Want to Learn More about Yourself–and Instruct Me? Consider These Questions.

I write a lot about my Four Tendencies framework — and Elizabeth and I have talked a lot about it on our podcast. To find out if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel, go here, or take the online Quiz here.

I so appreciate all the readers and listeners who have shared their insights and experiences — it has given me such deeper insight into the Four Tendencies.

I introduce the framework in my book Better Than Before, and ever since the book came out, I’ve been deluged with people wanting more information about the Four Tendencies, how they interact. “How do I manage my Rebel child?” “How do I hire only Obligers?” “How can Questioners avoid analysis paralysis?” “Can’t you give more ideas for how Rebels can change their habits?” are some of the questions I keep getting.

So I’m working on a whole book on the Four Tendencies. With every book I write –I think, boy, it will never get better than this, I’ll never have this much fun writing a book again. And then I do. I never forget how lucky I am.

As I’m writing, I’d love to learn more about what you think about the following issues (or anything else, really):

  • Can you think of any famous examples of the Four Tendencies? Either in real life (Andre Agassi is an Obliger) or fictional (Hermione Granger is an Upholder).
  • Obligers, I’d love to hear about your experiences with Obliger-rebellion. What triggered it — and I’m even more curious to hear — what stopped it or cured it? Or if you’re close to an Obliger (and all of us are, because it’s such a large group), how did you address Obliger-rebellion?
  • If you’re someone who’s in a long-term relationship with a Rebel (which means you’re very likely to be an Obliger), how does that work out? One particular question: Does it give you a feeling of greater control of how things are done, do you respond to that?
  • What do you like or dislike about your Tendency? What would be the motto for your Tendency?
  • Have you noticed that you get along better, or worse, with a particular Tendency, and if so, why?
  • If you use the Four Tendencies at work, I’d love to hear about that. If you use it as a doctor, in hiring, as a nutritionist, as a teacher, as a manager, etc. — tell me about that.
  • How do you think your Tendency suits you to your job — or not?
  • How does your Tendency influence your romantic relationships?
  • Finally — and this is a big one — I need help with the title. I want to call the book “The Four _____ Tendencies” or “The Four Tendencies of _____.” How would you fill in that blank? Ideally, it’s a word that’s concrete and colorful and adds a layer of meaning beyond “Tendency” really to explain what this framework is about. Similar to “The Five Love Languages.Abstract concepts or adjectives, like Personality, Fundamental, Responsive, Self-Knowledge are apt but, I suspect, not as compelling. Think away! GOLD STAR if you come up with something terrific.


This is a lot of questions, I know, but I’m so curious.

Thanks, as always, for sending my your observations. I’m endlessly fascinated by the Four Tendencies, and just can’t read and hear enough about how they play out in people’s lives. Henry James himself couldn’t invent these marvelous, precise, riveting examples.

Let me know what you think, what you’ve noticed, what you’ve experienced.


  • Ana

    the four motivational tendencies, or the 4 tendencies of human behavior

  • Mimi Gregor

    Even though I’ve thought about how useful it can be to suss out the tendency of the person who is interviewing you for a job, it somehow didn’t occur to me that the river can flow the other way — they might very well be trying to peg you, so that — as you mentioned — they can hire only Obligers. As a Questioner, this just gives me the heebie-jeebies! I mean, who would knowingly hire someone who is inwardly motivated and will question every order or suggestion, disregarding those that are deemed stupid or ineffectual, and will do things their own way in the end? It may behoove fellow Questioners — and Rebels, as well (though they will probably rebel against this suggestion. Oh, well…) to try to pass as Obligers or Upholders, lest they never find a job!

    • gretchenrubin

      I know! I was quite taken aback when I was asked that question.

      But I think many places would absolutely WANT Questioners. They’re great to have at work (as are Upholders, Obligers, and Rebels, by the way).

    • Christine Volden Pereira

      I am a rebel but i totally fake it and pretend to be an upholder in interviews. And it works! I am weirdly motivated by the success of getting the job. But once I get it, i slowly reveal my evil plan (just kidding). I think most people are putting up a front in interviews though. That would be a very interesting study to see what perceptions are during an interview and over time.

    • Randee Bulla

      I used to pretend to be an obliger until my last job and I decided to just let them see me as the questioner I was (though I didn’t have the terminology back then). I figured we’d all be happier that way. I’m happy to say it’s worked out beautifully for over 6 years and feel like I am finally fully appreciated for what I bring to the table.

    • BooPickett

      I think that questioners always have a position in the workplace. They are often the ones that bring up different points of view, but probably do better in leadership or non-conventional positions. Obligers have their place as well, but more front line and in positions where orders must be followed or issues can arise (military, healthcare, etc).

  • Marylin

    The Four Tendencies of Being. The Four Hardwired Tendencies . . . of Being.

  • I am most definitely an Obliger, but because I am very shy and extremely introverted I’ve come up with ways to create external accountability. For example, I powered through all my Christmas preparations by reminding myself how disappointed everyone would be if the cookies weren’t baked and the gifts not nicely wrapped. When, most likely, no one would have cared too much if there was only one type of cookie instead of three, and if all the gifts were in Christmas bags rather than wrapped.

    I’m also using the strategy of convenience along with manufactured external accountability to get myself to floss and take vitamins everyday. I have my flossers in a pretty jar on the bathroom counter so that I see them every time I brush. And I remind myself how much I hate telling the dentist that I forget to floss. So, to avoid that, now I floss. Simple. And ditto with vitamins–a weekly pill container on the kitchen counter along with the mental reminder that I don’t like letting my doctor down.

    As for Obliger rebellion, sometimes I just don’t want to do anything for anyone and spend a few days reading, watching TV, or nothing at all in particular. And then I remember that everyone is counting on me since I am so dependable (cue eye roll), and I’m back to normal. I find the occasional “rebel” break to be helpful.

    I’d say a good Obliger motto is “Depend on me!” With maybe the addition of “If only I could depend on myself.”

    • My obliger rebellion is similar and includes ignoring emails and phone calls. And guilt.

    • gretchenrubin

      Love this discussion of Obliger-rebellion.

  • Kristi

    I’m an Obliger, and my best example of Obliger Rebellion happens when I get sick. It feels like a secret permission to stop obliging everyone else and take care of myself. I need to develop the boundaries that allow me to do that without being sick! I am married to a Rebel, and I have had to learn that I am my own person, not defined by his rebellious (in my mind) behavior. Sometimes I am horrified by silly things, for instance him talking at a concert, movie or in church! The obliger in me would NEVER do that, but he thinks nothing of it. I have learned to address it by telling him how it makes ME feel, without any judgement on him for the behavior. He will stop because he loves me…which is far more effective that me condemning his behavior (which NEVER led to him stopping, which now I understand – thanks to you, Gretchen!). LOVE all your books!

    • Laura

      I’m a Rebel, and like your husband, I am good at altering my
      behavior because I love my spouse too 🙂
      Reminding myself of how much I love him helps me do what he asks (aka meet his needs) without igniting my rebellious spirit. Perhaps it’s because I WANT to be a loving spouse.

    • gretchenrubin

      Thanks for these insights and examples. Fascinating!

    • Gillian

      Sorry, but talking in a movie, concert or church isn’t a personality trait (rebellion), it’s just plain rude and very inconsiderate of the people around him who are there to listen to the event. It’s nice that he’ll stop because he loves you but in a civilized society we all, regardless of our Tendency, have to be considerate of the people around us.

      • gretchenrubin

        People really see the world in different ways. The more I research and ponder the Four Tendencies, the more I’m seeing this.

      • Katherine

        ^ Upholder 😉

  • Barbara Bomba

    While I’m not yet done with the book Better than Before, I can say with some certainty that I’m an Upholder with Questioner tendencies. I haven’t really thought through all of the questions on the list but I think I do have ideas for your title. In the first case it could simply be, “The Four Basic Tendencies” with a subtitle of: Recognizing yourself and motives in life. In the second, “The Four Tendencies of People” with a subtitle of: How they navigate their lives.

  • Wendy Zeller

    I am an Obliger. I am a retired law enforcement officer and many years ago I went to a workshop on how to interview for a job promotion. Part of the workshop including doing a mock interview for a supervisory position before a panel. At the end of the interview I was told that I should not promote. Why? Because it was evident that I would be trying too hard to please everyone. Not a good trait for a supervisor. I didn’t even bother trying to change myself. I just focused my energies in another area of my profession. In reality, this ended up being a sort of rebellion because my husband wanted me to promote…..

