By Brad Thomason, CPA
Did you ever take one of those Myers-Briggs personality tests? Did you know that the type of personality that you have may make it easier (or harder) for you to find the mental energy to engage in retirement planning?
As you probably know, the MB test gives you a four-letter code which is associated with one of sixteen particular personality profiles. Each of the places in the code is associated with a pair of possibilities. The second letter will always be either an S or an N. S stands for “sensing,” and it basically speaks to the idea that you are primarily a concrete, objective sort of person who needs to see it/touch it/hear it etc to feel like it’s an aspect of reality worth paying attention to. N, on the other hand, stands for “intuiting,”(The letter I was already taken by introverted, in the first-position pair) which is something like a willingness to be more open to abstractions, conceptualizations and other things that don’t have a basis in one of the five senses.
Now to be sure, every person has some degree of openness to both means of interacting with the world. It’s just that we tend to have differing degrees, and as such one generally ends up being favored over the other. Even if we aren’t consciously aware of the preference.
So what in the world does this have to do with retirement planning? A lot more than you may think.
It turns out that our preferences about dealing directly with what is there or is not there impacts how we tend to experience time. Think about it: if you are focused on sensation then you can deal pretty directly with whatever is going on right now, as well as things which have already happened. But what about the future? How do you interpret the future in terms of sensory inputs when those events haven’t occurred yet and those sensation haven’t been created? The simple answer is, you don’t. And therein lies the crux of the matter.
A common misunderstanding about personality types (whether as defined by Myers-Briggs, or any of the other scales, such as the Big 5) is the idea that it reduces the person to being nothing more than a product of fixed wiring, in which the person really has no choice other than to following their programming. This is not the case. All persons are completely free at any time to engage in behaviors which are counter to their personality type. The personality type simply identifies preferences, not absolutes which must be followed.
But even though there is nearly unlimited freedom to go against preference, most folks can’t do so without paying a price. That price, in most instances, is that you find the against-the-grain behavior to be more tiring. Which if you think about it, sort of wraps back around to the idea of preference: if A makes you tired and B doesn’t, which one would you prefer?
Admittedly it’s all about circular, and perhaps even a bit vague. But the bottom line is that people who have S as the second letter of their code often have a harder time thinking about the future. Not that they can’t do it; just that they have to work at it more. Intuitive persons, who typically are more comfortable with abstract concepts and idealizations about how good things could be, frequently find themselves thinking long and hard about the future as part of their daily routine, without even meaning to.
In terms of distribution, in most western populations, there about two S-people for every one N-person. So more folks than not are going to be susceptible to feeling the elevated brain-drain when they think about the future. You are intelligent enough that you do not need me to tell you that just because it might be harder, it is still necessary. That’s pretty self-evident.
But I brought all of this up just so you would know that if you find it grueling to spend any significant time focused on the task of retirement planning, it’s not all in your head. Well, I mean actually it is all in your head. But it isn’t imagined. It’s real, and potentially rooted to something that you can’t do anything about. So like every other significant accomplishment in your life to this point, the simple (if not easy…) solution is to engage it proactively, put in the work, and win anyway.
As a final item, if you have ever wondered how folks like me could make a career out of dealing with something that most folks find exhausting, it may be nothing more complicated than being on the opposite of the ledger from where you are: I’m one of those N people. So it seems a lot more natural – not to mention far less tedious – to me to think about what could be, rather than to focus on what has already happened or needs to happen today. Those things wear me out as much it does for you to engage in planning.
In the final analysis, I don’t think it’s a case that one is better than the other, in terms of the big picture. But at the level of individual tasks, it certainly does seem to impact fitness and ease of performance from one task to the next. Doesn’t change what we have to do. But there is subconscious machinery at play here, and if you find the prospect of working on your retirement plans daunting and/or grueling, it may not be a lack of motivation or willpower on your part, just a simple matter of how you were wired at the factory.
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