Temperament VI, Players: Challenges and Opportunities

This is the sixth in a series of blogs on “temperament,” which is the primary way we understand personality differences in people. Previous blogs have summarized the four temperaments as we seen them: player, analyst, lover, and caretakers. The primary ingredient of a player is his or her desire for experience. You might want to review the player blog (Temperament II) for more information on how players feel, think and operate in life.

Players are loved or hated. They will be entertain you or offend you. They bring much joy and fun to the world, which is their special gift but they get into more difficulties in life than all the other temperaments combined. The difficulties are sometimes of their own making and sometimes from the negative reaction that they so often get from people who simply may not want to play all the time. Our North American culture has long neglected players, and the play they bring to the world. Worse yet, players have been truly despised because of the offense they bring to people, always unintentional. Their cavalier nature leads them to their being judged as irresponsible, disrespectful, or dangerous. Male players are seen as playboys who just want to get all they can from people, while female players are seen as wild women who abandon respectability and responsibility. This judgmental attitude toward players has not helped players mature. It has made them defensive. Worse yet, the offense that players so often give has prevented them from successfully giving to the world what it so desperately needs: fun and joy.

It would be wonderful if players were able to bring to the culture the element of play so as to enhance society and improve society, just as it would be equally wonderful for the world to profit from the gifts that analysts, caretakers, and analysts have for the world. The key for players to succeed in life is for them to understand themselves, value themselves, and successfully communicate themselves. Understanding, valuing, and communicating is a challenge for anyone, but it is hardest for players because they don’t put much effort in communicating. They just engage, experience and excite assuming that their audience will understand their intention to bring fun to the world. For players, fun and the joy that comes with it is what life is about. It is only through painful maturity that players are able to be themselves and find ways to use their gifts, a maturity that many players fail to find. But when players find ways to be themselves while also understanding people of different temperaments, they can be at their best.

Challenges for players

  1. The Boredom Challenge.

Because of their strong inclination towards excitement, players are very inclined to become bored. They are especially bored with anything that is repetitive, largely because something that is repeated is not new. Since so much of normal life requires people to do things repetitively, it can be difficult for players to simply do much of what we consider to be normal and necessary. Players are at their worst when there is nothing new to a procedure, nothing new to a day, or nothing new to an hour. A player’s mantra is something like, “If I have seen it before, heard it before, or done it before, it is boring to see it, hear it, or do it again.” While players can’t tolerate most things that are truly repetitive, they can repeat things that offer some opportunity for change.

When players have not had enough of the new, exciting, and different, they can fall in a boredom so severe that they are depressed. Because their basic nature is so excitement-oriented and based on something new or temporarily different, they are psychologically depleted when they are forced to do the routine and repetitive. They can even become disoriented in life and become quite self-critical thinking that they should be able to do what everyone else seems to be able to do. When players have been in situations that are intrinsically boring to them, they can say or do things that are quite inappropriate or even harmful because they are desperate to get out of their boredom.

  1. The Academic Challenge

Players generally find school to be boring. At least traditional school. The academic challenge is huge for players. School, as we typically know it, is not designed for players. The very nature of sitting in a class for an hour with a teacher lecturing is unnatural for players because it is not experiential and certainly not exciting and adventuresome. Fortunately, alternative schools and online classes have begun to remedy some of this difficulty giving players and other nontraditional students a way to learn. Even so, very nature of the traditional American learning environment does not serve players. Players are usually right brained. We also know that there are many ways of learning, specifically by hearing, seeing, and doing. These ways of learning are usually called auditory (words), visual (seeing), and kinesthetic (hands-on). Most of traditional classrooms focus on hearing and its cognates: writing, reading, and speaking. Ninety percent of school has to do with words, whether spoken, written, or read despite the fact that most people learn by doing (kinesthetic) or watching (visual). Players tend to be in this group.

