The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin [Actionable Summary]

This is a comprehensive summary of the book The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too) by Gretchen Rubin. Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski. Supporting Members get full access.

The Book In Three Or More Sentences:

After conducting “thorough” research on her blog, the self-proclaimed expert on human nature sorts humanity into four buckets: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. The classification of the Four Tendencies is all based on how someone responds to expectations. And while the text is absent of hard scientific proofs, the book does deliver. The separation made by the author makes a lot of sense, and it can definitely help the reader understand himself. Plus, also get others – why they do what they do. All of this, ultimately, helping us have better relationships with both others and ourselves.

The Core Idea:

We tie happiness and success to income and status. But is this the right approach? Gretchen believes that we can only stay happy, productive, inspired when we uncover our true personality. When we’re able to exploit our strengths while also properly manage our weaknesses. Figuring out your tendency allows you to get to know yourself better. Find the right inner combinations to ignite motivation when all seems lost, plus tactics to manage stress, uncertainty, and overall deal with the daily challenge well all face: “How do I get people—including myself—to do what I want?”

Reason To Read:

Driving a car involves understanding how an automobile runs. Without the initial prep, you’ll end up smashed in a tree. Similarly, to operate your body along with all the thingies happening inside your mind, it’s useful to look under the hood. To see the mechanics of your body. Namely, realize what drives you and the equally important – what brings you down. Once we truly know ourselves, we’ll finally be (ourselves).


  • How you handle outer expectations and inner expectations says a lot about you.
  • Create outer accountability depending on your personality type. This is crucial for making progress. We all need a tap on the back.
  • There is a positive side to selfishness. Working towards your own goals and your own well-being without feeling regret, while also not being a jerk.

6 Key Lessons from The Four Tendencies:

Lesson #1: Why It’s Helpful to Identify Our Own Tendency?

You’re not as unique as you think you are. In fact, based on your behavior and part of a narrow, four-sided pattern you’re either a disciplined freak, annoying fact-seeker, accountability addict, or unreliable egoist.

That’s the overview of the book.

After having an “Aha” moment. The author discovers that humanity can be divided into four tendencies:

  • Upholders: Meets outer expectations; Meets inner expectations.
  • Questioners: Resists outer expectations; Meets inner expectations.
  • Obligers: Meets outer expectations; Resists inner expectations.
  • Rebels: Resists outer expectations; Resists inner expectations.

The above is all based on one simple question: “How do people respond to expectations?”

This might sound unconvincing – to create a detailed framework and put all living humans into 4 buckets based on simply how they handle expectations.

But actually, it’s quite smart.

After all, our actions, whether we like them or not, are influenced by two things: outer expectations and inner expectations.

This makes us constantly living on the verge. Asking ourselves questions like: “I want to eat this delicious chocolate pudding (inner expectations) but I told John that this week I’ll only eat fruits (outer expectations). What should I do?”

We are constantly comparing our inner desire to do something with the outside expectations of the surrounding people. The result based on these two leads to either action or inaction.

Measuring how we respond to expectations might not give us a complete overview of all humanity. Yet, after reading the book and assessing myself and the people I know, I do agree that the information inside The Four Tendencies can give you something quite useful.

You get to understand yourself – your motivations and limitations. You also get answers to these questions: “What prompts me to act in certain situations? Why do I stay idle in others?”

And on top of this, the book helps you categorize your friends and family members. Providing you with a good framework to better meet the needs of the people closest to you.

“When we consider the Four Tendencies, we’re better able to understand ourselves. This self-knowledge is crucial because we can build a happy life only on the foundation of our own nature, our own interests, and our own values.” Gretchen Rubin

Lesson #2: Upholders: Self-Motivated and Trustworthy

The first tendency, Upholders.

Upholders readily meet both outer and inner expectations.

Self-starters. Love schedules. Reliable when something needs to be done and are eager to meet outer expectations while also ensuring that their desires are met.

My tendency, apparently.

I’m not surprised. I won’t stop working until what is expected of me is delivered on time in the right format while diligently following the provided instructions. But it doesn’t stop there, I constantly set inner goals that probably look insane for an outside viewer (like getting at 5 am) and I commit to them without needing an extra hand or reminders from others.

For example, for more than 10 years I have run at least 25 km a week. Nobody told me I had to do it. I did it because I wanted to.

Guiding Principle:

“Discipline is my freedom.”

Gretchen Rubin


Upholders are committed and stick to their goals. They diligently follow the rules while simultaneously obey their self-imposed routines.

They rarely need supervision. Reliable and self-directed, Upholders can be categorized as a weird combination of autonomous robot-like task-performing weirdo with intolerance to excuses when the job is not done.

The power to make themselves do things they don’t feel like doing at this current moment is probably their secret superpower.


Unable to delegate because they don’t believe that other people can do the job as they envision it.

Blindly following rules without thinking of the bigger pictures can sometimes hurt their progress.

Since Upholders don’t need a helping hand to do something or to commit to a certain activity, they don’t understand other people who need accountability (Obligers). They expect things to be done after giving the assignment but when it’s not, they can treat others harshly.

Handling Upholders:

Having an Upholder in your house is like having a dedicated coach that is always there to motivate you and get you out of bed every day at the exact same time.

It can be helpful, but more often than not it can be irritating to deal with your stick spouse who gets angry when the plan is slightly changed or when you need emotional support not a reminder about your to-do list.

Plainly, emotions are secondary for Upholders. They focus on the task first and then think about the emotional part (I speak from experience).

It’s important to understand that Upholders are eager to make others and themselves happy. They want to follow the rules and to do what is written on the label. When this becomes unbearable for the other party, he/she can remind their stiff partner that they, too, have needs. When Upholders are reminded of that, they will place the needs (expectations) of their spouse in their to-do list and readily meet them – or at least eventually.

“Upholders do well in roles that require people to be self-starters, such as starting a business, solo consulting, or freelancing, because once they decide to meet an aim, they can work toward it without supervision or accountability. Upholders have a deep capacity to make themselves do things they don’t feel like doing, which is invaluable for people who work for themselves and lack coworkers to help with the details or drudge work.” Gretchen Rubin

Hey there, sorry to interrupt…

Since you’ve come this far, it seems that you are really passionate about books and learning. I’m too! And while what I’m about to say next probably won’t quite excite you, I have to say it…

Look, this is members-only content.

(Already a member? You can log-in using this link, here.)

See, I digest acres of complex ideas from various books and morph my findings into straight-to-the-point book summaries. The main goal is not only to help you understand the underlying ideas from famous, and not-so-famous, titles. But, also, to help you stay curious, inspired, and well-informed. Above all, though, I want to help you transition from a passive online consumer to an active mindful go-getter with a sense of purpose.

By becoming a supporting member, you’ll unlock a well-curated online selection of book summaries that aim to move you in the right direction.

You can join as a MONTHLY ($29.95 USD), or QUARTERLY ($59.95 USD) member. Read more about the membership, here.

Share with others: