The Enneagram is super popular right now as a typology of nine interconnected personality types. I am familiar with the Enneagram and while it hasn’t been a particularly impactful tool for me personally, I value the depth of the insight and the common language it provides.
Similarly, Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies framework provides definition and a vernacular to what is already present in ourselves. For me, this one has resounded like a deafening gong in my ears & in my life!
Gretchen Rubin is a writer who studies happiness, good habits, outer order, and human nature. I like that while she is a highly productive, disciplined, accomplisher (and makes improving herself & her life look EASY), she has no expectation that this is everyone’s experience.
The easy way for successful influencers & coaches is to teach: “do what I do!”, “follow my tips & you will have the same results!” But, Rubin's road is far more realistic & less guilt-inducing. She says it best:
I believe there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for becoming happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative; when we know ourselves and what works for us, we can change our habits and our lives.
She wrote a book in 2015 called Better Than Before all about habit change, calling habits "the invisible architecture of everyday life." During the process of that book, she had some eye-opening conversations, like: why does my friend, who wants to take a Saturday morning class, have such a hard time making it happen? Why do I get overburdened with things other people want me to do? Why does my brother think it's ok to totally disregard the fitting room policy of 6 items only?!
The Four Tendencies is not attempting to give definition to your entire personality or life. Instead, the focus is one narrow scope:
how do we respond to expectations?
Outer expectations & inner (self-imposed) expectations: do we meet them? Do we resist them? How does this shape our reactions, behaviors, and decision-making in life?
A rough outline of the four is as follows:
Upholder — responds readily to outer and inner expectations
Obliger — meets outer expectations, but struggles to meet expectations they self-impose
Questioner — on the opposite side of the spectrum from the Obliger; only meets an expectation if they agree or make sense of it for themselves. Effectively, all expectations need to become internal
Rebel — resists ALL the expectations, outer and inner alike
Or, here is a delightful animated short that illustrates these concepts to Gretchen's own description of the tendencies.
While the Enneagram is not deterministic (more looking at our wounds and how we have developed as a result), the 4T does claim inborn, “natural” tendencies. We are all created with a bent of how we respond to expectations.
So, these tendencies we have — the way we would automatically or naturally react to expectations — cannot be overcome or conquered so much as they can be understood, with the goal that we can work with what we have, with who we are.
I have found these insights profoundly helpful in motivating myself (especially as a self-employed person), in setting & accomplishing goals, and in relating to the other people in my household.
Does this resound with you? What is your tendency? Does it matter?
Simply for entertainment & transparency, I will share some of what I've learned about myself below.
I am a “Rebel”. Here are some of the ways that my rebel tendencies have presented themselves in my life:
As a child, I would think, “I’m going to clean my room.” Then, Mom says, “You should/need to clean your room.” My response: “Well, I wanted to clean my room, but I sure don’t now.”
This seems just like childish, petty rebellion (and I do think this is a common teenaged autonomy thing). But, I have the same, exact, internal response now if my daughter asks me to make waffles on a Saturday morning… that sense of, “ugh, this has lost all the fun since now somebody wants me to do it.”
Now knowing that my initial reaction (my natural tendency) is to bristle at others' expectations, I understand why I find my daughter's multiple requests so irritating; I'm taking a step back now to separate the annoyance from the asker. Instead, I reframe it in my mind with a question of whether or not this is something I want, to separate out expectations.
- There is no consistency, no rhyme or rhythm to my day-to-day! I've always wondered why I can't just set a reliable schedule to do the things I want. I almost always wake up early (~6am), but rarely does that hour before my household wakes look the same from one day to the next! I have parameters of my work day (school hours) and things I regularly need to do. But, setting time zones or check-ins has always felt oppressive to me.
I used to feel frustrated that I couldn't make a plan and stick to it, but now I appreciate that I can still attain goals (e.g. being active every day) without following a set routine (e.g. at 9am I exercise, following a laid-out program). My friend and I both use Beachbody for at-home workouts, and while she works her way through the programs as they've been designed, I am happier to hop around through various programs and in no set order. Totally different, but now I see why this better works for me.
- Creating something new is faaarrr more appealing to me than repairing something old. This is why I will take on an hours-long (or days-long) project to build new shelving or paint the fireplace, but the cupboard door that fell off can stay there for weeks. Something old that needs to be restored to its original state = expectations (yuck!); something new = all my own design & creation!
This is a tougher one to overcome... I'm working on it!
These are just a few examples of my Rebel tendency. Read Gretchen's book to learn more about yourself, or the people you interact with (she features sections in each Tendency regarding working with a spouse, child, or if you are a health-care worker). It may be helpful to understand how to motivate a crazy person like me, or to temper the high standards of an Upholder.