Every now and then I read a little on the subject of psychology. I think it stems back to when I was about 18 and I read The Road Less Traveled by M Scott Peck. I probably need to reread it as I only really remember the main themes (something about relationships requiring effort, and delaying gratification, right?), but one of the most fascinating concepts the book introduced me to is the idea that our subconscious and unconscious minds do most of the work of the brain, compared to the conscious mind – our thought processes – that actually do very little.
The best tip I ever learned for doing exams at school came from one of my physics teachers – he said to read all the questions before you start answering anything, because that will set your subconscious mind working and by the time you get to the later questions the answers will spring to mind. It’s like when someone asks you a question and you can’t for the life of you think of the answer, like ‘Who sung that song, Spaceman?’ or ‘Which actor stars in Snakes on a Plane?’, but then 5 or 10 minutes later when you’re talking about something else you’ll suddenly remember (it’s Babylon Zoo and Samuel L Jackson if you were wondering, wouldn’t want to distract you now). Where was the information? Well it must have been stored away in the brain somewhere but it takes a little bit of subconscious effort for the brain to retrieve it.
Some people read and learn about psychology so they can help other people, and understanding other people can be helpful in business and other walks of life too. For me personally I’m not so interested in that, the main reason I like reading about psychology is so I can understand myself better. Know Thyself, as they say. Several years back I read a book called The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney, and it made so much sense to me as an introvert – there have been many times, especially at work or with friends, where I’ve felt out of place, or found some jobs challenging or draining that others find easy, but when I learnt about introversion it no longer worried me and I was able to pick a career path that better suited me.
More recently I’ve been reading a book called Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller which has been something of a revelation also, but maybe I’ll come back to that another time (I’m still reading it!). I suppose I also really ought to read some Freud, and Jung, but all in good time.
The Myers-Briggs Personality Types
A few years back my then manager introduced me to the Myers-Briggs personality test. I’d never heard of it but I went away and read about it. There are 16 personality types according to this test, and it turns out I’m of the INTJ type – a relatively small group of people that makes up about 2% of the population. Interestingly, it has been noted elsewhere that INTJs make up a larger proportion of those attracted to financial independence and/or retiring early. Why might that be? Well first, let’s have a look at what it means to be INTJ. So here I’ve shamelessly copied from Wikipedia:
I – Introversion preferred to extraversion: INTJs tend to be quiet and reserved. They generally prefer interacting with a few close friends rather than a wide circle of acquaintances, and they expend energy in social situations (whereas extroverts gain energy).
N – Intuition preferred to sensing: INTJs tend to be more abstract than concrete. They focus their attention on the big picture rather than the details and on future possibilities rather than immediate realities.
T – Thinking preferred to feeling: INTJs tend to value objective criteria above personal preference or sentiment. When making decisions they generally give more weight to logic than to social considerations.
J – Judgement preferred to perception: INTJs tend to approach life in a structured way, planning and organising their world to achieve their goals.
I remember doing the test with my ex-girlfriend and finding out she was an ESFJ, basically the complete opposite of me apart from the fact we’re both very judgemental. Ha! In any case I don’t think it matters if your partner is completely different, I would guess the types can complement each other and they don’t necessarily lead to arguments, though it probably helps to understand each other better.
So what does being an INTJ mean in practice, and what does it mean for FIRE? Well there is a very good explanation of what an INTJ is here:
But here’s a sentence that FIRE enthusiasts might relate to:
“A paradox to most observers, INTJs are able to live by glaring contradictions that nonetheless make perfect sense – at least from a purely rational perspective. For example, INTJs are simultaneously the most starry-eyed idealists and the bitterest of cynics, a seemingly impossible conflict. But this is because INTJ types tend to believe that with effort, intelligence and consideration, nothing is impossible, while at the same time they believe that people are too lazy, short-sighted or self-serving to actually achieve those fantastic results. Yet that cynical view of reality is unlikely to stop an interested INTJ from achieving a result they believe to be relevant.”
