Personality Tests (e.g. the MBTI) – What can they tell you?

The first thing I will say about personality tests is that they are simply tools which we can use to try and better understand ourselves. Like tools, some work better than others, and some have more specific uses. Our personalities are incredibly complex and no tool can describe that complexity. If any personality test doesn’t seem to mesh with how you see yourself, probably the first thing to do is question the test and not yourself.

One of the most commonly used tests is the Myers -Brigg Type Indicator (MBTI®) which focuses on four aspects of personality based on the work of psychologist Carl Jung. These aspects are

Introversion/Extroversion – are you outgoing and enjoy dealing with lots of people (extrovert) or do you prefer time to yourself and typically have a few close friends (introvert)?

Sensing/Intuition -how do you gather and process information about the world around you? Do you focus on the basic information/details of what you observe around you (sensing) or do you tend to interpret it and create a big picture view (intuition).

Thinking/Feeling – What is more important when you make decisions, logic and consistency (thinking) or how people are affected by those decisions (feeling)

Judging/Perceiving – Do you like to get things sorted and finished (judging) or do your prefer to stay open to new opportunities and information (perceiving)?

Typically a Myers -Brigg test will consist of a series of questions designed to understand where you sit on the continuum for each of these four dichotomies. These should however be viewed as continuua and not either/or categories. For example, the same person may be introverted in some circumstances and not others, and while they take into account only the facts in most decisions, in some case they may put the feelings of others first. The test simply is a tool for understand which can help us understand some of our general preferences.

Note – The MBTI has received significant criticism within the psychology community regarding how valid it is as a description of indicator of personality. A detailed description of this can be found here.  However, others continue to defend it (e.g. here). I personally think it has some merit as a framework for reflecting on how I think and behave, however, if you use the MBTI and find it isn’t useful, then my advice would be to ignore it.

My Myers Brigg test about 15 years ago determined that I was INTP which seemed like a fairly accurate assessment. I am introverted, generally preferring to spend time by myself or with small groups of close friends. I tend to take a big picture view of situations (more N than S) and tend to like to stay open to new opportunities (P more than which means I tend to finish tasks as close to the deadline as possible. On the Myers-Brigg test my thinking/feeling leans slightly towards thinking which means that although I favour logic and reason in my decisions, I still tend to take into account the effect those decisions have on the people involved. Interestingly enough a more recent test suggested that I am now INFP. This is an interesting potential change, particularly as my roles over the past 8 years have involved working with people more, and I have reflected that I probably do consider more the effect my decisions have on people than I did 15 years ago. Of course one of the criticisms of the MBTI is that people can unconsciously sway the result, so it is possible I unconsciously tweaked the results to match how I perceive myself to be.

The Myer-Brigg personality indicator (MBTI®) has been used to help decide what career choices might best suit you (“What’s your Type of Career?” by Donna Dunning) and also to better understand how to work effectively with others, however, beware the danger of categorising yourself or others based on this test. It is best used as a tool to reflect on these different aspects of personality not to stick yourself in a box and unnecessarily limit your choices in life.

There are a number of websites which provide information about, and testing of the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator. The Myers & Brigg Foundation is probably a good place to start. Commercial tests are available online, for a cost and probably are more reliable that the free tests you may come across (although this one seems ok).

Give it a go and let me know what you think. But NEVER let it limit you. For example, just because you are an introvert doesn’t stop you from being a leader – Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Eleanor Roosevelt are all introverts who have led in their own distinct ways.

 

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Understanding our Brain

Unlike a new computer, our brain doesn’t come with an operating manual. Fortunately, over a century of research in biology, psychology and related fields has provided us with some understanding of how the human brain (and mind) works. In the same way that we get the most out of a new computer by reading the manual and understanding how it works – by understanding how our brain works we can learn how to make the most of ourselves.

The following are things I have learnt about the human brain which have helped me better understand how people think and why they behave in different ways.

 

1) The Balance of Reason & Emotion

Studies of the human brain show that it can be divided up into different areas which have different responsibilities. Here I’d like to focus on two specific areas which have very different contributions to how we think (and act).

