Are personality tests limiting or freeing?
Finding out your ’type’
One of the most valuable and life altering things I ever did was my first personality test. It was done by a psychologist about 10 years ago. The Myers Briggs Type Indicator. I tested as an INFP. It was such a relief to see that I was not crazy. I was behaving exactly like my ‘type’ would. It explained why I couldn’t handle certain things the same way others did.
Is this really me?
I took another Meyers Briggs test (via a psychologist friend) about 5 years later and, at that point it was to ‘my horror’, I received the same result: INFP. This meant, to my naïve mind, that I had been working SO hard at ’bettering’ my(weak)self for 5 years with no result! How could this be? Then I did another and another and another online – always a different one – and got. Yes. The same result. I felt so boxed in. Is this me?
The relief I had initially felt, after the first test result, had now evaporated. Originally this result was something I thought I could change. I knew who I was and what the problems were and I would fix them.
Luckily my husband has an amazing way of clearing things up for me (INTP) and he explained and reminded me that it was not ‘me’, these results reflected my ‘preferences’.
Although the MBTI is probably not the most scientific of tests in many ways: it does give you a view into your or someone else’s preferences. It provided incredible insight for me at a time when I really needed it. It shows (granted it is broad) how and why you might react in certain situations in certain ways. So it can be an amazing relief to understand this.
Still. Would I always end up in the same spiral?
It was also around that time that I became familiar with Positive Psychology and Martin Seligman‘s work. I read his book Authentic Happiness. This changed my life. I joined the website and did the tests. Specifically the VIA Survey of Character Strengths
test. I learned that it is much more productive to focus on your strengths and that everybody has them. This way you don’t end up dwelling and getting too caught up in your perceived weaknesses and trying to ‘fix’ them. Personality is not fixable. But you can evolve it and develop it and in this way it can change.
More recently I read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset. The book focusses on her discovery of and research into two mindsets that people have and how this can influences their lives. According to her, there are people with ‘fixed mindsets’ and people with ’growth mindsets’.
Research shows that those with growth mindsets don’t give up as easily, they work until the problem is solved and they believe in change and growth. The science backs them up. The brain can change and grow at any age. You can change. Maybe not fundamentally alter your personality but you can learn new skills and develop your strengths.
This topic will come up again in future posts.
Here is the short and sweet test on the Mindset site.
Mindfulness would be beneficial for any person or personality type. Although some may find it more challenging than others to practice. The people who find it most challenging would possibly benefit the most.
Practicing mindfulness meditation every day, for a bit more than a year now, has been the single biggest help for me.
- mindfulness teaches you to be in the moment – it helps ease anxiety about the future and the past.
- it teaches you to let things be the way they are – acceptance. You are fine the way you are. You deserve love and acceptance and everything is as it is.
- it teaches focus. One thing at a time. Cluttered minds become more settled. You do not force it yet your mind becomes clearer.
This week I slipped into a bit of a fixed mindset. Am I a minimalist? Could an INFP possibly live without clutter (inside or out)? Is this whole experiment crazy?
Some wonderfully supportive comments on my previous post and the mindfulness practice helped me realise that this was just the way I react. This is how it is and that is ok. Then the reasons why minimalism is so important to me became clear again. I could see why someone like me would thrive as a minimalist and why I took this on in the first place.
Why minimalism is so important:
- Minimalism is a wonderful extension of mindfulness. I need my environment to support my inner world. Decluttering is a big part of minimalism. Shedding the excess. Yet it is not what it is truly or entirely about. It is as symbolic an exercise as it is a physical one. It brings you face to face with your own excess, your past, the things you don’t pay attention to. It has definitely meant some self confrontation (INFPs hate confrontation :p )… And I am expecting more as this journey unfolds. I just have to be careful of the over-thinking trap and getting lost in my head (INFP trap) So this is a great exercise in acceptance.
- I feel happier in cleaner, uncluttered spaces. There is more space for my wild mind. And it also helps to calm my mind and helps me focus. Aesthetics are important to me. It is important to be in a space that is harmonious and does not disturb or disrupt your sense of well-being. Especially when it is your home.
- Support creativity. It is also important that your workspace support maximum focus and creativity. My mind is already so busy that my environment needs to be a space I feel comfortable in, one in which I can be creative and doesn’t limit me by breaking my concentration.
- I need to live an honest life. Live life in a ‘real’ way. No more debt. No more living above our means.
- Freedom is so important. Freedom from the pressure of having to be like everybody else. Free from debt. Physically free. Free from guilt and the past. You can be more authentic if you strip the excess from your life.
The Big Five personality test:
For a more scientifically based test, try a Big Five Personality Dimensions test. There are many free ones online. It is a great personality test and gives amazing insight. Because you land on a grayscale it also reflects more flexibility in different people’s personalities even though there are only 5 factors.
Why I still like MBTI:
Although it does limit people into sixteen types or ‘boxes’ it is also for this very reason that the test allows some generalizations which actually help you understand broad preferences. Within every type there is also a gray-scale. Not every factor counts for every person or every situation and some will be borderline.
And although I seem to score as an INFP every time, other people seem more flexible and score differently every time they do the test.
I like that this is possible, even though this very factor could be seen as the weakness of these tests – or any personality tests for that matter.
So it is good to keep in mind that nothing is set in stone and that we all grow, change and are unique. Yet they can be tools that give some limited insight and understanding into how we all can, and do, differ from one another.
So: keep a growth mindset about it and use these tests as a looking-glass that could help you reflect but should never hinder or limit you. 😉
| This has been a very difficult post since it is very personal in some ways. The reason I wrote it is because I have benefited so much from other bloggers on this same minimalist journey as well as bloggers with my INFP personality type. It is important not to feel alone as much as it is to recognize our uniqueness. So here I am: Pleased to meet you 🙂 |