Viv Groskop on The Four Tendencies


Work out your personality tendency and your life will be better

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Viv Groskop is convinced by The Four Tendencies, the latest book by the bestselling self-help guru Gretchen Rubin 

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By Viv Groskop on

This week, I have embarked upon yet another exercise and diet regime, a 21-day programme designed by the trainer I swear by, Annie Deadman (see her Instagram tutorials). I’m not in bad shape – she said in a Joey Tribbiani voice – but a few extra kilos have crept on. It’s time for a corrective. Three days in and it’s holding so far. I should be proud of myself. But all I can think is: “Not this again. What is wrong with me?” I can kick habits (like eating badly and not exercising), but I can’t make them stick.

The worst thing is, I know why this is. It’s because I am a Rebel. This is the terminology of Gretchen Rubin, the wonderful, no-nonsense, kickass author of Better Than Before, a guide to changing everything in your life, whether large or small, according to your personality type. Her new book The Four Tendencies explains her theory in much more detail. Like most kicks up the arse, it’s not always easy to hear. The exceptionally childish motto of my tendency? “You can’t make me. And I can’t make me either.”

I know I am always banging on about Gretchen Rubin (and we mention her work often at The Pool), but that’s because what she writes is honest and useful. She knows that most of us are back-sliders with the best of intentions who put our trainers next to the bed for a 6am run and then hit the snooze button 56 times.

Once you know which type you are, you can work with your limitations. For example, Obligers can make a habit stick by involving an accountability partner

Rubin’s new book is the perfect reminder for me that trying to change my habits is always an uphill battle, because I am fighting with a headstrong person – myself. The inner Rebel asks why I should bother and who cares? It’s my business whether I want to be lazy and eat pancakes. Except it isn’t what I really want, though, is it? Rubin makes you realise how to do the things you want to do but find hard to make yourself do. Here’s her guide to the personality types:

Upholder (Gretchen): You do what is asked of you easily, both when others ask you to do something and when you ask it of yourself. Changing habits is relatively easy for you. (Me: Who are these weirdos? These people don’t really need this book, except to make themselves feel smug.)

Obliger (my friend Julia): You are good at doing things for other people. You like meeting their obligations and would feel bad if you didn’t. However, you’re bad at making yourself do things.

Questioners (my husband): You can do things both when you want to and when others ask you to, but you need to know exactly why it’s important.

Rebel (me): You like resisting expectations and going against the grain. You don’t like doing anything that you’re supposed to do.

Once you know which type you are, you can work with your limitations. For example, Obligers can make a habit stick by involving an accountability partner – find someone to run with, join a Facebook group, make your goals public. Questioners need to do their research and list the reasons for doing something.

Upholders and Rebels are the most rare categories. Upholders hardly need any help changing habits – they do it automatically. (Which is how Rubin stumbled into this work – she realised she could do things easily that others found hard.) The Rebel, I am sorry to say, is a self-regarding idiot (my phrase, not Rubin’s) who can only be made to do things if she feels they are rebellious and she is overcoming some imaginary foe. So, over the next 21 days, I will be attempting to rebel against the twin tyrannies of sugar and sloth. Hey, whatever works.


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