I love the work of Gretchen Rubin. As a researcher of habits and happiness, Rubin likes to investigate what motivates us to make the best choices for ourselves. To this end, Rubin has created the four tendencies, or four ways that people are motivated to change their habits. Her soon-to-be-released book, aptly titled The Four Tendencies, goes into more detail. I can’t wait for my copy to arrive! I think the four tendencies are brilliant fodder for discussion, and are particularly relevant when it comes to personal finance.
What Are the Four Tendencies?
Obligers are motivated externally. They’re good at sticking to habits when they’re held accountable to others, but not when they have to hold themselves accountable (even if they think it’s a good idea). To use the example of starting a workout routine, an obliger would do best in settings where they exercise with a group of friends that would miss them, or by hiring a personal trainer that will notice if they don’t put in the work.
Upholders are the rule-followers of the world. They are motivated both internally and externally. They have few problems sticking to “the rules,” no matter who makes them up. In some ways, the problem is that the rules can become oppressive for them. An upholder would start their workout regimen and never miss a day, even on vacation.
Questioners are motivated internally only. (This is me!) They question all rules. If they decide it’s not worth beginning a habit, you won’t motivate them to do so unless you can produce better reasons why it’s a good idea. If they become convinced the habit is a smart move, they will be able to keep the habit purely on their own volition. A questioner would become convinced of the need for a workout routine after reading about the benefits of exercise, and choose what they view as the most efficient routine.
Rebels are neither intrinsically or extrinsically motivated. (This is Mr. Steward.) The wildcards of the bunch, rebels value self-determination and freedom. They resist rules and habits as a matter of course, because they want the ability to decide in each moment how they will behave. Obviously, a workout regimen would be hard for a rebel to maintain. They might be assisted by a routine that allows a great deal of flexibility, or only once they become convinced that not having a routine is limiting their life in some way.
Not sure what you are? Rubin has a great quiz on her website. Go take it. I’ll wait.
What Do These Tendencies Have to Do With Personal Finance?
By better understanding what motivates us (and the others in our lives), we can all make better money choices. When we fail, it’s often because we are trying to motivate ourselves in ways that don’t work for us. And, if we can’t get others on board with the plan, it’s because we’re not appealing to them in a way that makes sense to how they are motivated. Here are some suggestions I’ve thought of about each tendency and personal finance:
Obligers, no matter how good the reasoning for making better money choices, will likely not succeed without an accountability group. They need people around them cheering them on and keeping them focused. Getting highly involved in the personal finance Twitter community might be great for an obliger. Obliger bloggers would probably be really motivated by having to create goal update posts. This is also the personality type that, dare I say it, would most benefit from the services of a financial advisor keeping them on track.
Upholders need a financial plan. If an upholder can get a detailed path forward and clear objectives on how to win with money, they’ll succeed. I can see step-by-step programs like Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover, which is geared towards checking boxes off with some early big wins, being really appealing to an upholder. I would imagine an upholder would find financial setbacks or unexpected expenses really frustrating, so they would need a well-thought out emergency plan.
Questioners have to be sold on the math and logic of taking control of their finances. If they are convinced that good personal finance choices are smart, obtainable, and the better option, they will succeed in getting their financial plan together. Questioners are a personal finance blogger’s dream audience because they have the greatest potential to be convinced by a good argument. Questioners have to remember what they’ve learned, though, and not get overwhelmed by information overload early on.
Rebels, as the hardest group to consistently motivate, need to be sold on the ways that not getting their finances under some semblance of control actually limits their freedom. You can’t be spontaneous with no money in the bank. Flexible budgets would probably work best for rebels. Financial independence could also hold great appeal–after all, once they reach their FI mark, rebels aren’t beholden to anyone anymore!
Which tendency are you? How do you think it impacts the way you interact with money? Do you have tips for any of the tendencies?