How to Take Advantage of Your Personality Type to Get Your Workout In

personality type

I’ve recently gone down the Gretchen Rubin rabbit hole – have you heard of her? She’s the author of The Happiness Project, in which she takes on a one-year quest to be happier by instilling good habits in different areas of her life (like energy, marriage, money and work). As someone who is constantly on a quest to live my best life (usually through $12 smoothies and unnecessary online shopping), I finished this book in a quick weekend and immediately started instilling some of her strategies into my daily life.

But that’s a post for another time. This post is about what Rubin did after the success of The Happiness Project. Through her research for the book, she built a framework for personality types, dubbed the Four Tendencies, that specifically relate to how people build habits and meet obligations. As described on her website, the Four Tendencies are:

  • Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations. You’re likely an Upholder if you consistently meet deadlines, keep appointments and do what you say you’re going to do, even when it’s inconvenient.
  • Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense. Essentially, they make all expectations into inner expectations. Questioners tend to ask “Why?” frequently to ensure that what they’re doing is worth their time and energy. If it isn’t, they’ll drop it.
  • Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves. Think of the ultimate accountability buddy – the friend you text before hitting “purchase” online to ask if you really need this tasseled kimono (note to self: you don’t).
  • Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike. You do what you want, even if it means going against what someone specifically asked you to do.

Confused? I was too, at least at first. Before  you go any further, take Rubin’s quiz for diagnosing your particular tendency here.

Now that you know how you respond to habit-building, let’s talk about one particular way to take advantage of this newfound knowledge: using your tendency type to create and stick to a fitness routine.

If you’re an Upholder…

You probably have it the easiest. If you say you’re going for a run at lunch, or if you write an upcoming workout class in your planner, you’re probably going to go through with it. You’re independent and self-directed, and you probably love making (and keeping) New Year’s resolutions.

However, Upholders tend to struggle in situations when expectations aren’t clear. To combat this, keep yourself motivated by regularly setting and achieving goals. Step-by-step breakdowns of how you’ll achieve those goals will motivate you even further (for example, creating and following a training plan to PR in the 5K).

If you’re a Questioner…

You aren’t likely to go to the gym just because their doctor recommends it; they hate anything arbitrary and the phrase “because I said so.” Instead, they want to know, “does this make sense for me?”

Questioners need to understand exactly why going to the gym is good for you. Different reasons might resonate with different people. For example, if your family has a history of heart disease, you might talk yourself into signing up for a workout class by reminding yourself that this will lessen your chances of cardiovascular disease. Or, if you know you have a busy, booze-filled weekend coming up, you might reason that going to the gym on Friday will allow you to relax the rest of the weekend and still feel like you’ve earned that second (or third) mimosa. Figure out your why, and you’ll be able to build a habit around that.

If you’re an Obliger…

You may press snooze on that 6 am Soul Cycle class if you only have yourself to answer to – but you’d never leave a friend hanging. You need to know that this matters to someone else in order to build a habit.

Obligers can succeed by enlisting a gym buddy to join them for runs and workout classes. Or, if no one’s available, have a friend that will text you to check in and see if you made your workout that day. Obligers also tend to do really well with personal trainers; knowing that someone is waiting on them and that they’ve invested time and money in this training will encourage Obligers to just show up (the looming punishment of late cancel fees don’t hurt, either).

If you’re a Rebel…

You most likely hate having anyone tell you what to do. You’ll work out if you feel like it, and you’ll reach goals in your own way, in your own time.

A gym-going Rebel might benefit from a service like ClassPass, where you can switch up your workout at the tap of a screen. You might also enjoy making up your own training routines each day, coming up with something completely on your own that fits what you feel like doing that day. The key for Rebels is to remember that you are deciding to work out that day, and you have the freedom to do so however you want.

Fair warning: Rebels have the “Think I can’t? Just watch me” mindset. If you tell a Rebel “Bet you can’t do one pull-up,” they will likely try to prove you wrong and do two in the process.


After taking Rubin’s quiz, it’s clear to me that I am 100% an Upholder – which probably explains the intense satisfaction I get from writing my workouts for the week in my planner and methodically checking them off once completed. It also explains the success I had following training programs for various races, back when I was primarily a runner. And now that I know I’m an Upholder for sure, I can use this framework to plan my next fitness goal – whatever that is.

Which of the Four Tendencies are you? Do you see any connection between your Tendency and how it affects your fitness habits? 

Let us know!

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About Kristen Geil

A native of Lexington, Kentucky, Kristen moved to Chicago in 2011 and received her MA in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse from DePaul while trying to maintain her southern accent. Kristen grew up playing sports, and since moving to Chicago, she’s fallen in love with the lakefront running path and the lively group fitness scene. Now, as a currently retired marathoner and sweat junkie, you can usually find her trying new workouts around the city and meticulously crafting Instagram-friendly smoothie bowls. Kristen came on to A Sweat Life full-time in 2018 as Editor-in-Chief, and she spends her days managing writers, building content strategy, and fighting for the Oxford comma.