“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.”Carl Jung (1875 – 1961)
Personality has always been an interesting subject for me. I’ve always been interested in what makes people tick and what separates an individual from the rest of the crowd. Personality is one of the many factors which determine individuality. Personality can be thought of as a collection of qualities that make up our overall character. Over the years, there has been much debate over what those qualities are and how they present in human behavior. Today, multiple theories have been widely accepted by the public and are used in business practices.
Learning personality is a fantastic way to connect with and understand more people than we otherwise would, but I don’t just stop there, I like to use it to help determine a complimentary life trajectory. Learning about our own personality gives us an insight into what kind of life we would actually enjoy.
It’s too easy to get caught up building our life for other people or chasing romanticised ideals. This is how people get stuck with jobs and relationships that they hate. People think they want these things because someone else told them it was worth having or because they saw it in the media. I see this with my students all the time, they stress out over which career pays the most, is the most “secure,” or looks the most glamourous. I see students intentionally repress themselves in order to fit into a mold that they will never truly accept.
The trick to avoiding this pitfall is learning about what makes up our personalities and tailoring our trajectories to fulfill ourselves. If we know what we would like to do, then we can pick a role within society that can satisfy that. Sounds simple enough, but people don’t really act this way. We live in a complex society and there are roles that need to be filled by people of certain temperament. It’s better to fill these roles with people who naturally fit into them, rather than waste resources trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.
Our personality is something to take into account when we are designing the trajectory of our lives. It’s something we need to grapple with. It’s much easier to put ourselves in an environment which compliments our strengths, than to reject or ignore part of ourselves which cannot easily changed.
In this post, I’m going to talk about a popular theory of personality. It’s slightly outdated and not entirely scientifically inaccurate but it is widely accepted and used in many institutions, so it’s useful to “be in the know” with this information. Plus it’s fun party talk.
Myers-Briggs Personality Types
Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator or (MBTI) is a method of categorizing people through a questionnaire which outlines the differences in how they perceive the world and make decisions. It was created by American mother-daughter duo, Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers. MBTI is widely accepted throughout the business world as well as socially, especially in the United States.
Contrary to popular belief, MBTI does has significant scientific deficiencies, poor reliability, and is not entirely comprehensive of human personality. However, MBTI is useful to know because it gives us a common language with people who do accept it. MBTI is popular in the corporate world, because it does an excellent job in categorizing people without hurting anyone’s feelings. This theory of personality has a way of making everyone seem like they have no downfalls and can always contribute, which is powerful in business environments. Businesses tend to do better when the people who run it feel better. Empirical personality data isn’t as relevant to performance as we would expect. MBTI is also fantastic at providing a basic structure for understanding personality, but it’s crucial to know that it does not supply us with the whole picture.
MBTI is based on the assumption that people have specific preferences for interpreting experiences and pursuing our desires. It also draws from Carl Jung’s typology theories which suggest people have four modes of cognitive functions (Thinking, Feeling, Sensation, and Intuition) as well as one of two polar orientations (Extraversion or Introversion). Even though Jung’s theory of psychological types was not based on empirical scientific studies, they were based on clinical observation, introspection, and anecdotes. Since the conclusions did not originate from controlled scientific studies, they are not accepted by the scientific community. However, Carl Jung was an amazing thinker and I do believe he was one of the few operating with precision at the edge of our collective understanding. His conclusions, from his observations or otherwise, were always made with the intention of bringing man closer to truth that we all can accept.
MBTI sorts out personality in 4 major continuums. Each person leans more towards one pole of each pair similar to right-handedness or left-handedness. When a person determines which side of each continuum they express, they are assigned a type. There are a total of 16 different types, 1 for each combination of the letters.
Let me give an example using my own letters. I’m more introverted than extroverted. I’m more intuitive than sensory. I’m more of a thinker than a feeler. Usually I’m more perceiver than judger, but recently I have been more judger than perceiver. This gives me the letters INTJ. (Some days I’m an INTP) The letters come from the capitalized letter in each word: Introverted, iNtuitive, Thinking, Judger.
