Which Holds Sway … Job or Play?

This article is reprinted with permission from The Bulletin of Psychological Type. The Bulletin is a publication of the Association for PsychologicalType.

Type and Physical Exercise:Which Holds Sway … Job or Play?
APTi Bulletin of Psychological Type, Vol. 30, No. 2 (2007) By: Suzanne Bru

Steve, ISTP, likes the idea of being fit but will not make time for exercise unless it is in connection with a practical activity. “I park a mile from work. I save money and get exercise along the way. Repetitive exercise is hard to confront. I enjoy the woods – I’m never bored in the woods.”

Iris, ESFJ, goes to her nearby gym three times a week and says, “I hate every minute of it.” She runs through her cardio/weight routine quickly, getting in and out of the gym in under 40 minutes. “It means a lot to me to follow through on what I promise,” she says. “It makes me feel I am in control of my life – that I did what I said I was going to do.”

For Karen, INTP, fun is fundamental but intensity is on the other side of the hook. Karen describes her enjoyment of Kung Fu: “I like the intensity of it and the purpose of it, self-defense. I know what the options are, and I have a fantastic instructor who is knowledgeable and pushes me hard.”

Type plays a fascinating and pivotal role in how and why these people exercise. It is a connection I have been studying for six years, as I have interviewed hundreds of fit and physically active people across the sixteen types from all over the world, including Canada, England, Egypt, and New Zealand. Based on their responses, I have discovered a strong and predictable correlation between an individual’s type and his or her exercise preferences for motivation, perceived benefits, approach, interactions with others, barriers, and even favorite activities.

When I first conceived this project in 2001, I hypothesized that the full range of our preferences would affect our approach to exercise, some in subtle ways and others more obviously. Since then, I have talked to hundreds of people who make exercise an integral part of their lives and some fascinating patterns have emerged.

The result is the Color Me Fit system, an ever-growing and developing approach to physical fitness choices grounded in type, based on years of research and containing the elements of nuance one would expect from an examination of human behavior.

Not only did my research uncover hooks and roadblocks for all types, but it also revealed how our mental processes are engaged in exercise in an in-depth manner. I could see the full range of type functions, preferences, and orientations come into play in a recognizable and accessible fashion. The questions were being answered and a framework for understanding the dynamic of fitness personalities took shape.

Job or Play

As my research progressed, I found myself able to anticipate some of the ways preferences would be expressed by those I interviewed which was very handy when traveling thirty miles to meet someone who agreed to share his story of exercise success.

One bright summer day, I planned to drive out to a remote spot in the country to interview an ISFP. Better take my sunglasses, I thought, since the session will definitely take place outdoors. I was glad I brought the glasses, as Jim walked me through his house out to the rear deck for our talk. Jim was the third ISFP I had interviewed in a week – I had internalized their profound love of the outdoors and their preference for living outside as much as possible.

However, one common theme I was slow to anticipate was INTP and INFP’s overriding desire to enjoy their exercise – it had to be fun! Consistently, I heard INPs say they had a tough time staying with an exercise regimen unless they actually enjoyed it. I even had an INTP call me up after I had returned from our interview to have me add this information to her comments.

I studied the interviews with other consistent exercisers and noted that some types – notably ENPs, ESPs, and ISPs, in particular – also tended to follow the pleasure principle. Perhaps they are not so single-minded and unequivocal as INPs, but unmistakably they are in the “gottahave- fun” category, too. As a student and practitioner of the MBTI®, I recognized the common denominator here, the feature these types shared. Each of them extraverted his or her perceiving process. In the parlance of the MBTI, they are Ps.

What about the Js, I wondered. Did they share an approach that mirrored this need for fun so much on the mind of Extraverted Perceiving Ps?

I thought back to one of my early articles on exercise and type that pre-dated the creation of the Color Me Fit system (Brue, 2002). As I wrote then:

David is 40 years old, thin, handsome, and fit. He has preferences for ISTJ. Prior to being at work in the morning, David exercises at a fitness center convenient to his office. He exercises five mornings a week, systematically rotating between cardiovascular and weights. He runs through the same program every week. ‘Are you happy with your level of exercise?’ was my final question in our interview. David responded, ‘It gets the job done.’

In the Jungian tradition, people like David are Extraverted Judgers – in MBTI terminology, the Js. For them, making the commitment and following through to completion are higher motivators than enjoyment. In fact, one ISTJ told me, “I like exercise that can be measured, because I’m not doing it for pleasure.”

And so it followed consistently that not only ISTJs but also the ESJs, ENJs, and INJs did not have a fun hook. These types rarely even mentioned enjoyment or pleasure when talking about their routines. I do not mean to imply that they do not enjoy themselves, since quite often they find ways to exercise that are deeply satisfying, even

spiritual. But “fun” was not what got them to start exercising and stay with it.

I began to see this element of pleasure on a continuum; there is enjoyment, there is fun, and there is play. Js often find exercise pleasurable, but rarely do they use the word fun to describe what they do, whereas Ps use the word all the time.

The job aspect arose here. Js typically commit to exercise because they know they will be better for having done it. They accept it as necessary. Wherever else their decision to exercise might have taken them, that was the starting point.

Ps, on the other hand, find it more difficult to create a sustainable habit of exercise without some sort of fun connection. They want something closer to play from the outset, something with flow and connectivity – dance, perhaps. Taking a narrow view of what qualifies as exercise in our culture does them a particular disservice, and often adds a measure of guilt and discouragement when they reject gym memberships or structured routines. The Ps I interviewed had conquered this obstacle and were often happily engaged in physical activities – sports, competitions, dance, vigorous activities of daily living – that ably served their needs for both exercise and an element of fun or play.

