From the #1 bestselling author Gretchen Rubin
They say there are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who don’t.
I’m definitely the first kind. My great interest is human nature, and I constantly search for patterns to identify what we do and why we do it.
I’ve spent years studying happiness and habits, and it has become obvious to me that there’s no magic, one-size-fits-all answer for building a happier, healthier, more productive life. Different strategies work for different people—in fact, what works for one person may be the very opposite of what works for someone else. Some people are morning people; some are night people. Some do better when they abstain from a strong temptation; others, when they indulge in moderation. Some people love simplicity; some thrive in abundance.
And not only that. As I pondered my friend’s observation about her running habit (“I want to get myself in the habit of running, but I can’t, and it really bothers me.”), I sensed that deep below the “night people vs. morning people” sorts of differences, there existed some kind of bedrock distinction that shaped people’s natures—something profound, but also bold and obvious— that nevertheless eluded my vision.
To help figure out what I was missing, I posed a number of questions to readers of my website, including: “How do you feel about New Year’s resolutions?” “Do you observe traffic regulations—why or why not?” “Would you ever sign up to take a class for fun?” As readers’ responses poured in, I saw that distinct patterns were threaded through the various answers. It was almost weird—as though groups of people had agreed to answer from the same script.
For instance, about New Year’s resolutions, a subset of people gave virtually identical answers: “I’ll keep a resolution if it’s useful, but I won’t start on New Year’s Day, because January 1 is an arbitrary date.” They all used that word: “arbitrary.” I was intrigued by this specific word choice because the arbitrariness of the January 1 date had never bothered me. Yet these people were all giving the same answer—what did they have in common?
And many people answered, “I don’t make New Year’s resolutions anymore because I never manage to keep them—I never make time for myself.”
Another group said, “I never make resolutions because I don’t like to bind myself.”
There was some meaningful design here, I knew it, but I just couldn’t quite see it.
After months of reflection, I had my eureka moment. As I sat at my desk in my home office, I happened to glance at my messy handwritten to-do list—and suddenly it hit me. The simple, decisive question was: “How do you respond to expectations?” I’d found it!
I was sitting still, but my mind was racing forward with thoughts about expectations. I grasped at that moment that we all face two kinds of expectations:
– Outer expectations—expectations others place on us, like meeting a work deadline
– Inner expectations—expectations we place on ourselves, like keeping a New Year’s resolution
And here was my crucial insight: Depending on a person’s response to outer and inner expectations, that person falls into one of four distinct types:
– Upholders respond readily to both outer expectations and inner expectations
– Questioners question all expectations; they meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified, so in effect, they respond only to inner expectations
– Obligers respond readily to outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations
– Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike
It was that simple. With just one single, straightforward question, all of humanity sorted itself into these categories.
Now I understood why my friend had trouble forming the habit of running: She was an Obliger. When she’d had a team and a coach expecting her, she had no trouble showing up; when she faced her own inner expectations, she struggled. I understood those repetitious comments about New Year’s resolutions. And I understood much, much more.
The Four Tendencies framework clarified the striking patterns of behavior I’d perceived, and I was able to make sense of what everyone else had seen—but no one else had noticed.
When I mapped the complete system on a sheet of paper, in four symmetrical overlapping circles, my framework showed the elegance of a fern frond or a nautilus shell. I truly felt that I’d uncovered a law of nature: human nature. Or maybe I’d created something more like a Muggle Sorting Hat.
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