I have no idea how “The Four Tendencies” by Gretchen Rubin made its way onto my bookshelf. But I’m glad it did.


I must have read about it in a magazine or it might have been recommended by a friend. I honestly cannot recall my motivation for picking it up, but I did. And despite being over 200 pages, it’s a brief, informational read about what author Gretchen Rubin calls, “The Four Tendencies”. (I mentioned that it’s a brief read because you, my busy reader, will be able to get through it in no time!)

The Four Tendencies Philosophy

Rubin’s philosophy is based on her experiences studying happiness and habits. Through her research she developed and mapped out a system of categorizing people based on two types of expectations — outer expectations and inner expectations (i.e., the expectations others place on us and the expectations we place on ourselves, respectively).

The categories are as follows: Obliger, Upholder, Questioner, and Rebel. From GretchenRubin.Com here are the descriptions of The Four Tendencies:

Upholders: respond readily to outer and inner expectations
Questioners: question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense–essentially, they make all expectations into inner expectations
Obligers: meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves
Rebels: resist all expectations, outer and inner alike

Know Thy Tendency

A momento mori with the Greek aphorism, “Know Thyself” as a caption.

The book is meant to help its readers get closer to their ideal version of self-happiness by finding which tendency best reflects them. The idea is that through knowing yourself better, you’ll be able to accept yourself, your actions, and understand what makes you tick. Note: according to Rubin, a person can only fit into one of the four tendencies, although overlap with a neighboring tendency is allowed.

You might wonder, why can’t I sometimes be an Upholder? Question everything? Rebel a little? Or Oblige myself away? Rubin answers all of those questions and more in her book and on her website.

Which Are You?

Do you think you’re an Obliger? An Upholder? A Questioner? A Rebel? There’s a quiz for you to find out! Take it here. It’s free, but it’ll cost you your email address (at the end).

The quiz revealed that my dominant tendency was *drumroll*: Obliger.

“According to your answers, your dominant Tendency is Obliger.

Obligers respond readily to outer expectations, but struggle to meet inner expectations. In other words, they work hard not to let other people down, but they often let themselves down.

Obligers may find it difficult to form a habit, because often we undertake habits for our own benefit, and Obligers do things more easily for others than for themselves.

For Obligers, the key to forming habits is to create external accountability.”

I read this book much like I read the horoscope section of the newspaper — I read all the of them and I cherry picked. Despite being designated an Obliger, or Capricorn, I can’t accept confinement to a category or type. (No. I’m not a Rebel. Shhhhh! Be quiet!)

Yet, despite this, I found useful information and gained some insight into how I can try to be a more successful version of myself.

For a deeper dive and a chance to connect with yourself via “The Four Tendencies”, check out Rubin’s book here.

Posted by:Animal Perspectives

Science writer with interest in the areas of ornithology and environmental science. With nearly a decade of experience as a technical writer and four years of experience as a science writer/blogger, AnimalPerspectives.Com was created with the belief that scientific information should be presented to the public in an easy to access format — information is for the many. O holds a B.A. and M.A. in world English literature and is currently earning an advanced degree in Environmental Biology. She maintains 71 bird nesting boxes for a local organic farm in Maryland, works with birds of prey at a raptor rehabilitation center, and birds daily. She is also an amateur nature photographer.

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