Going Small: A Gentle Approach to Change for All Personality Types

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Big Changes versus Little Changes

I’m one of them. I’m one of those who love big fresh starts – the more dramatic, the better. The ancient Babylonians who came up with the idea of New Year’s resolutions did so for people like me. I’m so enamored with the idea of improving that I even celebrate Arbor Day by dedicating myself to planting more trees. And, like many people, when dedicating myself to such improvements, I often bite off more than I can chew.

When plans for big personal changes work, there’s little that’s as satisfying and exciting as those transformations being realized. When a person steps on their scale and discovers that they have achieved a 30-pound weight loss, a sense of celebration is warranted. Some people, often depending on their personality type, need tough challenges in order to stay motivated, and it works for them.

But then, as is the case for many, a flip side exists. When the 30 pounds of unwanted weight hangs on, a subtle or not-so-subtle sense of failure can cloud one’s future nutritional efforts. What’s worse is the possibility that the fallout from the dieting results may begin to affect other areas of life and impact general self-esteem negatively. And who needs that?

A good example is New Year’s resolutions. By some estimates, less than half of us maintain our resolutions past six months. That leaves more than half of us dealing with dead resolutions at the year’s halfway mark. As a result, this can leave many good people grappling with some degree of failure – and that won’t do. So, we’re here to help.

Too often, in a valiant attempt to make big changes, individuals create complicated and unrealistic goals that are destined to fail. What if, instead, those same individuals developed baby steps toward a better life that are manageable and have a better chance of succeeding? Small changes add up to eventual big changes.

As an antidote to inflated goals and unrealistic expectations, we’d like to offer some bite-size suggestions for simpler and gentler ways to introduce change to your life. If your original plans to change are working for you, we offer nothing but our encouragement. But if they aren’t, let’s have another look at how we can make life more satisfying and effective using small and comfortable changes. Let’s make our goals bite-size.

Ways to Conquer by Going Small

Below are some starter suggestions for small changes based on typical characteristics of each of the 16 personality types. Of course, not everybody is alike, even within the same personality type, so we encourage you to customize them to make them your own.

Remember, the more specific the goal, the less vague and easier it is to measure your progress. So, instead of “cut out unnecessary calories,” try something with more detail, like “cut out my daily doughnut run.” You may have to add your own specificity to these ideas.

Go ahead and borrow from the suggestions offered to other personality types if they resonate with you. That’s fine.

Analyst Personality Types

Architect (INTJ)

Add a little more independent activity to your routine, Architect. Modern life can make us all act a little like cogs in a wheel. With that in mind and for your quality of life, you might want to guarantee yourself some time where you’re in charge and free to pursue your own direction. It’s almost essential to your personality type. If you have a hobby or a side hustle, dedicate an extra hour or some other small amount of time a week to that pursuit. Make it specific by putting it on your calendar.

Reduce the distance between you and important people in your life. Mark your calendar to do something special for someone in your life, whether it be a romantic gesture or some platonic token of appreciation. Bring a hardworking and helpful coworker a cup of their favorite beverage. Gifting your significant other with a romantic gift (flowers, a book of poetry, etc.) can be relationship affirming. Such tokens won’t necessarily build your emotional intelligence, but they put you in the right ballpark.

Logician (INTP)

Add another chance or two to collaborate with others. While independent thinking is something valued by people with the Logician personality type, no person is an island. Getting feedback and alternative perspectives can only fuel your already powerful imagination. For example, connect with others by joining a group that shares your interests or setting a daily quota for checking in with a coworker, classmate, or relevant other, and keep score for self-accountability.

Reduce your tendency toward perfectionism – but not too much. Learn to apply the phrase “good enough is good enough” to your activities and the activities of others. Is spending several hours making something 5% more perfect worth the investment of time? Instead, make it a point to appreciate flaws as part of the learning process or a quirky characteristic that makes something interesting. Find opportunities to call things “interesting” rather than “wrong.” Create an accessible reminder of this intention and keep a simple daily journal of your efforts.

