Growing up, I loved the personality quizzes that dotted the pages of teen glossy magazines.Was my style classy or cool? Did people even like me? While fun and entertaining, I realized the results delivered little in the way of self actualization and enlightenment. But recently, I discovered a personality framework (and quiz) that actually made a difference in how I see and treat myself and others. The outlook is courtesy of bestselling author Gretchen Rubin, who has written extensively about happiness and habits, including in her book Better Than Before. In Rubin’s view, the world is made up of four personality types: Obligers, Upholders, Rebels, and Questioners (it’s also possible to be a combination of two or more). When I first encountered this framework, it was like I was struck with a lightning bolt.
I identify as an Obliger, meaning I crave and strive to meet external expectations (like deadlines or commitments to family) but struggle to set and prioritize inner ones. Realizing this helped me form new goal-setting strategies and habits that play into my personality type, instead of against it. Here are a few practical examples of these new strategies: Signing up for exercise classes with cancellation policies, meaning if I don’t show I’d have to pay a fee, compels me to workout even when I don’t feel like it. Sending a Google calendar invite to make plans with a friend helps me prioritize social time. Striking a better balance between my work obligations (external/easier for me to meet) and personal creative goals (internal/much harder).
The benefits of learning Four Tendencies don’t stop with self-improvement. The framework also helped improve communication with co-workers, friends, and even spouses or partners. If you know that someone is a Questioner, for example, you might want to give them a reason for a request. Rebels resist hard deadlines and value independence. An Upholder might subconsciously project his or her high inner expectations onto you. Viewing the people around you — and their actions — through the lens of these personality types can help with everything from collaboration to avoiding hurt feelings.
The Four Tendencies framework is just one component of Rubin’s comprehensive and incredibly applicable exploration of habit building. But if the personality types click for you, the author goes even deeper into the concept in her newest book, The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How To Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too). The approach requires an introspection, which isn’t always an easy task. But as Rubin would say, one essential step to finding happiness is to know yourself.
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