Taking the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment to identify your personality type is an important self-awareness opportunity, but it doesn’t tell the whole story of who you are. This is especially the case for people with growth mindsets.
The concept of a growth mindset and its opposite, a fixed mindset, was developed by the psychologist Carol Dweck. According to Dweck’s research, individuals vary in their understandings of where their skills and abilities come from. Those who have fixed mindsets believe their abilities are innate and cannot really be improved. If they fail at some task, they feel it’s because they lack the necessary ability and, well, that’s that.
On the other hand, those with growth mindsets believe they can acquire almost any ability if they put in enough effort. In other words, those with growth mindsets believe they can grow (hence the name). Dweck holds that those with growth mindsets are more likely to persevere in the face of challenges and find success.
The Path to a Growth Mindset
Regardless of where your preferences fall in accordance with the 16 MBTI types, a growth mindset perspective takes that information as simply the starting point in the journey to appreciate your preferences and the preferences of others.
The true goal of the MBTI assessment is not to label people with preferences or identify them as “extraverts” or “thinkers” or “perceivers.” Anyone who knows me knows that I cringe when I hear people use those labels to describe their preferences. While our preferences are innate, people can and should flex beyond those preferences. When they don’t, they’re adopting a fixed mindset.
People often say things like, “Oh, I’m a big extravert!” My response to such statements is there is no such thing as “big” or “small” on the MBTI assessment, nor is there such a thing as an “extravert” or an “introvert.” Instead, you have a preference for extraversion or introversion. You have a preference for sensing or intuition. You have a preference for thinking or feeling. You have a preference for judging or perceiving.
Understanding your personality type as a preference for one side or the other can help you also understand that you have the choice to use the opposite side of that preference when the situation calls for it. In fact, you have more than a choice: You have a responsibility to yourself and to those in your personal and professional lives to use both sides of a preference when the situation calls for it. Once you take on that responsibility, you are putting yourself on your own path toward a growth mindset.
In other words, we are not just one or the other when it comes to our preferences. Anyone who believes that’s what the MBTI assessment is telling them doesn’t really understand the power of what they can learn from the MBTI.
My preferences are INFP. Of course, I want to honor those preferences by using them in my work and in my life. However, I also need to remember to flex to the other side when the situation calls for it. The more I apply E, S, T, and J (the opposites of INFP), the more feedback I get from my environment and the more comfortable I get applying that opposite side when situations arise. Knowing my MBTI type does not put me in a box. Instead, it allows me to see what approaches will work best for me in developing new skills, an outlook that is absolutely in tune with Dweck’s conception of the growth mindset.
Extraversion and Introversion: How We Direct and Receive Energy
While I have a preference for introversion, if I lived only in the world of introversion, I would miss out on an entire other world. Sure, I prefer to reflect before acting, have a depth of interests, keep just a small number of close friends, and tend to be a bit more contained (hallmarks of introversion). However, I have learned there are times when I need to communicate through talking, work out ideas with others, engage with more people, and expand my interests (hallmarks of extraversion).
Sensing and Intuition: How We Receive Information
While I have a preference for intuition, I need to learn how to apply the sensing side to more fully understand situations. Certainly, my big-picture approach helps me understand patterns, future possibilities, and hunches (hallmarks of intuition). However, to truly understand what is going on, I also need to consider the facts, remember details, and pay attention to the evidence (hallmarks of sensing).
Thinking and Feeling: How We Decide and Come to Conclusions
When I make decisions, my preference for feeling definitely helps me consider the impacts of my decisions on others while making sure my own values are acknowledged. However, if I fail to also consider the thinking approach — which involves making decisions based on objective facts — I may not make the optimal choices.
As I develop and grow, I am learning to make decisions by including the more objectively logical reasoning the thinking-preference side can bring me. Thinking is not my preference, but that doesn’t mean I cannot learn how to use it.
Judging and Perceiving: How We Approach the Outside World
I prefer perceiving when I approach the external world, which helps me remain open to new possibilities and adaptable to change. However, there are times when I overdo this approach, and those are the times when I need to consider the judging side of my personality. When I apply that side, I can come to closure on those possibilities and stick to what I have begun.
A growth-mindset approach to understanding and acting on your MBTI preferences gives you a much more fulfilling type development experience. Isabel Briggs Myers did not develop this assessment to put you in a box. When you look at the 16-type table, think of it as a collection of rooms instead of a series of boxes: While we all have a favorite room, we need to consider when and how can we use the other rooms to be the best versions of ourselves. The more we learn to flex, the more developed we become.
Michael Segovia is the lead trainer for The Myers-Briggs Company’s MBTI Certification Programs. He recently presented a TED talk reflecting on how type theory has informed his understanding of his own life story.