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How to use your Tendency to achieve your goals

Arrow in a dart board

Have you ever wondered why some people are much better at following through on their New Year’s Resolutions than others?

Or why you find it easier to work to a set deadline, or train when you have a specific race booked?

The writer and habit researcher Gretchen Rubin has come up with an amazing construct that makes sense of this: the Four Tendencies.

It hinges on how you react to obligations set for you by others, as opposed to obligations you set for yourself.

As you can imagine, this makes a huge difference to how good you are at achieving your goals…

Discover your Tendency

Gretchen Rubin’s framework describes four “types”: Obligers, Rebels, Upholders, and Questioners:

  • Upholders: are very good at doing things for ourselves (inner expectations), and set by other people (outer expectations)
  • Questioners: are very good at doing things for ourselves, but resist those set by others
  • Obligers: are very good at doing things set by others, but not for ourselves
  • Rebels: resist doing things either for themselves or for other people.

All Tendencies have advantages and disadvantages – the key point is by knowing your Tendency, you can build on its strengths and mitigate its weaknesses.

So first, discover your Tendency through completing the Quiz here: https://quiz.gretchenrubin.com/.

Then review your section below!

Upholders: “do what’s right even when people call you uptight”

Gretchen Rubin describes Upholders as those who readily respond to obligations: they meet the work deadline and keep the New Year’s Resolution without much fuss.

They form habits easily, and tend to love schedules and routines.

Positive aspects

These characteristics should make it fairly easy for an Upholder to implement new habits and achieve their goals.

They are able to make commitments to themselves, and stick to them, even without outside help.

Watch out for…

Because Upholders are so good at meeting all expectations, they can sometimes suffer from a lack of prioritisation about which expectation is most important.

They can struggle with changes in schedules or routines; and need to be careful that these routines don’t become straightjackets, but can adapt as their needs change.

Questioners: “I’ll comply – if you convince me why”

Questioners are those that only meet inner expectations, not outer expectations.

They want to gather their own facts, decide for themselves, and act with good reason.

They only meet outer expectations if they think they are efficient and reasonable.

Positive aspects

Because of their focus on justification, Questioners should be able to implement these changes fairly easily if the value of doing so is clear.

The facts outlined in these Worksheets should help with this; but they may need to do some additional research.

Once the conclusion is clear, however, they find it easy to act.

Watch out for…

Questioners’ need for information can develop into analysis-paralysis, where they get stuck in a loop of ever-continuing research without then moving into the action phase.

They can also start second-guessing their actions once started, as they wonder whether they did have enough information in the first place.

Obligers: “you can count on me, and I’m counting on you to count on me”

Obligers are the most common type of Tendency (and this is my Tendency!).

They readily meet the outer expectations imposed by others but struggle to meet the inner expectations they want to impose on themselves.

They find it very difficult to self-motivate, and can get frustrated by their own inability to follow-through on their internal goals.

Positive aspects

Obligers are the mainstay of every community, and a valued employee.

Their love of external accountability can also be used to overcome their difficulties with inner expectations: create a form of external accountability for inner expectations, and they will be met too (a study buddy, an exercise partner, a promise to a friend, a public commitment).

This is vital for our purposes.

Watch out for…

Gretchen Rubin describes “Obliger rebellion”, where an Obliger can be pushed too far and then reacts strongly with a “no” (eg resigning a job).

Obligers are also more likely to suffer from burnout from their need to meet external obligations.

Rebels: “It’s so hard when I have to, and easy when I want to”

Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike.

They want to act from a sense of choice, freedom and self-expression.

They resist control, even self-control, and often enjoy flouting rules, expectations and systems.

Positive aspects

Rebels act from a place of deep authenticity.

They are good at meeting challenges, as long as they can do it in their own way.

They enjoy defying expectations, and proving people wrong (“I’ll show you…”).

And they defy customs and conventions, which can mean they are a powerful agent of societal change.

Watch out for…

Rebels will automatically resist any “recommendations” by others.

So, to be able to implement changes to their habits to support their resilience to stress, Rebels need to focus on “information, consequences, choice”.

The information is here about WHY these changes help; and on the consequences to the body of not learning resilience to stress; the choice is then with the Rebel on how to act.

Variations within Tendencies

A final point to note.

Each Tendency can “lean” more towards either of the ones to each side.

So for example, you could be an Upholder/ Questioner, or an Upholder/ Obliger.

So what next?

To summarise:

1. discover your Tendency, and the Tendencies either side of it

2. work out what this means for how you respond to goal-setting

3. and finally, decide what you are going to do about it!

So for Obliger me, I always make sure I have external accountability when I really want to achieve a goal – whether that is standing on scales at a slimming club if I am trying to eat healthily, or telling my coach how exactly I want my business to grow over the next year…

What ONE THING are you going to differently now that you know your Tendency?

I’d love to find out how you get on!

Let me know at kirsten@kirstengoodwin.co.uk.

And if you want any extra help with goal-setting, get in touch!

Good luck!


Kirsten Goodwin

The Naked Confidence™ Coach

Hired to help female leaders feeling the pain and pressure of their position. Transforming your Mindset AND Skillset 🔥 Banish your Imposter, and find your way, your confidence, & your edge.

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Kirsten Goodwin

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