Podcast 43: “You Can’t Make Me, and Neither Can I.” Listener Round-Up of the Four Tendencies.

It’s time for the next installment of  “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

Update: Remember, if you live in the Bay area:  Elizabeth and I are doing our first live recording of the podcast! January 21, Brava Theater, we hope to see you there. Info and tickets here.  We’ll have two excellent guests, Nir Eyal and Jake Knapp. They’re both brilliant and fascinating, so that will be terrific. Plus Elizabeth and I have planned special little treats, and you also get a copy of Better Than Before with your ticket.

And loyal sister that she is, Elizabeth gave a plug for the paperback of Better Than Before, which came out yesterday.  Yay! You can see me talk about it in this little video. I’ve extended the bonus offer, the free email package of “21 Days, 21 Strategies for Habit Change,” until January 1. But act fast. Info here.

Four Tendencies: Listener Questions & Observations

This episode is a round-up of listener questions and observations about the Four Tendencies. If you need a quick reminder about the definition of Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels, you can find it here, as well as the the online Quiz.

Try This at Home: Reach out to other members of your Tendency, to talk about possible strategies to manage the limitations of your Tendency–and also to compare notes about how you see the world.

Four Tendencies Mottos:  Yowza, I loved hearing the mottoes that people suggested for the Four Tendencies. Brilliant.

Listener Questions and Insights: “Rebels learn best when they experience the consequences of their decisions, so you may have to allow your Rebel child to suffer the consequences of their actions.”

“How can a family of Upholders get along with Rebel?”

Here’s one I found particularly fascinating: “It seems like Questioners don’t like to be questioned. Have you noticed this?” I hadn’t — but in fact, my husband is a Questioner, and he hates to answer questions. Has anyone else noticed this?

“I’m a personal trainer. What are your favorite examples, specific to each Tendency, about eating higher quality food?”

Gretchen’s Demerit:  I forgot to tell my husband that I was leaving early for Philadelphia until late the night before.

Elizabeth’s Gold Star: Elizabeth gives herself a gold star for planning a friends’ weekend away.


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Happier with Gretchen Rubin #43 - Listen at Happiercast.com/43


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  • Yes! I am a questioner who hates to be questioned. I used to think this was the rebel in me, but no – it’s that when someone questions me, they don’t realize I’ve already been through a big process in forming an opinion. If I haven’t read/studied enough on a topic, I’ll freely admit it, but if I do have a strong opinion, you’d better believe it took a lot of work to get there, so the questioning feels like the person is discounting that or saying I’m an idiot.

    I also wanted to add, this show just helped me realize one reason I love the show HOUSE. House always says, “It fits” when he makes a diagnosis. I love this – a questioner wants things to fit, to *make sense*, to be logical. (House also has a huge rebel tendency, but mostly he loves puzzling out difficult questions.)

    Re: your listener comment, my husband is an obliger all the way, and he says “As you wish” to me all the time!

    • Sydney

      Yes Carrie!! “…I’ve already been through a big process in forming an opinion. ” I am a questioner, and I don’t mind if someone asks me to explain why I follow a certain habit (What made you decide to give up sugar?), but if they question the habit itself (Why would you do that?) I get extremely annoyed.

      I wouldn’t stick to something if it weren’t worth while, and I’ve never been known to do anything without thinking it through. When someone questions my habits I want to shout “DO YOU REALLY THINK I DIDN’T LOOK AT THIS FROM ALL SIDES?!” Because if I haven’t, I’ll admit it. But if I have it was no easy process.

      • gretchenrubin

        Great insight into this pattern!

  • Nikki Ledford

    Hi Gretchen and Elizabeth,

    I love your show and have been a big fan of the happiness project and all it’s branches since the beginning.

    First things first.

    Hi my name is Nikki, and I am a Questioner. Though that’s not related to my comment today…

    I wanted to address an issue on the most recent episode about the four tendencies. I heard a suggestion within the tendency of Obliger to have your children keep you accountable with your food journal/dieting goals. I’m sorry, but I heartedly disagree with this suggestion, especially if the child happens to be a girl (but it still holds true for boys). As some one who works in the health and wellness industry and has worked really hard to reverse some very pervasive and destructive messages promoted by our culture and the fitness industry, I would argue against any sort of behavior or messaging that tells children that it is 1. important to track/scrutinize/restrict/engage in diets. and 2. okay promote the idea that our bodies need to be a certain size to be “good” and that other sizes are “bad”.

