I’ve been having a lot of conversations with people recently about personality tests. A few years ago, I read Gretchin Rubin’s book The Happiness Project and based on this, I wrote an interests log (something that she suggests doing at some point in the book). One of the things that I wrote on my interests log was ‘personality typing’.
I think I’ve always been pretty self-aware and interested in this kind of thing. I studied psychology in sixth form and consumer behaviour at university, with my dissertation exploring ideas around the ‘self’. I’ve enjoyed the odd ‘what type are you quiz’ right back from Girl Talk magazine in my primary school days to flicking through Balance magazine on the Tube on my way to work. At some point in time, I’ve probably done everything from figuring out my Hogwarts House (Hufflepuff, according to Pottermore) to my Myers-Briggs type.
To be honest, I think we all enjoy this kind of thing on some level. It’s human nature to want to understand ourselves and others.
But recently, as I’ve increasingly delved more and more into realms of self-development and spirituality, I’ve found the concept of personality tests even more fascinating.
Personality tests are not definitive
For starters, I want to make it clear that I don’t think people can be pigeonholed into one ‘type’. I don’t believe that personalities can be that clearly defined. To use a scientific term, personality types are generally too 'reductionist'.
I don’t think that anyone fits only one type. Of course, there isn’t just one type for anyone, or there wouldn’t be multiple personality tests out there, some with 16 types, some with 4.
And I don’t think that if someone does feel that they fit one type, that they will always identify with that one type. I think that our personalities are constantly changing and adapting to different situations and that they can evolve as we go through life. I’m increasingly reading more and more about this as I devour books like ‘The Untethered Soul’ and ‘Why Buddhism is True’, which even goes so far as to point out that we could question if the ‘self’ even exists…
There are a lot more spiritual and philosophical discussions to be had about what our true 'self' is, for sure. But what I want to focus on is why personality tests are useful.
Personality testing and archetype descriptions can be useful
I like personality assessments because they are a learning tool. I like them because I am curious. I like learning about myself.
As humans, there are a multitude of reasons why we like stuff like personality quizzes and there are plenty of research studies and online articles to quench your thirst if you want to understand more about that.
But right now, I’m just writing this to reflect on what I’ve learnt, to capture the themes in the conversations that I’ve had, and to suggest why you might benefit from a bit of personality analysis yourself.
They heighten your self-awareness
Taking a personality quiz can heighten your awareness of yourself. And this isn’t just the case if you agree with the ‘type’ that you have been assigned on completion of a quiz. There’s always a chance that you won’t agree with the result and have the opportunity to reflect on why this is and how it makes you feel.
You develop a vocabulary with which to understand yourself and communicate better with others
When you truly explore your self on all levels, you become armed with a whole new vocabulary - sometimes supplied to you by a thorough type profile - with which to understand yourself.
You might come across words and phrases that describe subtle nuances of your personality and behaviours better than you've been able to before.
Not only this, but it might help you to help others understand you - whether it’s explaining to a loved one why you have responded in a certain way to a situation, or explaining to your employer how you can be most productive and supported in your job. Labels and types give you a vocabulary with which to communicate in a more useful and specific way.
By communicating with others about your type (even if it is just which ‘Friends’ character you are), you are expressing yourself and a level of vulnerability which can be beneficial to relationships and understanding one another.
They enable you to identify and address your weaknesses
Personality type tests can heighten your awareness of your weaknesses. This is a big one. It’s powerful. And this can be tough. Or it can be liberating.
We are all pretty great at identifying with types when we just have to pick from descriptors like ‘fun’ or ‘kind’ because we all want to be those things (hopefully).
But it becomes a lot harder when you come face to face with negative traits that you identify with.
And I’m not talking about weaknesses like when you’re in a job interview and you’re asked ‘What are your weaknesses?’ and you say ‘too organised’ or ‘too much of a perfectionist’ [eye roll].
I’m talking about the stuff that you might not like about yourself. Things that frustrate you. The stuff you aren't good at. And your behavioural tendencies when you're at your absolute worst.
When you heighten your awarenesses of your genuine weaknesses/negative traits/self at your least healthy state, you can recognise and deal with these feelings and tendencies head on.
Acknowledging your worst when you’re in a good place (i.e. when you’re feeling in enough of a fun/curious mood to take a personality analysis) allows you to accept these things about yourself. The fact that these traits are included in a published architype will also make you realise that it's 'ok' to have these tendencies. You aren't alone.
Once you're at peace with these traits, you can be prepared to recognise them in future when you become stressed, tired, unhealthy or just not your ‘best self’ for any reason.
Plus, with the more nuanced vocabulary you've picked up, you can be more speciifc about these weaknesses.
For instance, think you might be lazy? Don't want to say that to your boss? Maybe you will recognise that you are actually just prone to inertia when put under certain pressures?
Once you have the vocabularly to express more difficult things, you can take ownership of them. Full awareness of your weaknesses can be empowering. It prevents you from anxiously wondering if anyone else might spot them and point them out to you. If you've already come to terms with them and know how to communicate them, you hold the power.
They help you to feel understood
Maybe it’s because of my particular personality traits that this is significant to me, but I love the feeling of being ‘understood’ that you can experience by reading about yourself.
An acknowledgement that you are seen. That your behaviours and feelings are 'legitimate'. Like you kind of make sense, even when maybe you don’t feel like it sometimes. It’s comforting.
And by knowing that these 'types' exist, you can believe that there must be other people out there like you.
Which personality tests to take
There are three personality type tests that have been the subject of my discussions most recently, and which I have found myself recommending other people take a go at. These are:
The Four Tendencies
A quick one to get you started.
This is a simple test developed by Gretchen Rubin (of the aforementioned Happiness Project)
In summary, it helps us to recognise how we (or others) respond to two different types of expectation:
- outer expectations (meet work deadlines, answer a request from a friend)
- inner expectations (keep a New Year’s resolution, start meditating).
Our response to expectations determines our 'Tendency':
What I especially like about this one is that it is quick and simple but has wide application. If you're looking to understand someone quickly, such as how a health and fitness client might respond to being given a programme, this can really offer some insight.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is used a lot by employers (though none that I’ve worked for). It’s super popular. There are 16 types and they are represented as a collection of 4 letters, which represent whether you weigh more heavily towards being:
- Extrovert or Introvert
- Sensors vs Intuitives
- Thinkers vs Feelers
- Judgers vs Perceivers
The site that I found most useful for this was 16 personalities, where there is both a quiz, and detailed results pages.
This is a little more complex to figure out but, on the flipside, offers rich and extensive descriptions.
I learnt about this one most recently, after a friend discussed it on her podcast.
There are 9 enneagram types with relatively complex interactions occuring between the types.
The site that I found most useful for learning about this was Enneagram Institute.
I’ve also been recommended the book The Enneagram Made Easy.
What I found most useful from all of these tests (at least, what I found most useful at this point in my life, right now), was learning about my weaknesses. I was aware of them already, but unsure how to articulate them or accept them, because I was perhaps just lacking that nuanced vocabulary that I mentioned before.
By virtue of having this new knowledge, I feel that I will be better able to communicate with others in the future and find paths of least resistance in all aspects of my life.
I fully intend to dedicate time to writing about (publicly or privately, I’m unsure yet - let me know if this is something you'd like to read!) my traits - particularly these negative ones - in order to unpack them and find how to best deal with them.
This is something that I feel equipped to do now, since another huge benefit of taking these tests for me has been liberation. By clearly defining them, at least temporarily, I feel that I have accepted my traits (whether enduring or changing), and made greater peace with the way that I am.