    • AnnMarie

      Hmmm, that’s really interesting. I’m an obliger, too, and I was not very good in a supervisory position. (I was in another one, but they had very different expectations of supervising.) This sounds like it might ring true for me….

      • JJ

        Wow, this is interesting! I am a 100% Obliger and have long felt bad about the fact that I am not an effective supervisor of others UNLESS they are very self-motivated and conscientious. I just realized that this is partly because I subconsciously expect them (my assistants) to act like Obligers also (or Upholders) and feel a strong responsibility to get good work done. If they question the work they signed up for, or the rationale for it, or rebel against the situation in some way, or just do a half-baked job, I struggle to direct them and often have the thought “I’ll just do it myself to my own high standard – that’s easier.”
        However, I have definitely had my own form of Obliger-Rebellion and it was sparked by getting a federal job in which my own supervisor, a 25-year federal employee whose experience was in a different field from mine, would insist that I do things (often optional, but she would make them mandatory) that even I felt were 100% arbitrary and unjustified. For example, requiring me to update time sheets daily when they were actually due only every 2 weeks. Or to file an accident report if I slipped in the parking lot, even if no injuries were incurred. It became like an episode of The Office, and I started to rebel against every request!
        I want to offer a positive perspective on Obligers in contrast to Upholders. I have found many Upholders to be more rigid in following their own expectations/goals – even in situations where it would really make sense to accommodate others – if they don’t have a lot of time to adjust to new circumstances or information. For example “We’ve planned to drive our own vehicle and leave at X time, and no we can’t adapt that plan to share a ride or pick up another person who got stranded.” I have many friends who are working moms with young kids, and those that are Obligers are always flexible and creative in helping each other juggle schedules and kids. The Upholders often give off the vibe of “We’ve planned everything well in advance and can’t modify to help anyone else at this point.” They’re reliable and predictable, but in many situations it is a plus to be more adaptable!
        Finally, my Rebel husband. I’ve realized thanks to the 4 Tendencies framework that if and when he is in the mood to do something that benefits me or the family too, I’d better embrace it because it might not come around again! For example, in the old days if he said suddenly on a week night at 9 pm “I’m ready to tackle cleaning out the garage”, I might have said “Oh, let’s wait til the weekend when there’s more time & when we can take stuff straight to Goodwill, I think we should get an early night, etc etc etc.” Now I just say “Great! Thanks! Let me know if I can help!” As I’ve learned more about our tendencies, he has also become more understanding of what he perceived as my “weird” insistences – e.g. cleaning the house before guests come (he says “They should take us as they find us”) or taking care to dress carefully/get haircuts/shave before important family reunion type events (he has the same comment). Knowing that the opinions of others matter very differently to the 2 of us (and countless others) has helped us both a lot.
        As for standing in line, or driving in super heavy traffic – like many Rebels he absolutely hates this – we had a terrible couple of years living in L.A.! I think it’s because these situations force him to acknowledge that tons of other people want to do the same exact thing or go in the same direction as he does!! His response is to change plan!

        • gretchenrubin

          So much to think about here! Thanks for providing your insights.

  • Shell

    I always watch ‘Its a Wonderful Life’ at Christmas, but the film didn’t cheer me up as it usually does this year, for the first time ever it depressed me. I’m not sure George Bailey really did have a wonderful life – keeping everyone else happy at the expense of his own dreams and sanity. I’m an obliger like George and his resentment, frustration and eventual rebellion was all too familiar to me 🙁

    • gretchenrubin

      Interesting! I don’t think I’ve never actually watched the whole movie (how did THAT happen?). But now I will…to see if George Bailey is an Obliger.

      Other folks – do you agree that George an Obliger?

      • moabchick

        I think George is a Rebel with Obliger tendencies. He sees himself as a rebel, but lives his life as an Obliger, which leads to him not “Being George,” and it makes him miserable. It’s similar to Obliger rebellion, but is Rebel Obliging. Trust me, it happens.

        • gretchenrubin

          Rebel-obliging! Tell me more! I’m intrigued.

          I haven’t noticed examples of this, in my observation, but maybe I wasn’t understanding what I was seeing.

          • moabchick

            Okay, let’s continue with George Bailey. George was a Rebel, but he continually felt obliged to meet the needs (not expectations) of others. As we know, Rebels rail against expectations, and when his father, or his family, or the town, wanted him to do something, he pushed back, always saying no. However, in rebellion against Mr. Potter (over and over), he stepped in to help, thus ending up living a life more in-line with that of an Obliger, than his true rebel tendencies. He became trapped by his own desire to save others, rather than eschewing all expectation and traveling the world, leading to his inner conflict.

            Does this make sense? It’s late, and I feel my logic waning. 😉

        • Claire G

          This rings so true for me! I was shocked that I was a Rebel because I’ve always acted more like an obliger but I’m so much happier embracing my rebel nature.

      • Layne Fargo

        I do think George is an Obliger, and his brother Harry is the Rebel in the family. George definitely experiences Obliger rebellion, but if he were a true Rebel he wouldn’t have stayed in Bedford Falls to run the family business in the first place.

    • mom2luke

      I think he did! He choose to stay and run the S&L out of love for his family and friends. He always asked a lot of questions before choosing the right thing. I think he was a questioner or maybe even an upholder. He always did what made the most sense for those he loved.
      He told his dad no, he needed to follow his dream, so he wasn’t an obliger. It was just bad luck his dad died and his brother and uncle weren’t up to the task of running the S&L. He stepped up.
      He chose to marry Donna Reed and had a happy marriage and four kids! And he had love and respect of everyone in town. And in the end is richest man in what matters most.

      I know it’s fiction, but that’s a wonderful life I’d love to have. Sorry the magic of watching it didn’t work for you this year. Maybe it’s time for a small rebellion in your life.

  • Ann

    The Four Challenge Tendencies.

  • Sara

    My friend, who is an obliger, went on strike and stopped cooking meals for her three children after they complained about what she served for two weeks straight. She required them to cook and clean up after themselves. They could continue to make their own dinner, or eat what she served without complaining. One child held out for two weeks. I think her strike is a great example of obliger rebellion and it was effective in the short term.

    • gretchenrubin


  • Karin

    The Four Driving Tendencies
    The Four Powering Tendencies or The Four Personal Power Tendencies

    • gretchenrubin


      • Karin

        Here’s another: The QUOR (pronounced “core”) Tendencies, or even just the Core Tendencies.
        (Here I am thinking of ideas for you rather than doing my own work…clearly I’m an Obliger!)

        • gretchenrubin

          Ooooh interesting!! Thanks!!!

  • CNM

    The Four Cardinal Tendencies

  • Jennie Wong

    I think you should call it The Four Cardinal Tendencies, and you can use a red bird to match the blue bird of happiness 🙂

  • debbiedarline

    Famous example: I think that John Adams was an upholder.

    Obliger-rebellion: One of my friends (who is an Obliger) was complaining about always being asked to do a particular recurring volunteer task because it made her mad that others weren’t “stepping up to the plate” and that people just “expected” her to do it and maybe she just wouldn’t do it anymore! My response was puzzled curiosity. From my Questioner point-of-view I thought “Why in the world are you saying “yes” when they ask you and you don’t want to do it? Can’t you just say “no”? I don’t know if it even occurred to her that she could say no.

    What do you like (or dislike) about your Tendency?: I absolutely LOVE being a Questioner. Generally I get along great with other questioners, rebels and obligers. I admire and respect upholders, unless they give me unwanted advice or WORST OF ALL try to “task” me. Yikes! I am not your servant. I am an adult – don’t treat me like a child!!! Apparently, I have quite strong feelings about this!

    Title: The Four Core Tendencies or The Four Defining Tendencies

    • gretchenrubin


  • Jennie Wong

    Here’s how you can tell the difference between an Upholder and an Obliger – how quickly do they get out of relationships with difficult people? If someone is prone to breaking promises, etc. an Upholder will break ties with that person almost before a relationship can even form. An Obliger, on the other hand, takes much more time to break ties with someone like that until they get to the breaking point of Obliger rebellion. So if it’s a dramatic “break up,” that’s an Obliger. If it was nipped in the bud, that’s an Upholder.

    • gretchenrubin

      Interesting! Great point!

    • gretchenrubin

      If you have a personal example of this, anyone, I’d love to hear it.

      • Jennie Wong

        Here’s an example from my life – I’m an Upholder and always try to be conscientious about appointments, both out of consideration for other people as well as from valuing my own time. Once I became a mom, I realized that there were 2 camps – moms who will show up when they say they will, and moms who won’t wake their kid up from a nap, even if they have a play date with you. While I totally respect the moms in the “let them sleep” camp, I realized that I need to look for mom friends in the “wake them up” camp. One of my best friends from North Carolina really impressed me by showing up *on time* to my kid’s birthday party even though she had found one of her children smearing poop on the walls of the playroom. While that would have been ample justification to bail on a party, she didn’t and I still love her to this day.

