We all have different personalities. In improving our study habits and becoming more effective students, what works for one person may be the very opposite of what works for someone else. I recently read the book Four Tendencies by Gretchen Ruben. In it, she describes four personality tendencies and how they interact with the world. In this post, I’ll help you determine your personality tendency type and empower you with the tools that are most effective for you.
THE FOUR TENDENCIES
First, let’s briefly go over the Four Tendencies. However, to accurately assess yourself, check out the Four Tendencies Quiz and The Four Tendencies Book. After taking the quiz, let us know your Tendency in the comments!
Unlike other personality frameworks like Meyers Briggs, Enneagram, StrengthsFinder, and others, the Four Tendencies Framework doesn’t cram several elements into each category. Instead, the Four Tendencies focus on just one narrow aspect of a person’s character – why we act and why we don’t act. While we know its tremendously difficult to change our nature, the Four Tendencies provide us with the tools to change our circumstances in a way that suits us.
There are four categories, or tendencies: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. These categories are based off the premise of expectations – specifically, how one responds to internal and external expectations. Outer expectations are those outside of your control, such as homework, deadlines, tests, and requests from others. Inner expectations are those you create yourself, such as promising yourself to exercise 5 times per week, limiting TV time, or creating weekly YouTube videos. ?
Upholders respond readily to both outer expectations and inner expectations.
Questioners 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.
Gretchen uses a joke to illustrate her point: “How do you get an Upholder to change a lightbulb? He’s already changed it. How do you get a Questioner to change a lightbulb? Why do we need that lightbulb anyway? How do you get an Obliger to change a lightbulb? Ask him to change it. How do you get a Rebel to change a lightbulb? Do it yourself.”
Obligers are the most common tendency at 41% of the population, followed by Questioner at 24%, then Upholders at 19%, and last Rebels at 17%.
Next, let’s go over each tendency.
Hermione Granger from Harry Potter
Again, Upholders are those that respond to both inner and outer expectations. They love schedules and routines. They like to know what’s expected of them, and they don’t like making mistakes or letting people down – including themselves. Upholders find it easy to form habits.
In terms of strengths, they are very self-directed and have little trouble meeting deadlines, managing tasks, and fulfilling commitments. They love discipline, and it doesn’t make them feel trapped. Instead, it makes them feel creative and free, because they can execute any plan they want. Their self-motivation and reliability is second to none.
Upholders can bee too rigid, feeling compelled to follow rules even when it’s more sensible to ignore them. They can be disapproving, judgmental, and uneasy when others misbehave, even in minor ways. Flexibility and adaptability are often lacking. They can seem humorless, uptight, and impatient. They hate screwing up, so defensiveness and hostility may arise when they’ve made a mistake.
As a Student (& Study Habits)
The rigidity of Upholders may lead them to spend their time ineffectively. They may feel compelled to read the entirety of every textbook chapter, versus approaching more efficient means of information transfer. Check out the Truth About Speed Reading for tips on how to actually read faster. They also have trouble delegating responsibilities, which often results in them doing most of the work in group projects. If you’re an Upholder, be cognizant of your tendency toward rigidity and remind yourself to question your way of studying. Even if it is what the professor said, or feels right, or seems like the correct thing to do, see if there’s a way to improve. Resist the urge to do something for the sole reason that you feel like you’re supposed to.
Questioners meet only inner expectations, which includes outer expectations that they’ve deemed important and turned into inner expectations. They are committed to information, logic, and efficiency. They love improving processes. The Questioner is the person that takes extensive time researching products before choosing the best one, or the one that spends countless hours researching what the best diet or exercise regimen is to most efficiently get into shape. If you’re questioning the entire Four Tendency premise, you’re probably a Questioner.
Questioners are data-driven, evidence-based, fair-minded, and interested in creating and improving systems that are efficient and effective. They’re willing to play devil’s advocate and critically examine both sides of an argument.
Their constant questioning can be tiresome, draining, and obstructive. Questioners may also suffer from analysis-paralysis, where their desire for more research and perfect information can hold them back from making decisions and acting. Because they are great at questioning, Questioners can easily find rationale for avoiding an expectation or breaking a good habit. Their ability to find loopholes results in them shooting themselves in the foot. It also can keep them from listening to sound advice, like when Steve Jobs opted for alternative treatments for his pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor – the type of pancreatic cancer that is very treatable with western medicine.
