When it comes to self-care, so much of the work we need to do can be boiled down to two things: noticing and building habits. We need to notice how we’re feeling, physically and emotionally. Doing so can help us to pivot before we experience burnout. And to make long-term, sustainable changes, we must work to build the habits that will help us get there.
But that’s where it gets difficult, right? Building those habits, making those changes—that’s where the struggle comes in. Author and podcast Gretchen Rubin says, “What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.”
If you’ve ever struggled to make changes in your life, I want to introduce you to a personality system. This system helped me to better understand myself, why I struggle with making changes and building positive habits. Not only that, but it also helped me to troubleshoot, and course correct.
The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin
Gretchen Rubin is my favorite habit-building guru. Her book, Better Than Before, helped me to understand why I struggle to do the very thing I want to do when it comes to building healthy habits and self-care.
Rubin designed a personality framework called The Four Tendencies. The Four Tendencies explores how people of four different types respond to expectations—inner expectations that they place on themselves, and outer expectations placed on them by others.
When you’re struggling to make changes in your life, understanding your Tendency can help you make the changes you desire.
What are The Four Tendencies?
According to Rubin’s framework, there are four basic personality types when it comes to living up to expectations and, ultimately, building habits (and the life) we want.
Upholders live up to their own expectations of themselves, as well as other’s expectations of them. This means that if an Upholder plans to work out at the gym three mornings a week, she is going to keep that promise to herself. And if her boss has set a deadline at work, she will turn in the work on time, if not early.
Obligers meet other’s expectations but struggle to meet their own expectations. An Obliger would struggle to keep her promise to herself to work out at the gym three mornings this week—unless she has committed to meet a friend there. While she may be willing to break a promise to herself, she won’t be willing to let herself down.
Rebels resist outer expectations and inner expectations. If a Rebel’s husband asks her to make sure his favorite shirt is clean for work tomorrow, she may resist the request. Likewise, if she makes a promise to herself to cut back on sugar, she may find herself bouncing in quite the opposite direction, even if she really did want to stop bingeing on sweets. Rebels are in an interesting position because they almost have to trick themselves into doing what they really want and need to do.
Questioners resist outer expectations but can meet their own inner expectation. If a doctor tells a Questioner that she needs to watch her cholesterol intake, she will likely resist that directive. However, if the Questioner does her research and arrives at this conclusion on her own, she will likely be able to avoid bacon at breakfast tomorrow morning.
Which Type Are You?
Chances are, you recognize yourself in one of these four types. They aren’t entirely black and white, however; you might be an Obliger with Rebel tendencies, or an Upholder with Questioner tendencies. If you want more clarity, you can take Rubin’s Four Tendencies Quiz.
Once you understand your type, try applying that to whatever area of your life where you’re struggling to make changes. Understanding the key feature of each type will help you.
- Upholders want to do what is expected—just tell them what that is, please!
- Obligers need accountability to live up to expectations.
- Rebels want to be able to do something their own way.
- Questioners want to understand why something should be done—or why it should be done in a particular way.
I’d love to hear what type you are! Comment below and share.
Self-care starts with sustainable habits. If you’re struggling to make changes in your life, I’d love to be a resource for you. Sign up for my monthly newsletter for tips, tricks & links to begin building sustainable self-care strategies that work for you.