What Kind of Person Are You? The Four Rubin Tendencies.

Back by popular demand–the four Rubin Tendencies (I keep changing the name of this framework. Any suggestions or comments welcome. Do you like the Rubin Character Index Better?)

It’s very important to know ourselves, but self-knowledge is challenging.  I’m like a Muggle Sorting Hat! I sort everyone into four categories, which describe how people tend to respond to expectations: outer expectations (a deadline, a “request” from a sweetheart) and 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 (myhusband is a Questioner)
  • Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike
  • Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves

 

I recently 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.

From my observation, I can say with confidence that Rebel is the smallest category, then Upholder–this was a shock to me. I didn’t realize how few people are Upholders. Many things became clear to me once I realized this. Most people are Questioners or Obligers.

Obligers are the folks who are the most likely to say they wish they were in a different category. They say things like, “I wish I weren’t a people-pleaser” or “I wish I could take time for myself.”

Do you find yourself within this framework? If so, does it help you understand how to manage yourself better? Figuring out the Tendencies helped me understand myself, and it has also made it much easier for me to understand other people’s perspectives. Fact is, most people don’t see things the way we Upholders do.

If you’re reading this post through the daily email, click here to join the conversation. And if you’d like to get the daily blog post by email, sign up here.

  • Lloyd Palmer

    mmmmmmm I believe i’m a questioner!!!

  • WadeCollins

    An expert on happiness?. Reminds me of a guy how wrote a book on stand-up comedy. He wasn’t funny but he was deep into analysis of the craft.

  • Cindy Hart

    Upholder 100%

  • Tara V

    OHHHHH NOOOO! Im an Obliger! Im so ashamed!!

  • Felicity

    What I want to know is… do you think we can consciously shift categories? If I’m an obliger (and I am), can I by effort of will or just due to drift through time and experience, become a Questioner or an Upholder?

    • HEHink

      I think it is definitely possible to shift categories, both consciously and unconsciously.

      I believe I am mostly a Questioner, because I really drag my feet about doing things that don’t make sense within my own time frame, or that go against what I perceive as more important to do. However, I have spent a lot of time behaving as an Obliger. Some of this is natural for me, as I do have a pretty strong desire to help people. Some of it comes from having been trained to oblige, from a young age.

      Also, a combination of life events a few years back made my life feel fairly out of my control, so I lost my feel for what I wanted, or for what made sense to me. My life became a series of actions that happened because they simply had to be done, or because someone else needed them done. I had drifted into believing that my plans didn’t matter, because something was bound to come along and pull the rug out from under them. Made me feel overwhelmed and very nearly hopeless a lot of the time – and maybe this is why Obligers feel such a sense of dismay. Maybe many really fall into a different camp, but they have lost sight of who they are and what they really want. It seems to me that true Obligers would be mostly content with their motivation basically to serve others, as long as it’s not to their own detriment.

      At any rate, through time and effort to increase my own self-awareness, I have been able to stop feeling like I’m letting everyone down when everything that needs doing doesn’t get done right away. I am learning to question myself, and have made both “Do what makes sense” and “Do as much as makes sense” two of my personal commandments. I am making a point of setting my own expectations (and making them more realistic), and following them because they make sense for me – like getting up on time, because it really does help my day go more smoothly.

      The more I try this, the easier it gets. Now that I think about it, maybe I’m not so much shifting categories, as finding my true one. So maybe that’s something to think about…if we’re uncomfortable with our categories, might that be because our actions aren’t aligned with our true natures?

  • Peninith1

    I’ve been surprised to find out by watching myself that I’m quite a questioner. I love the ‘what do you think when you wake up in the morning?’ It’s definitely a combination of ‘what must be done today’ and ‘what do I want to do today.’ I’m upholder enough to meet most deadlines, but if I choose to scorn one, oh well. Self-imposed tasks are what I’m all about. And now that I am retired I really get to impose the tasks most of the time!

  • PaulCurci

    My first instinct was to cringe at the idea that I am, in fact, an obliger. Upon further consideration, though, I’m convinced that it serves me extremely well. As someone who provides daily service to a broad range of clients, being externally accountable (to them) has enabled me to grow my business…often through referrals. I’m also a big believer in enlightened self-interest. Guess that makes me an ‘unapologetic obliger.’ Cringe not, fellow obligers.

  • Michael

    Is there really not a category for someone who is readily driven by inner expectations but often resists outer expectations?

    • marissamuffin

      That’s a Questioner. They turn all expectations into inner ones by only responding to the ones they agree with.

    • gretchenrubin

      From my observation, those folks are Questioners…I’d be interested to hear if you think you fall into that pattern but are not a Questioner.

