Introspection, an act of self-awareness that involves thinking about and analyzing your own thoughts and behaviors, is one of the defining characteristics of man versus animal. We are naturally curious about ourselves. We replay our own experiences and actions in the hopes of understanding who and how we are.
Knowing that most people are introspective, there was no surprise in the high percentage of respondents agreeing with the statement “You pay a lot of attention to the meaning of your own thoughts and actions.” As evidenced by the chart below, we even found that 87% of Extraverts and 86% of Introverts agree – they are both introspective, putting to rest at least one unfair stereotype: that Extraverted personality types are shallow.
Further, not all introspection is the same. Psychologists differentiate between two types of introspection: self-reflection and self-rumination. Self-reflection is a positive form of introspection, from which people attribute meaning and significance to their thoughts and actions, accept and learn from their mistakes, and increase their self-awareness. Self-rumination is the opposite: it is a negative form of introspection, from which a person obsesses over their shortcomings, doubting themselves and their self-worth.
How do personality differences determine one’s introspective style? Do certain traits increase self-reflection and others increase self-rumination? It certainly seems to, and a close look at the data from this survey explains how:
Diplomats (91% agreeing)
Almost all Diplomats (91%) agree that they pay a lot of attention to the meaning of their own thoughts and actions. Diplomat personality types are curious and empathic, driven by altruism and valuing connections between themselves and other living things. They can recognize and understand the feelings of others because they have wisdom and knowledge of themselves.
Judging types, like Advocates (INFJ) (93%) and Protagonists (ENFJ) (94%), find that self-reflection helps them stay true to their ideals. They know that they can’t expect kindness, generosity, and fairness from others unless they are also demonstrating those qualities. Mediators (INFP) (90%) and Campaigners (ENFP) (89%), though reporting being slightly less contemplative, use their self-awareness to empathize with the emotions and intentions of others, quickly recognizing misunderstood behaviors of people in various states of anxiety or sadness. Finding mutual understanding is deeply important to these personality types, and that starts with understanding themselves.
Analysts and Sentinels (both agreeing 86%)
This pair matches in agreement, but they analyze themselves for different reasons and in different ways. Analysts are known for their cool detachment and preference for logical, rather than emotional, reasoning. Unfortunately, these characteristics betray a lack of self-awareness when it comes to understanding their impact on others the way Diplomats do. Analysts certainly spend time on introspection, but it’s not gentle. It’s more likely an exercise in intellectual purity or swift and ruthless internal corrections that make their most detailed “suggestions” seem benign.
Introspection for Sentinels is rooted in their matter-of-fact approach to all things: for creating order from chaos, clarifying confusion, and setting responsible goals. Valuing personal responsibility and a pragmatic approach, these personality types do not struggle with accepting their mistakes and making an honest assessment of themselves. They are decisive, so even when their decisions don’t work out, they don’t berate themselves. Through self-reflection, they learn what to avoid or consider in the future. Introspection protects Sentinels from making the same mistake twice!
Action-oriented Explorers spend the least amount of time on introspection, but that’s not to say these personalities aren’t reflective of their thoughts and actions – a significant majority still agreed. But Explorers are likely to let their thoughts flow in their own course, as a backdrop to another activity. If any personality type is going to go for a drive or take a jog to clear their head to the tune of their favorite album, it’s an Explorer.
There was a significant variance between the Thinking and Feeling types, though, for example between Virtuosos (ISTP) (64%) and Adventurers (ISFP) (80%). Virtuosos’ avoidance of too much time spent on introspection demonstrates their awareness of the self-defeating potential of ruminative introspection, but it can also mean they miss out on the personal truths that other personality types use to guide themselves forward in life. The enthusiastic and social Entertainer (ESFP) (81%), on the other hand, can comfortably self-reflect, without fear that doing so will dampen their spirits. They may even share their insights, especially if they have some conversational value.
There was little difference between the different Strategies, at least on average. But while the averages show little, several specific personality types showed some dramatic swings depending on how their Identity and Nature aspects interacted.
Confident Individualism (86%), People Mastery, Constant Improvement, and Social Engagement (all 87%)
This one’s tricky: If a personality type had the Thinking trait, the Assertive variant was more likely to agree with the statement, and the Turbulent variant less likely. For Feeling personality types, the difference disappears, or even reverses, with Turbulent types actually agreeing more.
Thinking types, such as Logicians (INTP) (83%), care deeply about the soundness of their reasoning. When faced with the prospect of being wrong, Assertive Logicians (INTP-A) (87%) are better equipped to handle the perceived judgment of their peers – and themselves – and move on. Turbulent Logicians (INTP-T) (81%), on the other hand, are more likely to engage in self-ruminative introspection. They mercilessly beat themselves up over their logical errors, and may come to equate self-reflection itself with this self-inflicted misery. Though with 81% still agreeing with the statement, this certainly doesn’t stop people with this personality type from doing so.
For Feeling personalities, there’s satisfaction in finding common ground by being honest. Defenders (ISFJ) (88%) and Entertainers can even get a boost to their self-worth through their introspection, especially if confiding to a friend: it helps to smooth relationships and make others feel better. Defenders especially find comfort in personal honesty, leading the more self-critical Turbulent Defender (ISFJ-T) to agree with the statement more than the more easy-going Assertive variant (ISFJ-A) (89% vs 87%).
We are clearly the centers of our own attention. When we self-reflect, we can accept our imperfections and learn what we can from our failures. When we self-ruminate, we do unnecessary harm to our self-esteem and cause ourselves unnecessary stress and worry. If you find yourself in a negative space, allowing rumination to overcome your thoughts, take a lesson from the Virtuosos and Entrepreneurs: THINK LESS AND DO MORE!
We’d love to know your thoughts on introspection styles, so think out loud in the comments section below!