Like all personality types, ISTJs have certain traits that can be more of a hindrance than a help in life. Here are three resolutions that ISTJs can make to rein in these negative characteristics over the coming year:
1. Pledge to pause before passing judgment.
The “J” in ISTJ stands for Judging, and boy do we ever embrace that trait. Since ISTJs are all about order and duty, we’re quick to judge anyone we believe is willfully ignoring the laws and facts that we cherish. Now there aren’t many things that get ISTJs riled up, but dealing with people who seem to stand in opposition to our core values is one of those things. Our natural reaction in these situations is to lay down the law and make the other party follow it, with no room for compromise. This may lead us to not listen to what our “opponent” is really saying. The end result is often a poorly resolved situation and hurt feelings, neither of which is ideal.
It has taken me years to learn that the best way to counter this automatic response is to pause before passing judgement. Because ISTJs are usually as cool as cucumbers, we don’t have as much experience as other types in keeping high emotions from interfering with our thought processes. We require time and distance before the fog of war clears from our minds. So whether you’re faced with a client contesting an invoice or a troublesome new neighbor, give yourself those requirements. Remove yourself from the situation for a few minutes, hours, or even days, and let your emotions settle.
When you’ve returned to your rational self, you may see that there are facts you forgot or overlooked in your righteous rage. You might discover that there is wiggle room in the rules themselves. Sometimes you’ll even find yourself thinking things through from the other person’s perspective and understanding why their interpretation differs from yours. Even if this doesn’t lead to a different final ruling, whoever you’re squared off against will appreciate that you took time to make a levelheaded decision.
2. Schedule more spontaneity into your life.
Scheduling and spontaneity. The two are antonyms, opposites, mortal foes. But Hollywood rom-coms aren’t always indulging in pure fantasy when they throw together an all-about-the-details attorney and a laid-back surfer type. We all need to embrace a certain amount of each trait to get maximum enjoyment from our lives.
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Unfortunately ISTJs don’t do well with spontaneity. Not only do we not embrace it, we give it the cold shoulder. This makes it difficult for us to appreciate what a little spontaneity can provide, from new experiences and wider perspectives to plain old fun. Our natural tendency is to avoid the unexpected through scheduling. If we want more whimsy in our lives, we have to use this strength to tackle our weakness.
So how does one schedule spontaneity? The answer depends on your comfort level. If unplanned events give you goosebumps, start out small. Invite a friend out for a last minute lunch anywhere they want to eat. No matter how unknown or unlike you their choice is, you’re eating there. No arguments, no griping. This method is particularly useful if your friend is the adventurous sort.
Ready for level two? Make a list of things you enjoy doing that don’t involve much planning. Examples might be reading a book or going to the zoo. Cut each activity out, fold the paper strips, and put them in an empty bowl. Schedule a few hours each week for “spontaneous time.” At the beginning of every week, blind-draw one strip. Do whatever activity it says, then throw the strip away so you can’t re-draw it.
If you’re past the point where an unexpected menu or an unknown activity is a challenge, go bigger. On the Thursday before a long weekend, pull up a flight aggregator like Skyscanner and search for tickets to “everywhere.” This will give you a list of destinations by price. Pick one that you’re unfamiliar with and click “buy.” Then, stop researching. Don’t book a hotel. Don’t talk about your trip with people at work the next day. Don’t spend your lunch break on TripAdvisor. Just get on your plane and go. Use what you learn on the ground to decide where to stay and what to do while you’re there. You can’t get much more spontaneous than that.
3. Learn to say no.
As I explained in my recent article, “An Open Letter to ISTJs on the Dangers of Obligation,” folks of our personality type can easily overschedule themselves. Letting go of old commitments and refusing new ones is the only sure way to keep this inherent trait operating at a healthy level. Unfortunately it’s a difficult task, and one that may well take you all year to complete. But the rewards—free time, sanity, and a renewed sense of control over your life—are well worth the effort.
A good way to ease yourself into letting obligations go is to use what I call the “Three S” method. The stages are: step back, survey, and start small. First, step back from your schedule. Print out a blank calendar and write down all the things you “have” to do each day, whether it’s a one-off like attending a company event or a daily activity like household chores or taking the kids to practice.
Now add up all that time that those things require. After you add in necessities like sleeping and eating, how many hours are left in your day for you? Remember that the “I” at the beginning of ISTJ stands for “introvert.” You need time to recharge, and the odds are good that you’re not getting enough of it.
Next, survey yourself. Which three things on your schedule are the most important to you? Which three things are second tier in importance? Make a list, then add up how much time your necessities plus your top six obligations require. How many extra hours would you have in the average day if you scrapped everything below that?
If the idea of defaulting on a half dozen or more obligations has you hyperventilating, stay calm. Keep in mind that step three is start small. Look at the commitments you listed as low importance. Your task over the next few months is to extricate yourself from them.
Don’t worry; you can go slow. Some things, like planning a birthday party, will have natural expiration dates. Just try to scale down your involvement until they end. For indefinite activities, like serving on the Parent-Teacher Association, you may need to create an expiration date yourself and inform anyone who will be affected. Prepare yourself mentally for your departure. Guilt is every ISTJ’s hurdle in a task like this, and transitioning away from commitments rather than dropping them cold will reduce that emotion.
When you’re done with the lowest priority items, tackle the next level. As you’re paring down your commitments, take care not to add new ones. The goal is to reclaim your time, not just to reapportion it to some new task. If someone offers an activity that you’re truly interested in, consider it the next time you step back and survey. Where would the new commitment fall in your priorities? What would you have to give up so you could participate without losing any of your hard-earned free time? Once you’ve considered those things, you can make an informed decision. Repeat the steps of the Three S method regularly, and you’ll be on your way to a balanced schedule.
None of these resolutions will be easy, but good resolutions never are. When you feel faint of heart, remind yourself that you’re an ISTJ. You’re a dedicated planner who sees things through to the end. These resolutions don’t stand a chance against you.
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