No, You're Not an Extroverted Introvert

“Why am I as I am? To understand that of any person, his whole life, from birth must be reviewed. All of our experiences fuse into our personality. Everything that ever happened to us is an ingredient.” 
― Malcolm X

If you’ve been on Facebook lately, undoubtedly you’ve seen prolific sharing of articles, photo quotes, and quizzes attempting to define “your true personality.” Extrovert, introvert, and the new “extroverted introvert” seem to be the most common subjects of these listicles. And while I’ll admit that I’ve read a few (several) — I’ve been thinking a lot about what this focus on personality and personality tests really gives us. 

I mean, you know extroverted introvert is an oxymoron right? But you know what else? We are all probably both. (Also, the word is ambivert.. but I digress :)) Two things can be true at the same time, and personality is on a continuum — not a binary. Liking to be a in a group sometimes and then liking to be alone sometimes doesn’t make you anything but a normal person. 

Personality doesn't fit into a neat and tidy list — but my thoughts about them do :) So read this before you put too much credence into the third “What Color Am I?” test you take before you go to bed tonight:

1. Personality Tests Promote a False Binary

Introvert or extrovert. Thinking or feeling. Dominant or compliant. Generally, personality tests present two choices — you are either one or the other. And while many of the tests may show a continuum of sorts — you are still dominantly _____. Based on some questions you mindlessly scrolled through for thirty minutes. And these binaries are very different!

For example, I have always been an E on the Myers-Briggs (extraversion). On the long report I got (after taking a paid version for a professional development class), it showed that it was only just barely trending towards the E — almost exactly in the middle — but from then on I was defined as an extrovert. (funny if you know me, right?) Anyways, Carl Jung himself -- on whose theories this test was based -- didn’t agree with this binary. He wrote that people tend to favor one over the other, but not that they necessarily are one or the other. 

Whether you’ve taken a test or not, we all have likely identified at some point with one of the types. And there are some people who are probably textbook versions of one or the other 99% of the time — but I’d say that the majority of us are not. I hear people say a lot “I'm actually an extrovert” or “I’m actually more of an introvert” in a situation where they seem to be the opposite — how about, “I am a normal person who shows up in different ways at different times based on a myriad of things”? How about not feeling the need to explain at all? You aren’t one way all of the time, and if we expect each other to be that is our problem. 

For example, last week when I was in New Mexico I went to a hot springs and got an hour in a private, riverside pool. It was beautiful on its own, but I wanted a subject in the photos so I took a causal pool loungin' photo before I fully immersed myself in the hot water. I love to share (duh) so I went to put it on instagram that night -- and hesitated. I text my sister and asked "Am I the type of person who would do this?" but also thought, "I don't want people to think I am __________ because I put a picture of myself in a bikini on the internet" This is a (silly, but real) example of the false binary. I can be the type of person who does whatever I want to do. If I do something, I am the type of person who does that thing. It doesn't matter if it's unexpected.

2. Inherent Problems with Personality Tests/Profiles

Of the major “Personality Assessments”, the Myers-Briggs is the most popular and widely used, so I’ll talk about it more specifically here. It was developed during World War Two by two housewives (not a criticism, but also not scientists) who were interested in Jung and wanted to develop a system to help women find jobs suited for them. Now it is used in hiring and professional development, as well as personal development (and memes). It’s seen in pop culture as a scientific test while psychologists have generally rejected it entirely. 

So what’s the problem? 

From a methods perspective — a lot. The test derives a lot of information from a small amount of not necessarily scientifically based questions. Depending on the reason for the test (jobs, personal etc), you may skew your answers without even realizing it (answering how you think someone in that job would). Even if you’re just taking a random Buzzfeed version, we answer based on how we would like to be. “I think I am a person who ______” But is this accurate? 

And like I mentioned before, there are excessive binary choices. This is a logical fallacy. Two things can be true at the same time. I might feel one way when I answer a question on a personality test and then completely different a few days later.

Have you heard of the “Forer” effect (or Barnum effect/acceptance phenomenon)? It’s basically the tendency for people to accept things that are vague or general as being true if they think they were specifically for them. Bertram Forer identified this effect when he gave his psychology students a personality assessment and then an analysis that was supposed to be totally personalized to them. Of course, they were actually all the same report. He found that 85% of the students thought it described them accurately before they knew of the ruse. 

