How the Four Tendencies Can Help You Form the Habit of Exercise

Amy Henning
8 min readSep 7, 2018

How do you feel about personality frameworks? The 5 Love Languages, the Enneagram, Myers-Briggs, and DISC Assessment are a few of the most popular personality frameworks available to us today. Each one has its own strengths and weaknesses, and my favorite framework for shaping the habit of exercise is the Four Tendencies.

From GretchenRubin.com

Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies framework is so useful in starting and maintaining a habit. The Four Tendencies focuses solely on how we deal with expectations. Inner expectations are put on ourselves for internal goals we want to meet. Outer expectations are put on us by others such as our boss, coworker, partner or friend.

Here is a link to The Four Tendencies Quiz, which will reveal your tendency in under 5 minutes. Want to go deeper? The Four Tendencies book is even more enlightening and contains so many interesting examples, making it difficult to put down.

The Four Tendencies are upholder, obliger, rebel, and questioner. Upholders readily meet inner expectations as well as outer expectations. Obligers readily meet outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations. Rebels resist all expectations including their own expectations. Questioners question all expectations and turn all expectations into inner expectations.

How can this framework help you form the habit of exercise? When we know ourselves better, we are able to work within our strengths and weaknesses to find a better balance of what works for us.

For example, if you know you’re a night owl and you love exercising at night because it gives you more energy, then you should not get up early to work out first thing in the morning. By identifying how we receive expectations and take them upon ourselves, we can form the habit of exercise in a way that works for us.

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Upholder

Upholders will find it easy to make and keep a habit if they are convinced they need to form it. Their expectations for themselves are just as important to them as other people’s expectations. If you’re an upholder, you’ll probably find it easy to commit to your fitness routine once you’ve decided what your goals are.

Upholders thrive on schedules and routines, and monitoring your progress in a bullet journal or My Fitness Pal may be particularly satisfying. It helps to have clarity around what you want to accomplish and then to put it on your calendar to make sure you are reaching your goals. Upholders can sometimes seem rigid because they tend to like routine and don’t want to change once they have a routine established.

One downfall of being an upholder is sometimes it can be hard to break a habit. Upholders often find that they have “tightening” over time when it comes to keeping a habit. Let’s say, for example, you walk 10,000 steps each day. Eventually, you may end up raising the step count to 12,000 or more and pace around your bed at night to complete your step goal.

Oftentimes other people will want the upholder to be their accountability partner, which can be frustrating for the upholder. They don’t want to put extra expectations on other people and usually don’t understand why others (such as obligers) need accountability.

Upholders are the second most rare tendency. When you know you’re an upholder, it’s easier to recognize how you are different from other tendencies and can help you be more understanding towards their struggles.

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Obliger

Obligers readily meet outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations. Oftentimes obligers will think they are lazy if they have a hard time forming the habit of exercise. They can believe this even when they are hard-working in other aspects of their life.

If you’re an obliger, you must have outer accountability to successfully form a habit that’s important to you. Some practical ways you can find accountability are through a workout partner, a coach, a online fitness program with a group, an in-person workout class, or even a group step challenge.

For some obligers, simply receiving a notification on their phone or fitness tracker can be enough accountability to keep moving. Accountability is a tricky thing, and other obligers may skip workouts with a private trainer because they can justify the fact that the trainer will still be paid and have time to themselves.

For best results, you should find the methods of accountability that work for you and layer them on top of one another. You could schedule your workouts on a calendar and plan to go with a friend to an in-person fitness class on certain days of the week. Then you could also join a group with a step count challenge for each day to add exercise into your everyday activities.

Obligers may also struggle with obliger rebellion when they meet outer expectations for too long while ignoring their own needs. Obliger rebellion occurs when obligers meet others’ expectations for a long time until they snap. Something small usually puts them over the edge, and they refuse to meet those expectations any longer.

Make sure that whatever form of exercise you choose to practice gives you life instead of causing more stress. Whatever your inner goals are, follow up with outer accountability in a way that works for you in order to make them come to life if you’re an obliger.

Other tendencies may not always understand why you need accountability to stick to your goals, and you may need to explain how having outer accountability helps you to be your best self. Most people are obligers, so even if you aren’t an obliger, you know someone who is.

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Rebel

Rebels oftentimes do you not want to be told what to do, where to go, or where to be at a certain time by themselves or anyone else. They want to do what they want to do, when they want to do it, and in their own way. If you’re a rebel trying to form the habit of exercise, remember that you can do anything you want to do.

With exercise, it’s important to have some sort of consistency if you want to see or feel the results of your hard work. One way you can work within this tendency is to use your freedom of choice to your advantage.

You could keep workout clothes in your car or backpack for the opportune time to exercise. You could also have a plan in place and know which gym, fitness classes, or running groups you are interested in at any given time. Then you can simply look at that information and decide what you want to do on any given day.

Some rebels respond well to the idea of sticking to a streak. One goal could be to exercise every day and to mark an X on the calendar on each day they do something, whether it’s a 20 minute walk or a Cross Fit class.

Rebels often rise to a challenge and love to prove other people (or themselves) wrong by doing what others don’t think they can do. If anyone has ever told you that you’ll never be a healthy weight, strong, a runner, etc., now might be the perfect time to prove them wrong.

Another strategy to use is the strategy of identity. Identity is one of the most powerful strategies of habit change, and it is particularly powerful for rebels. Often rebels want to feel like they are acting out of a sense of who they are. So if you’re looking to get in shape, eat healthier, or lead a more meaningful life, start telling yourself that that is who you are.

If you tell yourself you’re a triathlete, it won’t be out of character for you to make time to bike, swim and run. If you want to be a strong mom for your kids, then it won’t be as much of a struggle to join a boot camp class for the first time and to stick with it.

Rebels are the smallest tendency, but they are noticable. If you’re a rebel, you can ask others around you to give you the freedom you need to succeed at your goals.

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Questioner

Questioners question all expectations. Any outer expectations others put on them, the questioner must must internalize and accept for themselves. They only do things that make sense to them, and they dislike arbitrary rules or decisions.

If you are a questioner who wants to start the habit of exercise, it is critical to have a big “why”. Why you are doing something will be your chief motivator and will keep you going even when you don’t feel like putting in the effort.

Research is a key part of forming an exercise habit for questioners because they value efficiency. It doesn’t matter if someone else tells you that some form of exercise will be good for them, you must do your own research to figure out what will work best for you.

The exact method of exercise must make sense for you, and you’ll probably find yourself customizing routines, training plans and schedules. For example, if you want to run a 5k race, you will probably change some aspect of whichever training plan you find to be more efficient.

Once you’re convinced what form of exercise you want to practice, it can be helpful to employ the strategies of convenience, accountability, and scheduling. You could find a local running group who meets at a time when you can regularly attend and sign up for a race, if you want to run a 5k.

Others can be frustrated with questioners because they will not necessarily take an exercise routine or an expert’s advice at face value. It’s easy to make excuses and justify not exercising to yourself, so make sure to set up habits around exercise, such as monitoring, scheduling and accountability to meet your goals.

I love how the Four Tendencies breaks down a significant piece of our personalities simply so we can make changes. When we understand ourselves and those around us better, we can find ways to meet our goals and help others more effectively.

Are you seeking to form the habit of exercise? If so, I’d love to know what your Tendency is in the comments!

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Amy Henning

Health and Wellness Writer living in Mebane, NC, 131 Method Ambassador