If you’re like a third of the population, you made a weight-related or exercise resolution this year. And you’ve probably started off the year strong. But you may find it hard to stick to after a few months.
Most of us know how to lose weight and exercise. But why is actually doing it so difficult?
There are so many reasons why becoming healthier is difficult. Common reasons include lack of time to exercise, stress, the unnatural psychological pull of dopamine-spiking foods (we’re looking at you, evil office doughnuts), breaking bad and old habits, and finding ways to exercise that you enjoy.
But did you know that how well you stick to your plan depends in part on your personality type? And on choosing the right conditions that you enjoy exercising in the most.
This was the message from new research by Nancy Shaubhut and Rich Thompson at CPP–The Myers-Briggs Company to the British Psychological Society.
In the research, 794 people who knew their MBTI best-fit type (either by taking the assessment through MBTIOnline.com or through a certified MBTI coach) completed our online survey. It included questions on how often they exercised, where they worked out, and other exercise preferences.
Myers-Briggs Type and Exercise
Our findings show that people’s personality types relate to the way they prefer to exercise. So our experts came up with a few practical tips based on the research. Apply them to your own fitness regime. They may very well be the push to help you achieve your fitness goals.
People preferring Extraversion would rather exercise at a gym (63%) than at home (38%), often with other people. Many attend the same classes regularly so that they can develop relationships with other people working out in those classes. Most also enjoy sharing their exercise achievements with others.
Exercise tip: Extraversion
If you prefer Extraversion, try a few new classes at your gym. Make a point to introduce yourself to the instructor (and learn 5 signs of an outstanding group instructor) and maybe a few people in the class. A study published in the Journal of Social Sciences found that participants gravitate towards the exercise behaviors of those around them. And another 2016 study found that people who are overweight tend to lose more weight if they spend time with friends who are more fit than they are. So make a new friend in class and give them a sweaty high-five in your next group fitness class.
Those preferring introversion are ambivalent about exercising in the gym or at home, but prefer to exercise alone and interact with few people (especially if they also have preferences for Thinking). In general, they tend to keep their exercise achievements to themselves.
Exercise tip: Introversion
Want to try that new workout class at the gym but don’t care about the small talk before class? Get to class right before it starts, or get there much earlier and plant a spot for yourself. By squeezing into a class right before it starts, you minimize the chance that someone will want to talk to you. Or that the instructor might call you out for being new.
On the other hand, if you get there much earlier than the class starts, you’re more likely to just talk to the one person who positions themselves closest to you. This allows them to strike up conversation if they see fit instead of you having to ask, “Is this spot taken?”
Additionally, there are a myriad of online services that offer fitness classes you can stream in the peace of your own home (or anywhere other than the gym). Many also offer streaming classes to your smartphone and tablet. Want to take that boot camp class out into the park or take the yoga class in your backyard? You’re only limited by your Wi-Fi or cell range. Or search YouTube for the latest Pilates inspiration or P90X ab workout.
If you exercise by walking or cycling, you probably prefer to take a variety of routes. We found this to be true across all personality types. (Hardly anyone likes ultra-repetitive scenery.)
Sensing, Intuition & Perceiving
However, those with preferences for Intuition or Perceiving really dislike taking the same route. People with preferences for Perceiving were 15% more likely to prefer taking a diversity of routes when running, hiking or biking than those with preferences for Judging.
While both those who prefer Sensing and Intuition are more inclined towards outdoor workouts, the difference is wider among those with preferences for Intuition. People with Intuition preferences are twice as likely to prefer to exercise outdoors (67%) vs. indoors (37%).
Exercise tip: Intuition & Perceiving
Whatever your mode of fitness transportation, switch up the scenery. Plan three different bike routes during your weekly commute. Or see how many new streets you can walk down while getting your steps in during your lunch break. Our research shows you’re especially susceptible to boredom in your workouts, so make the unexpected part of the plan. If you really value novelty, try a card game workout or dice workout.
Thinking & Feeling
If you have a preference for Thinking, you’ll generally choose a fitness instructor based on their qualifications or experience. Those with a preference for Feeling are more likely to make this choice based on their relationship with the instructor. Those with preferences for Thinking in our research were 12% more likely to make a decision based on qualification and experience (vs. a personal relationship) than those with preferences for Feeling.
Exercise tip: Thinking & Feeling
If you prefer Thinking, check out the benefits of different types of exercises you might enjoy before trying something new. Doing your research on which exercises have what benefits will help you enjoy the time invested in that particular exercise more. If you’re looking to start working with a personal trainer, ask for a free introductory session. Then you can learn about the trainer’s qualifications and experience.
If you have a preference for Feeling, consider signing up for an exercise event that connects to a cause you care about. Many non-profit organizations host 5k runs, mini triathlons, and more. Not only are you committing to train but you’re also doing good in your community. If you’re looking to start working with a personal trainer, ask for a free introductory session. Then you can learn about that trainer’s background and why they decided on this career path. Ask them to share the success story of another person they’ve trained and how they got there. Understanding the values of your (potentially) new trainer will help you find a person you’ll work best with.
Knowing your MBTI type can help you choose a form of exercise that you are more likely to enjoy – or at least persevere with.
“The most important piece of advice to come out of this research is that there is not one type of exercise that is suited to everyone,” said John Hackston, Head of Thought Leadership at our UK counterpart, OPP. “There can be pressure to follow the crowd to the gym or sign up to the latest exercise fad. But it would be much more effective to match their personality type to an exercise plan that is more likely to last the test of time.”
Of course, it’s not just individuals who benefit from exercise.
Organizations and exercise programs
Organizations with a fitter workforce have lower levels of illness-related absence 2 3 and higher levels of job satisfaction and productivity 4.
However, even when organizations promote the benefits of exercise programs, others might start a program but then stop within the first six months 5.
To combat this, organizations should consider helping employees take a route that suits them. They should stay away from the ‘one size fits all’ approach to fitness.
Unfortunately, just knowing your MBTI type will not magically make you healthier. But choosing exercise that works with who you are can certainly make things easier. And that’s good news both for individuals and organizations.
“For companies looking to improve the health of their employees, this research indicates that more successful wellness programs will likely be individualized,” said research co-author Dr. Rich Thompson, Divisional Director of Research, CPP–The Myers-Briggs Company. “Many individuals may feel like they should follow popular or more established formulas. But they’re much more likely to succeed with an exercise plan that matches their personality type.”
Haven’t taken the official Myers-Briggs test yet? Head over to https://www.mbtionline.com/TaketheMBTI to find our your actual Myers-Briggs personality type.
Original research: Thompson, R., & Schaubhut, N. (2017). The impact of personality, gender, and exercise on job satisfaction and turnover intentions. Presented at the EAWOP annual conference, Dublin, May 2017.
1 Thompson, R.C. & Hackston, J. (2018). Personality, exercise, job satisfaction and turnover intention: Are they related? Poster presented at the BPS DOP annual conference, Stratford-upon-Avon, Jan 2018.
2 Lechner, L, & de Vries, H. (1997). Effects of an employee fitness program on reduced absenteeism. Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, 39(9), 827-831.
3 Jacobson, B.H., & Aldana, S.G. (2001). Relationship between frequency of aerobic activity and illness-related absenteeism in a large employee sample. Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, 43(12), 1012-1025
4 Wattles, M. G., & Harris, C. (2003). The relationship between fitness levels and employee’s perceived productivity, job satisfaction, and absenteeism. Journal of Exercise Physiology, 6(1), 24-32.
5 Robison, J., & Rogers, M.A. (1994). Adherence to exercise programmes. Sports Medicine, 17(1), 39-52.