Responding to Expectations

March 24, 2016   |   Kelly Callahan-Poe

Gretchen Rubin is most known for her New York Times bestseller, The Happiness Project. Her new book, Better Than Before, starts with the premise that in order to change our habits, we have to understand ourselves.

Rubin’s theory is that there are four different types of people in this world, or rather Four Tendencies: Upholder, Questioner, Obliger and Rebel. Deciphering your dominant tendency will enable you to better understand how you respond to both inner and outer expectations.

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An Upholder meets deadlines and expectations and readily responds to outer and inner expectations. This is a small amount of people that are easy to work with. If you are managing them, you need to get them to let go of the small things to focus on the larger-priority items.

Questioners question all expectations. They won’t do something unless it makes sense, and they make all expectations into inner expectations. They love spreadsheets a bit too much as they tend to fall into “analysis paralysis.” They may not be seen as a team player and may appear to challenge authority.

Obligers readily meet outer needs but not inner ones. This is the biggest tendency and gets along with everyone. The key for them is outer accountability for an inner expectation.

Rebels resist all expectations. They do the opposite. This is the smallest tendency. They do things that are close to their own authentic desires. In order to manage this group, you can’t tell them what to do, but they do love challenges that they can do in their own time.

I took Rubin’s online quiz and surprisingly discovered that I was an Obliger. Obligers readily respond to outer expectations, but struggle to meet inner ones. Obligers also may find it difficult to form a habit, because we do things more easily for others than for ourselves. The key for Obligers to form habits is to create external accountability.

As a full-time working mother of three sons, 10 and under, I wonder if my circumstances are more accountable for my tendency to be “me last.”
I also wondered aloud via Twitter, how the Four Tendencies relate to Meyers & Briggs and/or Emergenetics. Gretchen was quick to respond.


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But my question quickly labeled me as a Questioning Rebel by the Twittersphere.

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Rubin’s ideas do resonate. As an Obliger, I need to schedule “me time” in my week to go to the gym, meet friends or just to read a book. Her idea is that tendencies illuminate patterns that can help guide us in changing our habits and in working with or managing those that are dominant in another tendency.

Rubin says that outer order contributes to inner calm. Her One Minute Rule is an easy one to adopt. If you can do it in one minute, do it without delay!

Tweet me @kellycall and tell me which of the Four Tendencies you most align with!