How do you fit in with the Four Tendencies?

If you choose, read on. Your boss will want to know.


Do you sometimes feel that you are getting in your way when it comes to living the way you want to live? Do you feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of expectations? Maybe you cannot understand why you do everything others ask of you but not what you know that you need. Or are you the type who gets called out for only doing what you want to do?

Do any of these sound like you? If yes, they all relate to expectations. The expectations others have of us and the expectations we place on ourselves. And the combination of the two. The way you respond to expectations influences your behavior.

I recently finished reading Gretchen Rubin’s latest book, The Four Tendencies: The indispensable personality profiles that reveals how to make your life better (and other people’s lives better, too). The title makes a bold claim. But after reading the book, I agree with her argument that what causes us to act or not boils down to one essential personality trait.

How do I respond to expectations?

Determining your four tendencies is all about how you respond to expectations. Do you meet or resist expectations? Does your answer change when it comes to outer and inner expectations? How you answer may be the key to better understanding yourself and those around you.

There are outer and inner expectations. The two questions below will help you determine how you respond to the two types.

How do you respond at an intersection?

Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash

Picture yourself as a pedestrian at an intersection with a crosswalk. The traffic light says don’t walk. What do you do? Your answer to this question gives you a clue about how you respond to outer expectations.

Push the button and never, ever cross the road until the light tells you to walk. (Meets outer expectations.)

If there is not a car in sight, you will cross the road. (Resists outer expectations.)

You already crossed the road long before the crosswalk. (Resists outer expectations.)

Outer expectations are things someone else asks you to do. The traffic light example is about laws and rules. Outer expectations also include deadlines, appointments, requests, or even social protocols.

How do you feel about New Year’s resolutions?

Your answer to this question gives you a clue about how you respond to inner expectations. Inner expectations are personal goals and standards that you set for yourself. Maybe you plan to run a marathon or write a novel? New Year’s resolutions are a perfect example of inner expectations.

Which option below sounds most like you?

  • I set resolutions every year and have little trouble achieving them. (Meets inner expectations.)
  • I set resolutions at a time that works for me — not necessarily at the New Year — and when I understand my “why” I can achieve them. (Meets inner expectations.)
  • I don’t know why anyone needs to set resolutions. (Resists inner expectations.)
  • I try to set resolutions, but I have problems achieving goals that I set for myself. (Resists inner expectations.)

Four tendencies

According to Rubin, people fall into four tendencies: obliger, questioner, upholder, and rebel. Each type is the combination of how you meet or resist outer and inner expectations. There are pros and cons to every tendency.

Let’s take a look at the four tendencies. See if you can identify yourself based on their descriptions. Knowing yours will give you a greater understanding of how both you and those around you behave. Sound good?


An obliger meets outer expectations but resists inner expectations. If this sounds like you, you are not alone. Rubin found that obligers are one of the most common types.

Obligers are people pleasers quick to say yes to others requests. An obliger does not want to let anyone down. These are reliable people on whom you can count.

But what about your expectations for yourself? Do you have any? Can you rely on yourself to meet them? This is where obligers struggle.

Tips for obligers

List out all the expectations you are fulfilling for others? Family? Community? Career? When you review the list, how does it make you feel? If it is not how you want to feel, is there anything you can purge? Maybe it is time to become a recovering expectation addict?

Repeat after me: No.

List your own goals and projects. How does the list make you feel? How are you doing with those goals?

External accountability is essential to help obligers reach their own goals. I have heard Gretchen speak about a friend of hers who ran on a track team in high school and loved to run. Despite wanting to run now, the friend could not do so on her own without the accountability of a team. Find a friend, a class, a team, or a coach to keep you accountable.

Before you add or subtract an expectation from your list, figure out the WHYs in your life. The WHYs in my life right now are the fundamental ways that I want to feel each day. (These feelings are what those who use the Desire Map process refer to as core desired feelings.)


