The Life of a P (Perceiving) in the Myers-Briggs

The Myers-Briggs (MBTI) is a popular personality test that measures several dimensions: extraversion (E) versus introversion (I), intuiting (N) versus sensing (S), thinking (T) versus feeling (F), and perceiving (P) versus judging (J).  To give an overview of these letters, extraversion (E) means you are energized by social interactions, while introversion (I) means you are energized by solitude; people who get intuiting (N) favor theoretical and abstract ideas, while those that get sensing (S) favor the concrete, sensory objects they can see and touch; thinking (T) folks rely more on logic, justice, and truth, while feeling (F) folks are more into emotions, tact, and compassion.  Finally, perceiving (P) means a preference for spontaneity, flexibility, and openness to change, while judging (J) is a preference for structure, routine, regularity, and closure.  You can learn more about the Myers-Briggs here.  In this post, I will focus on the P versus J dimension. 

The four dimensions of the Myers-Briggs personality test. Image by InfotronTof on DepositPhotos

Before we start, I want to emphasize that, yes, I have heard that the MBTI is not supported by scientific evidence, except for the extraversion versus introversion domain.  Yet, I like the MBTI, because the four dimensions can still be quite informative.  Just be careful not to pigeon-hole yourself or others, as these dimensions are on a spectrum; they are not either/or absolute values.  As humans, we are much more than these personality traits: there is great diversity even amongst people with the same personality type.

So it’s best to treat the Myers-Briggs like a biased, partial source of information.  In fact, the personality types are like adjectives and descriptive nouns.  We may call someone a “jolly” person, but that doesn’t mean that they’re never sad or angry.  Likewise, someone may describe themselves as a “pessimist,” but they can be surprisingly optimistic in some things.

By the same logic, when I call myself a P (Perceiving), this doesn’t mean that I’m a perfect epitome of what a P stands for.  I usually get only a “slight” on the P scale anyway, though I did get a “moderate” P once.  I want to clarify as well that “judging” has nothing to do with being judgmental or close-minded; it’s about a preference for structure and closure, rather than for spontaneity and keeping your options open.  Moreover, as I alluded to earlier, MBTI types are on a spectrum, a continuum, so seeing P and J as absolute categories rather than approximate descriptors can lead to stereotyping.

For example, Ps are not necessarily messy, disorganized, or unreliable, and Js can be flexible and spontaneous too.  Others tend to see me as quite reliable, and some would even say that I’m hyper organized.  I also enjoy recording things, counting, calculating, using charts and tables, and even making graphs—I love numbers and enjoy using Microsoft Excel.

I enjoy handling things with numbers, charts, graphs, and tables, contrary to the stereotype of a P. Photo courtesy of fiftycents on DepositPhotos

A friend of mine, Amanda (all names in this post are pseudonyms), is a J, but she is very adaptable to change, and often modifies her plans to take advantage of opportunities.  Another friend, Jason, is a P, but he had the cleanest apartment I had ever seen, that even his landlord praised him for his cleanliness; this was especially impressive as he was a busy university student at the time.

As such, since there is diversity in both the P and the J communities, there will be counter-intuitive traits for anyone who tests as a P or as a J.  Since I’m only a slight P (though at one point I was a moderate P), I do have plenty of tendencies you may not associate with a P. 

Now let me give you a picture of how I am as a P: I like to vary my times and schedules, especially for meal and bedtimes, so I would look for a job with an irregular schedule.  The conventional 9 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday working hours would bore me to tears.  And the advice from sleep experts to go to bed and get up at the same time everyday?  That sounds intimidating and stifling.  I find it hard to go to bed or get up at the same time even for three days in a row, let alone even longer than that.

I literally don’t want to get up in the morning. I would much rather stay up late at night and do evening shifts. Image by damedeeso via DepositPhotos

On the other hand, I don’t vary as much in the food I eat, the types of books I read, the writing styles I employ, the music I listen to, or the places I frequent.  Yet, I almost always welcome and feel excited by change.  So I’m not sure if I sincerely want consistency, familiarity, and predictability, or if I just can’t be bothered to do new things more often.  Maybe I’m subconsciously trying to save time and energy.  Nonetheless, I do find comfort in familiarity and routine sometimes.  So I want some stability and predictability in my life, but not too much that I get bored.

All in all, I want a fun and varied life, but I don’t want total chaos either.  In a way, you could see me as having temporal chaos but spatial order, where the time at which I do things, varies way more than what things I am actually doing.  The when fluctuates much more often than the what.  As I seldom change the activities I’m doing, places I visit, food I eat, etc., many people are surprised that I’m a P.  In fact, some of my J friends tease me for not changing a lot of my habits, which may seem counterintuitive to you.

