Meeting & Exceeding Expectations: How To "Hack" Yourself for Success

Pittsburgh Dietitian Blog Posts
November 18, 2019

Have you ever set a New Year's resolution that you gave up on by February? Or have you ever disregarded a task simply because a spouse asked you to it, in a form of silent rebellion? Do you get frustrated with loved ones, friends, or clients that set goals for themselves and fail to keep them, time after time?

We do not all respond the same way to expectations, but we do see trends that allow us to group ourselves into different tendencies. Recently, some of the Case Specific team got together to read a book called The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin. This book showed us one way to categorize ourselves based on how we respond to expectations, whether they be internal or external. Almost everyone falls into one of these categories: Obliger, Questioner, Upholder, or Rebel. Go ahead and take the quiz now to find out which you are: We would definitely recommend the book, but here is a little explanation about what each tendency:


Are you always on time for lunch dates and meetings, but have a hard time sticking to waking up early and working out? You might be an Obliger. Obligers are great at meeting outward expectations (i.e. the expectations of others), but struggle to meet their goals when the only person counting on them is themselves. This is the most common tendency.

Obligers make great leaders and are regarded highly by their bosses, peers, and friends. They are very trustworthy and reliable. The downside of being on obliger is that they can get frustrated with themselves when they fail at their own internal expectations, largely because they are putting others needs before their own. The best way to "hack" this trait is to give yourself external accountability to meet your own internal goals. This might be an app like RateMyDay, keeping a food log that you plan on showing to your dietitian at your next appointment, or even just having a running buddy. Be careful not to put too many external expectations on yourself though. Obligers can easily experience burnout, and may go into what is called "Obliger Rebellion". This is when Obligers feel so burdened from external expectations that they act in total defiance, often to the surprise of those around them. Focus on the goals that are most important to you, Obliger, and remember that saying "no" to one thing, allows you to say "yes" to something more important to you.


Do you set goals for yourself, and follow them without much struggle? Do you follow instructions to a T, even when they don't seem to make much sense? You might be an Upholder. Upholders are great at meeting both internal and external expectations. This is because they value them equally. Upholders like rules and structure, and often struggle when there aren't clear expectations set for them. They are very disciplined - even sometimes when it doesn't make sense to be. They may not understand why it is difficult for others to meet expectations, when it comes so easily to them.

Change and ambiguity can both be difficult for Upholders. A way to "hack" coping with change could be to use that change (maybe its a new job, or moving to a new city) to start a new habit. Maybe its meditating every day, or maybe its something else. Schedule this new habit for a specific time of the day, and monitor this habit to track your consistency. This approach will give you a sense of structure and control, and can be very satisfying for an Upholder. Learn to be patient with the non-Upholders in your life. Upholders are a rare breed! Understanding the other tendencies will help you better know how to engage with others in a successful way.


In school did you sometimes ignore homework assignments when you felt that they were unnecessary? Do you like to explore all the possible options before making a decision? You might be a Questioner. A Questioner always does what they think is best. They need logical answers before taking action.

Questioners are great researchers and litigators, and are famous for asking "Why?" As kids, Questioners are often told that they ask too many questions. Instead of telling a Questioner, "Because I said so," it would be better to give them a good reason for completing a task. If you give them a reason, they are much more likely to do it! Questioners sometimes experience what is called "analysis paralysis", which is when the need for so much information makes it difficult for them to make a decision.

The best way to start a new habit as a Questioner is first establishing a solid purpose for this habit. Make it a useful habit, not just a habit for habit's sake. Maybe losing weight feels pointless, but when you think about how much easier it will be to play with your kids without feeling tired, you will be more inclined to push forward. Get a FitBit or AppleWatch to track your progess. Getting more information about how your habit is progressing will make you more likely to stick to it.


Have you ever been about to take out the trash, but then your roommate asks you to do it, making you instantly not want to? Do you appreciate a less structured work environment? Does a morning routine sound unbearable and monotonous to you? You might be a Rebel.

Rebels are the least common tendency. Rebels tend to reject both inner and outer expectations, and even get a thrill from it. They like to do things their own way, on their own schedule. They don't like being told way to do, and have a strong sense of identity. Rebels can often get frustrated by their own rebellious ways, especially when it interferes with getting things done.

Rebels do their best when they feel like they are being true to themselves. If they identify as a loving partner or parent, they will act in a way that affirms that identity by treating their partner or children with love and care. The revel in uniqueness, so an exercise habit like rock climbing or even pole dancing will get them to express their rebel spirit while getting a workout. Rebels do things because they want to do them. If a Rebel can tell themselves that they want to complete a certain task, they are much more likely to do it.

After taking the quiz associated with the book, we found out something interesting: among the Case Specific team, we have representation from all four tendencies! This affects how we exist in our personal and professional lives, how we engage with clients and each other, and how we reach our goals. We realized that our differences are what make us such a great team. Meet the different tendencies and how they have learned to "hack" their tendency to set them up for success:

Shannon, the Obliger

My name is Shannon and I'm an obliger! There's a good chance I'm talking to fellow obligers, since that is the largest of the 4 tendency categories. In the past couple of months I've learned to own/hack my tendency and it really has changed my life! Let me explain. I am really good at helping other people, from family members, to friends to clients. I put others first and always have, you may even describe me as a peacekeeper or a people pleaser. I just want everyone to be happy! It really wasn't until I learned about my obliger tendency that I was, first annoyed, but then delightfully aware of how to manipulate the tendency to my benefit. I was first irritated to learn I'm obliger. Why? Well it just doesn't seem fair that it is literally my nature to not be able to help myself without external accountability, but yet I can meet the needs of anyone and anything around me (most of the time). But I was relieved to learn why I had been increasingly and increasingly feeling burned out and low energy in certain areas of my life. I was SO excited that there was a solution and that vicious cycle would halt it's giant snowball effect in my life.

