So many conversations I've had about personality assessments have inadvertently pointed back to this idea.
"There are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide people into two types and those who don't." — Edward A. Murphy, Jr. A heuristic is any approach to problem solving or self-discovery that employs a practical method that is not guaranteed to be optimal, perfect, or rational, but is nevertheless sufficient for reaching an immediate, short-term goal or approximation. Where finding an optimal solution is impossible or impractical, heuristic methods can be used to speed up the process of finding a satisfactory solution. Heuristics can be mental shortcuts that ease the cognitive load of making a decision. [ source ] When you take on a label and use that as a reason for your behavior ("I'm x type of person, therefore I do things this way and not that way"), you close yourself off from your own potential to do things differently. But… 1 | How well do you really know yourself? You don't know what you don't know. And there's a lot more to you that it's going to take you years — even decades — to discover. Stay open-minded about yourself. 2 | Closed-mindedness kills potential. When you close off your mind to the possibility of a different way of being, then it becomes completely true. 3 | You influence your own genetic expression. Our genes do or don't express themselves based on the environment we create for them. And so we inadvertently determine which of our genes do or don't get activated (to a limited — but substantive — extent). There's something comforting about seeing the results we expect to see, even if those results aren't exactly what we say we want them to be. The self-fulfilling nature of these types of narratives can also be used to your advantage. They can help you reinforce the qualities that you want to do more of. For example, "I am going to follow through on this promise because I'm someone who does what I say I'll do." It's not a magic bullet to overcome your weaknesses, but it can be a useful tactic to help yourself act in accordance with an identity that you value. At the same time, it's important to remain emphatically aware of your very real capacity for lying to yourself about what you're like, so that you don't find yourself in self-deception territory.
With both the upsides and downsides in mind, let's consider the other option…
Rather than reverting to a default way of being, it's more valuable to see the situation in front of you for what it is and for what it needs, and then to reach into your toolbox and bring forward the traits that will best meet that moment...
100% = good 0% = bad
Examples of scales of competence might be:
- how fast can you run a mile?
- how accurately can you calculate these numbers in your head?
- how effective is your solution to this problem?
- Focus: ranging from narrow (focused) to wide (explorative)
- Engagement: ranging from introspective (internally engaged) to interactive (externally engaged)
- Kindness: ranging from comfortable (radical understanding) to challenging (radical honesty)
Conflation of the Two
- "you are organized"
- "you are highly sensitive"
- "you are very open"
This leads to a cyclically-reinforcing extremification of that quality. The problem is that the 100% level of that quality is not inherently "good" — it's neutral. It's a tool that is useful in some situations and irrelevant or even harmful in other situations. It also leads to a looking-down on the "other" quality. For example, someone who has become extremified in their strength of high sensitivity might look with condescension on someone who's behaving more straightforwardly, not realizing that the two things complement each other — that they're two ends of the same spectrum, and that the spectrum is the thing deserving of value. The spectrum is what matters, more than either extremified expression of it.
What if we de-emphasize the expressions of a dimension and raise the value of the dimension itself? What if we learned the value of the whole range and worked to develop our capacity to navigate dynamically and intentionally across that range?
Heuristics help us navigate that reality… Measures of competence help us develop greater competence… But it's the tension of the dynamic that allows for both adaptability and a deeper experience.
Each week, I do a deep-dive into the question of living meaningfully.
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