My relative “spatial order” doesn’t mean that I hate spatial changes, however.  As I mentioned above, I usually feel excited and happy when I do new things; for instance, trying out a new restaurant, downloading new songs, going to a new recreational activity, venturing out to a new place, and so on. 

About venturing out to new places, just a number of weeks ago, I went out on a trail that was startlingly new to me for the sake of Pokemon Go, a mobile app game where you catch Pokemon in the real world.  The sky was darkening as it approached 9 pm, but I didn’t want to go back the way I came.  I wanted to keep walking until I found the nearest subway station.

In Pokemon Go, you can see Pokemon through an augmented reality function. This is Gengar, my favorite Pokemon. Photo by Sieran Lane on Niantic/Pokemon Go

The road was much longer than I expected, as it was mostly a freeway for cars.  I even had to go through some deserted woods in the dusk, which freaked me out because I was afraid of getting mugged or worse.  Yet, all along the way, I was exhilarated, because this was so new, adventurous, so outside of my usual.  Due to sheer pride and stubbornness, I didn’t rely on any help except for my Pokemon Go map, where I moved towards places with more Pokestops and gyms, as a greater density of these stops implied that I was closer to civilization. 

After a while of following the stops and gyms, I finally found some familiar streets, and made it to a subway station.  This journey took about 3 hours—I was distracted by catching many Pokemon along the way—and it was quite the trek!  It was thrilling and rejuvenating!

My Very J Parents

Despite the thrill and joy I get from these adventures, I wrestled for a long time with the internalized shame I felt for being a P.  My parents are both Js.  They firmly believe in structure, regularity, and routine, as this kind of regularity, in their opinion, is the only way to be productive, efficient, and responsible.  They insisted on having meals and bedtimes at the same time every day, and they would generally do the same activities at the same times too.  My dad even maintained a habit of jogging in the park every weekend evening for several decades.

His persistence in this same exercise routine is baffling to me, because I get sick of exercise routines much faster than that.  For five years, I did some running, where I varied in location (downstairs of my Hong Kong apartment, my Hong Kong apartment’s gym, the park, my undergrad university fitness centre, the gym downstairs of my Montreal apartment, the university outdoor track, and the university gym indoor track).  I also varied in time, where I could go in the afternoons, evenings, late nights, or mornings.

But after those five years, I was so sick and done with running.  So I started using the rowing machines, and tried them at different gyms: at my HK apartment’s gym, and at my grad school university’s three gyms.  After half a year or so, I got tired of rowing and started using the exercise bike, though I sometimes went back to the rowers, since the bike wasn’t that strenuous.  Some months later, I went on to use the stair climbing machine, and later the elliptical trainer.  I have been using the ellipticals for almost two years since, though I sometimes switch back to the bike or rower.  Who knows what I’ll change to next!

It might be fun to run with a dog, though. Too bad I don’t have a dog. Photo by ArturVerkhovetskiy on DepositPhotos

My Personal Degree of Life Variation

Some other people may find my exercise routine not changeful enough, since I know people, even some Js, who like to alter their exercise activities much more often than I do.  Some even change these activities every day, or multiple times a day.  So again, this is all on a continuum from super varied to super constant in habits, as “P” and “J” are just general labels.  These labels do not imply that Ps can never stick to anything, nor do they imply that Js can never be flexible.  We’re human, after all, not perfect representations of an abstract concept.  It all depends on the person.

And since we differ from person to person, I will focus here on my own experiences as a P.  To give you a more detailed idea of how often I switch up the activities in my life: I download new music about 1-2 times a month; explore new restaurants after some weeks or a month, though I keep going back to some favorites; switch video games after almost a year; work on a different story or novel every few months, though sometimes I persist on a story for up to two years.  

I find that I gravitate a lot towards Korean restaurants nowadays. Image by shalamov on DepositPhotos

So I have different degrees of variation in my life, where both Ps and Js can see me as too persistent or too changeful, depending on their personal habits.  It’s my short-term, daily routines, such as when I go to bed, when I eat my meals, when I study, etc. that vary wildly from day to day.

Bombing 90% of My Short-Term Plans

My short-term plans in fact have a 90% chance of getting bombed.  I may plan to write my clinical notes after I get out of bed, but I end up reading a psychology book for 4 hours instead.  I may plan to draw for half an hour before studying again, but I don’t stop drawing until 5 hours later.  Usually, the more strenuous activities get bomb-shelled by lighter activities, rather than the other way around, though there are exceptions.