        • Bean

          Jennie: there’s a third mom camp, the “don’t make a playdate at a time when my kid is likely to be asleep” one. That’s our approach. Then we can arrive on time to things, with well-rested kids, putting everyone at ease. 🙂

          • I wouldn’t call that a third camp, as we all try to avoid nap times. The difference is what do you do when the unexpected happens, like your kid goes down later than usual?

          • Bean

            That totally depends on the kid and the day. One kid really needs a full nap especially if he’s not feeling well, the other one was more robust to disruptions and slept more to the clock anyway… so there is/was no “always wake” or “never wake” rule. It’s more like “depends on complex interplay between individual child, tiredness, illness, our own patience, and expectations of the host”. I suppose this makes us flaky but I hate both of (a) being late (for the reason you state – it’s disrespectful of the other person’s time), and (2) dealing with my kids when they are tired. Clearly those two values are in direct opposition at times! 🙂

          • HumCoMom

            this is my camp! 🙂

    • Sarah

      I’m not sure I agree. I’m most definitely an Upholder, but I take some time to end relationships. Why? Because I feel that I need to feel like I’ve tried everything *I* can do to make the relationship work as well as giving the other person an opportunity to make it work before giving up on it. I look at my behavior and how I am operating within the relationship, how I may be contributing to the difficulty and what I can change as well as what the other person does.

  • angela@givingupsugar.net

    I’m an obliger and will strike if I feel taken advantage of or unappreciated. Just the other day we had a rather impromptu bbq at a park with family and friends. I discovered I hadn’t packed enough plates and cutlery for everyone present which got several grumbles. I then realised that not ONE damn person had asked me what we should bring, let alone contributed to the meal in anyway (I am a very organised person so I guess people who know me well expect me to remember everything). I told my husband and family that they can organise the next few outings!

  • aleishacd

    Obliger here. Love the Four Tendencies. Think of it EVERY day, and try to use it to my advantage. Responding before reading comments (don’t want to be influenced), so pardon any repeats.

    Famous example I just thought of is Pride and Prejudice: Darcy is an Upholder, Elizabeth is a Questioner, Wickham is a Rebel, Bingley is an Obliger.

    Obliger-rebellion: Example from adulthood: I was always running 5 minutes late for work. Always. Just from hitting the snooze one time too many times even though I wasn’t actually tired. I felt so guilty and bad that I was not on time and there with my co-worker. Even though the 5 minutes didn’t really affect her, the guilt was eating me up. I resolved to fix the problem and mentioned it to her. She made a couple of snide comments about how she always noticed my lateness, etc. Just rude stuff – not constructive criticism. Right then, a switch flipped and in my mind, I was just like, “F&ck it.” I purposefully started being late almost every day. I’d get there early and sit in my car and think, “I work so hard, I do so much, and you’re harping on something that is so trivial, so screw it. Why bother?” Now, I get that this is totally childish and just stupid. I think the way I got out of it was using your Strategy of Clarity. I knew inside I didn’t want to be someone who was (a) always late or (b) a passive-aggressive ass, so I just shifted course and got back on track. I think GUILT is what gets a lot of Obligers out of the Obliger-rebellion.

    Dislike about my tendency: I have commented on this several times. I hate being an Obliger bc I feel like a broken Upholder. Yes, Obligers are reliable and great, but why not be an Upholder: reliable, great, and you help yourself too. I think the key for me with your new book is going to be if you address this. Seriously, how is an Obliger not a broken Upholder? Also, what are ways for introverts to create accountability? That’s hard for me. I know there are ways, but I’d love more suggestions.

    I can get along with anyone but sometimes do have a hard time with Upholders bc I envy their ability to just do something without needing that outside motivation. If I’m around a lot of Upholders, I tend to judge myself very harshly.

    I am a teacher. My tendency works perfectly with that bc I am accountable to tons of constituencies (principal, parents, students, community). I can’t not do my job bc then the children would really suffer. When my tendency doesn’t work for me in relation to my job is summer vacation. I have to work REALLY hard to not completely veg out all summer bc I have no one that I’m accountable to.

    Also, I think all strong teachers use the tendencies even if they don’t realize it. Different things/approaches motivate different kids. Here’s an example: My children are 4 and 5 and still nap at school. Most of them still take naps and need naps, but many of them don’t want to stop what they are doing to settle down and nap. Here’s how I might handle it and it almost always works:

    Upholder: “We’ve had such a busy day. You were running and playing a lot, and we have a game we’re going to play when we wake up. I want you to be rested for that.”

    Obliger: “It would make me so proud if you took a good nap like yesterday. I know you can, and your body will feel so good when you wake up.”

    Questioner: “Student, why do you think I ask you to take a nap each day? Why are naps important?” He/she answers with ideas. I say, “You’re right! So do you agree that you should try to rest today?” (They always say yes to napping bc it makes sense to them.)

    Rebel: “Student, you don’t HAVE to nap but will you please stay quiet on your cot for a few minutes? If you’re not tired after that, you can read a book.” (They like knowing the actual sleeping bit is their decision and invariably end up napping.)

    Romantic relationships: The only thing I can think of is that my husband (when we were first married) was surprised at my lack of follow-through with personal goals/habits because, when dating, he only saw me as I dealt with work (we met through my job) or as I dealt with him. Also, I have tried many times to make him my accountability partner but he shies away from that. I think he sees it as he’d be policing me whereas I see it as something that would be so helpful.

    The “WORD”: Been thinking about this since the podcast. At first, I thought “motivation” but I think that will be too associated with things like resolutions and goals The best one I can think of that really describes what these are to me is The Four DRIVE Tendencies. They really get to the heart of what drives you in everything – your goals, habits, career, family-life, just day-to-day choices and living.

    • Klarafu

      Genious comment about pride and prejudice

    • ingercarin

      Love your response.

    • gretchenrubin

      Fascinating! So much to ponder here.

      • Tricia

        Reading this – as an obliger- I also long for the answer to “how is an obliger not a broken upholder?” One of the things I’ve heard you say many times is that instead of fighting your tendency, better to accommodate – such as with creating external accountability. But I don’t know if you understand how scary it can be to invite external accountability because then failing to meet a personal goal (again) becomes so much more terrible. I realize that it’s a bit of a catch-22 because the external accountability could help me achieve my goal, but the risk of saying it to others and then not coming through makes it hard to take the plunge. BTW I also find myself resisting becoming other people’s external accountability (husband wants to lose weight, I don’t want him to ‘report’ to me) because I sort of cringe on their behalf about how it makes it worse for them if I know that they aren’t meeting their goals, particularly if I feel powerless to help them. There have been times (exercise class where I would meet a friend) where the activity was framed as more social/fun -it was a mom/kids class and everyone went to the playground after- that seemed to work better for me than times where it is about accountability for “being good” or “improving.” My exercise class friend and I never talked about goals for getting healthy or losing weight, but we would text each other most tuesday mornings, hoping that the other was planning to go and looking forward to chatting/kids playing after class.

    • Genevieve Rodriguez

      I am also an obliger and pre-k teacher and am DEFINITELY becoming more aware of using the tendencies at naptime!

      I love your response about being a broken upholder. I have had so many goals and plans and follow the “habits of successful people/millionaires/entrepreneurs” and the only time I’ve had success is when I’ve had a trainer or a friend to work with. I would beat myself up so much because I’m also a *comparer* and am surrounded by upholder friends.

      My biggest obliger rebellion usually happens when I feel overwhelmed and see that there is nothing else getting done unless I do it whether it’s at work or at home.

  • RS

    “The Four Tendencies of Drive” or “The Four Driving Tendencies”

  • Christine Volden Pereira

    I love this discussion. I think there are a lot of creative people who are Rebels. I just read almost all the Roald Dahl books to my son (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, etc). I’ll bet Dahl was a Rebel. All his books have the same basic theme of a mean and often clueless adult and a creative, free spirited child. I love the books (I am also a Rebel). I am thinking Rebels probably encompass some extreme versions of success and failure. If you embrace it and own it, great! If you don’t you might feel crushed and depressed.

    Also, has any other Rebel experienced “Tightening” the way it is described for Upholders? I think Rebels experience something similar but in a different way.

    • Chaïmat

      Hello! Another rebel here. I cannot agree with what you just said!
      What do you mean by “tightening”?

      • Christine Volden Pereira

        what part do you not agree with?

