These excerpts are from my book on personality types: 16 Kinds of Crazy: The Sixteen Personalities.
When you look at a bench, what do you see? What interests you about it? Whether it’s stable enough to sit on or if you like how it looks? These things do matter to me, but I also care about what lasts and finding and holding onto the permanent things in life. I ask, what has it been, what is it now, and what will it be?
The bench didn’t magically appear. It grew from an acorn into a tree. Someone cut it into planks and formed it into a seat. One day, worn by the weather, it will disintegrate. To me, it’s more than a bench; it’s a fallen monarch of the forest reduced to a place to sit. A symbol of how things change over time and the growing we do in life. All life moves forward and changes. I understand these cycles, but too much change all at once destabilizes me.
I trust whatever lasts across generations. Its rhythms and cycles reveal the careful transition between the past, present, and future. For something to survive so much change, it must hold a kernel of truth. I seek out those truths. They stabilize me, connect me to my ancestors and descendants, and they tell me where I came from, where I am now, and where I may go.
My interests are subjective and full of private symbolism. I value them for what they mean to me. As an example, look at The Lord of the Rings. J. R. R. Tolkien took everything he loved and admired in life (nature, mythology, friendship, his faith, etc) and wove it into a fantasy full of subjective meaning. He reinterpreted his wartime experiences, beliefs, and life in another form. He even based one of his love stories on his own relationship with his wife. Though we enjoy Middle-Earth for many reasons, it carried great personal meaning to him. It symbolized everything he valued. Every line is full of Tolkien’s love of poetry and nature. It reveals how much friendship mattered to him. His faith is woven into the imagery of certain passages. The virtues he respected show in his characters: resolve, courage, self-sacrifice, friendship, and honor. He draws attention to what matters, to what endures, and wrote about it. Tolkien saw the acorn, the tree, and the bench.
I also care about what lasts. I want to find out what’s permanent in life so I can build on it. For something to qualify, it must endure and prove itself correct and reliable. It must be “true” no matter where I find it. If honor has lasted for generations, it must hold merit. If no one has ever loved a coward or a traitor, that’s an eternal truth. Finding what lasts and remains true helps me feel stable. I can root myself in those things despite the changing times. They offer me consistency and are my port in the storm of an ever-shifting world.
Eternal truths can be abstract, such as moral virtue, or tangible, like family. Family matters to me. It has a long, powerful history. It’s how humans survive. In ancient times, families cohabitated for protection against wild animals and rival tribes. Even though we no longer need this defense from the elements, families endure. They hold on to each other. It’s a truth that remains unchanged. That shows me its importance. Birth, life, and death are inevitable. I trust this process, because it’s a permanent stabilizing force.
My interests are subjective and full of personal meaning. I see past the surface to what I can take away from it that fascinates me. It’s often archetypal symbols and their associations. I mull over things that form associations in my mind based on what I love. A rose ornament on a shelf brings to mind the Enchanted Rose in Beauty and the Beast, then the mirror she uses to see her father. This makes me consider the imagery of The Phantom of the Opera. It’s a similar story. Both feature a beautiful woman drawn to a “beast” and use a mirror to symbolize superficial reflections.
I love these associations. It reminds me there’s more to life and to ponder than what surrounds me in the tangible world. Beyond everything physical lies its bones, a foundation that makes it what it is. A tree has roots. A story has an origin. I see the impression, not the object. I focus on what it represents to me. Where has it been? What does it mean in the greater scheme of things? I might love the Enchanted Rose because it represents the eternal power of love and sacrifice or the timeless values of honor.
The things that fascinate me transform into a vivid and distinct inner life, sometimes whimsical and full of my favorite themes. I like to mull over whatever catches my attention and seems true. I see things in a way unique to my own experiences. It’s fun to reinterpret them. I may spend hours crafting colorful metaphors or sarcastic comebacks. Playing with words is also amusing (why call it a “calf” in my story if I can use “The Milk Guzzler”?).
How I feel about what I love matters more than how you react to it. It need not impress or inspire anyone but me. You see a shabby armchair, but it reminds me of Grandma and her chocolate mint cookies. Or the day she comforted me in it, after I fell out of a tree. My history with something fills it with meaning beyond the object. I focus on what it makes me think about, not what it is. The massive tree in my yard predates me and might outlive me by centuries. How much has it seen? Did it shelter pioneers? Did a Viking carve his first bow from its limber branches? Its roots flow into the past. Pondering these things enthralls me.