The order of the most strenuous to the most relaxing activities, is: writing papers or assignments; memorizing or reviewing notes; reading a textbook; editing my fiction works; writing up practicum clinical notes; reading a nonfiction book; writing fiction; beta-reading a novel; writing a blog post; writing a book review; emailing clients, colleagues, supervisors, profs, or employers; editing a blog post; proofreading my fiction work; editing a book review; writing comments on a blog post; reading a novel; reading an article or a blog post; writing an email to a friend; writing long Facebook messages to a friend.  I require the least amount of energy for going on Facebook, chatting on WhatsApp or text, and playing video games, such as Pokemon Go.

Novel-reading is on the more relaxing, less energy-consuming side for me. Photo courtesy of gdolgikh on DepositPhotos

This is not an exhaustive list of my activities, and their order is approximate, not exact, but this list may give you an idea of my high to low energy-consuming activities.  I didn’t include going to the gym, attending an extracurricular activity, or going to work-related events, since I can easily schedule them on my calendar, and I don’t require much energy to commit to them.

Surprising Ability to Be Punctual, Meet Deadlines, and Finish Projects

Despite how my more energy-consuming activities tend to get bomb-shelled by lighter activities, such as a plan to study being thwarted by an impulse to chat at length on WhatsApp, I miraculously still manage to meet all my deadlines and do high quality work.  By high quality work, I mean that I get mostly A grades, as well as good feedback from professors and peers; this is not to brag, but is merely to give you a more precise picture of my circumstances.

About deadlines, to my memory, I have only asked for one deadline extension in my life, due to an unexpected illness.  My good fortune helped me to meet deadlines, though: prior to the last couple of years, I would only get sick during the holidays.  In addition, I’m rarely late to meetings.  Perhaps I’m keen on punctuality and deadlines, because I have a strong desire to make a positive impression on others, and I feel a strong need to keep up my reputation as a “reliable person.”

Despite my time splurges and continual bombing of my plans, I have a surprisingly good track record when it comes to meeting my deadlines and being on time. Photo by stillfx on DepositPhotos

Even though I’m reliable in meeting deadlines and being punctual, I still have trouble sticking to my own short-term plans.  Sometimes, I do one task instead of another (e.g. reading a novel rather than working on a blog post); and other times, I find it so hard to stop doing something, such that I spend way longer on it than I had planned to.  So for instance, I wanted to work on this blog post for just an hour, since I couldn’t sleep, but this one hour turned into 1.5 hrs instead.

N.B. I wrote this blog post over several days, so when I use time references like “today,” “yesterday,” “the day before,” and the like, keep in mind that these time references are relative to the day I wrote that particular section of the post.

An hour stretching into 1.5 hrs is a rather mild time splurge, however.  What is more common, is something like wanting to do an activity for just half an hour, but not stopping until 2-4 hrs later.  Last night, I wanted to study, but I went to read novels (yes, more than one) for about 3 hours, crashing yet another plan.  Moreover, I seem to have more trouble stopping a lower-energy activity, such as reading fiction or chatting on WhatsApp, but find it easier to stop a higher-energy activity, like studying.  A medium-energy activity, like writing my story, is somewhere in between for how easy or hard it is to slam on the brakes.  Fatigue will eventually make me stop, but I may persist for quite a while before I finally succumb to exhaustion.

I never actually fall asleep from exhaustion. But being too tired would motivate me to stop working. One can only take so much. Image by VisualGeneration on DepositPhotos

Absolute versus Flexible Deadlines

Some may believe that, since I can only control my impulsive time splurges if I tire myself out, or have to meet an obligation for someone, I’m a person who can’t manage without strict, absolute deadlines.  But I actually have an innate drive to finish things, even in the absence of social pressure.  Also, even though assignment, midterm, and exam deadlines helped me to keep up in school, I resented how they forced me to do things in a certain order.  Sometimes I try to deliberately do things with a later deadline first, but when you have a ton of consecutive tight deadlines piling up on you, it’s easier said than done to rebel against the closer deadlines.

In contrast, I once took an online course on counselling skills, where there was one final deadline to hand in all assignments.  They had a recommended timeline for when you should finish each reading and assignment, but ultimately, it’s up to you to judge when you finish things.  I really loved this course structure.  I actually worked faster than the recommended timeline, and I enjoyed the freedom and flexibility to schedule my activities as I wished, with only gentle suggestions from the study guide for how fast I should work.  I didn’t even do all the tasks in their proposed order.

