Part Four: The Rebel

by | Jan 30, 2018 | Blog Posts, Goal Setting, Lessons from Books, Uncategorized | 12 comments

This is Part 4 in a 4-part series about The Four Tendencies.

This series was inspired by working with one of my dear clients…

She’s an exemplary client during sessions. When she shows up, she’s always present, communicative, honest, and invested.

At the end of every session, she feels clarity and excitement to go forth into the world and implement what we’ve been discussing.

But then…she doesn’t always do it…and she hasn’t known why.

I’m a certified coach who’s constantly doing more professional development. I’ve studied and read about all sorts of goal setting practices. This client and I have tried them all in order to help her move forward on her goals. Nothing has consistently worked.

Then, last fall, I listened to a podcast with Gretchen Rubin on Jonathan Fields’ “Good Life Project.”

In hearing them talk about the Rebel Tendency, I had a feeling there might be something in it that was key for this client.


What’s a Rebel?

A Rebel doesn’t respond to internal or external expectations.

Gretchen Rubin writes about Rebels: 

  • “They resist expectations imposed from within as vigorously as those imposed from without.”
  • “Rebels want to act from a sense of choice, freedom, and self-expression.”
  • “They…often enjoy flouting rules, expectations, and conventions.”

In terms of members, this is the smallest Tendency. (Obligers is the largest group, followed by Questioners, Upholders, and then Rebels.)

After listening to the podcast, I asked my client what she would think about us both reading The Four Tendencies between sessions? She was up for it and we did.

“Guess what I got? :) I’ve read the first chapter, taken the quiz, and have skipped to the Rebel section to read about it (in hindsight, how rebellious of me).”

Twenty minutes later, I got another email from her. :)

She copied a list of arguments frequently used with Rebels, and then wrote out what she would think in response to each of them….

  • “People are counting on you.”
    • It’s not my fault people are counting on me – that’s their choice.”
  • “You’ve already paid for it.”
    • Money is just money – it doesn’t have power over me.”
  • “You have an appointment.”
    • An appointment is something I made, and can choose to change.”
  • “Someone else will be inconvenienced.”
    • “Sorry for the inconvenience. (Sorry is easier than begrudgingly trudging through it.) I’m sure everyone will live.”
  • “It’s against the rules.”
    • Rules??????? Who established the rules? I didn’t sign up for them!”


I asked this same Rebel client to share some examples of her rebelliousness for this segment of the series.

She came up with some fabulous examples of scenarios which have frustrated and mystified her, but which suddenly make sense in the context of a Rebel.

1 – “I built 3 large cedar vegetable beds in my backyard, ordered over 100 different kinds of heirloom seeds, bought an indoor shelving unit with grow lights, grew dozens of containers of seedlings…but never actually moved them out into the beds.

If I had planted those seedlings, I would have been forced to care for those plants for the rest of their season. Plants are finicky – they require consistent watering, a schedule. I proved that I could grow you, but you can’t make me take care of you.

2 – I came up with an awesome idea for an online business. I created a plan, bought expensive vlogging camera equipment, purchased a domain name, set up social media accounts, and loaded three videos I’d shot and edited. All within a week! I got great feedback from everyone, bought more supplies…and I haven’t touched the site in over a year now.

Building an idea, engaging my social groups and ‘campaigning’ to build positive feedback, and proving how quickly I could get all of it together and out there. Aren’t I impressive? Bet you don’t know anyone else who could do it this fast! Until I hit the first few hurdles… When I felt like I needed outside help, I felt backed into a corner with no options that I could execute well myself. Easier to abandon the idea than face not being as self-sustaining as I thought.

Those are SUCH great examples of how a Rebel thinks.


Rubin explains, “For Rebels, the ability to choose is so important that sometimes they make a choice – even when it’s against their self-interest or it’s not what they prefer – just to reassure themselves that they can make a choice.”

She emphasizes, “When dealing with Rebels, it’s crucial to accept that Rebel-hood is a deep part of their nature; it’s not a stage, it’s not something that they will outgrow.”

How to Talk to a Rebel:

  1. Lay out the options.
  2. Outline the possible outcomes or repercussions of each option.
  3. Let them make a decision.

This strategy may particularly help a Rebel with external expectations.

My client emailed me an awesome example of this: He “texted me several days in a row, asking when I thought I was going to fly home from Florida. I didn’t respond. I hadn’t decided yet and didn’t want to be tied down. Then, he texted me, ‘I’m happy to pick you up from the airport, but if you don’t give me enough notice, I won’t be able to get off from work, and you will have to take an Uber. So let me know.’ I felt resistant to responding before, but as soon as he phrased it like that, I felt relieved, and free to respond.”

Rubin advises, Information, consequences, choice. Without lectures or micro-management or rescue.

Then, if a Rebel still resists meeting expectations, let them deal with the consequences.

