A Truity Q&A: Behavioral Scientist & Bestselling author Paul D. Tieger on how your type can be the key to managing stress in uncertain times

In a time of pandemic and global uncertainty, how one deals with stress is as relevant a topic as ever. And as we know, your unique Myers-Briggs personality type can play a critical role in how you manage and process stress and anxiety. 

This month, we are thrilled to announce that internationally recognized behavioral scientist and best-selling co-author of Do What You Are, Just Your Type, and Nurture by Nature, Paul D. Tieger has created a custom report for how each type can manage their stress within Truity’s TypeFinder test (to take the test and get your report, click here).  

We sat down with Paul to discuss his life’s work and insights on how personality type can be the key to creating a more fulfilled life – even and especially during these most uncertain times.

Paul, you are one of the leading behavioral scientists in the field of personality science. How did you come to this work? 

I’d been working as an Assistant Dean of Students at a college for a couple of years and true to my type, although I didn’t know what my type was at that point, I was restless and ready to move onto something else. One day, a woman came into work and told me about Myers-Briggs. I took the assessment, found out I was an ENFP and I was like, “What?!” Suddenly, a lot of things made sense and type just grabbed hold of me…and never let go.

My next job was as a career counsellor. I started administering the assessment to my clients and it soon became obvious that there was a deep connection between personality type and career satisfaction. In those days, type was not considered an important part of career satisfaction and success – it was all based on interests, skills and values. We now know that all three are transitory in young people. For example, when I was 17 I thought I was a business person. I wanted to make a lot of money and go into insurance. It turns out, that couldn’t have been further away from who I am!

Figuring out that type transcends pretty much everything, and is core to who you are, led to me studying psychology and eventually writing Do What You Are. 25 years, 6 editions, and 1 million book sales later, it has changed the way that career counselling is practiced around the world.   

You’ve spent much of your career helping individuals and organizations find their path using personality type science. Can you share any of the most powerful transformation stories you’ve heard? 

I’ve literally had someone write to me, ‘you cured my cancer.’ Obviously, I’m not a doctor; I didn’t cure a physical disease. What this person meant was, they were so unsuited to what they were doing, and so anxious and miserable, that they were making themselves sick. I’ve heard from lots of people over the years, but this was by far the most dramatic.

On the career side, I’ve heard so, so many stories of, “I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing, and when I did, it changed my life!” Life-changing - that’s a pretty powerful transformation! 

As an organizational consultant, I remember working with an insurance company. It was a team of around 10 people, most of them long-range thinking, tough-minded NT men.  There was one woman on the team who was an INFP, and naturally her input was discounted. I helped this company understand that she was actually the most valuable person on the team because she saw things the others didn’t see.  Once they realized this, it made a big difference – for her, for the others and for the team.  It’s transformative for teams to understand you need a diversity of type to succeed. 

Parenting is something I’m deeply passionate about. Since writing Nurture by Nature, my second book, the two comments I’ve heard the most often are “I wish I had this book when my kids were little” followed by, “I wish my mom had this book when I was little.” I think that says it all. Parenting is even harder when kids aren’t recognized for who they are. You can’t make a sensitive, empathetic, artistic kid into a football player who really loves to hit – well, you can try. But that’s why there are so many busy therapists! I believe a parent’s job is to understand who their child is and build their self-esteem. I’ve heard too many people say, “I don’t know what planet my kid is from” and it breaks my heart. 

Really, there are so many stories.  I was a jury consultant for 25 years. It was my job to look at potential jurors and figure out if they’d be sympathetic to our case. I learned early on that type predisposes people’s decisions, often before they’ve heard a shred of evidence.

For the past several years, my passion has been applying personality type in healthcare. Did you know that type strongly influences things like drug adherence, smoking, exercise, weight and chronic disease? So, a rule abiding SJ will usually take their medication as prescribed where an impulsive SP may not.  I’ve used the knowledge I’ve gained by conducting 5 research studies with over 50,000 participants to create Individualized Wellness Plans specific to each type, to mitigate these behaviors. It is not hyperbolic to suggest that applying personality type to mitigate chronic disease may save millions of lives and billions of dollars.

Stay at home orders and social distancing have been dubbed ‘the golden age for introverts.’ But at the same time, given the global pandemic and economic disruption caused by it, many are dealing with associated stress, anxiety, depression, substance abuse and more at new levels. In your reports, you note that people can be overwhelmed with too many stressors at once. You call this, “being in the grip.” Are we all in the grip - or are some people, like introverts, able to handle this situation better than others?

