The Four Tendencies and the Power of Coaching

Note: this is part 3 of our ongoing series on Habits & the Power of Coaching. Read part 1 here and part 2 here.


In the third installment of this series, we examine The Four Tendencies, created by Gretchen Rubin, for creating habits. Gretchen is a four-time New York Times best selling author of The Happiness Project where she spent a year thinking about happiness and setting up networks of like-minded people pursuing happiness. Her work focuses on habits and what makes people happy.

The Four Tendencies

Before we get any further, let’s briefly outline The Four Tendencies framework. In this framework, Gretchen describes four types of people, broken down by how they respond to expectations (both inner and outer):

  1. Upholders. Upholders meet inner and outer expectations readily. They love rules, always have a clear plan, and are self-motivated and disciplined. They struggle in an environment that lacks structure.

  2. Questioners. As skeptics, questioners meet their own expectations, but resist outer ones. Questioners need to see purpose and reason in anything they do. Clarity as to why they should do something is all-important.

  3. Obligers. This is the most common type. Obligers love satisfying other people’s expectations, but struggle in prioritizing their own. Being held accountable by a friend, coach, or boss helps them a lot.

  4. Rebels. This category defies both inner and outer expectations. Freedom to choose feels most compelling to rebels. They want to be challenged, but not pressured into doing things.

If you’re interested in seeing which category you fall into, take this short quiz.

When it comes to creating new habits or changes in old habits, it is helpful to know how we respond to inner and outer expectations. When you understand which category you fall into, you can adjust your environment to better suit your tendencies. This process of reflection bearing out awareness is the first step in creating any habit.

How Coaching Supports the Four Tendencies

Personality tests are often scrutinized because our personalities can change over time. I also believe our personalities might change depending upon the situation. Therefore, the reproducibility of the test can vary depending on the surrounding circumstances. Ultimately, the purpose of using a personality test for habit change is not to give someone a label. It is to create an opportunity to explore whether incorporating the strategy increases your likelihood of success. If it works for you, this is a powerful tool! If it doesn’t, we cross this off the list and try another resource.  

Let’s look at physicians as an example. Most physicians fit the tendency of Obligers. As an Obliger, habits that relate to better service to others tend to be much easier to implement. If it creates efficiency and better patient care, the rewards are fantastic. However, the Obliger struggles to meet internal expectations. Being held accountable from a close colleague or coach can increase the odds of success for creating those healthy habits that seem to impact the Obliger most. It can also be very helpful to show the Obliger why the seemingly selfish habits are in fact unselfish because they meet the outer expectations of their friends, family, and patients indirectly (especially over time).


Take this The Four Tendencies Quiz and then consider how this might impact the most effective way to end old habits and begin new habits that are positive and create sustainability. We invite you to mail us what you found out! What is YOUR tendency? Did you reinforce what you already thought? Or was it different than you expected? Let us know your habit change, motivations, situational factors, and how it is going for you. Our team will follow-up with coaching questions to aid your self-inquiry. Your comments in private or on social media will also add to the conversations that we all need to be having.


Harnessing the Power of Surgeon Coaching

Working hand-in-hand with a coach can significantly increase your ability to create and maintain healthy habits. At SurgeonMasters, we offer coaching services to surgeons in all specialties. Let us help you create healthier habits and a more lifestyle-friendly surgical practice.

Want to learn more about surgeon coaching, perhaps to do a little of this on the side? Sign up for our inaugural training program on January 20, 2019 at the Kona Kai Resort & Spa in San Diego.