Commander (ENTJ)

Add a few more minutes of celebration to your life. Commanders tend to be very businesslike, which likely renders you effective and probably earns the respect of others. But to successfully reach all personality types, perhaps it would help to warm things up. How about finding some way to celebrate your victories and, when appropriate, share them with the important people who are also involved? For example, have a regular monthly meal with family, friends, or colleagues to highlight successes, progress, and appreciation. (You can do this virtually if necessary.)

Reduce the regimented sameness of life by doing that which is out of character. It could be something like pottery if you’re not inclined to do arts and crafts or karaoke if you usually don’t sing in public. Give yourself a monthly quota of opportunities to step out of your comfort zone. It doesn’t have to be radical or public, just different enough to exercise your flexibility.

Debater (ENTP)

Add a little more focus to your life. “What? That’s impossible,” Debaters might say. Remember, we’re going small. This suggestion is a nudge in the right direction, not a call for total transformation. Gaining a little more focus is doable. Your gift is to bounce from idea to idea quickly and connect the dots accordingly. But that also means that if your interest in a subject is low, if the material is too detailed, or if it lacks high stakes, your barrage of thoughts can be distracting. Find some training that will further develop your ability to stay on topic. Meditation comes to mind, as does yoga and other body/mind disciplines. Even a measly hour a week would probably bring some results.

Reduce the need to be center stage. Use your people skills and charisma – so prevalent among individuals with your personality type – to promote and highlight other people. You likely have plenty of clever things to say, and you should share your thoughts. But the keyword is “share.” Make it a point to highlight the thoughts, feelings, and ideas of others who are important to you. Such gestures might go beyond tolerating the ideas of others to intentionally shining the spotlight on them. This will build more solid relationships.

Diplomat Personality Types

Advocate (INFJ)

Add a few new elements to your life. Shaking things up in your life and adding something different can ward off the burnout to which people with the Advocate personality type are often prone. But we’re thinking small, so instead of shaking up your system, maybe you can jiggle it a little. How about rearranging furniture in your living space and repurposing a room? Or have a look at your schedule and routine and reorganize it in a way that makes your day fresh and new. For example, have spaghetti and meatballs for breakfast and French toast for dinner. Get the idea?

Reduce the number of items on your daily to-do list to three. Create a daily “to-do” form that only allows room for three easily completed items in a day. Break your large tasks into small tasks and count those small tasks as one of the three items on your list. Think small. After you complete the three, declare an end to your day and relax. Or you can do other tasks. It’s up to you and your commitments, but your main focus is on the three tasks and finding success with those.

Mediator (INFP)

Add a giving vision plan. People with the Mediator personality type are givers by nature. But there is so much need in the world that the idea of bestowing gifts on those who are without can be overwhelming. So, instead, create a written plan and use that compass to give your now-strategic generosity direction. Before reaching into your pocket for others, make sure that your standards and intentions are clear and according to plan. Then, try to stick to the plan. For example, a standard that you might include in your plan would be to avoid donating to “corporate” charities that flood our screens with ads. If you can’t put an individual’s name to the help that you’re providing, you’re not going to do it. (This is not necessarily to disparage large charities. It’s only an example on which to model your vision plan according to your own values and standards.)

Reduce alone time – only a little. How about creating a weekly book club at work during lunch? See if there is any interest among your coworkers. Or schedule a monthly social get-together with your friends and family and ask them to bring their friends as a platonic plus one. Having strangers join your party may be a little uncomfortable, but how problematic is the situation when you have your loved ones there to support you?

Protagonist (ENFJ)

Add a little more time to check in with others regularly. Certainly, all people with the Protagonist personality type enjoy a healthy degree of empathy by virtue of their Feeling trait, and they have no problem connecting with others. But we all get caught up in the busyness of life and sometimes start to ignore our best instincts. For a greater sense of fulfillment, set a reminder to sit down with a few of the important people in your life to find out where they stand. Listen deeply to what they are saying. Calibrate your expectations accordingly. To keep it specific, set up a listening session with the most important people in your life, maybe over lunch.