As a Student (& Study Habits)
I see two pitfalls with Questioner students. First, over-deliberation. Avoid the urge to dig deeper, and rather remind yourself to focus on the ultimate aim. Sometimes taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture will help you achieve your academic goals. Second, you probably are irked by the seemingly meaningless busy work or assignments with seemingly little value. Questioning your assignments and tests does little in helping you get good grades and get into medical school. Instead, focus on the second order of reason. “Yes, this assignment is pure busy work, and it’s a waste of my time, but I want to earn my professor’s respect and get a killer letter of recommendation. My ultimate goal justifies doing it his way.”
Questioners can motivate themselves to change habits by framing behavior change as an experiment. This approach appeals to the Questioner’s desire to gather information, customize, and optimize.
Obligers readily meet outer expectations from others, but struggle to meet inner expectations they want to impose on themselves. External accountability is huge for Obligers. In this sense, they will meet deadlines, keep promises, and follow through for others.
Obligers are the rock – the ones people can count on. They are great leaders, team members, friends, and family members. They put others ahead of themselves and a result, they are incredibly dependable and responsible. Of all Tendency types, Obligers tend to get along most easily with other Tendencies.
Their weakness is their strength, which is that they put others ahead of themselves. Obligers struggle to follow through for themselves even though they’re great at following through for others. Whether it’s exercising, studying more every day, saying no to friends on a Friday night, they often fail. By not taking care of themselves, they are susceptible to overwork and burnout. If the burden of outer expectations becomes too much, Obligers may go into “Obliger-rebellion”, where they snap and refuse to meet an expectation any more. This can be small and symbolic, or large and destructive.
As a Student (& Study Habits)
To stay on track, Obligers have a secret weapon. Accountability. The way accountability is most effectively implemented will vary from Obliger to Obliger. For most, it will be in the form of one or more accountability partners who can best help them with positive reinforcement in the form of praise and encouragement. Reminders, on the other hand, may feel like nagging, which may trigger Obliger-rebellion.
Because finding a reliable accountability partner is difficult among friends and family, Obligers may do better with a professional. For example, personal trainers can be great accountability partners for your fitness goals. For studying, seeking a professional mentor or tutor, like the ones offered by Med School Insiders, can radically improve your effectiveness and grades. To learn more about how accountability can help you, view our services.
Rebels resist all expectations, both inner and outer. The ability to choose freely is of utmost importance to them. Sometimes they’ll even make a choice against their own self-interest, just to reassure themselves that they’re able to have the freedom to choose. They love to defy customs and conventions. Rebels believe in their own uniqueness, sometimes to the point of arrogance. When a Rebel finds his or her cause, then that becomes their master and they can accomplish anything. Rebels are the ones that were looking forward to surprising you by completing a certain task, but the minute you asked them to do it, they lost all interest in doing it.
The Rebel dislike of constraint can be a positive force, empowering them to resist smoking, junk food, alcohol, and any other addictive and toxic habit that begins to feel confining and controlling. They’re independent-minded, able to think outside the box, and unswayed by conventional wisdom. They’re usually in touch with their authentic desires.
Their rebellious nature makes them often uncooperative, inconsiderate, and restless. They have difficulty accomplishing tasks that need to be done consistently and the same way each time. They struggle with routines and planning.
As a Student (& Study Habits)
Student rebels perform better when they are able to frame actions in terms of their own choice, freedom, and self-expression instead of constraint and duty. Telling yourself “I must do X” will not be as effective as “It’s up to me, of course, but doing X is often effective.”
If you tell them they can’t do something, they may respond with “I’ll show you” or “Watch me”. For example, “This class is hard, I don’t think you can get an A in it. Your first quiz was a B-. Maybe you should give up trying.” This statement may fire up a Rebel to prove you wrong, and may surprise both you and themself.
Now the natural question you may have is “which Tendency is the best?” The answer to that is simple. There is no best Tendency. As you have now learned, each tendency has its own unique characteristics which both contribute its strengths and weaknesses. The key, rather, is learning to exploit your Tendency to your benefit, maximizing your strengths and working around your weaknesses. You are now armed with the tools to work around your weaknesses. Go implement!