The Four Tendencies
by Gretchen Rubin

  • Behaviour
  • Ashto = 7/10
  • Jonesy = 5/10
The Four Tendencies

The Four Tendencies – by Gretchen Rubin

In analysing how people act or don’t act, Gretchen Rubin (author of The Four Tendencies) found that it boiled down to one very important question: How do you respond to expectations? She found that depending on whether you tended to resist or meet both outer or inner expectations, you could be categorised as either an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger or Rebel. After you understand who you are, you can set up systems and environments that will allow you to harness the strengths of your personality, combat the weaknesses, and build better lives.

‘The indispensable personality profiles that reveal how to make your life better (and other people’s lives better, too)’

The Four Tendencies  – Summary

My brother Shane (Jonesy) wanted to go for evening jogs, but couldn’t get himself motivated to put his running gear on and get out the door. The strangest part about it was that he used to go running every single day, because he was on the cross country team when he was at school. How come he would happily run every day when his coach told him to and he had a team to run alongside, but he couldn’t convince himself to go for it all on his own?
There are two different types of people: people that like to group people into ‘types’, and people that don’t. Obviously, we fall into the first type, because we’re about to whip out some labels. These labels are dictated by why we do what we do. By getting an understanding of our own type, we can do more of the things that need doing. And by getting an understanding of other peoples’ types, we’ll be better at motivating them and managing them. Top Dogs know that you can’t treat everybody the same – you need to understand what makes people tick, and what the best methods are to spur them into action.


Upholders will readily meet both inner and outer expectations. They’ll say “discipline is my freedom”, or “I’ll do what’s right, even when people call me uptight”. These are the types of people that stick to their New Year’s Resolution and always submit their reports at work on time.

Upholders are self-directed, they have no trouble sticking to deadlines, they keep appointments, they don’t miss meetings, they don’t need supervision or penalties because they always do their work as expected. They are fascinated by rules and often can’t resist reading the instruction manuals that other people chuck out straight away. They have no trouble wearing uniforms or following recipes or obeying directives. If an Upholder makes a commitment, they’ll stick to it without the need for constant reminders. When they decide to do something, they do it.

Because of their desire to meet both inner and outer expectations, Upholders are both self-directed and reliable. They count on themselves more than they count on anyone else in their lives.

On the flip side, an Upholder can become a fearless campaigner who blindly enforces rules without questioning them. The Upholder is the classic tattle-tale in the school playground, or the snitch who dobs in their mates, or the boss who rejects the report because it was an hour late. They can also become irritable if others reject expectations – they can’t understand how someone would not do something that was asked of them. They become quite disapproving when others misbehave in the smallest of ways, like whispering in a meeting or arriving a couple of minutes late. They also find it hard to delegate because they can’t trust others to follow through with the same enthusiasm that they would. Upholders find it hard to do things like drop a meaningless task or take an unscheduled break, even if it would help them perform better.


Obligers readily meet outer expectations imposed by others, but struggle to meet the expectations they want to impose on themselves. Obligers love external accountability. No matter how much they want to do something for themselves (exercise more, take an online course, write up a business proposal for a new recommendation for their company), they will fail at it unless they have a friend or a colleague or a boss holding them accountable. But if the right systems are in place, Obligers can dominate.

Obligers excel at meeting other people’s demands and deadlines. This is a double edged sword: it will make you one of the boss’s favourites, but it can also leave you open to being taken of by Questioners and Rebels because they know they’ll be able to handball some of their work over to you.

Obligers will gladly meet outer expectations… until they won’t. If the expectations keep piling up and piling up, the Obliger will keep working and working… until they snap! Because they never resist or push back, it can all get too much. And it might end in something extreme – a divorce, a blow up, or a full-blown storm out and quit. If you’re an Obliger you need to be careful if you start to feel this resentment brewing up inside you, and if you’re a boss, you need to be careful not to dump everything on the Obliger and push them past their limit.


Questioners will comply… if you convince them why. They readily meet inner expectations, but resist outer expectations (unless they agree with this external expectation and turn it into an internal one). Questioners have a deep commitment to logic, information and efficiency. They hate anything arbitrary or unclear. They want to gather their own facts and decide for themselves – they’ll act when there are strong incentives, but will brush away anything ill-informed, ill-reasoned or inefficient.

Questioners often start each day by asking themselves “why needs to be done and why?”. If there isn’t a clear ‘why’, then it doesn’t get done. If the boss says that the report is due Monday but you know that no one is going to read it until the 11am team meeting on Wednesday, then you’ll be handing it in on Wednesday not on Monday.

Because Questioners are inner-directed, whenever they make up their own mind about something they’ll follow through on it without much difficulty. But if they’re not convinced that the task is worthwhile, they probably just won’t do it. Speaking from experience, I (Ashto) would put myself in this category – if I don’t believe it makes sense to do something then I’ll say that it seems like a waste of time, or (worse), I’ll say ‘yes’ but then never do it and just wait until people forget or give up asking me to do it.

Questioners are often puzzled by some peoples’ willingness to follow orders without understanding the reasons behind them. They’re perplexed by people following the herd without ever stopping to ask where the herd is going in the first place. Arguments like “I’m the boss and I say so” or “that’s the way we’ve always done it” carry no weight and have no impact on a Questioner. The constant questioning can grow pretty tiring for their colleagues, and bosses can see this constant barrage of questions as a signal of insubordination. Questions are good at identifying loopholes, but this often means they find reasons to break habits or avoid doing things.

Questioners are an important part of any team because they’re the ones that challenge the status quo. They’ll ask the high-level strategic questions that need to be asked. But they can also fall victim to analysis-paralysis – they’re so busy asking questions that they never actually just knuckle down and get their hands dirty.


Rebels hate feeling like they “have” to do anything. They like to do things in their own way on their own time. They do what they want, when they want, how they want. They push back on outer expectations, but they push back on inner expectations too – “you can’t make me… and neither can I”. They love choice for choice’s sake and they hate feeling trapped in any way.

The downside is that you can’t pressure Rebels, and they can’t pressure themselves either. But when they truly want to do something, they can achieve great things. Rebels enjoy facing and overcoming challenges, they love to do things differently, and they take great pressure in defying others. If you say it’s impossible to quit smoking, or you tell a Rebel they’re not smart enough to go to college and should set their sights lower, then you’re just fuelling them to prove you wrong. They refuse to believe that something is impossible, and there’s always the element of “I’ll show you!”.

The upside is that Rebels don’t do things that they don’t think need to be done… but sometimes there’s just stuff you have to do – Rebels struggle to just cop it on the chin and do it anyway.

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