So flexible deadlines are most welcome for me, as I don’t want my work to drag on forever, yet I want the freedom to adjust time and order as I see fit.  I really relished the freedom I got from this course!  Happily, I got an A for my final grade too.

An Ideal World for a P Like Me?

What would an ideal world look like for a P? Image by fergregory on DepositPhotos

As a thought experiment, I asked myself: if nobody cared about deadlines, punctuality, or getting things done, such that no one would be unhappy with me if I were “flaky,” would I be as good at meeting those standards anymore?  I guess not.  It seems to all boil down to building and maintaining a good reputation, and being considerate towards other people’s feelings—I don’t want to inconvenience the other person.

However, even if I didn’t have the need to please and placate others, I would still have a strong desire to finish projects.  One big stereotype about Ps, is that we start too many projects and never get anything done.  That’s not true for me.  In fact, I would say that I’m better than the average person at committing to and finishing projects, as long as I genuinely care about them.  This doesn’t mean that I’m able to finish all the projects that I love, but my track record has been pretty decent.  I hate leaving things unfinished, unless I don’t care about the task.

Secret Joy in Spontaneity

Aside from my urge to complete things, however, I imagine that it would be fun and wonderful to wing everything.  I have a pleasing image in my mind’s eye, of being a bird, my wings outspread as I navigate a storm.

My favorite bird: the Arctic Tern, or Sterna Paradisaea. Photo by Petr Simon on DepositPhotos

Moreover, though I feel irked when my plans fail again and again, I’m also secretly happy when I bomb a routine for a day or more, even if I like that routine and have to suffer the consequences.  An example is of staying up till 7 am to finish reading an amazing novel.

Another example came from today.  I recently discovered that turning off my phone by 10 pm and going to bed at around 3 am, vastly improves my sleep quality and quantity, since I’m refraining from highly-energizing activities (online socializing and video-gaming) several hours before bed.  Yet today, I broke this 10-pm rule because I got out of the gym at 9:30 pm as usual, and by the time I was done with dinner at a nearby restaurant, it was already 10 pm.  I still felt like playing Pokemon Go for a while, and gleefully took my time battling some gyms and catching more Pokemon.

When I arrived home a little past midnight, I was still playing Pokemon Go.  Then I cruised through Facebook, and didn’t even bother getting up from my chair, to put away the groceries like I would usually do.  It was so relaxing and blissful to just sit there, defying all my usual rules before bed, completely wrecking my routine for the day.  I only felt slightly guilty about this.

Before you ask, yes, I have a much later sleep schedule than most people do, where I tend to go to bed around 2:30-3:30 am, and get up around 12-2pm, depending on circumstances and how I feel like that day.  I’m lucky to have a practicum placement that permits such an unconventional schedule, but even when I find a job in the future, I would definitely look for something where I can start in the late afternoon or even in the evening.  Evening and night shifts exist, after all, and are much more common than one may think.

I’m a night owl through and through. Image by msirichai on DepositPhotos

The Implications of Finding it Hard to Stop Doing a Task Until It’s Done

As I alluded to earlier, not only do I often indulge in time splurges, I also have trouble stopping what I’m doing until I’ve finished it.  The only times I can stop before I finish something, are when I have to go somewhere to meet someone (since I’m anal about punctuality), or when I run out of energy.  Precisely when I run out of energy depends on how much mental concentration the task requires, how interested I am in the task, and how confident I am about my ability to do well on it.  I rarely have the energy to last more than 4 hours at a time, however.

Because of this difficulty in stopping until I’m done with the task, need to leave for a meeting, or wear myself out, I also find it nearly impossible to eat meals at regular and “respectable” hours.  Sometimes, I forget that I’m hungry, or I’m conscious of my hunger, but I’m unwilling to stop.  Since I tend to bombshell my plans, get distracted by lower-energy activities (such as novel-reading or Facebook), and find it a challenge to stop what I’m doing, even neglecting my need to sleep and eat, I wondered if I had ADHD.  Yet, after I filled in an ADHD scale and consulted an expert, they concluded that though I struggle on some areas of executive functioning, my difficulties were not on the ADHD level.  Even “normal,” non-ADHD states are on a continuum.

Note: I was not trying to boast about not having ADHD.  But some of you may speculate that I might have ADHD, which was why I addressed this topic of the “normal spectrum” versus the “ADHD spectrum.”