My fascinations build around what objects, themes, stories, or places represent to me. I connect them with experiences and focus on how they make me feel when I look at or hold or visit them. I value some treasures for what they symbolize, but others contain happy memories in them, which makes getting rid of them hard.
Want to read more? Get your copy!
ISTJ: The Realist
I make informed, rational decisions by looking at the cause and effect of my options and predicting their realistic consequences. I don’t let emotions cloud my judgment. To me, the facts of the situation are obvious and reliant on the chain of events that I either want to make happen or prevent. Ignoring a problem just means it gets bigger. If my tooth aches, I call the dentist, schedule an appointment, and get it fixed. I see no reason to delay. It hurts. That means something is wrong with it. Not addressing it might damage the health of my gums, not to mention forces me to live with pain. If I did nothing about it, I would need painkillers, which dull the mind. Not only will it delay the inevitable (at some point, it needs fixed), it will impact my quality of life and how well I can concentrate at work. Left untreated, a bad tooth can infect the one next to it, resulting in the spread of cavities or gum disease. It will cause expensive, painful procedures down the line, like extraction or root canals. Dealing with it immediately is the logical response.
A fact is “a thing known or proven to be true.” All my decisions factor in facts such as cost, practicality, time involved, or benefits. These things give me a plan of action. Let’s explore my analytical process through an example of a problem, a solution, and a plan.
Fact: over-eating and not exercising puts on weight. Burning off more calories than I eat causes weight loss. If I want to lose weight, I must eat less or exercise more. I can do one or both, but both yields greater results. Exercising while eating less burns more calories than reducing my intake.
Now that I know how to solve my problem, I can decide how to accomplish it. I must figure out what to eat and what exercise routine to adopt. I need a diet plan, so I research my options and compare them to see which one fits my lifestyle. Each decision leads to questions. What food will I eat? How can I track calories? Should I prepare meals ahead of time? My choices break down the process from an idea into simple step-by-step actions to take, to make this happen through steady effort.
No matter what I undertake, I assess the situation, decide on my goal, and break it down into tangible steps. Let’s say my uncle dies and leaves me his house. I can’t afford his mortgage, so I must sell it. What needs done first? I need to clean out all his stuff. From there, the plan takes shape in my mind. I take time off work. This gives me a deadline, a time constraint to work inside and keep me on track. Next I call our relatives and offer them anything they want from the house. Once that’s done, whatever’s left goes to a thrift store or into the trash. I find a donation center and order a roll-off dumpster. That done, I get to work.
The most efficient way to accomplish any task is to break big projects into smaller chunks and work through them methodically. The fastest method focuses on one area of the home, so I empty it out floor by floor, room by room, drawer by drawer. I don’t move on until there’s zilch left in that space. This ensures I miss nothing.
That done, the question becomes, how to sell the house? More research! I cruise through online listings to price-compare. They built the house in 1987. It’s not retro, so it won’t need renovations to appear modern. Recent statistics based on recent sales give me an educated guess of what to expect. The house next door sold for $250,000. It’s the same size. The market hasn’t changed that much. Would remodeling get me a better price? Can I even afford it? My estimate about costs versus return makes that decision for me (it’s not worth it to put in new counters if the price boost isn’t huge). I lose money the longer I hold on to a house I can’t afford.
Since facts determine reality, I identify them before making any decisions. If I want to further my education, I consider what kind of career waits for me on the other side of a degree. Is it worth my financial or time investment? I don’t want a useless degree linked to student debts that may hound me for the rest of my life.
My method for everything is to evaluate, learn the facts, research options, and break it down into steps. It tells me what to do first.
Organizing for Success
To complete a task efficiently, it’s worth taking time to figure out how to structure the process, so whenever I encounter a similar situation or job, I needn’t reinvent the wheel. The goal is to find, change, or create a system to simplify the process and bring it into order. This is the reason databases, blueprints, spreadsheets, labels, and color-coding systems exist. If my goal is to bring the world into order, I must invent, discover, or adapt a process to meet my demands. It needs to reduce problems, not create more. The right system will almost run itself!
A practical example is how to track my work responsibilities, so I forget none of the details my position requires. If I take an hour to write out every aspect of my job and divide it into an itemized list to check off after I finish tasks, I won’t need to waste mental power trying to remember everything. A period of focused effort upfront creates a process that makes my life easier in the long run.
A similar method works for grocery lists. Families buy the same food consistently. Some goods take months to consume, so I may not remember which aisle they are on when I need to replenish them. Major grocery stores provide lists that tell you where to find things. I got one, looked up all the foods I buy regularly, then grouped them by the aisle on a print-out grocery list. It’s effortless to find and check off what I need. Whoever goes to the store can work their way up my list. It saves a lot of time!
