Quick: Are you a Questioner, Obliger, Rebel or Upholder?
Don't worry, we'll explain, but according to bestselling author Gretchen Rubin, there's no right away to adopt good habits—there's only the way that works for your personality type.
And knowing what makes you tick can be the difference between really losing those last 10 pounds—or finally stashing away that $100 per month in your emergency fund, like your LearnVest expert told you to.
In fact, which type you identify with may hold the clue to how you will best adapt to all sorts of good money habits.
According to Rubin, author of the “The Happiness Project” and the forthcoming book, "Before and After," which is all about habit formation: “The mistake that people make is that they think there’s a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to habit change,” she says. “They don’t take into account their own nature.”
The Four Traits: Which Personality Type Are You?
Rubin was inspired to write "Before and After" because she struggled to understand why some people, including herself, seemed to adopt new habits fairly easily, while others found it extremely difficult.
She hit upon four personality tendencies through the course of her research on what makes people happy and found that they had a lot to do with how readily people adapted to change.
“The study of habits is really the study of happiness,” she recently wrote. “If we have habits that work for us, we’re much more likely to be happy, healthy, productive and creative. When I talk to people about their happiness challenges, they often point to hurdles related to a habit they want to make or break.”
She dubs her personality categories the Four Rubin Tendencies. Each describes how you might respond to expectations, both those set by someone else (a deadline imposed by your boss, for instance), versus those that you impose on yourself (like finally finishing that screenplay you’ve been thinking about). Rubin says nearly everyone can identify with one of the following:
Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations. They meet deadlines and like getting things accomplished. They typically find it easy—perhaps even enjoyable—to change habits, and “they like to follow the rules,” Rubin says. She suspects that very few people are true Upholders, however, and as of late January, a poll on Rubin’s site showed that only 16% of people label themselves this way.
Upholders will find making new habits relatively easy as long as they clearly pinpoint their goals, with a clear step-by-step road map on how to get there, Rubin says. Do you await the challenges you receive from your LearnVest expert with bated breath? Then you just might be an Upholder.
Questioners are skeptical of all types of expectations. They’ll follow a course of action only if they think it makes sense, and they need to be persuaded by logic. A Questioner won’t, for instance, follow a fad diet unless they’ve seen that it works. The majority of people are either Questioners or Obligers (explained below), Rubin says, and indeed, 50% of people identified themselves this way in her poll.
If you’re a Questioner, then you’re probably motivated by numbers and evidence. If your goal is, for instance, to establish better spending habits, “think O.K., you eat out three times a week. Let’s add that up, and over the course of three years, let’s find out how much that is,” Rubin says.
This is where your Money Center can come in handy. The priority goal folders and recent additions to the dashboard that show spending patterns and net worth over time can give Questioners the evidence they need to keep on track.
Obligers regularly meet outer expectations because they don’t like letting others down, but they struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves. They will always be on time for a session with a trainer, but find it hard to get to the gym on their own. “They need someone watching them,” Rubin says. “Just knowing someone is looking over your shoulder is a key thing for Obligers.” They were the next most-popular category, with 29% of people labeling themselves this way.
Obligers will do better if they have someone to help keep them accountable, Rubin says. This is where Obligers—and all premium members, for that matter—can take advantage of speaking with their LearnVest Expert and sharing how they’re doing on their progress.
Obligers would also do well to have a “money buddy,” or to use their own family for accountability. “Some obligers can feel accountable to their duty as a role model,” Rubin says. “So they might say, ‘I can’t do a ton of online shopping because I don’t want my children to see boxes arriving every day.’ ”
Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike. They are motivated by a sense of freedom and don’t like being told what to do. To get them to do anything will probably require a little reverse psychology, because if you give them a rule, they’ll want to do the opposite.
In an extreme example, a friend of Rubin’s told her Rebel father that he should ignore his doctor’s orders and not take his blood pressure medication. Her ploy worked: He took it. Few people are true Rebels, Rubin says, and indeed, only 5% of people identify themselves as such in her poll.
So habit change for a Rebel is totally hopeless, right? Not so, says Rubin. “The key for a Rebel is not to tie [the habit] to something that is logical, but because [he] chooses to do it,” Rubin says. Rebels won’t necessarily save more simply because someone tells them it's the wise thing to do. But they also “don’t want to be suckers,” she says, which can be used to a Rebel’s financial advantage.
For example, if you’re a rebel, remind yourself that every trip to an out-of-network ATM usually means racking up a fee, or that carrying credit card balances month-to-month is probably costing you interest—that can help serve as your incentive for cutting out unnecessary costs or accelerating debt payment. Rebels can also remind themselves that “money can bring me freedom, which means I can do what I want,” Rubin says.
How Your Personality Can Motivate You
Rubin acknowledges that not everyone fits neatly into one of her four categories. You might, for instance, be a strong Obliger with a slight Questioner tendency, or a strong Questioner with a little bit of Rebel inside you.
If you can’t quite figure out which you are, simply knowing if your thinking skews to the more detail-oriented, analytic side or to the more big-picture, creative side can be helpful in motivating you toward healthier financial habits, says LearnVest Planning Services Certified Financial Planner™ Natalie Taylor.
“A person who is focused on the smaller and more immediate picture might be someone who tends to budget to the dollar,” says Taylor. “So that might be someone who can be persuaded to shrink their bills. I’ll say, let’s categorize your expenses and figure out which ones we’re going to make changes to. They might respond better to that, because they’ll have some small, immediate wins.” In other words, those mini accomplishments help give them positive reinforcement.
Someone who is more focused on the long-term big picture, by contrast, needs to be consistently reminded of what they’re working toward, Taylor says. They may need a more emotional connection to their new habits. That type of person might be more motivated by creating a vision board, a collection of images or phrases that you “look at every day on your fridge, at your desk or on Pinterest to keep you connected to that big picture. It represents visually what it feels like to be financially independent or what it feels like to go on that vacation,” she says.
Remember: Habits aren’t made or broken in a day, and slip-ups aren’t grounds for abandoning your goals. But taking a look in the mirror and realizing what truly motivates you can help you come up with a game plan for more permanent change.
“We believe that somebody’s past behavior doesn’t mean they are going to continue along the same [negative] path,” Taylor says. “But it is informative for figuring out how they think through these things and what might be most motivating.”
LearnVest Planning Services is a registered investment adviser and subsidiary of LearnVest, Inc. that provides financial plans for its clients. Information shown is for illustrative purposes only and is not intended as investment, legal or tax planning advice. Please consult a financial adviser, attorney or tax specialist for advice specific to your financial situation. Unless specifically identified as such, the people interviewed in this piece are neither clients, employees nor affiliates of LearnVest Planning Services. LearnVest Planning Services and any third parties listed in this message are separate and unaffiliated and are not responsible for each other’s products, services or policies.