Knowing Your Tendency Helps You Conquer Life Goals

woman running
You can stick to your goals (fitness or otherwise) more easily if you know what your tendency is and use it to your advantage. Brad Gregory/Getty Images

You know you should exercise regularly, but you just can't make yourself do it. Actually, you can. So says Gretchen Rubin, author of The New York Times bestseller "The Four Tendencies." Rubin, a happiness and human nature guru, explains that it all lies in figuring out your main personal tendency, a topic she discusses in the podcast You Turns, cohosted by Lisa Oz and Jill Herzig.

Each of us follows one of four tendencies that directs how we handle inner and outer expectations, says Rubin.


Inner expectations are promises we make to ourselves, like deciding to lose weight or to finally take some art classes. Outer expectations are promises we make to other people, like meeting a deadline at work or giving a friend a ride to the airport. Some people are great at meeting outer expectations but not so good at meeting inner expectations and vice versa. The way we respond to expectations helps to determine our tendency or personality profile. Rubin has named these tendencies the Upholder, Questioner, Obliger and Rebel.

"Knowing your tendency, or someone else's tendency, really can point the way to making positive change, if you want to make change, or understanding why change is not happening if you want it to happen," Rubin says in the podcast.

Here are the basics about the four tendencies and how to make change according to your tendency:



Upholders are people who happily meet inner and outer expectations. They're reliable, self-directed and rule-followers. Upholders love habits, rituals and to-do lists. If this is you, and you're struggling to establish a regular exercise regimen, try scheduling it on your to-do list. Other options, Rubin says, are tracking your trips to the gym on a chart or using a device that tallies your daily steps.



Questioners readily meet their own expectations. But they resist expectations imposed by others, asking lots of questions before committing. They will only do something if it makes sense to them. But Questioners can fall prey to "analysis paralysis." A Questioner might be willing to start exercising, but only if he can find the perfect regimen. He might spend weeks and months researching, never actually doing any exercise. Rubin says Questioners should reframe the issue, telling themselves it's better to start now than wait forever. Try some form of exercise and if you don't like it, move on to another.



An Obliger easily meets expectations set by others yet resists her own. She wonders why she can do what her boss, friend or neighbor wants, but can never get around to tackling her own goals, such as writing a novel or meditating. The key to achieving goals for an Obliger is to turn those inner expectations into outer ones. Really want to write that novel? Then sign up for a writing class to create outside accountability.



As the name implies, Rebels fight all expectations. Free-wheeling and spontaneous, they want to do everything in their own way and at their own time. Their core values are freedom and self-expression. Achieving goals, then, comes down to reframing the issue. Know you need to exercise, but don't want to be forced into a run or bike ride? Join a large gym with many offerings. Every time you go, your spontaneous side can select what to do that day.

Figured out your own tendency by now? If not, take Rubin's free quiz to learn more.