Let’s be real: changing habits is hard work. Altering the fundamental patterns of our everyday lives is a pain because our brains are wired to take short cuts whenever possible.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach with habit formation. A night owl, for example, might never stick to the habit of going for an early morning run. But it’s no use dwelling on it. By embracing your unique quirks, you can successfully make or break a habit for good.

There’s no shortage of personality categorizations out there, but one in particular focuses on habits. Happiness researcher and author Gretchen Rubin divides people into four categories: upholders, obligers, questioners, and rebels. She calls these the ‘Four Tendencies’. Where you fit depends on how you respond to outer expectations (request from a colleague or doctor’s orders) and inner expectations (your desire to start meditating or stop eating lunch at your desk).

Upholder gets a kick out of rules

man cutting single grass blade successful habit change
©Thomas Vogel/iStock

Upholders respond well to all expectations, whether they come from other people or from within. Motivated by fulfillment, upholders always want to know what the rules are and what’s expected of them.

If you’re an upholder, you wake up and ask, “What’s on the to-do list today?” Consider yourself lucky: cultivating habits is usually a breeze for you and simple scheduling often does the trick in both making a breaking a habit. If it’s in the calendar, it happens.

Sometimes overly concerned with following the rules, upholders are a rare breed, much like rebels (the polar opposite of upholders). Most people are either obligers or questioners.

Obliger needs an accountability partner

two men running successful habit change accountability partner
©David Metcalf/EyeEm/Getty Images

Obligers meet outer expectations but struggle to meet internal ones. It’s difficult for them to self-motivate and, instead, obligers are driven by external accountability. They respond to the question, “What’s expected of me today?”

Can’t find time to run? Get a colleague to motivate you to log the miles at lunchtime. Struggling to stick to your weekly workout goals? Use a habit tracking app or platform like stickK where you have to put money in line.

Questioner relies on logic

man looking at his shadow and a question mark habit change
©Piermario Tronco/EyeEm/Getty Images

Questioners, true to their name, question all expectations; they’ll do a task if it makes sense to them. Motivated by sound reasons, questioners won’t follow rules which seem arbitrary.

If this category rings true, then your trigger question is, “What needs to get done today and why?” If you make up your mind to do something, you’re usually good at sticking to it. Essentially, you need to turn all expectations into internal ones in order to endorse the idea from within.

When creating new habits, first know why you want the change. Backing the response up with data will help you follow through. Say you want to tweak your diet: Take time to research the benefits and reasons behind a particular eating plan. Let knowledge fuel your healthy habit.

Rebel tricks her way to change

person playing the drums successful habit change
©Ryan J Lane/Getty Images

Motivated by the moment, rebels defy all forms of control, even self-control. They often frustrate others – and even themselves – but every workplace needs these non-conformists who disrupt archaic processes.

As a rebel, you’re very much in touch with your needs. You start the day by asking, “What do I want to do today?” You dread habits, but can engage in habit-like behavior by tying a habit with the idea of freedom. Basically, you trick yourself into thinking that whatever you’re doing is your choice. If there’s one tendency that embodies the ‘one day at a time’ philosophy, it’s the rebel.

So which one are you: upholder, obliger, questioner, or rebel? Yes, the categories overlap and you are likely to have a different tendency depending on the context. If you want to create sustainable habit change, however, you need to tune into your motivations.

Tell us: What’s the one habit you plan to change in 2017?

Advice adapted from Gretchen Rubin’s blog and bestselling book ‘Better Than Before’: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives


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by Robson Junger 05.01.2017
Obliger! My workout goals get easier when I have support from my wife! It’s really hard getting motivate when one of us isn’t use a healthy habit about meal or gym, for example
by Kerry 05.01.2017
I am trying to dedicate more time for myself, including fitness, seeing my family and friends more and self reflection. It's difficult to decide which of the "tendencies" apply, since as the article states, it depends on the context
by Henry 09.01.2017
Thanks for the great article, I took the quiz on Mrs. Rubin's website and I am a questioner.
Absolutely makes sense with what I thought what I am...
by Daniel 27.01.2017
Thanks a lot for this post. I think it will really help me to improve myself. I have some food habits I want to change this year and I guess I will just have some friends to have an eye on me. Thanks!
Nina Weihrauch
Nina Weihrauch | Editor Daniel 08.02.2017
Hi Daniel,

the best of luck for your habit changes! Let us know how it'll work out. ;)

Talking about food habits, our friends from Runtastic did some pretty cool "self-experimentation" quitting sugar or caffeine for a month:



High five,