Players actually learn quite well if they are given a chance to learn the way they learn. Simply put, they need to see things and to touch things. If we would allow for these ways of learning, players would fare much better. But it is no easy challenge for teachers and school administrators to find ways to help player children learn, and ultimately get excited about learning, if learning is going to be primarily words-based. The typical player kid enters a classroom ready to experience something, either personally by engaging physically in the activity or vicariously by seeing someone else engaged in the activity. Consider how hard it would be to teach Shakespeare to a player child who doesn’t necessarily want to learn Shakespearian words, but might be able to really grasp Shakespeare if she could be on the stage. Puck comes to mind again.

My wife, now a PhD psychologist, barely passed classes until late in her High School years when she took a psychology class and got her first academic A. Some of her difficulty in learning was due to the trauma associated with an abusive home life, but much of it was because of her player nature that made traditional learning difficult. Not until college did she learn that she could read well if she read out loud, read while walking, or read while she was signing (American Sign Language). She was liberated by simply having the privilege to roam hallways and city blocks with text books in hand. Player kids need to read a paragraph, get up and do a jig, and then read two paragraphs before looking at the leaves falling outside. If they are allowed this privilege of multi-focusing and multi-tasking, they can read the whole chapter and then the whole book, something Deb does routinely these days. The challenge is for parents and teachers to give players an environment that enhances their ways of learning without indulging their whims and wishes. We will discuss these positive possibilities later in this chapter. In the mean time we want to avoid diagnosing players with one or more commonly used diagnoses.

  1. The ADD challenge

We are all quite familiar with the phenomenon known as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and its subcategory ADD (without the hyperactivity component). The principal symptoms of ADHD are impulsivity, distractibility, and hyperactivity. More specifically, ADHD individuals may also “fail to give close attention to details,” “fail to listen when spoken to directly,” “reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort,” and many other behaviors. I think most of the people, both children and adults, who have been diagnosed with one form or another ADHD are players. I would suggest that instead of identifying these people as “inattentive” and unable to focus, we might consider that they might be “multiply-focused” and very attentive…to everything around them. Instead of being “impulsive” and disorderly, we might consider that they are simply seeking experience and excitement.

Deb and I were at a Dane Dance last night, one of the many wonderful opportunities in Madison for summer play. There was a little girl, probably around 10 or 12 who wore a shirt that simply said “This is my summer shirt.” The clincher was that the phase was written upside down! I thought, “yup, a player kid!” Maybe Mom was the player in the family and had the idea of an upside-down writing. Regardless, someone wanted to play with words. Mozart once played the piano while facing outward from the instrument, just to see if he could do it. Players might just learn better upside down or backwards because it is different…not wrong.

  1. The Discipline Challenge

Most people think of discipline as a means of punishment, but etymological root of the word discipline is learning. We get the words disciple (student) discipleship (learning) from the same Latin root. It is helpful to think of discipline as purposeful and active learning done with a certain effort and commitment. Successful professional players, like dancers, athletes, and musicians have disciplined themselves to work at their professional play. Yet discipline is a challenge for young players, and often for players of all ages, because of the requirement for work and purposeful effort. Free players, as we have defined them in the last chapter, have a particularly difficult time disciplining themselves in some purposeful activity because they are more interested in the play of the moment rather than in some kind of professional play. Free players, who are the bulk of players in the world, need to find ways to find discipline enjoyable, exciting, and ultimately rewarding. The key word here is ultimately, something that is not naturally a part of free players’ view of the world and of play. They want to play now, play easy, and play all the time with little effort into finding a way to play more successfully and purposefully. Their need for immediate stimulation makes discipline very challenging.

Whether in business, school, or relationships, players need discipline, the discipline to do what you don’t want to do now so you can do what you do want to do later. This kind of discipline has to start in childhood or it will be very difficult to find it later in life. If player children are indulged with too much free play, or restricted too much from any play, they will not find the balance of work and play that is essential to success in life. People with a caretaker temperament can work all the time, but this is absolutely not true of players. They may actually be able to accomplish just as much alternating between playing and working, but it can’t be work all the time. And it can’t be work first, play second. Play has to come first…but it can’t end with play. This is the challenge for players: they want to play all the time.

