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What Your Bad Habits Say About You

Tailor Your Plan to Fit Your Personality
  -- By Rebecca Pratt, Staff Writer
When Robert works, he’s glued to his computer screen, consumed for hours with phone calls and deadlines, oblivious to hunger pangs. He often skips meals or grabs whatever might be in his desk drawer—potato chips, Girl Scout cookies, leftover Christmas candy. Over the last couple of years, he has started gaining weight, despite intensifying his exercise regimen, and he can’t figure out why.

Meanwhile, Angela, a mother of three, has started losing weight since she opened a new business. Where she once ate because she was bored, she’s now so busy that she only eats when she’s truly hungry. Although she fits exercise into her schedule only occasionally, the pounds just seem to be melting off.

Both people are busy with work, but it affects their weights differently—what’s going on?

The key to the difference may lie with their personalities— the way they handle their hectic lives. In Robert’s case, a lack of planning ambushes his good intentions—he skips meals, waits too long to eat, and ends up scarfing down the nearest edible item. He’s a spontaneous single guy with an unstructured lifestyle, which reinforces his bad eating habits. Angela’s just as busy, but as an organized mom accustomed to assembling meals for her children every few hours, she thinks ahead, packing a nutritious lunch for herself along with several healthy but satisfying snacks that she can eat on the run.

How does your personality affect your ability to live a healthier lifestyle? Perhaps you have your diet under control, but exercise in fits and starts, unable to maintain consistency. Or perhaps you are exceedingly disciplined in working out regularly, but are too impatient to keep the food journal that would help you rein in your habitual overeating. Analyzing your personality—appreciating your strengths while honestly acknowledging and balancing your weaknesses—may give you the self-knowledge you need to get and stay fit.

You can’t really change your basic personality, nor do you need to. A particular personality trait is two-sided—useful in some situations, not so helpful in others. By analyzing how your innate traits affect your health and well-being, you can come up with strategies to channel your tendencies—so they’re always strengths, never weaknesses.

Here are some personality traits that might make a difference, and tips to help you use them to meet your health and fitness goals:

Are you an extrovert or an introvert? While it’s perfectly natural to lean one way or the other, it’s probably helpful to look for ways to balance your dominant tendency.

If you’re an extrovert, you may have a tendency to let social situations dictate your program or unduly influence your choices—for example, by canceling a workout if your fitness buddy isn’t available. Instead:
Introverts are more oriented toward an inner world of ideas and face the opposite challenge: a stubborn tendency to go it alone, forgoing the support, motivation, and companionship others might offer. Some possible solutions: Are you a careful planner or an impulsive improviser? Both have their virtues. The planner faithfully counts calories and miles walked, while the improviser doesn’t stress out when an unexpected menu change at his favorite restaurant requires adaptability.

Some tips for planners:
Strategies for improvisers:: Are you intuitive or analytical? Both approaches can likely lead to success. Being honest about which way you lean will help you find the middle road that’s effective.

Intuitive personalities generally resist record-keeping, assuming they just "know" whether they’ve been good or bad. To be more accurate and ensure success, try to:
Although the analytical personality can turn record-keeping into a major obsession, being detail-oriented has its rewards: problem-solving skills that can be used to identify and overcome fitness obstacles. Which friends have personality styles that complement or enhance yours? Most of us have several types of friends— those with whom we have things in common ("birds of a feather flocking together") and those with personalities very different from our own ("opposites attracting.") Partnering with both types can benefit both you and them. You’ll be surprised at how you’ll balance each other out, have fun, and boost each other toward your goals.

Designing a fitness regimen that not only suits your lifestyle but meshes with your unique personality may take some time and thought, but it’s well worth the effort. To quote the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.