How we respond to rules determines how we respond to challenges.

I attended the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference and was surprised by the number of people who shared their 30 day challenge successes with me. I listened with curiosity to their stories about following the paleo diet, their exercise programs and their plans to develop a yoga practice. If you’re curious too, read on for what I have since learned.

The 30 Day Challenge Theory

If you’re a Questioner like me, rules even if only imposed for 30 days have to make sense before you are willing to uphold it. So I googled the 30 day challenge to learn more about the theory behind it. It didn’t take long to find a Ted Talk on the topic. Thirty days is reportedly long enough to form a new habit but some challenges form habits and others don’t. However, challenges can move at least some people along their journey to good health and happiness.

Habits and Happiness

I had also googled for ways to develop habits and discovered Gretchen Rubin who studies and writes about human behavior. She wrote the best selling book called The Happiness Project and in doing so discovered the link between habits and happiness. Habits govern about 40% of our everyday life and obviously, some habits serve us better than others.

Habits are simply rules. Rules can be both outer rules which are those imposed on us such as deadlines for paying taxes, doctor’s order, assignments etc. and inner rules which are those imposed on yourself such as what you eat and/or drink, when or if you workout, what time you go to bed etc. A 30 day challenge is an example of an inner rule.

Four Categories of Rules

Reportedly, there are four basic categories for how people respond to rules and form habits. One isn’t better than the other. Understanding how you respond to rules will give you insight into whether or not a 30 day challenge is a good way to kickstart your journey to good health and happiness.

1. Upholders: Uphold all rules both outer and inner. They wake up wondering what’s on their to do list for the day and are motivated by fulfillment. The downside is that they can also be somewhat rigid. 

2. Questioners: Questions all rules and uphold only the rules that make sense to them. They are the ones who ask why and are motivated by sound reason. They wake up wondering what they need to get done. Questioners can be exhausting to work with because they have a high need for information and will only follow rules that make sense to them.

3. Rebels: As the name implies, they resist all rules. They are wake up wondering what they want to do today and are motivated by present desire. They think outside the box and can be quite innovative. However, it can be frustrating to work with a rebel because they often do the opposite of what you ask.

4. Obligators: They are motivated by outer rules but not inner rules. They are the people pleasers that will never let others down because they are motived by external accountability. The downside is that they are prone to burnout because they sacrifice themselves in the process. They are generally not self-starters but are great team players.

Most people are questioners and obligators.

From a healthcare perspective, how people respond to rules provides insight into medication compliance and behavior modification. From a business perspective, understanding how people on your team respond to rules makes it easier to structure the environment for people to be more successful and happy on the job.

When I think about the people that shared their 30 day challenge stories with me at the JPM conference, my guess is that they are all Upholders. Why? Upholders like rules and like to imagine what other rules are yet to be discovered. A 30 day challenge or a diet that is very rule based like the Paleo diet would be incredibly satisfying for an Upholder because it gives them more rules.

When one of the Upholders told me about their intention to develop a yoga practice, their intention was linked to a rule. Someone had told them that 40 minutes of yoga per day was the right amount. 

Knowing yourself is most important for developing healthy habits, reaching your long term goals and cultivating more happiness in your life.

With that said, there are two more categories of behaviors that can help you be more successful.

Abstainers vs. Modifiers

Abstainers: Abstainers have an all or nothing mentality. For instance, abstainers with a sweet tooth will eat a whole pint of ice cream if they have it. If they don’t have it, they don’t eat it and likely don’t feel deprived if they don’t have it.

Modifiers: Modifiers can regulate themselves and like having the option to have a little when they want it. For instance, modifiers can keep a pint of ice cream in their freezer and have only one scoop as an occasional treat. However if they don’t have it, they will likely feel deprived.

Knowing which one you are makes it easier to set yourself up for success. When you have both abstainers and modifiers in one household or workplace, it’s naturally harder to find the right balance to satisfy both but it’s worth the effort to do so. 

Contact Us

Please email us to request more information about our services and Shannon Smith Living collaborations.

5 + 11 =

Stay Connected

Subscribe free to receive Shannon Smith Living every Monday. Get the latest tips, workouts, exclusive offers and community notifications.

Shannon Smith Living

Free Subscription to Shannon Smith



Get the latest tips, free workouts, exclusive offers and community notifications delivered to your inbox each Monday.

Thank you for subscribing. Look for Shannon Smith Living in your inbox on Monday.

Pilates & | Balanced Body Pilates Mat Classes

Community Mat



Coal Harbour Community Center Balanced Body Pilates Mat Classes   Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday Register



Thank you for subscribing. Look for Shannon Smith Living in your inbox on Monday.