How to Be a Rebel

7 minute read
Gretchen Rubin is an author, speaker, blogger and podcaster; her most recent book is The Four Tendencies.

Every single day, all day long, each of us faces outer expectations and inner expectations — and we must decide, “Should I meet this expectation or resist it?”

In a nutshell, my Four Tendencies framework distinguishes how people tend to respond to these expectations: outer expectations (a deadline, a “request” from a sweetheart) and inner expectations (write a novel in your free time, keep a New Year’s resolution). Your response to expectations may sound slightly obscure, but it turns out to be very, very important.

  • Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations
  • Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense–essentially, they make all expectations into inner expectations
  • Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves
  • Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike
  • When researching the tendencies, I was most surprised by what I learned about Rebels, who are the opposite of me, an Upholder.

    For Rebels, the answer is always clear: Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike. They want to do what they want to do, in their own way and in their own time, and if someone asks or tells them to do something, they resist. They don’t even want to tell themselves what to do — 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. Rebels wake up and think, “What do I feel like doing right now?”

    Rebels aren’t persuaded by arguments such as “People are counting on you,” “You’ve already paid for it,” “I did this task, so will you do that task?” “I think this is really important, so let’s agree that from now on we’ll do it,” “Things should be this way,” “You have an appointment,” “You said you’d do it,” “This way is more efficient,” “Someone else will be inconvenienced,” “It’s against the rules,” “It’s a tradition,” “This is the deadline,” or “It’s rude.”

    They’re much more apt to respond to being told “This will be fun,” “This is what you want,” “I’m feeling anxious about this, do you think you can do it?” “This feels really important to me, what do you think?”

    Rebels can do anything they want to do.

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

    In my study, when people in the Four Tendencies were asked about how they stick to their good habits, Rebels were most likely to give the answer: “Usually I don’t choose to bind myself in advance to a particular course of action.” Of the Four Tendencies, Rebel has the fewest members. It’s a conspicuous group but a small one.

    Rebels have incredible strengths. Rebels do something because they choose to do it, and so they’re free from many of the pressures that the other Tendencies face. Rebels tend to enjoy meeting challenges, when they can meet those challenges in their own way.

    A Rebel entrepreneur explained:

    As a Rebel, I get a boost from a challenge. “You think I can’t start my own business? Watch me.” Whenever I hear myself say “I can’t . . .” or “I could never . . . ,” I feel compelled to do it. I’ve amazed myself by the impossible things I’ve tackled just to prove to myself that I could.

    Rebels also take great pleasure in defying people’s expectations. A Rebel who gave up alcohol explained, “People told me I could never quit drinking, and I love rubbing their faces in it and proving how wrong they were.” In fact, in the survey I conducted, Rebels were more likely than the other Tendencies to agree with the statement “I don’t mind breaking rules or violating convention — I often enjoy it.”

    At times, the Rebel Tendency is enormously valuable to society. As one Questioner pointed out, “The Rebels’ 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.” Many “Rebels with a cause” use their Rebel spirit to support the principles and purposes they believe in. One Rebel explained, “I’ve always had the impulse to defy authority. I ‘use my powers for good.’ I’ve argued against rules, and sometimes even broken them deliberately, on behalf of others to whom they’ve been applied unfairly.” Whenever I hear about people following an unconventional path — like the first woman to work on an oil rig — I think, hmmm, perhaps that’s a Rebel.

    One Rebel made an eloquent case for Rebeldom:

    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. The inner belief is so strong, it will withstand any external pressure. A Rebel believes in his/her own uniqueness, and even superiority. There’s certainly an aspect of arrogance. But if Rebels find the cause, then that’s their master.

    Rebels place a very high value on authenticity and self-determination, and want their lives to be a true expression of their values. Others can find it very freeing to be with Rebels, because they’re so in touch with what they want and have no trouble refusing obligations.

    Rebels like to establish their own, often idiosyncratic, way of doing things. Right before a friend introduced me to someone she knew, she whispered, “Just so you know, he’s a fist bumper.” What? I wondered. But sure enough, when I held out my hand to shake, he held out his hand for a fist bump. He wasn’t just going to shake hands like everyone else. A friend’s Rebel son resisted applying to colleges until he decided to investigate international schools that no one else knew about; he enthusiastically applied once he’d found his own way.

    As an Upholder, I’ve learned a tremendous amount from studying my “opposite,” the Rebel. If 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.

    Adapted from The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (And Other People’s Lives Better, Too) Copyright © 2017 by Gretchen Rubin. Published by Harmony Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

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