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How to be alone

Extrovert or Introvert? Why it’s helpful to know your personality type when you’re flying solo

2nd January was World Introvert Day. I posted a link on our Facebook page to this excellent, free personality test which was WILDLY popular (described by one person as ‘freakishly accurate’). In about 10 minutes, the test will tell you how introverted / extroverted you are, along with other interesting insights. I definitely recommend it if you’re even remotely interested!

What is personality profiling, and why is it useful?

Personality profiling has fascinated me for over a decade. I’ll happily talk about it for hours with anyone patient enough to hear me out. And I’ve taken ALL the serious tests (Insights, DiSC, Eysenck, Enneagram, Hogan etc). A bunch of less serious ones too – who doesn’t want to know their Harry Potter Hogwarts house…?

While we’re all unique, personality tests can help us understand how we show up in the world, and why. They shed light on our preferences. How we manage our energy, how we take in and process information, how we make decisions, and how we like to organise our lives. We all have a mixture of characteristics, however most of us have a tendency towards certain ways of operating – for example, being more introverted or more extroverted; more thinking or more feeling; more observant or more intuitive and so on.

As a leader in large organisations, I’ve used Myers Briggs profiling for team-building, and to resolve disagreements between staff members. As a coach, I’ve seen the way personality profiling can help people build greater self-awareness and confidence, leading to transformational changes in different areas of their lives.

I’ve used these tests for my own learning and personal growth too. As someone who lives alone and is navigating the world solo, I understand that deep self-knowledge is at the heart of a successful solo life. Personality profiling can help us build that knowledge. And there are three main reasons why I think it pays to know your personality type when you’re single, solo, or living by yourself.

1. You’ll stop telling yourself there’s something wrong with you

Perhaps not completely. But if you’re the kind of person who beats yourself up about all the things you should be doing better / differently, then personality profiling could be key to understanding the way you’re wired. And in helping you be a bit kinder to yourself.

I’ve known for a long time that I often feel out of place in our loud, fast-paced, extroverted society. It took personality profiling to understand why. As an introverted (‘I’), intuitive (‘N’), feeler (‘F’) type, I’ve learned I need to work a bit harder to make myself understood, and to show up in a way that feels authentic to me. However I also understand that I have strengths that not everyone else has.

If you’re crawling up the walls during lockdown and can’t understand how other people are coping with being alone, that could be your extrovert side talking. You take your energy from other people. So get on the phone, make video calls, join online forums. Build in as many opportunities as you can for varied and lively connection. It’s what makes you, you. And you wouldn’t be you in any other way.

If you’re secretly enjoying the quieter, slower pace of life at the moment, you’re probably towards the introverted end of the scale. You take energy from being by yourself. As we transition back towards ‘normal’ life, you’ll want to make sure you’re building in lots of quiet time for thinking, dreaming and processing, in order to be at your best.

If your friends tease you for being a bit of a control freak, it’s probably because you’re a ‘J’ type. To others, you appear to have an organised, structured, orderly life. Embrace it! Your preference for order and certainty means that you come across as completely reliable, in control, and someone other people can rely on to get things done.

Conversely, if you beat yourself up because you’ve waited until the last minute to complete an important task – don’t! You’re a pressure-prompted ‘P’ type. You like to have the freedom to respond in the moment to whatever’s happening, and you like to have all the possible information before you make a start on something. Yes, deadlines are stressful for you. But you work effectively under pressure. And you’re probably more adaptable and able to cope better with change than your ‘J’ type counterparts.

The point is that every type has strengths and weaknesses. Understanding your type can help you understand why you do things the way you do – and to start building towards greater self-acceptance / awareness.

2. You’ll start building a life that feels more comfortable for you

It’s incredible powerful to move from thinking ‘I’m in the right / wrong’ to ‘it’s the way I’m wired.’ Once you know your preferences, it also becomes a lot easier to start playing to your strengths and balancing out your weaknesses.

If you know you’re more introverted and you’re feeling drained and exhausted after a weekend spend talking to other people, then recharging / recuperating is what you need. Conversely, it’s important not to get so comfortable with your alone-ness that you neglect your friendships and become socially isolated.

If you’re a flexible, spontaneous ‘P’ type, you’ll probably feel constrained and miserable in an environment that is very rigid and rule-bound. That’s fine – however you probably do need some structure in your life to help you stay on top of everything. If you’re a structured, orderly ‘J’ type, remember that the occasional spontaneous decision can lead to fun, adventures and experiences in ways that can’t be planned for.

If you’re an ‘S’ (sensing) type, then you’ll want proof and facts before you make up your mind about something. Be careful not to let your need for certainty stand in the way of setting ambitious life and career goals. If you’re an imaginative ‘N’ type, then setting a vision will be easy – it’s the practicalities of getting there you’ll find challenging.

It’s important not to use your personality type as an excuse for bad behaviour. For example, regularly cancelling on friends at the last minute because you need ‘introvert time.’ Instead, try to use your self-knowledge so that you’re always operating from a place of strength. For example, keeping the day before you meet your friend free so you have lots of energy.

3. Your relationships with other people will improve too

Personality profiling is also useful in understanding what makes other people tick. If you ever feel frustrated or confused about other people’s behaviour, then understanding their personality preferences can help. When we understand where someone else is coming from, it’s easier to empathise, relate and communicate. It can take the sting out of difficult situations to realise that someone just experiences the world in a different way to you.

Say you’ve stopped at a neighbour’s house to say hello and to see if they want anything at the supermarket. If you feel as though they’re flinching when you turn up on the doorstep unannounced, it would be easy to start assuming that they don’t like you very much. It’s much more likely that they’re an introvert (feel drained by people and put a high value on solitude). And / or that they have a ‘J’ (judging) preference – i.e.: that they like things to happen in an orderly way – which you turning up unannounced is not. You might get a different response by messaging or calling in advance to let them know you’re coming. At the very least, it gives you another explanation for what you’re experiencing.

Final word

Personality profiling tests are just one way to build self-awareness and awareness of others. And they can only ever be indicative (though they get more accurate and more stable the more self-aware you become). But if you’re interested in finding out a bit more about yourself as you begin your solo journey, they are an excellent place to start.

If you enjoyed this, then you may want to read more about How To Live Well Alone and The Living Well Alone Project. For exclusive content, offers and updates, leave your email address with us to receive our weekly newsletter.

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