Freedom, Adventure, but Calculated Risks

Freedom, Adventure, but Calculated Risks. Photo courtesy of Iakov on DepositPhotos

Although I regularly sabotage my plans and go on time splurges, these bursts of adventure are actually calculated risks.  I would only dare to go to bed so late if I could afford to get up fairly late the next day.  Most of my super bedtime-delaying splurges, happen before a day where I either have no events, or only have later events, i.e. 4 pm or later.

Thus, I would suffer from having worse sleep than usual, because going to bed anywhere outside of my normal range (around 2:30-3:30 am), is very likely to worsen my insomnia.  This sleep-deprivation would in turn give me lower energy levels and less time to do things the following day.  But even though I have to suffer from these consequences, I feel delighted inside.  There is something so satisfying about destroying my carefully crafted routines.

Nonetheless, I was frustrated by this uncontrollable urge to wreck my sleep routine from time to time, since the sleep experts all advise strongly against late, irregular bedtimes, and my parents of course greatly disapprove of such erratic and late bedtime routines.  It felt like I could never live up to this lofty social standard.  Even when I managed to go to bed earlier and maintain a decent “healthy” routine, I could only keep up this routine for a few days, or a few weeks max, and then I would throw it all into the fire and go back to my normal again.

Yes, Lord Elrond, I will. Credit: Tenor.com /Lord of the Rings

But over the past few months, I’ve been gaining more self-respect and confidence, absorbing the idea that night owls are not less respectable than morning larks are.  Night shifts and overnight shifts have always existed, after all.  Yes, the standard business hours in Canada are 9-5, Mon-Fri, but there are still plenty of other services that happen outside of these hours, such as the subway trains, buses, taxis, many convenience stores, supermarkets, restaurants, and drug marts.  There are plenty of jobs with unconventional hours too, like police officers, fire fighters, actors, musicians, singers, researchers, free lance writers and editors, fashion designers, graphic designers, professors, and many more.  I ought to write a list of jobs that happen outside of the 9-5 pm, Mon-Fri conventional business hours.

Just to be clear, I’m only talking about Canada’s conventional hours here.  I’m aware that other countries don’t necessarily have this norm.  For example, Hong Kong’s “standard business hours” are more like 8 am to 10 pm, every single day including public holidays.  Not that you need to work every single shift, but the opening hours are much more generous than Canada’s, for better or for worse.  Oddly enough, despite Hong Kong’s wider coverage of hours after 5 pm, many HK parents, including my own, believe that we should go to bed early…This would be near impossible to do if your shift ends at 10 or 11 pm.  Some even end at midnight!  A lot of people commute 1-2 hours to get to work too.  Furthermore, I imagine that you won’t be able to fall asleep as soon as you get home.

Who can fall asleep as soon as they get home? Source: Gfycat / Monsters Inc

While we’re talking about Hong Kong Chinese culture, you may find it odd that some famous Chinese thinkers believed that it was a virtue to be so passionate about your work, that you forget to sleep and eat.  This is not very healthy, but it’s also not as catastrophic as you may think.  Even with my tendency to keep working and ignore my hunger pangs and bedtime hours, I still managed to survive for this long and enjoy a mostly happy and fulfilling life.

Some speculate that one reason why the society favors morning larks, is because many of our ancestors were farmers, where they had to be up at sunrise to tend to the crops and animals, and go back home at sundown.  But most people in modern society are not farmers, so there is no reason to think that morning people are more worthy of respect than night people are.

To clarify, I’m not trying to slam morning larks, I’m just trying to equalize the balance between the larks and the owls—and everyone else in between.  Plus, I have a number of morning lark friends who are open minded and supportive of my late-night schedules.  One friend, Penelope, said that she feels great getting up at 6 am, but by 2-3 pm, she already wants to go home and rest, and by 6 pm, she’s completely exhausted and about to fall asleep.  Wow, this is so opposite from me.  I don’t like to get up anytime before noon (even 11 am is too early, though it’s still manageable), I start to really wake up at around 6 pm, and my most energetic time of day is 10 pm to 3 am.

Greater Appreciation of and Less Guilt Over My Time Splurges

Along with this increased self-respect and self-confidence for my late sleep schedule, I’m also beginning to appreciate my chaotic time splurges, and to realize that I only take risks that I can afford.  Last night, instead of following my 10 pm phone shut-off rule to help me sleep, I played Pokemon Go, went on Facebook, and chatted at length on WhatsApp until about 12:30 am.  Then I spent more than an hour typing up what I had written so far for this blog post, and concluded my day by reading a novel for more than three hours and finishing the book, so that I went to bed at 6 am.  6 am is late even by my standards, and as I expected, my mind was hyper stimulated by the vast amounts of online socializing I had the day before, energized by this blog post I was typing, and thrilled by the awesome book I had just finished.  Going to bed later than 3:30 am tends to disrupt my sleep too, so I only managed to sleep for four hours in total.