Reduce unrealistic expectations by a smidgeon. Similarly, idealistic assumptions can be problematic for Protagonists, who can set overly optimistic expectations for themselves and others and not be satisfied if all involved don’t rise to the level of impractically high standards. A simple way to deal with such expectations is to recognize them for what they are. Look for any “should” or “must” statements that you tell yourself and test them to see if they are realistic or necessary. Keep a reminder around and eliminate any absolute language about behavior.

Campaigner (ENFP)

Add a few more personal preferences to your day. Campaigners, as a personality type, tend to be people pleasers. Their desire to make everyone happy can lead to Campaigners not adequately meeting their own needs and wants. Instead, decide three things that you want or need. Write the three things on a whiteboard or find another method of memorializing your thoughts. Keep your wants and needs specific, and in that spirit, aim for those smaller things that can be acquired or achieved within a few days or weeks. World peace is laudable, but keep the long-term goals elsewhere.

Reduce those items on your to-do list that don’t inspire or excite you. Curiosity can sometimes get lost in the day-to-day act of making a living and fulfilling other responsibilities. Find a way to balance your routine with new and interesting activities if you need to. For example, if it feels like a waste of time to mow your lawn every week, maybe you could delegate that job to someone else in your home or hire a professional. Find one uninspiring thing to take off your plate.

Sentinel Personality Types

Logistician (ISTJ)

Add more room for a few mistakes in your life, Logistician. Take something benign like making your bed in the morning, if that’s a rigid habit. Vow to leave it unmade for a week. Pick a new thing to ignore each week to increase your power over any perfectionism that you might have. The idea is not to break you of good habits. That would be impossible with your personality type anyway. But maybe you could allow yourself to experience the reality that not everything is equally important or consequential – and perhaps reduce some stress while doing so.

Reduce your lone-wolf approach. Humans typically grow best in the presence of other human beings. Make a list of the important people in your life, and make it a point to acknowledge their birthdays or to remember them during other celebratory times. You might even want to call or text these people regularly. Fill your calendar with opportunities to let other people know you’re thinking of them. And as a bonus, how likely is it that others return the favor and reach out to you more often?

Defender (ISFJ)

Add pleasurable sensory experiences for a few minutes each week. As Observant, Feeling personality types, Defenders like you need to find pleasant ways to indulge your senses to produce positive emotions. Make a date with yourself monthly to do something filled with pleasant sensory input. For example, go to an Italian restaurant, the sort with candlelight, fine linens, colorful decorations, and Pavarotti playing in the background, and enjoy your favorite dish. There. You’ve given five of your five senses a treat.

Reduce your list of responsibilities by one item. Make a list of all your responsibilities and arrange them from most important to least important. Choose one item near the bottom of your list. Can the responsibility be dumped, delegated, or redesigned to be less of a burden without making a substantial negative impact on your life? If so, take appropriate action to lighten your load. If not, choose another. Repeat the first day of each month. Allow yourself to realize that not everything demands your full attention and effort. Even the most diligent personality types may need to lighten their loads for a richer life.

Executive (ESTJ)

Add a specific time to consult with the less influential people in your life. (By “less influential” we mean those with quieter voices in your endeavors.) In their need to responsibly control outcomes, Executives can stubbornly shut themselves off from the quiet needs, wants, and ideas of others. Do you know how your youngest child feels about the chore schedule? How would they improve it? A conversation over chicken nuggets at a local restaurant can help you shift your perspective in powerful ways. Where can you stay more connected? Include it on your calendar and make it a regular thing.

Reduce your work hours – only a little. Executives tend to be Type A personalities and can find relaxing difficult. If you find yourself checking emails, making appointments, or taking phone calls well into the evening, establish a quitting time. If possible, insist that all but the most realistically urgent matters at work or school stay at work or school.

Consul (ESFJ)

Add to your self-esteem by adding a little more gratitude, Consul. Social media will always show us people who appear to be more together or have a more enjoyable life than ours. To counterbalance this, it helps to keep an inventory of the things that add value to our lives. A regularly updated gratitude list is a great way to do this. Listing three or more things that you appreciate in life takes minutes and can help balance any negative thinking about the quality of your life. Try it daily over breakfast.

