This is a follow-up to the recently posted article “Do Your Goals Conflict with Your Personality?” In that article I shared how understanding the core aspects of your personality can help you set better goals and help you achieve your goals more easily.
In the 2+ weeks since I shared that article, I’ve spent a lot more time delving into this subject, including reading feedback from dozens of people about it. Now I’ll share some nice refinements that I think you’ll find very helpful.
Evolving Your Personality List
Your first stab at a list of personality attributes probably won’t be your final list. This is very much an iterative process. Once you create your first list, you’ll be able to see it in front of you and think more deeply about it, and you’ll have the opportunity to work with your list for a few days to see how it measures up.
Most likely you’ll notice some issues with your list that could be improved. Here are some of the main issues I’ve noticed, both in my own list and in those of others:
Being reactive vs. proactive – Some temporary personality aspects arise as coping mechanisms based on circumstances, but these normally don’t represent core aspects. For instance, suppose you’ve had to deal with a lot of crap in your life, and so part of you identifies with the role of rebel as a way of distancing yourself from those problems. But being a rebel for the sake of rebellion isn’t necessarily a core personality aspect. It doesn’t help define you as a human being.
If you have an attribute that involves rebellion, nonconformity, or some variation on being different and separating yourself from other people, consider digging deeper. Notice that you don’t always have to go against the grain. There may be some contexts where you feel right at home, and rebellion wouldn’t suit you. Instead of defining your personality as being against anything, consider what you stand for.
For instance, you could recognize that you love freedom and that you only resist authority when your freedom is threatened. Knowing what you stand for gives you more options for expressing yourself. Luke Skywalker was technically a rebel, but a more positive association was the role of Jedi. The need to express rebellion is temporary and circumstantial, but his Jedi-ness is for life; sometimes it expresses itself as conformity while other times it calls for rebellion. Being a rebel is a temporary side effect of being a Jedi; the rebel sub-role only surfaces in certain contexts.
So if you have some reactive elements on your list, dig deeper and look for the Jedi-like core quality instead of getting stuck in the role of rebel. Who will you be when you no longer have a reason to rebel? If you are a rebel or a nonconformist, then you’ll lose your sense of self when the source of your oppression is removed.
Having too much overlap – This was almost always an issue with people’s initial lists, including mine. As you begin to apply your aspects to make decisions in your life, you’ll find that certain aspects keep giving you a similar vibe. Those are the ones that can be combined and simplified.
For instance, on my original list, I had The Master, The A-Player, and The Champion as separate aspects, but when I applied them to make some actual decisions, I realized they all stem from the same underlying vibe, so I combined them into a single aspect. The A-Player is basically what I get when I express The Master aspect through my career, and The Champion is the expression of The Master through my health and habits. But deep down, this is the same personality aspect of wanting to be disciplined, honorable, and effective.
Having too many aspects – Some people shared lists of 15 or more different personality aspects. When you have that many, I think it’s impractical to use such a list. It’s too complicated to be of much help, and you’re surely including aspects that are straying further from the core of who you really are.
Core aspects are general enough that you can express them across most or all areas of your life — you’ll find that each core aspect can express itself through your relationships, career, finances, health, personal development, and more. If you have an aspect that only makes sense in the context of your work, for instance, but it has no application to your personal life, then it’s not a core aspect. Dig deeper to see what’s beneath the surface.
For instance, I could say that part of my personality is being a prolific blogger, but that would only apply to my career. If I dig deeper, I can see that my blogging stems from tuning into inspiration and wanting to inspire people. Now I’ve identified a part of me that I can express richly in any area of my life. I can inspire my friends just as I can inspire my online readers.
Do your best not to compartmentalize your personality aspects by limiting them to only one channel of expression. If an aspect is really you, then it’s still you whether you’re at work, at home, or traveling around the world.
I’d strongly suggest limiting yourself to 7 aspects maximum. If you have more than that, it’s fair to say that you can combine some of them by getting closer to your core.
Missing something – This is another issue that can be ironed out over time. You may recognize that there’s another part of your personality that wants to have a say in your life, but you haven’t identified or labeled it yet. When you revise your list, you can try to incorporate what’s missing.
I mentioned in the original article on this topic that I knew I was missing something in my first list, and I briefly described what I thought it was. Since then I’ve been able to understand that aspect better and incorporate it in my revised list.
