How a Health Coach Harnessed Her Rebel Tendency to Lose 40 Pounds and Boost Her Energy.

I love hearing how people put the Four Tendencies framework to work — whether by using knowledge of their Tendency to improve their own lives, or to work more effectively with other people.

Recently, I got an email from Nagina Abdullah, health coach and founder of She listens to the “Happier” podcast, and she told me about how she was able to eat more healthfully, lose weight, and boost her energy by harnessing the strengths of her Rebel Tendency.

This story was particularly interesting to me, because — as Rebels themselves often point out — the strategies that work for other Tendencies often don’t work for Rebels.

So I was fascinated to hear her story, and she wrote an account of it to share — which is below, with my comments in brackets.

Nagina writes:

When I was a kid, I got sent to the principal’s office on a weekly basis. While my teachers would ask the students to be quiet and obedient, I would end up in laughing fits and get sent to the principals’ office to get disciplined.

I struggled with following expectations for my whole life. As a child, I resisted my teachers’ rules. As I got older, I resisted being healthier.

See, I love food. I love sweets, fried food, food trucks, BBQs – everything that isn’t good for my waistline. I ALSO resist following the rules of having to be strict to get healthy.

My tendencies finally made sense when I took Gretchen’s Four Tendencies Quiz. I wanted to see if I was an Upholder, Obliger, Questioner, or Rebel.

I wasn’t surprised when I scored as a “Rebel.” Rebels resist outer and inner expectations.

After decades of being addicted to sugar and feeling unable to control my cravings, I embraced my Rebel tendencies. As result, I lost 40 pounds, skyrocketed my energy and started wearing the clothes I had dreamed of wearing.

The “Healthy Rules” I Did Not Want to Follow

After having two kids and working 60+ hour weeks, I felt exhausted and overweight, more than ever before. I needed to get healthier to feel better and have more energy for my kids.

I didn’t want to deprive myself of food I loved and I didn’t have time to spend hours in the gym.

Here are the rules to getting healthier I would regularly hear:

  • “You have to count calories, points, crumbs, licks, and drops”
  • “You must exercise 3+ days a week”
  • “No eating cupcakes, donuts, and everything else you love”


Even though I wanted to get healthier, I resisted restrictive rules like these.

This led to a lot of internal frustration, yo-yo dieting, announcing “It isn’t worth it!” and “Why is this so hard for ME?” [Rebels often get frustrated when they try to use the same techniques that work for other Tendencies.]

Even if I wanted to be healthier, I couldn’t even follow my OWN rules.  [Rebels resist outer and inner expectations.]

Would I ever change my habits to get healthier when I kept rebelling against the rules?

I finally got my dream body when (only when) I broke the rules.

Here’s how I broke the rules to lose 40 pounds and keep it off for now over six years.

Above All I Wanted to Be a “Rebel Mom”

Being a mom is the greatest gift, but I feared I would be overweight, exhausted and put myself last in the name of my kids, which is the stereotype of a mom I held.

That’s when I decided to be a REBEL MOM and break through the stereotype.

Here’s my vision of being the mom I wanted to be:

  • Feel confident in a bathing suit so I could swim and play in the sand with my kids
  • Run 5k’s with my kids and set healthy examples for them
  • Feel sexy around my husband
  • Go rollerblading, biking, ice skating, roller skating, skiing, snowboarding and more with my family and feel strong and agile as I am doing it


Having a goal of a “Rebel Mom” inspired me to be healthier.  [Rebels want to express their identity; they want to live in accordance with their authentic self; they can do anything they choose to do, in order to be the kind of person they choose to be.]

3 Rules I Broke to Get My Dream Body

I started by eating healthy, because I found that it is the most impactful thing to do. But I needed to make eating healthy enjoyable and realistic for my life and family, and that’s when I realized there were three rules I had to break. [Rebels do well to focus on enjoyment. They also often enjoy breaking rules or achieving aims in unconventional ways.]

