Over the past nine months or so I have been exploring what is known as the Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin. Knowing our tendencies and the tendencies of those we are working with can greatly empower us to change the world, growing us as influencers who can love better and move forward in life easier.

What Are the Four Tendencies?

I am a big fan of personality profiles, mostly because they remind me that I am not crazy and have been designed with DNA I have for an awesome purpose. Then I can grow in my strengths while working on what hinders and trips me up. The Four Tendencies are a very specific personality profile, or framework, that is concerned with how we respond to expectations and responsibilities. Ever wondered why you act or why you don’t act? If so, read on.

How Do They Work?

Essentially there are four main ways people respond to expectations. When I began looking at these I didn’t really realize how much “expectations” entwine in our everyday life, but oh, they do! Our habits, commitments, health, direct or indirect communication, arguments about who is cleaning the dishes, to even our slow burn-out trying to care for everyone before ourselves (HINT: A common factor for many people who who read this blog of the do-gooder variety are obligers)–all these are responses to expectations others have placed on us, or we place on ourselves.

This video messed up a little, cutting off the beginning, but if you prefer to watch rather than read, check it out:

Which Tendency Are You?

Want a non-professional breakdown of the Four Tendencies? I thought so! Here they are as I understand them:


Pretty much, this is Hermione Granger (my hero, as you can see). Upholders respond to both outward expectations and internal expectations with ease. These are the people who are insanely (ahem, abnormally) self-disciplined while also doing what people expect of them.

They have a few weaknesses though, too. For example, sometimes they don’t have fun or rest because they are so focused on meeting all of their commitments.

As most people want to be upholders (“life would be just so easy if we always made ourselves proud and others happy without trying”) many people ask if they can change tendencies. I should mention though that Gretchen argues we should stop wasting energy trying to be what we aren’t, and use our energy to motivate ourselves within the tendency we are. (Note: we are talking about personality, not character)

Podcast 35: A Close Look at the Upholder Personality; Are You Like Gretchen and Hermione?


Obligers make sense to me, because, no surprise, this is what I am. Obligers are not internally motivated, but are externally motivated. An obliger will read a book with a book club, but might never do it on their own. These people thrive with accountability and deadlines. They are often known as people-pleasers and are often motivated by things that help others.

For example, an obliger might need their spouse to agree to not exercise unless their spouse exercises the day before–therefore, the obliger must exercise himself/herself simply so it feels as though their spouse’s health is in their hands. I realize that might sound twisted and wrong, but this might be the best way for an obliger to finally take care of themself.

Podcast 37: Meet a Work Deadline, but Can’t Go Running on Your Own? You May be an Obliger.


Questioners are not motivated externally, however, like the upholder, they can internally commit to do something because they decided it was the right thing to do–and they stick with it. They might question why they should make a New Year’s resolution on the arbitrary date of January first (after all, May seventh or October eleventh are just as good), but when they resolve to stop eating sugar for a resolution, they just stop.

I recently realized some people I am very close to are questioners. They don’t hate me, but sometimes I feel like they do when they aren’t meeting me on an emotional level and continue to berate me for factual answers on why they should care (meanwhile, I care so much that I am in hysterics as you question my motivations, methods and purpose). I might not be able to manipulate these questioners emotionally or socially (which is how I am motivated, so this is counter-intuitive for me), but if I present a good case, they will likely respond.

As Gretchen says, “The motto of a questioner is: Why do we need a motto?”

Podcast 36: Do You Always Ask “Why?” Maybe You’re a Questioner.


Rebels are confusing to me. They don’t respond to outer expectations or internal expectations.

Apparently, rebels are attracted to strong authority structures, like religious orders or the military, because there is good fodder for rebellion.

Podcast 38: Do You Hate Being Told What to Do? Maybe You’re a Rebel.

Not sure what you are? That is okay. There is a short quiz here that might help you.

How Understanding the Four Tendencies Helped Me

For me, the Four Tendencies have helped me most in my personal life, the repercussions affecting the way I make a difference in the world.

As an Influencer

These tendencies have helped me communicate better, more effectively interact with, show grace for, and appreciate those I influence simply because I am able to understand them better. Also, they really helps me be a better leader, as guiding people towards action is directly tied to their tendency.

At Home

Not only does this apply with those I work with the change the world, but these play out most often within my own home, with my husband and kids. Heck, in retrospect I realize countless fights we’ve had were simply because I didn’t understand our tendencies! My influence outside the home is secondary to having a healthy and peaceful home, but the result of a peaceful home impacts everything I do outside the home.

Moving Forward

Also, knowing I am an obligor has really helped me with my Life Mapping. As I work to move forward to be the person I was meant to be and make the difference I was born for, I am continually making commitments and reevaluating to intentionally move forward. Now that I am beginning to understand how I respond to outer expectations and follow through on personal commitments, I am able to work within that framework.

I’ve been taking ideas from Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies book and podcasts, and am actually following through in areas I was previously stuck in. For example, I’ve been wanted to move forward Confronting My Junk as a Christian Woman for years, but I wasn’t able to until I realized I needed the accountability of leading a group (“helping others”) to help myself (helping others is a common method to get obligers to act).
Life Mapping Workbook

Discover Your Tendency (‘Nuff Said)

At Average Advocate, I am committed to not just give you ideas on how to change the world on social issues, but to become the person you were born to be, even before you make a difference.

With that in mind, I am pretty sure I don’t have to go on making a case for why you should understand what your tendency is–you want to move forward in areas you might be stuck in!

Nor do I need to tell you again why you’d want to get a feel for the framework. But I will, just one last time–so you can love others better!



Often I don’t have time to read books but I have time to listen to podcasts as I do my daily chores. Just check out Gretchen Rubin’s podcast, Happier, to listen to the overviews I already linked to above under each type of tendency, or look at one of these:

Podcast 43: “You Can’t Make Me, and Neither Can I.” Listener Round-Up of the Four Tendencies.

Podcast 120: Very Special Episode of Listener Questions about the Four Tendencies.


Yes. Of course the Four Tendencies are on Gretchen’s website and here is the quiz.


However, the book is obviously the most comprehensive guide. It is one of those books you don’t have to read start-to-finish, but can just skim through or read what applies most to you.

Get it here: The Four Tendencies

Click here for 7 Qualities Leaders Who Make a Difference Checklist