If you want to become your best self, you need to be attuned to your own personality. Understanding your personality—and the personalities of others around you—will shape the way you navigate your life.
But first, you have a decision to make. There are many different models you can use to explore personality, and I’d recommend starting with just one. (I’d recommend starting with MBTI or the enneagram.) Every personality geek has their own favorite system: pick the one that strikes your fancy.
Once you’ve chosen, dive in and take the test … but view those first results with a grain of salt. Some personality types will have a hard time getting an accurate result from these self-assessments. (Ironic, huh?) If you’re struggling with answering the questions, or the results seem off-base to you, read through the descriptions of the different types and see what resonates. (Of course, this plays out in different ways. When you read about MBTI you’ll smile and say “that’s me!” when you read about the enneagram you’ll feel exposed and not in a good way.)
When you find your type, you’ll know. (I also found this method helpful for typing my kids and my husband.)
Let’s get started:
Comprehensive systems for understanding personality…
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
What it is: The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator was created in the 1940s and its insights have helped millions of people glean insight into their personality and put that knowledge to work in every day life. There are 16 distinctive personality type that emerge from preferences from the following “preferences”: intraversion (I) or extraversion (E), sensing (S) or intuition (N), thinking (T) or feeling (F), judging (J) or perceiving (P). Each type is expressed as a four-letter code.
What’s to love: It’s widely believed to be valid and reliable, corporate America depends on it, and understanding MBTI lets you enjoy all those “which Harry Potter character are you?” personality charts on BuzzFeed.
What’s not to love: Psychologists aren’t keen on MBTI, saying results are inconsistent and incomplete, and that the MBTI has no scientific basis.
What it is: The enneagram (as represented by its nine-pointed symbol) displays nine distinct strategies for relating to the self, others, and the world—that is, nine basic types of people. It’s been around for centuries, originating from ancient Christan and medieval Sufi sources. The only person who can truly determine your enneagram type is you. Each type has healthy, average, and unhealthy levels.
What’s to love: The enneagram reveals each type’s motivations, core struggles, and life tasks, which can be wonderfully eye-opening and terribly unpleasant. (It’s no picnic to face up to your own brokenness.) This tool prompts serious soul-searching for those who take it seriously. There are wonderful Christian resources for exploring the enneagram, such as Richard Rohr’s The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective.
What’s not to love: For many, the enneagram is harder to penetrate than other personality tools, and its recommended that you not try to determine your type until age 30 (ideally), but certainly no earlier than your mid to late 20s.
The Big Five
What it is: Psychologists have been working for a half century to create a personality assessment tool based on the five universal traits that consistently emerge among all world cultures: extraversion, emotional stability, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness. Also called the Five Factor model (although there’s growing support to add a sixth trait, honesty-humility, to the measure.
What’s to love: Psychologist created, psychologist approved.
What’s not to love: This model isn’t well known outside the field, and the resources for exploration are limited as of this time. It also has a marketing problem: no one wants to label themselves “disagreeable.”
Not comprehensive systems, but…
What it is: This tool, based on the tenets of positive psychology, was introduced with the publication of Now, Discover Your Strengths in 2001. An updated version was released concurrent with StrengthsFinder 2.0 in 2013. The tool identifies where you have the greatest potential for building strength, by measuring your recurring patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior. There are 34 possibilities, such as competition, discipline, and empathy.
What’s to love: Many find the tool useful for discovering suitable jobs, planning for interviews, and improving on-the-job performance. It has a strong emphasis on the positive, and provides a useful way to think about your strengths, especially as they relate to your work.
What’s not to love: The concept and terminology just don’t resonate with some people, and it doesn’t assess your whole personality.
Highly Sensitive People
What it is: “Highly sensitive” is simply an either/or descriptor: it indicated if someone has a sensitive nervous system. A highly sensitive person is more sensitive to physical and/or emotional stimuli than the general population. The trait is genetic, and affects 15-20% of the population (all species, not just humans).
What’s to love: Because of their sensitive nervous systems, HSPs are aware of subtleties in their surroundings and are easily overwhelmed by stimulating environments. They may avoid loud noises and bright lights, startle easily, or react strongly to violent books or films. Understanding that this is you (or, your child) can be a revelation.
What’s not to love: If you’re truly highly sensitive, the book The Highly Sensitive Person can be overwhelming due to its frank discussions of the effects of abuse on HSPs. If you suspect you’re an HSP, read The Highly Sensitive Child instead.
There are no hard rules for getting started. Just pick the one that strikes your fancy and dive right in.
ACTIVITIES & QUESTIONS
1. Choose one of the systems above and spend some time taking the test and reading about your type. Write down three things you learn about yourself or your personality.
2. If you’ve already spent some time with one of these systems, take the time to explore a new one. It’s amazing how they all fit together like pieces of a puzzle!