Reduce a few of your presuppositions. Every person on the planet has some biases that are basically ingrained opinions. Take a few minutes and make a list of personal opinions that frequently affect your actions and reactions negatively. If you have difficulty, discuss your opinions with someone you know and trust – emphasis on trust. Try to create a list with at least five items, but stretch yourself and list more if you can – the more, the better. Now, evaluate each one and label each as an “undeniable truth,” a “personal preference,” or a “generalization that may need validation.” Keep the list where you can see it, and revisit it often. Awareness can be powerful.

Explorer Personality Types

Virtuoso (ISTP)

Add a pinch more creativity to your life. Because people with the Virtuoso personality type are creative in their own way, such advice might come across as unnecessary, like advising a fish on how to swim. But in life, it’s easy to get caught up in work and other obligations and let that which gives our lives texture and meaning slide to the side. So whether it be a side gig or a hobby, make a date with yourself to spend a little time in your week where you can be independently creative. Make this creative time a regular thing that you consider sacred time.

Reduce the distance between you and your support system a bit. Even the most independent person needs other people, and it’s easy to take people who care about us for granted. Find ways to acknowledge the people in your life. Make a list of the people who are there for you and make a note to yourself to connect with them regularly. It doesn’t have to be a long conversation – just enough to keep the connection alive.

Adventurer (ISFP)

Add a greater acquaintance with your feelings. Individuals with the Adventurer personality type tend to be sensitive, but that doesn’t automatically mean that they always handle or understand their emotions well. Make it a practice to name your emotions. This labeling of feelings can be the first step toward mastery over them. Use a random alarm that allows you to discreetly stop a few times throughout your day and check in on your feelings.

Reduce your self-doubt some. We all suffer from a lack of confidence and self-doubt at times, and getting rid of it is easier said than done. But we can certainly reduce the sting. It’s probably good for each of us to memorialize the things that we accomplish as a way to bolster our self-esteem. On the first day of each month, you may benefit from making a list of all the things that you did well in the month that has just passed. Post it somewhere for encouragement during the month to come. Repeat each month.

Entrepreneur (ESTP)

Add a few moments of boredom to your day. Entrepreneur personality types always seem to be filling their time with things that they find interesting. Modern culture runs from boredom like a gazelle running from a cheetah. But many see a link between creativity and allowing oneself to experience dull sameness. Spend 10 minutes every day after a meal sitting on the back porch (or whatever your version of a back porch is) and staring off into the horizon. Have no goal but to sit.

Reduce your pace a little. Entrepreneurs tend to be active and respond to their world boldly, perhaps making them impulsive at times. But living life as a blur of activity can mean that life can fly by very fast without much introspection or assessment. We often miss things when we don’t stop to appreciate what is happening at the moment. Set a timer on your phone or watch to remind yourself to stop, take a few deep breaths, and notice what is happening around you at random times during the day.

Entertainer (ESFP)

Add a little routine to your life, Entertainer. Make a checklist of your bills and any correspondence that you must answer. Set aside a mere few minutes each week to dig in and make the obligations go away. Set a timer for a decided short period of time and try not to exceed it. Would 15 minutes be enough time?

Reduce your intolerance for boredom a smidge. Nobody escapes doing tedious things. Fortunately for you, you can make a party out of anything. Decide the most boring thing that you do and either accept the task as something that enhances your life or figure out how to make it less boring. Don’t try to conquer all the boring things in your life all at once. Just go after the most egregiously dull thing on your list.

Less Than an Hour a Week

Most of the suggestions above are designed to not be a burden or too complicated. Most can be done without too much disruption to a life or a schedule or too much stress from excessive change. Remember, if you’re motivated by challenging goals, let that work for you. But if you find that you don’t succeed in reaching your big, unwieldy goals more than you do, we invite you to try some bite-size goals instead. Either way, good luck with the changes that you’re endeavoring to make.

Further Reading

Putting It Off No More: Procrastination and Personality

Which Personality Types Are Better at Beating Negative Thought Patterns, and Why?

When Being Grateful Isn’t Easy

Escaping Your Comfort Zone, Regardless of Your Personality Type