This streamlining process works everywhere. I assess the specific needs of a situation and tailor my approach to it. What would fix this problem? Drawer dividers? A payment plan? I decide what the project needs to accomplish, how to make it happen, and get to work. When I get tired of the chaos in my garden shed, I remove and inventory the tools, get rid of damaged ones and any surplus, install racks to hold them in specific places (garden shears in this drawer, ½ inch screws on that shelf), then make an itemized, laminated list so any family member searching for an Allen wrench can find it—and not ask me where it is!
Whatever works for other people, I can tweak and use. External systems serve a valid purpose in reducing unnecessary rethinking. Why waste time coming up with a new method each time if I can create a structure for it? Instead of explaining a process, it’s easier to hand a coworker a set of directions. Follow them and you can’t go wrong. I don’t get people who ignore the instructions and then assume they won’t need to put together the cat tree twice. They exist for a reason! It takes what, five or ten minutes to read them and understand all the steps? Doesn’t that make more sense than trying to figure it out yourself?
My approach is sequential. One action after another, one step at a time. If I feel overwhelmed with my responsibilities and unsure of what to do first, I write out whatever I need to achieve. Seeing it helps me figure out what’s a priority. This makes organizing faster. I can’t fill out a grocery list until after I plan a menu. I take what I know and adapt it to my task. An organized closet, drawer, or a computer all need to make it easy to find things, but require different techniques (dividers in drawers, boxes in closets, and folders and sub-folders in a PC to keep track of things by year).
My method may not make sense to you or suit your tastes, but it works for me. It solved my problem and serves my needs. That’s all I care about. If a better process comes along that offers proven results, I embrace it. It’s irrational to cling to an outdated approach if it causes problems, even though learning a new method may consume much of my time. It’s worth it to be efficient.
I don’t care how things work. I just want them to operate as intended. If they don’t, what are they doing here?
Want to read more? Get your copy!
ISFJ: The Nurturer
When someone yawns, our natural reflex is to yawn without even thinking about it. It’s instinctual, the same way I pick up on your feelings and feel mine shifting to match. I feel your happiness, joy, grief, anguish, and sorrow inside me when we’re together. If I don’t know where your feelings end and mine begin, I must get away from you to establish a sense of myself. I sense the room’s emotional vibe like an invisible antenna, and feel strongly affected by it. I prefer smaller social interactions to larger ones, since it’s hard for me to adjust to multiple people at a time.
I need have gone through no similar emotional incident to relate to other people’s feelings. It’s unnecessary for me to have lost a child, put a pet to sleep, or feel scared about losing a job to know how they are feeling and want to comfort them. My antenna picks up on their emotions and lets me experience, which allows me to generate sympathy for them separate from my own experiences. I may not always know what to say, but I adjust my mood to fit theirs, so they feel supported in their time of crisis.
To ensure interpersonal harmony and make others feel relaxed around me, I put aside my opinions for the good of everyone by focusing on what we have in common rather than what divides us, and by changing my behavior to suit the current situation. I think about how to relate to people and connect to them by asking them questions about their friends, pets, or hobbies.
I see interaction as a place of unspoken rules that take everyone into account; if we abide by them, no one feels left out or unsure of how to act. We know what’s expected of us and okay within this space. I feel bad for people who don’t know how to adjust their behavior, not only for myself but for everyone in the room.
My situational awareness tells me how to change my behavior to suit a specific place. How I act depends on where I am; church has a different set of behaviors than a friend’s birthday party or a night out on the town. My decision incorporates the situation, people involved, and whether I might make someone uncomfortable. It’s okay to “act out” with your friends but not in mixed company. My passions and opinions come out when I feel safe enough to talk about them without the risk of offending anyone. I don’t want to cause discomfort, so I save some conversations for other places. I can talk about my love for Dracula with my friends, but not in Church! Sharing too much can burden others, so I may prune the details to suit the time and place.
Thinking about how my actions and words make people feel is constantly on my mind. I factor that into how I interact with them. “Telling it like it is” is hurtful. There are pleasant ways to say hard things. If I must correct someone, I do it gently, aware of how they might receive or interpret it, and cater it to their personality. Being considerate of their feelings maintains our relationship and shows an understanding of their emotional needs.
