When I first heard of The 4 Tendencies Framework on Gretchen Rubin’s podcast Happier and book Better Than Before, my mind was blown. (Gretchen Rubin would later publish a book on the framework, aptly named The Four Tendencies.)
Fun fact about me: I belong to the category of people who loves categorizing people – not because I believe we can be boxed in, but because I believe personality types, categorizations, and frameworks tell us where we’re starting from if we want to grow.
I’ve been blogging about goal-setting, passion projects, and productivity as a way to live happier, more fulfilled lives, so one thing I realized? Gretchen Rubin’s 4 Tendencies framework was one of the best ones to help me support my findings, especially because it’s so freaking simple yet so incredibly profound.
Keep reading because, in this post, I’ll tell you more about the 4 tendencies that my personal hero Gretchen Rubin has observed, as well as a few tips for each tendency to keep in mind when starting and managing a personal passion project.
What is Gretchen Rubin’s 4 Tendencies Framework?
In a nutshell, the 4 Tendencies Framework tells us how we individually respond to “rules” or expectations. Gretchen Rubin defines two kinds of expectations: outer and inner expectations. The quick difference:
- Outer expectations or rules: expectations set by other people (favors from friends, deliverables from colleagues, expectations from coaches, etc.)
- Inner expectations or rules: expectations we set for ourselves (resolutions, new habits, new projects, etc.)
The tendencies each differ in the way that we respond to these expectations, and Gretchen Rubin has observed these four: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels.
Here’s a quick rundown of each:
the four tendencies
- Readily meets inner and outer expectations alike
- Real-life example: Your college roommate who had no problems keeping a gym routine, getting straight As (because she wanted to) and heading all kinds of organizations and activities.
- Readily meets inner expectations and needs to turn all outer expectations into inner expectations
- Real-life example: Your best friend who always asks why something needs to be done before they do it, even if it’s a super simple favor like taking care of your dog while you’re on vacation. (Fun fact: I’m a Questioner myself!)
- Readily meets outer expectations and needs to turn all inner expectations into outer expectations
- Real-life example: Your co-worker at the office who is quick to say yes to new projects and personal favors but seems to struggle with her personal resolutions to stop eating sweets or write her book during her spare time.
- Readily rejects inner and outer expectations alike
- Real-life example: Your sister who can’t seem to stick to her personal goal of redecorating her entire room but also won’t stay accountable to your mom and your dad who try to get her to follow through.
These examples, of course, are only a small part of an entire person’s likelihood of belonging to a particular Tendency. After all, there are many Questioners, for example, who might seem like Upholders to you, or even Rebels who seem like Upholders, or Obligers who seem like Questioners, etc.
There’s so much to cover about each Tendency that I can’t possibly describe comprehensively in a single blog post, but you can take Gretchen Rubin’s free quiz to find out what your tendency is – if it isn’t obvious just by reading the descriptions, that is!
Once you know which Tendency you belong to, we’re off to a good start. A lot of people ask me how they can follow through and complete passion projects – I understand why: they’re a little trickier because of their nature of being personal projects, and not school projects or work projects which can be easier to stick to.
So I’m using Gretchen Rubin’s framework as a guide to provide personalized tips for each Tendency.
Keep reading because, below, I’ve compiled a few actionable tips for how each Tendency can better manage their own personal passion projects.
Tips to Manage a Personal Passion Project using Gretchen Rubin’s Framework
self-knowledge comes before self-mastery.
Tips for Upholders
1. Upholders may tend to feel uneasy when the “rules” aren’t clear. Set SMART goals for your passion project so expectations are clear right from the get-go. Learn more about how to set clear and effective SMART goals for your passion project here.
2. Upholders may tend to over-commit. Create a vision board that helps you know exactly what Mission Accomplished looks like to keep from getting side-tracked by shiny side goals or “nice to have” goals in your passion project.
3. Break down your passion project into actionable, achievable milestones. More about ways to make goals more manageable here.
4. Schedule time in to work on your passion project. Here's how you can create a productive schedule using Google Calendar.
Tips for Questioners
1. Use the 5-Why Test to know why it’s important that you follow through on your passion project. Learn more about what, why, and how to do the 5-why test here.
2. Like Upholders, set SMART goals for your passion project – but instead of avoiding the risk of over-committing, creating a system may appeal to a Questioner’s interest in efficiency and effectiveness. Read about how to set clear and effective passion project SMART goals here.
3. When deciding on major aspects for your passion project, set a time limit. I recommend using the Pomodoro technique for this. For example, deciding on a color scheme for your website should only take you half an hour instead of a week of back-and-forths. Practice commitment and being okay with imperfection! Read more about Pomodoros for productivity here.
Tips for Obligers
1. Because a personal passion project may be a big inner expectation for Obligers, the number one tip: accountability! Join accountability groups for people with the same or similar passion projects to keep accountable to yourself.
2. Commit to sharing weekly progress updates on your passion project to friends and family. By having some form of accountability, Obligers can stick to their passion project goals better. You can put this task on your calendar. Read more about creating a productive routine using Google Calendar.
3. Think about some actual ways accomplishing your passion project will help someone else. Perhaps that YouTube channel on baking can help aspiring bakers, or by starting a side hustle, you know it’s because you want to save money faster so you and your fiancé can enjoy a nice wedding.
Tips for Rebels
1. Understand why this passion project helps your identity. A Rebel who considers themselves as creative and helpful person, for example, can stick to blogging thrice a week if they believe that constantly writing is one of the best ways that keeps them creative and helpful (i.e. for their readers or audience).
2. Do the Information-Consequences-Choice sequence. Give yourself information about doing this passion project (or task for this passion project) or not, get to know the consequences of doing or not doing – for example, blogging three times a week will most likely get you in front of a bigger audience, while not blogging...won’t – and then feel free to choose.
3. Stay true to you. Rebels put high value on their sense of identity, so if you’re a Rebel, just be proud that you’re doing what you feel is right for you.
Use Self-Knowledge for Self-Mastery
Know yourself to master yourself.
I love Gretchen Rubin’s 4 Tendencies framework so much because it gives us a peek into our an aspect of our personality.
The level of self-knowledge that this framework gives doesn’t just stop at knowing our type – you actually want to know exactly what your Tendency entails and what to do about them.
If you’ve been on this blog for a while, you’ll know I’m a huge nerd and believer that self-knowledge is one of the keys to better self-mastery.
Or as creator and author of the framework and book The Four Tendencies, Gretchen Rubin herself tells us, “Know yourself to master yourself.”