        • Aïna

          Oh my bad ! I meant “I cannot agree MORE with what you just said” aha. Sorry, I’ll edit it right away

          • Christine Volden Pereira

            lol, no problem. I was so confused! They mentioned tightening on one of the podcast. I think the example was if an upholder is stressed they become even more type A than usual (thats my definition of an upholder).

            I was thinking that is very true for rebels as well. I remember a job i had that asked us to sign into an online program to monitor us every morning and i turned into a tyrant telling everyone they shouldn’t let them control us!! If i am in a situation where my freedom is challenged I definitely lash out

          • Aïna

            Oh I get it :). It is interesting for me to note that every rebel experience rebelling in a different way and can provide various responses to a certain situation

  • Stine

    Great comments!
    I suggest to put “stimulus” in the title.

  • Elise Rocks

    Hi my name is Elise and I’m an Obliger. Just got Better than Before in the mail – my first Rubin- looking forward to the journey.

    My first thought was ‘the word’ was obviously motivation. But I agree with an earlier comment that the word should shy away from a focus on striving for achievement. While that is an aspect of understanding our tendency, your research provides a path of discovery and acceptance. This leads to – wait for it – JOY.

    My former priest and dear friend Frederica Steenstra preached on the difference between happiness and joy. She pointed out that joy is present, even in sadness and sorrow, when when honor and respect the ways things are. In the brief introduction I’ve had to your work, I am already feeling more joyful about myself, understanding my lifelong unhappiness that I’m not an upholder.

    To quote another sermon, by Rev Ed Dunlap, when God created the world, he said it was good. But literally translated, it’s not just good, it’s Damn Good.

    The Four Tendencies of Joy are helping me feel like the Damn Good person God created me to be. Thanks Gretchen

  • Mimi Gregor

    As to a descriptive name for the four tendencies, I’m thinking The Four Motivational Tendencies or The Four Accountability Tendencies. Both are succinct and tell you what they are about.

  • I had previously submitted the title “The Four Eye-Opening Tendencies,” but now I don’t think that’s powerful enough and would instead suggest “the Four Life-Changing Tendencies,” because once you start understanding your own character and working with it, you start making real change.

    I am a total Obliger, married to another total Obliger, and this realization has helped me to get a handle on some issues in our relationship. As Elizabeth mentioned in one of the podcasts, making your spouse into an accountability partner usually doesn’t work, and she’s right, especially in a situation like ours. I have to find other means of accountability for myself and not think of myself as my husband’s nudger. That’s still a work in progress. I have two outside forces helping me right now: my blogs, which I feel very much accountable to even though my readership is small, and my pre-diabetes, which I am determined to keep from moving over into full-blown diabetes. (See debisimons.com for lots of posts on these topics.)

    So right now I need to get up from the breakfast table and quit writing and reading comments. So much fun to see what others are saying, and to join in the conversation.

    • Debra

      Ooh, this reply made me think of “the four illuminating tendencies”

  • AnnMarie

    In one of your podcasts (I’ve been listening to them in over the last couple weeks), you had people share their slogan/motto for each tendency. I LOVED that, as it helped me figure out that I’m an Upholder when I thought I might be an obliger. Almost every upholder motto rang true for me. So I hope to see more of those included in the book.

    • gretchenrubin

      How I love the mottos! Keep them coming. They’re so brilliant.

      In the book, the chapter on each Tendency includes a list of proposed mottoes.

      • Agnes

        Upholders: “no fun, but we get things done”!

  • Roxanna

    It’s so funny that you ask this, as I was just watching some movies over the holidays and thinking how the characters fit so nicely into your Tendencies framework! The main character in 27 Dresses is a classic Obliger and the whole arc of the story is that she takes on more and more and more and finally has a pivotal moment of Obliger rebellion. It would be fascinating for your book. I also watched The Holiday and Kate Winslet is also an Obliger who goes through the exact same experience which culminates in Obliger rebellion.

    • gretchenrubin

      I will watch it!

  • Randee Bulla

    I’m definitely a Questioner, and I used to hate my tendency until I actually understood it reading your blog. Now I use that knowledge at work and at home on whether to scale it back a bit, go full force, or land somewhere in between. I can control it so that it adds to my life instead of frustrating me or those around me. Kind of like turning it in my head that questioning is a superpower instead of a character flaw. For example, I now turn it on full force to specifically look at work processes and question absolutely each individual input/output and it has significantly improved those processes by getting rid of what isn’t needed and having the most efficient way of doing things that we can think of at that time. On the other hand, when my Sr. Director needs me to do a certain task, I ask enough questions to complete it as desired, and keep a lid on the 100 other questions I might otherwise ask. At home I recently went through all my clothes and asked myself why do I have it, where do I use it, do I love it, does it really fit, does it have a place, why do I keep it there, and so forth and now have bags of clothes ready for the Salvation Army. Now when my husband said he wants to put storage in the garage for his beer brewing stuff? I said sure, asked how I could help, and left it at that knowing that how he decides what to keep or how he wants to organize it is all him. My questions would just drive him nuts. Makes for a much happier workplace and family.
    I’ve also found that as a questioner, other people who are questioners can drive me crazy. It makes NO sense to me why it bothers me when someone asks me a ton of questions about what I’m doing, even though I’m the exact same way. Maybe because I’ve already asked myself those questions and have a set course in mind? I have no idea. But now that I know this tendency, I work to be patient because I know what it’s like to have a list of questions on the tip of my tongue.
    I love that you are working on your next book. I, too, find the four tendencies fascinating! You use the terms “expectations” and “respond” or “response” a lot in describing these tendencies. But I wonder how the tendencies are best described…personality, personal, innate, disposition, inclination. Disposition is a state of mind regarding something; inclination. I don’t know. You’re MUCH better at this than I.

    • gretchenrubin

      So interesting!

  • BooPickett

    I’m a questioner and I find that being one lends itself well to my career. I’m in healthcare information technology project management and with the many complicated workflows and the vast amount of information that we have to deal with, it’s often times mind boggling to be able to construct systems that are both efficient and accurate. However, being a questioner has definite advantages as I have no problem asking the difficult questions. Because I need to get all of the information gathered before making a decision, projects that I manage rarely have that “gotcha” moment when a seemingly random or small piece of information throws a HUGE kink in the workflow or design of a system.
    I love being a questioner. It means that often times the first decision I make is the right decision. I never get taken by surprise because I’ve already questioned and ruminated all possible outcomes in my head.

  • Barbara

    The Four Animating Tendencies

  • Amy

    Thinking about your title—perhaps The Four Tendencies of Motive—or The Four Motivating Tendencies. Also liked The Four Tendencies of Inspiration, particularly when I saw this definition of inspiration–the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative

  • Jenny

    I’ve been in a relationship with a rebel for four years (I’m a questioner). We recently moved in together and his rebelness is more apparent than ever. It can be infuriating at times because it feels like I cannot ask him to do anything without being met with resistance. For my own peace of mind, I often give up suggestions, requests or “shoulds” entirely by reminding myself I can’t control him or anyone else. Even after all this time, I haven’t really found an effective way around this. I’m not one for reverse psychology either. I just know he operates on his own time and nagging will only make it worse. In some ways this “surrender” has helped make me more calm (sometimes) and self-sufficient, because if I want something done in my desired timeframe, I have to do it myself and I have to be ok with that. P.S. I just finished Better Than Before faster than any other book in recent memory. Great read, thank you! I’m “gently” suggesting it to many friends, just not my suggestion-averse rebel, for the time being 🙂

    • gretchenrubin

      Great to hear that it struck a chord with you!

  • Oh that’s the best news ever! I’m a health coach and I use the 4 tendencies with my clients. It’s usually pretty easy to recognize who’s what, and when I let them do the test or explain why I think they’re this or that, they always say “oh that’s totally me!”. I’ve gathered all of your articles about each type so my self-help clients can read those and see how they can help themselves, but in my one-on-one and group coaching I use the tendencies to give them concrete tips on how to stick with new habits. I’m going to preorder your next book as soon as that’s possible, can’t wait to get my hands on it!

    I’m an obliger myself and being self employed and working from home alone that was really difficult. Things have improved a lot since my boyfriend also became self employed last summer. Off course he doesn’t check what I’m doing but I procrastinate a lot less simply because he’s in the same room as I am. And I make many of my goals or next steps publicly known so I know my clients / readers are then waiting for it and are expecting me to keep my promise.