I focus a lot on how my actions, words, or behaviors impact my loved ones. I sometimes resent how much of myself I put aside to keep others happy and content. It can feel like a betrayal of myself not to say or do what I want, without feeling like I need to consider the effect it will have on my loved ones. That’s why I need time away from people. Solitude gives me permission to do my own thing without needing to focus on how others might react to it.
For the Good of All
Our social roles exist to maintain the systems that run the world. They reflect their culture and create a set of expectations I don’t mind upholding if they align with my beliefs. I need to fulfill my role as a good parent, churchgoer, teacher, etc. What my culture respects, and what expectations others hold for me, defines these roles. If I want to escape or avoid them out of a reluctance to give up my time, but doing so will disappoint others, I feel conflicted.
It’s less stressful to maintain others’ expectations than to break free of them, especially if doing so will create conflict with them. Having moral support makes this separation easier, but I don’t feel good about deciding something based only on how I feel about it. I can’t help factoring how others into my decisions, and asking, “How it will impact or hurt them? What they will think about it or say about it? Does it benefit them or me?” I care a lot about how they respond to my beliefs, choices, and actions, and what I contribute to their life.
Certain situations dictate expected behaviors, whether it’s caring for a sick parent or donating to a fundraiser. I try to make the right gesture based on the occasion. A friend’s son gets money for his graduation, and my family get Christmas cards in the mail. I may not like this woman, but she’s seeing my son, so I’ll invite her to a family dinner anyway to avoid causing them offense. We both love my son, and I don’t want to hurt my relationship with him. To maintain harmony means focusing on what we have in common, and doing what’s appropriate, rather than going by my feelings.
When meeting new people, I ask questions to find out what we share that links us and reinforces how we are all human, and share more in common than we have differences. If people understood that despite our diverse opinions, we possess the same needs and desires, the world would be a better place. I know what mattersto people, regardless of their background. They are they truths that remain fixed even across racial divides, such as family, the need for friendship, passions about religious and political beliefs, or love.
I don’t expect others to share my views, but want to feel like all present can respect each other’s opinions or find common ground even if we disagree. Environments that attack and exclude people make me uncomfortable. We all deserve the right to hold our own opinions and share our views. If everyone feels comfortable and heard, they all contribute. I want them to feel like equals in my presence. I try not to exclude people unless it’s to make a point.
Many of my decisions involve thinking of ways to put others at ease. I wore a mask during the pandemic, so strangers would feel comfortable around me, regardless of my personal views. Even if I wasn’t afraid of getting sick, it was a way to be considerate. It told them I cared about their health and safety, not just mine. If I draw attention to a point of view, it’s not for me but for everyone involved. Teaching kids compassion and sharing isn’t just to build their character, but for the benefit of everyone around them. All humans are connected to and responsible for each other.
Rosa Parks exemplifies the way I think. She became famous in a time in American history when racial division was at its peak in the South. Black people had to sit at the back of a bus. If there weren’t enough seats, they gave up their place to white people. Her refusal to obey this law changed society forever.
Rosa felt “each person must live their life as a model for others.” She didn’t think just about herself on that bus. Rosa refused an unjust law that didn’t treat all people as equal. She didn’t ask why the bus driver was pushing her around; she asked him why he pushed “us” (Black Americans) around. She saw herself as part of a community of segregated people, and refused to move into another seat, not only for herself, but for their rights too. She believed (as I do) that our actions tell people who we are, what we believe, and what we value. Even though her arrest was scary, Rosa took comfort in the public support it aroused. “It was a relief to know I wasn’t alone.”
That’s how I see the world. My actions aren’t about how I feel, but how they reflect on or impact my family, friends, ethnic group, or community. I make decisions with others in mind, because I see myself as responsible to them. The more people support and agree with my stance, the better I feel about my choice, even if it draws me unwanted criticism or negativity.
Being aware of what’s appropriate doesn’t mean I automatically conform without thinking about it. I know what’s worth fighting for and what isn’t. Rosa knew she would offend many people and face their rage and hatred, but her passion to help her community enabled her to stand firm. Caring about a cause greater than me means standing on my convictions and going against others if I need to do so for the greater good. My principles help me decide when and where to go against a prevailing public attitude. I create them based on what is moral and good for humanity. I won’t compromise them, even if I choose to remain silent about them in situations where my opposition will do no one any good. Hanging around other people means mirroring their emotions to increase my ability to appeal to them, not taking on their value system if it contradicts mine. My ethical beliefs are important to me. I can stand firm on my convictions without infringing them on others, and want them to do the same for me. When deciding anything, my focus goes to the living things impacted by it. I care less about the bottom line than the lives involved.
Want to read more? Get your copy!