  • marissamuffin

    Gretchen, this is by far my favorite of your categorizations. I bring it up in conversations all the time because it really is useful to think of yourself in relation to these categories. I do believe though that they are not completely black and white. I identify very strongly with both obligers and questioners at different times, but never rebels or upholders. For instance, the obliger in me absolutely 100% CANNOT wake up in the morning at a set time just because I’d like to get things done. There has to be some sort of “if I don’t wake up now, I’ll be late to work” type motivator or it just doesn’t work. On the other hand, the questioner in me has to ask my supervisors WHY new rules have been set in place before I can give in and just follow them. Without a reasonable explanation, I have a hard time giving in. Im curious, what does that make me?

    • gretchenrubin

      Sounds to me like you’re an Obliger who wants to know you’re obliged to do something. Obligers range wildly about what they feel “obliged” to do—some feel many more obligations than others.

  • D.

    A couple of weeks ago when I realized I am an obliger I was quite frankly devastated. Suddenly it all clicked. It means that I am ultimately unable to live my life the way I really want to live it. I end up doing only what others expect of me. And only if their genuine disappointment is at stake (or I imagine so) – which makes working with coaches useless in the long run (one possible strategy for obligers to get things done). By now I have recovered a bit (from the feeling of devastation) and have started to think about other useful strategies. And I think that just knowing this about myself can be helpful: in some situations I could tell myself: you don’t have to do it; it’s just the obliger in you who feels this urge. I could avoid some people or certain situations, etc. So far for not doing things for others at my expense. But when it comes to honoring my inner expectations, hmmmm….not easy…

  • betsyohs

    Hello, my name is Betsy, and I’m an obliger… I definitely fall in the camp of wishing I weren’t. However, since I first read about these categories, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. And a useful way for me to accomplish the things I really want to accomplish (my internal expectations) is to make them into external expectations. I asked my boss at work to give me very firm deadlines, and to be upset when I missed them. I don’t miss them any more! I asked my doctor to recommend that I cut back the amount of sugar I eat, and she recommended only eating sugar after dinner. I don’t do as perfectly on this as the work deadlines, probably because I see my doctor so infrequently, but I do much, much better than I was doing when I was trying to define and meet my own expectation on this.

  • Yvann

    A question (although I consider myself an Upholder, I suspect I’m really an Obliger): WHY do Obligers place less value/importance on internal expectations? I’m really interested in the motivation patterns here.

    • Abby

      Altruism.

      • Shmuel

        Ha ha! Altruism!
        Seriously, There is definitely a small percent of that poplulation who do it because of pure altruism. Like Mother Theresa, or great saints. Most do it because an unstable sense of self and the need for approval to give themselves self worth. Obviously, there is a continuem of purely spiritual and emotional need based reasons.

        • Kellie

          I think there’s another possibility. Some people who are labeled “people pleasers” do, as Shmuel suggests, act out of insecurity. Others follow the pattern because they are in fact _independent_ people who tend not to place demands on others. Operating from the natural assumption “he/she is like me,” they believe the person asking them for favor x is doing so under the same circumstances in which they themselves would ask for favor x–because they are absolutely desperate, because the favor is extremely important, etc. Once they figure out other people are just pushy and self-interested, they have no trouble shutting down the extra favors.
          I think you can distinguish between (a) and (b) by seeing how hard it is for the person in question to start saying “no.” For some people, it’s very easy.
          I think a lot of life solutions come down to figuring out how you’re different from the people with whom you interact.
          Kellie

  • aleishacd

    I find these categories very interesting, and as an Obliger, I think we are most apt to want to change our category b/c we see ours “not the right one” — fitting perfectly with our “people pleaser” sort of personality. I think my O nature comes from childhood (psychobabble ahead: lol). It was sometimes very emotionally chaotic; I never really knew what to expect from a key person in my life, so I was always trying to “be good” and do the right things (stay out of trouble, get good grades, etc.) in an attempt to control the chaos and volatility around me. My own goals/wants/needs were never the priority – it was always about keeping the peace. And for the most part, that has translated into adulthood. Being an Obliger served me at one point as a sort of survivalist tool; now, I just do it out of habit and to my own detriment. I think, too, that Obligers more than most have a big fear of failure — thus, we often don’t really attempt those internal goals b/c if we fail, others (eternal) might see us as failures. Food for thought.

    • Mejsh87

      Oh my goodness – it’s like I wrote your post myself – that’s exactly what it has been and is like for me… and I definitely wish I was more of an Upholder or Questioner.

