Fiona Worthington Clinical Hypnotherapist and Cognitive Behavioural Coach at the Putney Clinic looks at how self-knowledge helps us change habits and keep those New Year resolutions.

Do you ever wonder why you can’t keep New Year resolutions and why that friend of yours annoyingly always manages to keep hers ? Or maybe you are that friend who comfortably keeps them and doesn’t understand the struggle that you have.  If you want to do it why can’t you just do it!

I know I fall into the former category and beat myself up at my annual failings not to lose weight or quit an exercise regime too early. Or why can’t I write my blog regularly. 

As a coach/therapist I read loads about happiness, habits, emotions. Some years ago, I came across a book by Gretchen Rubin called the The 4 Tendencies and that has been an eye opener for me as to why we all do things. 

Copyright Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen has spent years researching happiness and habits. Asking questions “Why do we do the things we do — or don’t do? How can we change?” Like me she was curious as to why she could go to the gym pretty easily and yet her friend who had in her younger days been a ‘track star’ struggled with fitness post university.   

As I read her book, I was hooked.  This was me too. As a youngster I practiced gymnastics religiously anywhere, anytime for hours and hours. I was forever bending forwards or backwards. I worked really hard to achieve certain moves. So, it made no sense to me that as a grown up I struggle with maintaining a regular exercise routine. I like to think that I am someone who is good at working to deadlines, that if I am asked to do something it’s done and overall am pretty good at delivering on time. But maintaining an exercise routine ….well…. 

Gretchen Rubin has come up with a system that explains why we do things as we do.
It is beautifully simple, based upon how we respond to expectations.

She describes two types: 

External expectations: things we do for work,
Internal expectations: what we do for ourselves,  New Year resolutions, diets

Our response to these expectations determines which “tendency” we fall into


Knowing our Tendency can help us set up situations in the ways that make it more likely that we’ll achieve our aims. We can make better decisions, meet deadlines, meet our promises to ourselves, suffer less stress, and engage more deeply with others.

When we can see other people’s perspectives, we understand why, from their point of view, their actions make sense” 

Gretchen Ruben  

 This awareness can help us achieve what we want. Maybe allow us to be more forgiving of ourselves and others and help us get on better with people. 

So here are the 4 tendencies explained a little more
Obligers – meet external expectations but struggle with internal ones (me) 

Upholders – meet both internal and external expectations  

Questioners – question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation, if they think it makes sense to them, so in fact all expectations become inner expectations 

Rebels – resit all expectations, outer and inner alike 

I am an obliger, 40% of us are. I am in good company as one of my hero’s Andre Agassi is as well. No category is better than another. No category is happier or more successful than another.  It’s just the way we are.  

As an obliger I will to the best of my ability meet external expectations but struggle with internal ones that I have set. As a youngster the gym practice was what was required of me. So, the expectation was external so of course I did it. Now my fitness is only accountable to me. 

 My husband is a questioner who proved this beautifully this last weekend. I was sitting in bed sketching this post and I asked him if he would take the Four tendencies Quiz for me ( I already knew the answer, but I thought I would make sure ) He wanted to know why? what for? what it’s about? what will it show? So yes, he is a questioner 100%. Knowing this about him has helped me. In our long marriage and happy marriage, he has at times frustrated me that he has questioned so many things. Now I get it, it is just the way he is. I still get frustrated but maybe a little less and am little more forgiving. 

Knowing I am an obliger how does that help me? Well I now know if I want to achieve stuff for myself be it exercise, diet, or writing that blog I mentioned in the beginning, then I need to be accountable. If I am accountable, I will do it. Either I get a gym buddy, or a trainer or a coach or I tell the world what I want to do. This has worked rather well for the past 5 years at New Year, as I have been doing dry January. I told everyone what I was doing. When I have had exercise goals or weight targets in the past, they have been successful when I have a fitness buddy or my husband or daughter has been in the same mindset. So rather than feel guilty about not being able to do it on my own, I now accept it’s the way I am, and I know how to work with it.  

So here is my latest NY resolution. I am writing a blog once a fortnight. I have said it. I don’t have to do this, no one is making me, but I want to do it, so it is an internal expectation. However, by telling you all, I have created an external expectation for myself.

Finally don’t let these categories bog you down too much, use them as a learning tool.
Why I like her ideas so much is that it’s all about being aware of yourself. I believe that If you want to change a behaviour you have to be aware of what you are doing.  

The Roman philosopher Seneca said, “For a person who is not aware that he is doing anything wrong has no desire to be put right. You have to catch yourself doing it before you can reform.”

Summary in Gretchen’s words: 

  • Questioners want justifications. 
  • Obligers need accountability. 
  • Rebels want freedom to do something their own way. 
  • Upholders want to know what should be done. 

If you are interested further than do her test, its free and you can learn more about the different categories.


Fiona Worthington –

Fiona offers Hypnotherapy and Cognitive Behavioural Coaching at the Putney Clinic.