Book Review: The Four Tendencies

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I first heard about the Four Tendencies during a Tim Ferris podcast, and Gretchen Rubin was the guest. On the podcast and in the book she describes a friend who was on the track team in high school and never missed a practice; however in her friends adult life she cannot make herself stick to a running routine. This piqued her interest, as nothing physically or mentally had changed in her friend, so why couldn’t she run? This led Gretchen in her journey of discovering the The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too).

Throughout the book Gretchen explains that individuals can be placed into four different categories of “Tendencies;” Obliger, Upholder, Questioner, and Rebel. Each Tendency is described through their ability to meet inner and outer expectations. With each Tendency comes strengths and weakness, often intertwined; What may be viewed as a strength in some ways, may also be viewed as a weakness. What I love about this book, is that as you read, you instantly become aware of which Tendency you belong to and also those around you. She provides a quiz in the book which you can take to help determine your Tendency. However, I did not need to take the quiz, nor has anyone in my family I have described the Tendencies to. You can also take it online here.

First up is the Upholder, the rarest of all tendencies as they are able to meet both inner and outer expectations. Upholders are individuals who decide to act and follow through. If they set goals for themselves, they easily follow through on their decision. Additionally, they also respond to outward expectations. The ability to meet both expectations is a strength of this tendency, yet can also simultaneously be a weakness. When Upholders decide to do something, they do it, even if it may inconvenience others. This isn’t out of spite; they just know they can count on themselves and follow through on commitments to themselves whereas they cannot always count on others. Additionally, because they don’t need outward accountability they often resist holding others accountable and are not sympathetic to others who need outward accountability. My husband is an upholder. When he decides to do something, like cycle in a race that is over 100 miles, he does it. He has been an athlete his entire life, and even through his career in the Army and now building homes, he always meets outward expectations. In every arena of his life I can think of he has always been the guy you can count on, and will not only meet but exceed everyone’s expectations, as well as his own. In college his team nicknamed him “The Guy” which in hindsight could be switched with Upholder.

The Rebel, opposite the Upholder, is the second least common. The Rebel resists outer and inner expectations. There is a sense of freedom in the Rebel Tendency, as they don’t feel the need to meet any expectations, they resist control, and freely express their sense of choice. Their sense of rebellion can help other Tendencies free themselves from expectations, however their defiance can also be frustrating to those around them. Understanding this Tendency, and the best way to communicate with this Tendency was the most enlightening as I read. As I was describing this Tendency to my family, everyone instantly looked at my brother-in-law. In the book, Gretchen explains that when communicating with a Rebel, you need to give provide them with information, potential consequences and freedom of choice. He and I have a great relationship; however, understanding how to more effectively communicate with one another, could lead to even more positive communication. The Rebel tendency I believe, has also helped to him to be as successful as he is. He recently started his own business, and I don’t think anyone could have or will stop this business from thriving; he simply won’t have it.

The Questioners resist outer expectations and meets inner expectations. Gretchen writes “Questioners show a deep commitment to information, logic, and efficiency.” The Questioner is the person who is always asking “why?” This person is able to meet their inner expectations, as they are able to analyze and provide information as to why they should meet their own expectations. The Questioner often resists outer expectations as they need a great deal of information to determine whether or not this meets their own desires. If they believe the outward expectation meets their justifications, then they will readily meet it, if they don’t then good luck. This Tendency is my older sister. I literally laughed out loud a few times while reading, and sent her a screen shot of a few paragraphs. One in particular, is that Gretchen noticed that Questioners love spreadsheets; this is exactly my sister. If we need to plan anything as a family, she has a spread sheet for it. And if someone *my mom* creates a spread sheet first, she instantly recreates the spread sheet into a more efficient sheet. She is an avid reader, and has google detective skills like no one I’ve ever seen, hello Questioner!

The most common of all tendencies is the Obliger, who readily meets outer expectations and resists inner expectations. Obligers are often reliable, as they value meeting the needs and requests of others, and unfortunately meet needs before their own. Although they are reliable in meeting these outward expectations, they need the most outward accountability to help them reach their inner goals and expectations. The Obliger tendency, as reiterated by Gretchen is “not an issue of self-sacrifice, but of outward accountability.” As I read this, I realized this was Gretchen’s runner friend, and also myself. I feel like I can always meet the needs of others, that they can count on my and I will rarely let them down. Let myself down, that’s a whole different ball-game. I can’t count the number of times I have started a running/exercise program, and didn’t follow through. I am a completely stereotypical Obliger, and at first I found this annoying. I wished I was, let’s be real, an Upholder. However, once I moved past the disappointment of needing outer accountability, I realized that I just need to put checks into place to keep me accountable. Looking back, that’s why I created this blog, to create a sense of outward accountability to keep me working on my Happiness Project.

Understanding these Tendencies in enlightening. The simplicity of the Tendencies, as compared to say a Meyers-Briggs Test or DISC Profile, can help us understand more effective ways to reach our goals, and communicate more effectively with those around us. As Gretchen explains “When we understand our tendency we’re better able to grasp how, and when and why.” So, which Tendency are you? Did you read the descriptions and instantly know which you were or those of your family members? This book is a definite read, to enable you to recognize your Tendency and how to utilize it to your advantage.

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