The jelly to my peanut butter

On our first date, Fred and I discovered that we were both INTJs, one of 16 personalities in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Hooray – we could understand each other perfectly!

Well, not really. Six years later, it turns out we aren’t as similar as we originally thought. It’s been a process of “I don’t get why…” and “Wait, what are you doing?” and “Huh, really?”

Here are all the differences we’ve discovered – so far. Maybe you recognize some in your relationship.

1. I’m theoretical; he’s practical. I want to figure out problems; he wants to go out and solve them. We both like learning and creating, but my prominent mode is thinking and his is acting.

2. I like routine; he likes variety. Yes, I’m ordering the sushi for the fifth time this month – I’d get it every day if I could. And yes, I want to go to another cafe this weekend.

3. I plan; he’s spontaneous – at least in the realm of leisure. As we’re enjoying an activity, my brain already goes to what we’re doing next, what’s for dinner, and when we should leave. Fred’s a fan of “just-in-time thinking.”

4. I judge; he explores. Even though we’re both Js, Fred is much more open to new ideas than me. He reminds me to keep an open mind and not be so critical so fast when someone (including him) expresses an idea I disagree with.

5. My instinct is to follow rules; his is to question them. Small case in point: the pool at our hotel supposedly closes at 7:30 pm, but we wanted to swim later. Fred said we should just do it; I wanted to ask permission. (We ended up asking, and getting permission.) Fred makes me more flexible when I realize some rules are dumb.

6. I’m risk-averse; he’s risk-tolerant. When Fred decided to venture through malaria land on a bus, I had to grit my teeth – and stay home. When I paid $1,000 for a rabies vaccine, he was the one gritting his teeth.

7. My mood is variable; his is consistently positive. I’m happy when Fred’s mood rubs off on me, but I’ve had to assure him that it’s okay for me to feel down sometimes.

8. I work constantly in moderation; he works in spurts in excess. I can do 9-5 all year; Fred prefers binge working for six months then taking a break. I had to learn that those breaks weren’t lazy or unproductive; they were a needed counterbalance and recharge.

9. I abstain; he indulges. I have to sit by while Fred eats many small desserts throughout the week; he has to resist the urge to tell me to “live a little.” (And I do – just once a week.)

Recognizing these things was the first step. Next is actually, genuinely, wholeheartedly believing that your partner is entitled to their own approach. You may think you accept something, then discover rogue thoughts and feelings in your head when the difference comes up. It’s a process – so why not celebrate your differences this Valentine’s Day?

Mur des Je T'Aime

A little mind trick to stop negativity

stop negativity I’ve recently become a subscriber to Headspace’s guided meditation app (hugely recommended), and I love the way Andy Puddicombe sets you up for a meditation. After you remind yourself of your personal reason for meditating, he asks you to reflect on the people in your life who could benefit from a happier, calmer you.

That might be your family, or your friends; it might even be the cashier at the grocery store. The point is to realize how your mood affects others, and give yourself a little extra boost of motivation to stick with the practice.

I think this same trick can be applied to pull yourself out of a negative mood, something I have lots of difficulty with. Something bad happens, a rush of negativity washes in, and I literally don’t feel strong enough to resist it. The world has been unfair to me; why should I have to put in extra effort to be positive on top of that? Sometimes I gather my facial muscles into a smile, but it doesn’t take long for my real emotions to peek through. I know being negative isn’t helping the situation; I know I’m wasting precious moments of my life; but being positive just feels impossible.

One night this sort of thing happened, and someone close to me looked into my eyes with a face of pain and sadness. I saw that my negativity was spreading – as negativity does – and I immediately stopped. I felt terrible. I literally said, “Fine, I’ll be happy” (and in my head added, “for you”).

For me at least, the desire to be positive isn’t yet strong enough to overcome negativity. But love is. Love, and wanting someone else to be happy, and not wanting to cause them pain. So when you’re feeling negative, try looking into the faces of those around you and asking yourself if you want to bring them unhappiness.

And this works both ways: if someone around you is negative, you can try to subtly appeal to their feelings for you. I have a relative who is often negative, and sometimes I’ll say, “I’ve had a stressful week and I really want to relax – can we just be positive?”

That said, I call this a “trick” because I don’t think it’s a long-term strategy. Friends and family can come and go, and you don’t want your motivation for self-improvement to go with them. And you definitely don’t want to become resentful of them for not appreciating all the hard emotional work you’re doing – “I’m doing this for you!” – when in fact you’re just making yourself happier.

But as a quick fix, it can train your brain that it is possible to be positive. It can help you see and experience – not just “know” intellectually – that positivity is the better path. And in the future, it can give you the strength to be positive for your own sake.

Photo by Flickr user PhineasX