ever I don´t want to. But when it comes to my own projects they never get done, even when I tell someone close, what I´m going to do and how I´m going to do it (which does not make me accountable). Therefor, can I be a rebel when it comes to inner expectations?

    • gretchenrubin

      That’s what it means to be an Obliger.

      You readily meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet your expectations for yourself (or, as you say, rebel against them).

  • Laura

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post! As a rebel I am frequently frustrated with how difficult it is for me to form good habits. I DO have good habits (I floss every day, I go to bed and get up early, I don’t drink much, etc.) but how did I form them and more importantly, how do I form new ones? I think your strategy of identity is critical. I’m a flosser, I’m an 8-hours-of-sleep-a-night girl, alcohol is not worth the calories to me, etc. That’s who I am, so those are not hard habits to keep.

    My 7-year old daughter is a rebel too, and unbeknownst to me, I use the strategy of identity with her too. For example, she has had a hard time learning to read. Even though she would cry, yell, etc. whenever she got frustrated, I kept saying; I admire how you keep trying even though it’s hard. Now she sees herself as someone who keeps trying and has success even though somethings are hard.

    I used to think of myself as a baker, and I would frequently make cakes, cookies, pies and other desserts to bring to events. I decided that I no longer wanted to be the baker” because I was eating too many unhealthful foods. I still love playing in the kitchen, but now I “play” making fermented vegetables, or vegetable dishes. Rather than being known as the baker, I am “the lady who brings the delicious salads and the creative relish trays.” This makes me happy.

    • gretchenrubin

      So interesting! Great to hear how you work with your Rebel Tendency to get the habits you want.

  • HEHink

    According to the test, as well as my previous instincts, I am a questioner. I tend to question myself more than I question others, which makes me outwardly appear as more of an obliger sometimes, although I do also drag my feet over things expected by others if they seem pointless or don’t make sense.
    One trap I face is that when I’m about to begin a task or project, I question whether it’s the “right” one to take on – is there anything else that would make more sense to do instead? Or is there a better order for taking on the specific tasks of a project? I can easily question myself into inactivity. I have found that it helps to declare to myself “There’s no good reason NOT to do it now” – and usually there’s not. Routines work well, too, once they’re in place, because unless circumstances change, if I’ve made the decision once that performing a particular action or series of actions at a particular time makes sense, I don’t need to make that decision again, and that’s wonderfully freeing.

  • Emma Piper

    Thanks Gretchen, for giving me insight into my habits! As a rebel I find it very difficult to stick to routines, especially ones I see as boring or normal. My inability to stick to habits made me feel lazy, even though that’s the opposite of what I am. I have used your Happiness Project techniques to challenge myself to stick to 3 new habits for a month (some are small like flossing, others bigger, like meditation). I like the challenge of daring myself not to do it and doing a different set of habits each month serves my craving for the new and my ability to become obsessed with things. It also means I dont beat myself up if I end up ‘dropping’ the habit after a month if I feel it doesnt serve me. Oftentimes, I can see the benefit and end up sticking to it. I’ve also found that giving myself flexibility within this to be a real key. I never set myself a goal of ‘every day’, but perhaps twice or three times a week, so I can still achieve my goals even if I dont feel like it one day. Eg. I go to yoga and wanted to make a habit of going 4 times a week. However, I knew if I had to go to a specific class every week I would end up resenting it becuase I didnt feel like it that day, or I really wanted to finish a project at work, or meet friends etc. So I signed up to a gym that has tonnes of branches and classes at lots of different times. Having this ‘choice’ makes it easy for me to be as flexible as possible whilst still achieving my fitness goals. I never would have thought of doing this if it wasnt for you! Thank you!

    • gretchenrubin


  • Don’t relish foods that are demonized by misinformed science. Get informed:

  • poppy field

    My husband told me I was a Rebel and so did the test. I take great joy in rebelling against the Standard American Diet and sedentary lifestyle. I like being healthy, vibrant, and active. I eat mostly plant-based and avoid processed foods. Meditation, yoga, swimming, and walking are part of my daily life.

    However, I struggle in neatness. I clean my room every week and it just gets messy again. I have curtailed shopping and have culled many of my possessions, but have yet to learn to take the time to put things away right after I use them. I have many items that don’t have a proper place. It is so frustrating to have drawers filled with junk.

    I would love suggestions and am halfway through Better than Before. Thanks!

  • Katie Grosvenor

    I love this, but if I were in her shoes, as soon as I’d written about it, it would be something other people were “expecting” me to stick to… and I’d be off the wagon!

  • Nancy

    I’m the definition of REBEL. It has served me well for a long time, but now it’s holding me back. I’d love to form a group with other rebels to share strategies.

    • Mitali Banerjee

      Hi Nancy- found your post and I feel the same way.
      Let’s do share a group – I’d like to start making some big and many small changes related to habits and personality .

