Better Than Before: The Four Tendencies

One of the main concepts in Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before is her framework called the four tendencies. Rubin believes that everyone falls into one of four tendencies: upholder, obliger, questioner, or rebel. These four tendencies are based on how you meet inner and outer expectations.

Upholders: Meets outer expectations, and meets inner expectations.

Obligers: Meets outer expectations, and resists inner expectations.

Questioners: Resists outer expectations, and meets inner expectations.

Rebels: Resists outer expectations, and resists inner expectations.

You can take the quiz to find out what your tendency is. So, why is this important? In order to embark on successful habit formation, you must know yourself first. While you may be tempted to want to fit a particular tendency, it is best to be yourself. As a teacher, I find it very helpful to know the tendencies of my students. Once I know my students’ tendencies, then I can tailor my teaching to them. Many of my students are obligers, so I can encourage them to find a “practice buddy” or assign a practice journal/log so that they stay accountable to someone or something other than themselves.

In addition to the four tendencies, you can make further distinctions about yourself. Again, through self-knowledge, you can better serve yourself and be efficient in your habit formation. Consider the following questions:

  1. Am I a lark or an owl? When am I most productive? Do you prefer to practice early in the morning or late at night?
  2. Am I a marathoner, a sprinter, or a procrastinator? What is the pace that you prefer to work? While procrastination is usually not a good idea if you are preparing for a recital, some people do prefer to either take their time or put something together quickly.
  3. Am I an underbuyer or an overbuyer? Will you make do with what you have, or do you like to buy new equipment, music, etc. because that motivates you to practice?
  4. Am I a simplicity lover or an abundance lover? Are you more productive when you practice in an empty practice room or office? Do you like to have a few pieces to work on, or do you like to have many projects going on at once?
  5. Am I a familiarity lover or a novelty lover? Are you more inclined to want to use the same routine or warm up every day, or do you like to mix it up and try new routines?
  6. Am I promotion-focused or prevention-focused? Do you practice to improve, or do you practice so that you don’t get worse?
  7. Do I like small steps or big steps? When you have a goal, are you more likely to achieve it by taking many small steps, or do you like to jump all in with big steps?

There is no right or best way to be. We are who we are. The key is to learn about yourself and how you optimally operate. Take Rubin’s quiz to find out your tendency. How does your tendency and distinctions affect the way you approach honing your craft as a musician? As a teacher? Feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments below!



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