To recap: If identity is who you think you are, then personality is what you actually are.
Can identity and personality be tested?
Well, there are countless qualities you could identify with; so the idea of an identity test seems nonsensical.
I’d be willing to bet you’ve taken a few personality tests in your time.
A personality test is sort of like the best and worst of all multiple-choice tests. You move from question to question, agonizing over differences between phrases like “strongly agree” and “most strongly agree” . . . but then end up guessing anyway on all the ones you can’t make sense of.
The fun and satisfying part is when you get to tally up your scores, rifle through to the results page, and feel blown away by the uncanny accuracy of your “type” description.
But are personality test results really the mirror to your soul they seem to be?
All personality tests arrive at the same 4 basic types. Each test or system just uses its own representations and metaphors to help you understand and remember your type, comparing it to an animal, a body part, a fluid, a catch-phrase, a symbol…
You might be a lion/springtime/choleric/boss.
Or maybe you’re a golden retriever/autumn/phlegmatic/pushover.
Both the answers you pick and results they lead to describe 1 of the 4 types.
So consider that what’s really happening when you take a personality test is you’re choosing the type you most identify with.
In other words, you’re deciding between options for what the test says you are based on who you think you are.
That means personality tests aren’t personality tests at all; they’re actually identity tools.
And even though there are countless qualities you could identify with, there are only a few qualities (or traits) that measure and define personality.
Again, personality tests help you narrow in on which personality traits you’re currently comfortable identifying with.
But since personality tests are identity tools, that means you could be answering based on traits you actually have (and show), traits you wish you had . . . or even traits you feel obligated to have for whatever reason.
True personality—what you truly are—is both too simple to require any test, and too complex to ever be mapped to even the most robust results.
Essentially, you are all the personality types.
You possess every personality trait, even those you don’t identify with right now.
All the traits exist and evolve within you; and each should come into play in different ways as you grow, think, learn, make decisions, and experience life.
Personality (The Simplest of Sciences)
Personality has 2 parts: awareness and focus.
Awareness is unconscious. It’s your perception of everything that happens in your world.
Focus is conscious. It’s what you choose to do with your perception.
Awareness and focus each have 2 aspects, and each aspect is directed 2 ways: inward and outward.
Inward-directed aspects keep track of how you feel and what you know. You use them to work out your own independent appraisal of concepts and values.
Outward-directed aspects notice and interact with the world around you.
So since personality has 2 parts, each with 2 aspects directed 2 ways, that adds up to a total of only 8 personality traits, all of which are incredibly easy to recognize—whether they’re traits you use prominently and proficiently (traits that would show up in your personality test results), or traits that remain hidden, underdeveloped, and unutilized (traits you don’t identify with).
Certain personality tests and their associated systems prescribe how some of those 8 traits should be prioritized based on your preferences—saying that if you favor one trait, another will be secondary, then a third, etc.
Such prescriptions can be helpful, but they can also needlessly limit your perspective and potential . . . exactly like the divination systems we looked at last time.
The bottom line: There is more to you and everyone else than you could ever predict, understand, or plan for.
So while there’s no way to stop or silence the part of you that seeks to establish a workable identity, you can set yourself free from all unnecessary constraints in the lifelong process of becoming your best self.
Begin by learning to look for the 8 personality traits in the various ways you and others perceive, think, and act.
2 Parts of Personality
The reason most personality systems arrive at the same 4 basic types is they ignore awareness altogether, and tackle focus exclusively.
Each type embodies 1 of the 4 focus traits.
That in itself is strong evidence for personality tests really being identity tools.
Since focus is conscious, it’s definitely the part of what you are that’s easiest to identify with.
We’ll come back to focus next time.
Awareness is actually far more important and fundamental.
At your core, you are an awareness.
It’s from what you unconsciously perceive that your mind then goes to work conceptualizing, creating the stories you tell yourself about your life and everything connected to it.
But awareness happens on its own. It never stops.
Your awareness is akin to you simply existing.
Psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, studied both awareness and focus as parts of personality; and much of the research behind the 8 personality traits we’ll cover is founded on his initial work.
We’ll also look at what’s called the Big Five model, which is known for using common language to describe observable qualities of personality by simple comparison and dichotomy.