  1. The Offensive Challenge.

The biggest social problem players face is that they offend people by their intrusions, albeit without intending to do so. Both adult players and child players offend, but because children are not usually developed in self-awareness, much less self-governance, player children offend easily and often. They intrude on teachers and fellow students in class. They intrude on their parents and siblings. They even intrude on fellow players in group play or free play. The hardest social task for players who are truly seeking to mature in life is to remember that everyone doesn’t want to play all the time, and that players’ tendency to engage people in some kind of play is experienced as an uninvited intrusion. Players are misinterpreted as being purposefully intrusive and are pushed away, often with great offense. Players simply want to bring fun to other people. It is very hard on them when they disappoint other people, harder when they hurt other people, and hardest yet when they are criticized for playing. They think something like, “All I want to do is to have fun and bring fun to other people. Why does this offend people?”

The essence of the offense that players bring to people is that of emotional hurt. They hurt people when they violate other people’s boundaries, whether those boundaries are physical (usually caretakers), relational (usually lovers), or ethical (usually analysts). The teacher’s boundaries may simply be to finish his lesson plan, and she is hurt when she is not able to get the lesson done because of the player’s interruptions. Friends and partners are hurt by players’ seeming lack of concern about their property, time commitments, and predictability. Players hurt bosses and supervisors who may simply have a desire to get work done compared to the player’s desire to play at work. Player children offend their parents, siblings, and extended family members with frivolous statements or actions meant to be playful and enticing. First, players are unaware of the hurt they bring to other people, and secondly, they do not understand it because their honest desire is to bring joy and laughter to everyone.

  1. The Addictions Challenge.

The danger of addiction for players is neurological, or more accurately neurochemical. Excitement is much related to endorphins, which might be simply understood as “happy hormones.” Endorphins are secreted by the pituitary gland to reduce pain, but they are also secreted as a result of some activities, like running, dancing, eating, listening to music, and even laughing. Importantly, the secretion of endorphins is strongly related to all addictions. An addiction is an activity or a chemical that causes the secretion of endorphins. You can see how players could seek activities that induce the secretion of endorphins, and thereby be inclined to become addicted to some chemical substance or some activity. If something is potentially addictive, players have experimented with it. They usually are addicted to several activities and substances.

The charge of endorphins into their blood system is much of the cause of players’ becoming addicted to certain chemicals. Players usually have experimented with one or more addictive substances, usually settling on one of these substances as a drug of choice. Their tendency is to become addicted to substances that are stimulants, like nicotine, caffeine, and cocaine although alcohol can be a kind of stimulant in large doses. It is not by accident that the pharmacological drugs of choice for ADHD/players are stimulants, like Adderall, Vivance, and Ritalin. Much more rarely are players addicted to the prescribed sedatives and marijuana, but opiates can also raise the level of endorphins in the system. Many drugs find their way into players’ lives because they are in some daily activity, whether work or relationships, that are less than stimulating. They can even look forward to coming home and having “a bowl” (of pot) after tolerating a day on the (factory) line, while not particularly liking the sedating experience of pot. The quick fix nature of drugs gives players an easy way out of their life dilemma of how to survive in a non-playing world. I think that most alcoholics have at least have a large player element in them.

While players often become addicted to chemical substances, they are much more inclined to become addicted to some activity. Activities that are addictive are called behavioral addictions. Most typical among these activities is screen time: TV, Internet, Facebook, Facetime, Texting, and video-game playing. The addictive nature of screen time is the instantaneous nature of these activities. Screen time, which is benign in itself, is only one of the behavioral addictions that players are inclined to. People, whether players or not, become addicted to self-harmful behaviors like gambling, pornography, promiscuity, and fast driving. They also become addicted to essentially good activities that are taken to a fault, like overeating, undereating, shopping, running, working out, playing games, reading, and working. Sometimes addictions can lead to genuine deviance, criminality, or physical harm to others, but this is rare, at least for most players.

