Anyone that’s ever talked to me for more than ten minutes has heard me at least mention the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. The MBTI is the most common personality typing scheme used by the denizens of the internet and by the world at large and it is also something I’ve been obsessed with for a few years now. It can tell you anything from what career to pursue to which character you are in your favorite sitcom. Before going any further into why I’m including MBTI in my Understanding Myself series, let’s take a look at what exactly this personality test is.
What is the MBTI?
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator was developed in the mid 20th century by Isabel Myers and Katharine Briggs partially as a response to the divisions in culture exacerbated by WWII. It was an attempt to turn cognitive research done by Carl Jung into an accessible format that would allow people to understand the differences and similarities in others and themselves and see the value in other people’s perspectives. Specifically it is designed to uncover the psychological preferences of a person in regards to how they take in information and make decisions. When the test is completed, you are assigned a four letter identifier that encodes the cognitive functions you prefer to use most in your interaction with the world. There are two possibilities for each consecutive letter, giving a total of 16 types. Many people claim that reading the description of their ‘type’ for the first time is a jaw dropping experience, as it seems the description describes them better than they have ever felt understood.
In the Myers-Briggs framework, information processing is separated into Sensation and Intuition and decision making into Thinking and Feeling. All four of these preferences can have their own introverted or extraverted attitude. This attitude basically indicates if the function is directed outward to the world of actions and things or inward to the world of thought and ideas. The cognitive functions really are the meat of the personality profile you receive after taking the test. They can help you to understand how others and yourself approach and deal with situations throughout life.
Much more can be said about what the MBTI is, especially regarding the cognitive functions, but this should give you a good enough overview to get what I’m talking about when I’m describing how I use the test to better understand myself. I’ve included many resources at the end of this post for those that wish to take the test or dive more into the literature.
The Validity of MBTI
I will not harp on this subject too much, but suffice it to say that the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is not a wholly scientifically devised method. While the theory composed by Carl Jung was backed by empirical evidence, the actual testing scheme devised by Myers and Briggs departs from his conceptions sometimes liberally. In particular, the J-P dichotomy addition to the test is absent in the Jung literature.
Many valid criticisms have been brought against the MBTI testing scheme and its underlying framework. However, it proves useful to many in their personal lives and it is still used by many professional services in team building endeavors. I believe this is the case because, unlike many personality tests that simply place you on a scale, the MBTI gives you a specific result with which you can identify.
How I Use (and don’t use) the MBTI
So beyond the obvious, how has the MBTI helped me to understand and develop myself? Well, reading my results when I first took the Myers-Briggs personality test in early high-school was the first time I really thought about the differences between people beyond things like being athletic, smart, or shy. Knowing how I approach the world differently from others was tremendously eye opening, especially in terms of my interactions with people. That being said, I do think many people overvalue some of the applications of the MBTI. To keep things simple, I’ll list the ways I use this personality test and the ways I think it is commonly misused.
- Assessing some of your inherent strengths and weaknesses
- Understanding your approach to information gathering and decision making
- Understanding more fully your interactions with others
- Locating successful people of your type that you can look to for guidance
- Finding out which character you are in your favorite TV show
- Basing your career path solely on the recommended lists found on many websites
- Using it as a guide to who you can be compatible with
- Using it as a way to feel unique or superior just because you are x % of the population or you are classified as the most ______ type
- Constricting yourself to the box of your type
Personally, I type as an INTJ. That means that the functions I prefer using, in order, are introverted intuition, extraverted thinking, introverted feeling, and extraverted sensing.
Practically speaking, this means that I like to spend most of my time contemplating patterns and concepts and working them into my internal framework of how the world functions and how it may evolve (Ni). Once I feel I’ve got an intuitive understanding of how the system I’m operating in works, I like to apply methodical measurements and actions in order to bring forth whatever outcome I have in mind (Te). The outcomes I choose to pursue are based on my internal value system (Fi) and I routinely take in new information in order to keep my internal framework up to date (Se). To me this seems the only logical way to function, but to others this method of operating in the world can come off as cold or too calculating.
Let’s contrast my personality with one of my best friends, an ESTP. As you can see by the letters, we share a preference for Thinking over Feeling but the commonalities stop there. As a primary Extraverted Sensing type this friend is always trying to drag me along into new sensory experiences (usually parties) and encouraging me to meet and become friends with every single person they know. Commensurately, I am always trying to get them to set more routine in their life and think more deeply about what outcomes will result from their actions. The value of MBTI, and this was the primary goal of those who created it, is that it can help explain to us why we value different modes of being, that each way has its own strengths and weaknesses, and that we can use this understanding to better get along and give value to each other. In the context of my friend and I, this would manifest in recognizing that routine and goals are important but so are putting yourself into new situations and making connections and that we can help each other symbiotically in these different areas.
Ultimately the MBTI is just another tool that one can use in the understanding and development of themselves. So how can you apply the MBTI to your own life? Well, obviously, the first step is to determine your type. You can do that at this website. Remember though that it is important when taking the test to be very honest with your answers, as answering towards the type of person you wish to be may not give you the accurate results you need if you want to actually develop yourself to become that person.
Once you’ve read through your results and looked into your preferred cognitive functions, try to start noticing how your thoughts and actions in everyday life could be interpreted through your type. Just understanding how you’re interacting with the world can make you much better at it and it always helps to know what strengths you can rely on when facing a tough problem. I also find staying aware of my type useful because it allows me to counteract any biases I might have and reminds me that others may be viewing a situation in a completely different way than I am, which leads to my last piece of advice.
If you’re having trouble in your interactions with someone, try to find out their type. Knowing this can help you understand where they’re coming from and understanding perspective is half the battle. Besides, even if it doesn’t help you can now look up any of the many threads on the internet with others of your personality type discussing how the other person’s way of viewing the world is SO dumb. After all, everyone needs to vent now and then.
That concludes this post of Understanding Myself, but if you have any questions or would like me to go more in depth about a certain aspect feel free to comment below. I do very much love discussing psychological theory after all. Thanks for reading and I hope you’ve found something here that will help you along the path to understanding yourself.
Explanation of the Cognitive Functions
More on Carl Jung and Myers & Briggs