  • Jimmie Hammel

    I’m a rebel. . . Well, that sucks.

    I didn’t even see this is what I was doing until I started to look through this lens. I have, essentially, been working against my own self interest for years. Every self-help book on the planet tells you to schedule, prioritize, and create social accountability.

    I would willing take spankings as a child to avoid doing quick, simple chores.

    I would only do certain aspects of my job if I could ‘hack’ them, make them better, and then use it to prove the original way was stupid.

    I will ask my doctor for a particular medication, take it religiously for a month (cause it’s my idea), then the next month, when she asks me how I’m doing on that medication… I suddenly find myself ‘forgetting’ to take it. And eventually finding excuses why I shouldn’t be taking it at all. AND THEN 3 MONTHS LATER I ASK HER TO PRESCRIBE THE SAME MEDS AGAIN.

    I will only do chores when my husband isn’t home, because if he makes even the smallest remark about what I’m doing, I stop.

    If I try to impose structure on a hobby, like playing a musical instrument, or learning a new language, I immediately stop doing the hobby even if I still WANT to do it.

    And the freakish part is that THIS is my first memory:

    I was four. My mom was yelling at me. She had been trying to get me to clean my room for hours. She said I wasn’t allowed out of my room until it was clean, and she stormed out. That’s when I had a sudden flash of clarity that I remember distinctly to this day. I realized that no one could make me do anything. She could yell. She could ground me. She could swat me, or make me go to bed without dinner… but she couldn’t MAKE me clean my room.

    So… what does it mean going forward?

    I feel completely ridiculous, and no less frustrated than I did yesterday. How am I supposed to get anything done if telling myself to do it creates immediate resistance? If I have to expend enormous amounts of willpower on every single item on my to-do list, very little is going to end up getting accomplished. If I start “patronizing” myself in an attempt to circumvent my inner rebel, I’ll hate that even more than the to-do lists. C’mon, you can do it! That’ll show them! Or, you’re only doing this cause you want to… Not gonna cut it.

    • mom2luke

      self awareness is the beginning of finding a solution. Sure no one can make you grow up but you. I think it starts by having compassion for the mother who was trying her hardest to help the four year old understand responsibility to herself and others. Do it to honor her. If you’re a mother yourself you know how difficult the job is. Only you can Stop the madness.

      • whello gold

        This cannot be a reply from a rebel!!! So many triggers!!!

  • st4rchy

    Your quiz question about how the respondent has adopted a healthy habit is missing the rebel answer–my answer– and that is I did it because it gave me pleasure. I trained my palate to love lots of healthy flavors and to notice how crap I feel when I eat terrible food, and how most of it doesn’t taste good anyway. It’s too sugary, too fatty, too heavy. I don’t get involved in this abstinence or moderation trap. In my rebel heart, I do what I want, and I want to live abundantly and healthfully, to take pleasure in life, not to eat crap or not to miss out on the pleasure of exercise. Your categories are very illuminating insofar as I now understand why I don’t relate to all this rule-making, but also can see how others do. If I want to eat bacon it’s not a problem for me, but frankly 729 out of 730 days I could do without bacon, cake, butter, etc etc etc. I love food but I don’t believe in cravings, because I don’t want them. I would not be controlled by them, or by worry about them, or by guilt, or anything like that. Rebel.

    • st4rchy

      That is, I am a a super healthful eater and exercise nut *because8 I am a rebel. To find things like that difficult would be so conventional.

  • mom2luke

    I knew my rebel husband and daughter were difficult but did not know exactly why. Is it judgy of me to note that rebels can be their own worst enemies? I hate that it puts me in position of nag to get them to do what we all know is right and necessary. I can use reverse psychology but that just seems to reinforce their immaturity to me.

    See how I just judged them? It is expected in a two year old and often in a teen, but objectively, as adults there is crap we don’t like to do but must if we want to survive. Drives me crazy. Ironically they both hate the rebel streaks in each other too. They judge each other most harshly for doing exactly what the other does.

    At my wit’s end. I’m a questioner so am always seeking solutions. Leaving them to their own devices tends to make us all unhappy.

    • The Writing Parent

      I can empathize with irritation at the rebel’s ability to ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’ at times… Questioning does seem a more rational approach than rebellion without a cause… 😉

      But, as a questioner, perhaps you can find a way to appreciate the value of the rebel…? The French Resistance during World War II, for example, probably had a HIGH percentage of rebel members (and questioners). Rebel energy is essential to safeguard against tyranny. It’s just that it can get in the way a bit of normal twenty-first century post-industrial life…

      Perhaps rebels are questioners through FEELING rather than through REASON/thinking??? They rely on their gut instinct to tell them what does or does not feel right.

      Both gut instinct and reason/logic have their strengths and their shortcomings.

