Is it ADHD or Creative Personality Type?

Abstract

This article compares the traits of ADHD with the traits of “creative personality types” as described in the  Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – known as the  MBTI.  

MBTI Personality Types which have high scores on both “Intuition” and “Perceiving” personality traits are estimated to occur in only about 12% of the population and 4-6% of women. (Source: “Please Understand Me” by Keirsey and Bates)   

Interestingly, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is thought to occur in 6 – 12% of the population. Estimates of the prevalence of ADHD vary among authors.  Whatever the actual percentage may be, the estimates are so similar they beg for closer scrutiny. This article reviews descriptions of “MBTI Personality Traits” and compares them with what the medical model of ADHD (see Wikipedia Page)describes as “symptoms of disorder” in DSM-IV (Diagnostic Manual used by doctors updated in 2013 to DSM-V.)   See alsom

I seek to answer the question, why is it that in one person, the same behavioral pattern may be considered a personality quirk and in other person it’s a “symptom” of what’s “wrong” with them?  My opinion is that (as with beauty) what you call the trait depends on your personal biases. I present my case in the article below.

SIDE NOTE: This was one of my most popular and most commented on articles when it was first published on my Neat & Simple blog in 2008.

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Many ADHD traits are actually the same as those of people with “creative personality types” as described in the Meyer  MBTI.  

What does Creative Personality Type mean?

Having a creative personality type doesn’t mean you are an “artist” necessarily, though you may be. It’s broader than that.  Creative personality type  refers to people who exhibit thinking styles and preferences such as: tend to

  • prefer exploring new ways of doing things, 
  • take more risks than the average person, 
  • challenge the status quo, 
  • want to try new things, 
  • delight in solving problems, 
  • prefer to research and continuously learn new things over implementing routines.

They tend to:

  • get bored with anything that is too repetitive or that stays the same for too long. 
  • thrive on growth, change and novelty.  

After all, growth and change implies novelty.  Growth is what separates us from machines, but some people are more driven to grow while others are more motivated by seeking stability.  Creative personality types “need” change and growth more than they need “stability” and security.  (Being driven to grow and evolve yourself rapidly is called having a “growth mindset”  in the book  Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck and having high “Evolutionary Intelligence” in the book“The Gifted Adult” by Mary-Elaine Jacobsen.)

According to the  MBTI  I could be either and ENTP or an INFP.  What that means is that I tend to be equally strong in both I and E –  introversion and extraversion – depends on the situation.  I’m also nearly equally strong in both T and F – I use both thinking and feeling to make decisions – again, depends on the situation.  It’s like I’m ambidextrous in both those traits. However, when it comes to Intuition and Perceiving, I score much higher in those traits than in the Sensing or Judging traits.

 The “N” or iNtuitive” trait means I have a strong tendency to always looking for the potential in things, seeing patterns, connections and new possibilities, rather than “Sensing” which mean seeing things as they are and in greater detail.

The “P” or “Perceiver” trait means I tend to prefer to open up new options and possibilities rather than “Judge” which in MBTI language means make decisions, conclusions, and close options.  In other words, I naturally prefer to not make decisions unless it’s really necessary.   I’ve come to think of my MBTI type as “xNxP”.  

I wonder how creative personality type and ADHD are connected because when you compare the traits of both, it’s striking how similar they are. The main differences seem to be in the degree, frequency, and impact these “traits” have on our lives. Both ADHD and the Creative Personality Types share many characteristics.  

Below is a list of ADD traits that I’ve culled from reading  ADD books.

