Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how different people respond to rules—and I use “rules” broadly (see below for examples) to mean any kind of instruction to do or not do something.
I love to identify categories, like abstainers/moderators.
Now I can’t stop thinking about these four categories.
To see if you spot yourself in these categories, ask yourself:
How do I respond to an outer rule? A law, a traffic sign, a “request” from a spouse, a work deadline, an admonition from your doctor, an appointment with a trainer, social protocol.
How do I respond to an inner rule? A New Year’s resolution, a decision to exercise more, putting in work on a self-generated project (writing a novel, planting a garden).
With that in mind, consider whether any of these types rings a bell:
1. Upholder: accepts rules, whether from outside or inside. An upholder meets deadlines, follows doctor’s order, keeps a New Year’s resolution. I am an Upholder, 100%.
2. Questioner: questions rules and accepts them only if they make sense. They may choose to follow rules, or not, according to their judgment.
3. Rebel: flouts rules, from outside or inside. They resist control. Give a rebel a rule, and the rebel will want to do the very opposite thing.
4. Obliger: accepts outside rules, but doesn’t like to adopt self-imposed rules.
An upholder stops at a stop sign at 3:00 a.m. in a small deserted town; so does an obliger. A questioner decides whether it’s safe to stop. A rebel rolls through the stop sign at 3:00 p.m. in traffic.
An upholder can train with a trainer or exercise on her own; a questioner can do either if he thinks it makes sense; a rebel will do neither, because the fact that she has an appointment or an item on her to-do list makes her want to disobey; an obliger can meet a trainer but can’t get to the gym on his own.
Of course, this is about your tendency. There’s a continuum, and no one accepts or resists all rules, and some people don’t fit easily into one of the four types, but I’ve been amazed at how often people immediately place themselves firmly into one camp.
Do you recognize yourself? How does this evince itself?
Each type has its pros and cons.
I’ve just started thinking about this so welcome any thoughts, experiences, additions. I’m going to write more about it soon.
Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier—and the recently released Happier at Home. On her popular blog, The Happiness Project, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness. For more doses of happiness and other happenings, follow Gretchen on Facebook and Twitter.
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