I believe the Big Five model’s easy-to-distinguish, one-or-the-other approach can help make relationships between Jung’s 8 personality traits clear, and provide valuable insight for how all the traits can function well together.
You’re aware of your outward and inward realities through direct sensation (sensing) and intuition.
Outward Sensing (Let’s go!)
Outward sensing picks up on your surroundings exactly as they are. It sees every detail of what’s happening in the physical world you’re experiencing right now. It notices opportunities to act and use whatever you have available.
Outward sensing is impulsive, instinctual, thrill-seeking, and sensual. It’s driven to experience immediate physical pleasure, and to serve appetites through stimulation of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell so you can make the most of the current moment.
Outward sensing is also aware of trends and what’s popular or stylish. This makes appearances and material things important to outward sensing.
Inward Sensing (What works?)
Where outward sensing engages with the outside world through your senses, inward sensing notices how your body feels in itself. It pays close attention to your physical state.
Inward sensing keeps careful track of experiences, comparing your present circumstances with those past.
Inward sensing values consistency and security. It’s protective of practiced customs.
Sensing and Conscientiousness
In the Big Five model, what pits inward and outward sensing against one another is a quality called conscientiousness.
Conscientiousness works to control and regulate impulses so you can make wise choices that lead to long-term benefits.
In other words, conscientiousness isn’t sidetracked by short-term, fleeting desires. Rather it stays consistent and reliable, living by proven routines.
Conscientiousness treasures tradition. It sees established rules as moral obligations.
Where inward sensing is highly conscientious, outward sensing isn’t conscientious at all.
Inward sensing pulls you to what’s known or familiar. Outward sensing pushes you to seek out the new and unpredictable.
Inward sensing holds you back to conserve, keeping clear unconscious records of what’s worked well before. Outward sensing drives you forward into the unknown so you can consume and enjoy right now.
If you feel more prone or inclined to inward sensing—if you’re more conscientious—then notice your tendency to look down on sensual, unplanned, frivolous (unconscientious) activities in general. Realize that beneath your disdain and judgment, the drive to push forward, consume, and enjoy exists somewhere deep and untapped within you as well.
If you were to stay only conscientious, you would spend your life working hard to build and sustain something valuable that you never actually got any value from.
That could look like living in abject poverty without ever accessing the millions you’ve saved in the bank.
Likewise, if you find yourself always rushing out to make the most of your immediate circumstances without considering long-term consequences, know that the way you probably like to identify with those tendencies (“well, that’s just how I am”) is no excuse not to listen to your own better judgment.
If you were never conscientious, you’d end up burnt out, dried up, and dead before your time.
To find balance, learn to hear and even appreciate the whispered words of whichever of these 2 tendencies haunts you like a hated but incessant ghost. Doing so gradually over time will greatly benefit, fortify, and color the other tendency—the one that stands out and seems to rule the sensing aspect of your awareness.
Outward Intuition (What if?)
Where outward sensing is grounded in appearances and your experience in the moment, outward intuition drifts beneath concrete reality to pick up on as many future opportunities as possible.
Outward intuition holds on to every idea, interpretation, and hidden pattern at once, examining them all together for whatever good might be brought about.
Outward intuition favors brainstorming and limitless imagination, whimsically uncovering connections in theme or meaning between whatever freely comes to mind.
Thus, outward intuition can come across as flaky, absent-minded, and blind to what’s obvious in the physical world.
Unbridled outward intuition quickly grows restless and distracted. Poor at focusing, and never satisfied, it leads to having more pursuits than you could ever really go after.
Inward Intuition (Thus sayeth…)
Where inward sensing relays your body’s experience back to you just as it is, inward intuition fuses disparate pieces of your experience to form new ideas and insights.
Unlike outward intuition, which sees every possible connection between as many facts or ideas as possible, inward intuition brings all possibilities (even contradictions) together to create a single, sometimes paradoxical, yet comprehensive perspective or solution . . . an outcome you see as being worth whatever it might take to bring about—to turn your vision into something real and accessible to others.
