Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies and Re-entry/Repatriation

I first heard Gretchen Rubin speak about her Four Tendencies framework a few years ago at an event in Portland, Oregon but it wasn’t until just a few months ago that I finally sat down and read her book.

I’m so glad I did because finding out that I’m a Questioner/Rebel was illuminating and explained SO MANY THINGS.

The insight I gleaned from Rubin’s framework helped me understand why so much advice, especially anything to do with productivity and goal-setting, (and, thinking back…some re-entry advice, too), just doesn’t work for me.

Armed with this newfound self-awareness, along with Rubin’s tips for Questioners like me, I quickly figured out what actually works for me.

Consequently, I’ve been SO much more productive, and I’ve met my goals much more easily, which makes me feel so much happier.

Then I started thinking about Rubin’s framework in the context of re-entry…

A graphic of Gretchen Rubin's "Four Tendencies" with the title of this piece, "The Four Entries and Re-entry After Abroad" superimposed on top of it.

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The Four Tendencies are all about how you meet or resist inner and outer expectations.

As I read Rubin’s book I immediately thought about how these Tendencies relate to re-entry…because there are all kinds of inner and outer expectations in re-entry!

Becoming aware of how you respond to these expectations can help you navigate re-entry with more confidence and ease. They also give you insight into how others might experience re-entry differently than you.

To explore the connection between the Four Tendencies and re-entry, I’ve been talking with some of our Facebook group members and recently did a Facebook Live for the group on the topic. I thought I’d share some ideas from my Facebook Live here on the blog. 

Not sure what your dominant tendency is?

Click here to take Rubin’s short quiz.

Note: you’ll be asked for your email address at the end of the quiz. If you don’t want to give it, just click “next” to see your results.

Rubin’s four tendencies help us understand our patterns of behavior in re-entry. Here are the four tendencies, as described by Rubin:

A graphic explaining the four dominant tendencies Gretchen Rubin believes influence our patterns of behavior.



A few things to note:

  • There are more Questioners and Obligers than there are Upholders or Rebels.
  • You’ll have a dominant Tendency but it could overlap with a different Tendency. For example, my dominant Tendency is Questioner but I overlap some with the Rebel Tendency.
  • You’ll probably see yourself in each Tendency to some degree or in some situations. That said, you’ll still have a dominant Tendency. I read a blog comment by a guy who’s a Rebel but said that he’s more of an Upholder at work and Rebel in his personal life. Similarly, I’m very clearly a Questioner but I can easily think of times here and there when I’m more of an Upholder, Obliger or a Rebel.
  • All Tendencies can be successful (or not), and shouldn’t be used as predictors for success or failure. So, for example, all Tendencies can be great leaders of organizations or entrepreneurs, friends or parents. The key is understanding your dominant Tendency and then figuring out how to work to your strengths.

Expectations in Re-entry and Repatriation

The Four Tendencies are all about how you meet or resist inner and outer expectations. So how do they relate to re-entry after living abroad?

Here are a couple examples of outer and inner expectations that you could encounter in re-entry…

Outer (things other people want you to do)

  • Requests from friends and family to spend lots of time with them
  • Settle in quickly and easily & not talk about abroad

Inner (things you want to do)

  • Keep in close contact with friends from abroad
  • Start a travel blog about where you lived abroad

How might you navigate these expectations in re-entry?

Let’s take a look…

If you’re an Upholder: 

  • You readily and easily meet both inner and outer expectations.
  • You’re motivated by the satisfaction you feel in meeting those expectations and you don’t want to let people down.
  • Using the sample re-entry expectations above, as an Upholder you may find a sense of satisfaction in saying yes to every request by family and friends to spend time together and not sharing too much about your time abroad. You might also easily keep up meaningful contact with friends abroad and quickly start and maintain a kick-ass travel blog.
  • The positive? You easily meet the expectations listed above.
  • The downside? You might fill your plate too full by striving to meet all expectations. You could also become rigid as you strive to meet all expectations, and you might get frustrated that others don’t meet expectations as easily as you.
  • Tip: Don’t forge ahead too quickly and meet expectations simply because there are expectations to meet. Take time to reflect in re-entry and decide which expectations are still a priority.