    My boyfriend is a questioner, and I’m always in awe of how well he keeps up with his new habits. I can’t just expect anything from him though, it really needs to be something that clicks with him. Like he started the Miracle Morning after I raved on the book. Where I have trouble doing that every day, he just gets up and does it, because he knows it makes him feel great. Wish I had that self discipline, even for things that I know are important to me – I can’t always get myself to do it.

    Last but not least, why not the 4 Rubin Tendencies? That’s what I’ve been calling them 🙂

    • gretchenrubin

      This is extremely helpful – thanks!

  • Roxanne

    The Four Immutable Tendencies… a bit of a mouthful i know, but in all the discussions about the 4 tendencies, the feature that sticks with me the most is that we can not (and should not) try to change what tendency we are, but should use different strategies, and the different strengths our tendencies give us to achieve our goals.

  • Carol Weston

    There’s shouting in my head because they should be called ‘The Four Habit Tendencies,’ surely? Particularly as it was a book about habits that spawned them!
    I’m an obliger but occasionally an upholder takes the reigns! (see above comment) hahaha.

  • Gretchen, I LOVE your work!!!!! Thanks to your podcast, I had a Happier Holiday season with my in-laws, family, and friends. Being a Questioner, my role as a podcast host has brought so much joy and happiness to my life. You’re right, it can be analysis paralysis with questioners, but when working on your habits, you can get around it. Having a habit of researching three sources, and then making a decision works wonder. On a side note, this morning I was able to clean a kitchen drawer before my exercise class. Before, I would have told myself I needed a solid day to organize. Gold Star! One step at a time, right? 🙂 Thank you for doing what you do. Your work is life changing. So glad you decided to become a writer rather than practice law!

  • Layne Fargo

    I’m an Upholder, and for the most part I love my tendency. But sometimes it seems like it’s impossible to relax because I’m always thinking of things I could improve – about myself, my relationships, my work, my apartment, whatever. There are times I envy my partner, who’s a classic Obliger – he has no problem switching off and enjoying a movie and a drink, while I’m constantly making to-do lists in my head.

    As for famous examples, I suspect Reese Witherspoon and Shonda Rhimes are fellow Upholders. The character Allison on Orphan Black, too, and Angelo from the Shakespeare play Measure for Measure.

    • gretchenrubin


      Is a preoccupation with self-improvement an Upholder thing, specifically? I must ponder…

      • Layne Fargo

        Very interested in your thoughts on this! I wonder if it’s not the preoccupation that’s unique to Upholders, but just how intense/obsessive we get about our self-improvement endeavors.

        • gretchenrubin

          I think that’s right. A separate factor.

      • Debra

        No, definitely not. I’m preoccupied with self-improvement and I’m a questioner.

      • kicking_k

        I too am preoccupied with self-improvement, and I think I’m a Rebel. But I’m not happy being a rebel. What I feel like inside is an Obliger who’s just really, really poor at following through, and that makes me feel like a rotten, unreliable person; but when it comes down to it, I keep finding that if I’m “supposed” to be doing something, I have to really force myself to do it, and often make a half-hearted attempt even then. Even if I WANT to do it (or want to have the job done, which is not the same thing).

        Ideally I’d be an Upholder, but I think I’d be fine with being an Obliger if I could.

        I have Asperger’s syndrome which causes difficulties with executive functioning, which muddies the waters a bit. I don’t know if the four tendencies are as useful if you’re not neurotypical. Interestingly, my little son seems to behave like a Rebel at home but a Questioner at school, and I sort of hope he’ll shade more towards the Questioner. My husband is a Questioner – I think.

  • Jennie Wong

    I think you like alliteration as much as I do. The “default settings” of the Cardinal Tendencies are:

    Action – Upholders
    Accommodation – Obligers
    Analysis – Questioners
    Antagonism – Rebels

    • gretchenrubin

      Interesting! Love this!

  • The Four Tendencies for Success

    PS, I bet Obligers post the most on this entry asking them for ideas. 🙂

  • Judy

    Ok, so I am a rebel and I also have an adult rebel child – so lots of experience here. Good and not so good. I have to second a previous comment that suggested that you ask an actual rebel to be a podcast guest to explain the tendency. I am a long time follower, so no offense taken or meant, but both Gretchen and Elizabeth seem to disapprove of rebel behavior. We certainly struggle with routine, habits and structure, but can still flourish in society. For the last six years I have served as an SVP in a large conservative organization, have been happily married for a few decades, have never been arrested and have an excellent credit score. We certainly aren’t easy, but perhaps rebels push boundaries, challenge the status quo and help others look at different ways of doing things. I will say that my husband is a great partner and makes my life smoother, but hopefully he would say that I help him live in the moment and enjoy the journey.

    • gretchenrubin

      Stay tuned! For our live podcast event, we’ll be talking to a very successful and interesting Rebel.

  • Theresa Welch

    Just saw the first two lines of eleishacd’s response and as a fellow obliger am going to respond without reading the other comments, so as not to be biased or swayed.

    Famous examples:
    As a fellow fan of children’s literature, I also think a great example of a questioner would be Ramona. She always wants to know WHY! Not only that, but she is always thinking of alternatives to her situation. Also, I would imagine that the world’s best example of a rebel would be the Cat in the Hat – he just DOES (your mother would not mind at all if you do); whereas the fish from the book would be a good example of an Upholder.

    Obliger Rebellion
    As an obliger, I think my obliger rebellion is actually a weekly occurrence. For me, its on Wednesday nights, that after being “so good” for the first half of the week, I leave dishes in the sink or laundry unfolded with the rationale of, “I’ll just do it tomorrow.” But then I find that in doing that, it sets me behind and just stressed out. I’d love suggestions for a “cure”!

    Dislikes of my tendency
    In terms of what I DISLIKE about my tendency — I’ve always felt that Upholders like Gretchen are the way “I’m supposed to be”. Call it obliger envy, I guess. I always lament about how I can do what is expected of me to the point of a fault, but have a really hard time doing things for myself. I’ve often thought of myself as a people pleaser, who’s just afraid of conflict. In fact, a motto for Obligers would be “People Pleasers”

    For the title of the book, since you always reference expectations, I would imagine that The Four Expectation Tendencies or The Habit Tendencies would work really well.

  • SallyVee

    I’m an Obliger.

    I used to hate it. I’m in my mid-twenties and for a long time I struggled with basic adult tasks like being on time for work, doing chores, and keeping a budget. Growing up, my Upholder mother used to get frustrated with me for not getting homework done, not cleaning my room, and not waking up in the morning without needing to be told. Since learning my tendency, I have gotten better at many of these things just because learning it has taught me to be realistic with myself and not to set high expectations just because I’m “supposed to be” an adult.

    I have gotten better at all these things. They’re not perfect, however – but I don’t ever expect them to be perfect. This is key for Obligers – allow yourself to mess up sometimes. You’re not gonna get it right all the time. Even Upholders don’t get it right all the time!

    I think Obligers (and possibly Upholders as well) struggle not only with people-pleasing, but with perfectionism (which causes people to procrastinate when it comes to accomplishing goals that people want to set for themselves).

    In Hillary Rettig’s book, “The Seven Secrets of the Prolific,” she defines one major component of perfectionism as, “Defining success narrowly and unrealistically; punishing oneself harshly for perceived failures.” She says that when we set an unrealistic goal for ourselves, and we don’t live up to that goal, an internal self-shaming monologue can creep into our minds. We tell ourselves, “What’s wrong with me! This should be easy! Betty at work does this every day, how come I can’t? I guess I’m just lazy and I’ll never get this right.”

    Learning about the Four Tendencies can be empowering, because it helps you know yourself and what you need in order to change your behavior.

    Of course, for perfectionist Obligers, it can mean believing that because we are Obligers, we are stuck at always being unable to accomplish our goals.


    Obligers are just as capable of changing their behavior and their habits as anyone.

    But no one, not even Upholders, can change their behavior if they keep shaming themselves into motivation. It just perpetuates the fear of failure, decreases the motivation to succeed, and stagnates personal growth.

    The number one thing that Obligers need, however… and we really hate this word (at least I do)… is accountability.

    Accountability can be forced onto Obligers really negatively; not all “accountability” is created equal. Negative accountability, such as nagging, shaming, unrealistic expectations, repetition, etc, is likely what causes the majority of Obliger Rebellion. A few years ago, my manager wanted me to call new customers and follow up with them to see how they were doing. I HATED IT. I never wanted to do it, and I wouldn’t get that part of my work done. My manager would send me emails weekly, reminding me that I hadn’t done that part of my job yet and that I needed to do it. I still wouldn’t, and every time I tried it was emotionally draining and taxing on my morale. I cried in the shower. I thought I was going to lose my job. The emails kept coming and I got to the point where I would just delete the reminder email before even reading it – something that I NEVER EVER EVER EVER do. Eventually my manager listened to my pleas to take the task away from me. It was clear that the task was a terrible fit for me and I wasn’t being dependable in getting it done, and that my strengths lie in other areas.

