5 RFT: Row 500m 30 Wall Balls (20/14 - 10/9') 30 Box Jumps (24/20) 50 Double unders
THE FOUR TENDENCIES REVIEW
By Coach Courtney, RD
A while back, I wrote about the concept of moderators and abstainers which was introduced to me by Gretchen Rubin, the author of The Happiness Project. I recently read Rubin’s latest book, The Four Tendencies, which is a personality framework that explains how individuals respond to expectation. Rubin describes expectations as being either outer (for example, our boss at work) or inner (for example, the goals we tell ourselves we want to accomplish). Rubin believes that understanding your tendency allows you to operate more effectively but also enables you to influence the people around you.
In my work as a Registered Dietitian and a CrossFit coach, I have found myself identifying client’s actions that align with one of the four tendencies. In a consultation, a client once told me “I was successful on Weight Watchers diet. The thought of coming to the weekly meeting without having lost weight was enough to keep me on track. But for some reason I just can’t stick to a meal plan without the check-ins.” This client clearly thrived with outer expectations and accountability!
I am a firm believe that motivation is a finite resource - relying on motivation to eat better or move more is a recipe for failure. While motivation might get you started, it is your habits that keep you going. (Read Coach Jocelyn’s blog on routines found here). There is no magic “one-size fits all” to living your happiest and healthiest life. Different strategies work for different people. Some do better eating an abundance of carbs and some do better with few carbs, some do better when they abstain from a temptation whereas others thrive when they indulge moderately, and some have their best workouts at 6am whereas others won’t be seen at the gym until 7:30pm. But understanding your personality, or tendencies, provides you with the tools to build the life you want with less struggle.
The Four Tendency framework is just one of many tools to understand your personality - explaining why we act (or why we don’t act!). Rubin categorizes our responses to expectations into four categories:
Upholders who respond readily to both outer expectations and inner expectations.
Questioners who 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.
Just the other day, a member at the gym told me “I booked my Saturday morning class on Friday afternoon. I knew I wouldn’t want to sign up come Saturday morning; but I would never cancel after signing in.” Sounds like an Obliger!
I use to wonder why nutrition clients wanted to continue working with me after reaching and maintaining their nutrition goals - it is my goal to teach clients a personalized strategies so that they feel confident managing their diet on their own. But many clients tell me: “I just like the accountability. I do better knowing that you are looking over my nutrition and that I have to check-in with you weekly.” Knowing that they thrive with accountability, they can justify the service (ie. as Obligers they do well with the outer expectation of a nutrition coach).
Understanding your tendency allows you to make decisions that will assist you on the path to your goals. For example, I wanted to incorporate running into my weekly routine. I couldn’t figure out why I could be so successful hitting the daily class WODs but couldn’t motivate myself to run! After understanding The Four Tendencies, I realized I am largely an Obliger and it was the outer accountability of the daily class WOD that had allowed me to be consistent with CrossFit for over 5 years. I could cultivate the same consistency by finding myself an “accountabilibuddy” to run with. Thus, I enlisted in a running buddy who I meet every Sunday and have been consistently running with 1x per week.
Furtherrmore, recognizing the tendencies of your friends, coworkers, child, or patient falls into can help you influence them. For example, Rebels do what they want, for their own reasons. If someone tells them to do something, they are likely to resist. For example, to trigger the rebel spirit, one might say “I see you aren’t going to the gym today...” over saying “don’t you think you should go to the gym today?” Rebels prefer to think that something is their idea - so when working with rebels it is best to provide them with the information they need to make an informed choice; and alert them to the consequences of actions they may take. A dietitian may say: “Clients who consume protein at every meal tend to recover better from their workouts. We find clients who spend two hours meal prepping once per week are more successful with increasing their protein intake. If you’re interested, this handout has some high protein recipe ideas to implement into your weekly rotation.”
Questioners are inspired to taking action knowing that there is research and evidence behind their actions. In fact, Questioners are often puzzled when others are willing to act with sound reason. Questioner’s research mean that they often become resources for other people as they enjoy sharing their knowledge - they are the type of people who send a lot of articles! But their constant questioning can be frustrating (for themself and others!) as they can suffer from analysis-paralysis. They want to know all of the answers and continue their research before they take action - this halts their efforts.
A sign that reads “thank you for not smoking” would likely make a non-smoking Rebel consider lighting up a cigarette remarking “I hate the implication that because they’ve ordered me to do it. I’ll do it.”
Knowing that Questioners love research and explanations, a CrossFit coach may decide to present thorough research and evidence to justify their recommendation. It wouldn’t be enough to tell a Questioner: “you have to hook-grip the bar - it is just what we do here.” I found the perfect example of a Questioner on the CrossFit.com forum:
“For the past couple months of CrossFit, I have been using the hook grip without much question basically cause Coach Burgener says so. But like everything else, being faithful in something blindly is usually folly. So can you guys tell me what advantages the hook grip gives us as opposed to just how you would grip some rod-like thing typically (like a pull up bar for instance)?”
Instead, the Coach may back their recommendation with justification. “We recommend that you hook grip the bar because it allows for a stronger pull, you can keep the bar closer to your body, etc.....” Note: I am not a Questioner so I don’t have the definitive answer as to why we hook grip. I am an Obliger, so I’ve hooked gripped since 2012 when Coach Jocelyn at CrossFit BRIO first told me to. It was her expectation, so I didn’t question - ha!
Upholders are the magical people who readily respond to outer and inner expectation. They never miss the 6am class because their buddies are expecting them but they also follow through on their New Year’s resolution. I personally find Upholders to be fascinating. I wonder … “how do you get yourself to do all of those things?” But for an Upholder, they just do it because they know it will make them happier - they don’t require motivation or supervision from their peers.
A funny diet plan from the ‘90s serves as a great example of what would and wouldn’t work based on one’s tendency.
The diet may appeal to an Upholder who thrives with strict rules and expectations. Many Upholders wouldn’t be bothered by the quote: “must be followed exactly” whereas a Rebel would find that quote extremely annoying - and would vow to do the exact opposite. A Questioner would seek justification for the recommendations. The quote “diet works on chemical breakdown and is proved” likely wouldn’t be enough rationale for a Questioner! (But hopefully we would all question that sentence). An Obliger could succeed in following the diet - but likely only with regular follow-up and accountability from a healthcare provider or friend. This is just a funny example to show how wording can appeal to certain tendencies - priorities, education (and common sense!) would obviously factor into one's decision making process.
Take the Four Tendency quiz here or consider the question: “how would I respond to completing a to-do list?”
Upholder: would complete their own to-do list and could easily complete a to-do list provided by a spouse or coworker
Questioner: would more easily complete a to-do list they wrote themself
Obligers: would be less likely to complete their own to-do list but could easily complete a to-do list provided by someone else
Rebels would usually just ignore a to-do list.
It is important to note that we all have core values and personality traits that affect decision-making outside of these tendencies. That being said, I still believe it is worthwhile to delve into your tendency - or at least to ponder the framework Rubin outlines. Rubin believes that no tendency is good or bad. But understanding it gives you the wisdom to harness its strengths and counterbalance its negative aspects. Consider this just another hack to streamline your life!
“Learn to see yourself accurately and shape your habits to suit who you are.” - Gretchin Rubin