COMMON ADD TRAIT DESCRIPTIONS INCLUDE:

  • High energy and restless / Hyperactivity
  • Impulsivity
  • Takes on, starts too many projects
  • Loses interest easily
  • High impatience
  • May fail to follow through, forget appointments
  • Tendency to hyperfocus and not be able to easily break out of it
  • Tendency to see everything at once, to think “globally” and see many possibilities at once, making it difficult to make certain kinds of decisions
  • Higher than average tolerance for chaos and change
  • Often exhibit high risk-taking, high stimulation seeking behavior
  • Often hyper-reactive and sensitive – Strong reactions to thoughts, noise, people talking, everything in their environment – may notice everything, or tend to shut down and become inattentive to everything, or a combination of both
  • Tend to criticize themselves constantly
  • Tend to always be scanning or hunting – looking around for anything that might be new or different, or out of place, looking to make connections, to see patterns, may not even be aware of this.  So they seem not to be listening when actually they are trying to take everything in, though sometimes they really aren’t listening because they can’t focus on just one thing that is coming in through their senses 
  • Highly intuitive thinking
  • Inconsistency of attention, mood

Now compare that list with the list below which I made from the descriptions of MBTI “creative personality types” which have both an “iNtuitive” and a “Perceiving” preference.  

 Keirsey and Bates identified four temperaments or subsets of the MBTI types in their classic book:  “Please Understand Me 

 Keirsey simplifies the sixteen MBTI types into four groups, whose archetypes he equates with the classical four temperaments: Phlegmatic, Melancholy, Sanguine, and Choleric.

I have never seen anyone group the “NP” preferences as an archetype or temperament  but in my work with hundreds of people, I see a pattern that looks like NP could very well be the “ADD” or even “Idealist/Artisan, Creative –  Disorganized / Clutter-prone” temperament.  

 According to the MBTI , there are 4 personality types with predominantly “iNtuitive”(seeing the world in terms of it’s possibilities) + Perceiving (preferring improvising over planning) traits.  They are:

 ENTP (5%)       INTP (1%)          ENFP (5%)       INFP(1%)

The percentages indicate what percent of the population has each personality type.  As you can see, these types are clearly a minority.   Combined they are found in only about 12% of the population and 4-6% of women. (Source: “Please Understand Me” by Keirsey and Bates)   

As I mentioned before,, ADD is thought to occur in 6 – 12% of the population. So now, let’s take a look at the list of traits I summarized from Please Understand Me” by Keirsey and Bates with my notes in brackets about how this could impact organizing and/or look like ADHD.

ENTP / ENFP TRAITS 

  • Unusually Enthusiastic, [high energy and high enthusiasm is VERY characteristic of ADD)
  • "Apt to express interest in everything" [this makes it very difficult to focus and make choices about how to use your time]
  • Characteristically have an eye out for a better way [leads to constantly changing and not sticking to systems you create to organize yourself]
  • Always on the lookout for new projects, new activities, new procedures [ a clear link to all those unfinished projects ADD is famous for]
  • Always seem to be several jumps ahead  [Another hallmark of ADD brains that process informationally globally and often see patterns before others do. Many famous inventors and scientists who made significant discoveries are thought to have had ADD]

The list is stunning, for example, Alexander Graham Bell, Leonardo da Vinci, Sir Issac Newton, Louis Pasteur, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Galileo and many more.   

  • Prefers to “improvise” rather than create a detailed plan  [Could look like impulsivity, being uprepared, etc.] (I now think of this as being “born to agilize”  : ) 
  • Tends to proceed into action without necessary preparation
  • Can succeed in a variety of occupations as long as the job “does not involve humdrum routine”
  • In a routine job “they become restless. If a project in which they are engaged is no longer challenging, they tend to lose interest and fail to follow through – often to the discomfort of colleagues”
  • “Orderliness in the routines of daily living is not apt to inspire them.”
  •  “Not likely to be interested in the routines of daily maintenance”
  • “Life with ENTPs is likely to be a daring adventure: this could lead families into physical and economic danger” [The book actually says this...could easily come out of a book on ADD]
  • “Apt to react with delight at having an opportunity to improvise a solution to a crisis”
  • “Likely to be inconsistent with their attention”
  • “May show undependable, fickle characteristics, and be easily discouraged”
  • “Always berating themselves for being so conscious of self”
  • “Can become bored rather quickly with situations and people, and resist repeating experiences”
  • “Enjoy the process of creating “but not interested in follow-through”
  • “Can have difficulty picking up on the ideas and projects initiated by others”
  • “Extravagant generosity punctuated with periods of frugality”
  • “Somewhat unpredictable”
  • “Characteristic in their pursuit of novelty”
  • “Outstanding intuitive powers”

