How would you describe your personality? Can you sum yourself up in 3-5 adjectives? Are you kind, unkind, empathetic, compassionate, selfish, loud, aggressive, unreliable, good at meeting expectations, generous, introverted, or extroverted? Are you sure the words you selected describe you as you are or are they aspirational and capable of changing over time? A large degree of who we are seems to be hardwired. Some may be shaped as a result of experience. The core seems to start at birth and remain with us. Hopefully we learn how to harness what we have and who we are. Personality may be etched in stone but behavior is a choice.

It can be helpful to know what you’re working with. There are many tests and assessments out there to help you better understand your personality, help you understand someone else, or help someone else understand you. Maybe you’ve used Myers Briggs or an enneagram test. They’re both fascinating. The assessment I like best is the one put forward by Gretchen Rubin to determine which of the four tendencies you are. There are 16 personality types with Myers  Briggs and 9 with enneagrams. There are only 4 tendencies. The concept is very straightforward and quite simple. The results are not based on a comparison to anyone else and they are not judgmental. Rather, your personality type is determined by your tendency for meeting expectations.

The Four Tendencies

In this framework, I am an Obliger. This comes as no surprise to me at all. Obligers easily meet external expectations and have difficulty meeting internal expectations. I am all over external expectations, even those that I perceive as outer expectations but in fact may not be anyone’s expectations of me. For a refresher on what I mean, feel free to revisit my earlier post on mind reading. Obligers are the ultimate team players, stellar employees, and responsible family members when you want someone to rely on. We refuse to let anyone down and are far less good at meeting the expectations we set for ourselves. 

The other choices are Upholder, Questioner, and Rebel. Upholders are ‘good at meeting both internal and external expectations. Questioners want to understand external expectations before agreeing to meet them. They have, of course, already answered any questions they may have regarding internal expectations so, naturally, they have no issue meeting those. Rebels don’t want to be tied down by anyone’s expectations so they resist all. Let the good times roll. But not really. We all have a little bit of each tendency in us and, still, each of us falls pretty neatly into one category.

One Tendency With Possible Overlap

The tendencies are set up visually as a Venn diagram. The Upholders’ circle on top overlaps with Questioners for meeting internal expectations and Obligers for meeting external. The Obligers’ circle to the right overlaps with Upholders and also with Rebels. Obligers and Rebels both have a tendency to resist internal expectations. The Rebels circle, directly below the Upholders, overlaps with Obligers and also with Questioners. Rebels and Questioners are not big fans of external expectations unless, for Questioners, the external expectation in question is well justified (in their opinion). Questioners may be happy to meet your expectations if you can convince them they should. Like Obligers, Questioners overlap with Rebels and Upholders.

You only get one tendency but the overlapping circles suggests you may have a fair amount of another tendency in you. To be clear, though, when it comes to meeting expectations, the theory is that each individual is predominantly one and only one of the four tendencies.

I am an OBLIGER-tipped-to-Upholder. There is very little Rebel in me. In other words, you can count on me for always meeting external expectations and sometimes meeting expectations that don’t matter to anyone but me. I won’t meet those internal expectations with the same sense of urgency but I may well get around to them eventually.

Obligers Listen to Experts

I had the pleasure of attending an event a couple of weeks ago that was billed as a fireside chat between Gretchen Rubin and Dr. Robin Berzin, the founder and CEO of Parsley Health, a holistic medical practice designed to help women overcome chronic conditions. The focus of the discussion was the four tendencies. Dr. Berzin was keen to apply the tendencies to patients to help understand why some are so accepting of medical intervention and recommendations and others are loath to pick up prescriptions.

I went to the event thinking I knew a lot about the four tendencies and my place in the model. In the course of the discussion, I suddenly understood that my tendency is part of what makes it so hard for me to stick to an exercise program, meditate regularly, or cut out sugar. First of all, you have to want to do the things you’re setting out to change and, though I want to exercise regularly, I don’t have any interest in eliminating sugar entirely, just reducing my intake. And although a mindfulness practice is important to me, regular meditation in the traditional “oooohhhhhhhmmmm” sense is not my thing. Second, these are things I arguably want to do for myself with no accountability to anyone else. And therein lies the rub. Obligers need outer accountability. Otherwise, changing a behavior and creating a new habit is an uphill battle. Obligers are excellent candidates for coaching.

The Four Tendencies and Coaching

The Four Tendency theory is precisely why coaching appeals to and works for someone like me. I have changes I want to make that I know will improve my physical and mental health immeasurably and holding myself accountable doesn’t quite get me where I want to go. I can’t do it all on my own. Since exercise is a big hurdle for me, I benefit from walking with a friend, working out with a trainer, or setting up a plan with a coach that has backups. Checking in with a coach regularly and reporting in is a component that makes success attainable.

Questioners are also potentially great coaching candidates. At least they are if someone else has convinced them of the merits of coaching or if a prospective coach uses a 15-minute discovery call to justify engaging in the process.

Upholders are self-motivated. They may like the companionship and checks and balances that come with a coach but don’t need one for the accountability. If an Upholder wants to start an exercise program, they do. Similarly, Rebels will do what they choose to do. If they choose to exercise, they don’t need anyone to help them follow through.

We can be so hard on ourselves when we struggle to break old habits or create new ones. There’s some comfort in knowing that we’re not necessarily lazy or unmotivated. We’re just hardwired in our tendency for meeting expectations. Once you identify your tendency, you can learn workarounds to make whatever changes are most important to you.

Trying and Thinking

Something to think about: “I do know one thing about me: I don’t measure myself by others’ expectations or let others define my worth”. – Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Something to try: Naturally, I’m going to suggest you take The Four Tendencies quiz. Who knows? Maybe the results will surprise you. 

Coaching Can Help

If you want to make a lasting change in your life and you’re having trouble doing it on your own, coaching can help, especially if your an Obliger. We can work together to set action steps that work for you. Let’s develop accountability and backup plans to keep you going. Sign up for a free 15 minute discovery call here and .

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One Comment

  1. I am an obliger mixed with a bit of rebel, as I almost never meet my own expectations (with respect to myself). On the other hand, there is definitely some “rebel” in me, particularly when it comes to speed limits on highways. 😉

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