Being too mental – I’ve found that all of my core aspects have deep emotional roots. I observed that a number of people sent me personality lists with some very mental items on them, such as The Brain, The Thinker, The Problem Solver, etc. That might be okay for some people, but when I tried to apply such aspects to goal setting, I discovered that they didn’t provide much juice in terms of motivation.
When I refined my list, I made an effort to make sure that every item had a strong emotional layer beneath the surface. I wanted aspects that expressed my heart as well as my head. Some people may find it helpful to separate the mental aspects of their personality from the emotional ones. I found it much more helpful to merge thought and feeling into every aspect. That seems to give me the most juice when deriving action ideas to express my personality, and it makes my list feel more balanced as well. I suggest you experiment here to see what works best for you.
My Updated List
Let me share in more detail how I revised my first list to create my second list. I think you’ll appreciate seeing how it evolved.
Here’s a copy-paste of my original personality aspect list from the previous article:
- The Explorer – The part of me that loves to learn, grow, and explore. This part loves traveling, making new friends, and new experiences.
- The Guide – The part of me that loves to teach and help people grow. This part especially loves to express himself through writing and speaking.
- The A-Player – The part of me that enjoys being effective, efficient, and successful. He’s competent and confident. He doesn’t need praise or acknowledgement to function well, and negative criticism just bounces off of him. He trusts himself. And he especially likes to connect and work with other A-players.
- The Member – The part of me that loves to connect with interesting people, to volunteer, to be social, and to belong. This part of me served as President of a non-profit association, was active in Toastmasters, was a member of the Transformational Leadership Council, administered multiple successful discussion forums, and hosted public meet-ups in different cities.
- The Champion – The part of me that loves to eat healthy, exercise regularly, and pop out of bed well before dawn. This part loves to keep training to become stronger, faster, smarter. He ensures that I have abundant physical and mental energy.
- The Master – The part of me that loves to be in control. He has a strong need for order, structure, and neatness. He stays calm under pressure and is very good at managing his emotions. This part especially loves D/s play. He welcomes responsibility and likes to be in charge.
And here’s my revised list:
1. The Master (Strength & Power)
- likes to feel strong and powerful; likes to win, to do his best; likes to be fit; disciplined; has great ambitions; likes to be in charge; loves competence and efficiency; moves his vision forward
- keywords = power, strength, confidence, efficiency, success, productivity, self-reliance, prosperity, A-player, super achiever, champion, authority, leader, order, discipline, courage, honor, health, fitness, vitality
2. The Spark (Inspiration & Impact)
- loves to share impactful ideas and to wake people up; loves to inspire action and new directions; a human alarm clock; loves to be social and to interact; loves to speak; loves humor; loves to create original works (articles, books, products, music); wants to make a difference; acts on inspired ideas immediately
- keywords = inspiration, guidance, contribution, transformation, alarm clock, impact, speed, flow, humor, playfulness
3. The Angel (Honesty & Harmony)
- sees separateness as an illusion; feels harmoniously connected to all; must be vegan (will not harm animals); loves openness and open relationships; favors cooperation over competition; loves to give and to serve; eschews dishonesty, manipulation, and jealousy; wants to connect with the highest aspects of human beings
- keywords = oneness, honesty, connection, caring, compassion, generosity, service, openness, abundance, gratitude, appreciation, happiness, empathy, kindness, gracefulness, ease, lightness, forgiveness, trust
4. The Lover (Passion & Arousal)
- loves rich sensual experiences; appreciates beauty; loves to sing; enjoys being in love; loves Depeche Mode music; loves women, touch, affection, cuddling, massages; enjoys sex, threesomes, D/s play
- keywords = love, passion, sensuality, sexuality, affection, desire, lust, arousal, attraction, romance, devotion, beloved, lover, mate, inamorato, intimacy, joy
5. The Explorer (Freedom & Adventure)
- loves to explore and experiment; embraces new experiences; loves traveling; likes to be bold and daring; likes to stretch; loves Star Trek; loves freedom
- keywords = freedom, exploration, discovery, travel, independence, curiosity, wonder, awe, excitement, boldness, stimulation, adventure, mystery, growth, richness, freshness, novelty, immersion
6. The Monk (Insight & Growth)
- seeks understanding from within; enjoys solitude, quiet reflection, thoughtful analysis; likes to read, study, and contemplate; thinks things through carefully; likes to plan and strategize; enjoys meditation and journaling; loves to acquire new knowledge and skills; loves to grow through introspection
- keywords = insight, understanding, introspection, learning, study, meaning, clarity, focus, intelligence, reason, reflection, strategy, depth, thought, tuning in, intuition, soulfulness, awareness, peace
Understanding Internal Personality Conflicts
Now here’s where this exploration gets really interesting…
You’ll probably find as I did that many of your core personality aspects have the potential to conflict with each other. One aspect may pull you in one direction, while another may desire something entirely different.