At the core of the brain, near the brainstem which connects the brain to the rest of of body is the limbic system. This is one of the oldest parts of the brain, and is responsible for our instincts and emotions. It has been an important part in our survival as a species, allowing us to react rapidly to threats.

A more recent addition, from the point of evolution, is the frontal lobe. Located at the front of our brain, this is where reason and logical thought take place. We know this because studies of patients who have damaged frontal lobes show that that they lose the ability to think logically.

When we compare these two parts of the brain and the behaviour they produce there are some interesting differences.

When we react emotively – our emotions come effortlessly, they are fast, instinctive and they drive us to action.

When we react with reason it takes more effort and is much slower. It takes conscious effort to reason and think logically.

So how does understanding this help us?

First, knowing that when we experience a new, challenging situation it is helpful to understand that typically the first thing we experience is an emotional response. By knowing this we can train ourselves to wait for our more logical thinking to kick in when we need to make an important decision.

Advertisers are well aware that our emotions respond faster than our logical thinking to new stimuli. This is why many advertisements will start with images and sounds which appeal to emotions (e.g. fast cars, attractive people, intense feelings) to try and sell their product, only introducing facts towards the end of the ad, if at all.

Second, because our emotions are more driving – we can use this to motivate ourselves. For example, people have more success losing weight when they use visualisation techniques to imagine how they good they will feel if they lose the weight.

Reason AND emotion, when understood, work together to help us flourish. While reason can help us work out what the best course of action is in any situation, our emotions can help us to drive and motivate us when things get challenging.

 

2) Brain Power is a Limited Resource

Our brains are constantly receiving massive amounts of information both from our senses as well as processing our various internal thoughts and feelings. In order to cope with all of this information our brain filters out only that information which is deemed to be important and ignores all of the rest. This is why, for example, many people have difficulty remembering the details of an armed robbery for example, because most brains are too busy processing the intense fear and trying to work out how to get out of the situation alive, rather than remembering what the robber looked like or which way the getaway car went.

The information our brains decide to process is based on a wide range of factors – what our current goals/motivations are, the environment we are in, and our previous experiences.

This filtered experience of the world leads to a number of interesting behaviours which can be useful or produce challenges. For example, when we want to prove a point we focus on the information that supports our position and ignore that which doesn’t. Similarly when someone is newly in love they focus on all that they love about the other person and are completely oblivious to the things that may later provide challenges in the relationship. On the other hand the ability to focus on specific input and discard the rest is what enables a brain surgeon or sportsperson to do achieve success.

 

3) Type 1 and 2 Thinking

Because our brain has limited resources, this can lead to two different types of thinking.

System One thinking is essentially our autopilot mode. It relies on things that we have previously learnt and experienced to make quick, instinctive decisions without occupying too much intellectual resources. For example, when we make our usual coffee order or answer “what is one plus one?” most of us will answer automatically, without much thought or effort.

System Two thinking is what we reserve for the important decisions in our lives (or at least what we decide are the important decisions). Different people will assign different importance to different decisions, for example, a bride engage in far more System Two thinking than their husband to be (at least according to common stereotypes).

We cannot spend our life analysing every situation so system one thinking is important, however, it can cause problems. If we are trying to break a habit (e.g. reducing sugar in our coffee) these automatic responses can be problematic. Automatically using a money machine without noticing it looks slightly different due to the addition of a scam card reader, is another example of where this can work against us.

One of the techniques I use is to every now and then take the time to re-evaluate what I am doing and/or take time out to actually take in the world around me. It is amazing the things that you don’t notice.

 

4) We ALL Experience a DIFFERENT Reality

If our brains filter and interpret information based on our different priorities and previous experiences then we essentially experience a different reality, or at least a different perception of reality. Imagine the different people that might visit a bar one evening. A single man and a happily married man will have different priorities and therefore a different experience. Someone who is introverted will have a different experience from someone who is extroverted. A person new to town will likely have a different experience to a regular. A firefighter might be distracted by violations to the fire code while a chef may critique the venue based on the food. We all look and, indeed, remember different things.

If we were to ask everyone who attended the bar about their experience the following day, we would hear a wide range of experiences based on the information they filtered and how they interpreted events based on previous experiences. Some of the experiences may sound so different that it may seem they weren’t in the same place.