      • Grace

        This is not my first launguage so excuseme for the errors, is exactly how I feel most of the time, add to it that I come from another culture that gives more atention to men, us woman it´s always second best . and to keep peace I always find myself doing the same things over and over.

    • Abby

      I agree with Mejsh87. It seems aleishacd wrote this post on behalf of me. I am an Obliger. In my family everyone was either Rebel or Questioner. This led to daily volcanic eruptions in our family. So I became self appointed peacekeeper and tried to please everyone so that there could be peace. Now it has carried forward to my married life also. I don’t know how to change.

  • Sonny

    This reminds me of the system of dividing characters into Good/Evil and Choatic/Orderly, which I think is also an interesting way of diving people into four groups. (Although I doubt most people would put themselves in the Evil category)

  • Katherine

    I think it’s pretty funny that most of these comments are from obligers and upholders and a few from questioners, but the rebels can’t be bothered.

    As for me, I feel like I’m a complete blend. I hate getting in trouble, but nobody’s the boss of me, and I have to know WHY and it drives me crazy when some arbitrary rule makes no sense (like speed limits). My biggest motivators are

    1. loving doing it for its own sake (the wind in my ears) and

    2. crossing it off the list (but it only gets on there if I know the reason why).

    Gretchen, do you know the story of how Kirk Douglas’s dad quit smoking?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2003/05/16/opinion/my-first-cigarette-and-my-last.html

    Classic rebel motivation.

    • gretchenrubin

      What a terrific story about Kirk Douglas’s father. I love that.

    • Br_t

      Glad to see someone else out there is also a complete mix of all four types! I also agree with you that crossing things off a list is a big motivator for me as well, but not just anything makes it onto the list. That was a great way of putting it.

  • CB

    I believe one’s personality can change throughout life. I was a Rebel until I noticed I got into trouble I didn’t want and wasn’t getting my needs filled. I became an Obliger in 2nd grade to get along, but I was miserable until my late 20s. I became a Questioner in my 30s and I find that’s the ideal balance between rebelling and obliging. I’ve always needed a mix of internal and external motivation that make sense to me to accomplish things.

  • Tanya C.

    Your Rubin tendencies can be easily “cross-walked” with the “True Color” personality types! Questioners = Greens; Obligers = Blues; Upholders = Golds; Rebels = Oranges

    For a fun video that briefly explains each True Color color type, check this out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5mqcLqTft3U

    • gretchenrubin

      To me, doesn’t seem that the two frameworks line up very well.

      The Rubin Tendencies look at one very specific aspect of personality, doesn’t try to make a more general assessment.

  • ritu kaushal

    I have been thinking a lot about this. Is it possible for someone to be both an obliger and a rebel? Or is that too much of a split personality? I have been a big people pleaser. But there are also several ways in which I rebel against rules – I hate imposing too many rules on myself, I hate it when someone tells me to do something – I often feel like doing the opposite (which feels freeing). Can you be both? Or is there a fundamental difference – maybe one part comes from conditioning, and the other from my true nature. Is that possible ?

    • gretchenrubin

      Obligers often have a streak of Rebel in them. They Oblige, but at various points, they refuse to meet expectations – sometimes quite spectacularly.

      Also, “reactance” is part of human nature; we all like to decide for ourselves what to do and how to do it, and we resist when we’re feeling that we’re being controlled.

      • ritu kaushal

        That’s interesting. Yes, I do think the Obliger description fits me more. I identify with what you say about Obligers meeting outer expectations. I volunteer as a reading tutor and I almost NEVER cancel a class. I’ve not missed any of the photography classes I am currently taking.

        The only thing is, in one of the classes, the teacher hasn’t taught very sincerely and I almost feel that I would be better off missing a few classes and doing my own creative work. Still, I show up. It’s hard to figure out whether it’s because I am an obliger or because I want to look good (although it really doesn’t matter really) to the teacher and it’s approval seeking, which i think IS different from obliging, because I have become less of a people pleaser over the last few years.

  • Sylive Sanders

    Gretchen, do you have a quiz for this or do you just figure it out based on the descriptions?

  • Meg Clare

    It seems as tho I fall into a combination of categories. I like to know why in many cases, it makes me feel informed and equal, its often something I will do anyhow, but seeing as you have asked, then why? Also, there is a lot of rebel in me, I am getting tired of breaking promises to myself. At the moment every time I decide to do anything, make a change ie: start one habit, I find a way to sabotage myself. Not sure there is a category complicated enough for me to fit into, sigh.

