This is an excerpt from Finding Mastery #106 with best-selling author Gretchen Rubin in which she shares her four tendencies framework for how different people respond to expectations.
Michael Gervais: Teach us about your core principles and the four tendencies framework that you’ve created here.
Gretchen Rubin: The four tendencies framework grew out of my study of habits. I’ve been writing and researching happiness for a long time and I began to notice that a lot of times people knew what would make them happier but they were just having trouble following through.
They would say, I know I’d be happier if I quit sugar or if I did more reading or if I worked on my novel or if I went to sleep on time or if I exercised or whatever it was but I’m just not doing it.
So I became very interested in how habits have this very important role to play in a happy life. And then I got interested in why can’t people form habits when they want to.
And so I identified 21 strategies that people can use to make or break habits and that was my book Better Than Before.
One of the things that I kind of stumbled upon as I was trying to understand habits is this four tendencies framework.
I divide the world into four categories.
This has some relevance to habits but this is actually much bigger than habits because your tendency will not only affect how you most effectively form habits but will also affect many ways that you make decisions or relate to people in ways that aren’t related to habits but are just other parts of your life.
I have a quiz online if people want to take it. Go to happiercast.com/quiz.
A million people have taken this quiz, literally, but I’ll give a brief description and most people can tell what they are just from this brief discussion.
It has to do with how you respond to expectations.
Outer expectations like a work deadline or a request from a friend and inner expectations like your own desire to keep a New Year’s resolution or your own desire to get back into practicing French.
There are upholders, questioners, obligers, and rebels.
Upholders readily meet outer and inner expectations. They meet the work deadline, they keep the New Year’s resolution without much fuss. They want to know what other people expect from them but their expectations for themselves are just as important.
Then there are questioners. Questioners question all expectations. They’ll do something if they think it makes sense. They make everything an inner expectation. If something meets their standard, there like, “Yeah that makes sense,” and they’ll do it. If it fails their standard, they will resist. They typically resist anything that they feel is arbitrary or inefficient or unjustified.
Then there are obligers. Obligers readily meet outer expectations but they struggle to meet inner expectations.
I got my insight into this tendency when a friend of mine said, “The weird thing about me is I know I would be happier if I exercised. When I was in high school, I was on the track team and I never missed track practice. So why can’t I go running now?”
Now I know she’s an obliger. When she had a team and a coach waiting for her she could go no problem. When she was just trying to go on her own she struggled.
And then finally there are rebels. Rebels resist all expectations – outer and inner alike. They want to do what they want to do in their own way, on their own time. And if you ask or tell them to do something, they’re very likely to resist.
Typically they don’t even want to tell themselves what to do. They won’t sign up for a 10 a.m. yoga class on Saturday because they’re like, “I don’t know what I’m gonna want to do on Saturday and just the fact that somebody is expecting me to show up at 10am is just going to annoy me.”
Those are the four tendencies. It comes up a lot with habits and all throughout our lives.
Listen to the full podcast here.