Defining Self: Understanding Personality Types

Confession time — I’m slightly obsessed with personality quizzes. I have taken more than I can keep track of, which includes everything from the Myers Briggs personality test, “pick random colours and we’ll tell you about your childhood trauma” quizzes and numerous BuzzFeed, “Which Disney Character Are You?” type quizzes.

The thing is, I like to introspect. I think a lot about why I am the way I am, and I seem to be convinced that the answer lies somewhere in these numerous tests found on the internet. So, I’ve been silently wondering about this obsession — the need to figure out the random blend of traits I’ve ended up with, what they can reveal about how I relate with the rest of the world and the fundamental question behind all of it: who am I?

Life has its many challenges and chief among them, is attempting to figure out exactly who you are in the grand scheme of things. It takes an enormous amount of effort and introspection to look closely at oneself and make adequate conclusions about the unique ways in which we respond to the world and how the world responds to us in return. At most, knowing this about ourselves helps inform us how best to place ourselves in the different aspects of our lives, to ensure we’re maximising our potential and getting the best out of what life has to offer. So who can blame anyone for choosing a shortcut in gaining this invaluable insight into themselves?

There is beauty in the simplicity of answering a few random questions online, and seemingly, being told exactly who you are — packaged neatly and precisely for you to do with the information as you please. Through quizzes, I have come to understand certain things about myself that I may have never had the insight to discover on my own, and it has been eye opening. We can argue that the results are never entirely accurate, or that we only choose to see what we want to believe about ourselves — and that’s true. We don’t have to believe the results of every personality test as the objective truth. They will never be able to tell you everything there is to know about yourself because we are all slightly skewed by our different and vast experiences in a way that psychology and the best algorithms may never be able to predict.

They can, however, provide an accurate enough guideline to act as a basic point of reference. For instance, who remembers the first time they discovered the distinction between introverts and extroverts, and how finding out the respective definitions sparked the recognition inside of them that may have made them think “of course — that explains everything!”

There is a certain freedom in discovering an explanation behind why you may prefer certain things to others, do things a certain way or gravitate towards particular schools of thought. More than that, it’s comforting to realise how differences in people can be explained by the way we process information, and knowing that the way others respond to us is not always personal, but can simply be due to the quirks of who they are as a person.

To put this in perspective, we recently conducted an exercise at work where individuals in our team took the Myers Briggs personality test. Afterwards, we looked at the findings together to discuss the different traits, motivations and working styles particular to each personality type. I can’t stress enough how valuable this session was because it’s such a good way to get to know the people you work with. One of the key things this does is to encourage empathy. You can now filter interactions through the lens of knowing how the other person generally operates and this lessens the possibility of misunderstandings. Which isn’t to say you should completely ignore problematic behaviours because “that’s just how they are”, but on a basic level, you know enough to understand the people around you better.

In conclusion: getting to know ourselves and, in part, those around us, is necessary work that helps define and shape our lives. You can do this organically through trial and error, but you may as well use the tools that experts* have put together to help you along the journey. As a starting point, if you don’t know your Myers Briggs personality type yet, you can take the test here.

*Preferably professional psychologists — not BuzzFeed.

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