I've developed a personality framework that divides people into four categories, the "Four Tendencies": Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, and Rebel.
To find out your "Tendency," take the quick free quiz here. More than two million people have taken this quiz!
From time to time, people ask me, "But what if I feel like I'm all four of the Tendencies?" or "I got a certain answer on the quiz, but I think I'm actually a combo of two Tendencies, is that possible?" or "Why doesn't my answer doesn't feel right?" All good questions.
"What if I feel like I'm a mix of all four Tendencies?"
Of course, no matter what our fundamental Tendency, a small part of each of us is Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, and Rebel.
- All of us meet an expectation when we don’t want to bear the consequences of ignoring it. The Rebel wears his seat belt after he pays a few big fines.
- All of us may question why we should have to meet an expectation, or become annoyed by inefficiency, or refuse to do something that seems arbitrary.
- We all meet some expectations because they’re important to someone else. The most determined Upholder will sacrifice her regular morning workout if her child is recovering from surgery.
- We all desire autonomy. We prefer to be asked rather than ordered to do something, and if our feeling of being controlled by others becomes too strong, it can trigger “reactance,” a resistance to something that’s experienced as a threat to our freedom or our ability to choose.
But if you feel very strongly that you're all four, that's a very strong indication that you're a Questioner. Why?
Partly because the Questioner Tendency is the least Tendency. Upholders, Obligers, and Rebels recognize how they’re different from other people. But Questioners view their questioning not as evidence of a pattern but merely the logical, universal response to life.
For instance, during a visit to my old high school, where I spoke about the Four Tendencies, a senior insisted, “I’m a mix of Tendencies, sometimes I act one way, sometimes another, depending on the situation. If I get an assignment from a teacher I respect, I do it, no problem, so I’m an Upholder. But if I don’t respect the teacher, I won’t do it. So I’m a Rebel. So I’m different, depending on the situation.”
“Actually, no,” I said. “That’s pure Questioner. A Questioner’s first question is, ‘Why should I listen to you, anyway?’”
"What if I think I'm a combination of two Tendencies?"
Each Tendency interlocks with two other Tendencies, and a person of a particular Tendency often “tips” in the direction of one of the overlapping Tendencies.
Whether you tip to one side or the other may dramatically affect how your Tendency presents itself.
For instance, REBEL/Questioners concentrate more on fulfilling their own desires than on resisting outer expectations; the Rebel spirit of resistance remains strong, but they’re more focused on doing what they want than on defying other people. REBEL/Questioners have less trouble with resisting their own expectations for themselves; as one REBEL/Questioner remarked, “If I have nothing to rebel against, I do fine. No one cares if I go to the gym, so I go all the time. I love working for myself, but I struggle when working for others.”
By contrast, REBEL/Obligers have a stronger dose of pushing back, of evading control. The Obliger and Rebel Tendencies both resist inner expectations, a state that fuels resentment and resistance. For this reason, REBEL/Obligers are more likely to insist “You can’t make me!”—even if it’s something the Rebel wants to do. For REBEL/Obligers, even if they want to do something, others’ approval or encouragement may ignite their resistance to their own desires.
To sum up, REBEL/Questioners think, “I do whatever I choose, no matter what anyone else says” while REBEL/Obligers think, “I refuse to do what anyone tells me to do.”
People often say, "Apparently I'm an Obliger, but in one area of my life I'm a Rebel. So am I both?" This describes an Obliger in Obliger-rebellion, a very common pattern among Obligers that is very important to understand. Read more about it here or listen to a discussion on the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast here.
"What if the quiz gave me one answer, but I think a different Tendency describes me much better?"
Always trust yourself. Occasionally, when people take the quiz, they answer while thinking about one particular area of their lives, and that can make the result point in the wrong direction. Or people give the answers they wish were true, or think ought to be true.
Often, if there's any doubt, when people read The Four Tendencies book, or take The Four Tendencies Video Course, their Tendency becomes quite clear—because all the examples, frustrations, and strategies related to one Tendency ring very true, much more so than the others.
"What if I keep thinking, 'I question the validity of this framework?'"
Yeah. I'm going to say Questioner.
The Four Tendencies book -- can't resist mentioning it was a New York Times bestseller
The Four Tendencies video course -- if you want to go deeper with audio, interviews, engagement
The Four Tendencies Workshop -- if you'd like to lead a group in learning about the Four Tendencies
The Better app -- a free app to help you harness the Four Tendencies framework to create a better life. You can use it as an app on your phone, or you can use it on your desktop.
Find Four Tendencies graphics to share on social media here.
Download free PDFs like the "Nutshell Guide to the Four Tendencies" here.
We often discuss the Four Tendencies on the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast. In particular, you might want to listen to these episodes:
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Find out if you’re an Upholder, Obliger, Questioner, or a Rebel.
The Four Tendencies explain why we act and why we don’t act. Our Tendency shapes every aspect of our behavior, so understanding your Tendency lets us make better decisions, meet deadlines, suffer less stress and burnout, and engage more effectively.