Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how different people respond to rules–and I use “rules” broadly (see below for examples) to mean any kind of instruction to do or not do something.
I love to identify categories. Abstainers/moderators. Leopards/alchemists. Radiators/drains. And I now I can’t stop thinking about these four categories.
To see if you spot yourself in these categories, ask yourself:
How do I respond to an outer rule? A law, a traffic sign, a “request” from a spouse; a work deadline, an admonition from your doctor, an appointment with a trainer, social protocol?
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How do I respond to an inner rule? A New Year’s resolution; a decision to exercise more; putting in work on a self-generated project (writing a novel, planting a garden).
With that in mind, consider whether any of these four types rings a bell. In my book, Better Than Before, I refer to them as The Four Tendencies, and I explore the nature of them at greater length, and how they affect habits.
The Four Tendencies
Accepts rules, whether from outside or inside. An upholder meets deadlines, follows doctor’s order, keeps a New Year’s resolution. I am an Upholder, 100%.
Questions rules and accepts them only if they make sense. They may choose to follow rules, or not, according to their judgment.
Flouts rules, from outside or inside. They resist control. Give a rebel a rule, and the rebel will want to do the very opposite thing.
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Accepts outside rules, but doesn’t like to adopt self-imposed rules.
Some examples of The Four Tendencies in action:
An upholder stops at a stop sign at 3:00 a.m. in a small deserted town; so does an obliger. A questioner decides whether it’s safe to stop. A rebel rolls through the stop sign at 3:00 p.m. in traffic.
An upholder can train with a trainer or exercise on her own; a questioner can do either if he thinks it makes sense; a rebel will do neither, because the fact that she has an appointment or an item on her to-do list makes her want to disobey; an obliger can meet a trainer, but can’t get to the gym on his own.
Of course, this is about your Tendency. There’s a continuum, and no one accepts or resists all rules, and some people don’t fit easily into one of the four types–but I’ve been amazed at how often people immediately place themselves firmly into one camp.
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Curious to find out more about which Tendency fits you?
With the help of Mike Courtney and his team at Aperio Insights, I developed a quiz that will give you your Tendency, along with a simple description. You can take the quiz here.
A version of this post originally appeared on Gretchen Rubin’s website, where Gretchen writes about her experiments in the pursuit of happiness and good habits.