    While we, as adults, can differentiate between goals and habits that are healthy and appropriate, children often cannot. I think that you could certainly let your children know that you are trying to eat whole and nourishing foods to be healthy and strong. I would argue that with the messages prevalent in media today, children already have an uphill battle against the ideas of dieting, the worth and value associated with weight, the celebration of all things thin (for women) and muscular (for men) without having to be subjected to their parent’s own neurosis about their bodies and weight. This discussion goes much farther than just asking your kids to be your “food police” and extends to how you talk about your body in front of your kids, the magazines you read, the shows you watch, the things you say about other people’s bodies, etc.

    You would be hard pressed to find a woman out there who has not either engaged or entertained the idea of turning to drastic measures to make her body more “attractive”. Society accepts this behavior (diets, plastic surgery, self loathing, detoxes, overexercising) as perfectly common, but it’s actually extremely damaging. In the begining, all your kids see is the beautiful parent they know and love no matter what. Once you begin to teach your kids that self-love is dependent on an external factor like weight or appearance, it’s only a matter of time before they begin to scrutinize their own appearance.

    Just my 2 cents. Not expecting everyone to agree, but I would advise caution and discernment when sharing these kinds of issues with your children.

    • Victoria

      That’s a very thoughtful and well-argued comment, Nikki – I completely agree that encouraging the whole family to eat good and nourishing foods is a good thing, whereas we need to do all we can to combat the unrelenting pressure on children (particularly girls but, as you say, boys as well these days) to look a certain way. I hadn’t thought about it like that before, so thanks for taking the time to explain your point of view so politely and eloquently.

      • Nikki Ledford

        I appreciate the reply and compliments Victoria. It’s hard to put your opinion out there on the internet knowing that there are lots of people ready to tear down any point of view. How refreshing to be acknowledged 🙂 I’m not one to comment often, but this topic is a particularly sensitive one for me. Happy Holidays.

  • Susan S.

    Hi – I love the podcasts!! I thought I would reply about the Questioners being questioned. I am guessing at my husband’s tendencies – because he won’t take a quiz like this (haha). I thought he was between a questioner or a rebel. I have been leaning on him being more of questioner, because there are lots of obligations that he is committed to, etc. But he very much hates being questioned – it is like his integrity is being questioned. It is very annoying because he doesn’t have issues questioning others. ALSO – I have tried to offer more reasons and rational for things that I would like him to do – somehow this still doesn’t seem to work for me. I feel like as an obliger, I am often doing what his choices are and on his timeline- and it takes a lot for him to go with my choices. Any other suggestions for getting across my views to a questioner??

    • Brie

      Hi Susan- I’m in this exact same situation- obliger with a questioner husband (with a sliver of rebel) and I also try to explain my requests to him, while being on his timeline. Would love it if Gretchen could delve deeper into this relationship dynamic!

      • Yes, I am a questioner married to an obliger, a combo that for us works very well

  • statmam

    Do questioners resent ALL questions or just questions that they deem unimportant or unnecessary? If questioners are optimizers who evaluate all requests (including requests for information) using their internal priority algorithm, it makes sense that some requests for information would be denied.

  • Mimi Gregor

    So much stuff to comment on!

    Firstly, a gold star to Elizabeth’s gold star. As an Obliger, it must have been difficult to take the bull by the horns like that and take charge. Brava!

    Gretchen — as to your demerit, why does Jamie have to be the one to get up early when you’re away and walk Barnaby? What about the girls?

    Also, Gretchen, I’m sure I’m not the only one who would LOVE it if you would elucidate on how to recognize the four tendencies in conversations with them. We’re not always in situations where we know what the other person’s tendency is going in, but it would certainly be helpful if we DID know. I’m thinking job interviews… first dates… small talk at parties. Are there certain questions we can ask them — seemingly innocuous and in passing — that can help us discern what their tendency might be? This would be immensely helpful!

    Regarding Questioners hating to be questioned: I am a Questioner. It depends upon the type of question. If someone seems to be asking for advice or information, they can ask away, and I can go on talking with them ad nauseam. But if, by the tone or wording of their question, they seem to be questioning my choices… I can get pretty snippy. Maybe they don’t even mean it that way, but I am so used to calling other people’s choices, advice, and orders into question that when, for example, my husband asks me a simple question like “When’s lunch?”, I take it to mean that he thinks I’m dawdling and means to hurry me along, when, as it usually is the case, he just want to know if he has time for a shower.