When we remember a particular event we typically create a story in our head about it, but typically we have gaps. Our brain is very good at filling in these gaps by extrapolating information. The problem with this is that sometimes our brains just make stuff up to try and create continuity for the stories in our head. Our memories can also be influenced by others. When a friend describes something they thought happened at the bar, your brain may try and integrate that information into your recollection of the event. This is one of the reasons why accurate eyewitness testimony can be difficult as witnesses can unconsciously “rewrite” their memories when they are questioned.

The fact that we all experience a different perception of reality is something to be very mindful of. In my experience the major cause of conflict is not because people are being purposely hurtful or careless, but because they are interpreting the same situation differently based on the information they are filtering and how they are interpreting that information based on their previous experiences.

 

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Understanding Self – What are your Values?

What do you value? Family? Wealth? Fun? Adventure? Recognition?

Understanding what we value most is key to understanding ourselves and understanding how we can flourish. If you are consistently pursuing goals and activities which do not match your core values, then you may find your achievements feel empty rather than deeply satisfying.

One step towards flourishing is identifying your core values. Below is a list of common values. Take some time and identify the values which are most important to you. Most people identify between three and five.

I completed an activity like this about twelve years ago as part of a leadership course which completely changed my outlook on, and my direction in, life. Aligning your actions and goals to your values is deeply satisfying. So don’t rush, take some time to think through what really brings your joy and satisfaction in life.

 

Core Values

Authenticity              Friendships                     Poise
Achievement            Fun                               Popularity
Adventure                Growth                         Recognition
Authority                  Happiness                   Religion
Autonomy                 Honesty                      Reputation
Balance                     Humour                      Respect
Beauty                       Influence                    Responsibility
Boldness                   Caring                          Inner Harmony
Integrity                   Security                       Self-Respect
Compassion             Justice                          Service
Challenge                 Kindness                     Spirituality
Citizenship              Knowledge                  Stability
Community             Leadership                  Success
Competency            Learning                      Status
Contribution           Love                              Trustworthiness
Creativity                Loyalty                         Wealth
Curiosity                 Meaningful Work       Wisdom
Determination       Openness
Fairness                   Optimism
Faith                         Peace
Fame                        Pleasure

 

Looking through the list you will probably see values which seem quite foreign to you. That’s ok, it makes it easier to zero in on your core values. Others may seem ok others may seem almost but not quite right, but look for the three to five that really resonate with you. If you you still are having problems identifying your core values what are ask yourself the following questions

What gives me the most satisfaction? What would I struggle to live without?

For example, learning is one of my four core values as I couldn’t imagine not learning something new every day (hour?) of my life.

Once you have established your core values write them down somewhere, and whenever you need to make a decision consider which of your options best aligns with your list.

 

Further Resources

Understanding core values is an activity which I have seen included in a number of fascinating books, including Total Leadership by Stewart D. Friedman. (Hopefully I will get time to talk about more of Stewart’s book in another post).

 

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Flourishing through Adaptation

It is a common misperception that biological evolution is about “survival of the fittest”, When organisms live in an environment that is undergoing constant change those that will survive and flourish are those which are able to adapt to these changes.

We live in a world undergoing constant change – technology, workplaces, job roles, fashions and even values can change. Consequently, flourishing requires us to be ready and willing to adapt to the changes which affect us. However, in a quick moving world balance is required. While some change is good as it challenges us to grow, too much change can cause stress and fatigue. The ability to manage change at a pace we can handle is the key to flourishing, rather than floundering.

Tips for Flourishing through Adaptation

  • Prioritise the changes that you need to respond to.
  • Where possible only take on one change at a time.
  • Don’t rush to be involved in every new change. Not all changes persist. It is worth taking some time to consider whether a change is a fleeting fad or something worth investing your time and resources into.
  • Not all changes are necessary. Occasionally it is sensible to ignore or even flight a change. However,  when it is a fight you cannot win, fighting change is wasted energy.

 

Five Factors to Flourish

In his book “Flourish” (how could I NOT read a book with that title!), Martin E.P. Seligman, describes 5 key elements which help us to flourish:

  • Experiencing positive emotions
  • Feeling engaged
  • Having meaning
  • Experiencing accomplishment
  • Having positive relationships

Let’s look at these one by one.

