Four Tendencies

Gretchen Rubin’s new self-help book Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives describes habit formation in the context of four tendencies or personality types. Rubin argues that awareness of one's own type can help with the efficacy of the habit forming techniques presented in the book. While her classification can catalyze honest introspection, it can also help us understand others in a meaningful way. For that reason, I wanted to share a quick summary and see if others had come across other categorizations that they found interesting, accurate, or at least thought provoking.

Rubin’s four tendencies revolve around sources of expectations and our responses to them. Expectations are of two types: external and internal. external ones are imposed by others (e.g. your boss gives you a deadline, your mom assigns you chores, etc.) whereas internal ones are self-imposed (e.g. a New Year’s Resolution, a personal goal to diet, etc.). 

1) Upholders (External and Internal) respond well to all sources of expectation. They please authoritative figures, satisfy deadlines, and are self-motivated. Unfortunately, they may also blindly follow rules and may inadequately question tasks assigned to them. They can also struggle in environments where expectations are unclear.

2) Questioners (Internal Only) are driven solely by internal motivators. They are self-driven and reflective. They do not ignore external tasks, but only engage if they deem them purposeful. They analyze external assignments and determine whether they make sense rationally to complete before proceeding with the work. Rubin describes questioners as people who question everything and use careful assessment to convert all expectations to internal ones. They can often ask too many questions (annoying) and analyze tasks too heavily, which slows processes down.

3) Obligers (External Only) struggle with self-imposed expectations but are eager and quick to please others. They would sooner help a colleague with a task than work on an internal goal. They have every assignment completed at work, but routinely ignore personal goals.

4) Rebels (Neither) are rare since they approach goals in unorthodox ways. They resist external expectations and, while they can have personal goals, will not set internal expectations in traditional ways (e.g. New Year's Resolutions).

While most things psychological and behavioral cannot (and should not) be put into boxes, attempts at identifying patterns and offering simple taxonomies can enhance our perception, interactions, and sensitivity for others. For example, it is probably ineffective to let obligers create their own goals and have flexible, self-directed schedules. Or it is probably difficult selling a product to a questioner without explaining the the value proposition and core differentiators in full detail.