    And lastly, to the personal trainer: I can only speak as a Questioner, but what made me change my eating habits for the better was books. Gary Taubes… Michael Pollen… Nina Planck… and many other books and documentaries that I read/saw in a short period of time convinced me to eschew processed food and cook mostly from scratch, and also to go organic. And because I am a Questioner, I am very organized, so scratch cooking isn’t nearly as onerous for me as it might be for other tendencies.

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m working on a “Flash evaluation” guide right now. Any suggestions welcome!
      Fascinating about Questioners and questioning. I have much more insight into my husband now.

  • Alex

    Another questioner here to weigh in on questioners hating to be questioned… I definitely fall into that category. For example, when I finished university I was determined to get a job, buy a car and find a place to live, with everything signed and finalized, before Easter when I would see my extended family – the reason being that I didn’t want to hear them question my decisions if they weren’t final. After spending time analyzing a situation from every angle and asking all the questions, once I have made a decision, the last thing I was is for it to be called into question and to go through the whole analysis process over again with someone else.

    Thanks Gretchen for bringing this up, as I hadn’t really put it together why this bothered me so much! Great podcast as always!

    • gretchenrubin


      I have so much more understanding of my husband now!

  • Ramona

    I am loving the podcast and this episode had me talking out loud in my car, even though you couldn’t hear me. I wanted to come make a comment about Questioners hating being questioned, but I can see that Susan already said so much of what I wanted to say! 🙂

    I believe my partner is a Questioner. When Elizabeth said that, I realized that is why he loves being the boss and does so much better as a team leader or President of a company. Previous to that level he often worked jobs where he was fairly autonomous and didn’t have someone questioning him as long as he was producing results.

    I’m not sure what Gretchen is planning for the new book but I sorted getting visions of sections on the various combinations and practical suggestions about small shifts in language to communicate better etc., good career choices for the 4 Tendencies and all sorts of things that would help us live happier lives.

    • gretchenrubin

      So helpful, thanks!

      Yes, that will be a lot of what the book is about.

  • B Johnson

    Hi Gretchen and Elizabeth – Love the podcasts, and all the books. I am an Obliger (living with a Questioner – my husband, and two rebels – 17yo son & 12yo daughter). I think I am on the verge of a period of Obliger Rebellion, an event which always makes me feel extremely guilty afterwards!
    I have learned to get around my children’s Rebel-ness by asking them to do something in the right way. If I ask my son very politely to do something that will help me out, he’ll do it pretty much every time, but on his own timetable. With my daughter, I ask her if she wants to do something … but I have to accept her response if she says “No” or she just digs in her heels and absolutely refuses to come around.
    For my husband, I never have enough information to sway his opinion, but if I ask him nicely to do something for me he usually will. However, he absolutely hates to be questioned. My theory is that he feels he’s already done all the questioning necessary to come to the decision, and to question him about it is like questioning his ability to make a reasoned, rational decision.

  • coconutprofile

    I am an obliger (and a project manager at my job) with an ex husband who I believe is a questioner (and engineer). He is an excellent researcher and creative-thinker and does not like to be questioned or disagreed with, or asked to research things for others unless it’s a topic in which he has some personal interest. When faced with someone who questions or disagrees with his thinking, he just keeps repeating his position (over and over again).

  • santaclams

    I tried several times to write down my deeper thoughts around being an Obliger for this episode, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized how many more thoughts I had. So, while I didn’t contribute anything for the show, it really got me thinking about how being an Obliger profoundly informs how I live my life–from my personal relationships to what gets me going at work to overcoming inertia around exercise and money to how I interact with my friends to wanting a dog but not wanting to feel the constant tug of obligation to another being.

  • Jess

    I am a rebel and I have to say that I happily agree to deal with the consequences of my actions because I chose them freely. And I don’t want anyone to clean up my messes because I expect that everybody wants to have the same freedom of choice I claim for myself. It is because I don’t like to deal with the expectations of others that I don’t expect from others to act like I want them to. This is also why I think that rebels could really fit with partners from all the other tendecies but maybe best with questioners who also highly value freedom of choice.

  • N2K…OMG!!! I had this EXACT thing with my ex-husband. He wouldn’t answer some ordinary, innocuous question for no reason at all that I could ascertain. “What is this, ‘need to know basis,’ like in the ^%$#* CIA?” I’d ask, and he’d be unperturbed, and go right on not telling me things. I think of him as a Rebel, not a Questioner, and wonder if that’s something common to both those tendencies? I’m an Obliger who was sure she was an Upholder but grudgingly came to realize that sadly, I’m probably not.