Contentment as a player

  1. Understand yourself, accept yourself, and enjoy yourself
  2. Be prepared to be sad often.
  3. Understand that most people will not understand you, accept you, and like you.
  4. Know that you will unintentionally hurt people.
  5. Add to your nature by developing the characteristics of other temperaments.

 Further Reading

Temperament II: The Player

Previously noted reading

Temperament V: Caretakers

Players and caretakers both like things. And they both like to do things, but their liking and doing is quite different. Players see the world as a place to play; caretakers see the world as a place to take care of. Players want to play in their doing; caretakers want to produce in their doing; players want the experience of doing and potentially the excitement in their doing. Caretakers want accomplishment in their doing. Players want to use things; caretakers want to save things.

Think of caretakers as people who have a mission: take care of the world. Caretakers take to heart the dictum that God gave Adam and Eve in Genesis chapter 1: “Take care of the world.” A caretaker goes through his or her day seeing what needs to be cared for: fixed, repaired, restored, or cleaned up. If you’re not a caretaker yourself, you certainly have known them. They can be very unobtrusive in their taking care of things, so unobtrusive that you might not even see them fixing and cleaning. You might see the result: the kitchen cleaned up, the kids’ room put back together after a day’s playing, your car washed, or the toilet paper replaced on the dispenser. Caretaking is more than taking care of things, but caretakers are first quite aware of the status of things, how to keep them in working order, and the importance of property for its own sake. Yet it would be a mistake to see caretakers as simply taking care of property, however good they may be at that because caretakers also take care of people. In fact, much of their taking care of property is for the use by people. A caretaker might simultaneously enjoy seeing a cleaned-up car, but this could be his car, your car, or anyone’s car. I have known caretakers who are compelled to turn the lights off in car in some parking lot that belongs to a complete stranger. There is a certain kind of love that caretakers have for people, but this love is profoundly different from the lovers that we previously studied.

I remember being surprised by the activity of a caretaker friend of mine one morning some years ago. I heard the hammering and sawing being done by a carpenter repairing my back steps. The carpenter, Jim, was getting the job done that I had asked him to do. I hadn’t actually expected him to get this job done so soon because I just asked him to look at the steps the day before. Jim is the kind of a guy who tears right into a building project, thinks on his feet, and makes adjustments to the project as he goes along with his work. He doesn’t ask a lot of questions, just enough to get him going and keep him busy for the next few hours. Many years later I met another caretaker-like carpenter, Lonnie, who operates in the same way: examine the project for a few minutes, jump right into the project, and make adjustments as necessary. In a lot of ways Jim and Lonnie are men after my own heart because I am also a caretaker. We caretakers have some very specific characteristics:

  1. Business.

Consider the two ways of pronouncing this word, business: “biz-ness” and “busy-ness.” Caretakers are both: business people and busy people. Caretakers are usually quite good at “doing business,” like conducting the affairs of a private enterprise, or better yet, working for someone else in conducting corporate business. The basic nature of caretakers lends them to the rudiments and requirements of succeeding in the business community because so much of doing business lies in the arena of taking care of things like money, property, and people. Because they are people who like to get the job done, business owners like them and usually count on them. Leave caretaker employees on their own, and you will be able to count on them doing their jobs without further interruption. Caretakers are good at doing things on their own or following directions of someone else who is trying to make business work. You want something done, without play, conversation, or questions: ask a caretaker to do it.