Therefore, by binge-reading till 6 am, and making those WhatsApp, Facebook, and Pokemon Go time splurges, I effectively blew up even my own generous sleep schedule, and will have to regret it the next day, i.e. today.  Yet at the same time, I feel great!  Since I was spending a ton of time writing this long blog post the past few days, I hadn’t had much time to read books.  So it was gratifying and a relief to pour more than three hours into reading, even finishing, this book.  (It was Fae Out of Water 1: Cutie and the Beast by E.J. Russell, in case you were wondering.)

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and its sequels: The Druid Next Door and Bad Boy’s Bard. Image source

As for binging on Facebook, WhatsApp, and Pokemon Go, I feel that I deserve some leisure time in my life.  I’m a human being, not a productivity machine.  I deserve to be loved and pampered too!  When I say this latter statement, I often imagine myself as one of those cute Pokemon, like Glaceon (see picture below), who deserves to be loved and treated well.  In addition, for WhatsApp, I was having a lengthy and meaningful discussion with my fellow trans friends about asexuality, attraction, and relationships.  It’s not like we have these discussions every day, either.  Besides, I never feel that chatting with friends is a waste of time, especially when I can do so without compromising my work deadlines.

Glaceon, my favorite ice-type Pokemon. Photo by Sieran Lane on Niantic/ Pokemon Go

In other words, I might feel some guilt over prioritizing my friends above my work; yet, this is a risk I am able to take.  In fact, some other people feel bad about prioritizing their work over their friends!  It’s impossible to do everything at once, so my social life and my work life will just have to take turns.

Nibblers versus Gobblers

While we’re talking about my work habits as a P, I’ll swerve into a topic that is semi-related to my time splurges and my difficulty in stopping what I’m doing: The concept of nibblers and gobblers.  A nibbler is someone who prefers to do things a little at a time.  A gobbler is a person who likes to do huge chunks at a time.  For years, I had believed I was a nibbler.  I would like to nibble rather than to gobble, as the former feels less stressful; plus, if I don’t nibble, I might never start on a task, because I can’t seem to find the time to do some things.  However, due to necessity, I’m often forced to gobble because of tight deadlines.  It would be nice if I could flit around like a bird, though, and gradually get things done day by day.

Flitting about like a hummingbird. Photo courtesy of SURZet on DepositPhotos

But recently, I’ve been wondering whether I call myself a nibbler because I truly prefer to do things a bit at a time, or because I think nibblers are more socially respected than gobblers are.  I do have a history of making myself seem more socially desirable than I really am, only to realize much later that I had been fooling myself all along—I was just chasing after a social ideal. 

If gobblers were more respected by the society, would I become a gobbler?  My answer is an enthusiastic yes.  What if nibblers and gobblers were equally respected?  If so, I would probably feel comfortable both nibbling and gobbling.

Plus, I’m assuming that nibblers are more respected, because gobblers tend to be portrayed as last-minute rushers, i.e. ridiculous procrastinators.  You won’t believe how many years it took me to admit that I sometimes procrastinate, as I didn’t want to be seen as unreliable or disorganized.  But how about the belief some people have that nibblers take forever to finish anything?  They happily start on a load of work and projects, and don’t procrastinate much, but they may take an awfully long time to get something over and done with.  Even I get impatient with nibbling, and eventually have to gobble to finish the project once and for all.

Nibbling and taking forever to finish. Source: Tenor.com

Moreover, as with the Myers-Briggs Perceiving versus Judging dimension, nibblers and gobblers are on a continuum, rather than an either/ or trait.  In practice, I do both nibbling and gobbling, no matter which I claim to prefer.  I seem to alternate between nibbling and gobbling depending on how I feel and what my current circumstances are.  Even without a deadline, I sometimes feel like just poking at a task (e.g. writing my story for ten minutes) before doing other things; and other times, I feel like dunking a ton more hours onto it (e.g. writing my blog post for 1.5 hours, or reading a nonfiction book for 4 hours, etc.)

So overall, I seem quite adaptable: I change according to my moods and circumstances.  My circumstances that affect whether I nibble or gobble could be: looming deadlines; how interested I am in the story or blog post I’m writing; whether I have the time to splurge (e.g. not need to get up early); how tired or sleepy I am; if doing this thing now will help me in something else later, and other miscellaneous situations.

