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A habit expert says people come in 4 types -- and figuring out yours is the first step to being happier

Four friendsImprov at the Physick Estate/Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0Find a habit-forming strategy that will work for you.

When you start asking questions about the best strategies for self-improvement, there’s one frustrating sentence you’ll hear over and over again: “It depends.”

It can sound like a cop-out, but in reality, there’s no one, blanket technique that will help everyone lose weight, start exercising, be more productive, and spend more time with their family.

It depends — on things like your personality, your upbringing, and your biological predispositions.

Few people know that better than Gretchen Rubin, the bestselling author of multiple books on happiness and habits, including, most recently, “Better Than Before.” But — and this is a big but — Rubin has taken “it depends” one step further, by giving people specific strategies that will work for them based on their specific personality type.

She calls it the “Four Tendencies” framework, and when she visited the Business Insider offices in April for a Facebook Live interview, she broke it down for us.

Pretty much everyone, Rubin said, falls into one of four categories. There’s a quiz on Rubin’s website that can help you figure out which one applies to you — but Rubin said most people can tell which type they are just by hearing the brief descriptions of each one.

The Four Tendencies are based largely on how you respond to both outer and inner expectations. Here’s how it works:

Upholders generally meet both inner and outer expectations, meaning they don’t let others or themselves down.

Rubin said she’s an upholder — for example, she wakes up every single day at 6 a.m. and likes to work in the same places around her neighbourhood.

Upholders usually have an easier time forming habits than other people do, but they can still struggle.

Questioners only meet inner expectations. They push back against — and question — all expectations. Above all, they only do something if they think it makes sense; they hate anything arbitrary.

As Rubin writes in “Better Than Before,” questioners “resist rules for rules’s sake.” She adds: “Questioners often remark, ‘I can keep a resolution if I think it’s important, but I wouldn’t make a New Year’s resolution, because January first is a meaningless date.'”
Obligers meet outer expectations, but not always inner ones. In other words, they usually need some form of external accountability.

Maybe that means taking a class with mandatory homework assignments; or maybe it means joining a sports team with regular practice sessions.

Rebels resist both inner and outer expectations. They value authenticity and self-determination.

As Rubin noted, if you ask a Rebel to do something, the Rebel will likely resist — which can be frustrating for the person asking.

Rubin has found that most people fall into the Obliger category. Rebel tends to be the smallest group.

Once you’ve figured out which Tendency best describes you, you can pinpoint habit-forming strategies that will work for you. For example, an Obliger might want to find a workout buddy who meets them at the gym every morning — the prospect of disappointing that buddy might be enough motivation to work out.

Knowing someone else’s Tendency is equally useful, because you can frame the habit you want them to start in a way that’s compelling to them.

“If you’re trying to change a habit — like you’re trying to exercise more — or you’re trying to get someone else to do something — like turn in a report on time — it’s really helpful to know their Tendencies,” Rubin said. “Because then you know what button to push.”

Watch the full interview here:

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