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What It’s Like Having a Rebel Tendency


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A few years ago I read the book “Better Than Before” by Gretchen Rubin and it really changed my perspective on my behavior and motivational patterns. My own behavior and motivational patterns had perplexed me for many years (more on that in a bit). In “Better Than Before,” Rubin lays out a framework of four motivational tendencies that people can embody. I discovered from reading “Better Than Before” that I have a Rebel Tendency. 

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Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendancies

  • Upholder – Meets Outer Expectations. Meets Inner Expectations
  • Questioner – Resists Outer Expectations. Meets Inner Expectations
  • Obliger – Meets Outer Expectations. Resists Inner Expectations
  • Rebel – Resists Outer Expectations. Resists Inner Expectations

I’m the one that resists both outer and inner expectations. I was reminded of the Four Tendencies framework recently, because there are some lifestyle changes I want to make, but honestly, these are things that I know I don’t yet fully believe I am that new person. I mean, that’s how it works, right? You recognize you want to get from point A to point B. They’re aspirational things I want to change about myself. The thing is, it turns out, that is an incredibly difficult place to be for a Rebel. I can’t tell myself “I should do that,” because then I have a knee-jerk resistance to my inner expectations. And you can’t tell me “you should do that,” because I also resist outer expectations. It is a true wonder that I ever get anything done. 

Before I discovered the Four Tendencies framework my behavior was completely baffling to me. The motivational advice that I kept coming across was to get an accountability partner or accountability group. Yet when I tried those things it was just like I was shut down. It was like what little motivation I had to work on a thing that I thought I should do was just sucked out of me as soon as it felt like I was doing it to meet the expectations of others. 

The strange thing is, I know I can be highly motivated to accomplish amazing things in a short period of time. In those moments, it feels like I’m catching lightning in a bottle. I also know that on a whim I can just drop a practice or behavior. Being able to drop or adopt things on a whim is something like a curse and a super power all rolled into one. On one hand, it feels like a curse, because I never really know how my commitment to a thing will shift over time. I have to frame things in my mind in very present-moment terms, like “I am this person right now.” On the other hand, it’s like a super power, because if something is not working, I can often “just stop” or “just start” an activity indefinitely into the future with ease. I remember as a child I used to suck my thumb. My mother and other relatives tried so many pressure tactics for years to get me to stop, but I wasn’t interested and refused to stop. Then one day I decided on my own that I don’t want to suck my thumb anymore and I just stopped, like it was never an issue to begin with. When I experience this quality it is amazing even to me. It feels like magic. It’s like this internal ON/OFF switch that I somehow magically found.

I don’t pretend to understand how it works, nor do I pretend to be able to make the magic happen at will. To me, it just feels like I somehow embody that new state of being and it just is, like it’s always been that way. However, “being something new” and “wanting to be something new” are way different experiences for me. “Being something new” is this all-in state of reality that every part of me knows just is. Yet “wanting to be something new” is a big ball of mess for me. That second state is more of a conscious awareness of trying to change and it is so fraught with fits and starts and failures. It sucks. 

Finally discovering the Four Tendencies framework and that I’m a Rebel Tendency has given me so much clarity in how best to leverage my own natural tendencies. Here are some way I’ve found to better manage my Rebel tendencies:

Managing Rebel Tendencies

  • Mindfulness: Now I can be aware when I’m having that knee-jerk pull to resist an expectation. I can then apply mindfulness practices by recognizing the pull to resist and just letting it pass without feeling like it’s something I have to follow.
  • Clarify Perspective: I can also do various meditation activities to reframe my perspective, which as a Rebel, clarifying my perspective of what kind of person I am who does this behavior makes all the difference in if I will continue or drop a behavior. I need to truly believe that “I am the kind of person…[who does this behavior].”
  • Leverage Whim: I can also leverage my tendency towards whim. I can facilitate whims that I want to engage in, like eating healthier and exercising, by making them very easy to do when I get the inkling to do them, and I can discourage other whims, without outright placing an expectation upon myself, by simply making them inconvenient to do on whim, but still maintaining the openness of choice.  
  • Micro Habits: When I carefully implement a change through small tweaks to my daily routine instead of big sweeping changes it’s easier for me to develop the perspective that “I’m the kind of person that…” does things like eats healthy, exercises, goes on a daily walk, drinks lots of water, etc. So, when starting a new exercise program, instead of making all the changes starting on day one, I ease in the changes with small, very manageable bits at a time. Once I start to see myself as the kind of person that does the small micro habit, then I layer a new micro habit on top of that one.
  • Guilt Free Break: I still enjoy being a Rebel. I enjoy my super power to stop and start things on whim. I don’t go crazy with this, because there is power in making a habit of things, but if I set a habit down for a day, week, month, or even longer, I know that I have the choice to pick it back up any time I choose to. So, I stopped getting discouraged thinking I’m “inconsistent” if I give myself a pause. It was just a pause and now I’m choosing to do this habit again. Moving on.

So, if you are totally curious about the Four Tendencies, first go take the quiz and find out your tendency type. Then read some books on it. The book I read was “Better Than Before.” However, Gretchen Rubin has since come out with “The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too).” Ok, I know, I’m totally interested in this topic and I haven’t even read Rubin’s definitive book on the subject. What can I say? I’m a Rebel. Maybe I’ll read it when I’m finished with one of the three to four other books I’m currently reading. If you’ve read “The Four Tendencies,” feel free to connect with me over at the Starry Living group on Facebook and let me know how you liked it. Also, let us know which of the Four Tendency types you are.

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