Life through the Eyes of an Upholder: My Takeaways from ‘The Four Tendencies’ by Gretchen Rubin

I have been interested in human behaviour, body language and the implicit nature of communication for as long as I can remember. My parents often tell me that as a toddler, I was happy just to watch and observe a room of adults. Still, now, I often take a back seat in large group settings and observe the dynamics. As I have matured and gained more life experience, I try to ‘do’ things with my observations – I seek answers; reasons why people behave as they do. I also use these experiences to model my reactions to scenarios. I can only attribute the more proactive approach as a way of trying to assimilate to the American culture. Emigrating is more than simply moving your physical presence and belongings, it is an adjustment to a whole new way of going about life. The Floridian population conduct conversations and social situations in a drastically different way to the UK, so learning how to both respond and behave in a group is like starting from a scribble (not quite scratch, there are some definite foundations there!)

I think I am quite good at reading people and modifying the way I communicate in order to appease a wide variety of audiences. I studied Communication at university and found the subject matter fascinating. It made me a lot more self-reflective and also a lot more understanding of humankind. And when the series ‘Lie to Me’ aired, well, that was a dream come true!

There is so much material out there on emotional intelligence and personalities, and rightly so, as both shape everything we do. In my enthusiasm for human behaviours, I sought out podcasts I could listen to in the morning when getting ready for work and on my commutes. It was then that I discovered ‘Happier’ by Gretchen Rubin. I have listened to every episode since I discovered the podcast about a year ago. Gretchen and her sister have a lovely relationship and they discuss a multitude of topics in an easy to understand, light-hearted fashion. On the podcast, they constantly refer to the ‘four tendencies’ – a framework developed by Gretchen Rubin which characterizes people into four groups, based on how they respond to both inner and outer expectations. The way in which Gretchen relates situations on the podcast to characteristics of each tendency had me thirsty for more, so when her book ‘The Four Tendencies’ was released, I had to read it. I loved it – it is the kind of book that you can ‘dip in and out’ of – selecting chapters at a time, and it is also the kind of book that you read cover to cover, place on your bookshelf (the cover happens to be very pretty too) and then constantly re-read snippets when life situations happen!

Like Gretchen herself, I am without doubt an upholder – someone who meets both inner and outer expectations. I knew this before I read the book, but upon finishing it, some of my quirks and habits I can now wholly attribute to being an upholder! Here are five “Aha, I am an upholder moments!”:

  1. When people ask me ‘how do you stay motivated?’ Anyone who knows me in person and/or follows my blog, knows I am highly self-motivated. I don’t need external encouragement to complete tasks and I competed in two bodybuilding competitions this year. In fact, I even wrote a blogpost entitled ‘Seek Discipline, Not Motivation’. For me, being disciplined is easy, it isn’t something that I have to really consider or plan for. Reading the Four Tendencies book made me realize that although I may struggle to advise people on how I stay motivated (because I just do), it also made me stop and think and understand that being motivated is a very difficult task for someone else. It made me understand that I need to be more sympathetic to those individuals.
  2. I struggle to watch TV, but can watch a movie at the cinema. People despair that I am never able to discuss what has been aired on TV – I have the attention span of a gnat. I multi-task, I daydream, I surf the Internet on my phone – all the while using the TV as background noise. However, when it comes to the cinema, I can sit and watch an entire film without feeling distracted. Reading Gretchen’s book made me realize that this is the upholder in me – because the rules in the cinema are not to use your phone or talk loudly, I follow them. Having no distractions enables me to enjoy and concentrate throughout the entire film!
  3. I schedule all my time. Work time. Gym time. Sleep time. Casual time. All is scheduled. I have to-do lists at work, different notepads signify different priorities. I have a set workout plan and know exactly what exercises as well as what order, repetitions and weight I will lift before I enter the gym. I have a set time that I have to have my eyes closed by. I plan my weekends. And if anyone saw my notes section on my phone, they would see a multitude of lists, tracking all aspects of my life! As Gretchen pointed out in her book, it does mean that I can be somewhat inflexible. I do struggle with changes in routine, particularly ‘loose plans’. A tentative day out with a venue, but no times or rough idea of how the day will pan out is something which leaves me feeling extremely anxious. Understanding that this is part of ‘me’ was reassuring, but it is also something I am working on. I don’t want to be known as being rigid and an inconvenience to other people’s spontaneity!
  4. I struggle when I make a mistake or something isn’t perfect. I know I am reliable. In fact, being reliable and organized are two traits I both pride myself on and two traits that anyone would describe me would say I am. So when I make a mistake, or, even worse, when I make a mistake and it is pointed out to me, I find it devastating. A small remark about a mistake can reside with me for days, I take it as a personal criticism; an attack on my personality. Gretchen’s book made me reflect that very few people are intentionally malicious and that the best way of dealing proactively with this is to inform people of how that comment made me feel. Although some people will undoubtedly say that it is a severe over-reaction, it will initiate a conversation that could help alleviate this consequence in the future.
  5. I want to do everything myself. I don’t trust that lots of people will accomplish things to the same standard as me and I really struggle with relinquishing control and delegating. This extends beyond delegating work tasks (which I do have a hard time with!) For example, I refuse to let most people spot me in the gym as I think that they will end up doing the rep for me. Recently I have started asking certain people in the gym to spot me as I know testing one rep maxes without a spot is dangerous! Moreover, I know that it would make me very cautious and unable to execute the prescribed lift (I can’t fail a lift can I, I’m an upholder!)

As with any good book about metacognition or human behaviour, reading ‘The Four Tendencies’ made me very self-reflective and it enabled me to apply principles to some of my extreme quirks. I love that I am an upholder, but I also acknowledge that I couldn’t be much more of an upholder if I tried. With that brings the drawbacks of being an upholder, so here is my written commitment to work on those. Maybe one day I will have a day where zero is planned. And maybe one day a rebel will follow all the rules…

-Benchpressingbaubles, x

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