This week, I wanted to introduce you to a tool that may help you figure out why you do what you do; or why you don’t do what you should do or what you plan to do. It’s Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies quiz, which you can take for free right here (none of this is an affiliate deal, I just really like Gretchen Rubin’s stuff).
I had never heard of Gretchen Rubin until one of my close friends participated in The Happiness Project. As part of my friend’s Happiness Project work, she asked me to have dinner with her once a month for a year (in 2022). And, minus the month that my friend had COVID, we did it! After learning more about Gretchen Rubin’s work, I became really intrigued by her Four Tendencies concept and how it can help us better understand ourselves and other people.
Basically, Gretchen Rubin theorizes that there are four main personality types when it comes to meeting external and internal expectations or demands:
- Upholders find freedom in discipline, and usually have no trouble meeting external or internal expectations (I’m an Upholder; more on that below)
- Questioners meet expectations if (and only if) the expectation makes sense to them
- Obligers meet expectations that are set by other people, but struggle to meet expectations that they set for themselves
- Rebels resist both external and internal expectations (tagline: “You can’t make me, and neither can I”)
Like other personality tests (Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, etc.), some people aren’t going to be easily categorized, or are going to answer “it depends.” But, knowing my “expectations-meeting personality” has helped me so much, in the following ways:
- As mentioned above, I’m solidly in the Upholder category. If someone else tells me to do something, I’m going to do it. If I tell myself to do something, I’m also going to do it. This seems like a positive thing overall, but reading more about the Four Tendencies has helped me see some ways in which it’s actually a hindrance.
- I often struggle to understand or give advice to people who can’t get things done. While I know, intellectually, that people who fall into the Rebel or Questioner categories don’t always “just do it,” and I really, really know that neurodivergent people (including several of my close friends) often cannot “just do it,” I still find myself thinking, “Make a list! Set a timer! Get the Todoist app! It’s not that hard!” And in reality, it is really hard or even impossible for a lot of people to do what Upholders find totally normal and natural: break a daunting task into sub-goals and chip away at them consistently. Knowing this has prompted me to “pause and understand” people whose productivity wiring is very different from mine.
- I have a lot of fun and joy in life, annnnnnnd a great deal of that fun and joy involves checking a box, which is something I’d like to work on. I do a lot of box-checking in both my personal and professional lives: I’m highly motivated by the trackers in my apps, whether it’s getting the pat on the back from Todoist for accomplishing all of my tasks for that day, or seeing how many times I’ve gone to yoga in a month. If I blow off work to do something fun, it’s often (OK, Rebels, don’t laugh), because I have a policy of blowing off work in a particular situation. For example, I did actually blow off work a few weeks ago to go out for ice cream and get my nails done, but only because I have an internal expectation that when an interpreting assignment gets cancelled, I don’t work during that time. So, while I was definitely having fun and putting the “free” in freelance, I was also checking the box, “Don’t work during a cancelled interpreting assignment.”
- And by this, I don’t mean, woe is me…my biggest flaw is that I can’t stop being productive, I mean that all of these Tendencies have their pluses and minuses, and I think that learning more about yourself and how your brain works is always a good thing.
If you poke around online, you’ll also find various people’s tips related to these Tendencies. I found it particularly helpful to look at tips for people who are Rebels (the exact opposite of my personality), like this article, which suggests that if you’re a Rebel, you should try working in small bursts, always keeping your “why” in mind, and having a robust accountability system.
Whatever type you are, I hope that these tips are helpful!
Corinne McKay (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the founder of Training for Translators, and has been a full-time freelancer since 2002. She holds a Master of Conference Interpreting from Glendon College, is an ATA-certified French to English translator, and is Colorado court-certified for French interpreting. If you enjoy her posts, consider joining the Training for Translators mailing list!