Everyone who knows me well knows that I’m a big Myers-Briggs nerd. I bug friends, family members, and coworkers to take personality tests—usually to confirm my growing suspicion about what their Myers-Briggs personality type might be. (I’m getting pretty good at guessing.)
So what’s a Myers-Briggs personality type—and why should you know yours? I’ll break down the basics for you.
What’s a Myers-Briggs Personality Type?
There are 16 personality types, each of which is a code consisting of 4 letters: E or I, N or S, F or T, J or P. For example, my Myers-Briggs personality type is INFJ; the opposite type would be ESTP. In order to find your type, you take an MBTI test, which asks you questions like, “Do you find it difficult to introduce yourself to other people?” and “Is it often difficult for you to relate to other people’s feelings?” I’ll direct you toward some tests that I trust later on in this post!
Each letter in your Myers-Briggs personality type denotes a preference that each of us has on a particular dimension. For instance, my type (INFJ) is Introverted-iNtuitive-Feeling-Judging; the opposite type (ESTP) would be Extroverted-Sensing-Thinking-Perceiving. Although each option is binary (e.g. between Extroverted or Introverted), there are some of us who exemplify a preference more strongly than others. We all know people who are very clearly extroverts or introverts; while others may lean more toward one side or the other, but the distinction isn’t as clear.
What Does Each Letter in Your Myers-Briggs Personality Type Mean?
Extroverted (E) vs. Introverted (I)
Which situations do you find energizing, and how do you interact with your environment?
- Extroverts are energized by frequent social interaction, stimulating environments, and acting on their thoughts. Being alone or inactive for too long drains their energy and motivation. They might be described as gregarious, demonstrative, uninhibited, outgoing, or assertive.
- Introverts are energized through time spent alone, reflecting on their thoughts in a peaceful environment. In addition, they relish deep conversations with close friends, with time to recharge in between interactions. They might be described as reflective, reserved, thoughtful, introspective, or deliberate. (Read more about introversion in my post, 15 Strengths & Struggles for Introverts at Work!)
- Common misconceptions: Introversion is not the same as shyness or social anxiety. Our society tends to favor extroversion, but this does not mean that introversion is inferior—it just takes a little more work to make sure that your needs are met.
Intuitive (N) vs. Sensing (S)
How do you gather and interpret information, and where do you direct your mental energy?
- Intuitive individuals are inclined toward patterns, abstractions, theories, metaphors, and possibilities. They read between the lines, and they remember impressions over hard facts and details. They experience flashes of insight, and they tend to trust their gut feelings. They like to understand the big picture first, then learn the facts.
- Those with a Sensing preference are inclined toward information that’s concrete, tangible, and in the present. They value their own experiences above all else. They like to understand the applications of the things they learn. They have a memory for details. They like to learn the facts first, then form a big picture.
- Common misconceptions: Each of us is both intuitive and sensing—it’s just about which mode of information-gathering you prefer and employ more often.
Feeling (F) vs. Thinking (T)
How do you make decisions and confront emotions?
- Individuals with a Feeling preference are compelled to look at situations from the inside, using their strong capacity for empathy to achieve harmony for all involved parties. They might be described as compassionate, tactful, or sensitive.
- Those with a Thinking preference are compelled to take a step back from the situation at hand to view things in a rational, objective way, prioritizing truth and fairness over tact. They might be described as direct, logical, or task-oriented.
- Common misconceptions: “Thinking” does not mean “intelligent,” and “Feeling” does not mean “irrational.” Both types make rational decisions and have the same capacity for intelligence—Thinkers just value an impartial, judicious approach to decision-making, while Feelers employ a great deal of empathy in making decisions. Lastly, “Thinking” does not mean “cold” or “emotionless,” although Thinkers can come across as such if they tend to stave off or devalue their own emotions.
Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P)
How do you relate to the outside world; and how do you approach work, planning, and decision-making?
- Those with a Judging preference are inclined toward closure, planning, organization, structure, order, and decisiveness.
- Individuals with a Perceiving preference are inclined toward open-ended plans, spontaneity, and flexibility. They work in bursts of energy and prefer to keep their options open as they gather information.
- Common misconceptions: “Judging” does not mean “judgmental,” and “Perceiving” does not mean “perceptive.” The words refer to the tendency to make decisions and seek closure while taking in information (for Judgers), or to stay open to information for as long as possible before ultimately making a decision (for Perceivers).
Myers-Briggs Personality Type Resources I Recommend
I’m sure that you’re all curious to know your Myers-Briggs personality type and what it means, so here are some tests that I recommend:
I strongly recommend that you take at least 2 tests so that you can compare the results against each other. Remember to answer objectively—as you actually are, not as you wish you could be, or feel you should be. If you keep getting different results, or if you don’t agree with your Myers-Briggs personality type, try to narrow down the traits that do ring true for you (e.g. are you definitely an introvert and a feeler?), then read the descriptions for all of the types that contain those letters (e.g. INFP, INFJ, ISFP, ISFJ) until you find one that feels like you. Each Myers-Briggs personality type is more than the sum of its four letters, because each preference influences how the others are exhibited–so if you take the test and the description doesn’t sound like you, it’s because one of your letters is off, and that difference can drastically change your personality. For example, if you know an ENFJ and an INFJ, you’ll know that they are more different than just the introverted or extroverted versions of one another.