But in general, I do find it much easier to continue doing something than to stop.  So maybe, in a way, I’m actually a gobbler who is sometimes forced to nibble due to the circumstances I listed above.  The verdict is still out on whether I might be a gobbler, a nibbler, a nibbler forced to gobble, a gobbler forced to nibble, or anything else in between the extremes of pure gobbler and pure nibbler.  But whatever I am, I admit that for the most part, unless I’m stopped by something, such as deadlines pushing me to do other tasks first, I tend to do things in large chunks. 

Gobbling down my work in large chunks. Source: Giphy

For instance, I start reading a book and find it hard to put it down after just 15 minutes, unless I’m forced to do so due to some (usually) external reason.  Or, I start a clinical note and don’t want to leave my seat until it’s done, even if I’m starving or need to go to the bathroom.  Or I’m writing my story and want to finish writing this scene, dialogue exchange, or chapter, and end up taking much longer than the ten minutes I planned to write for. 

There are of course also times when I feel a bit fatigued, mentally, physically, or emotionally, such that I want to stop writing my clinical notes halfway.  Or I feel a bit bored or tired of my story, so I put down my pen after writing just a few sentences, and call it a day. Yet, even with schoolwork and storywriting, I usually find it easier to keep doing it than to stop.  Perhaps what’s important, is to make myself start what I want to do, and refrain from starting something I don’t want to be sucked into for an hour or more.

The Water Slides Analogy

I’ll use a water slides analogy here.  Starting every task is like going down a water slide.  Once you push yourself down a slide, it’s possible but very hard to stop until you land at the bottom.  Some slides are longer than others (e.g. 5-hour long versus 2-hour long), but you can’t tell how long they will be beforehand. 

You know from experience that lower energy activities (e.g. novel-reading and Facebook) tend to have longer, steeper, more slippery slides that are harder to stop and take a longer time to end.  Higher energy activities, such as writing clinical notes, tend to have shorter slides, and they are less steep, less relentlessly slippery.  However, a slide is still a slide.  Even shorter, gentler slides can cast you in for a ride that you can’t get out of until you slip to the bottom and crash into the water.

I can’t get out of the slide until I fall and crash into the water. Credit: Imgur

Thus, what you would aim to do, is to push yourself down the high energy slides, and let the slides’ momentum help you finish those tasks, e.g. writing a paper.  This sounds very easy to do in theory, but in reality, the lower energy slides (e.g. Facebook, Pokemon Go, WhatsApp) are much more appealing to you.  This is not necessarily because you enjoy these slides the best (you may in fact enjoy some of the higher energy slides best), but because the lower energy slides have brighter, more eye-catching colors that say, “Come hither.”

It’s as though there is a magnetic force pulling you towards these lower energy slides.  It is not impossible to resist this pull, but it certainly takes a great deal of effort to go against the pull.  Another difficulty of focusing on higher energy tasks/ slides, is that you sometimes need to go on the lower energy ones, or else: 1) Your physical and mental energy will be sapped by the high-energy slides; and 2) Your brain will chafe against being forced to work all day long, every day.  Eventually, you’ll find your brain doing all sorts of things to seek rest from that energy-consuming task, e.g. making you get up constantly to eat and go to the bathroom, or enticing you to stare out the window and daydream incessantly instead of working. 

During these times, my brain would entice me to do anything but work. I would rather go outside and build a snowman. Source: Tenor.com

Therefore, the solution is not to make sure you never go on the low-energy slides, because you need these slides to keep yourself happy and well rested.  The solution is to somehow balance the time you spend with the higher, medium, and lower energy slides.  If you went on too many or too few of any kind of slide, you will suffer.

To make the situation more complicated, there are no golden rules for how to balance the water slides; you have to find something that’s right for your life.  There will always be plenty of people around you, who believe that you should balance them some way or another.  The greatest challenge, in my opinion, isn’t to motivate yourself to go down the higher energy slides more often, but rather to figure out what balance is right for you, instead of listening to other people’s contradicting advice, or to feel guilty when you’re not living up to somebody else’s idea of an optimal, “decent” life.  It takes a lot of work to divorce yourself from other people’s opinions enough to do what’s right for you; it’s hard to feel good, rather than constantly guilty, about your personal life choices.

P versus J: Which One is More Socially Desirable?

About social influences and feeling guilty for not living up to somebody’s standards, I spent two decades of my life blaming myself for having these P tendencies, but now, I’m finally able to make peace with them.  In fact, I’m starting to discover and appreciate the advantages of being a P.