    • Melly

      Your words “what we all know is right and necessary” makes me think that your attitude may be igniting their rebel tendencies. If you’re less invested in being right, and in looking down on them, there will be less for them to rebel against. They might even feel enough freedom that they’ll be willing to do some of the things that they resist now.

      I am mostly rebel, and I can tell you that the ONLY thing that will get me to do what someone else wants is for them to express their wishes to me and then to back off entirely. Every nag decreases the likelihood that I will comply. If I feel free to make my own decision on the subject, then I may do what they want, either because it’s actually what I want too or because I care about them and want to do something for them.

      No matter what you think of their brains and behaviors, continuing to push your husband and daughter guarantees that you will not get what you want. So it seems the rational choice is to stop nagging. They may never come around, but the odds are better than if you continue your current behaviors.

      • gretchenrubin

        Such a great expression of the Rebel perspective.

      • mom2luke

        The irony is that they are each so critical of the other’s rebel tendencies, calling each other “lazy”, pointing out each other’s faults, and clashing all the time. I find myself defending each to the other by pointing out that (despite the vast amount of time each spends addicted to their phones/ lazing around) they do contribute in other ways…Like he is very successful at his sales job. She helps watch her brother (who has autism).

        But I also feel like when I suck up the slack and do all the housework/chores I’m enabling them. When I was working FT w/ a long commute, it was infuriating that I was the only one who did any housework (my husband DOES cook, because he LIKES cooking!). Situation has improved since I quit my FT job. But still. We’re not living during the French Resistence!
        I liked in the podcast when Gretchen/Elizabeth noted rebel behavior would not be tolerated in certain workplaces whereas it is rewarded in others. My husband is in a profession where he clashes with his boss–A LOT!– But he is also the most successful salesperson there (not “despite” but “because”) he ignores rules and parameters his boss sets that would make him lose the sale.

        So, while we could be “happier at home” if he’d resist his rebel tendencies at home, they do serve him very well at work. My daughter’s Rebel tendencies, I HOPE are due partly to her age (nearly 18), because, as her dad says, if she continues her slovenly ways, her future roommates will hate her. But I don’t worry about that as I think she will clean up FOR friends…because that will be her choice to make them like her more. She acts this way at home because she knows we’ll love her no matter what. Still. Kinda maddening. Less so since I read Better than Before and realized trying to change their tendencies is basically impossible. But seriously regret I married a rebel. He was far more agreeable to my ideas/requests when we were dating. Once married that stopped. We can TRY to make the best of it but it is just way, way harder than it could be had I married an Obliger! And I drive him crazy with all my questions. Who knows how many future bad marriage Gretchen has saved w/ her books??! If only I’d known in advance.

  • The Writing Parent

    I have a rebel daughter (at age 6: ‘Mummy, I need to be free to be to be who I am’ :-)). I would love some creative ideas (perhaps from some rebels out there?) on how to encourage her to GET READY ON TIME! An obliger myself, I don’t like being late or making others wait, so it drives me slightly crazy that she makes the rest of the family wait almost every time we need to go anywhere.

    There are the old tricks, like giving her warning/ preparation time, helping her get ready etc., which are all helpful, but I wonder if there is a way of activating her inherent rebel motivation??!

    In general, it has been extremely helpful for me thinking in terms of our rebel/ obliger differences, and I often precede requests with ‘you don’t have to, but could you…’. I find this works a treat in many cases. 🙂
    A thought just occurred to me: speaking to her very VERY nicely often encourages her to do what I want. I wonder how rebels are influenced by LOVE?

    • gretchenrubin

      Excellent point. Rebels can do it, out of LOVE FOR YOU.

      Also, Rebel children (all children) are often powerfully influenced by imagination. “you’re an astronaut, and the spaceship is about to take off! Put on your space-suit, or you’ll miss your chance to visit the moon!” or “you’re a princess, about to leave on your royal journey. Put on your robes!” etc.
      They choose to live up to their identity – if you can tie this to your child’s identify of self as thoughtful; grown-up; highly competent; speedy etc.

      Yes, they always want to act from CHOICE.

      Rebels often love a challenge – like being timed. “Beat your old time!” “Bet you can’t get ready in less than 2 mins” etc.

      Constant reminders would probably make the problem WORSE.

      Other parents of Rebels – ideas????

      • The Writing Parent

        I shall try to remember to think of acts of compliance from my rebel child as ACTS OF LOVE :-). What a lovely thought.

        It reminds me of ‘The five love languages of children’, in which Gary chapman says that children will only willingly perform acts of service for their parents if their own ‘love tank’ is full. Perhaps for the rebel child in particular, having the parent find and use their love language is key to success?

        Using their imagination… Yes. I just noticed this evening as we were on our way somewhere that ‘being leader’ was of interest. Other times being ‘babied’ is fun.