If you’re an Obliger: 

  • You find it easier to meet outer (other peoples’) expectations than inner (your own) expectations.
  • You’re motivated by external accountability. You don’t like letting people down.
  • Using the sample re-entry expectations above, as an Obliger you may feel pressure to meet the outer expectations to spend time with everyone who wants to spend time with you and not talk about your time abroad. Meanwhile, you might struggle to prioritize and move forward on the things you want to do, like maintain close contact with friends or start a travel blog.
  • The positive? You’re someone who shows up and delivers. People know they can count on you.
  • The negative? Obligers tend to be people-pleasers and consequently often don’t do the things they want to do. At some point you might feel like you’re being taken advantage of and frustrated with your lack of progress.
  • Tip: Create systems or a sense of external accountability for meeting your inner expectations. Basically, you want to turn inner expectations into outer expectations. Also, remember that you don’t always have to meet outer expectations, so practice saying no!

If you’re a Questioner: 

  •  You question all expectations. You’ll typically resist expectations that come from others but readily meet your own expectations. You’ll meet outer expectation if it make sense to you.
  • You’re motivated by sound reasons. You want to be sure that what you’re doing makes sense and isn’t arbitrary.
  • Using the sample re-entry expectations above, as a Questioner, you probably won’t have any problem keeping in close contact with friends from abroad or starting a travel blog. But you may feel a deep inner resistance to the outer expectations that family and friends have – to spend a lot of time with them and not talk much about your experiences abroad. If you find good reasons to meet those outer expectations, you will more inclined to meet them (because you basically turn them into inner expectations). But if you don’t? You’ll struggle to meet them — or flat out won’t  meet them at all.
  • The positive? You don’t simply accept things as they are and your questioning can be incredibly helpful in make things better. If you make up your mind to do something, you’re great at sticking to it.
  • The negative? Constant questioning and analyzing can become tiresome, both to you and others. And, without having perfect information about why you’re expected to do something, you may feel paralyzed and unable to move forward, which can be frustrating.
  • Tip: Turn outer expectations into inner expectations. So, for example, while you might feel resistance to meeting your family’s expectation to spend a lot of time with them, once you realize how happy it makes your mom, and that seeing your mom so happy makes you feel good, you’ll be motivated by what you want to do.

If you’re a Rebel: 

  • You naturally resist all expectations! And you might even feel the urge to do the opposite of what others want you to do — or even what you want you to do.
  • As a rebel, you’re motivated by what you want to do and by having lots of freedom and choice.
  • Using the sample re-entry expectations above, as a Rebel you’ll probably feel resistance rise up within you when you realize that your friends and family want you to spend all of your time with them. And instead of talking less about your experiences abroad, you may talk about them even more. Although you really do want to keep in close contact with friends from abroad and start a travel blog, you may feel that same resistance rise up and keep you from moving forward.
  • The positive? You think outside the box, you’re in touch with who you are and what you want.
  • The negative? Others can quickly become frustrated with you…and you can become frustrated with yourself if you’re not moving forward with the things you actually want to do.
  • Tip: Reflect on why, for example, keeping in contact with friends from abroad is so important to you. Doing so will give you the information you need to set set yourself up for success. Rebels don’t like to be confined or beholden to rules, people or schedules, so give yourself lots of choice and flexibly in how you keep in contact with friends.

What do you think?

Have you read Rubin’s Four Tendencies book? How do you think your dominant Tendency impacted your re-entry? What kinds of outer and inner expectations have you encountered in re-entry?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Click here to join the conversation we’re having in our Re-entry Roadmap Facebook group!