How do you balance inner and outer expectations?

I recently enjoyed listening to Gretchen Rubin, best-selling author of a number of books including The Happiness Project, talking about The Four Tendencies which help us understand our response to inner and outer expectations.

The Four Tendencies

Based on our typical response, we tend to fall into four different categories which describe our tendencies: Upholder, Obliger, Questioner or Rebel. Understanding our own response and that of others can help us develop better relationships, deal with change more effectively and suffer less stress in the process.


Upholders have a high concern for inner expectations and outer expectations. They focus on setting and maintaining high standards for themselves and also like to know and meet what other people expect of them too. They tend to like structure and organisation, to do lists and deadlines. They don’t need a lot of supervision. Their motto is ‘discipline is my freedom’. On a good day they are great at keeping things on track and getting to an outcome. On a bad day they can seem very rigid and unwilling to change.


Questioners have a low concern for outer and a high concern for inner expectations. They will make a change if it makes sense to them and satisfies their internal need to understand why. They hate anything that doesn’t seem logical or appears arbitrary. They need to be convinced before they will take action. Their motto is ‘I’ll comply if you tell me why’. On a good day they make sure that when action is taken, it’s taken for a good reason and is likely to be successful. On a bad day, they can appear obstructive or derailing.


Obligers have a high concern for outer expectations and a low concern for inner expectations. On a good day they are the people most likely to come through and lend a hand to others if needed but on a bad day they can get frustrated with themselves that they find it difficult to meet their own needs. In fact, to meet their own needs they often have to do that through an external accountability. For example, to spend time reading a book, they need to join a book club.


Rebels have a low concern for outer and inner expectations. They want to do their own thing, in their own way in their time. They are very self directed and don’t really care if others disagree – they may even find that interesting. On a good day, they are wildly productive and creative if that’s their intention. On a bad day, they can be very frustrating to others, to themselves, lose interest in things and act unpredictably and erratically.

Want to know which is your tendency? Take the quiz at