On Self-Awareness and Personality Tests
In Why Self-awareness is a Gift, Gregory J. Hahn writes:
"Self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence. Paradoxically, self-awareness is a gift we cannot give to someone else. But, an assessment can help to release that gift for us."
He's talking about the StrengthsFinder assessment (CliftonStrengths), which I have taken, in addition to probably every other personality inventory, thinking style, and workstyle quiz out there. For all of you Harry Potter fans, I was sorted into Ravenclaw.
Is this really about self-awareness?
Here's my problem with our obsession with type-ing ourselves and each other: I don't see the connection between that and self-awareness. Anyone who knows me would put me in Ravenclaw. They all know I'm a Learner (StrengthsFinder), that I'm high in Fact-Finding (Kolbe), and they'd probably put me at a 5 - The Investigator (Enneagram). Do you see a pattern here? This is information we already know. No quiz necessary. (And we can talk about confirmation bias as it relates to quiz-taking later.)
What's the motivation?
Sometimes, we just need to be seen the way we want to be seen. We need others to say, yes, you are a courageous, determined, true student of life (sorted into Gryffindor, of course). If that's the function of the endless typing, then go for it.
Furthermore, if you're trying to assemble a team that has a diversity of thinking and working styles, this kind of assessment could be useful. I know, I know, the world would be a much better place if people were more like . . . you. But if you've ever tried to work with a group of people who were very similar to you, you likely discovered that the magnificence of your type hit the wall of the reality of lack of diversity of thought--not to mention the perils of group dynamics--pretty quickly, and humility ensued. Be that as it may . . .
Self-awareness, Thy Name Is Not Quiz
Knowing you're an introvert (Go Team!) is not the same as being aware of the specific inner qualities of mind and body -- the felt experience -- of the moments when you are alone versus in a large group of people. And the way you get to those qualities isn't via quiz. It's by learning how to directly examine the nature of your moment-to-moment experience. It's by getting to know who you are from the inside out, by making your experience the object of intense and methodical investigation.
How on Earth do you do that?
Well, here's the potentially bad news. It doesn't happen quickly, there are no shortcuts, and although no one can do it for you, you're unlikely to figure it out without instruction. Doesn't that sound appealing? Can't wait to sign up, right?
Regardless of the unappealing nature of the proposition, what could be more important than getting acquainted with the only person from whom there is no escape?
You've probably heard of the decades of research that support the benefits of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). (Disclaimer: I'm a Brown University-trained MBSR teacher.) I'm all for developing a healthier relationship to stress, taking less medication, and improving focus, attention, and well-being. If MBSR does nothing but that, I consider it a success.
But for me, that's not remotely as interesting as the increase in actual, felt, self-awareness and empathy that result from the training and continuous practice of MBSR. Mindfulness cultivates deep self-awareness in a paradoxical way--by focusing on what is actually happening for you on the most basic levels of thought, sensation, and emotion.
Empathy - a Byproduct of MBSR
We are social animals. As much as I'd like to think otherwise, we need each other. To learn from and to lean on. And to be mirrors for us. Whatever the assessments tell you, you are more like me than not in the deepest of ways. And when you feel that reality, a new way of looking at those around you eclipses the one you developed after years of fear, insecurity, and self-obsession. You inevitably discover that the type you are is called human. After having made all kinds of excuses that rhyme with: "I could never meditate--my mind never stops," you realize that you are not alone. And you see yourself in everyone you meet.