For one, I thought for years that Js were more socially respected than Ps, since Js were seen as more organized, regular, planful, and reliable, while Ps were seen as erratic and unreliable.  Yes, these are unfair stereotypes, but as I was wont to do, I chased after what I believed was the more respected and esteemed personality type.  Yet, I chatted with a J friend recently, and she actually perceived Ps as more socially desirable, because who wouldn’t want a spontaneous, flexible, and fun friend?  So she was a J trying to emulate Ps, and I was a P trying to emulate Js.  Interestingly, I recall reading a romance where the heroine was obsessed with order, structure, plans, and was afraid of losing control of things.  At the time, I laughed and felt that I couldn’t relate to her at all.  I hate planning and kind of hate order and structure sometimes.  Also, why do you want perfect control?  Wouldn’t a totally predictable and controllable life bore you to death?  I need constant surprises and new things to keep me entertained!

I do like surprises! Source: Powerpuff Girls Wiki / The Powerpuff Girls

It’s odd too what one may see as the “socially desirable” personality type.  For me, I probably thought J was the way to go because my parents were such strict Js, and through their remarks over the years, they conveyed their sense to me that irregularity of routines was messy, childish, and whimsical.  I actually did have friends, peers, and even elders I respected and admired, who had more varying and unstructured lifestyles.  But for some reason, I ignored this counter-evidence, and never seriously considered that having a more fluid, changeful life could be just as productive and effective as having a more structured and routine lifestyle.

More Able to Adapt to Changes and Unforeseen Circumstances

It was (and still is) annoying to see myself go on so many time splurges, such that I keep pushing my sleep to times that are even later than usual, and as a result, I worsen my insomnia and suffer the next day.  Yet, by putting myself into these mini-adversities, I’m giving myself opportunities to adapt to a new, challenging situation.  Delayed sleep isn’t that challenging to deal with, actually, but it keeps me on my toes, since I never get that many comfortable, sweet-sleep days in a row.  Heck, I would be amazed if I even manage to get three sweet days in a row!  That is how changeful and out of control my sleep schedule is.  But maybe it’s good to not control it.

It’s as though life is giving me mini fire drills every few days, so that I never get to be complacent and content for long before I’m forced to adapt to hardship again.  It can be tiresome, but ultimately, it keeps me battle ready.  As I said, I’m only a slight P, so having super late nights every week or so, may sound like nothing to someone who pulls all-nighters more often than I do.  Moreover, it is exciting to be thrown into a very different schedule from the usual.  So instead of sleeping from 3 am to 12 pm, I’m sleeping from 7 am to 3 pm, for example.  One side of me hates this “trashing” of my health, but the other side of me is giddy and thrilled at the novelty.

Exploring and Learning More in Life

It’s helpful to vary in the content of my activities more too, not just in the timing of them.  It’s possible that I have a lower need to vary in the songs I listen to or the books I read, for instance.  But I suspect that one reason why I have higher stamina for having the same books, songs, food, activities, and writing projects, is because I want to save time and energy, and stay in my comfort zone.  There’s nothing wrong with saving time and energy, nor do we have to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone every day.  But it seems that I might be suppressing my need to explore a little, especially as I get so excited when I go to a new place, take up a new extracurricular activity, download new songs, and the like.

I like this feeling of adventure, exploration, and gaining of new experiences, never knowing what you’ll discover and learn next.  Sometimes I push myself to try a new route, new restaurant, or just a new thing in life.  At first, I would have my usual hesitancy, maybe because I’m so used to being on power-save mode, where I’m being as selective and stingy with my time and energy as possible.  So when I have this hesitation, I would say to myself, “Where is your sense of adventure?”

Where’s your sense of adventure? Image source from The Fox and the Hound/ Disney

It would honestly not take much convincing for me to take that new route, to try that new restaurant, or to foray into new types of books, writing, and music, as a love for novelty is close to my heart.  If my time and energy were unlimited, I would be foraging and running around everywhere!

Often, I think back to this psychology experiment, where some rats lived in a regular cage with water, food, and bedding.  Other rats, however, got a much more enriched environment, complete with a maze and toys.  As you may expect, the rats living in the more enriched environments, had much more brain development than the rats living in more impoverished environments.  When I push (or allow) myself to venture into new territory, my brain actually feels good.  I feel smarter.   I’m like the rats in the enriched environment.

Of course, I’m not saying that we ought to stretch ourselves thin and have no priorities in life.  But I realize that I’ve been overly focused on my goals, that I’ve missed out on so many chances for growth, learning, and frankly, fun.  I do love my work as a therapist and as a writer.  But life is much more than just my careers, no matter how fulfilling my work is.

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