Doing business is only part of caretakers’ business nature, but caretakers also have a busy-ness nature. A caretaker can become completely absorbed in an activity for activity’s sake. Given that my basic temperament is caretaker, I can speak about this characteristic quite personally. Friends have often commented about my busyness, sometimes seeming “unavailable” for spontaneous conversation or play because I am always busy at something. The “being busy at something” all the time brings us caretakers great pleasure. Our view of the world is that it needs to be cared for. It also needs to be protected, repaired, and organized. All of these activities are caretakers’ way of taking care of things. There is always something to do in the world for caretakers, and this doing something is what the caretaker feels inside of himself or herself as their main gift to the world. Caretakers don’t think about their doing; they may not even plan their doing; but they are always doing. Even as I am writing this sentence, there is a “doing” nature to it, a busy-with-something nature. I have just finished with a patient and I am waiting for my next patient who happens to be a few minutes late. I don’t want to “waste” my time “hanging out”, calling my wife to say Hi, or going on Facebook. I want to do something, hopefully something important.

As players don’t need to learn to play, lovers don’t need to learn to love, and analysts don’t need to analyze, caretakers don’t need to learn to be busy. I never remember dreading work set out for me to do. I never remember having nothing to do like so many people often express. I never remember being bored. I always had my desk ordered and clean when I was in school. My desk is not always free of papers but it is never messy or cluttered. Nobody ever told me that I should do these things. It just came naturally to take care of things. It doesn’t even matter whether these things are mine or someone else’s. Why would I feel compelled to pick up toilet paper on the floor that someone has dropped? It might not even be sanitary. It doesn’t even seem logical. But I am compelled to do things like this. In my mind things need to be taken care of, even public restrooms. What is so hard for people of other temperaments to understand is that caretakers are compelled to take care of things, particularly human-made things. To truly understand a person with a caretaker nature you must grasp this core value that caretakers have: take care of the world, particularly things.

  1. Production

Players get bored when there is no excitement, lovers get bored when there is no connection with other people, analysts get bored with there is no problem to solve, but caretakers never get bored. It doesn’t much matter to them what they do, as long as they have opportunity to do something, primarily producing something.

The business community loves caretakers because bosses can count on their caretaker employees to finish the jobs given to them. In fact, sometimes bosses have to tell their caretaker employees to go home instead of staying at work until the job is done. I know many caretakers who struggle to use up their vacation days even if they lose them after a year. Our office manager/secretary, Cheri, is certainly primarily a caretaker, and we have had to remind her that it is time to call is a day on occasion because she “just had one more chore” to do. Leaving work with unfinished tasks is hard for caretakers, especially if they are in the midst of completing a task that isn’t quite done. Caretakers are notoriously last to leave work, come home late from work, and bring work home, as Cheri has done many times. She has learned to score the many psychological tests that we administer in our office, and will routinely take these tests home if they are not finished on her shift.  Cheri was distressed not long ago because a patient had been delinquent in getting her tests to her which meant she might not be able to get the result back to me in time. One of the best hallmarks of caretakers is that they do what is expected of them, and they do more than they expect of themselves.

All caretakers have the same values in doing, producing, and repairing, but the things they do may differ. All caretakers value property, but they do not all value the same property. Lonnie the carpenter values his tools and the five cars he is restoring, while Secretary Cheri values an orderly desk and all insurance claims properly made. Some caretakers value the care of people and do such things as changing diapers for adults in a care facility as intrinsically valuable and meaningful to them. Some caretakers want a meticulous lawn, while others might only see it necessary to cut it once a week and weed it once a year. Yet all caretakers like the sense of accomplishment: looking back on what has been accomplished in the previous hours or days. I often find myself simply enjoying the accomplishment of my production: having seen eight patients, having written 40 pages of a manuscript, having finished remodeling the kitchen, or even having finished putting away all my books and files where they belong.

