A Guide to "The Four Tendencies" Personality Framework

A big challenge of daily life? Meeting our aims for ourselves. The Four Tendencies personality framework, developed by Gretchen Rubin, makes this task far easier.

This framework considers whether you tend to meet or resist expectations:

  • outer expectations that others impose on you, like meeting a work deadline
  • inner expectations that you impose on yourself, like keeping a New Year's resolution

Whether you meet or resist outer and inner expectations determines your "Tendency"—whether you're an Obliger, Questioner, Upholder, or Rebel. By identifying your Tendency, you can find the tools most likely to work for you to help you create the life you want.

In a nutshell:

  • Upholders want to know what should be done.
  • Questioners want justifications.
  • Obligers need accountability.
  • Rebels want freedom to do something their own way.


  • Readily meet external and internal expectations
  • Are self-directed, so they can meet deadlines, work on projects, and take the initiative without much supervision
  • Enjoy routine and may have trouble adjusting to a break in routine or sudden scheduling changes
  • Hate to make mistakes, and because of that...
  • May become very angry or defensive when you suggest that they’ve dropped the ball or done something wrong
  • Put a high value on follow-through. Don’t tell them you’re going to do something, and then not do it
  • May need to be reminded that, unlike them, others aren’t necessarily comforted or energized by getting things done
  • May have trouble delegating responsibilities, because they suspect that others aren’t dependable

Key strategy for habit change: Strategy of Scheduling


  • Question all expectations; they meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified
  • Put a high value on reason, research, and information
  • Follow the advice of “authorities” only if they trust their expertise
  • Follow their own judgment—sometimes when it flies in the face of experts who (allegedly) know more
  • Their persistent questioning may make them seem uncooperative or defiant
  • Hate anything arbitrary—anything like “Five garments to a fitting room”
  • May dislike being questioned themselves; they consider their actions carefully so they find it tiresome or even insulting to be asked to justify their decisions
  • May have trouble delegating decision-making, because they suspect that others don’t have a sufficient basis for action

Key strategy for habit change: Strategy of Clarity


  • Readily meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet inner expectations
  • Put a high value on meeting commitments to others—“I’ll do anything for a client/patient/family member”
  • Thrive with deadlines, oversight, monitoring, and other forms of accountability
  • May have trouble setting limits on others’ demands
  • May be exploited by people who take advantage of them, and because of that...
  • May feel resentful and fall into Obliger-rebellion
  • May have trouble delegating, because they feel that some expectations attach to them personally
  • Must have systems of external accountability in order to meet inner expectations

Key strategy for habit change: Strategy of Accountability


  • Resist both outer and inner expectations
  • Put a high value on freedom, choice, identity, and authenticity
  • If someone asks or tells them to do something, they’re likely to resist, and because of that...
  • May be easy to manipulate by using their spirit of resistance: “I’ll show you,” “Watch me,” “You can’t make me,” “You’re not the boss of me”
  • May choose to act out of love, a sense of mission, belief in a cause
  • May have trouble telling themselves what to do—even when it’s something they want to do
  • May love to meet a challenge in their own way, in their own time
  • Generally don’t respond well to supervision, advice, directions, or routines, schedules, or doing repetitive tasks
  • May thrive in an environment of high regulation, such as the police, the military, the clergy, or a big corporation
  • If they’re in a long-term relationship in work or romance, their partner is probably an Obliger

Key strategy for habit change: Strategy of Identity

Once you've identified whether you're an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel, you can learn to harness your Tendency and use the tools and strategies most likely to work for you for your own Happiness Project.

A Guide to "The Four Tendencies" Personality Framework