Gretchen Rubin (@gretchenrubin) is a former lawyer turned podcaster and best-selling author. Her latest book is The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too).

What We Discuss with Gretchen Rubin:

  • We tend toward one of four archetypes based on how we respond to expectations: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels.
  • Understanding these tendencies improves the ways we motivate and influence ourselves and others.
  • We explore each tendency and how we can optimize our mental models and self-talk to get ourselves on the right track.
  • We learn how to spot these tendencies in others and ensure we’re using the right types of incentives and communication to get the best from those around us.
  • Take the quiz 600,000 others have taken to better understand how these frameworks can galvanize significant and lasting change.
  • And much more…

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How do you respond to expectations? In The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too), Gretchen Rubin explains how answering this one simple question gives us a framework to make better decisions, manage time efficiently, suffer less stress, and engage with others more effectively. Listen, learn, and enjoy!

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More About This Show

In the process of writing Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, Gretchen Rubin wondered why some people seem to form good habits more effortlessly than others. After countless interviews, she noted patterns that became the basis for her latest book, The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too).

While not a scientist herself, Gretchen considers her work more in line with philosophical observers and essayists like William James, Carl Jung, and Samuel Johnson.

“What I’m trying to do is identify something that everyone sees — everyone experiences and feels, but no one has really put their finger on it or given it expression in a way that everyone can talk about it,” says Gretchen. “To me, it’s sort of the proof of the pudding is in the eating. If you find these four tendencies to be meaningless and you don’t see them in the world around you, then it doesn’t work for you.

“But what I’ve found as I’ve been out in the world talking about it is that, in a way, they’re surprisingly blatant. The minute I start talking about them…people instantly know what they are; they start knowing what other people in their lives are. They’re like, ‘I can tell you what the characters on Game of Thrones are!’ It’s surprisingly blatant. This framework to me doesn’t seem subtle — it seems quite obvious.

“I’m a writer. I’m trying to prove it in a way that rings true for you and so that it can solve problems in your life because it illuminates hidden aspects of human nature that you might not have noticed before.”

The Four Tendencies

According to Gretchen, we all face two kinds of expectations:

  1. Outer expectations like work deadlines or requests from a friend.
  2. Inner expectations like following through on a New Year’s resolution or practicing guitar.

So ask yourself this simple question: “How do I respond to expectations?” Then go through the Four Tendencies listed below and see if anything starts to look familiar.

Gretchen Rubin's The Four Tendencies


Upholders readily meet outer and inner expectations. They hit the work deadlines and keep the New Year’s resolutions without much fuss.

They want to know what other people expect from them, but their expectations for themselves are just as important.

Upholders want to be mindful of their own rigid expectations becoming too confining without any real benefits.

When communicating with an upholder, make sure to be upfront and clear about your own expectations rather than ambiguous or too flexible.

Fictional upholders: Hermione Granger, Stannis Baratheon

If you’re an upholder, you should go buy The Four Tendencies.


Questioners question all expectations. Every expectation becomes an inner expectation, and they’ll do something if they think it makes sense. If it doesn’t, they’ll push back.

They tend to object to anything arbitrary, inefficient, or irrational.

Questioners should be careful not to succumb to analysis paralysis — the inability to make a decision for fear of not having all the facts. They should also be aware that what they think is a perfectly reasonable battery of never-ending questions can be overwhelming to others.

When communicating with a questioner, be prepared to give them a concise reason for any requests you might have of them. Just sharing the benefits or end results of such a request with the questioner is infinitely more effective than dismissively blurting out “because I said so.”

A questioner you may have heard of: Jordan Harbinger

If you’re a questioner, you should go buy The Four Tendencies because you’ll learn a lot about yourself and others.


Obligers readily meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet inner expectations.

Someone might have been an excellent athlete in college with the support of a coach and a team, but now struggles to stay in shape left to her own devices.

Obligers want to be cautious of neglecting their own needs with excuses that prioritize the needs of others. Instead, they’re more likely to succeed by creating a system of accountability with others — like finding a gym buddy for getting in shape, or leading a book club to make time for reading.

When communicating with an obliger, be on the lookout for signs of burnout or resentment so you can intervene before they snap. They may feel the burden of external expectations that don’t even exist, or you may be taking advantage of them without even realizing it. Be fair and be clear.

Famous obliger: Andre Agassi

If you’re an obliger, everybody else wants you to read The Four Tendencies and you’ll be a better person.


Rebels reject all expectations, outer and inner alike. They want the freedom to do what they want to do in their own way in their own time, but are likely to resist someone else’s efforts to tell them what to do.

In truth, they don’t even like to tell themselves what to do.

Rebels should be careful they’re not being contrary simply for the sake of being contrary — this isn’t freedom, but a rigidity that runs counter to what some rebels believe is expected of them (or that they expect from themselves).

When communicating with a rebel, you can take this spirit of resistance into account and work with it instead of fueling it. Frame any request to a rebel in a way that makes it a choice: lay out the desired action and the consequences of doing it versus the consequences of not doing it.

Rebel writers: Geoff Dyer, Elizabeth Wurtzel

If you’re a rebel pondering whether or not to read The Four Tendencies, you do what you want.

What’s Your Tendency?

Did you find a tendency that seems to fit you, or do you think you’re a combination? They do overlap, but one tendency likely stands out from the others.

“It’s a Venn Diagram of four overlapping circles,” says Gretchen. “And each tendency overlaps with two tendencies…we’re all in a core tendency, but whether you tip to one side or the other kind of flavors how your tendency comes out.”

If you want to delve even deeper, be sure to take Gretchen’s free Four Tendencies Quiz here.

Listen to this episode in its entirety to learn more about why knowing our tendency is helpful, which tendencies are most common and which tendencies are rare, what we can do to counter the negative qualities of our own tendency, how we can best reach out to people of other tendencies, what techniques work for some tendencies and not others, and lots more.


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