    So, I guess my point on Obliger Rebellion is that it can be triggered by the following:
    Unrealistic expectations and goals
    Overly-repetitive reminders from others
    Unsatisfying Work
    Attempting to please people who don’t actually matter to you or who are extremely difficult to please in the first place
    Fear of failure
    Impatience with self – wants change to happen immediately

    If Obligers want to change their habits, following the strategies in Better Than Before is invigorating. Additional strategies could include:
    SUBTLE Accountability – accountability that doesn’t really feel like accountability (which usually involves some of the more impersonal strategies, such as Monitoring, Abstinence, and Safeguards, but also involves having a trusted friend or partner who looks out for you but does not pester you)
    Self-Compassion/Compassionate Objectivity – involves self-forgiveness for failures and not insulting yourself when you do fail
    Recognizing legitimate barriers to productivity – such as illness, too much going on, etc
    Developing problem-solving skills for said barriers
    Learn to say “NO” to other people when you shouldn’t take on more tasks – this isn’t being mean! This is taking care of yourself, which you need to do in order to live a happier, fuller life. “Less is more” definitely applies to habits.

    I am happier now than I was 2 years ago. I thought that with my new behaviors, however, that perhaps my tendency had changed. But I retook the quiz, and I am still an Obliger.

    I find that I still resist certain habits, and I’m growing to be more OK with that. What I have been doing is filling my time with more fulfilling activities, like reading and writing, and less Internet browsing and Facebook and video games. I’ve applied the strategy of abstaining for some of my social media accounts. I’ve applied the strategy of safeguards and inconvenience and convenience for other areas of my life. I monitor my time and my spending better. I make the fulfilling activities fun by using my foot massager while reading or by listening to music while I clean.

    I don’t keep all of my promises to myself. But I’m kind to myself anyways. Because I don’t like actually following all of the rules.

    Maybe Obligers are just Rebels who respond more positively to healthy external accountability.

    • JJ

      I love this very thoughtful response and the reminder for Obligers to be compassionate with themselves rather than constantly chastising themselves for not being more like Upholders! We have different strengths…for example, sometimes, greater flexibility and adaptability to change.

      I’m also a big fan of Hillary Rettig’s work and would recommend her blog and book “7 Secrets of the Prolific” to any readers struggling to achieve big personal goals that they can’t seem to accomplish easily, but also don’t want to give up. She really tackles the perfectionist/procrastinator dilemma with solutions, and she alludes to a type of person she calls “Overgivers” which I think matches well with “Obligers.” The hallmark is distracting ourselves from our own goals by constantly helping others or dealing with perceived (or real) external crises.

      Reading both Rettig’s work and Gretchen’s has made me much more self-aware and able to politely tell people “no” to invitations or requests with the simple phrase “Thanks so much/I wish I could help, but I/we have other plans…” Sometimes, the “other plans” are work on my own goal, or a quiet time with no commitments – but no one needs to know that except me!

      • SallyVee

        Thank you! I totally agree with the other strengths thing – funny note, for the Clifton Strengths Finder test, my number 1 strengths is Adaptability. 🙂 I remember that every time I feel down on myself for not being more disciplined, and I remember that I take pride in my flexibility and actually wish that more people would learn that skill, since it tends to make disappointments and change so much easier to deal with. But we can’t be everything, and people who are less flexible are likely to be more steadfast and consistent with their goals, which is something that I appreciate. We were all made uniquely and can contribute to society in different ways.

        I too see the Obliger in the “overgiver.” I heavily identified with that the first time I read Rettig’s book 2 years ago. I felt like I was being convicted for staying at work late! I didn’t think anyone would tell me that I shouldn’t be doing that. But her words are true – I wasn’t being paid for the extra time, so why the hell give it to them?! They wouldn’t even know the difference. It would usually just be busy work that I would stay late for. Who was I even trying to please?

        I go back to Better Than Before and the 7 Secrets of the Prolific as reference books as often as I can remember to do so, as well as the Strengths Finder book, and anything to do with Myers-Briggs (I’m an INFP) and the Enneagram (I’m a Type 4/Individualist). Having these tools at my disposal keeps me in check if I ever feel lost or down on myself. Not everyone is a fan of these personality-type tests, but I find that they give context and a vocabulary for understanding why people are the way they are.

        I’ll be preordering this book about The Four Tendencies as soon as I can. Another reference can’t hurt. 🙂

        • gretchenrubin

          Interesting to think about flexibility and Obligers…I think this is a real Obliger strength.

    • gretchenrubin

      So many great insights and suggestions here!

  • Claire G

    The Four Rebel Tendencies or The Four Tendencies of Rebellion. It turns the explanations on their head a bit as you have to reverse the wording but I thought it was short, yet descriptive. Rebels rebel, upholders don’t, obligers rebel against themselves, questioners question authority.

  • Charlotte

    Maybe The Four Tendencies of Action?

    I don’t know that there’s any one tendency I dislike, but I
    think there are drawbacks to each. But I have a friend who is clearly a rebel,
    and it can get frustrating. Sometimes *she* will come up with an idea to better
    herself – exercise more, or most recently, quit smoking – and then when the
    people around her agree it’s a good idea, she starts doubting it. And if anyone
    takes it further and asks for her progress or something, she sometimes gets
    angry and will say, “I’ll do it when I want to do it.” It’s not difficult to be
    friends or anything like that, but when we’re talking about things like habits
    or resolutions or goals it can get frustrating.

    I’d say I’m probably an upholder. (Although I do question a
    lot of things. I wouldn’t say no to doing something just because it’s
    unnecessary, but I won’t do something if I think it’s immoral or hurts anyone,
    regardless if it’s what I’m supposed to do.) I get along well with questioners
    and obligers, and with most rebels, though that’s probably the hardest one. I’m
    down for not doing something for good reasons (which is probably why I get
    along well with questioners), but it’s hard for me to accept not doing
    something “just because.”

    As a side note, I’ve wondered pretty often if depression has
    an effect on the tendencies. (I feel like it has on me, but I could always just
    be wrong about which tendency I actually am….)

    • Charlotte

      Also I’d say Jack from Titanic is a rebel, but Rose is harder to identify – I’d say probably a questioner, though I could also see an argument for obliger. (I think people would argue “rebel” for Rose, but I feel like when she was being rebellious is was mostly out of love or, again, questioning. I don’t think rebelling would be her natural tendency.)

  • Kim

    For the title, maybe the four tendencies of ambition? It has a positive connotation, unveiling the fact that everyone can be ambitious. That in itself can be enlightening, encouraging, and motivate all types of people to strive for – better than before.
    As I write this, I notice that strive and drive rhyme – maybe you could play with that for something fun with a ring to it.

  • Elise Rocks

    My life partner and I are both obligers. I’ve been wanting to get into an exercise routine but haven’t been successful on my own and don’t want to keep paying a trainer. I’ve also struggled with how to encourage him to get more exercise.

    While reading Better than Before, I told him it looked like I needed a partner to work out with and he immediately offered to help me! We went together this morning and decided on the best days and time to create this habit.

    It’s so wonderful for us to understand that our motivation to help each other is the key to taking care of ourselves. Thanks Gretchen!

  • Jamie

    I am an obliger in a relationship with a rebel. I take control of the bills and getting us ready for important social events, but one thing I’ve noticed is that our house cannot stay clean! In true obliger fashion, I struggle with keeping up with the housework, since the only person I’m accountable to is myself. And while my rebel would also like it neat, he hates scheduling time to clean up or being assigned chores. Usually I end up feeling guilty that the house is a mess and spend an entire day cleaning up after it’s gotten unbearable! I would do much better if he held me accountable for cleaning up when I make plans to, instead of urging me to spend the day playing video games with him instead.

