Habit Strategies and Tips for Rebels

After my book Better Than Before hit the shelves, I was surprised by how many Rebels contacted me to request more information about how to harness their Tendency.

As I was writing Better Than Before, I’d assumed that a) Rebels wouldn’t want to read a book about habits, and that b) Rebels weren’t interested in trying to foster habits.

Well, I was wrong! Many Rebels are very interested in learning how to harness the tremendous strengths of both habits and of the Rebel Tendency to help themselves become happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative.

The Rebel section of The Four Tendencies is actually one of the longest sections, because there’s so much to say, and so much to try, that can work well for Rebels. I include dozens of examples, including many from Rebels themselves.

One  general challenge, however, is that many strategies that work well for other Tendencies — such as the Strategies of Accountability, Monitoring, or Scheduling — don’t work well for most Rebels. And some popular strategies — such as the Strategies of Convenience, Other People, and Reward — must be carefully adapted for the Rebel perspective.

If you are a Rebel, or you’re working with a Rebel, it’s a huge help to recognize that fact! You will have far greater success if you approach the situation in a Rebel-specific way.

In a nutshell: Rebels resist all expectations, both inner and outer alike. They want to do what they want to do, in their own way, in their own time — and if you ask or tell them to do something, they’re very likely to resist.

Watch this short video to learn more about the Rebel Tendency:

Habit Strategies that Work Best for Rebels:

In Better Than Before , I describe the 21 strategies that we can use to make or break our habits. Twenty-one is a lot, but that’s good — some of the strategies work well for some people, but not others. This is especially true for Rebels. For Rebels, the key strategies are:

Strategy of Identity (most important for Rebels)

For Rebels, the most effective habit-change strategy is the Strategy of Identity. Because Rebels place great value on being true to themselves, they can embrace a habit if they view it as a way to express their identity. “I quit sugar because I respect my body. I want to give myself energy and good health by eating only healthy foods.”

 Strategy of Clarity

The Strategy of Clarity works for Rebels, because it focuses on why a habit might have personal value for them. The more Rebels think about what they want, and why they want it, the more effectively they pursue it. “I attend this optional seminar about Photoshop because I’m a creative, curious person who loves to learn about new tools and methods. This class is giving me the knowledge I crave.”

Strategy of Convenience

Instead of trying to commit to scheduling a habit, Rebels often do habit-behaviors as soon as they feel like it. “What a gorgeous day! I feel like going for a run.”

Strategy of Other People

The Strategy of Other People is also a useful strategy for Rebels to consider; Rebels love doing things differently from other people. They do an obscure kind of yoga, run barefoot, exercise late at night. One Rebel wrote to tell me how much she loved being a female bodybuilder.

Note: Rebels tend to resist if you ask or tell them to do anything. It’s very important—but challenging—to avoid setting off their spirit of resistance.

Also, many of the 21 strategies that work well for other Tendencies typically don’t work for Rebels: for instance, Strategies of Scheduling, Accountability, Monitoring, or Rewards.

Looking for strategies for Upholders, Questioners, and Obligers? Click here.

Rebels may also enjoy this interview on the “Happier” podcast, when Elizabeth and I talked to the brilliant Chris Guillebeau, who’s a Rebel.

Chris is the host of the terrific podcast “Side Hustle School,” which aims to help people start side hustles to give themselves more freedom, career choice, and outlets for expression of their interests and talents. Freedom, choice, doing things your own way…do those values sound familiar? Rebel! Though lots of people who aren’t Rebels love side hustles, too, of course.

Join the Discussion

If you’re intrigued by the Four Tendencies, and want to join the lively discussion on my Better app, sign up! It’s free. You can start or join an accountability group (Obligers, I know many of you want to do that!), ask questions, have discussions about your own Tendency or dealing with someone else’s Tendency. Say, you’re a Rebel who is having trouble controlling your blood sugar, or you’re the parent of a Rebel who wants to drop out of high school. You can swap questions, ideas, and solutions.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Ashley

    As a Rebel, I do have a very strong sense of identity and therefore I am extremely interested in understanding my tendency better, and what strategies work best for me. But I am starting to get tired of Rebels getting the blame! I am listening to Episode 95 right now and the Rebels were blamed for not putting the mugs away at work! In fact, when I am in the office kitchen, I want to be a person that respects others, and I always clean up after myself. It might be more common for a Questioner to say “Why do I have to put my dishes away?” and leave their dirty mugs out.

    • gretchenrubin

      Oh yes, a Questioner would absolutely do that! And you’re right, we shouldn’t assume that Rebels will behave that way, or are the ones responsible for something like that.

    • Lisa Zahn

      Thank you for this! I haven’t listened to the podcast episode, but as a very tidy person (and a Rebel), I would be the last person to leave my mug out. I wonder if this has more to do with other aspects of personality?

  • Laura

    As a Rebel parent, parenting a Rebel child, I rely heavily on the strategy of identity. “You are a respectful child! You don’t make others clean up after you!” etc. “Make sure you act like you want to be.”

    • gretchenrubin

      Great examples of how parents can take the Rebel Tendency into account.

  • Judith

    I love my rebel husband dearly and, as an obliger, admire his ability to go his own way. I have, over the years, developed strategies of my own to help me deal with his character but when I read “Better than before” and recognised him immediately as a rebel I was able to really understand why he is as he is. It has been so helpful to me and our relationship as I have been able to incorporate many of the strategies in the book as well as recognising some of my own strategies such as the strategy of identity which is SO important to my lovely rebel.

  • happy fan

    I just wanted to say that you are so nice Gretchen. I love how every time I go to the comments section you always leave encouraging and kind comment replies. You seem to be a genuinely good person and I’m glad I found an amazing author like you 🙂

    • gretchenrubin

      Awww that’s so nice to hear. Thank you!

  • Fiona Forward

    How do I get my rebel high school son to do his summer reading? He has 2 weeks to read 3 books. He told me the more I ask the less likely he is to do his reading.

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes certainly don’t remind him to do it!

      • Fiona Forward

        He is making me nervous. This is the beginning of Junior year which i know will be very stressful. He does suffer from anxiety and It would be great if he could start the school year prepared.
        He also has to do ACT work, he hates to do extra work. I’m hoping that getting a higher grade than his sister may be motivating for him. She is going into Senior year. I was told by a teacher that he probably not do well until Graduate school. That is a long way away!!

        • gretchenrubin

          You might try to remind him of what HE WANTS. “It would feel good to start the school year with both those books completed.” “It would be a relief not to have those assignments hanging over your head.” But remember, just as he’s telling you, the more you remind him, the more you will ignite the spirit of resistance. Helpful reminders may be the reason he hasn’t read the books yet!

    • Lisa Zahn

      I don’t know how to help in your specific situation, but I’m a Rebel and both my kids are Rebels. A hands-off approach works pretty well for my kids as they do care about grades and doing the right thing. For other rebellious tendencies my 18yo daughter shows, I have taken to reminding her that, at age 18, her decisions and behaviors affect her own life and not mine so much. I also always emphasize the positive that she has such a bright future ahead of her, but it’s up to her to make it happen.