Again, all awareness traits are unconscious. So while your conscious mind might work to set definitions and rules in textbooks based on logical divisions, inward intuition transcends such confines to reconcile the irreconcilable, arriving at universal truths at the base of complex philosophies.
Because it’s unconscious, inward intuition can seem supernatural or prophetic; but it really just works with the puzzle pieces taken in by experience to generate impressions of how things are and will be.
The divination systems we looked at last time are a great example of inward intuition—systems that can serve as proxies to help you grasp unconscious knowledge.
Closing the Open Door
Outward sensing and outward intuition represent a quality called openness in the Big Five model.
Openness is imaginative, curious, and creative.
Where outward sensing is open to sensual experience, outward intuition is open to possibility and new opportunities.
Closedness, on the other hand, goes only by-the-book. It limits you to pre-established boundaries.
We’ve seen how conscientious inward sensing opposes outward sensing’s wild impulses so you can defer immediate gratification and make more mature decisions.
You might then assume inward intuition would counter outward intuition’s constant push to explore alternatives.
Inward intuition, after all, arrives at a single conclusion that somehow brings all options together.
But inward intuition isn’t closed like inward sensing is.
Inward intuition continues to look ahead (not behind), seeking to build upon itself.
For a few years now, I’ve been working on a story that’s been mostly the result of inward intuition.
And I obviously believe in my story enough to have kept with it this long.
But as for exactly how, where, when, and with whom I’ll share my story once it’s done, outward intuition has never stopped raging out of control with different game plans, leaping like lightning from one attractive outlet to the next.
I’ve watched myself sprint in circles between ideas to start various YouTube channels, publish podcasts, record audiobooks, work with affiliates, or harness any number of social media platforms.
I’ve rushed out many times to buy expensive gear, then spent days and weeks feverishly fashioning impossibly detailed schedules (for new lives) on spreadsheets.
A few months ago, I met up with an old friend who was able to talk some fresh sense into me. He helped me pull my exhausted perspective back from myriad marketing futures to see the few pursuits I’d already been moving forward in all along (such as articles like this).
Looking back gave me a natural sense of timing and priorities—providing a sturdy base for outward intuition to then build upon moving forward.
So, my answer was inward sensing.
Inward sensing can close the open door of outward intuition, bringing or restoring a natural appreciation for what you know works well for you.
Use inward sensing when deciding between conflicting opportunities so you can make real progress instead of spinning your wheels forever in the pretty face of endless prospects.
Inward intuition fascinates me.
I’d be lying if I said the part of me that pushes to lock down a livable identity doesn’t sit at the edge of its seat when I study and experience the workings of inward intuition.
I feel like I recognize inward intuition’s function and symptoms in my own life more than any other trait.
Here is Jung’s description of someone for whom inward intuition is dominant:
The intuition is directed within, hence they are primarily found among seers and prophets, poets, artists; among primitive peoples they are the shamans who convey the messages of the gods to the tribe. On a more mundane level, persons of this type tend to be mystical day-dreamers. This type is especially liable to neglect ordinary physical needs. They often have little awareness of their own bodily existence or its effect on others. It often appears (especially to the extravert) that reality does not exist for them—that they are simply lost in fruitless fantasies. They easily get lost in strange cities; they misplace possessions, forget appointments, seldom turn up on time, arrive at airports at the very last minute. Their working environment is usually chaotic; they can’t find the right papers, the tools they need, clean clothes. There is seldom anything orderly or tidy about them. They tend to muddle through life, dependent on the tolerance and good will of sensation-oriented friends.
So, imagine having a vision for the future you felt could help solve many important problems.
How driven would you be to fully realize that vision and bring it to life?
Don’t you think you might start to lose touch with more mundane matters?
The problem: As you neglect your health, your loved ones, and the world around you, you start to resemble something of an eccentric, unruly flake.
Yes, inward intuition requires you to step away from your everyday world to properly experience and capture your big “aha!” moments.
But then your vision only ends up being valuable to the degree that you can come back down from your lofty mountain and find effective ways to integrate, connect around, and communicate what you’ve received.
So far, we’ve seen how inward sensing conflicts with outward sensing and works to regulate outward intuition.
I also hold that inward sensing can be a good initial answer to the real-world, practical shortcomings of inward intuition.