    • gretchenrubin


  • Martha

    Just finished “Better than Before” Wonderful. I loved it. It was refreshing to not hear the run of the mill habit transformation advice, 21 days, discipline, motivation etc…
    I took the quiz I suspected I was an Obliger and, just as you say happens, had a rebellious streak in my teens and twenties. But I think the reason was I didn’t have many expectations put upon me. My parents were permissive or negligent or a combination of the two. And I often didn’t really know what was expected. I’m curious if any other obligers have felt that way… that they didn’t have anyone they had to oblige…or maybe( I’m working this out as I type) as I think you reported in your book I was obliging the group of people I fell into, who all seemed to be rebels? But truly I don’t feel obligated to many people, only those I deem worthy I guess or really want to “like me” . I’ve entered real estate this year (after being a stay at home mom for 20 years) and I do find that obliging is helpful in dealing with clients. I do want to please them and go out of my way to do my best for them because it pays to have happy clients, but I have to be careful when it comes to negotiations so that I represent my client well. And for you title…” The Four Tendencies of Transformation”?? to abstract? “The Four Telling Tendencies” “The Four Hardwired Tendencies of Human Behavior”

  • Hannah

    I have been struggling figuring out what my tendency is. I am 80% sure I am a rebel (and that’s what the quiz says), but I have always been good about maintaining schedules and meeting deadlines. The difference is, I usually resent the crap out of it, but I feel like if I don’t follow through I will be labeled as “unreliable” or “flaky.” While I am only 25, I feel like I could never enjoy motherhood, as I would resent the obligation more often than I would enjoy the process.

  • Carrie Neal

    I’m a Rebel. I was quite surprised to read that people wrote positive things about being a Rebel. I think it’s awful. I feel like I’ve been at war with myself my entire life. Most people are annoyed by my flakiness. I feel like I’ve just figured out the past few years how to work around myself.

    Some of the things that work for me are monitoring, convenience, and having routines. Scheduling is super hard for me. Being on time or having to do something at a specific time is so hard for me.

  • Meredith

    I had thought I might be an Obliger, but after reading the whole book, I now know that I’m an Upholder! One of the things that clinched it for me was the example you gave of being admonished once, years ago, for using a laptop in a coffee shop, and then worrying at EVERY coffee shop thereafter that you might be breaking a rule. This is a thought process I go through many times a day, every day. I’m hyper-concerned with rules and norms, and always worry that I’m going to inadvertently do something wrong or give offense.

    One thing I have been reflecting on is how my tendency has evolved and been shaped over the course of my life. I was a very serious ballet dancer when I was young. I had started dancing as a hobby, but in junior high I decided that I wanted to pursue it more seriously so I started taking more classes per week, giving up other activities, and so on. No one told me this was what I should do; it was all completely self-driven. At the time I was dancing, most well-known dancers were extremely thin with a long, willowy body type (now, you see a greater range of shapes in dance companies, and the look is more athletic, not emaciated). So I adopted a very restrictive diet and followed it religiously — again, no one told me to do this; I just did it because that was what I saw as the ideal. My accountability was having to see myself every day, for hours a day, in the mirror, wearing a leotard!

    (As a side note, in reading about abstainers vs. moderators in your books, I have found myself thinking about people who have a history of/tendency toward very restrictive eating or disordered eating/body image in that context. In my own case, as a dancer, I decided on certain categories of food I wouldn’t eat, but once I no longer felt I had to be extremely thin, I stopped abstaining and became a moderator. For me it works MUCH better as a long-term lifestyle. I am much happier and FAR less obsessive about food when I allow myself what I want in moderation. For me, if I were to limit what I ate in any kind of way, it could quickly tip into disorder territory. Also, during those years of abstaining, I was miserable about food. It was misery to be at a party, not allowing myself to eat anything, or to go to a restaurant and have to order off-menu steamed vegetables instead of something else. It made me feel very disconnected from other people sometimes, as well. And I was just always hungry and frankly rather crabby! Point being: there are people for whom being an abstainer just isn’t a good idea, for mental health reasons. But I recognize that for some people, it works extremely well!)

    When I ultimately decided to go to college instead of becoming a professional dancer, I struggled for many years with both my identity and my habits. This seems atypical for an Upholder, but my 20s were a time when I departed from a lot of my innate tendencies and tried to be someone else in a lot of ways (I wonder what your research is uncovering about people changing tendencies or how they might vary over time in intensity?). I also think I was burnt out in a huge way (are Upholders especially prone to burnout?).

    Eventually, I started running and found that it was something I could easily stick to and that fit neatly into my routine — it means getting up before dawn almost every day, but it makes me feel really good and I am better off when I do it than when I skip it. I have occasionally had running buddies on and off over the years, but I’m able to continue the habit without being accountable to anyone else. I also run occasional races and have run the NYC marathon twice, but I have found that I do better without a specific goal or event for which to train — I don’t need those to motivate me, and the “finish line” phenomenon you identified in the book is so true; after I finished the marathon, it took unbelievable effort to get back into the habit of running. As with food, I do best with running at a moderate level — I do a baseline amount each day, and I don’t track my time or work on speed or anything. I just get out there and do it for its own sake.

    Another thing I have been thinking about a lot with the Four Tendencies is whether each one can be subdivided or has slightly different degrees. For example, I am an Upholder but I think I have a strong Obliger streak. I’m thinking it’s similar to the Myers-Briggs type: that, for example, I’m an Extrovert, but just barely; my score between E and I is like 51% E; but with Judging vs. Perceiving, I am almost 100% J (I bet almost all Upholders are Js!!). My husband is a Questioner, but he has noticeable Rebel and Upholder streaks.

    • gretchenrubin

      Great insights and observations —

  • michelle/nft

    Hi Gretchen!
    I don’t have any insightful answers to your questions, but I do have a couple of comments and questions.

    I’ve taken the quiz a few times now and my results have been split between Upholder and Obliger. I think maybe I’m an Obliger-lite because I tend to put outer/other’s expectations first and foremost, but I can set a goal without the accountability of another *person*. What I do usually need some sort of outer accountability in the form of a goal sheet (gold stars, etc.), an app that tracks progress or signing up for a race in the future. In these instances, I’m not concerned about letting anyone else down if I don’t stick to my habit, but I don’t want to let myself and the accountability system down by missing the gold star or not doing the race. In other words, I need some sort of manufactured external accountability, because if I just told myself to do something, I would struggle a lot more with it than if I created a very small outer expectation, even something that no one else knows about. I get the impression from your book and your podcast that Obligers usually need situations where someone else is holding them accountable; that’s not really the case with me, but I do need *something* external to hold me accountable. So all that to say, maybe it would be good to clarify that there could be a spectrum for each of the Four Tendencies? I think you have mentioned this in passing, but it would be great if you could dive a little deeper into this, even in the podcast.

    I would also love to learn more about how the FTs work with the other self-knowledge categories you’ve written about such as Abstainer/Moderator, Finisher/Opener, Underbuyer/Overbuyer, etc.

    And finally, what about the FTs and procrastination? I’m guessing that even Upholders will procrastinate at one point or another; what would be good tips for each tendency to combat procrastination?


    • gretchenrubin

      Great response!

  • Kay

    Don’t know if this fits the definition of obliger rebellion. In fact it’s probably typical obliger behaviour now I think about it. I’m a pretty classic obliger. Always do things when there external accountability but I’m a bit slack when it comes to my Bookclub. They’re really close friends and we are very forgiving of each other not reading the books. But this time around it’s my turn to pick the book – and I’ve chosen a book I’ve been wanting to read – but I keep ignoring it and have read 4 others instead…. What’s that about!? Is that obliger rebellion? Or is that just being an obliger because really the only person to be accountable to on it is me.

  • Jessie

    The Four Tendencies of Mind (or) The Mind’s Four Tendencies

  • Claire G

    The Four Tendencies of Obedience (the wording stays the same) or the Four Rebel Tendencies (the language reverses a bit. The upholder doesn’t rebel, for example).

  • HumCoMom

    The Four Tendencies of Self

  • HumCoMom

    The Four Tendencies of Being

  • April

    The four tendencies of Living , or of soul, of heart…

  • Charlotte

    The Four Most Tendencies

  • Chaïmat

    I think Steve Jobs was a rebel. And I’ve watched some of Vinod Khosla’s talks recently and I think he is definitely a rebel too.

    To answer another one of your questions, I’m a rebel and I do not have a particular problem with other tendencies but it’s true that sometimes things get hard.

    I remember a time when I was literally surrounded by upholders. I felt really bad about myself and wanted to do things right but always ended up doing the opposite and feeling worse. That’s when I learnt the meaning of self-compassion and how it works aha. It helped me a lot.

    But while it is sometimes hard to get along with upholders, one of my best friend is one of them. We are helping each other in a lot of ways. She has a positive impact on me (when I see her working hard I sometimes just feel like doing the same thing without judgement or bad feeling toward myself for not been able to be exactly like her) and she told me that I’ve been teaching her the meaning of letting go, curiosity and creativity.