With my list I could take just about any pairing of 2 of the 6 aspects, and it would be easy to find ways they could disagree with each other. Here are some examples.
Master vs. Spark – Master wants to work on a long-term project like a new workshop or audio program. Spark gets a quick inspired idea to share and needs to write it up and publish it that same day.
Master vs. Lover – Master wants to get up early and work. Lover wants to stay up late and play with someone’s breasts.
Spark vs. Angel – Spark wants to share a new idea. Angel doesn’t see the point in sharing since we’re all one anyway, and the idea just is.
Spark vs. Monk – Spark wants to share publicly. Monk wants to reflect privately.
Explorer vs. Monk – Explorer wants to go out, be extroverted, meet new people, and have new experiences. Monk wants to stay in and ponder his existence.
Lover vs. Explorer – Lover wants to deepen the connection with the same person. Explorer wants to have fresh experiences with new people.
I highly recommend you go through all the pairings of your own list and see what kinds of conflicts can arise. I anticipate that you’ll recognize many of the most classic internal conflicts you’ve had to deal with throughout your life. You’ll see some of the core inner conflicts that cause you to procrastinate, fail, or succumb to self-sabotage.
If you have n items on your list, then there are n x (n – 1) / 2 pairings to consider. So for 6 items like I have, that means 15 pairings to consider. This is very doable. If you go crazy and have 10 items on your list, then you have 45 pairings to consider, which is 3 times as many. So this is another reason to strive for a shorter list.
Now comes the fun part. The good news is that your personality aspects don’t have to fight with each other. They tend to fight when they act like islands unto themselves, but they’re also capable of working cooperatively as a team.
You’ll discover at various times that one aspect of your personality may be dominant over the other aspects. When one aspect assumes command, it may have the power and focus to push its own desires forward while disregarding the concerns of the other aspects. Neurologically you can imagine that the dominant aspect is currently being lit up with neural activity, while the other aspects remain dormant and inactive, like old memories you’re not currently thinking about. But at some point your brain will switch to a different mode, and some other aspect may become dominant.
For instance, while I’m writing this article, my Spark is clearly active, while the other aspects are a bit dimmer.
Problems occur when your different personality aspects aren’t well integrated and end up stepping on each others’ toes. This means that neurologically, you lack integrity. Your behavior may appear a bit schizophrenic at times. Sometimes you’re really disciplined, while other times you’re a lazy bum. Sometimes you’re very loving and caring, while other times you can be cold and callous. One part of you wants to lose weight, while another part is expressing a strong desire for junk food.
To create a more balanced and integrated personality, what we need to do is get your different personality aspects talking to each other. This means creating more links between these aspects in your brain, such that when you activate one aspect, the others are simultaneously activated too, although these secondary activations may not be quite as strong as the primary one.
This means that when you make decisions or set goals, your decisions will be more holistic. You’ll avoid situations where one aspect has the power to totally dominate the other aspects. Instead you’ll be able to invite all the core aspects of your personality to make better decisions together. All aspects will have a say in your decisions as a team, and so your decisions will meet less resistance when you try to implement them.
Your Mental Conference Room
The way I’ve been working on this is to consciously consult with each core aspect of my personality when I have a decision to make. I practice with simple decisions, and it gets easier the more I practice. Now I can mentally run through all the aspects in a minute or two.
I picture each personality aspect as a character in my mind’s eye. Then I imagine having a short conference with them to discuss what’s to be done.
For the Master, I imagine a sharp-looking guy wearing a suit. For my Explorer, I imagine an Indiana Jones character. For my Spark, I picture an early 20th century news reporter wearing a hat with a pencil tucked over his ear and a notepad in his hand. Get the idea?
