Personality is a complicated subject—the facets that help define who you are and determine what makes you tick are completely individual, as no two people are exactly alike. But personality psychologists have been working for decades to better define personality, and according to Dr. Chris Friesen, Ph.D., C.Psych., BCN, and the Director of Friesen Sport and Performance Psychology, statistical techniques have narrowed personality into five global dimensions. These include:
- Negative Emotions: How susceptible a person is to negative emotions and stress
- Extraversion: How much a person can tolerate external stimulation
- Openness: How open a person is to change and new experiences
- Agreeableness: A person's attitude, including friendliness or likeability, toward others
- Motivation: How much motivation and self-control a person exerts
While Friesen emphasizes that there's no distinct "fitness personality," each of these five dimensions of personality can influence the type of exercise that's best suited for you. Of course, given that each dimension is independent of the other dimensions, your unique combination may lead you to choose a form of exercise that is "unusual" for a particular dimension of your personality, but that doesn't make it wrong.
"Knowing yourself is important," Friesen says. "If you know—and accept—that you're high or low on negative emotions or extraversion, you can learn to use it as a lever to help you achieve your goals."
Extraverts: Social Fitness Experiences
According to Friesen, individuals who rate high on the extraversion dimension tend to be outgoing, energetic, and attracted to excitement and stimulation—they tend to feel positive emotions intensely.
On the other hand, those who rate low on extraversion (those who rate high on introversion), tend to be reserved, serious, and comfortable working alone. Introverts are slower to experience or show much positive emotion.
Generally speaking, most people fall somewhere on the spectrum between the two but tend to be inclined toward one or the other. "From a neuroscience perspective, you can think of this dimension as external stimulation tolerance," Friesen says. "If you're high on extraversion, you will need to match your day-to-day environment with your need for external stimulation. This suggests that extraverts would be more attracted to fitness opportunities that involve social interaction, are high-paced, goal-oriented, or result in positive emotional rewards."
If You Need: External stimulation
Introverts: Solo Fitness Experiences
According to Friesen, introverts rate low on the extraversion scale and tend to view potential environmental rewards, such as food, sex, social interaction, or money, with a lower dopamine response—they're just not as necessary or attractive.
"If you're introverted, you rarely feel bored when alone or when doing things that may seem boring to an outside observer, especially those who are high on extraversion," Friesen says. "If you get too much stimulation from external sources, you're predisposed to feel uncomfortable or overstimulated."
This basically means you need to manage how much external stimulation you receive on a day-to-day basis, and from a fitness standpoint, it means that you may be drawn to solo forms of exercise. "If the fitness routine is highly social, fast-paced, or highly stimulating, introverts are at risk for dropping out if they're already getting enough (or too much) stimulation in their work or home life," Friesen says.
Of course, this is a true "know thyself" conundrum, because depending on life circumstances, introverts may actually need more external stimulation. For instance, Friesen explains that an introvert who works from home may not get enough external stimulation from work or home life, and may be inclined to seek out exercise experiences that offer social interaction.
If this describes your situation, you may want to consider workout routines typically preferred by those who rate higher in the extraversion dimension.
Highly Open to New Experiences: Constant Change
A person's tendency to be open to experiences is another "sliding scale" dimension of personality that can affect fitness preferences. Essentially, those who rate high on openness tend to be creative, imaginative, curious, and willing to try new and exotic things, while those who rate lower on the scale tend to be down-to-earth, practical, focused, traditional, and clear on beliefs about right and wrong.
According to Friesen, the higher you rank on openness, the more likely you are to approach the world around you with an almost childlike wonder and curiosity.
It should come as no surprise, then, that individuals ranking high on openness do better when testing a wide variety of fitness opportunities. "You'll stay most motivated when you change your training routine often, or when you get to tweak your workout by adding new exercises or working out in different environments," Friesen says. "You'll also probably be more open to the latest workout trend, or the latest gadget or app to track your workouts."
If You Need: Change to keep you excited
Not Very Open to New Experiences: A Consistent Routine
On the other hand, if you rank lower on openness, you probably crave repetition and practicality. "You'll feel most motivated with a no-fluff or no-nonsense exercise regimen that you can learn and then repeatedly put into action," Friesen says, adding that you're likely to enjoy working with a trusted trainer or coach to follow a tried-and-true exercise routine.
If You Need: Consistency
Good Attitude Toward Others: Group Activities
"Agreeableness is a basic personality tendency which dictates your general attitude toward others," Friesen says. The more agreeable you are, the more trusting, open, altruistic, cooperative and sympathetic you tend to be. The less agreeable you are, the more skeptical, guarded, self-protective, competitive, and tough-minded you tend to be.
As with the other dimensions of personality, there's not a "right" or "wrong" tendency. The thing to keep in mind, though, is that agreeableness is different from extraversion. It's completely possible to be agreeable but introverted, or disagreeable and extroverted.
"If you're high on agreeableness, you'll likely do well in team environments, given your tendency to trust and get along well with others," Friesen says.
And if you're also extraverted, you're probably well-liked and popular in such social environments.
If You: Get along well with others
Skeptical Toward Others: Competitive Individual Sports
Those who rank lower on agreeableness may be contrary, and competitive, and completely comfortable expressing opinions and disagreements. "You're probably skeptical of others' intentions and pride yourself on your ability to read people, especially their motives," Friesen says. "You probably love to win given your attraction to competition, which makes exercise routines where winning is based on individual performance an ideal fit."
How You Rank on Negative Emotions Can Affect Goal-Setting
The negative emotions continuum is a little harder to conceptualize, but it plays a role in influencing goal-setting behaviors. "Being high on negative emotions can be thought of as being sensitive to punishment," Friesen says. "In other words, you're not big on taking risks. Your goals and your decisions are likely based on preventing negative things from happening."
From a fitness standpoint, this may mean that you're motivated to do the bare minimum to reduce the likelihood of experiencing a heart attack or developing type II diabetes. "This can lead you to rarely pushing yourself or setting goals that are too safe. Big achievements rarely occur with this type of prevention focus," Friesen says.
Falling on the other side of the spectrum—being low on negative emotions—can also shape your fitness goals. "If you're low on this dimension and high on extraversion, you'll tend to be sensitive to rewards and insensitive to punishment. You're more likely to take risks and not sweat the small stuff," Friesen says. "Coming up with big goals is easy and likely more motivating for you, but you may underestimate the risks and hard work involved in achieving your goals."
Likewise, if you're low on negative emotions and low on extraversion, you're likely to be motivated by thinking of positive gains achieved from taking action. For instance, how you'll feel when you get healthy or fit as a result of your new workout behaviors.
If You: Tend to do the bare minimum to reduce the risk of negative outcomes
Try: Working with a trainer or coach to set bigger goals
If You: Tend to set goals that are too big without considering the challenge
How You Rank on Motivation Can Affect Your Need for Assistance
It should come as no surprise that individuals who tend to be highly self-motivated are better at sticking to a regimented workout routine than those who aren't as motivated. Those who tend to fall short on the motivation spectrum need to think carefully about their reasons for starting a workout routine to help bolster their commitment.
Practically speaking, it's important to be honest with yourself about your motivation levels when choosing a form of exercise. For instance, individuals ranking low on motivation probably won't have a whole lot of success following a self-led, home-based workout routine. There are simply too many distractions and reasons not to follow through.
On the other hand, those who are highly self-motivated may be perfectly capable of finding a workout plan online and following it on their own. They just need to be a little careful about not going overboard—highly motivated individuals are more inclined to approach goals with a "take no prisoners" mentality that has the potential to overtake their lives.