    I also noticed that the people I look up to and admire are rebels (or did some kind of rebellion at one point). And if my actual surroundings consist of obligers (I am in medschool…that’s probably the reason why) I feel like I get along better with questionners. There are times when they are like “I don’t care that doesn’t make sense for me. I don’t feel like doing it. What about you?” and I’m like “Oh I don’t feel like doing it neither” (and vice-verca!) aha.

    And while upholders find me frustrating (I get why!), and obligers think I should make an effort for others if not for me, questionners understand much more how I work. They kind of understand that things make sense for me if I feel like doing them and it does not when I just don’t want to do it.

    Side note: among my closest friends there is the same amount of rebels and questionners, some obligers and one upholder.

  • Molly

    I’m an Obliger and I made up a motto for myself that also helps me get more personal accountability: If I say I’ll do it for you I will; if I say I’ll do it for myself I Must.

    Also I’ve been thinking about your 4—–Tendencies adjectival question and I was thinking about “compelling” – the tendency “compels” us to act in certain ways.
    Hope that helps! Thanks for the great work!

    • gretchenrubin

      Thanks – great insights!

  • Gemma

    Hi there. I’m a questioner. I am a Physio in the uk. A while ago I worked in cardiac rehabilitation and a major part of my role was encouraging healthy behaviour change. This was before I read your book. I can clearly put people into different tendencies from memory: “don’t tell me what to eat/ how to exercise”-rebel. “Why should u be doing this, give me the evidence/reason” – questioner. ” this is something that should be done, it’s the right thing/ I’ve got it”- upholder. ” let me show you how well j can do this”- obliged. For each type I attempted to change my approach but insight from your book would have been so useful st this time….. Have you considered writing a chapter on those professionals involved with encouraging behaviour change!!
    As a questioner I really love meeting with other questioners. We get to discuss in great detail and consider all sides… I’m not fond of people who say” well that’s just the way it is” or who blindly follow others ( obliger?) because they want to please. And Rebels quite frankly annoy me!!

  • Gemma

    Hi again
    Just reading your questions and attempting to answer. In terms of romantic relationships …. I think my husband might be an obliger but not entirely sure. However, if he asks me to do something around the house or an errors etc, I may or may not do depending on how important I think his reason for this is…. That upsets him ( because he would always just do it!) also I am more prone to analysing and understanding our relationship. My mantra is simply “why”, which can be healthy for me but can get overwhelming for him. My kids always tell me to stop giving them so many choices!
    I would like to ask about something: in your book you mention questioners have a tendency to uphold or rebel. I would love to hear more about this…. Do you mention it in any of your podcasts?
    Finally(!). I believe being a questioner has lead me to a change of career. I’m currently training to be a counsellor and I think this is because of My need to understand why, why do we do what we do… How does it affect us…. How can we recover/ improve/ change.
    Looking forward to your book!

  • 1. I am an upholder married to an obliger.

    2. My boss is an upholder and it’s not easy to work with her because sometimes she has an insane expectations.

    3. My colleague is a questioner and he really appreciates talking and talking and explaining. And then doing. This used to drive me nuts but now I can function with him well. But other colleagues have hard time with him. So many questions! But he is so detail-oriented that he is indispensable in our team.

    4. My husband is an obliger and it’s wonderful to do anything with him. However, he hates to improvise. He wants everything to be pre-determined and cut into a digestible chunks. If he has to create his own map, it becomes a nightmare. (Although, he is very flexible with free time, he loves to travel and explore. His obliger tendency is mostly work and chores related. I guess we might have different tendencies in different areas of life.)

    5. I like my tendency because I am disciplined, organized and on the top of the things. However, it may be boring, predictable, draining, I have to schedule spontaneity, I feel guilty when I am not “productive”, in traditional sense.

    6. My tendency suits my job pretty well (I am a researcher). You have to be self-motivated and super-disciplined. Also, there are no instructions because you have to do something no one else did. Maybe not ideal for an obliger.

    7. My experience with rebells: just make the scene as if they concluded on their own to do XYZ. Give them credit for their insights and conclusions. It can be very tricky, but I think it works.

    8. In love life the choice of partner reflects four tendencies the most. I am super happy with obliger. I could not stand another upholder would kill me.

    9. Interesting: tendencies change a lot during the life. Probably because the boundaries are not as strict. Unbelievable but true, my sister turned from a rebellion into an obliger! When she was a kid and a student, she was 100% rebellion and we didn’t know what to do with her. After studies she got married and got kids, she changed completely. She is an obliger (and has rebellion husband). Unbelievable. Maybe two rebellions liked each other but couldn’t function with each other, so the “softer” one had to change. Any thoughts?

    10. Famous example: Raskolnikov from “The Crime and Punishment”. He thought he is a rebellion. In fact, he was a questioner. That’s what got him in trouble after the crime.

    • gretchenrubin

      Many great insight and interesting observations here —

  • millions2

    I’m an Obliger. Our official motto is “We need appointments for everything, even to spend time with ourselves.”

    I have to make an appointment with myself to write/read/watch a show/complete any tasks, otherwise when someone texts asking me to do something, I’ll give up what I want to do because I feel obligated to do something else. Our worst fear is someone asking to meet up when we’ve just sat down to enjoy “self” time.

  • Katherine

    You’ve mentioned about giving the test to children – and I think this is a huge parenting tool (as others have said, using it also as Kindergarten teachers).

    Something I’ve realized is that, as you said someplace else, NO ONE likes to be coerced or feel like their freedoms are being taken away. I think it is probably common for parents to say “My child is so rebellious/contrary, he/she must be a rebel or a questioner”. When, in fact, the child is being pushed into this category because the parent isn’t able to provide appropriate explanations for why something should be done, or offer age appropriate opportunities for children to choose and make decisions for themselves. When you do a section on children, definitely explore this.
    My son is probably an upholder (Like both his very strong upholder parents — poor kid!), but if we push him to ‘obey’ he pushes against us at every turn. In general though, when he understands why something is done, and is given the power to ‘choose’ for himself, he always makes the right choices and acts voluntarily.

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes, very good point – we all experience “reactance” but some more intensely than others!

  • Katherine

    Also, I think perhaps it would be good to underline, when talking about Obligers, how they are the backbone and core of soceity. They keep society together – when all the other tendencies are trying to change/avoid/destroy the social structure that makes it possible for so many people to live generally in calm harmony with eachother. Seeing that Obligers are the most socially conscious of the four groups keeps it positive for them.

    The ideals of Chinese (asian) society is strongly Obliger. Stepping outside the social structure is highly criticized, highly unaccepted — “the nail that sticks up get’s pounded down” sort of mentality. In my opinion, it is the result of having (in Japan’s case) a huge population in a tiny space — people have to get along or they’d destroy each other just in a very practical sense.

    US tends to be a questioner society. The original Boston Tea Party was because people wanted to understand why they should pay tea taxes – (they went to Britain and tried to get a reasonable explanation, discussion), and when GB couldn’t give a useful response, they rebelled and threw the tea in the harbor. Americans have been questioners ever since. And in general they are disgusted by people following rules because they are rules.

    Germany is a major Upholder country. They have a huuuuge desire to be disciplined and achieve high goals. I see them (I live here now) as using expectations as a tool to achieve their high aims. Where as most tendencies have to use achieve their goals in light of their tendency, Germans are upholders because they have high expectations.

    I see southern Europe as being rebels — “We’ll do this if we want to, when we want to. But don’t think you can make us”. But I’ve less experience with them. IT’s only a perception.

    • gretchenrubin

      This is fascinating. Many people have asked me whether cultures have a dominant Tendency, and I didn’t really have a view — this is a very cogent argument for that!

  • Katherine

    Upholder motto ideas:

    “Plays well with others”
    “Sustaining public harmony is an end itself”
    “I wish I weren’t a people pleaser”

    • gretchenrubin

      Ah, the “people pleaser” one is an Obliger motto. Upholders are often perceived to be a little…cold!

      • Katherine

        oops. I meant ‘Obliger’ mottos.
        (haha so I’m doing a discussion with my book club about this whole topic — that’s why all of a sudden I left a bunch of comments. Obliger was a hard one to make a motto for!)

  • Katherine

    How do you get a rebel employee to do a task for you?
    Answer: trick question! Rebel’s are all self employed 😉 They are no one’s employee.

    How do you get a Rebel to change a lightbulb?
    Answer: Do it yourself

    How do you get an obliger to change a lightbulb?
    Answer: Ask him to.

    How do you get an upholder to change a lightbulb?
    Answer? psych. He’s already changed it.

    How do you get a questioner to change a lightbulb?
    Answer: Why do we need lightbulbs anyway?

    • gretchenrubin

      This is brilliant and hilarious!!! LOVE IT. Absolutely accurate. I’m laughing out loud.