Oftentimes, other people clean up Rebel messes so Rebels never have to take responsibility or learn a lesson. While it can be a bummer when their messes spill over onto those around them or when their messes escalate, a Rebel will never have any reason to choose differently if they never have to sit in the muck they created.

If my Rebel client doesn’t reply to that text in time, let her take a Lyft.

If a Rebel doesn’t pay a bill or study for finals, let them figure it out.


There are Rebels who lean towards being Questioners and Rebels who lean towards being Obligers.

According to Rubin…

Rebel/Questioners think, “I do whatever I choose.”

Rebel/Obligers think “I refuse to do what anyone tells me to do.”

Rebel/Obligers can start to feel antsy when others get excited for them, even if they’re doing exactly what they want to be doing. Don’t high-five them for getting to work on time. They may never be there at 9 again.

In order to honor (internal and external) expectations that they want to honor, it may be helpful for Rebels to look at them in certain ways….

1) Some Rebels can do whatever they want out of love. Rubin says, “If something is important to someone they love, they may choose to meet an expectation, to show love. But it’s a choice.”

2) Some Rebels can do whatever they want out of a sense of personal values, mission, and/or purpose. Rubin quotes a Rebel, “A Rebel on a mission is a force of nature, a superstar. No need for checklists, for routines, rules, or habits to get things done. The need to find a cause, something to truly believe in and fight for, is vital. …if Rebels find the cause, then that’s their master.”

3) Rubin writes, “Rebels can meet expectations when those expectations allow them to express their identity – to act like the kind of person they want to be. …To meet financial goals, a Rebel could focus on his identity as a person who makes smart choices that give him long-term freedom.”

Rubin quotes a wanna-be writer, “I tell myself that I want to be the kind of person who writes every day. I imagine forming a writing life by getting up and writing, how it will feel…, and then I do it.”

My Rebel client particularly resonates with #3. She says, “70% of the things I struggle with can be relieved when I align them with who I perceive myself to be.”

​Rebels may resist what they’re asked to do, even in their closest relationships.

If someone communicates something that’s important to them, like having their back rubbed, to their Rebel partner, it could make their Rebel partner never rub their back again…which could make that someone question the Rebel’s love.

If you’re in a relationship with a Rebel, how can you try to communicate without asking or demanding?

Rubin quotes a Rebel with an interesting perspective, “I remind myself that I’m free to do it even though someone asked me or wants me to do it – not doing something because someone asks is just as ‘unfree’ as doing it because someone asks.

As Rubin points out, “The key thing for Rebels to remember: they can do whatever they want to do.”

ryan-tauss-895 (1)

​​Rebels have a lot to offer the world, including “their willingness to break with convention, their ability to think outside the box, their connection to their authentic interests, and desires…”

Rubin quotes a Questioner saying, The Rebel’s best asset is their voice of dissent. We shouldn’t try to school it out of them, or corporate culture it out, or shame it out. It’s there to protect us all.”

Rebels can help Obligers from hitting Obliger-Rebellion, suddenly refusing to live up to an external expectation one more time. While it can be the hardest things for Obligers, Rebels can be exemplary at saying, “no.” Rubin quotes that permission to say no “may act as a relief valve to the pressure of expectations that Obligers feel.”

Gretchen Rubin herself is an Upholder. “I’ve learned a tremendous amount from studying my ‘opposite’…. Rebels have shown me that we’re more free than we thinkIf I refused to get up before 10:00 each morning, my family and my colleagues would adjust. If I decided I’d wear yoga pants and running shoes every day for the rest of my life, I could get away with that. We’re more free than we think.”


…and those are the four Tendencies, according to Gretchen Rubin.

1) Obligers honor external expectations, but can struggle with meeting internal expectations.

2) Questioners honor internal expectations, but can struggle with meeting external expectations.

3) Upholders honor both internal and external expectations.

4) Rebels resist both internal and external expectations.

**Please hit “REPLY” and let me know which Tendency you are.** Also, how has this series been helpful? What do you see differently now? I would really love to know.



Want to revisit the other three Tendencies?

Click to read about Obligers (Part 1), Questioners (Part 2), and Upholders (Part 3).

Never miss a post. Get it delivered straight to your inbox. “Subscribe” at the top of the main blog page.

In reading this, you agree to be bound by Two Step Forward, Inc’s Terms and ConditionsDisclaimers, and Privacy Policy.


By reading these emails you agree to be bound by Two Step Forward, Inc’s Terms and Conditions, Disclaimers, and Privacy Policy.


  1. This was so well-researched and written, Sheila! I’m a big fan of Rubin’s work and an Upholder myself, and have found myself mystified by the inner workings of Rebels. Loved thinking about this tendency from a coach’s perspective, especially. I’m going to have to remember you when I get a Rebel client I’m not sure how to best empower!

