Does Knowing Your Personality Style Give You More Motivation? A Book Review of “The Four Tendencies” by Gretchen Rubin

I‘ve always been fascinated by what makes a person “tick.” Why do they do what they do? Many of us are aware of personality tests often used by companies and organizations, such as the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) or the DiSC Behavior Inventory. Employers often use these assessments to help them hire a candidate whose character traits are best suited for a specific position. The pre-employment testing is designed to reveal aspects of a candidate’s personality and estimate the likelihood that they will excel in such a position. (TopResume

While these tests may help determine behavior and personality, does it give enough information about what will motivate the new employee once they get the job? Does leadership continue to use this information to spur employee motivation?  

One author’s investigation into human nature recognized that we could gain much more self-knowledge about ourselves by asking the question, “How do I respond to expectations?” Understanding our tendency gives us a framework to help us “make better decisions, meet deadlines, suffer less stress and burnout, and engage more effectively.” (author)

“The Four Tendencies” by Gretchen Rubin is a fascinating look into four different personality types. However, these aren’t just more labels. Instead, it gives insight into what helps us make lasting change and live a more “happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative life.”


Rubin discovered four significant tendencies and named them: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. Her breakdown of these tendencies provides information on how we will meet inner (our own) expectations or outer (or others) expectations.

The Upholder

For instance, an Upholder can meet both inner and outer expectations. This tendency says, “Discipline is my freedom.” They will readily make a work deadline or keep New Year’s resolutions without much fuss. They want to do what others expect of them, and their expectations for themselves are just as important. Upholders love routines, schedules, can easily create new habits and find it relatively easy to act and follow through. (Rubin, p. 27-28)

The Obliger

An Obliger can more easily meet expectations from others rather than their own inner expectations. This tendency says, “You can count on me, and I’m counting on you to count on me.” They better respond to external accountability but struggle with meeting expectations they want to impose on themselves. The best way they can meet their own inner expectations is if they create outer responsibility. (Rubin, p. 102) For instance, the Obliger may find it difficult to follow through on a resolve to walk 20 minutes every day, but if a friend acts as an accountability partner and walks with the Obliger calls to ask if they did their walk, the Obliger will tend to follow through. 

The Questioner

The Questioner meets their own inner expectations but will often resist outer expectations.  Their tendency says, “I’ll comply – if you convince me why.” This tendency shows a deep commitment to information, logic, and efficiency. They want to gather their own facts and decide for themselves. Questioners will act with good reason; they object to anything they consider arbitrary, ill-reasoned, ill-informed, or ineffective. In the workplace, the Questioner will move forward once all questions are answered, and they are convinced that the plan works. (Rubin, p. 61)  

The Rebel

Finally, the Rebel will resist both inner and outer expectations because their tendency says, “You can’t make me, and neither can I.” They can bring great strengths to work because of their willingness to think outside the box. Rebels can thrive at work when work aligns with their aims. They can also be very productive, but only if they are allowed to do the job in their own way. They prefer to work independently; the less supervision, the better. Ironically, Rebels still need structure to push against. (Rubin, p. 183-184) 

Just from these definitions, you may have discovered something about the people with whom you work.  As a supervisor or manager, knowing the tendencies of the people you direct will help you understand what motivates them to do their best work. It may also help with deciding what projects or jobs work best with which employees’ tendencies. 

But how will recognizing our tendencies motivate us in our everyday life, not just at work?  Learning how you will respond to expectations, inner or outer, can work in all aspects of our lives.  

Examples of the 4 Tendencies in my family

For instance, I am an Obliger. I do my best writing and blogging if I have outer accountability, such as a blog challenge or other appointed deadlines. It is my nature not to disappoint others, so I will meet outer obligations more easily for this reason. I have good intentions by making a to-do list, but I can get distracted by relying on my own will to get the items done. Instead, I have had better success with setting reminders on my phone. When it dings, I know to complete that task. I created accountability because I must mark the job as finished, or my phone continues to chime. When it comes to appointments, it may take me forever to make one, but I have no problem making the appointment once it is scheduled. 

Questioners may not have a problem finishing their to-do list. They already know why those tasks are essential, and they are in control of that list. They prioritize those things for which they have all the information to proceed. My youngest son sways toward this tendency. As a homeschooling high school senior, he does his schoolwork independently. However, to make sure he has all the information before starting something, he will ask me several questions. He may also spend more time researching than doing. He does not like to have his schedule interrupted; once he is ready to work, he wants to work in his own order. While this may be meeting his own expectations, he tends to miss my schoolwork deadlines, as those are outer expectations.    

The Rebel simply does not like to be told what to do or how to do it. However, while they do not want to be micromanaged, they also need a system to fight against; otherwise, they may not accomplish much. My oldest is a Rebel. At 23, he wants to do things his own way and learns best by natural consequences. He is more easily motivated when asked multiple questions about what he plans to do, rather than being told, “If I were you, I’d do this.” Once he gets a question he cannot answer, he will review his plan, often making a better choice. He does not mind going to work since his job is at night, and therefore, does not have a supervisor watching his every move. Once he learns a job, he does it well in order not to be micromanaged.   

An Upholder meets expectations easily. While this may seem like the ideal tendency, it is actually a smaller percentage of people. While they find it easy to decide, act, and follow through, it’s not that easy for other tendencies. Upholders are often surprised why people don’t think as they do. They may not see that other people are inconvenienced by their moving ahead to finish their tasks. My husband is an Upholder. He doesn’t need much to motivate him because he is driven by his to-do list and innate ability to always do his best in everything he does. However, Upholders may tend to overfill their plates and want to do more than what is possible. They may often wish others wouldn’t depend on them so much, and they can get burned out or become frustrated when unable to accomplish what they want.

Can knowing your Tendency motivate you? 

So how does knowing your personality style motivate you?  First, knowing your tendencies’ strengths and weaknesses is to understand why you do what you do. With this knowledge, you have an incredible tool that will be motivating as you better manage your day-to-day routines and your energy. You can recognize when you feel out of sorts and how to deal with it. Identifying how you manage expectations can motivate you once you determine what situations allow you to perform at your best. Most importantly, by understanding others’ personality traits (at work and at home), you can better respond to others’ needs and build stronger partnerships which will motivate them.  

To identify your tendencies, take the free online test at Gretchen Rubin’s website. There you can find out more about “The Four Tendencies” book, her other books, and podcast.  

If you take the test, comment below the results (if you wish) and if you think it correctly identified you. 

Disclosure: As an Amazon Affiliate, there may be links in this post, which if you click through and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission that helps support this blog. You are in no way obligated to use these links.

5 responses to “Does Knowing Your Personality Style Give You More Motivation? A Book Review of “The Four Tendencies” by Gretchen Rubin”

  1. I loved Florence Littauer. I went to one of her trainings – more than 20 years ago. It was such fun. I'm probably a rebel because I do not usually take personality tests. I don't like trying to fit into a box. LOLOL

  2. Well, what fun! I have seen many personality systems, but this is the first I've seen based on how much you want to please or rebel. I'm sure I've dated several rebels, who had to imagine I had expressed certain things so they could rebel against those things. Not! Thanks for sharing this great way of looking at personality.

  3. Awesome post! I took that quiz at some point, and I think I am probably a Rebel. But I was an only child for the first ten years of my life, so I have a generous dose of Obliger, too.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: