Part One: The Obliger

by | Jan 9, 2018 | Blog Posts, Goal Setting, Lessons from Books, Uncategorized | 0 comments

At the end of last year, I read a book that completely changed the way I look at myself and others.

It’s called The Four Tendencies, by Gretchen Rubin. (I initially wrote about it in this post.)

Upholder, Obliger, Questioner, or Rebel?

I think the Tendencies are so important to understand (and to recognize in ourselves and others) that I’m doing a special series this month, with a post devoted to each of the Four Tendencies.

I’m going to start today with Obligers because they’re the largest group ~ and because they’re the most likely to set New Year’s resolutions and “fail.”

shwa-hall-470571 (1)What’s an Obliger?

Obligers respond easily to external expectations. However, they can struggle to meet their own inner expectations.

If an Obliger’s boss asks for an assignment at a certain time, the Obliger will make sure to meet the deadline. However, even if an Obliger really wants to work out, he or she may struggle to get to the gym.

Gretchen Rubin writes, “The Obliger is the rock of the world. At work, at home, and in life…they’re the ones whom people count on the most. Obligers show up, they answer the midnight call from the client, they meet their deadlines, they fulfill their responsibilities, they volunteer, they help out…. Whether at work or at home, Obliger is the Tendency that’s most likely to contribute.”

According to Gretchen Rubin’s research…

  • Obligers are the largest group.
  • They tend to get along easily with the other three Tendencies.
  • Obligers are the most likely not to like their Tendency.
  • There are Obligers that lean closer to being Upholders and there are Obligers that lean closer to being Rebels.
  • With awareness, the challenges of the Obliger Tendency are actually the easiest to work around.

I’m an Obliger (that leans towards being an Upholder).

True to my Tendency, I don’t want to be an Obliger. I don’t even like the word.

Being an Upholder sounds amazing to me. I wish I was as good at meeting my own expectations as I am at meeting other people’s.


As I approach forty, I’m not as physically flexible as I used to be. Plus, now that I work from home and only walk from room to room, my pants are tighter than I’d like.

I have a great gym, in easy walking distance, and going to the gym is something I want to do. 

Nevertheless, there’ve been times when I’ve woken up, immediately put on my workout clothes, but still haven’t managed to get out the front door.

I’m a coach! Why can’t I get myself to the gym?

Last week, I mentioned going to my 7am Tabata class in -6°​ weather. I assure you that I wouldn’t have gone to the gym that morning had I not paid extra for the special class and had the instructor not been expecting me.

Every year, there’s a holiday challenge at my gym to go 20 times in the month of December. You win points that can be redeemed for gym swag or training sessions. This year, they sent out an email (that I didn’t open), instead of putting up the usual signage. By the time I found out they were running the challenge again, I had to go every single day in order to complete it. I swiped in for the 20th time on December 31st. Total Obliger…I may struggle to get myself to the gym most days, but give me a holiday challenge and I’ll go every day. ​

Rubin writes, “To meet inner expectations, Obligers must create structures of outer accountability. They need tools such as supervision, late fees, deadlines, monitoring, and consequences enforced from the outside to keep their promises to themselves.”

Knowing that I’m an Obliger, I now understand that outside accountability is key for me to meet my own goals.

I recently asked a friend to meet me at the gym on Friday mornings. It would be lovely if I could just get there on my own, but at least setting up a gym buddy was a pretty easy solution.

While being an Obliger can sometimes feel frustrating, I believe it can also be a really rewarding Tendency.

From my own experience and from my work as a career coach, I think there are actually two sides to being an Obliger.

1 ~ An Obliger may meet external expectations because it feels good to him/her. An Obliger may meet outer expectations sincerely and willingly.

When I was a concierge, I obliged people from morning to night. I loved making people happy. I felt fabulous when I could exceed guests’ expectations of their visits.

2 ~ On the flip side, if an Obliger doesn’t set healthy boundaries, an Obliger can get fed up and/or burnt out. When that happens, an Obliger may meet outer expectations reluctantly or even resentfully. When that happens, an Obliger may suddenly stop obliging.

Gretchen Rubin calls it “Obliger Rebellion.”

She writes, “If the burden of outer expectations becomes too heavy, Obligers may show “Obliger-rebellion”: they meet, meet, meet an expectation, then suddenly they snap and refuse to meet that expectation any longer. Acts of Obliger-rebellion can be small and symbolic or large and destructive. …Obliger-tipped-to-Upholders tend to have a clearer sense of their own capacities and desires and a greater ability to say no. …By contrast, Obliger/Rebels chafe more under external expectations and feel more resentful about other’s demands. …Their Obligerness means that they find it hard to say no, but then they’re more likely to feel resentful and burned out and therefore more likely to show Obliger-rebellion. They meet expectations, but at a certain point…they snap.”

Seriously though, it’s not all doom and gloom for us Obligers.

It’s just important to understand our Tendency in order to be able to avoid the pitfalls.

Being an Obliger (despite that darn word) can be awesome…as long as an Obliger learns what kinds of external accountability help them to meet their personal goals…and as long as an Obliger learns how to communicate what they don’t want to do before they’re simply no longer willing to do it.

If an Obliger can create external accountability and set healthy boundaries, being an Obliger can be a feel-good Tendency that’s also of great service to this world.

jon-flobrant-1362 (2)

​Are you an Obliger? Did you make any New Year’s resolutions? This is your year! How can you set yourself up for success now, knowing you’re an Obliger? External accountability is key.

Coming up next week… We’ll be looking at the Questioner Tendency. Get it delivered straight to your inbox. “Subscribe” at the top of the main blog page.

What do you think of the Obliger Tendency? Questions or comments? Let me know below.

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