Whenever I’ve tried introducing the concept of FIRE to someone I always get met with the same sort of resistance – ‘Oh it’s not possible’, or ‘Perhaps but if my net worth was £x I’d want to spend it all’, or ‘But what would you do with your time’ – and so on and so on. And I have considered all these responses, but that hasn’t stopped me from aiming to retire early. It really does take a kind of idealism on the one hand, and a strategic, analytic focus on the other, and to outsiders it probably seems a bit obsessive, perhaps crazy even. You have to be fairly independent of mind to take on and commit to FIRE, after all it goes against the social norm of retiring around 65 (60 is considered early in this country).
Often called The Mastermind, INTJs have some big strengths (this list is stolen from www.16personalities.com where there is a lot more information):
- Quick, Imaginative and Strategic Mind
- High Self-Confidence
- Independent and Decisive
- Hard-working and determined
However they also have glaring weaknesses:
- Overly analytical
- Loathe highly structured environments
- Clueless in romance
I always find it amusing reading through these lists and going ‘check, check, check…’ Clueless in romance is definitely true of me, here is another apt quote from the above website:
“Needless to say, finding a compatible partner is the most significant challenge most INTJs will face in life.”
True dat, as they say.
I’d be interested to know what the actual breakdown is of personality types in the FIRE community. They can’t all be INTJs surely. I wouldn’t be surprised if ENTJs are quite common also, as I don’t really think that the extraversion/introversion axis makes much difference to whether someone commits to FIRE. But in terms of the other groupings… Well let’s have a look at them:
Extraversion (E) vs Introversion (I) – As mentioned above I don’t think being extraverted or introverted would make any difference to someone’s likelihood to aim for FIRE or not. Having said that, the extravert would probably need to substitute the social aspect of work for something else in retirement, so I could see extraverts reaching early retirement and then deciding it isn’t for them, at least, not until their friends have caught up.
Sensing (S) vs Intuition (N) – I suppose it’s possible to be a Sensing FIRE enthusiast, say if you knew someone who’d FIREd or seen good evidence firsthand of its possibility. You probably get a lot of people who retire at say 55 or 60 being Sensing types because they’ve seen others do it and know it’s possible. But for those that aim for a very early retirement in their 30s or 40s, then I’d say FIRE is an abstract concept, a mathematical extrapolation, and as such I would guess most FIRE enthusiasts would be of the Intuitive type.
Thinking (T) vs Feeling (F) – I would guess that Feeling types don’t usually decide to try and retire early, and if they do end up retiring early it’s because they already had strong values of frugality and/or saving that naturally lead them to the same end state. The Thinking type on the other hand makes decisions based on logic, and employs an analytical, detached approach. Which to me makes perfect sense for committing to something like FIRE, once you’ve analysed it and understand the theory then the decision has already been made – it’s obviously a good idea.
Judgement (J) vs Perception (P) – The Judgemental type plan out and structure their lives, exactly the qualities of a FIRE enthusiast. Keeping a budget, tracking your spend or net worth, these are the sorts of things the Judgemental type naturally gravitate towards and these are also some of the main steps one will usually take when progressing towards FIRE. Those with the Perception personality type are more inclined to go with the flow, and respond to situations as they arise, which doesn’t sound like a FIRE enthusiast to me.
So what to conclude? Well if you start trying to explain the concept of FIRE to a Feeling or Perceptive personality type your words will probably fall on deaf ears. Likewise the Sensing type unless you can show them enough evidence to convince them it’s possible. Having said all that, there are always exceptions to the rule, and everyone has their own life story that has lead them down a particular path, so I wouldn’t rule out any particular personality type, it’s just that some are more likely than others.
Having said all that, I did find a survey of people either retired early or interested in early retirement – here’s the link. The sample size isn’t massive so I’d be hesitant to draw too many conclusions but it does seem to show some pretty stark results. Firstly, 90% of respondents were introverted (introverts usually make up about 28% of a population). Secondly it seems the main groups are INTJs, ISTJs, and INTPs. Perhaps the ISTJs are convinced by the weight of evidence mentioned above. I’m a little surprised to see so many INTPs in there, though it looks like not so many of them actually make it to early retirement so perhaps that’s the lack of planning taking effect.
I’d be very interested actually, if anyone is reading this what your personality type is? And if you are of the Feeling (F) or Perceptive (P) tendencies how did you become attached to the concept of FIRE? You can take the personality test here:
Oh and also, Happy New Year!