If you’ve ever wondered why some people get more things done, it may not have anything to do with their supply of willpower. They’re probably tapping into inner tendencies that motivate them to act, says Gretchen Rubin, author of The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too).
“After [I wrote] The Happiness Project where I made resolutions to follow habits people often asked me, ‘How did you get yourself to do those things?'” says Rubin. “I would think, ‘What do you mean? I knew these things would make me happier so I did them. It’s not that hard.'”
The idea that tendencies might be innate really hit home for Rubin when she was talking to a friend who wanted to make time to work out. “She said, ‘I know I’m happier when I exercise. When I was in school on the track team I never missed practice. Now I’m finding it hard to run,'” recalls Rubin. “At one time it was easy for her, but now she wants to do it and can’t find the motivation. What was the crucial difference?”
Through research for her previous books, Rubin realized people fall into one of four distinct tendencies: obliger, questioner, rebel, and upholder. Each has a distinct impact on how you become motivated to accomplish tasks and goals.
Identify your tendency by understanding how you respond to expectations. Are you inner driven, outer driven or neither? You can take Rubin’s online quiz to learn your tendency, but you might recognize yourself based on their traits. Here’s how you can use your inner tendency to be more productive and accomplish your goals:
Obligers easily meet outer expectations. They deliver projects on time when someone else is counting on them, but they struggle with inner expectations, such as setting personal resolutions. They become discouraged when trying to adopt new habits because they’ve tried and failed in the past.
“Obligers need outer accountability to meet inner expectations,” says Rubin. “They do well with deadlines and team supervision. Workplaces have that all over the place.”
If you’re an obliger who is in a work environment that promotes autonomy or if you work for yourself, however, you’ll have to create that accountability, says Rubin. Tell a coworker or boss the deadlines you set for yourself. Find an accountability buddy and set daily or weekly goals, checking in with each other. Take a class and sign up with a friend who will be annoyed you don’t show up. Or think of yourself as a role model for others.
“Obligers often think they need to move out of this tendency and become inner driven, but that’s not necessary,” says Rubin. “There are hundreds of ways to build outer accountability, and that’s what obligers need.”
Questioners question all expectations. They want to know why they should do something because they have a deep commitment to logic and efficiency.
“Questioners have a hard time making decisions because they want more information,” says Rubin. “They need reasons and justifications to be motivated. If they are at work and feel something’s dumb, they won’t do it.”
This tendency can be accused of being disrespectful or not being a team player because they seem like they’re trying to undermine authority. “Some workplaces reword questioning and some don’t,” says Rubin. “Questioners need to learn how to ask questions in constructive way.”
If you’re a questioner, motivate yourself by avoiding analysis paralysis. “Give yourself a deadline,” says Rubin. “It’s not efficient to keep researching. For example, ‘I’ll give myself to Friday to find an answer,’ or, ‘I’ll interview five candidates.’ As much as you’d like to know more and more, it’s not efficient.”
Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner. They do what they want to do in the way and when they want to do it, acting from a source of freedom, choice, and self-expression. When someone else tries to get a rebel to do something, they resist.
“Identity is so important to the rebel,” says Rubin. “For example, a rebel might resist going to a 10 a.m. staff meeting because they hate being told where to go and when to show up.”
If you’re a rebel, remind yourself of the reputation you’re setting or the goals you want to accomplish. “Say, ‘If I don’t go to that meeting, they’ll think I’m irresponsible,’ or ‘I won’t know that thing I want to learn,'” says Rubin.
Rebels also tend to enjoy meeting challenges, such as finishing a project by an ambitious deadline or holding a friendly competition to outperform other members of your group. They also love defying expectations, proving others wrong.
Upholders are good at meeting inner and outer expectations. They meet deadlines, thrive under rules and expectations, and keep resolutions without too much of a problem. Rubin is an upholder, which is why she had an easy time completing her Happiness Project.
While this tendency sounds like productivity perfection, one of an upholder’s issues is that they can be seen as rigid, having a hard time switching gears when circumstances change. They also struggle when they’re in a work environment that has an emphasis on flexibility.
“In some organizations, a manager might say, ‘Listen, you do whatever you need to make that sale,'” says Rubin. “That’s great for a rebel, but an upholder wants to know what the right way is. If there is a rule, they don’t break it.”
If you’re an upholder, you thrive under routines and schedules. You can do what you want to do once you decide, says Rubin.
“Our tendency shapes every aspect of our behavior, so understanding this framework lets us make better decisions, meet deadlines, suffer less stress and burnout, and engage more effectively,” she says. “The four tendencies explain why we act and why we don’t act.”