Extroversion vs. Introversion
MBTI and Jung use introversion and extroversion in similar ways. Introversion meaning inward-turning and extroversion meaning outward-turning. These both are often referred to as attitudes that one uses to function in the external world.
Simply put, extroverts are recharged by people while introverts are recharged by alone time. Each type is usually drained by the opposite activity, extroverts are drained by alone time and introverts are drained by social interaction. However, there are other notable differences between them.
Extroverts direct their energy towards people and objects while introverts direct theirs towards concepts and ideas. We can always find out which attitude people take by paying attention to the topics of their conversation or asking them what their ideal weekend would look like. If someone is frequently talking about people and things they’re most likely extroverted. If someone is frequently talking about concepts and ideas they’re most likely introverted. An extrovert’s ideal weekend is probably spent going out and seeing a bunch of people, celebrating at the club, or another type of high energy ordeal. An introvert’s ideal weekend would probably be spent inside with a good book or TV show along with ample time for reflection.
This is not to say that extroverts can never be alone, or that introverts hate being with people. Everyone needs some amount of social interaction and alone time. Our attitudes merely reflect our preferences and how we choose to interact with the world around us. Neither attitude is more advantageous or otherwise, they are simply two sides of the same coin.
The following statements will apply to you if you are more extroverted:
- I am seen as “outgoing” or as a “people person.”
- I feel comfortable in groups and like working in them.
- I have a wide range of friends and know lots of people.
- I sometimes jump too quickly into an activity and don’t allow enough time to think it over.
- Before I start a project, I sometimes forget to stop and get clear on what I want to do and why.
The following statements will apply to you if you are more introverted:
- I am seen as “reflective” or “reserved.”
- I feel comfortable being alone and like things I can do on my own.
- I prefer to know just a few people well.
- I sometimes spend too much time reflecting and don’t move into action quickly enough.
- I sometimes forget to check with the outside world to see if my ideas really fit the experience.
Sensing vs. Intuition
This dichotomy is based on how we psychologically perceive the external world. These are both functions of gathering information. Sensing individuals tend to trust information that is tangible, concrete, and understood by the five senses. They’re less likely to trust “gut feelings” or other “hunches” that come out of nowhere. For them, meaning lies in the data, what is in front of them.
Individuals driven by intuition tend to trust information that is remembered or discovered through analyzing patterns. Since they trust information that doesn’t have to fit within the five senses, they tend to be more excited by what the future has in store. For them, meaning is not in the data but the principles and theories which underlie the data.
The following statements will apply to you if you perceive through sensing:
- I remember events as snapshots of what actually happened.
- I solve problems by working through facts until I understand the problem.
- I am pragmatic and look to the “bottom line.”
- I start with facts and then form a big picture.
- I trust experience first and trust words and symbols less.
- Sometimes I pay so much attention to facts, either present or past, that I miss new possibilities.
The following statements will apply to you if you perceive through intuition:
- I remember events by what I read “between the lines” about their meaning.
- I solve problems by leaping between different ideas and possibilities.
- I am interested in doing things that are new and different.
- I like to see the big picture, then to find out the facts.
- I trust impressions, symbols, and metaphors more than what I actually experienced.
- Sometimes I think so much about new possibilities that I never look at how to make them a reality.
Thinking vs. Feeling
Thinking and feeling are based on how we prefer to make choices in the external world. Both thinkers and feelers make rational choices based on certain kinds of information which were gathered from their senses or intuition. Thinkers tend to make their decisions based on objective measures while aiming to be reasonable, logical, or causal. They are usually personally detached from their decisions and try to match their choices to a given set of rules. Thinkers also tend to have low tolerance for those who are inconsistent or illogical. Thinkers give direct (and sometimes harsh) feedback and view the truth as more important than feelings.
This is not to say that thinkers never make emotional decisions, MBTI simply lets us know one’s preference in decisions making and is not a predictor of behavior. They also don’t “think better” than their feeling counterparts. MBTI doesn’t measure cognitive ability, just preferences.
Feelings types tend to make their choices based on empathy, balance, harmony, and with consideration for others’ needs. Feeling types try to see what works best for everyone involved and are willing to sacrifice logic and truth for the good of the majority.
