If you are someone with a Type A personality or if you have to deal with a family member, coworker or friend with a Type A personality, then this post may be of interest to you.
Lessons from furniture
About 50 years ago, Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman, two cardiologists in the Bay Area, bucked the trend at that time to view cardiovascular disease as a purely physical problem. Instead, they suggested an association between mental states and heart disease. The really cool part was how they came to this hypothesis. By observing furniture wear and tear!
In the waiting room of the practice they ran, Friedman and Rosenman noticed that chairs needed to be upholstered for rather unusual reasons. The upholsterer brought to their attention that the chairs in the waiting room were worn out in the front and armrests, instead of the usual chair backs. The doctors knew these chairs were typically occupied by coronary patients, who tended to be tense and fidgety. These patients were inclined to sit on the edge of chairs and would leap out of the chairs, often impatiently, causing rather unusual wear and tear patterns in the furniture (and additional expenses for the doctors).
Observing these chairs made the doctors curious enough to conduct further research on the link between mental states and heart-related problems. Eventually, they published a book “Type A Behavior and your heart” to propose a connection between stressful/impatient personality types and heart disease. This publication laid the foundation for what we refer to in popular culture today as ‘Type A personality’.
Technically, while there are more than two personality types, we’ll deal with just the two popular ones here — Types A and B.
Type A personality
Type A personalities are the competitive, impatient, organized, time-managing, neurotic ninjas around you. They know who they are. You will certainly know who they are after you spend a minute with them.
Their shtick in life is to drive themselves and everyone else around them crazy. To them the maxim, ‘Don’t put off till tomorrow what can be done today’ is barely good enough. Today is already plenty late in their dictionary. Their world is usually ending in a few minutes.
Full disclosure. I’m a card-carrying, ring leader of this group. I used to wear my Type A as a badge of honor. But I’m not sure anymore. Like wearing shoulder pads in the 80s. Was considered cool once, but best downplayed now.
Do or do not. There is no try.
Type B personality
The other side to the coin, is the more mellow, easy-going bunch of folks, aka the Type Bs. They are the content-to-amble-along-life crowd. They are usually not beset by any sense of urgency. Their philosophy in life is generally, ‘ Don’t put off till tomorrow what can possibly be done a week from now’.
I have seen slower people than I am and more deliberate… and even quieter, and more listless, and lazier people than I am. But they were dead.
- Mark Twain
Type Bs believe in letting ‘nature take its course’, an expression, as a Type A, I admit, I never can understand. Because, really, why would you let anything take it’s course and not try to steer it your way?
Can A and B coexist?
And therein, lies the conflict between the As and Bs. The world can be divided into these two camps. You can see a clash of these personalities everywhere — at work, home, in social situations. So, the million-dollar question is, can these two types ever co-exist?
The short answer is yes. The caveat, though, for peaceful coexistence, is to accept the reality of the other side.
Jackie, a first-time mom with a 9-month-old infant attends her Mothers group meeting and bursts into tears when the topic of potty training comes up. After saying all the right things to comfort her, the group gently asks her what caused the bout of crying.
Jackie explains how she’s been doing all this online research on toilet training her baby from the time the child was 6 months old. She has a solid plan all built up to start the process right away. Knowing that Amazon has a separate section on Toilet Training with ‘Top 100 free’ and ‘Top 100 paid’ books; she can even rattle off the bestseller list for the last 8 weeks. She has shortlisted 3 different seats and picked out favorite diaper patterns. All relevant coupons have been alphabetically saved in a folder.
When she broached the subject to her husband, last week, his baffling response, however was ‘How many children in diapers do you see in grade school? The training will eventually happen by itself; we’ve got another 5 years to get it right. Let’s not worry about it now. Let’s instead get in this Netflix show while we can’.
Whaaaaat? Of course, Jackie is justified in bawling. Her dreams of her one-year child forever being diaper-free are in stark contrast to her husband’s willingness to spend a third of their retirement income on diapers.
Close to home
By now, you recognize your personality either in Jackie’s or her husband’s. Right this minute you can name at least one person in the opposite camp. My bet is, this is someone really close to you. Because — opposites attract!