American culture rewards production, regardless of quality. Because of this valuing of producing it is easier for caretakers to adjust to American society than all the other temperaments. The Japanese culture also values production, but has added to this value a deeper concern for quality than is usually present in American production. American cars dominated the world for more than 60 years before the Germans and Japanese began to produce cars with more quality. It took 20 years for the American car culture to accommodate to the market’s demand for better quality in automobiles. Yet there is still much reward for quantity over quality in America. It is the busy mothers who are seen as motherly, the busy businessman who is seen as successful, the busy teacher who is seen as most helpful, and the busy pastor who is seen as properly pastoral.

Players talk about experience, lovers about connection, and analysts about meaning. One last thing: when caretakers talk, they usually talk about what they have done, will do, or should have done.

  1. Providing.

When life requires something to be done, caretakers are there for the doing. Likewise, caretakers are best at providing what people need. They enjoy providing physical or emotional needs to the people around them, usually without complaining. Caretakers sometimes complain of “having to do all the work around here,” but usually they just go about doing what needs to be done. People with other temperaments are far more inclined to complain about “busy work” that gets in the way of what they would rather do. Caretakers usually do not have something they would rather do. The difference between the nurse who goes about her caretaking duties without complaint and the nurse who complains about her patients is probably due to their difference in temperament. Nursing is largely caretaking by its nature: it is active, it is required, and it is repetitive. Such repetitive caregiving fulfills the caretaker’s sense of purpose and duty in life.  LPNs might actually to do more caretaking than RNs, and CNAs might do even more than LPNs. If a non-caretaker is “caught” in a profession like nursing that requires a great deal of simple care, he or she may become quite unhappy because their professional life asks more of them than they have to give. I heard 15 minutes of complaints today from a teacher who has an analyst temperament. She complained that her students didn’t want to learn and were often disruptive. If a caretaker teacher were teaching the very same students, she might not have such resentment. She would see the task of taking care of her students regardless of their behavior. I suspect that Martha is frequently disappointed that her students aren’t interested in learning as much as they are in getting good grades.

The providing nature of caretakers is not limited to professions. Caretaking is the essential nature of early parenting, and much of the whole of parenting. Parenting of infants and toddlers requires the repetitive nature that is natural to caretakers. While no one likes being awakened at 3 A.M. in the morning by a screaming infant, caretaker parents take these events in stride. It is the caretaker who easily gets out of bed for the third time in one night to provide for his infant’s basic needs of feeding and diaper changing. I remember many such semi-sleepless nights. When I was aroused by one of my children’s hunger cries, I did not feel the urgency of my daughter’s needs for sustenance or comfort as much as I felt the necessity of getting out of bed and going about the business of warming the bottle and getting the dry diaper ready. Very often, I didn’t even think about whether I wanted to get out of bed; rather, I just got out of bed and did the necessary. Pity the infant of a player parent who wants to play until midnight and then have a good night sleep. There is not much play in diaper-changing and bottle-feeding.

  1. Property-oriented.

Caretakers are particularly good with management of property. When explaining the caretaker temperament, my wife suggests that we consider such people “groundskeepers”.  It is the groundskeepers of the world who protect and preserve property, their own property and the property of others. Some caretakers have less interest in property because they would rather take care of people, but all caretakers tend to manage property, repair property, and protect it. They also tend to own a lot of property, often because they don’t throw things away.

The way caretakers manage property is only the behavioral evidence of their basic personality structure. These folks seem to fuse their personalities with property, and then they feel emotionally connected to property. For instance, books might be valued for themselves rather than for the information they contain or for the pleasure they give in their reading. Sam has a library of books, but he admits that he will never read most of them. His books are very important to him, and he has them all ordered, visible, and available for use if necessary, however improbable that may be. I borrowed a book from him some time ago, read a few chapters and put the book aside. My friend has asked about the whereabouts of his book several times, and I finally felt compelled to return his book half-read. Sam is not so interested in getting the book immediately back because he would gladly allow me to have the book for years if necessary; he just wants to know that the book is alright. He wants to know where his stuff is. As a caretaker myself, I can’t blame him. I want to know where my stuff is too. You would rarely, if ever, hear a caretaker say “oh, it doesn’t matter, it is just a book” or “that isn’t important, it is just something that I had around”.  Stuff is always important.