Rule 1: “You need to eat healthy every day to lose weight.”

How I break Rule 1:

I have one “Cheat Day” a week where I eat everything I want, so I always get a “break” from the rules and have something to look forward to. A Cheat Day is KEY to losing weight if you hate following those strict diet rules. [As an Upholder and an Abstainer and a very low-carb eater, this would not work for me — but it works for Nagina.]

Rule 2: “You have to eat boring food in tiny portions so you feel like you are starving to lose even 5 pounds.”

How I break Rule 2:

Instead of making my food flavorful with heavy sauces and creams, I use spices and herbs that pack in the flavor and have natural health benefits (like anti-inflammation and reduced water retention). I feel like I’m “cheating” and indulging even though I’m actually eating healthy.

I love to add a pinch of cinnamon (lowers your blood sugar) in my morning coffee because it tastes so delicious. [Again, the focus on pleasure and choice.]

Rule 3: “You are “supposed” to eat healthy.”

How I break Rule 3:

Remember the last time you were at an airport? Temptations at every turn, with most people indulging in them? It’s HARDER to eat healthy than not!

As a result of eating healthy, I feel in control of myself, and feel like I’m rebelling against the “norms” of society. [Rebels often benefit from reminding themselves, “I’m not going to be trapped by a sugar addiction. These big companies can’t control me with their fancy marketing campaigns and crinkly packages. I’m strong, they can’t make me eat their junk.” Rebels also often love a challenge: “Most people can’t resist the goodies in an airport, mall, or store, but for me, it’s not a problem.”]

 What you can do to get healthier:

If you resist outer and/or inner expectations (Rebels resist both, and Questioners and Obligers resist one or the other), and/or you have found it challenging to get healthier, try to BREAK some of the traditional rules by using one of the methods that worked for me:

  1. What’s a stereotype you would break by getting healthier? Embrace that and make it your goal.
  2. Include one cheat day a week and eat whatever you want on those days, while staying healthy on the other days. [Very effective for some people! Not effective for others! Know yourself.]
  3. Add herbs and spices to your foods to make it taste indulgent without the extra calories.
  4. Resist the unhealthy temptations around you and feel in control of yourself.

To help you, I have a special gift for Gretchen Rubin readers. I would like to send you my three spiced late-night snacks to banish your sugar cravings forever AND a bonus recipe e-book, “7 Spicy Recipes to Help You Lose Your First 7 Pounds.” You can get these here.

What I love about Nagina’s account is how carefully she examined what works for her, what she wants, and figured out her own way to get there.

By embracing her Rebel Tendency, she was able to get the benefit of its enormous strengths. By contrast, when Rebels think they “should” be able to use techniques like to-do lists, scheduling, monitoring, or accountability, they often get very frustrated with themselves.

There’s no one “right” way, no one “best” way — only what works for you.

A Little Happier: You Get What You Get, and You Don’t Get Upset.

It’s funny what we remember. When handing out scarves with different patterns, or cupcakes with different colors of frosting, I would hear my daughter’s nursery school teachers admonish the children, “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset.”

I remind myself of this all the time. Sometimes, I can change, control, or choose; sometimes I can’t — in which case, it doesn’t help to get upset about it.

This saying is a good example of the “fluency heuristic,” by the way: we remember ideas better, and find them more valuable, when they’re easy to remember — for instance, because the words rhyme. (For some reason, I get a big kick out of this.)

Do you have any childhood sayings that have stuck with you? Rhyming or non-rhyming.

This mini-episode is brought to you by Prudential. Their new podcast Everyday Bravery brings inspiring and personal stories about finding the courage that brings out the best in us. Go to or subscribe everywhere podcasts are available.

Want to get in touch? I love hearing from listeners:


 Happier listening!

A Mysterious Observation about Happiness from Oscar Wilde.

