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Questions for the Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, & Rebels

Rubi_9780385348614_roughpages_8.25.14.inddI haven’t posted about my Four Tendencies framework in a while, but never fear, I’m still obsessed — and today I have some more questions for you readers.

I developed this framework for my book about habits, Better Than Before. (Which is now available for pre-order. Buy early and often!) I have to say, of everything in the book, I think this section is my greatest intellectual accomplishment. It was very, very challenging to develop this framework, but I really do think it sheds a helpful light on human nature.

So what are the Four Tendencies?

It’s very important to know ourselves, but self-knowledge is challenging.  If you want to know yourself, it’s key to know where you fit into the Four Tendencies, that describe how people tend to respond to expectations:

  • outer expectations (a deadline, a “request” from a sweetheart)
  • inner expectations (write a novel in your free time, keep a New Year’s resolution)

Your response to expectations may sound slightly obscure, but it turns out to be very, very important.

In a nutshell:

  • Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations (I’m an Upholder, 100%).
  • Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense, so they make everything an inner expectation (my husband is a Questioner).
  • Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves.
  • Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike.

I gave a talk at LinkedIn about the Rubin Character Index, so if you’d like to see me discuss each category in a video, you can watch: for Upholders, watch here; Questioners, here; Rebels, here; and Obligers, here.

In the next week or so, I’ll be coming out with a fancy new quiz you can use to help figure out your Tendency. In the meantime, you can look here for a simpler version.

I continue to try to understand this framework better and to understand how people work. So here are my questions for you, which you can answer if that seems like a fun thing to do:

Whatever your Tendency, do you wish you belonged in a different Tendency? Why, and which one? I’m an Upholder, and although I see the downsides, I wouldn’t want to switch to a different Tendency.

Relatedly, is there a Tendency you envy? To my surprise, someone told me, “People most often envy Upholders and Rebels.” Agree? I would’ve though people would most envy Questioners.

Can you think of any great examples of the Tendencies from literature, TV, movies? E.g., Hermione is an Upholder; Andre Agassi is an Obliger. I especially need examples of Questioners.

Obligers: do you sometimes think, “When someone expects something of me, I do it, and I often have trouble meeting my expectations for myself. I feel puzzled and resentful when other people don’t do the same. They don’t give priority to the expectations of others, but are just as concerned about meeting their expectations for themselves. They might put something that benefits them (going running) ahead of an expectation of someone else (a kid needs help with homework). To me that seems callous/self-centered/enviable.”

Upholders: do you find it difficult to impose expectations on other people? It’s odd — you’d think that Upholders would feel the most at ease at doing this, but at least in myself, I really don’t like to enforce expectations. In fact, I want people to impose expectations on themselves, and I become frustrated when they don’t/can’t.

Rebels: you so value your own freedom and ability to do things your own way. Do you feel comfortable telling other people what to do?

Rebels:  how do you feel about being put in the Rebel category? Does it bother you to be put into a particular slot? Do you think the description suits you? Do you like being identified as a “Rebel”?

Not sure, or Questioners: Do you recognize other Tendencies better than you recognize the Questioner Tendency?

Thanks, readers, for all your comments on this topic over the last several months. It has really deepened my understanding of how people think and act.


Also …

  • Of everything I’ve ever written, I think this one-minute video, The Years Are Short, resonates most with people.
Questions for the Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, & Rebels

Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin is the award-winning author of The Happiness Project, a #1 New York Times bestseller. You can also watch the one-minute book video. She is a regular contributor to Psych Central.

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APA Reference
Rubin, G. (2018). Questions for the Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, & Rebels. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 8 Jan 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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