    • Thanks for your comment, Charissa! I’m glad you enjoyed the post and that it might be helpful to you in your work with Rebel clients. Learning about the Tendencies has really helped me to understand my clients differently – and to communicate and work with them in ways that are more helpful to them individually. Powerful stuff! If you’re interested, feel free to subscribe to get future posts emailed to you. (No pressure!)

  2. What a wonderful article! As a Rebel myself I highly appreciated your tone! It’s full of dignity. Because, to be honest, in the book I often felt like the Rebel was being made fun of (as if childish) or seen as hopeless or less capable. I almost gave up on the whole framework because of this (how totally ‘Rebel’ of me, haha), but I actually think I really need it. So thank you so much for this!

    • Karyn, thank you so much for your comment. I’m glad that the article resonated with you and made you feel good! ALL of the tendencies have their fabulous parts and their challenges. Yes, how totally Rebel of you to want to give up on it entirely, but I’m glad you can see there might be some merit in still thinking about it. As a Rebel, it’s important that you always give yourself choices. As an Obliger, I wish I didn’t have to set up external accountability for what’s personally important to me — but I’m more successful when I do!

  3. It appears I’m a rebel, through and through. I strongly relate to the gardening example – getting so deep into the prep but then resisting the ongoing maintenance component… because it is the component that doesn’t bring fulfilment. Same with the business example – once I’ve tried something, to it’s fullest, I may not want to repeat it regardless of how ‘successful’ it appeared to others. It’s not about being flighty, or not being able to see things through, rather, it’s about knowing what part of a project we are best at contributing to. I LOVE starting new projects, but not necessarily repeating them. I have endless ideas for new projects that I want to create next. It would be a shame to force me into a repetitive work role when my skills are in innovation and new ideas. That’s where harnessing the strengths of each type is very useful in a work environment. It’s a shame that I’ve experienced the opposite, in the form of criticism for ‘not seeing things through’ rather than for what it really is: strength in getting things started, getting teams motivated or projects off the ground.

    Another thought: a lot of the resistance or rebellion stems from needing variety (hence, not getting chained down to repetitive tasks that other types thrive in) and also from a strong awareness of intuition (where you rely on your intuition when decision making, but may need to do so closer to crunch time and this doesn’t often match other people’s timelines!). It’s not to say the rebel seems to always end up in trouble, or is childish – although it can appear that way to non-rebels. It’s just that rebels have an innate sense of authenticity and a unique sense of timing, but it works for them. If you consider the world is dominated by the other types, the rebels being in the minority, then it’s fair to say the rules are in place to suit those other dominant types… hence rebellion. :)

    • Jenny, I love these insights. Thank you! How long have you known you’re a Rebel? What did that understanding change for you? Thank you again!

  4. Why Did I Have to Wear a Hat to Church on Sunday!
    I Am Not Going to Hold my Mother’s Hand to Cross the Street!
    Why Can’t I Go to the Dance on Saturday Night!

    You can tell that I am a tad older than most reading this email & yes, I have discovered that I am a Rebel at age 71 & it’s so exciting to finally ‘know who I am’.I am the odd one out but hey it feels so good. I have obliged all my life except when I blew a fuse & then I didn’t like myself, my husband & children didn’t like me but it was the only solution, I thought… (once my husband said ‘sorry’ to me then I started to simmer down).
    I now understand why I loved the ‘high’ I got from starting a new project, whether it was in my garden or art/craft or a new book- if it hadn’t grabbed my interest by the 50th page…that was it, another UFO – I didn’t have the time to waste on something that wasn’t riveting, worthwhile, fun or something that captivated my interest & I was going to learn from. Thank you to all the previous posts. It’s great to know that I am not alone.

    • Hi Lyn. Thanks for your comment! I love this…”Why Did I Have to Wear a Hat to Church on Sunday!” Isn’t it amazing to have a new frame of reference and for so much to now make sense? You are definitely not alone. I’ve met lots of rebels, all relieved to finally have context.

  5. I’m a rebel questioner & I struggle to get things done sometimes. I’ve had a side project on hold forever. Every time I think about making a step forward I think about all the other things I have to do to make this project successful & then I don’t want to do anything. I’m always rebelling at moving forward & I’m tired of it. I am going to try some of the things Gretchen Rubin suggested to see if they work. I’m currently listening to Gretchin Rubin’s audio book of Better than Before.

    • Hi Hazel. Thanks for your comment. It can be tough to be a Rebel Questioner. What have you tried of Gretchen’s suggestions? How have they worked? One of my clients really resonated with the idea of Identity. She could choose to do things that were in alignment with the type of person she wanted to be.

  6. Never have i felt more “seen”…I’m truly a rebel through and through. Oh, the projects i have started and never finished, the feelings of “you don’t me – don’t tell me what to do”…I could go on and on. Thank you so much for helping me see who I really am.

    • Hi Kris. Thanks for your note. I’m so glad the post was helpful. Sometimes, understanding ourselves better can make all the difference. From there, we can figure out how to move forward in ways that work for us personally!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *