On My Personality
My personality has always been a bit… different. And, as the years have progressed, I’ve slowly been able to gain some insight into the nature of this difference.
Let’s start with a personality trait breakdown. There are different ways to do this, but we are doing this one. (An example of what these numbers mean: I’m in the 26th percentile in agreeableness means that out of 100 people I am more agreeable than 26 of them, and less agreeable than 73 of them.)
Agreeableness — 26th percentile
- Compassion — 21st percentile
- Politeness — 38th percentile
Conscientiousness — 0th percentile
- Industriousness — 0th percentile
- Orderliness — 0th percentile
Extraversion — 18th percentile
- Enthusiasm — 21st percentile
- Assertiveness — 22nd percentile
Neuroticism — 87th percentile
- Withdrawal — 93rd percentile
- Volatility — 72nd percentile
Openness to Experience — 97th percentile
- Openness — 97th percentile
- Intellect — 94th percentile
If you want to be traditionally successful then the most important number is conscientiousness (basically the ability to organize things, do things, and get things done). It’s even more important than IQ (I’m 98th percentile in IQ). Being at different points on these scales is useful for different things, but I’ve really been wondering for the last few years what the heck this setup is useful for. (Because, it doesn’t correlate with success in anything in any field. It’s not inherently built for being good at having a family, or leading, or following, or corporate, or entrepreneurial pursuits, or artistic pursuits.)
When I was in my early teens my uncle Rick, who’s a psychologist, let me do a psychological profile. I read his book and a few others on psychological profiles, I didn’t like some of the things in mine, I basically dismissed and ignored them for a long time. Slowly, over my life I’ve proven the validity of psychological profiles even though I wanted to disprove them. (By the way, my uncle Rick uses a completely different kind of profile than this. Rick uses Temperament Theory, the one I’m showing here is based on the Big Five. I have both of these, along with the Kolbe A test, on public display on my about page. Feel free to take a look if you’re interested.)
Combine this odd profile to start with and some of the things that have happened in my life and you end up with… me. I think I was fairly “normal” (no one has ever told me I actually was normal, but I’m just trying to keep things simple here) until my best friend Andrew died when I was 13. I’m not going to go into the details here, but needless to say it through my whole personality into a tailspin. And, it through my whole surrounding social community into a tailspin. I had already been interested in philosophy and psychology, but this really spurred me on to dig in deep and figure out how to fix myself.
I did poorly at this, fixing myself, and it took a long time. I had some major injuries along the way that put me into constant physical pain for years and I’m sure that didn’t help. Also, my tendency to withdraw when confronted with problems can really slow down progress in a lot of ways. Nevertheless, through a series of unusual means that we will not go into now, I was able to put myself back together fairly well by the time I was in my early 20's.
Then, my girlfriend had a couple of miscarriages and within a couple of years that relationship completely imploded in a rather messy web of deception. (To be sure, she has her own story of personality that ranges from being a cutter to actually having the miscarriages.) That took a couple of years for me to mentally recover. I seem to be somewhat slow at re-organizing the core of my personality around these traumatic events. (Also, it’s interesting what’s traumatic. I’ve been shot at, had someone come close to opening my belly with a knife (the knife got stuck in my coat), I’ve had close encounters alone with white, black, and Mexican gangs, passed out along in the desert, been stuck on a mountain cliff, been hit by a bull in a bull run, wrestled alligators, and a number of other things. None of these things were even near traumatic, they were quite exhilarating and fun.)
After I was back together again (I feel like I’m talking about Humpty-Dumpty here. Not the coolest character to be associated with.) I reoriented myself and started making good progress in life again. But, that progress came to a fast stop in Africa, Kenya to be more precise. I almost died, was told I was going to die, and a bunch of other stuff. It was pretty crazy, but I made it back to Michigan. I think I would have recovered mentally from that just fine. Encounters with malevolence in yourself or others can be traumatizing, but I think I was still good at this point. The only issue was that I couldn’t seem to get better.
To make it short, I found out I had spinal deformities and they were causing a lot of issues even after I was able to finally kill the African bacteria. This was traumatizing, especially when I noticed that I was losing not only short-term memory but long-term memories as well. That will drive you nuts. What have you forgotten? How would you know? What will you forget next? I all too thoroughly understand how this feels.
Not only that, but my physical capacity and mental capacity was quite limited for an extended time. This means that I was limited in my normal ability to cope, no long hard exercise sessions, no long hikes, mentally intense reading was pointless because I couldn’t understand stuff. I still tried to do all of this, and some of that was probably good. But watching yourself lose the ability to be able to do anything is depressing to say the least.
I’m in the process of putting myself back together from that one still, and I think some good things are going to come out of it. Ideally, a personality structure that is capable of sustainable progress and growth. Ideals are dangerous because an idealized self is a lot of what causes neurosis. In my case I don’t even really have that, I have a varying ideal self for a variety of contexts. This works very poorly. Ideals are to help establish a direction for action, that is their purpose.
The organization of the personality is similar to most other types of organization. One thing that it requires is a central organizing principle. This, I don’t usually have. Looking at my personality traits could make you think that I have a personality structure that basically can’t have a central organizing principle. Completely open to everything, interested in everything, worried about everything, organizing nothing, and doing nothing. Not a great set of things to put together.
It’s like cutting off your own legs. Anytime I start to get my mind and life oriented and organized around something I knock it out of whack. I haven’t been able to find someone with this same personality pattern, but I have found some people with similarities which should cause some of the same problems. I’ve seen Jordan Peterson field questions about what someone should do if they have low conscientiousness and high neuroticism, or low conscientiousness and high openness. He doesn’t have great solutions to these problems, and to be fair no one seems to.
I found someone online through a psychology group who identified himself as being fairly successful financially who had low conscientiousness. The strategy that allowed him to do this was to be part of a quickly growing company and just do whatever his boss told him to. After a few years he was able to cash out and buy a ranch. Unfortunately, he didn’t share his complete personality profile, but it’s obvious that I have some major differences from him. Everyone else I found with very low conscientiousness scores is not successful.
Over the years I’ve looked at myself from dozens of different perspectives in psychology (along with philosophy and religion). I’ve found useful pieces and parts, but nothing that would explain where my personality fit in the world. Neither did I find a complete framework for understanding myself and making progress. It’s amazing what works and what doesn’t. The cognitive therapies always sound so good, but not only do they not help me, they seem to do more harm than good. The behaviorist therapies work, but they seem to be quite limited in their application. Freud’s mentor Josef Breuer’s take on relieving traumas was of tremendous help. Vipassana meditation made a huge difference in my perception of pain when a bone slid into my brainstem. Many have provided a lot of insight into human behavior and the world, at least I thought at the time I was reading them. There must have been hundreds of times that I was so excited to be digging into new material that I thought was sure to hold the key to the insights that I needed. I remember hunting down this rare book on Self-Consistency Theory that I could only find for 600 dollars. And digging into Soviet sports psychology. And disturbing experiments behaviorists did on children. And finding a book on a secret meditation technique that I wasn’t supposed to be able to get. And how Silvan Tompkin’s Affect Theory was supposed to be the answer. So many pursuits, so many experiments, so many books, and such slow and stilted progress.
Here’s the thing though. If we can try, we can learn. If we can learn, we can make progress. If we can make progress, we can succeed. So, I will try again. Here I have a new framework for understanding my personality trait pattern and its purpose, one of my major issues and a possible coping strategy, and a four-pronged path of progress forward into the unknown.
First, what was my personality trait pattern made for? It was made to explore, but it’s not that simple. I have felt wanderlust for most of my life, but my idea about becoming a great adventurer and traveler didn’t work out. Also, I think that idea was just a little off to begin with. If we look at great explorers like Christopher Columbus or Lewis and Clark we’ll notice that their personality traits definitely weren’t like mine. They set out with these specific goals like finding a route to the East Indies or finding the Northwest Passage. They failed at these, but they had the specific goals they they consistently followed. One of the things I’m worst at is maintaining a consistent goal. (That’s the problem we’ll talk about after this.)
Many successful people either write or read their goals every morning and every night. That’s great. I’ve tried it many times. The problem is that not only do my means to these goals fluctuate, but the end goals themselves fluctuate too much. Everyone says that if you just keep writing down your goals then they will fluctuate less and less and then stabilize around something. But, they aren’t so low in conscientiousness and so high in openness. Mine end goals will change radically from day to day. Sometimes they will stabilize for a little while, a few weeks maybe. But that’s rare. I want to pursue business one day, art the next, then a relationship, then travel, then enlightenment, then religion, then a study, then this, then that. And, these aren’t means. That’s the problem. I want them in themselves, they are ends. Without a stable end in mind then you can’t organize your activity, or resources, or anything. By constantly switching between pursuits you make no progress. So, why would this personality exist?
It’s a different type of exploration. It’s open exploration. That’s how I like to travel. I like to go places with no plan and then discover what’s there. I like to not even know where I’m going. A girlfriend and I did a couple month road trip across the US when I was 20. We had very little in the way of plans, which gave us quite a few problems. But, I loved it. We just woke up in the morning and decided which was we were driving (we were going West in general). We made up the plans along the way. This is a horrible way to accomplish things. Many of the troubles that we had could have been easily prepared for with a little planning. But, we also wouldn’t have done a lot of the stuff we did. (For instance, we were driving by some sort of cave. I’m not even sure which state we were in. We turned in and found out it was a world famous tourist attraction with all sorts of glowing stones and fossils. We accidentally came across a pet sanctuary that’s huge and had its own tv show, Best Friend’s Animal Sanctuary. We drove in and asked if we could look around, and they said yes. I can’t even remember all of the cool stuff that happened on that trip now.)
I’m going to call this type of exploration open exploration. There isn’t a concrete goal. The goal is just to learn more. To discover. To find unknown-unknowns. To go somewhere and find what’s there. There is no specific intention, no end state, no concrete desire. Just this general increase in understanding. Add to this my high intellect and you have something different than a physical explorer without a place he’s even trying to go, you have a mental explorer without a place he’s even trying to go. It’s like scientists that want to do research just to learn stuff. They don’t want to make a drug or make a new thing that you can use to do whatever. They just want to do science to learn stuff. I have that same make-up. That’s probably part of why I’ve always been so attracted to philosophy. I’ve always had a hard time answering why, as well as understanding why others weren’t interested in learning it just because. I think “open conceptual explorer” is a good term. Open because there is no desired end state or goal other than gaining new insight. Conceptual because it’s about knowledge, understanding, and insight. Explorer because it’s about going into the unknown.
You can see this a bit in a snapshot of my life. Why do I teach English online to kids in China? Partly because I had physical work limitations, but also because it’s just interesting. Why have I had so many jobs? Partly from moving, but to a large extent because I was interested in how different jobs would be to experience. Why do I write articles for 88.9 Hey Radio? Partly to grow as a writer, but mostly just because it’s interesting. Why do I do adventures? Partly to face my fears, but primarily just because they’re interesting. Why am I doing the “Horror Without Borders” international literary project? Partly to grow as a writer and editor, but mostly just because it’s interesting. Why have I started working on the Theoconceptualist religion? Partly because it needs to be done, but also just because it’s interesting. Why do I read every day? Partly to learn, but also just because it’s interesting.
Great! Now we’re onto something, we’re really getting somewhere. What are the means to this end of open conceptual exploration? I think that there are two. Clean brain, clear conscience. A clean brain is best achieved through lots of sleep, good hydration, and a solid diet. A clear conscience is a bit more complex and I’ll come back to that in just a moment. First I want to talk about that major problem pattern that I have and possibly how to cope with it. Then the clear conscience will go well with my general path forward for my personality growth.
I am bad at being consistent. That’s bad. Guess what requires consistency. Everything in life. High openness and low conscientiousness. I was built to be inconsistent (for open exploration). I was thinking about saying that I can’t commit too, but my commitment issue is really about being committed consistently for a long period. So, that’s about consistency too. (I have had one committed relationship but that was a weird psychological phenomenon. I think it was more of an identity fusion on my part. Kohut talks about it, and Len Oakes. I’ll ignore that here.) The only thing that I’ve really been consistent with for most of my life is reading. For many years this was more of a compulsion than anything, so I’m not even sure if it’s good to use as an example, but maybe.
The key to me reading a lot is to be inconsistent within reading. I’m always reading at least 5 books at the same time. This gives me the ability to satisfy my desire to change and novelty. I’m also not consistent on how much I read each day, I just read every day. I always make sure the opportunity is available. When I was vomiting blood in Africa I took a little pocket bible from my father and read out of that in little pieces just to satisfy my urge to read. Sometimes I’m reading 10 books at the same time, not to mention various research articles and such. Once the number gets into the high teens then I usually have a bit too much going on. I think about 16 books at once is about my max, and I have only done that for short periods of time.
I have taken a stack of books before and put them on a table in front of me. Then I read one page and switch books. One page and switch books. This makes things so interesting. You connect information that you could connect in no other way. The question is, can I use this in other areas of life? I think I might be able to. I just have to create variety within the area that I want to focus on. Enough variety so that I can be inconsistent and still make consistent progress. It’s a funny idea, but I think it’s a good one. Maybe not so simple to apply though.
Alright, there’s that problem and a possible coping mechanism. Finally, we have my path forward. My plan for personality growth and progress. The key to changing my trajectory in life. (I have a friend, Frankie Fairies, that says the meaning to life is the trajectory of life.)
I have a four-pronged plan here.
First, I think Jordan Peterson’s framework for understanding knowledge and action in “Self-Deception Explained” perfectly lays out what’s happening psychologically in a lot of ways. So that’s useful for a general understanding. I’m not sure about applications yet.
Second, I need something that short circuits anxieties and compulsions right now, immediately. Luckily, my favorite psychologist of all time has some great info on that. Viktor Frankl developed Logotherapy. On my list of favorite books I have 8 of his listed. Two very useful techniques are dereflection and paradoxical intention. Paradoxical intention is especially useful for anxieties and compulsions when you need to deal with them this very moment. It works great. The basic idea is that if you fear something you try to ironically increase the fear through your willpower. You can’t. It cuts the self-reinforcing circle that is increasing the anxiety. You do the same thing with compulsions. You usually even laugh, and it works in seconds. So simple, so easy, so effective. (Oddly enough there was another good psychology that came out of WW2, Psychosynthesis from Roberto Assagioli. The Soviets used a lot of his work. (Technically Logotherapy was around for awhile before WW2.))
Third, I need to go deeper. I have started using the “working through” analysis of Karen Horney. I few years ago I wrote a short psychology article when I was taking a private course in Logotherapy where I briefly mentioned about two dozen different approaches to psychology that psychologists had pursued. I didn’t mention Karen Horney, I had read some of her work, I just forgot her at that moment. The professor pointed it out. Wow, was I missing out by not focusing on her work. Her insights changed quite a bit over her lifetime, but they are quite useful. In the middle of her career she had more of a social interaction focus and I like that period of her work. The basic idea of “working through” is that you bring into awareness various conflicts you have internally, you recognize their compulsive nature, and you viscerally feel their subjective value and their adverse consequences. It seems to work. (I like a lot of the people that moved away from Freud and Adler’s work and took a look at social development, like: Vygotsky, Bruner, Sullivan, Piaget, and Berne.)
Fourth is active or constructive imagination from Carl Jung. This digs deep, and is weird to experience. I’m keeping a dream log again. You bring up one of these dream images while awake and observe what happens. Then you start to act within the moving dream image and try to solve these symbolic problems that your mind is generating.
That’s it. These are my best insights into myself, and the best plan that I can generate moving forward for my psychological growth. How does this actually impact my business plans, writing plans, plans for Theoconceptualism, and such? I haven’t really worked that out yet. But, there are different ways to approach each of these things. One of those options can be as an open explorer rather than a closed explorer. I feel better just thinking about things like that. Then, if I can give myself variety within the endeavor that might be a good way to make more progress. And, as I slowly apply this four-pronged psychology plan then I will probably continue to see improvements. So, that’s the plan.
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