The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin is the New York Times Bestselling Author of The Happiness Project. She is well regarded in the self-help circles for inspiring people to become happier and healthier through a change in mind-set and by forming positive habits. She has excellent ideas about time management and it is clear that she is hard working and well intentioned. All of these, she says, are because she has the tendency she calls, “Upholder.”

thefourtendanciesIn her book, The Four Tendencies, Rubin divides all people into four different personalities. If you want to find out your own tendency you can take this simple (really simple) quiz here.

The four tenancies are: upholder, obliger, questioner, and rebel.




I took the quiz and found that I, myself, am an Upholder. This makes perfect sense to me. I love making and keeping resolutions. I regularly order and use thousands of note cards. I cannot stand being late or breaking rules and I am physically uncomfortable when others do so.

The first section of the book is dedicated to explaining the Upholder personality, how to deal with an Upholder, and how Upholders can help themselves work within the parameters of their own tendency. While reading this section I found myself laughing in recognition and reading whole sections aloud to friends. I just kept thinking, “this is totally how I think!” I was enchanted.

Then I read the next section on Questioners. And I saw myself in that section as well. I can’t buy anything that costs more than $50 without doing hours of research. I always want to know “why” to every piece of evidence. When doctors give me advice I ask follow up questions to the exhaustion of the provider.

I see large chunks of my personality as well in the Obliger tendency. I didn’t really learn how to say “no” to people until much later in life. That’s not to say I would do things that went against my morals or goals but I was always happy to take on someone else’s jobs if it made life easier. I love to plan vacations but I am just as happy to go along with a change in plans if it makes someone else happy.

Even the Rebel speaks to whole years of my life and I resist certain Rebel tendencies to this day. My brother once told me that I couldn’t take a military marksmanship class in college and I signed up for it that day. I then went on to practice assembling and disassembling the M-16 they gave me until I could do it faster than anyone in the class. Later, I found myself rappelling off a building on campus with the same group. I did all of this because he told me I couldn’t.

One of the predicating arguments of Rubin’s Four Tendencies is that everyone is born with a certain tendency and they cannot change that tendency. Her theory is you belong to one tendency for your whole life and you cannot change. I vehemently disagree.

Of course, the author would argue that my disbelief at the simplicity of her four tendencies is because I’m actually a Questioner. This circular argument only benefits her theory. If you read the book and cast it aside, you must be a Rebel. If you only read it because a friend recommended it, you’re an Obliger. She has built into her four tendencies a way for her to negate any argument or example you may have that would defy the system she has set up. And, since she made these terms up completely without any data, background in psychology or sociology, or research, she knows them best and there is no arguing with her assessments.

I have to emphasize that point. This is her theory. There is no data, only anecdotal evidence to all of this. She doesn’t take into account any mental health issues that may underly an individual’s rigidity or reactive nature. She also doesn’t take into consideration the formulation of any of these habits. Could an Upholder quickly become an Obliger if placed in a domestic violence situation? Could a Rebel become a Questioner if their child was diagnosed with a chronic illness? Perhaps this simple approach is a good place to begin looking at why you make certain choices but it cannot be the sum total of why someone behaves the way that they do.

This may sound like a negative review but, even though there is a lot I disagree with about this book there are several reasons I recommend it here. First, taking stock of why we do things is essential if we ever want to change and grow as a person. That’s why they call them “self-help” books. And, if this book helps you to improve yourself then it is a winner for me. This book is easy to access, the quiz is short and, honestly, if accepting one of these labels for your tendency helps you then, wonderful!

More importantly, this book was absolutely fantastic at driving home the point that everyone thinks differently and all the variations of tendencies are positive. For health care providers, teachers, parents, and businesses, understanding the different tendencies is a good way to begin open communication toward change and growth. If this book does one thing well it explains that not everyone’s automatic reaction to a stimulus is the same. And, it teaches you how to recognize other people’s tendencies so that you can meet them where they are comfortable.

If this book helps you understand yourself better or improve just one relationship in your life then it was worth the time it took to read it. But, if you read it and disagree as I did, it also provides a fascinating look into how your friends formulate their arguments. Either way, books like this open doors to communication and that is always welcome.

Tell me, please!

Did you take this quiz? Do you agree with the assessment?




7 thoughts on “The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin

Add yours

  1. Haven’t read it, but I do agree with your assessment that it seems far-fetched that each person is innately born with one tendency, and that if you’re an upholder, you will remain one for life. Just looking at the descriptions, I can see that I also have characteristics from more than one tendency in how I operate (I follow rules and hate being late [classic upholder!], but also work better with external motivation [obliger-style]).

    I do think personality assessments are really fascinating though, and agree that having another tool for approaching the ways different people think is a net positive.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I probably won’t read it, because I have a strong love-hate relationship (more hate than love, honestly) with “The Happiness Project,” but I can pick apart her theories second-hand! Obviously, the best way to do critical analysis is to not read the source material. /s

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Don’t feel like you have to read it! But, if you do, I feel like you would be the IDEAL person to pick this new book apart with me. If she can make up a whole theory we can pick it apart without reading it.

        Liked by 1 person

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