Thankfully I have a lot of really good long term HABITS when it comes to food, health and wellness. So even with my obliger tendency it affected more of my emotional and mental health and energy rather than my physical health. I realized I was not making enough time for rejuvenating, relaxing, replenishing activities on a DAILY basis. Yes, daily, that is what it takes for us obligers to stop feeling like we are in the backseat and our crazy busy life is in the front seat. Daily reading, daily journaling, daily mid-day walks, daily singing, daily creativity, etc., I started doing something rejuvenating every day. You see, myself like many other obligers, never thought these things were "productive" so they never make it on the to-do list. However, including these things daily in the past several months have made me so much more productive.

As a dietitian, I truly think my tendency is a blessing. I am able to better connect with the majority of my clients because I can really relate to what they are struggling with when they are falling short when trying to help themselves. I have been able to give examples from my own life and my clients tend to resonate with my examples. I explain to them how I have hacked my tendency and encourage them that they can too. Together we make a plan to include actual, realistic external accountability to accompany each of their goals. Whether it is a habit forming streak tracking app, a detailed food log, check-in appointments, accountability charts and gold star stickers, strategizing an accountability/buddy system with a close person in their life, etc., my clients are able to see how if they go outside of themselves for accountability, they can end up helping themselves in ways they never thought they could do.

Allison, the Upholder

Hi! My name is Allison, and I have the upholder tendency. As a dietitian, it gives me satisfaction when others complete their goals/tasks that I set out for them. I find great desire in pushing my clients to help them reach their goals. As an upholder, I dislike making mistakes or letting others down. This makes me a better practitioner by staying up to date on the research and preparing to see a client before they come into the office. I think of myself as reliable and want my clients to feel they can trust me and count on me for help, guidance, and answers to problems they are having.
Things I have to be aware of and the weaknesses this tendency creates is that sometimes it is hard for me to understand why someone can't do something I am asking them to do. I notice more now when I am being impatient when clients don't meet expectations I have set for them. Learning more about this tendency has allowed me to be more compassionate and find solutions for my clients who are struggling to meet our goals. I find such satisfaction in my personal life by living through a schedule and keeping commitments and goals I set for myself, but sometimes it's hard for me to understand why others can't do the same. This book has been eye opening to learn more about how others function and help me look at situations differently.

Andrew, The Questioner

Andrew here! When I first heard about this book, I dismissed it, and initially assumed it was an illegitimate measure of a person. I even told one of our teammates, “I think I am all the tendencies in different circumstances”. When the author stated in her Questioner chapter that “...Questioners question everything, and are likely to doubt the tendencies themselves, often thinking they do not fit into one specific tendency…” all I could do was laugh. It suddenly all made sense. My entire life spent subconsciously resisting everything that was commonly done, popular, or trending, always being more interested in my own path than what everyone else does, and my habit of hyper analyzing all decisions from every angle before coming to a conclusion. I was right that I have a tendency to uphold, obligate myself, and rebel, but only if I question it first and come to my own conclusion. Once I come to that conclusion, good luck stopping me (hence the unbreakable workout habits I uphold, my willingness to obligate 55 hours per week to helping other people one on one, or my rebellion from iphones and traditional beach vacations).

In many ways my tendency has nudged me to pursue the world of self-employment and build a private practice, online business and multiple business additions. Entrepreneur and Nutrition expert is a path that allows me to ask the most questions and come to my own conclusions. It has also allowed me to speak to nutrition with autonomy and set me up to focus on helping people using information I have intensely studied. With some obvious benefits, this tendency is equally responsible for my need to compare the neurotic details on two equally priced $8.00 items on amazon. It is also why I unintentionally drive people nuts when they ask my opinion and along with the desired simple reply I feel compelled to supply them with an essay style explanation of my reasoning (other questioners actually appreciate this). I have noticed that many of the people closest to me are questioners as well, particularly those I talk to most often. Our conversations flow logically, and the topics are always completely investigated by the time we are done, but others find us verbose.

Professionally, my need for thorough explanation has allowed me to be a great unbiased critic of research studies, conventional health advice, and emerging diet trends. Clients will often note my “knowledge” which may in part be due to my need to explain what I say. I have to work to intentionally simplify my comments to obligers and upholders to keep their attention and engage them. I have learned over the years to assess each clients desired level of detail, and supply that as needed. My desire to question things and come to a logical conclusion often makes me a naturally great fit for other questioners as well as rebels. The more we know about ourselves, the better we can help others!

Laine, the Rebel

At first, I was surprised to learn I fell into the rebel category, but the more I pay attention to my actions, the more I understand it. While I don't overtly feel that I rebel against suggestions, I am likely to think I know a better way to complete a task and generally have to learn things on my own time, in my own way. When I need to get something done, I present myself with two choices - both actions that need to be completed. This way I feel like I have a choice while still being productive. For example, I could either fold laundry or do the dishes. Another strategy is to frame it as a challenge, e.g. You can't get this task done in X amount of time. This motivates me to prove myself wrong. I think rebels really benefit from tying actions to their sense of self. If you view yourself as someone who is active, healthy, and happy, then it's much easier to take the steps to make it so!

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