Just recalling a recent action by this other person invokes in you a feeling that could range from sympathy for the person (poor conflicted soul) or mild frustration (but why couldn’t he just do it right the first time?) to full on anger (how dare he?)!
Am I right or am I right?
The world would be very boring if we all were made the same way. At least, that’s how I console myself when I see people not in line with my point of view. That’s my way of taking the higher ground!
How someone with Type A personality thinks
The example above with Jackie and her husband is of two personality types in action, albeit counter-productive actions. Both have good intentions. They are unfortunately at opposing ends of the spectrum. The right answer, like in most cases, is somewhere in the middle.
As armchair psychologists, you and I can easily point the flaw in the above case to say that Jackie should have taken the time to have the conversation with her spouse before she over-planned. She set herself up for failure. Sounds simple, right?
However, having been in similar situations countless times, I can say, Jackie did not have the time for this. She just expected her husband to go along with the plan. Of. Course. Because, really, it’s such a great plan and she has made sure her ducks are in a row.
A very busy bus driver
I use the analogy of an efficient bus driver picking up passengers on a busy weekday morning in New York city. The driver needs to stop enough times en route to pick up her passengers. Sometimes, though, it’s possible she becomes too focused on driving her bus and managing traffic to notice whether passengers are on board or not. Oops!
In Jackie’s case, she got her driving credentials, learnt the route and is driving full speed. Her husband’s only job is to get on the bus. So, if you put yourself in Jackie’s shoes, isn’t her husband the one being foolish by not getting on board with the plan?
This happens a lot to someone with a Type A personality. They are so goal-focused and productivity conscious that they forget to deal with minor infractions such as getting people to buy-in to their plans along the way. Because that would require them to stop and explain their plans, to these ordinary mortals, who typically tend to be unwilling or reluctant listeners. WHO HAS THE TIME?
Actions have Consequences
However, my dear Type A friends, I’d like you to pause for a minute here and listen intently. I have some bad news for you. In this game, the Bs are the winners. That sound you hear now is really them laughing their face off at the Type As. Sad, but true!
As Friedman and Rosenman discovered, the As are short charging their lives by being stressed and impatient. Their stressful natures impact their physical health. They are not fun to work for or be around.
The B’s, on account of their relaxed and casual nature, are more easygoing and as a result enjoy lively friendships and conversations. They stop to smell the roses (sometimes falling asleep in the process). But nature loves them back for that very reason. Unfair, you say. I know! But I didn’t write the rules.
Nature vs Nurture
So, is it possible at all to bridge this gap? Can a type A learn to be a B? While science says inherent personalities (nature) cannot be changed, the great news is that behaviors can be learned (nurture).
Someone with a Type A personality would do well to learn to apply the brakes often. Some examples of how you train yourself to do these include:
- Leaving your phone at home for a day
- Conscientiously choosing the longest line in the grocery store (and not fretting about it every second)
- Parking farthest away from the mall entrance
- Brushing with your non-dominant hand
- I’d suggest using a dial-up internet connection, but those don’t exist anymore.
You get the point. Anything that slows you down from the rapid paced life you have set for yourself. These may all sound extreme. But desperate situations call for desperate measures!
Of course, cultivating mindfulness is key here. I cannot overstate the importance of a Mindfulness meditation practice here.
Dr. Friedman believed that “Type A personalities who succeed do so in spite of their impatience and hostility”.
Read that again. Not because of. But in spite of. Humbling, isn’t it?
It is good to be efficient but don’t let efficiency be the be-all, end-all. Learn to be mellow. Find hobbies or activities that you may consider time consuming. The goal here is to SLOW. RIGHT. DOWN.
Do this for your own sake. For your boss. Or your spouse. And to paraphrase Gracie Hart from Miss Congeniality “And for World Peace”. Really. Because your life depends on it!
Colbert, Don (2003). Deadly Emotions: Understand the Mind-Body-Spirit Connection That Can Heal or Destroy You. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Inc. pp. . 978–0785267430.