Here are my favorite sites for reading about your Myers-Briggs personality type:
So why is it important to know your Myers-Briggs personality type—and how has my life changed since I first discovered mine?
5 Reasons You Should Know Your Myers-Briggs Personality Type
We all beat ourselves up about certain qualities that we can’t seem to change about ourselves. I used to force myself into social situations that made me miserable because I thought the opposite of “outgoing” was “antisocial”—a word I did not want to be associated with. Realizing that I was an introvert rather than an awkward ball of anxiety was incredibly freeing. I gave myself permission to trust my own preferences—a glass of wine and an all-night conversation with a close friend rather than a loud, crowded party that would leave me frazzled and drained, for example. While it’s important to step outside of your comfort zone from time to time, you should never feel forced to live your entire life outside of your comfort zone—it’s not sustainable or healthy to be someone other than who you really are.
Understanding Your Relationships
When you know who you are, you’re able to interact with other people from a much more informed, empowered position. Understanding your similarities and differences from the people around you makes it infinitely easier to bridge gaps and connect with one another. For example, I found out that my Myers-Briggs personality type is INFJ, while my husband is an ENTJ. We have two traits in common, and two opposing traits. As iNtuitives, we both value gut feelings and big-picture thinking; and as Judgers, we’ve been known to spend a Saturday night planning our future while organizing our files together (I’m not even joking!). As an introvert married to an extrovert, we’ve found ways to split our time that leave both of us feeling energized. The feeling/thinking difference has been much tougher to navigate, as I’m the most empathetic person imaginable, and he’s even more bent toward rationality and pragmatism than the average T. Knowing our Myers-Briggs personality types has helped me to realize that he’s not a sociopath, just like I’m not an irrational puddle of emotions—and it’s allowed us to learn so much from each other, making us both more well-rounded people. He’s made me more assertive—a trait that I desperately needed so I could establish healthy boundaries in my life—while I’ve helped him to understand himself and other people better, and to be less impulsive when making important decisions. We’re each other’s yin and yang—and the world needs both halves.
Choosing a Career
I wanted so badly to be a professional musician—and I beat myself up when I found that constantly performing and promoting myself completely drained me. I did the same thing by trying to get into social science research, ignoring my desperate need for creativity. Luckily, I ended up in a career in writing, which is an infinitely better fit. You can’t force yourself to go against your core traits for the length of your career. You’ll spend so much time trying to change yourself that you’ll not only burn out—you’ll be wasting the unique contributions that you could have made, had you simply allowed yourself to be who you really are. While some personalities might succeed more easily in certain environments (like my husband, an ENTJ, who can rise up the corporate ladder faster than anyone I’ve ever known—and his type is literally called “The Executive”), the world needs all 16 Myers-Briggs personality types and the gifts and perspectives that they bring to the table.
(P.S. You can read more about my search for a career that fit my personality in these 4 posts: How I Came to Be a Writer, Why I Don’t Regret Walking Away from the Career I Thought I Wanted, Dear Unemployed Recent Grad: You’re Not Alone, and 15 Strengths & Struggles for Introverts at Work.)
Establishing Healthy Boundaries
Introverts need to accept that when they hit their limit, forcing themselves to remain in a stressful situation doesn’t benefit anyone—and neither does packing their schedule with commitments that they dread, without adequate time to reflect and recharge. Feelers need to accept that they need to retreat from the world from time to time to avoid overextending their capacity for empathy—and this doesn’t make them a selfish person. Intuitives can’t thrive in situations that force them to ignore their gut feelings, just like Judgers can’t thrive in circumstances that force them to leave their plans open-ended for too long. We owe it to ourselves to become the best versions of ourselves. Knowing why you gravitate toward the things that you do allows you to seek out opportunities in a deliberate, intentional way. The opposite is also true—by knowing yourself, you give yourself permission to say no to opportunities that won’t grow you.
Realizing Our Strengths & Weaknesses
Because there are 16 different types of people in the world—each type containing an infinite continuum of variation—we’re called to contribute to society in vastly different ways. This means that we’ll each define success in a different way, which gives you permission to live your life in a way that feels gratifying and fulfilling to you alone. If you spend your time trying to approximate the gifts of another person in a way that doesn’t come naturally to you, you’ll be a second-rate version of a different kind of person rather than a first-rate version of yourself. Meanwhile, the world will be missing out on the unique contributions that you could have made had you paid attention to your natural preferences and talents. While we should each strive to improve ourselves in the areas where we’re lacking, there’s nothing noble about spending your whole life denying your inherent identity just because your strengths look different than someone else’s.
What’s your Myers-Briggs personality type, and how has knowing your type impacted your life? Tell me all about it in the comments!
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