Has a sudden jolt of personal insight ever blown your mind?
When I recently took Gretchen Rubin’s quiz at a friend’s suggestion, complete aha-ness dawned on me when I was deemed a “Rebel.” As a frequent taker of quizzes and tests, that rarely happens. It felt so on point. I also had an emotional connection to the word because my late father’s nickname for me was “little rebel.”
And when I read her book, The Four Tendencies, more and more became clear to me. My thought processes—and those of the people around me—began to make more sense. I could learn how to properly motivate myself, based on how I respond to expectations.
As a Rebel, I resist outer expectations and inner expectations too (yep, I struggle with commitment even to myself). I forge my own path and don’t necessarily go with the flow. When I was fortunate enough to enjoy tea with Rubin recently, she said something that made me feel understood: “Rebels understand how free we all are.”
I secretly always think to myself,Why does everyone seem to be doing what they’re expected to do in this world? You can live where you want! You can get start your own business! You don’t need permission to be whatever you want to be! Our life is up to us.
But what does your Tendency say about you? Here’s a wrap of Rubin’s Four Tendencies and their accompanying mantras. Read up and then take the quiz to find out your personality type.
Upholders: Adhere to outer and inner expectations
Mantra: “Discipline is my freedom.”
Put simply, Upholders stick to commitments to themselves and to others. They’re reliable, probably stick to a schedule and… well… get it done. People trust their follow-through. It’s the opposite of me, a Rebel. I wonder if life is easiest for Upholders because they probably abide by the 100-Percent Rule in making their decisions. There’s no overthinking or “but do I feel like doing it?”
According to Rubin, you might wish to improve on being rigid (and at times, defensive). Because it’s OK to make a mistake! And to delegate too. As a Rebel, I wonder if Upholders could benefit from evaluating how much satisfaction their actions bring them and checking in with their innermost desires once in a while. Because Upholders can seem (to me) a little on auto-pilot as they breeze through their days.
Questioners: Question all expectations; they'll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense.
Mantra: “I’ll comply, if you convince me why.”
My sister is a questioner, and her questions exhaust her (and all of us sometimes). “Is getting a dog a good idea? If so, why? If not, why not?” Put simply, Questioners like data. Because of this, they are fair-minded. They’re not people-pleasers because they are self-directed.
I think Questioners are the most interesting of the Tendencies, as they are always curious. And hey, it’s wise to seek information before making a decision. I also like the headstrong nature of Questioners (because of this quality, Rubin says it’s easy to get Rebels and Questioners confused). Historically speaking, they may also be our key change-makers, as they frequently question the status quo.
Rebels: Resist all expectations
Mantra: “You can’t make me, and neither can I.”
Rebels don’t live by conventional wisdom. They’re spontaneous and independent. If you’re a Rebel, you might struggle with self-discipline (another rosé, please! Who cares if it’s Monday at 9 p.m.?).
I’ve learned that we might want to consider allowing more structure into our days, because some rules and systems can be helpful and allow us to be more successful. For me, this is automation in my business and hiring people who are detail focused. Because passion needs structure, and feeling restless and defiant can be unproductive (don’t I know it).
Rebels might make life a little easier by being more agreeable at times—saying yes to family holidays, letting Jane plan your baby shower (even though you cringe at anything baby-themed), and just attending those mandatory internal meetings.
Obligers: Meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves
Mantra: “I’ll do anything you ask. Until I won’t.”
Obligers, being focused on delivering for and helping others, make great bosses and responsive leaders. They’re responsible. They care deeply about people. But they're most susceptible to burnout because saying no is hard for them.
It’s important to create boundaries to avoid resentment and even what Rubin calls “Obliger rebellion” (when you’ve had enough—oh my). Ever seen that? When someone gives, gives, gives… then blows up? I had an Obliger colleague who did everything for everyone (“Yes, I’ll run that errand. Of course I will go to San Francisco if you can’t make it. I’ll totally help you with your expense report!”), and one day he flipped out in a taxi when one demand too many came through via email request. Even though it seemed unfair, his Obliger rebellion did hurt his reputation over time. Boundaries matter!
So What Does It All Mean?
Socrates said, “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.” Knowing your Tendency can be tremendously helpful. For example, as a Rebel, working out is painful for me because conventional wisdom (a.k.a. my fit friends and scientific literature) tells me to. I hate it. So I have to position it another way. To convince myself to get to a barre class, I say, “For an hour, I’ll be free from my phone! No one can reach me, no matter what! Ha.”
That’s good motivation in my mind. A Questioner might want to assess the real value of their workout and dive in if it they’re convinced it’s worthwhile. An Obliger would do best with a workout buddy who holds them accountable to a Sunday run in the park. An Upholder wouldn’t have to convince themselves; they’d stick to their schedule.
Understanding yourself and other people means not only do we get the most out of our personality, but the motivations and actions of others make sense too. Because life is just easier—and better—when we all understand one another a little more.
Susie Moore is Greatist's life coach columnist and a confidence coach in New York City. Sign up for free weekly wellness tips on her website and check back every Tuesday for her latest No Regrets column!