 

Experiencing positive emotions

It probably seems rather obvious – if we experience positive emotions it puts us in a happy mental state where we achieve more and enjoy live. The challenge is that life isn’t always a series of Pollyanna sunshine moments. The trick is how do we maximise positive emotions and experiences in our lives while minimising our negative ones. There are a number of ways to do this. The Stoic approach to life is one I find personally useful. Learning not to take negative behaviour by others personally is another thing that has helped me. Taking pleasure in the little things every day, whether it be the sun on the back of your neck, a favourite food or smell, stepping into a warm room on a cold day – when appreciated fully these create a positive emotional experience.

 

Feeling Engaged

Feeling engaged means that you are doing something you enjoy. It is probably something which challenges you enough to keep you interested but doesn’t create too much stress. While you don’t have to enjoy everything you do, it is important that there are some things in your life which you find engaging. Ideally, you find at least some aspects of your job engaging, your relationships with others, your sports or hobbies. Looking forward to doing something signifies engagement. You may find that the things your are engaged with also connect to the next factor.

 

Having Meaning

The happiest people are often those who have worked out what they want to do with their life, i.e. they have worked out what gives their life meaning. Some people find this easier than others. It can be useful to use different tools to try and understand what gives our lives meaning – one good place to start is by identifying what our values are.

Identifying your core values is a start. Another thing to consider is that many people find meaning in doing something that contributes to the wellbeing of those around them or to the greater good of society in general.

 

Experiencing Accomplishment

Taking satisfaction in the tasks we accomplish every day, big or small, contributes to a happy life. It is important to take time to congratulation yourself on the things you accomplish, whether it is landing a new account at work, making a freshly laundered bed or doing something special for a friend.

If the idea of acknowledging your accomplishments seems foreign to you, try taking five minutes at the end of the day to identify three things you achieved during the day and how you contributed to the success. I predict you will find it boosts your happiness levels.

 

Having Positive relationships

No one is an island. Modern society connects use with hundreds if not thousands of people every year, either in person, or more often via media such as Facebook. Having some positive relationships has been demonstrated scientifically to contribute both to happier and longer lives. I’ve emphasised the word “some” in the previous sentence because it is not healthy to expect to have positive relationships with everyone. Sometime we have fleeting negative experiences with other people. Most often these a due to other things going on in their lives – so we should not blame ourselves or dwell on it. Sometimes we meet those who have such a negative effect on us we need to minimise our contact with them. Most of the time, however, if we approach others with a positive and thoughtful attitude we will get a positive experience back.

 

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About Eudaimonium

Eudaimonium is a concept often associated with Greek philosopher Aristotle, and most accurately translates as “human flourishing”. This concept was core to Aristotelian philosophy which explored how to maximise human flourishing/happiness. It is a concept that strongly resonated with me the first time I read about, and understood, it.

If you google “eudaimonium” you will most likely find the term “eudaimonia” come up first. This is the plural form of eudaimonium. I have purposely chosen to use the term eudaimonium in naming this website, because while there are many common features in what makes us happy as human beings, we all flourish under slightly different conditions. In life you need to find your own path – what I offer are some general guidelines based on my experience.

This website comes from over thirty years of me trying to understand what makes use flourish. It started for me as a socially awkward teenager – What was the purpose of life? How did/could I fit in? What did success mean for me? Then as an educator, what was the best way to help my students flourish? Finally as someone now responsible for the development of the teams I work with, how do I help them flourish?

Over the past 35 years I have read broadly to try and answer these questions. This has included studying and reflecting on a wide range of topics including communication, leadership, negotiation, psychology, leadership and happiness. Because eudaimonia varies from individual to individual, you may not agree with everything I write, but hopefully it will provoke some helpful thoughts and reflections. Given the thousands of hours I have spent studying these topics, and applying them where I can, I hope at least I will be able to save you some time. I will be as concise as possible, and will include references to other resources for topics you find interesting and wish to find more information on.

I recommend you start with the Main Topics menu to get a feel for what this site covers.

 

Note – I started this website/blog on 1 January 2018, so it is still in its early stages. I will try and add content as quickly as possible.