“There are many things that we would throw away if we were not afraid that others might pick them up.”  — Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

This has always struck me as an eerie and mysterious observation; I’ve been surprised by its truth.

Taking a job, dating a person, accepting a position, a great bargain…how often do we pursue a certain course because we know that if we don’t take advantage of something, someone else will?

Announcing The Four Tendencies Book Tour! Hope to See You Along the Way.

I’m gearing up for my book tour for The Four Tendencies! I can’t wait.

Some writers don’t enjoy traveling or speaking, but I really enjoy it. I love connecting in person to book and blog readers as well as Happier listeners.

I wish I could go to every city, but because of the time and money involved, I can only visit a handful. I try to mix it up, too — to try to visit new cities with every tour.

I’ve been doing book tours for many years now, and one difference is that nowadays, most events are ticketed; ticketing helps event-planners and booksellers, because they know how many people to expect. So, if you’re planning to come to an event, I suggest buying your tickets soon, because many of these venues may sell out.

Standing room only! Starting soon. #betterthanbefore

A post shared by Gretchen Rubin (@gretchenrubin) on

One of my favorite things about events is the chance to do question-and-answer with the audience. I love q-and-a. In fact, a major inspiration for my writing The Four Tendencies came from audience q-and-a. For my book talk for Better Than Before, I packed in all the material that I thought was the most surprising, interesting, and useful from the book — but 90% of people’s questions were about the Four Tendencies. People only wanted to talk about the Tendencies! So I realized that people wanted to learn more, and that I had a lot more to say.

One new fun feature of this tour is that three of the events are with brilliant fellow writers. It will be great to sit down for a conversation with…


If there’s an event in your city, I hope to see you there! Please come, bring your friends.

If there’s no event in your city, you can…

1. Request a signed book plate 

2. Join me on a Facebook live broadcast and ask your burning question there

3. Join me for a live chat in my free app, Better, (the next one is Monday, June 17)


Boston, MA / Sept 12

Q&A moderated by Melissa Hartwig. Signing to follow.
Hosted by Harvard Bookstore.
Location: Brattle Theater, 40 Brattle Street Cambridge, MA 02138
*Tickets required. Details here.
Date: September 12, 2017 06:30 pm

New York, NY / Sept 13

Talk/Q&A/Book signing at www.Open
Location: Marble Collegiate Church, 1 W 29th St, New York, NY 10001, (at 5th Ave)
*Ticketed event (price includes a copy of the book, The Four Tendencies)
Date: September 13, 2017 07:00 pm

Dallas, TX / Sept 14

Authors Live! at Highland Park United Methodist Church.Location: 3300 Mockingbird Lane, Dallas, TX 75205
Program, Q&A, Book Signing.
The 7pm event is free and open to the public. The 6pm pre-reception is a ticketed event that includes a copy of the book.
Date: September 14, 2017 07:00 pm

North Richland Hills, TX / Sept 15

Talk/Q&A/Signing @ North Richland Hills Library,
9015 Grand Avenue, North Richland Hills, TX12:00pm reception;  1:00pm event open to the public
*Ticketed lunch event.  Details here.
Date: September 15, 2017 01:00 pm

Claremont, CA / Sept 19

Luncheon at Claremont Graduate University.
Location: Claremont University
*Ticketed events. Details coming soon.
Date: September 19, 2017 01:00 pm

Santa Monica, CA / Sept 19

LIVE Talks LA at The Moss Theater
3131 Olympic Boulevard, Santa Monica, CA 90404
*Tickets required. Details here.
Date: September 19, 2017 08:00 pm

Rancho Santa Fe, CA / Sept 20

Luncheon hosted by Rancho Santa Fe Library Guild
*This is a ticketed event. Details here.
Date: September 20 2017 12:00 pm

San Diego, CA / Sept 20

Talk/Q&A/Signing, Hosted by Warwick’s at USD
Location: USD, Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Theater
5998 Alcala Park, San Diego, CA 92110
*Ticketed event. Details here.
Date: September 20 2017 07:00 pm

