The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin

I’m a semi-regular listener to the Happier podcast, hosted by Gretchen Rubin and her sister, Elizabeth Craft, so I’ve known for awhile this book was coming. I also, over this past summer, read Better Than Before ( A | BN | K | G | iB ), Rubin’s previous book which introduced the Four Tendencies. That book focused on habit building and reasons why it’s sometimes easy to stick to new habits, and other times so difficult to keep or restart a habit.

The Four Tendencies are Rubin’s rubric to outline how individuals respond to internal and external expectations:

  • Upholders respond to inner and outer expectations equally, and have no trouble, to use Rubin’s most common example, keeping New Year’s resolutions. They also feel anxiety when the schedule is interrupted, or there is no schedule, or if expectations are not clear.
  • Questioners respond to inner expectations once they have a satisfactory reason why that expectation should be met. They react poorly to being told that the reason is “because I said so,” or “we always do it this way.”
  • Obligers respond to external expectations easily, but do not meet inner expectations nearly as well. Self motivation without external deadlines and accountability frustrate obligers: New Year’s resolutions without external accountability are very difficult, for example.
  • Rebels do not respond to inner or external expectations, and value freedom of choice and absence of expectations. They can refuse to do something that they want to do, once it becomes expected of them.

Or, to use the phrases in the book from each section:

  • Upholder: “Discipline is my freedom”
  • Questioner: “I’ll comply – if you convince me why.”
  • Obliger: “You can count on me, and I’m counting on you to count on me.”
  • Rebel: “You can’t make me, and neither can I.”

After one episode of the Happier podcast referenced the Four Tendencies quiz, I took it, and…mind blown. I had my husband take the Tendencies quiz, which then caused us to discuss for several long dog walks how and why we fit our respective tendencies (I’m a Questioner, and Adam is an Upholder). We also wonder which the tendencies of our two sons might be – they’re too young to take the quiz as they are minors, but the quiz also has questions that don’t translate well to children. The quiz and the accompanying materials changed the way I understand myself and how I can best motivate myself – and gave me insights on how to be a more understanding spouse, and a better parent.

The book The Four Tendencies is an expansion on the quiz and the work in Better Than Before, and features a deeper look at each tendency, the ways in which the tendencies work well (or don’t work well) together, and methods to best motivate people once their tendency is clear. I could not stop talking about this book once I read it (and I made a rather unholy noise when I opened the package, as I was not expecting to receive an ARC). I’ve recommended it several times, especially at RWA, and people to whom I’ve given the quiz link have been as curious as I was.

There are sections that help you identify which is your Tendency, and then sections that take a closer look at each one, with one chapter focused on “Understanding” and the next examining how to “deal with” that Tendency. It was fascinating to not only identify my spouse’s habits and anxieties alongside my own, but also to figure out better ways to communicate (which is key because we are both over-communicators). I also found the section on Rebels very helpful, as it’s the Tendency that most baffles me.

That said, the chapters are not as balanced as I would like – I wanted more variations on strategy for living and working with Rebel personalities, for example. In terms of helping me motivate myself – and my kids based on my potential identification of their tendency – it’s been invaluable. I also recommend reading one section, then taking a break to absorb it. I read the whole thing cover to cover on a plane ride, and have gone back to re-read sections so they made more of an impression on my (terrible) memory. By far the most helpful chapter has been, Speaking Effectively to Each Tendency. I’ve been better able to explain and encourage people by switching how I talk, and I’ve been able to ask others questions about what accountability works best for them without feeling like I’m prying or being intrusive and rude.

A side note: I’ve also come to notice my own Questioner tendency in my reaction to different books, and in how I review them. For example, if characters act in opposition to their values, and the answer to my question of, ‘Why the hell did you do that?” isn’t obvious beyond “because the plot requires it,” I lose interest. This may be why insta-love doesn’t work for me. WHY do you feel that way all of a sudden? “Because…we do?” Nope. Nope. Nope. If the book can make me believe in the “why” of the HEA, I’m much more likely to enjoy it.

I recommend reading Better Than Before and this book – both of which should be available in your local library. Self-motivation is difficult, but this framework along with the two books, helped me identify a number of methods that work really well for me. Moreover, I think I’m better able to adapt how I communicate with different people, and what methods I use to motivate and create accountability with my children, too.

If you’re curious about your own habit formation, what motivates you, and how to work with your own tendency, you should definitely take the quiz and check out the book. It would likely be an insightful read. Identifying your Tendency can give you a lot of freedom and reduce your stress levels in how you deal with yourself. If you read it, or you take the quiz, please let me know which Tendency you are – and if you agree!

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