According to best-selling author and happiness expert Gretchen Rubin, there are two types of expectations you’ll encounter in life—inner and outer—and how you respond to each can provide insight into yourself and others. In fact, exploring this very concept is the central focus of her book, The Four Tendencies (the Gretchen Rubin four tendencies are personality types or temperaments).
While inner expectations are guidelines you place on yourself (like getting to an 8 a.m. workout class), outer expectations are the the variety you assume from others or others assume from you (like helping a friend move or meeting a deadline at work). Taking stock in how you handle and respond to both types of expectations can lead to an improved self-understanding and understanding of others close to you, and also help you mitigate interpersonal conflicts before they arise. (Don’t know your type? Take this quick online quiz.)
Check out how your personality type affects how you respond to expectations.
Meets inner and outer expectations
The pros: An upholder is a naturally goal-oriented, rule-following type. They seem to easily hit all their deadlines, or at least always set reasonable deadlines for themselves. They are highly conscientious, always showing up to events when they say they will. One reason they never break plans is because they thrive on structure in their lives; they make plans in order to keep themselves—and everyone in their lives—as happy as they can be.
The cons: Upholders can skew rigid, craving rules others don’t need, and getting upset if others aren’t as consistent with making and keeping commitments.
Meets inner expectations; resists outer expectations
The pros: Driven by inner expectations and goals, Questioners are very focused. They love knowledge, and tend to be researchers devoted to reason, hard logic, and gaining intel. Questioners are all about efficiency, too. They pick and choose rules to follow that make sense to them, and they push the agenda forward in the best possible way. They are interested in fairness, and they tend to be natural reformers when rules or old precedents just don’t work well.
The cons: Questioners tend to overanalyze and have trouble making simple decisions. They can’t just “let it go” if the other party doesn’t understand an issue, or if they feel their questions have yet to be answered. They may isolate from time to time.
Resists inner expectations, meets outer expectations
The pros: Obligers are very selfless, regularly putting others before themselves. They’re the reliable sort of friend who will drop whatever they’re doing to comfort you if you got dumped or to provide last-minute help on a project. They’re productive workers, and make excellent team players—as colleagues, romantic partners, parents or children.
The cons: They might burn out as a result of spending so much time focusing on others, and thus neglecting self care. They have a hard time saying no (even if they’re totally overextended), often don’t hit their personal goals, and can’t easily stick to inner commitments to better their own lives.
Resists inner and outer expectations
The pros: Rebels don’t have trouble making decisions or doing exactly what they want—whether or not that makes sense. They often enjoy this autonomy in their nature by being authentic, having no trouble questioning an old standard, or speaking up for themselves or others. They thrive when given space to be independent and deal well with spontaneity and a lack of structure.
The cons: They can be uncooperative if a superior asks them to do something and unresponsive if a partner does. They may also find it difficult to settle down, whether in the scope of their personal life or to simply take a breather for self care. They can be reckless.
How to apply the Gretchen Rubin four tendencies to yourself and others
By knowing your tendency and the tendency of others around you, you can often reframe a situation, a goal, or your communication style to better cater to perceptions. Doing this might yield better results for all parties involved.
For example, let’s say you’re an Upholder who simply must get in a workout in six days a week, and your partner’s parents are staying with you for the weekend. Knowing that your partner or in-laws might deem your two-hour delay coming home from work as rude could lead you to your ultimate decision of skipping a sweat sesh and prevent a conflict in the process. After all, you’re aware this won’t be a regular disruption to your preferred schedule. If you’re a rebel, though, and you’ve been keeping to hard deadlines to progress your goal of launching a side hustle, perhaps sticking to no deadline at will make the notion of challenging yourself to work on the project more enjoyable.
Knowledge is power, and the more you know about your own tendency, the more you can utilize it—and circumvent the no-longer-hidden traps you’re prone to.
Want more intel about the Gretchen Rubin four tendencies? Here’s how to use the model to stop procrastinating. And here’s the happiness expert’s advice on how to be happy—no matter your relationship status.
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