Surprising? Not really. It’s the same effect that drives interest in horoscopes and the personality lists you see online. The indicators are just vague enough that almost anyone (because we are humans on a continuum and our feelings change) can relate. Likes being around people sometimes. Yep, that’s me. Likes to be alone sometimes. Oh wow, so accurate. Umm… 

3. You Don’t Need to Fit in a List/Profile/Personality Report

It’s not all hogwash. I do think that some of the more specific things I’ve read about ENTP’s are really accurate to my general “state of being”. ENTP’s are supposedly really great at starting projects and not so great at finishing them. This is me (but maybe it’s a lot of people). The problem with this distinction, even if it seems accurate, is that I might start to define myself as just “someone who doesn’t finish things” — then use it as an excuse. 

I think it’s human nature to want to find an excuse for our behaviors that aren’t so great. “I’m just this type of person”, “It’s who I am”, “I was born this way”. They’re all excuses. If I have a problem finishing things, and am aware of it, guess what: I can just make myself finish things. It’s not rocket science. So that’s where an occasional personality assessment can be beneficial. Maybe you didn’t realize something negative about yourself, but reading it and looking back you see it in your life. Cool — but don’t use it as an excuse. Make the leap from understanding to DOING. Don’t live in a definition of some sort of simplistic “type of person.” 

Also, why are you listening to some random person on the internet (oh, hi) tell you who you are anyways? If a friend at happy hour started saying “based on your reactions to a few things I've seen in your life, this is how you respond to struggles… “ wouldn’t you be just a little (a lot) annoyed? What do they know? I’m unique, damnit! But really, we are. I may respond to things in a similar way most of the time -- but not all the time. And maybe I only respond in that way because I know it's expected? Hmm...

4. What’s Wrong With Being Complicated? 

Personality types are all about absolutes. A quick search of “Personality Tests” comes up with a plethora of articles using them. “18 Struggles ALL ______ experience.” “13 things ALL _____ know” “10 things you’ll ALWAYS catch ______ doing.” The problem with absolutes should be obvious, but no one is ALWAYS anything. The world can’t actually be categorized into 16 tidy boxes where everyone inside is the same. I mean how boring would that be?

And what’s so wrong with being complicated? Complicated is just defined as, "consisting of many interconnecting parts or elements; intricate" -- sounds like a good thing to me. I think that’s really the core of my problem with this personality obsession — I’m not always anything. I’m always changing and I have many parts of my personality. Sometimes I am adventurous and outgoing, sometimes I am quiet and boring. Sometimes I finish projects, sometimes I don’t. And sometimes that ENTP definition is spot on — but I can’t use it as a crutch. 

I think I’ve tried for a long time to fit into a role that’s easy to understand. Simple. But if anything it’s backfired. Simple is easy. Simple is boring. I don’t want to be easy to understand, easy to predict. Sometimes I keep myself from expressing my opinions or doing certain things that I think would be surprising to people (like on first dates yikes) because it feels safe. But remember, simple = boring and studies have actually shown that psychologically, complicated = interesting (and interesting = seductive but that’s another blog post entirely haha) There will always be someone who disagrees or is turned off by your opinions, actions, whatever — but there are always two sides so someone will also agree. If you’re boring that means you’re not producing any reaction — and isn’t that the worst possible way to go through the world?

People love to talk about "the type of person they are". It feels comfortable. Safe. But I’ve always thought that the type of people who say they are the type of people that ________ — really aren’t that type of person. If you have to say it, or read it in a personality profile to believe it, then you might not be that thing. You want to be, sure — but are you really? 

The good news: you can define yourself! You can pay attention to who you actually are, or aren’t. You can change the story, the definition, labels, personality type, whatever. It’s uncomfortable, but sit in the discomfort — that’s where growth happens (so yogi of me but it’s true). People don’t know your backstory. They don't know your Myers-Briggs type, your Enneagram, the color of your aura -- they don’t know the why of who you are -- but they know the how. How you show up. How you act in ______ situations. Focus on those things. The How. 

Personality tests can be fun, I get it. We want to understand ourselves better — but without putting in the effort of actually finding ourselves through, you know, actual experiences. Through paying attention to how we respond to things, how we feel in contrasting situations, what drains our energy, and what puts fire in our soul. 