First, let me explain that I borrowed the term “in the grip” from Naomi Quenk. Naomi is licensed psychologist, and her book Was That Really Me is the definitive work on stress and type. The reason I created the DeStress RX is that the whole world is stressed and, uniquely, we are all aware of it at the same time. That’s never happened before. People have dealt with catastrophes and other traumas before, but these events were more isolated and affected smaller numbers of people.

Not all types are equally affected by stress, nor do they have the same degree of skill to reduce it. One of our studies which involved 10,500 subjects demonstrated that Intuitive Feeling types are off the charts for anxiety and depression. For example, ISTJs are 36% LESS likely to suffer from anxiety or depression relative to their percentage of the population, where INFPs are 86% MORE likely. INFPs are in a world of hurt. While some Introverts are much less stressed because they tend to handle isolation better, it’s not as simple as saying Introverts are coping better than Extraverts. Different types are affected in different ways. 

Your Stress RX report in the Truity TypeFinder test focuses on offering guidance for each of the 16 Myers-Briggs types - as no two personality types deal with stress in the same way. Can you share some examples of some big differences between the types in terms of how they handle stress?

NTs appear to be the least affected. People who share this temperament are all about competence and success. They look at the current challenges and say, “I can handle it.” Generally, Thinking types are not as impacted as Feeling types are. They tend to experience less angst and anxiety and have better coping skills. 

SPs have a different stress experience. These people are not naturally introspective. I found many – especially Feeling SPs (ISFPs and ESFPs) – suffer from a fair degree of anxiety and depression. For the Thinking SPs (ESTPs and ISTPS), I believe it’s because they don’t have very good access to their feelings, or they don’t have the language to talk about them. SPs are visceral, sensate people, and their rate of addiction is higher in general. All the stressors thrown up by the pandemic would tend to exacerbate those sensations for SPs, I think.

Finally, when you look at SJs, what drives them is responsibility. If they cannot do the right thing by people, it’s a big stressor for them.  They’re perhaps not affected as much as SPs and NFs are, but they’re still affected. 

When we think about stress, it’s not just ourselves we have to think about. Lots of us are living closely with people who may be reacting to stress in different ways. Which should come first – taking care of your own stress triggers, or helping our family members deal with theirs? How do these things fit together?   

If you’ve ever been on a plane, you’ll have heard the instruction to put on your own oxygen mask first, before you help your kids – that’s a good analogy here. It’s much easier to help someone if you’re in healthy shape yourself, so ideally, you’d take care of your own stress responses first. In the real world, it’s not always realistic to put yourself first though. For example, if you’re a single Mom with two kids and a job, trying to organize Zoom-school between business meetings and cooking dinner, you’re not going to be your first priority.  We’re in survival mode – there are no magic bullets.

Your book ‘Do What You Are’ has helped millions find their career paths using personality science. You’ve updated the book several times over the years to better help millennials in a much less stable job climate and for those switching careers late in life. Given the state of the workforce today – deep uncertainty, remote work, a large “gig” economy, do you have any grounding advice for job seekers in this market?

As a job seeker, you should always be figuring out what the best, most fulfilling career is for you – IF fulfillment is a goal.  But fulfillment is not always a goal for all types, and that’s something people don’t always understand. You know, most career counsellors are Intuitive Feelers. NFs make up around 17% of the population but may be 85% of counsellors. These personalities will always talk about doing what you love and finding inner fulfillment because that’s what drives them. Many more people are really fulfilled by having a job that puts food on the table, pays for their kid’s karate class and lets them go away for two weeks’ vacation – a situation that wouldn’t be fulfilling to an NF like me!  

I think understanding type is critical for figuring out what is going to be fulfilling for you. So, for SJs, it’s all about responsibility. Furthering and aiding an organization – that’s fulfillment. For SPs, it’s often more about physically doing work that energizes you and gives you plenty of time to enjoy life after work. NTs tend to define fulfillment in terms of success, advancement, competence and being really great at what they do. So, it’s different again for NTs. 

Fundamentally, career satisfaction comes down to understanding what your core drivers are. Understanding your temperament  is a great first step toward career satisfaction and success.

Jayne Thompson

Jayne is a freelance copywriter, business writer and the blog editor here at Truity. One part word nerd, two parts skeptic, she helps clients discover the amazing power of words on a page. She lives with her ENTX husband and children in Yorkshire, UK, where she drinks a lot of tea and loves winding people up. Find Jayne at White Rose Copywriting.

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THE FINE PRINT: Myers-Briggs® and MBTI® are registered trademarks of the MBTI Trust, Inc., which has no affiliation with this site. Truity offers a free personality test based on Myers and Briggs' types, but does not offer the official MBTI® assessment. For more information on the Myers Briggs Type Indicator® assessment, please go here.

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