The Social, The Sexual, and the Self Preserving

I actually like this motivation-based breakdown of personality types.

“This city seems to have a lot to offer,” I observed. “If only it weren’t Sunday.”

Deanna and I had been walking around City Creek, a large shopping center in the middle of Downtown Salt Lake. In early February, the city was cold. Rich, powdery snow covered up most of the ground.

At the same time, it was a bright and sunny day, which made the snow covering the mountains in the background appear even more brilliant and spectacular. It was a reminder that in most of the country, winter meant low temperatures more than it meant the absence of sunlight like in the Northwest.

We ended up allowing ourselves to hole up in a Cantonese restaurant, ordering a few rounds of dim sum.

What brought us out to Salt Lake was a wedding. Our friend Eliza had gotten married the evening before and it was fun to see, alongside other long-time friends. Eliza was a bridesmaid in our wedding, and Deanna had been one of her bridesmaids the day before. In all honesty, making it to the wedding was a bit of a challenge for us. Deanna had been sick for the past few weeks and the cold weather wasn’t helping. I had just gotten off a near-consecutive fifty hours in planes and airports, due to a flight path that went from Johannesburg to Amsterdam to London, New York, Portland, Boise, and finally, Salt Lake, with most of those flights being delayed.

Still, we were happy to make it for the sake of our friend Eliza, and we had a lot of fun at her reception. We were able to catch up with old friends, in particular Meaghan and Chris, the latter of whom had just officially become a doctor, and we enjoyed eating and being social that night.

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A few months ago, I discovered a new set of personality profiles that I actually like. That’s news, because I don’t like many personality profiles since people often get a little carried away with them.

I wonder sometimes if we’ll look back on the 2010s as the decade we threw way too much of our weight behind Myers-Briggs as the explanation behind all of our actions. Nothing against Myers-Briggs in particular. So many articles and books have been written about introverts in the past two or three years, that clearly it’s a favorite cultural conversation starter. But I think the four binary components of the profile are a little arbitrary. Wouldn’t there be a lot of room to expand this thing? Are you a literal or creative thinker? Do you tend towards optimism or pessimism? What comes easier for you, teamwork or competition? Kobe or LeBron?

I suppose that would make me an INFPCOTL.

And then there’s my friend Daniel who notes that his Myers-Briggs personality is JJJJ. Judging, judging, judging, judging.

Typically, I don’t like to narrow people down into one-dimensional characters (or in this case, four, I guess) which at terms turns me off to when people who treat their four letters as their chosen-one-ultimate-destiny-in-life. It’s not supposed to be like the division of teenagers into a caste system in the Divergent books. But when taken in a reasonable way, I can see a lot of ways for some personality profiles to be quite helpful. Knowing what is most likely to motivate a person can help us better care for ourselves and each other.

I’m thinking of one in particular that Deanna and I have been talking about a lot lately. It’s somewhat of a simplified version of the enneagram, that groups its branches into three categories: Social, Self-Preserving, and Sexual.

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Social

Personality profile might not be the best term to describe this concept. It might be better to consider it a breakdown of motivational tendencies. These distinctions help describe and paint a picture of what incentives and fears can motivate a person to take certain actions.

These things became more apparent to me once I got married. It became clear pretty early on in our marriage that Deanna had a higher need than I did to be around close friends and family. Not that I don’t love my friends and family, but Deanna’s need to feel their proximity was higher than mine. On the flip side, I had a much higher need for adventures and new experiences. Deanna had more tolerance for settling down into a routine, whereas I would get bored if we had gone little too long without exploring or trying something new.

Deanna easily fit the bill of somebody with social motivations. Wanting to be where the people are, basically. It so naturally fit her personality and interests, as a therapist, as a good listener, and as a people-person.

This isn’t exactly synonymous with being extroverted, but there’s a lot of overlap. When it comes to having fun, socially motivated people are less concerned with the activity itself, but more so on who will be there and how the activity will impact the interpersonal dynamics.

I note that an easy way to understand the differences in motivation is to think about what your main concerns might be moving to a new city. Somebody with mostly social motivations would care about whether or not they knew somebody in that city already, how such a move would impact their current relationships, or whether or not that city had an active community or social life.

