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  • Writer's pictureOlivia Borer

The Four Tendencies

I talked about Gretchen Rubin’s book Better Than Before in a previous post about the habit of convenience. Today, I wanted to discuss her categorization of the four habit-forming tendencies, which are based on how we to respond to expectations.

Before I unveil and discuss the four tendencies, I want to separate expectations into two categories: inner and outer. Inner expectations are those that are inside of us, that we form for ourselves. Examples include New Year’s resolutions and the desire to stop gossiping.

On the other hand, outer expectations are those that are outside of us, that stem from other people, rules, or guidelines. Examples include work deadlines, college project guidelines, and parental (or coach or boss or professor) expectations.

Based on inner and outer expectations, Gretchen formed four tendencies: upholder, questioner, obliger, and rebel.

Upholders respond and meet both outer and inner expectations with ease. They thrive when clear guidelines are given for a project and have the ability to set a goal for themselves and reach it without too much trouble. Upholders are usually self-directed and keep commitments. However, upholders struggle in situations when expectations or guidelines aren’t clear or when they break the rules (even if the rule is menial). This tendency isn’t as common as the others, although I myself am an upholder!

Questioners question all expectations and seek justification before they will act on a particular expectation. Basically, they turn all expectations into inner expectations and ask, “Does this expectation have a clear purpose?” If they feel that the expectation isn’t worth it, they won’t respond or follow it. Sometimes, questioners can become overwhelmed by their internal need to have answers about everything; they just want to make a simple decision without much thought every once in a while.

Obligers, the most common tendency, respond to outer expectations, but struggle to meet their own inner expectations. They are “people pleasers.” Obligers may have a hard time saying “no” to someone, even if they do not want to do what that person asked of them, which can lead to burnout. Obligers make great family members and friends because they can meet external deadlines and commands, but they often struggle with self-motivation.

Rebels resist all expectations, inner and outer. They want to do what they want when they want to do it. Rebels cannot be told what to do; they must have the desire and idea themselves before they react to an expectation. They work towards their own goals in their own way at their own pace and on their own schedule.

Interesting right? Think for a moment about what category you are in. How does it affect your life?

It may seem like one tendency is better or worse than the others, but Gretchen states the contrary. In Better Than Before, she emphasizes that as long as we recognize our tendency and work with it, not against it, we can be successful when forming habits and responding to expectations.

For instance, as an upholder, I struggled last semester with a group project that was introduced at the start of the semester. The guidelines for the first phase of the project (there were three phases total) was vague and unclear. It was difficult for me to lead my group in the right direction as I tried to find the best way to complete the project without specific guidelines. What did I do to combat this need for guidelines? I recognized my need for answers and structure and created it within my group by asking my professor multiple questions as we completed phase one of our project to ensure that our group was on the right path.

As I mentioned previously, Better Than Before is an amazingly insightful book. I highly recommend it for anyone who is seeking to grow in their own self-knowledge, an idea I have been delving deeper into these past few months.

What tendency are you? Do you like your tendency? Are you a combination of two tendencies? Share these categories with your friends and family; you may be surprised at what you discover!

Click here for a quiz to determine what tendency you are!

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