Gretchen Rubin’s The Four Tendencies

In Gretchen Rubin’s previous New York Times bestseller, The Happiness Project, she surveyed a variety of people around the world, asking, “what is happiness?” She received critical acclaim for bringing attention to what is actually a very simple question, but one that provides complex answers. She also treated the subject with a lovely dose of humor to keep the reading fun and lively.

When The Four Tendencies came onto my radar, I was very curious to learn what everyday beliefs Rubin would be taking on. Her new book does not disappoint. The Four Tendencies is her fascinating research, ignited by a conversation with a friend, that we can all relate to. It had to do with exercising. Rubin’s friend mentioned that she was able to exercise regularly in school while on various teams, and now she can’t keep it up. She wondered where her discipline had gone. Rubin took that conversation, remembered others she had had with friends and colleagues with similar questions about why they were not able to do what they needed to do, what they had committed to do, or what might be crucial for their health.

Rubin placed pointed questions on her website and after two years or so, came up with the four tendencies. As a mom of two adult daughters, with a large group of work associates, colleagues, family members, and clients, I’ve witnessed the four tendencies she refers to, the four powerful personalities, but never before actually learned how to deal with them.

Rubin’s friend was able to commit to the exercise because she had a team to report to. She had people who depended on her to show up. Now, as an adult, without that outside motivation, she couldn’t find that motivation. That tendency has been named the “obliger,” the personality that “meets outer expectations, but resists inner expectations.” The other three are variations on the tendencies, with one aspect stronger than the other, or non-existent. The goal, then, is to understand what the motivation will be, how to create an outer motivation when none exists.  So, for an obliger, one way to commit to a gym, is to find one that charges a “late cancel” fee. For some, that $5 charge is enough to keep on track.

Some of my clients are high school students who are on deadline to write their college admission essays. There are students who are always on time with our scheduled meetings, and have drafts prepared. Others don’t have it ready, have not given it a thought, and appear uninterested. It’s been a challenge to work with each behavior style, trying to get the best out of each student. Rubin has certainly provided plenty of ideas to spark those students who need it.  

I recommend this new read wholeheartedly, whether you’re a parent, a CEO, a spouse, a teacher, or anyone who works with a variety of personalities, and is challenged to have the follow through.  Rubin has included a survey, so readers can learn their own style, and the style of those around them. The subject matter provides plenty of fodder for book clubs, dinner conversation, or classroom discussions. The more we learn about how we work, how others work, then a host of disappointments and frustrations may be avoided, relationships saved, and promises kept. Think what a wonderful thing that could be.

The Four Tendencies
Gretchen Rubin

About MJ Hanley-Goff (90 Articles)
MJ Hanley-Goff has been contributing to WomanAroundTown since its inception in 2009. She began her career at Newsday and for ten years wrote for the Sunday Real Estate section. A move to the Hudson Valley brought her to the Times Herald-Record where she continued to write for a Sunday Real Estate section, and also joined the writing team at the monthly Orange Magazine. MJ then became editor of Hudson Valley Parent magazine, and contributed articles to Hudson Valley Magazine, AAA’s Car & Travel, and Tri-County Woman. After completing her novel and a self-help book, she created MJWRITES, INC. and conducts writing workshops, and as a self-proclaimed book “whisperer,” works with new writers on their books. Now back on Long Island, she continues to enjoy the opportunity to write for Woman Around Town, and the amazing adventures it offers, including reviewing concerts, events, and tourist attractions in New York, and around the world. “I particularly enjoy drawing attention to the off the beaten path kinds of events and experiences,” she says. “It’s great big world out there, with so many talented and creative artists, doers, and thinkers.”