Personality Types and Fitness

Personality Types and Fitness

Everyone loves a personality test! I take a look at the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory, one of the best-researched and most popular personality tests around, and consider how it might be applied to approaching health and fitness.

The field of personality theory is enormous and, as popular psychology becomes ever more widespread, lucrative. There are hundreds, if not thousands of personality tests around, from the 5-minute online freebie to expensive analyses conducted by personality experts. Is any of this actually useful to us as human beings, beyond being light entertainment? I think personality tests that are firmly grounded in theory and research findings do have something to offer us, but you need to pick the right ones and you need to use them appropriately.

Probably the most well-established personality test if the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI). It was developed by a mother (Katharine Cook Briggs) and daughter (Isabel Briggs Myers) team and based on ideas about personality typologies first propsed by one of the founders of psychoanalysis, Carl Jung. In its modern form, the personality questionnaire is widely used to help people understand themselves and how they function with others, be that in personal relationships or in the workplace.

The MBTI conceptualises personality in terms of four dichotomies. These are described as follows (Descriptions are taken from the Myers-Briggs Foundation website, which also has information about taking this test in detail if you are interested.):

  • Extraversion (E) versus Introversion (I): Do you prefer to focus on the outer world (E) or your own inner world (I)?
  • Sensing (S) versus Intuition (N): Do you prefer to focus on the basic information you take in (S) or do you prefer to interpret and add meaning (N)?
  • Thinking (T) versus Feeling (F): When making decisions, do you prefer to first look at logic and consistency (T) or first look at the people and special circumstances (F)?
  • Judging (J) versus Perception (P): In dealing with the outside world, do you prefer to get things decided (J) or do you prefer to stay open to new information and options (P)?

When you take the MBTI test, your results are scored in terms of your preferences for each dichotomy. There are sixteen possibly combinations. For example, here are two opposite personality profiles and how they are summarised in the MBTI:

  • ISTJ: Preferences for Introversion, Sensing, Thinking and Judging. Described as Quiet, serious, earn success by thoroughness and dependability. Practical, matter-of-fact, realistic, and responsible. Decide logically what should be done and work toward it steadily, regardless of distractions. Take pleasure in making everything orderly and organized – their work, their home, their life. Value traditions and loyalty. (From the Myers & Briggs Foundation website)
  • ENFP: Preferences for Extroversion, Intuition, Feeling and Perception. Described as Warmly enthusiastic and imaginative. See life as full of possibilities. Make connections between events and information very quickly, and confidently proceed based on the patterns they see. Want a lot of affirmation from others, and readily give appreciation and support. Spontaneous and flexible, often rely on their ability to improvise and their verbal fluency. (From the Myers & Briggs Foundation website)

Think about yourself for a moment. Where would you rate yourself on each dichotomy? Now think about a close friend. How would your personality profiles resemble each other? How are they different? Now consider someone you have difficulties with. Could you understand these difficulties in terms of similarities or differences in your personality profiles?

Relating your personality profile to your approach to health and fitness

Now consider your approach to health and fitness. Is it tailored to the preferences you might expect from your personality profile? Or are there areas of conflict that may be contributing to a lack of motivation and efficacy?

Extraversion versus Introversion: If you're extraverted, chances are you'll thrive in a busy gym, team sports and sociable exercise classes. Introverted types will be more at home in a quieter setting, engaging in solitary fitness activities (e.g. taking a run on your own) or taking introspective classes such as Yoga.

Sensing versus Intution: People who rely on Sensing will use the information from their senses to decide whether a particular exercise or setting is for them, going by how things look, sound, smell and feel. Those who are more focused on Intuition will rely more on general hunches and subjective reactions to a place or an activity.

Thinking versus Feeling: If you're a Thinking type, you'll probably research your fitness options carefully, taking facts and suggestions from experts such a personal fitness trainers at face value and evaluating them in a rational way.If you rely more on Feeling, you'll rely more on other people's personal accounts and on your sixth sense about a particular exercise regime.

Judging versus Perception: A Judging type will feel most comfortable deciding on a fitness regime and sticking to a stuctured, goal-focused plan. Those more attuned to Perception would find this ridig and will prefer to try new things and stay open to different opportunities.

Final food for thought

There's a classic study in personality theory that has now been replicated a numer of times and that is my own personal favourite in this field. It involves administering a personality questionnaire to a group of people and then giving them their result and asking them to rate how accurate the personality profile they receive is. Most people rate their results as highly accurate. The twist: Half of them receive a profile that matches their test results, the other hald receive a random profile. There is generally no difference in how accurate these two groups perceive their test results to be.

The moral of the story? Use personality tests as a tool to think about your strengths, weaknesses, preferences and the way you interact with other people, but don't let them become self-fulfilling prophesies, dictating how you behave or respond. That applies to all of life, including the gym!


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