I have come to believe that caretakers consider property to have intrinsic spiritual value. They can value property over people’s feelings, or over people altogether, not so much because they are selfish but because they see their sacred responsibility to save and protect property, ultimately for human use. In this sense caretakers can be very generous with property. They just want their property cared for responsibly. A caretaker girl could easily loan her favorite toy car to his player brother erroneously thinking that her brother has the same value for the toy car, only to be gravely disappointed to find the car ignored, lost, or broken because it was, indeed, a “toy” to the player brother. When that toy is lost or damaged, the caretaker child might be truly grieved. The toy was sacred to her, but simply a toy to her brother.

  1. Simplicity

There is an attractive simplicity about caretakers. Their view of life is so much about what is, that they are very good at seeing the facts and saying the facts. I wonder if the boy who saw that the “Emperor had no clothes” was simply stated the obvious. He was not trying to understand why the emperor had not clothes. He just saw that he was naked. Seeing what is, more than seeing what could be, is the heart of the simplicity of caretakers. They do not by nature look under the surface. They look at the surface. They do not ask how and why; they ask who, what, when, and where. Yes, caretakers can be simplistic, but for the most part they just look to understand things in as simple a manner as possible.

Caretaker’s simplicity is a part of their doing nature. They can truly be satisfied doing almost anything. As we noted, they rarely get bored, probably because there is always something to do. Their activity can be intense or it can be easy; it can be intricate, like fixing a computer, it can be delicate, like a jeweler repairing a diamond ring, or it can be repetitive, like the man on the assembly line. Simple doesn’t have to be trivial. The most successful IT people are not those who ask why the computer isn’t working; they ask what isn’t working, what was happening when it stopped working, and what was happening in the room when it stopped working. The true scientist may be a genius but he can also be a person who can do 200 trials to find the exact combination of chemicals that does the job he wants done.

Further Reading:

Note suggestions on previous Temperament blogs

Previous blogs on players, lovers, and analysts

Future blogs on the challenges and opportunities every temperament has

Johnson, R. and Brock, (2018). Watch your temperament. Prepublication manuscript available at our office.

The Go-To’s of Life

We all have them. I call them “go-to” places. These are the places we go to when…well, when we want to for some reason. But let’s start with the idea that this “go-to” place is a good place, a safe place, a good thing for people, a place where people find solace, and maybe even a spiritual place. But the go-to’s of our lives may not be places. So, let’s consider what might be a go-to for you, for me, and for other people.

Go-To’s based on Temperament

  1. Many people truly value things, often more than people. We have been discussing temperaments in some recent blogs, and people who have what we call the “caretaker” temperament actually care deeply for things, property. Things can be very small like a favorite piece of jewelry or clothing, or it can be large like a room, a garage, a house, or a car. It can even be money.
  2. There are many forms of people being go-to’s. Some people have very special people who are go-to for them. Some people, we call them “lovers” by temperament, could go-to almost anyone as long as the person is living
  3. People with what we call the “analyst” temperament” tend to go-to with ideas. They love to consider possibilities, solve problems, prevent problems, and figure things out. There are variations of ideas being go-to’s including some idea or problem that has interested or intrigued someone for years, while others’ go-to places may be more random, like just thinking about some possibility or conundrum.
  4. People who have experience as a go-to we call “players” in temperament. They want to be involved physically in something and often look for excitement. Usually, this experiential go-to is new and different, like going to a new city or meeting a new person; but it can also be something that is activity that is quite familiar, like going to a familiar park or watching a familiar movie.

