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:
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:
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.
Six years ago, my family unknowingly set ourselves on a journey toward starting a children’s clothing company.
It didn’t start with a business plan, it started with a single choice — a simple “no”.
On April 25th, 2013, the four of us — me, my husband, & our two daughters — were sitting together at the table, eating lunch. The news was on, which, in hindsight, was really unusual; we are not typically TV watchers, especially during a mealtime. I don't remember why the TV was on, but I do remember getting out of my chair, picking up my daughter, and walking closer to the television.
I received a big shipment of blankets a few weeks ago, and on Instagram I posted this photo of me with the pallet of 16 large boxes towering over me.
Subsequently, I received several DM questions about when the new blankets would be added to the site. The answer is not now but also always — both are true!
This seemed like a good time to give you all a tour into our dignify back room to explain more of how we make this colorful business work.
I've joked for many years that I think of parenting as "a slow death to self".
The death to self part (or maybe, less dramatically, a minimizing of self) is obvious : as a parent, your own "needs" & desires shuffle down a little lower on the list of importance when you have a dependent. (With the notable exception of that oxygen mask on an airplane, where I'm told you're supposed to put yours on first!).
The "slow" part is maybe a bit more arguable... When a child arrives in a parent's life, things change pretty quickly! But, in my experience, it has overall been a slow process of giving myself up for others, with acute times of change that are particularly noticeable.