No, no, I will just take a test and it will tell me how I respond in these situations. No, no, I will read this Buzzfeed article with random cartoons who like to make plans then cancel them and define myself as that. Sounds ridiculous right? But I think we’d be surprised at how much we allow these ridiculous things into our thinking. 

Don’t take the easy way out. It’s boring. And it’s not accurate! Don’t put yourself in a “type” box. Define yourself. Leave room for change. Remember that everyone can be everything all at once and that’s okay. Complicated is a good thing. Learn about yourself through yourself — not the internet. Believing a simplistic definition of yourself will cause you to become the label. You will simplify yourself and in turn make yourself small. We aren't meant to be small - we are meant to be big, interesting, and yes - complicated. 

Friday Five - 1.13.17

“I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I'm more afraid of succeeding at things that don't matter.” ― Bob Goff

This week I’ve really tried to take time to understand what I enjoy about the process of blogging - because I really do enjoy it. Is it narcissistic? Do I feel I have something extra super special to share with the world? Um, in a word: no. I’ve always loved research, and I’ve always loved writing - and I’m finding that the more I do it the easier and more enjoyable it becomes. 

Writing (even the kind riddled with grammar errors like mine) has so many benefits. It helps us to think more deeply, sharpen our analytical skills, reflect more thoughtfully, live more intentionally, build healthier habits, refine our writing skills, and build confidence when we believe we have something to offer. 

Writing is also just a great way to get thoughts out of your head. Journaling and morning pages can be super therapeutic. For me, I like the repetition and discipline it helps to build. I like to share it because I like sharing, and I like the accountability. Too often we want things to be perfect before we share them - but if I waited for perfect I’d never share anything. 

So here are five less than perfect things I am interested in and wrote about this week

Friday the 13th

Today is the first of two Friday the 13th’s of 2017. Did you know there is a word for people who have a fear of Friday the 13th? A twenty-three letter word no less: “paraskevidekatriaphobia” - yeah really, my cat didn’t just walk across the keyboard. 

FDR had a fear of the number - he wouldn’t have 13 guests at a dinner party or travel on Friday the 13th. His bud Winston Churchill also allegedly wouldn’t sit in row 13 in a theater or plane.

There is evidence of a Western superstition about the number 13 (“triskaidekaphobia” if you were wondering) and Friday the 13th since the middle ages, but the actual origin isn’t known. Some people think it goes back to the last supper where Judas - who betrayed Jesus - was the 13th guest. 

As a math teacher - and someone who is just really into numbers -I think the reason has more to do with the number itself. It’s unique. There are 12 months in a year, hours on a clock etc etc.. and feels complete - so 13 right after feels off. 

But back to today - I read that Friday the 13th is the most feared day/date in history. Airline prices actually fall due to the perceived unluckiness (but your chance of a crash is actually statistically lower), weddings cost less on this day, many buildings leave off the 13th floor, and - most importantly - Tupac died (allegedly) on a Friday the 13th haha, but seriously, what do you think - is today somehow unlucky?

Read more here and here.

Myers-Briggs (or why I have no follow through)

I’ve always been really interested in learning more about myself and I love personality tests - especially the Myers Briggs. I took the test officially for the first time as a 22 year old and got ENTP (and have every time I have taken it after). When I read the information about ENTP’s I was shocked at how well it encompassed my personality. 

ENTP’s are known as the “Inventor” or the “Debater” - they are rational, see complex interrelationships, they hate rules, regulations, routine, and structure, while they value independence, competence, and intelligence. They are “idea people” who are great at brainstorming and thinking big - but have a problem with follow through. 

Like... a big problem. When I read that part of the report I was ashamed at how well it described me. I have tons of big ideas but I get bored easily. I need new things, new people, places etc. to feel fulfilled. And while this isn’t all bad - I need help with my follow through. 

This is a big reason why I’m restricting myself from things each month this year. Most people would say that restriction is unhealthy and will lead to more of the thing you aren’t allowing yourself later - you want what you can’t have. But, because I know myself, I know that it is important for me to make myself follow through with things that are difficult. I know that I allow myself to move on to the next big idea too often - and intentionally placing restrictions on myself is helping to build the willpower that I need to follow through with other things in my life. 

Read more here and here about the Myers Brigg and ENTPS. Scroll down for more on building willpower.

Eating the Elephant

I’m sure you have heard the phrase “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” It’s meant to help us in times of overwhelm - to break down something big into smaller pieces. When you break down goals into smaller pieces they become manageable and process oriented. For someone with shaky follow through, this is key - I can see the progress and stay engaged in a project when the process is part of the goal. 