San Francisco, CA / Sept 21

Q&A moderated by Kim Malone Scott
Location: Books Inc in Opera Plaza. 601 Van Ness, San Francisco, CA 94102
*Ticketed event. Details here.
Date: September 21, 2017 07:00 pm

Washington, D.C. / Sept 26

Gretchen Rubin in Conversation with Chris Guillebeau, hosted by Politics & Prose.
Location:  Sidwell Friends Meeting House. 3825 Wisconsin Ave. NW,  Washington, D.C.
*This will be a ticketed event. Details here.
Date: September 26, 2017 07:00 pm

Los Angeles, CA / October 18

Werk It Podcast Festival.
*Ticketed event. Details here.
Date: October 04 2017

Louisville, KY

Details TBA.
Date: October 18, 2017



Indianapolis, IN / Nov 7

Keynote at Indiana Conference for Women.
*Ticketed event. Details here.
Date: November 07, 2017

“As Soon as I Finished the Video Game, I Thought, ‘Well, There’s 8 Hours of My Life I’ll Never Get Back.'”

Interview: Eric Barker.

I got to know Eric Barker through his blog, Barking Up the Wrong Tree.  It’s a funny, practical, and interesting look at “how to be awesome at life.”

His new book, Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong, came out last month. It’s already a bestseller and has generated a lot of buzz.

It’s all about learning what makes people successful — or not — by looking at science, great figures in history, and stories from everyday life. Some of his conclusions are quite counter-intuitive.

I knew that Eric thinks a lot about happiness, habits, health, productivity, and all the related topics, so I was curious to hear his answers.

Gretchen: What’s a simple habit that consistently makes you happier? 

Eric: Exercise. Spending time with my girlfriend makes me happier, but that’s less of a habit and more of an addiction.

What’s something you know now about forming healthy habits that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

Stanford professor BJ Fogg has a concept called “Minimum Viable Effort” which I love. Since consistency is so critical to building a habit, he says to start off doing the absolute minimum — but doing it consistently. So even if I was utterly exhausted, I would make myself go to the gym. I wouldn’t work out, but I’d go. Then I’d turn around and leave. It felt utterly ridiculous but it got me into the habit of going every day. (Now I actually exercise and it’s far less ridiculous.)

Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness? 

I tend to ruminate. I’ve reduced this by using something mindfulness expert Joseph Goldstein told me: whenever you’re dwelling on negative thoughts, pause and ask yourself, “Is this useful?” 99% of the time, it’s not.

Which habits are most important to you? (for health, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)

Exercise, meditation, and socializing (I’m quite the introvert. If this isn’t practiced like a habit, often it doesn’t happen.)

Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

For me, the most effective way to break bad habits and encourage new ones has been through manipulating my environment. Eating healthy is easy when you only have healthy food in the house. I often employ Shawn Achor’s 20-second rule. I make good habits 20 seconds easier to engage in and bad habits 20 seconds harder. It’s shockingly effective.

Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

Questioner. Definitely. If something doesn’t make sense to me, I have a really hard time with it. I find this helps me accomplish tasks effectively, but can cause problems in my relationships if I don’t temper it.

Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits? (e.g. travel, parties)

I don’t work according to a clock. Things are done when they’re done. So that means sometimes I pull crazy long hours and everything else gets shoved aside when I’m in the thick of working — including good habits.

Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you changed a major habit very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.? 

Years ago I spent an entire Saturday playing a video game from beginning to end on my Xbox. As soon as I was finished I thought, “Well, there’s 8 hours of my life I’ll never get back.” I haven’t seriously played a video game since.

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

I resist them until they’re solidly a habit. Once they’re something I do daily, it’s like flipping a switch and I get irritated if I can’t do them.

Has another person ever had a big influence on your habits?

Yes — but generally because they were a very bad example and I said, “Whoa, I don’t want to be like that.”