        Taking advantage of the independent streak… Maybe by, for example, offering chances to do things independently, e.g. You can walk to school without Mummy if you get ready on time.

        I am very interested in the idea of identity. That is one for me to explore. It reminds me of ‘Self-Esteem, a Family Affair’ by Jean Illsley Clarke, in which she talks about using ‘affirmations for being’ and ‘affirmations for doing’ to reinforce positive behaviors/ habits and self-esteem.

        Thanks for the ideas!

        • Martin

          I think freedom is one of the best reasons to do something, if you’re rebel. I always look at new habit as a step to higher level of my freedom and independence. Hope it helps.

          • The Writing Parent

            So is freedom the key motivator of the rebel? Thanks for the insight :).

          • gretchenrubin

            In my observation, freedom, choice, and authenticity are the key values for Rebels.

          • Martin

            I’ve just started using “Strategy of Identity” and it really works. Instead of expecting of myself eating healthfully, exercising, flossing,… I realized that I highly respect myself and I want to take care of my body. That is part of my identity and I naturally want do these things. Then you can use “Strategy of Clarity” to know what does “taking care of your body” mean to you. Everyday I know don’t have to work out but that is part of me. And I really wanna be who I am.
            So let your child builds its identity, maybe some sport, musical instrument or art. But it has to be its choice.

            PS: If you tell me to do something I can choose whether I’ll do it or not. I know exactly what you want from me and I feel like your prisoner (deep inside). But if you tell me four things to do a say that I needn’t do all, just one or two and a can decide when a which I take, it’s more likely that I’ll do one. (This I use for my younger brother who is rebel too.)

          • The Writing Parent

            Brilliant, thanks a lot, Martin. I use the strategy of ‘it’s up to you, but…’ a lot with my rebel daughter. I can see the moment of hesitation in her face as she’s thinking, ‘do I want to do this or not…?’.
            I think the identity strategy is great. I am trying to use it across a range of different issues with my kids. It is very interesting. Art is a big part of my daughter’s identity, she is highly imaginative.

            I wrote a blog post a week ago about rebels which I’d love you to read and comment on if you have time on my typepad blog The Writing Parent. 🙂 Hope it’s ok to mention it here – just love to get some rebel comments ;-). Can’t post the link here unfortunately. I cross-referenced back to Gretchen’s site.
            Take care ( – if you want to ;-)).

  • Perry

    I was sure I was an obliger, but think I might be a rebel instead. I wasn’t thrilled with my first choice, much less so now. Looking forward to more research to do the best with this… My husband is an Upholder/Abstainer.

  • Julia Landon

    So is there a blog written by a Rebel about being a Rebel? Or a forum on this website with a Rebel wall?

  • Megan Barrett

    I have a rebel son… I would love to see your book and how to teach children their tendencies!

  • Cara

    Yikes! Wow and oh dear. I am definitely a rebel. At first it wasn’t obvious and I found the questionnaire a bit confusing and ambiguous but now that I have read about it I’m positive.

    It’s driven me crazy for a long time. And the people around me. My mum would always complain that she could never ask me to do anything. I also like cleaning and don’t mind doing chores but I hate doing them in front of other people. And I definitely hate being asked. I mean really hate it! I’ve felt like a petulant child but this framework helps me understand or accept it. I’ve even tried to explain to my mum why my boyfriend is always appearing to be cleaning up etc and I appear to do nothing but that actually overall I do a lot of the work it just isn’t when people are watching.
    Teaching is a good job for me because I get a lot of autonomy in the classroom which allows me to do my own thing and what I want to do! Admin frustrates me and I have actually called a file folder on my computer for work admin AWOT (a waste of time) in quiet protest. I have also started my own business and have been getting a good response to weekly Facebook live sessions and then suddenly lost interest – now I know that this is probably because I don’t like that I’m now expected to turn up. I love surprises giving and receiving .. Yes 100% rebel. So now that I know I have to work out how to use it to my advantage I guess!!

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  • Rebel here and I’m so grateful for Gretchen for making me feel normal! I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE!!! My todo list is titled (In large letters!) THINGS I COULD DO. This one simple trick makes me feel like I’m making choices and scaling a mountain 🙂 Also I embrace leaving at least one thing on my list every day. Then, when I’m ready to get to work it’s a double choice – I could do this or is this the thing to leave off today? #winning

    • gretchenrubin

      Brilliant strategy!

  • Jarrod Lombardo

    I’m a rebel and I can’t figure out how to motivate myself to brush my teeth even once every day. Showering and deodorant every day were never a problem (I don’t know why), but I’ve never been able to make myself care about brushing for more than a few days in a row. I was impossible about it as a child (gold stars on a calendar and significant prizes at the end of the month with a full calendar couldn’t get me to care) and it’s no better now in my late 30s. Any other rebels have a life of a hard time with some simple hygiene things? Ways to change it?