As a matter of fact, this has been one of the more interesting patterns arising from my research. Ps who attend my presentations on the Color Me Fit system often experience an “Aha” moment when I mention that many J types never consider whether or not an exercise will be fun. Needing that element of fun to get them past their own resistance, they are amazed that Js can sustain exercise programs they do not enjoy.

Figure 1:

ESTJ, ESFJ – Gold: The Gold Standard, Just the Facts

Traditional and conservative in their approach to exercise, avoiding unproven, fad or “new-age” options, ESTJs and ESFJs plan for exercise based on authoritative resources and because it is the “right thing to do.” ESJs prefer structure and routine, valuing experience, safety, and proven methods. Conserving of energy, ESJs seek a balanced life, aiming not to over-do in all things, including exercise. Proud of what they do; results are what they’re after. ISTJ,

ISFJ – Blue: True Blue, Tried and True

Conscientious, committed, and concerned with safety, ISTJs and ISFJs approach exercise dutifully. ISJs are highly attuned to their bodies and correct form, focusing on one thing at a time. Steady and methodical, ISJs take comfort in routine, keeping track and measuring. ISJs enjoy using their outstanding powers of concentration. With a regard for the “tried and true”, ISJs have a common sense approach to exercise and prefer to stay with what they know.

ESTP, ESFP – Red: Roaring Reds, Now!

Being in the physical world lets ESPs know they’re alive. ESPs are quick responders. They enjoy high stimulation, variety, and action preferring to “play” outside. ESPs naturally incorporate physical activity in their lives rather than scheduling exercise. ESPs find it boring to just stay in shape — it is helpful to have a goal. Living in the moment, they approach activities with “no limits” giving it all they’ve got every time.

ISTP, ISFP – Green: Greener than Green, Naturally Outdoorsy

The physical world beckons. ISPs naturally and seamlessly merge with the physical world. Practical, modest, and understated, they are naturally observant of the physical details and small variations in their environment. ISPs enjoy living a physically active life in harmony with nature. With their practical approach it makes sense to get your exercise in activities of daily living. ISPs are motivated to maintain a level of fitness so they can partake in the outdoor activities they relish.

ENTP, ENFP – Silver: Quicksilver, The Master of Exercise Disguise

ENPs wrap exercise in the disguise of something else as the thought of pure exercise is unappealing. An alternative purpose keeps them engaged. ENPs enjoy activities that are convenient, requiring minimal process and planning. Fast paced, ENPs do not want to waste time/effort in transition. ENPs are attracted to new ideas and possibilities and might cycle through activities and fitness passions.

INTP, INFP – Saffron: Saffron’s Seeking, Making Workouts into Play

INPs are attracted to exercise environments that that are flexible and convenient, providing an opportunity for spontaneity and self-expression. Easily bored, INPs enjoy challenging activities with the right combination of fun, freedom and flow — with minimal stops and starts. Activities that connect them to their sense of play are appealing, as well as solitary activities alone or alongside comfortable others.

ENTJ, ENFJ – Purple: Royal Purples, Pursuers with a Plan

With a loosely envisioned plan in mind, ENJs approach exercise with purpose and objective. Motivated by “being at their best,” ENJs are attracted to variety and organize exercise in categories — cardio, strength training, and stretching. They experiment from time to time, but are drawn to exercise they can make part of their routine. Functional, orderly, and positive environments are important.

INTJ, INFJ – White: A Blank Canvas, Trailblazers on Familiar Paths

Since exercise can provide solitary time for reflection, visioning, and mental drift, it is important for INJs to seek peaceful and pleasing environments. Jarred by interruptions and chaos, orderly environments provide the necessary calm for physical exercise. Familiar paths and activities are appealing, enabling exercise to become a moving meditation. Advanced planning makes it happen.

The Entry Point

I now believe that knowledge of which side of the J/P divide you live on will inform your approach to the entire issue of exercise and activity, at the outset and ongoing. For both Extraverted Judgers (Js) and Extraverted Perceivers (Ps), knowledge of their type can clarify why certain situations loom like roadblocks to overcome before they can maintain a regular exercise program.

This may be understood by considering some common characteristics of these type preferences. For instance, Js have a tendency to initiate, define/limit, and gain closure. By contrast, Ps prefer to respond, expand, and connect.

By no means does my research indicate that, within the J/P divide, one side is more physically active than the other. I interviewed active and satisfied exercisers of all stripes. What I did find is that J’s basic requirements are very real and very different from those of P’s. It is in the nature of Js (Fe or Te) to orient toward routine, become satisfied with it, and in many ways take pleasure in completion of their plan.

For the Ps (Se or Ne), the basic requirement is more often rooted in the interaction, the connection, and the opportunity to turn their attention to the outer world, noticing and engaging the environment outside themselves, whether it is people, places, or ideas. These interactions provide the greatest satisfaction, which bodes well for initiating and sustaining an exercise program.

For Js, then, it is a job. For Ps, play holds sway. Whether you eventually commit to an exercise routine as you would another job or you look for a way to enjoy exercise to help you get past your resistance, the thought of exercise in and of itself is rarely much of a draw.

To make this new way of applying type information assessable and userfriendly, I devised a color model, the Color Me Fit System (Figure 1), which matches preferences for physical activity to personality type. The model, using 8 colors corresponding to dominant perceiving processes, provides a visualization for people to tap into their true nature for lifelong fitness.