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Self-Preserving

Somebody who is self-preserving probably wouldn’t be thrilled with a move to begin with. As the name implies, this motivation often results in somebody who is a creature of habit, or at least somebody who wants to have all their ducks in a row before making a big change. I happen to know a lot of people like this, with my step-dad being the example that pops in to my mind most readily.

If a self-preservation motivated person were to make a move to a new city, he or she would probably be most concerned with very logistical things. What is the job market like? How about the school districts? Cost of living?

Most of the people I know of this personality tend to let this manifest in even small ways, ordering the same thing at restaurants each time. Going on vacation to the same places repeatedly. Sticking to plans really well. In the current Buzzfeed-told-me-to-see-these-nine-hundred-places-in-my-20s culture, someone with this motivational tendency can easily be misconstrued as a stiff, or somebody who doesn’t really know how to live. It’s possible that self-preservers have the most sensitive survival instincts and seek to eliminate threats more vigilantly than the other two types. Ever read Unbroken? It’s quite likely that Louis Zamperini was the self-preserving type and that guy lived an incredible life.

Self-Preserving types have the hallmarks of really good caretakers, or are really good at overcoming past traumas. The tendency to be detail oriented typically breeds good problem solving skills and an ability to keep things running smoothly. Again, this is a personality type that seems to be undervalued among my age group.

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Sexual

It’s definitely snicker worthy to say that you’re a sexually-motivated person, and this is the group I fall into. No, it doesn’t really mean that you have an insatiable sexual appetite. It means that you constantly seek out new, mountain top experiences, or I guess you could say, climactic experiences. The word sexual is alliterative, though, and let’s face it. It’s fun to say.

I am highly motivated by adventure and trying new things, and I think that’s apparent to most people who know me. I’m always wondering what trip I’ll be able to take next, how long it will be until I can get back to Africa, or what new experiences I haven’t tried yet.

The thing is, if I go a little bit too long without experiencing something new, without a trip or adventure on the calendar, or so on, my wanderlust flares up and I can get really, really restless. The way I think of it, is that after a long time of having gotten absorbed into a routine, I need a little bit of a reminder that there’s more to life than the endless cycle of work, eat, and sleep.

So, moving to a new town for me has often happened through the lens of seeing it as a new adventure. And I usually wonder what the place will have to offer in terms of outdoor adventures, entertainment, and places to eat.

This is perhaps why it’s most motivating for me to think of life as a story, driven by narrative. I connect to that structure of thought really easily, and even my marriage is what I think of as my “biggest adventure,” a way to frame life around this need and motivation. I find so much of that coincides with me being such a big picture thinker, wondering about how everything fits together in the long haul.

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There isn’t a whole lot to do in Salt Lake on a Sunday, so after dim sum, we continued to walk around the city center, around Temple Square, and in the vicinity of a courtyard. We went into a Barnes & Noble where I pored over cookbooks and travelogues thinking up next adventures.

Sometimes that can be intimidating to Deanna, who doesn’t have as voracious of an appetite for going new places, but knowing that I’m wired like that helps her give me just enough space to dream and plan. And in the long run, I’m able to be sensitive to her needs and concerns before anything happens and what we end up doing is often a compromise that works out well for us. I’ve often said that I probably travel a little less than I would if I wasn’t married, and she travels a bit more. But we’re both content the way things are.

In the situation of Salt Lake, the trip was a bit of a stretch for the both of us, with our health and energy drained. But we had some big motivating factors pulling us. I loved the idea of going to a friend’s wedding and exploring Salt Lake in February, not a time of the year that’s typically the most adventurous for me. We were motivated by the social interests, seeing friends again, and that made it a bit of a sell. If either one of us were a little more on the self-preservation side of things, we might have strongly reconsidered. But alas, neither of us are.

I’ve found it super helpful to have this way of thinking about the different ways in which we’re wired, and the different things that motivate us. When we get into the process of planning out our year, or thinking about a new job that might require relocation, this helps us consider what will be important to the other person. Of course, it’s all a matter of wiring. There’s no judgement for being more motivated by one thing over another, but it’s helped us think of each others needs.

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