Go-to’s that are Helpful

  1. Food. We all have our special foods. Sometimes these may be “comfort foods” that are usually high in carbohydrates, but some people have a go-to with meat, vegetables, or fruit.
  2. Drink. We normally think of alcohol in this category, but drink also includes soda, fruit juice, coffee, or just plain water. If you have a go-to with alcohol or something else, consider the time when water was actually your drink of choice, maybe after a long run or on a hot day.
  3. Reading. Some people go-to fiction, others nonfiction, and yet others historical fiction. Some people poor over their favorite researcher, theoretician, or author, while others have a favorite topic that always can be explored
  4. Playing. Here we have many forms including the simple ones that take minutes, like Su-do-ku and Word Play, or the more complicated ones that could take hours, like Monopoly, or video games. Still others are intensely physical, like cross country skiing, basketball, or golf.
  5. Working. You don’t have to be a so-called “workaholic” to have work as a go-to. Many people who are not “addicted” to working, if we even call it that, truly go-to work when they don’t know where else to go.
  6. Entertainment. This includes movies, concerts, sporting events, and certainly TV. This is a go-to for most Americans at least to some degree. This can be movies, soap operas, weekly drama or comedy. But it can all be just flipping channels to find something that is interesting and enticing for the moment.
  7. Physical contact. Lovers are much into this as a go-to, but it is much more common than just with lovers. And it is not just about sex, although sexual contact is certainly a go-to for many people. This may be physical contact with a lover, a friend, a child, an unknown person at the market, or an animal.
  8. Sleeping can really be a wonderful go-to because it can restore body and soul simultaneously.
  9. Walking, and Hiking. I am intrigued with the people who run daily. While not exactly a go-to for me, walking and hiking is certainly something that is a go-to for Deb, and for many people.
  10. Do you know someone who is always humming or singing, often completely unaware that he or she is juggling a tune? An adjunct to singing might be reading or writing poetry, or maybe just playing on your guitar.
  11. Extraverts are inclined to talk when they have nothing of substance to say just because it is good for them to talk. Likewise, introverts often prefer their own company and find great solace in being quiet. Both good. Both different.

What have I missed? Probably plenty. Possibly a go-to that really works for you. You might even have a go-to that you don’t want anyone to know about. Nothing wrong with that. I think these go-to’s are usually related to our personalities in some way, like the temperament-based ones we started with. But they can be cultural or subcultural in their origin. Latino cultures have a “man(y)ana” in their culture, which technically means “tomorrow” but really means “eventually.” Church can be a go-to for many people that can be just as important to them as drinking or hiking is for someone else. No one can tell you that your go-to is wrong. It might just be different. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to work out every day…for an hour or more for goodness sake. I struggle to work out twice a week. But it is good for them.

While there is never anything intrinsically wrong with a go-to, any go-to can become harmful. Harmful is when something that is intrinsically good turns out to be experientially bad, largely because it has become an avoidance of feelings, avoidance of activity, avoidance of people, or any other kind of avoidance of the necessities of having a good life. We might call such avoidances “addictions,” but I try to avoid that word in favor of a go-to being something to a fault. When a go-to becomes an activity or a substance to a fault, it has encroached on the rest of life and in so doing, has limited one’s experience in life. The distinction between something that is good for you as a go-to and something that is harmful to you as a go-to has nothing to do with the amount of the activity or thing. It has to do with the reason you are engaging in the go-to. A go-to that helps you find solace, safety, and pleasure is rewarding and enhancing. A go-to that has become an avoidance brings none of these things. Recall the blog I did on liking and wanting. A go-to that is something you like profits you, and it tends to end peacefully. A go-to that has become an avoidance reduces you and it tends not to end at all. It may not even give pleasure. It’s just a habit.

I encourage you to consider your own go-to, value it, and use it. Then consider whether you are profiting for it, or perhaps using it as some kind of avoidance of the rest of life.  Remember: there is never anything intrinsically wrong with you go-to. No one has the right to say that you are addicted, or avoiding, or that your go-to is stupid. You are the only one who can make a judgment between “good for you” and “not good for you.”