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I believe it is difficult for so many people to maintain an exercise program because they attempt to exercise in a way that is incompatible with their type or stage of type development. They are doomed from the start.
Type and Exercise:
I have been studying type for over ten years, but I did not make the connection between type and physical exercise until a conversation with my mother (ESFJ) a year ago. She was describing her visits to a physical therapist for a torn rotator cuff. My mother is a lovable, friendly woman and true to type, she developed a personal relationship with her therapist who in turn gave her a lot of individual attention and positive feedback.
As my mom explained her exercise to me, I noticed the specificity of her descriptions. Comments such as, "I like to know exactly what I am doing," "I want things spelled out," and "I want to make sure that I'm doing the exercises correctly “ stood out in my mind. These were familiar expressions from a lifetime of conversations, but I had never heard these concerns as expression of her preferences for ESFJ until that day.
Sensing details have always assured and guided my mother. Even today whether it is locking the door to her apartment when I am leaving or using her washing machine, my mom feels it is incumbent to state and restate the steps. These instructions are usually backed up with examples of some awful catastrophe that has befallen a neighbor or friend who was not being careful. So is it any wonder, in the context of working with a physical therapist or in physical exercise, the relationship and the specifics are prominent?
I began questioning my mother about her experience with physical exercise and sports over her lifetime. For many years, my mother played tennis doubles. She described "loving the game," particularly the camaraderie with friends, as playing tennis was primarily a social activity for her, not physical exercise. Additionally, she and my dad (ESTJ) played golf with friends, an activity which she also described as primarily social.
Yoga was different. My mother considered yoga physical exercise. Inspired by a yoga-loving friend, my mother and her friend attended a series of yoga classes while wintering in Florida thirty years ago. Their teacher was "wonderful." Under this teacher, my mother enjoyed yoga and was faithful to her practice. However, when the teacher moved to another city and the replacement teacher "was not the same," my mother discontinued classes and has not since practiced yoga on a regular basis.
After my initial observations with my mother, I had lunch with my close friend, Iris, who also has ESFJ preferences. Iris is a jazz singer and a musical booking agent. Exercise is a task she feels that she must do because of her osteoporosis. Over lunch she said she recently joined a gym which she described as cleaner, smaller, and friendlier than her previous gym. In describing the new environment and staff, Iris said, "They know me, really care, and treat me as an individual." She had high hopes that this new environment and friendly ambience would increase her motivation to lift weights and do aerobic activity.
This made me think about another friend with ESFJ preferences. Lee is an artist and professional game designer who rarely exercised until her mid-forties when she arranged for a personal trainer three mornings a week. The trainer designed a program for Lee and was at her side the entire time. Weights were carefully monitored. The trainer adjusted treadmill and bike resistance levels. On a nice day, they went for a walk together on a designated route. This went on for a year. When Lee eventually stopped working out with her trainer, she stopped exercising. She was unable to maintain the routine by herself.
Questioning, listening, and reflecting on how these three women with ESFJ preferences thought about and participated in physical exercise got me interested in researching this area. Their stories were similar and a pattern emerged. For these women, their relationship to the teacher/trainer was a key motivator. This leader provided interaction and feedback (usually positive) and served to guide and assure them that they were exercising correctly. "Doing it right" was important. The focus and clarity around Introverted Sensing details maintained their interest and motivation.
An exercise routine is difficult for many people to establish in their lives. Less than 20% of the population exercises regularly. Many people who do not exercise would like to, especially in light of the convincing health care benefits we see every day in research and the media. I believe it is difficult for so many people to maintain an exercise program because they attempt to exercise in a way that is incompatible with their type or stage of type development. They are doomed from the start.
Physical exercise is a big part of my life. I typically exercise one to two hours a day, six days a week. I struggle with a lot of things; I have never struggled with exercise. I was lucky to find exercise that worked for me over twenty years ago. I started swimming laps in an indoor swimming pool in 1980 and have been exercising on a consistent basis ever since. I have preferences for Extraverted Feeling and Introverted Intuition (ENFJ). I used to like to exercise alongside people but not directly interacting with them. Increasingly, I prefer to exercise alone.
I seem to be attracted to exercise that has a repetitive quality, but I enjoy various activities. I love to swim, run, bike, kayak, walk, lift weights and practice yoga. With repetition, my mind happily drifts (Introverted Intuition). Visions well up, fade away, and well up again. I effortlessly explore unknown paths and suspend judgments for a while. Extraverted Sensing is my third function, Puer/Puella according to John Beebe's model, my "eternal child." Perhaps that is why I love to exercise. Exercise makes me feel like a kid. In the last three years I have been training and competing in 5k and 10k road races throughout Vermont. I believe this new interest in competition is an expression of my developing fourth function (Introverted Thinking). My hypothesis is that our innate type preferences are connected with our approach and motivation toward physical exercise. Last year I launched a research project that has involved interviewing and surveying people of the various types who exercise regularly, collecting stories about their exercise habits and patterns. One of my early interviews was with a thirty-year-old massage therapist with preferences for ENFP. Roberta enjoys running and yoga. When I asked her for an overview of her approach to exercise, she responded without hesitation, "Exercise is all about the breath." With warm enthusiasm she described her concept of spirituality and mind-body connectedness which underlies her approach to exercise.
Not long after my interview with Roberta, I interviewed the CEO of a local business. David is forty 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."