  • barbarastreisand

    WHY should I fit myself into one of 4 categories? : )

  • Iva @ This Side of Perfect

    Definitely an Obliger with a strong tendency to self-sabotage internal expectations when they become external (for example – getting that accountability partner). What I find helps me “finish what I start” with internal expectations is to question why I’m doing them. If I can logically “convince” myself that what I’m doing is actually good for me, then that internal expectation becomes somewhat of an internal-meets-external in that I have that accountability – “Why am I doing this? Oh, because [fill in the blank] said [fill in the blank].”

  • amy

    I find that I meet my own expectations but rarely listen to or am given ones from anyone else. Does that make me am obliger?

    • gretchenrubin

      That’s a Questioner.

  • David Burton

    Can you be both a questioner and an obliger whilst trying to uphold. I am more likely to meet others expectations than my own but I wouldn’t do it without questioning first. Also if I questioned I would try and meet all expectations starting with the external ones. Dots that make sense

  • Tor Brand

    I used to be an obliger 100%- I can identify with trying to ‘keep the peace’ and trying to keep my head down. Also my ‘self-esteem’ was so low (I didn’t have any), that ‘people-pleasing was the only option (and I am very altruistic anyway). Then I married a very (emotionally) abusive man and the only way I could survive was for my Questioner / Rebel streak to come out. I am still an obliger / altruist but now I have to question why occasionally and I rebel against control / suffocation. Anyone else identify with this?

  • anniek

    Another tool I really really use to understand the people around me is astrology. I know this is not a discussion about that subject, but thought I’d throw it into the mix.
    For example, once I know that a certain co-worker or friend is a Virgo, I can cut them all kinds of slack for their perfectionist ways. And admire their strenghts and not take things so bloody personally!
    The Four Rubin Tendencies seem like an easier tool to use on oneself, then trying to suss out what your compadres may be. If one was interested in taking that perspective.

  • Melissa Hall

    I think I am DIVERGENT! I scored 7 Questioner, 6 Upholder, 5 Obliger, and 3 Rebel. What does it mean if you score so closely on the categories? I was also surprised that Rebel wasn’t higher- I suspected my results would be mostly aligned with Rebel. How interesting!

  • Maddy

    I so wanted to be a Rebel. Turns out I’m an Obliger…The part of the quiz that sealed the deal for me was “I’ve given up on making New Year’s resolutions, because I never keep them”

  • Pingback: I’m a Rebel (and What That Means)()

  • Jamie

    My overarching type is Questioner. However in certain circumstances I’m an Obliger. I can’t seem to force myself to exercise regularly, so I became a fitness instructor. Creating a situation where I have to be there no matter how I feel has been great for me.

  • Nina

    I’m sorry, why does Obliging have such a bad rap? Can we not celebrate those who think of others first? I guess it makes a difference if you’ve fallen into that tendency or it’s something you’ve chosen deliberately but I find it very strange that everyone seems to think caring more for others is a bad thing rather than something to aspire to.

  • Robyn

    Questioner, no surprise, I question if the question, constantly looking for answers or possibilities.

  • George Beaufoy

    the human quadripolar Fixed Cross cycle,=seven-two-four-six,-=nineteen= one=whole-complete .see!upholder=(9)=”Divine/Expression Questioner,=(8)=Cosmic/Creator.!Obliger,= (5)=Life /Power.–Rebel=(6)=Word/Truth.=9+8+5+6=28=LIGHT-CREATOR=10=!+0=(1)=one whole complete Consider 7(seven)-“2(two)-4(Four)-6(six)= clue !-seven=15455=20=2+0=(2) over to you.!687.-777-(3)??

  • George Beaufoy

    logus No ten=255=12-Spirit/energy =(3)=,=28955=29 will/divine=11=Perfect-being =(2)two=256=13=(4)=FATHER.FOUR=6639=24 wisdom/universe,=(6)=Word/Truth=Six=196=16 =Spirit/Triune,=(7)=JESUS-CHRIST.=2+4+6+7=19=perfect/love,=10 whole -complete.

  • Walker VII

    What about people who only respond to their own expectations of themselves but not others?

    • gretchenrubin

      That’s Questioner. They turn all expectations into inner expectations, because they only meet an expectation if they endorse it.

  • Beth

    After listening to these, I am not sure which category I would be in. I find myself sort of fitting into two of these categories? Obliger and Upholder. How am I meant to know which one I am?

    • gretchenrubin

      Can you keep an expectation that you impose on yourself, without accountability to anyone else? Do you feel the same pressure to keep your promises to yourself as you do your promises to others? If so, you’re an Upholder.

  • Thinker

    Why do you not have someone who meets inner expectations, but not outer ones?

    • gretchenrubin

      That’s a Questioner – they turn all expectations into inner expectations.