Thinking types will have a hard time leading a healthy and productive life if they make their choices based on their feelings, while feeling types will have a harder time leading a healthy and productive life if they make their choices based on their logical reasoning. Both types tend to lack the opposite senses necessary to make good choices. Similar to our attitudes toward the external world (extraversion vs. introversion), one isn’t better than the other, they are both different sides to the same coin.
The following statements will apply to you if you decide through thinking:
- I enjoy technical and scientific fields where logic is important.
- I notice inconsistencies.
- I look for logical explanations or solutions to most everything.
- I make decisions with my head and want to be fair.
- I believe telling the truth is more important than being tactful.
- Sometimes I miss or don’t value the “people” part of a situation.
- I can be seen as too task-oriented, uncaring, or indifferent.
The following statements will apply to you if you decide through feeling:
- I have a people or communications orientation.
- I am concerned with harmony and nervous when it is missing.
- I look for what is important to others and express concern for others.
- I make decisions with my heart and want to be compassionate.
- I believe being tactful is more important than telling the “cold” truth.
- Sometimes I miss seeing or communicating the “hard truth” of situations.
- I am sometimes experienced by others as too idealistic, mushy, or indirect.
Judging vs. Perceiving
This dichotomy is based on how we relate to our perceptions of the external world. This continuum is heavily influenced by our sensing and/or intuitive natures, because we are either judging or perceiving the information obtained through those perceptions.
Judging types take in information with the intention of using it later and, in the words of Myers, like to “have matters settled.” They usually have a plan in mind and are only interested in information if it’s related to their goal in some way. They tend to be more comfortable once decisions have been made and the environment around them is under control.
Perceiving types take in information for the sake of learning. They love knowing things just to know them. Perceiving types learn about and adapt to the world around them rather than structure it themselves.
The following statements will apply to you if you perceive your information by through judging:
- I like to have things decided.
- I appear to be task oriented.
- I like to make lists of things to do.
- I like to get my work done before playing.
- I plan work to avoid rushing just before a deadline.
- Sometimes I focus so much on the goal that I miss new information.
The following statements will apply to you if you perceive your information by through perceiving:
- I like to stay open to respond to whatever happens.
- I appear to be loose and casual. I like to keep plans to a minimum.
- I like to approach work as play or mix work and play.
- I work in bursts of energy.
- I am stimulated by an approaching deadline.
- Sometimes I stay open to new information so long I miss making decisions when they are needed.
For more information on each of the MBTI traits, I suggest going to myersbriggs.org. It’s the place to go for more thorough explanations of everything MBTI and where I got most of this information, like the relevant statements for each type.
Like I said earlier, personality changes throughout our lives and these letters are just letting us know our proclivities, not defining who we are as people. However, knowing my MBTI can give me an insight into what kind of life trajectory I would be the most satisfied with with the least friction.
According to my MBTI, I would most enjoy a trajectory which: provides me with ample alone time (I). opportunities to discover new information (N). puts me in environments where the culture values reason, logic, and causality (T). gives me the opportunity to make decisions on my own time at my own pace (J).
Through understanding our personality, we can create paths for ourselves which compliment our proclivities. For example, if I were extroverted, I would probably best enjoy myself in an environment surrounded by others.
While MBTI can give us delightful insight into what life trajectories would best compliment our nature, there are some criticisms that are important to consider:
- These types are generalizations which do not accurately describe an individual.
- There are people who do not fit nicely into these 16 groups.
- MBTI suggests that there are no negative personality traits.
- MBTI is widely accepted in the workplace, even though there is no evidence that supports MBTI is predictive of performance.
There are others, but these are the ones I’ve encountered to be the most substantial. All these criticisms bring up the question:
Why still use MBTI?
It can give us a rough idea of what kind of life trajectory we would fit well with and as I’ve talked about in my other posts, we do things badly before we can do them well. If we want to design a beautiful life trajectory, we need a rough starting point. MBTI is great for that. Plus it’s fun party conversation if you ever run into an MBTI nerd. Additionally, since MBTI is commonly accepted in the workplace, it’s useful to be in the know when people try to use it’s coded language.
Find your letters and start discovering which paths most align with you.
In the modern world we have choices, why not choose what fits us?