To make it more fun, I picture these characters sitting around the shiny black table in the observation lounge from Star Trek: The Next Generation. I sit in the Captain’s chair and ask them to share their thoughts and opinions, just as Captain Picard would do in many episodes.
When there’s a disagreement, I let my characters debate with each other to see if they can reach a consensus. I play the moderator and make sure they treat each other with respect and that no character tries to dominate the others. Since these characters are all professionals, they’re able to work together as an effective team. Getting them to come to an agreement isn’t normally difficult — now that they’re all aware of each others’ existence.
What this does is cause the patch of neurons associated with each personality aspect to begin interlinking with each other, thereby forming new associative mental pathways. So these brain areas will physically form more connections than they had before. This really helps to smooth out the rough spots.
As a simple example, I can create a linkage between two items in your brain just by telling you what to visualize. Imagine a cat. Now imagine a baseball. Imagine the cat walking over to the baseball, picking it up with one of its paws, standing on its hind legs, winding up, and pitching the ball like a professional baseball pitcher. Run through that animation in your mind’s eye a couple more times.
Now if I ask you to think of that cat, you’ll probably automatically load in the baseball association too. Even if you don’t do this consciously, it’s definitely happening in your subconscious mind. Recent neural research has shown that the concept of a cat is actually stored in a specific physical location in your brain. The concept of a baseball will be stored in a different spot. By linking the two through visualization, even those a cat and a baseball may not normally be associated with each other, we can create new signal pathways through your brain, such that one thought automatically activates the other.
So by using a similar process to imagine your personality aspects interacting with each other, you will be creating new signal pathways from one area of your brain to another. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to grow new neurons. It just means that you’ll be changing the firing patterns of your existing neurons. Neurons can communicate across the brain both electrically and chemically.
Your personality aspects are mental concepts that are stored in specific patches of neurons in your brain, but those patches may not be interacting with each other very tightly. If the linkages are too loose or practically nonexistent, you will have trouble maintaining integrity in your decisions. You’ll have issues like not being able to access your self-discipline when you’re craving junk food. But if you strengthen those linkages, then your personality aspects will activate together, so the disciplined part of you will always have a voice when the indulgent part of you is active.
Through this process I’ve been training my brain to look for greater synergies between these personality aspects. Now when one aspect tries to dominate the others, it doesn’t work. The other aspects get activated immediately instead of remaining dormant, and they chime in with their opinions, which can’t be ignored.
The result is that my brain has figured out that it must integrate all these different core personality aspects to work together and make decisions as a team.
I can see that this approach is having an interesting effect on how I live my life. My decisions are becoming less “spiky” in the sense that no single aspect is allowed to be dominant to such a degree that it can overrule all the other aspects. I may end up doing fewer 30-day trials this way, but the ones that I do undertake may be more likely to stick and more aligned with all of my core personality aspects. I may also be less inclined to write the occasional snarky and sarcastic article since now the Angel gets a say whenever the Spark wants to write, so I feel motivated to write with a more compassionate voice. This may take some getting used to.
Respecting Your Selves
Another step I found helpful was to review every personality aspect and to consider what good it has done for me. Do I respect each aspect, or are there some aspects I’d rather do without? I think it’s important to be able to respect every aspect on your life. Otherwise it indicates that you’re resisting some part of yourself.
I realized that I felt a deep appreciation for every aspect on my list. All of them have helped me in different ways throughout my life. These aspects have become a part of who I am, and I wouldn’t want to shed any of them.
The Master helped me start and build successful businesses and create multiple streams of income that allow me to fulfill my purpose without worrying about how I’ll pay the bills. He also helped me turn my life around when I was younger and kept getting arrested. Without him my life would be a lot more chaotic.
The Spark enabled me to write millions of words of free content, to give speeches, and to create workshops. He continues to serve as an everlasting fountain of fresh ideas. And based on the feedback I receive each day, other people really seem to appreciate him too.
The Angel helped me go vegan and also motivated me to uncopyright my articles and podcasts, so that others may share them, translate them, and republish them freely. He also drove me to explore subjective reality as well as open relationships. The Angel gives me a sense of inner peace and connectedness. I never feel alone when I access this part of myself.
The Lover encourages me to indulge in rich sensory delights and to enjoy the many luscious adventures of love, intimacy, and sexuality. Rachelle really likes connecting with this part of me.