Eating the elephant is a good process to think about when trying to build willpower. Willpower is the control we exert to contain our impulsivity and control our behavior. We know from research that self control and willpower lead to more positive outcomes and that people who are able to delay gratification are more successful. But often we give in to our desires because we just can’t see how the elephant is going to fit into our crock pot for dinner - we don’t realize that it doesn’t have to. 

I am not drinking for the month of January just to practice building willpower. I was talking to some friends about it and many said they, “didn’t want to put those restrictions on themselves” or they, “couldn’t commit to a time frame” but that’s just it - that’s the important part! The time frame is what builds the willpower. And that is how I’m eating the elephant - one day at a time. 

Like decision fatigue, willpower can be depleted by stress. That’s why it’s important to think in terms of process. If you have a big goal and try to achieve it the next day, you’re going to be more stressed - and will likely give up sooner. If you instead go back and forth between your comfort and stretch zones, with incremental progress on a goal, you will start to see the progress and be motivated to continue. After eating the elephant regularly it will become your favorite food - and the process will become a habit. You will have built your willpower. And just like a muscle, willpower gets stronger with use. 

Read more about building willpower and eating elephants here and here.

Eating the Frog (or why you should do hard things)

Now let’s talk about eating another wild animal - the frog. Eating the frog is another famous idiom that derived from the Mark Twain quote that if you “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning... nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Basically - do the hardest thing first, then the rest of your day will be easier. I - admittedly - am not great at this. I put things off for days and then - when I finally do them - I feel the relief and wonder why I didn’t just eat the dang frog in the first place. 

It’s similar to climbing a mountain. When you climb a 14er you should start super early - for lots of reasons - but for me, it feels good to have achieved something so big at the outset of my day. I could go home after and just watch Gilmore Girls all afternoon but hey, who cares, because I ALREADY CLIMBED A FREAKING MOUNTAIN. I always get up and go on weekends for this reason. But here lies the rub: those are all things I want to do. I can do the hard things I want to do - but what about the ones I don’t?

It all comes down to prioritizing. Everyone is busy. Everyone has a to do list a mile long (the people I like at least). The difference between the people who are productive and those who aren't is in the priorities they place on those to do’s. 

Think of prioritizing like a two-way frequency table (because math is everywhere). Everything on your list can be put into one of the four boxes. There are:

  • the things you want to do and need to do
  • the things you want to do and don’t need to do
  • the things you don’t want to do but need to do
  • the things you don’t want to do and don’t need to do

The frog is going to be in the “don’t want to do but need to do” category - and that should be what’s first on your agenda each day. 

Here is a thing I made for the visual learners among us (which you will remember is us all)

After eating the frog: do the things you want and need to do, then the things you want to do but don’t need to, then maybe just cross off the fourth category altogether - busy-ness for busy-ness sake isn’t helping anyone. If you don’t want or need to do something - cut it out of your life. 

One of my favorite authors and speakers (and kindred spirit) Bob Goff quits something every Thursday - big or small - to make room for new things in his life. We should think about prioritizing in the same way - we will never create the margin in our lives that we need, or the room to grow, (or to write about five random things every week) if we continue to do the things that we don’t need or want to do. 

Read more here and here.

Clean Eating

I’ve been thinking a lot about eating this week - metaphorically and literally. Along with no drinking, I’ve made a fuzzier goal of clean eating for January. Basically I’m just trying not to eat at any restaurants or any super processed foods. 

I read an interesting article this week in the Washington Post about clean eating and it's many different meanings. It’s not really a real thing so people have  made it into whatever they want. I agree with the authors point of view that it’s just being mindful with what you are eating. I want to be able to understand the ingredients going in to my food, and keep track of how it makes me feel. 

I know that eating a Little Caesars Hot and Ready pizza will make me feel terrible - so I’m choosing not to eat it. I know that sometimes a chocolate brownie makes me feel great - so sometimes I am choosing to eat it. It’s nothing revolutionary - just a more mindful approach. It’s so easy to get into the habit of stopping after work for random takeout - but it’s just as easy to get back into the habit of cooking (or at least just heating up) your own food. 

It’s also much more realistic than any unsustainable fad diet. 

Read more here and here


Happy Friday :)