Rebels, as you might guess, resist both outer and inner expectations. Instead of appointments and to-do lists, rebels desire freedom and choice. What do they want to do right now?

You can count on rebels for being authentic and for thinking outside the box.

Tips for rebels and those who interact with them

Remember that there are pros and cons to all four tendencies. Others may try to change you, but once a rebel always a rebel.

Determine why you feel the way you do about expectations? Freedom is most likely one of your fundamental desires or core desired feelings. What does freedom look like to you? For both inner and outer expectations, is there any way to give it a sense of freedom?

For all expectations, follow three steps before your resist. Find information. Determine the consequences. Choose how you want to act or not act. No matter your choice, accept the consequences of your actions on yourself and others.

When communicating with a rebel, provide them with the information and the consequences, and let them choose how to act.

According to Rubin, obligers and rebels make a good pairing. If you choose, seek out obligers in your life.


Questioners resist outer expectations and meet inner expectations. They need convincing and justifications before they comply. As the name implies, they ask lots of questions and do lots of research. In other words, they need to make an outer expectation an inner expectation first.

Tips for questioners and those who interact with them

What is your definition of expectations? What do you associate with the term?

Start with why: Figure out the fundamental ways that you want to feel each day. (These feelings are what those who use the Desire Map process refer to as core desired feelings.)

List out all the expectations you are fulfilling for others? Family? Community? Job? And for yourself. How does that list make you feel? If is not how you want to feel, is there anything you can purge?

Beware of analysis paralysis: Give yourself a deadline on when you need to make a decision. (I am a questioner, and this is something with which I struggle.)

When dealing with questioners, leave enough time for them to ask questions. Or provide them with information in advance or to take with them.


They can meet both outer and inner obligations. But they may reject outer expectations to meet their inner expectations.

Upholders love to set New Year’s resolutions and have no problem keeping them. They may choose careers that allow them to help other people perform. Many of the influencers talking about habits tend to be upholders, including Gretchen Rubin.

Tips for upholders and those who interact with them

Remember that upholders are one of the rarer combinations. Practice empathy for those who have problems meeting expectations.

Clear inner expectations: Finding clarity on what you want and your values are essential. My method of choice for finding clarity is the Desire Map. Core desired feelings are my inner GPS and guide what I want to experience and do.

“You’re not chasing the goal; you’re chasing the feeling you hope reaching the goal will give you.” Danielle LaPorte

When dealing with upholders, tell them precisely what needs to be done, and it will happen.

Beware of upholder tightening, when it becomes harder for you to make an exception to rules. Take breaks and try to find ways to lighten up. (As a questioner with overlapping upholder tendencies, ping pong is guaranteed to help me lighten up.)

Final thoughts on all four tendencies

Clarity is power. You now have another way to understand yourself and others. This knowledge will help you to expect the best of yourself and others.

You have permission to let go of expectations if they don’t help you feel the way you want to feel. For many of us, our lists are way too long. We no longer have space or bandwidth for what matters.

I’ll close with this quote from Danielle LaPorte:

You need space in your life for your fulfilled desires to arrive. And too many expectations and fears clog up that space. The noise of demands interrupts the signal. Your pure desire — your core desired feelings — is a very big magnet. If there are too many filaments of demands and expectations stuck to the magnet, you can’t pull in the big steel that you want.

Still curious?

Not sure of your type? Take the Four Tendencies quiz

Brief videos of Grethen Rubin speaking about obligers, questions, upholders, and rebels.

Read the book: The Four Tendencies: The indispensable personality profiles that reveal how to make your life better (and other people’s lives better, too)

Danielle LaPorte and Gretchen Rubin together:

The inevitable panic that sets in when you let go of expectations. (And why it’s good.)

Good Life project interview of Gretchen Rubin

Sign up for a free worksheet to help you let go of expectations.

Kelsey Cleveland is a Desire Map facilitator who helps women in transition figure out how to set goals based on how they really want to feel. She is also a freelance writer who writes articles, essays and blog posts and is working on a book-length memoir.