The Explorer gets me out of the house to travel. He also motivates me to keep experimenting, especially with 30-day trials. He’s excited about going to New York City next week.
The Monk helped me wake up and escape the confines of Catholicism, which may seem ironical since monks are typically associated with religion. I actually chose this label partly for the irony since I want this aspect to have a sense of humor too. He keeps me on a path of conscious growth and self-discovery, even when it requires going against the grain. Without him I might still be chewing wafers every Sunday.
If you can find something valuable to consciously appreciate in each core aspect of your personality, you’ll find it easier to become a person of integrity whose aspects work together as an integrated team.
In the past I often stubbornly tried to push one aspect of my personality into the forefront while ignoring the others. For instance, I’d go into work mode and try to keep the Master and/or the Spark dominant, while basically telling the other aspects to shut up.
Be quiet, Explorer. We’ll travel later.
Hush, Lover. Let’s finish this project first.
Sorry… no journaling, Monk. We have real work to do today.
I always had limited results with that approach. It can work for short bursts, but it’s not very sustainable in the long run. Eventually those dominated aspects start pushing back, and when they do so, it’s easy to become overrun with strong impulsive feelings as they force themselves to the surface.
I’m getting better results by trying to incorporate these aspects on a daily basis. So each day I endeavor to express all core aspects of my personality in some way. That isn’t always realistic, but I can at least consult and listen to every aspect each day to give them all the chance to be heard. When these aspects are heard and acknowledged, they’re more likely to cooperate with each other. They seem to function very much like teams of human beings. When some members of the team feel their needs aren’t being acknowledged, they’re more likely to check out and sabotage the rest of the team.
This is turning out to be a really interesting path of development. I feel like it’s smoothing out the rough edges in my life while simultaneously making life both more productive and more fun.
Just as you can consider the pairings of your different aspects in terms of how they might create conflict, you can also consider each pairing for the potential to cooperate and synergize.
Master + Spark – Master and Spark can cooperate on a long-term project. In the past the Master has tried to control projects in a top-down manner and delegate the creative bits to the Spark, but the Spark doesn’t work like that. The Spark needs to have a more active role in determining what content to create. Afterwards the Master can edit that content to make it fit together well. The Spark is a fountain of inspired ideas, but he can’t inject inspiration into a rigid outline created by the Master. By respecting the limitations of the Spark, the Master can play to the Spark’s strengths instead of exposing his weaknesses.
Master + Lover – Master and Lover can work together to create a better work-play balance that combines productivity and fun. For example, both of them love speaking and doing workshops, which is technically work but feels like play.
Spark + Angel – Spark can express ideas with a better oneness-alignment, striving to be more caring and compassionate in his writing.
Spark + Monk – Monk’s private reflections can be channeled into new ideas and articles for Spark to share publicly.
Explorer + Monk – When I’m in extroverted Explorer mode, I can set aside some time to reflect upon my experiences, so Monk has a chance to add more meaning to my memories. Just 30 minutes of solitude a few times a week would do the trick.
Lover + Explorer – I can share my explorations with my partner, such as by traveling together. So my Explorer connects with hers.
Again, this sort of process will help strengthen the neurological links between your different personality aspects, essentially getting them to activate each other automatically when one of them gets activated. Over time this approach can help you develop a more holistic, refined, and internally congruent personality.
Instead of thinking in terms of the individual parts, or having one aspect trying to dominate the others at different times, all of your parts can make decisions together as a unit. This includes big decisions like what goals to set as well as small decisions like how to spend your weekend.
The benefit to using this approach is that you’ll be able to make decisions more intelligently and consistently, and you’ll find it easier to feel motivated to follow through on your decisions because those decisions will be a more holistic expression of the real you.
I’ve been getting great results with this for the past few weeks, so I encourage you to give it a try. It’s actually a lot of fun to work with.
One final suggestion is that if you’re in a relationship, invite your partner to create and share their list with you as well. Rachelle and I have been working on this together lately, and I definitely feel it’s bringing us closer. It’s gives us the opportunity to consciously acknowledge why we like each other so much. At a glance we can see how we’re alike and where we can stretch each other. She emailed me a revised version of her list earlier today, and she seems pretty excited about it, so I’m going to read that next. Perhaps when she’s satisfied with her list, I can convince her to let me share it here as well, in the hopes that it may give you some additional Sparks of insight.