Inward sensing works to tighten the distance and close the loop—to return you to the here and now of your own internal experience so that the insights and future you see can begin to be lived out and made real in an outward sensory world.
So for every other awareness trait, treat inward sensing as a hub for finding balance and making measurable progress.
If you’re pushing hard and fast to experience the world around you, inward sensing is the overridden voice of your conscience haunting you with potential consequences of your actions.
If you’re pushing to explore the beauty of ever more opportunities, inward sensing is there to compare each potential future with your own experiential knowledge.
If you’re pushing to detach from the world in enlightenment, inward sensing can remind you of the ultimate truth at the base of every vision you receive, returning you to simple awareness of yourself and your state as an existing being.
It’s your state that really matters in the end, no matter who you identify as or what you hope to be and achieve.
You could damage yourself through reckless abandon, stay stuck forever drooling over what could be, or flash through the rest of your existence as a would-be prophet receiving visions alone in a cave.
It’s as your awareness is brought back to your state that you can really start to live by your values.
Awareness and Values
We’ll talk a lot about values as we continue to study personality.
I think a helpful way to understand what you are is to see yourself as an evolving sequence of values all wanting to use your life to exist more in the world.
Each personality trait represents different values.
Let’s quickly consider how inward sensing can be used to help develop the values represented by your other 3 awareness traits.
As outward sensing values experience, inward sensing can gradually make known the value of working and waiting to earn the absolute best experiences you most enjoy.
That could mean the difference between scarfing bags of fast food in a parking lot, and saving up for a single meal at your favorite restaurant as a reward for living well all month.
The same holds true for other sensory experiences.
Outward intuition values potential; that means it values every possible value that could exist through your life.
The problem with outward intuition is it gets lost in the wonder of what each of those values might mean.
Inward sensing shows you your life as a whole. That way you can see which core values have really been there all along as your perspective and person have developed, giving you a strong foundation of focus and a natural sense of priorities based on the tried and true.
When it comes to inward intuition, Beck sings in his song, Loser, “You can’t write if you can’t relate.” And the only way to connect with anyone and make your valued vision for a better future come true is to return down from your heightened status as an otherworldly recipient sage to become again just a regular person like everyone else—someone doing their best to live their life well in the world.
Sensing and Intuition
We’ve seen what the 4 awareness traits look like, as well as what each one wants.
Though we’ve touched on how inward sensing can be used to help bring you back to a fundamental awareness of yourself, inward sensing as a personality trait should not be considered superior to other traits.
There are no better or worse traits, aspects, qualities, types, parts…
Intuition-dominance leads to feeling annoyed or overwhelmed by practical matters.
Likewise, sensing-dominance misses the forest for the trees, so that taking steps back from what’s happening now in order to look beneath at possible meanings feels daunting or pointless.
Understanding how each personality trait serves its function can transform discouraging feelings of lack and inadequacy . . . or misplaced arrogant superiority . . . into a healthy respect and desire for further growth, balance, and connection with others who are stronger and more experienced where you’re weak.
P.S. A quick note on MBTI:
Anyone familiar with MBTI will no doubt realize it’s what I’m referring to when I mention systems that “prescribe how some of those 8 traits should be prioritized based on your preferences—saying that if you favor one trait, another will be secondary, then a third, etc.”
MBTI gives you a sequence of personality traits called your functional stack. The order of the sequence is meant to reveal your next steps for growth, balance, and expansion so that all of your core values can work themselves out through your life effectively.
But again, you really have and use all the different traits (or functions) to some degree.
Seeing yourself limited to only the traits in your functional stack would make understanding and relating to others who don’t share those traits impossible.
It would also invalidate much of the advice in this article.
For example, let’s say your functional stack contained outward sensing and inward intuition. If you were limited to only those awareness traits, then inward sensing could never be used as a tool for grounding and balance.
Please understand: I love MBTI, and I can’t overstate how helpful I believe it can be as a personal development system (if that’s what it’s used for).
At the end of the next article, after examining the focus traits, I’ll show you how to determine your MBTI type without requiring any test.
Jung, C. G., and Herbert Read. The collected works of C.G. Jung, vol. 6: psychological types. Routledge, 1989.