INTP / INFP TRAITS

  • “Can concentrate better than any other personality type” [Similar to hyperfocusing]
  • “Once caught up in a thought process, that thought process seems to have a will of its own for INTPS, and they persevere until the issue is comprehended” [More hyperfocus]
  • “Impatient with routine details” [Impacts ability to "maintain" traditional organizing systems]
  • “The INTP must be given an efficient support staff who can capture ideas as they emerge and before the INTP loses interest and turns to other ideas” [How I would LOVE this!  and how unrealistic this is.  The book is obviously old enough to remember when most managers had their own secretaries.  I had my own Exec Assistant when I was a manger at Arthur Andersen's Center for Professional Education...it was AWESOME!!! I miss her!]
  • INTP’s are often forgetful of appointments and the rituals of daily living unless they are reminded. [Need I say more?]

I think the similarities between creative personality types and ADHD are more than clear.  And the link between creativity and difficulty “MAINTAINING” organizing systems is also clear.  My theory is that helping people learn how to become more organized by designing organizing solutions that fit their personality and brain type, AND that are designed to change easily and often (agile) is the most effective way to heal lifelong disorganization tendencies.  I call this cultivating personal agility and self-leadership vs. self-control

Hope for Recovering from Chronic Disorganization

People who have been labeled as disorganized for most of their lives, and / or have been labeled ADHD, seem to have consistent personality traits and patterns that in our cultural context make them vulnerable to painful chronic disorganization – unless they have somehow learned the following skills which are just a few of the component skills that are prerequisites to learning how to design organizing systems. 

  1. To appreciate things as they are – not only for what “they could become
  2. To accept and embrace that most of the potential they see cannot and does nothave to be fulfilled (This is a skill / habit that makes it much easier to let go of things without deeply grieving the loss of “potential” the things represent.)
  3. To embrace setting limits on the amount of research they do before making a decision based on the degree of risk involved so that can take action sooner rather than later. 
  4. To purposefully limit the number of ideas they generate in certain situations so they can reduce overwhelm and more easily make decisions
  5. To design “filters” for easily ruling out options / ideas and automating routine decisions

I’ve learned that organizing “for” people doesn’t empower them…it actually reinforces their feelings of helplessness.  When people operate from an assumption that they “can’t” organize themselves it’s almost impossible to develop self-confidence because nearly everything we do in life requires organizing.

Over and over I’ve found that even people who have anxiety, panic attacks and phobias about organizing can learn to organize once they understand their personality type and the sources of their indecision and organizing difficulties. When they realize organizing is composed of skills that can be learned and that can become linked to their natural values and intrinsic reward mechanisms, they begin to flourish.  

When they begin to see how creative and intriguing the organizing process can be, and let go of the idea that organizing requires tedious routines, they begin to see a a whole new world of possibilities in the fact that organizing is a custom design process.  With iterative practice and encouraging feedback they eventually teach themselves to become “naturally” attracted to the organizing process – in a way that is compatible with their natural personality type. 

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11 thoughts on “Is it ADHD or Creative Personality Type?

  1. i found the following paragraph intriguing as i rely heavily on organisation systems to keep me on task, but they are tedious and i’ve never heard of viewing them as a creative process that can be linked to our natural reward systems. is there anywhere you could suggest where i could read more about this?

    thank you :0)

    ‘Over and over I’ve found that even people who have anxiety, panic attacks and phobias about organizing can learn to organize once they understand their personality type and the sources of their indecision and organizing difficulties. When they realize organizing is composed of skills that can be learned and that can become linked to their natural values and intrinsic reward mechanisms, they begin to flourish.

    When they begin to see how creative and intriguing the organizing process can be, and let go of the idea that organizing requires tedious routines, they begin to see a a whole new world of possibilities in the fact that organizing is a custom design process. With iterative practice and encouraging feedback they eventually teach themselves to become “naturally” attracted to the organizing process – in a way that is compatible with their natural personality type.’

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  3. Ah, sweet mystery of life, at last I’ve found you! What a great article. I’m an xNxP, too… and in midlife, drowning in unfinished projects I LOOOOOVE, exploring ADD. That last list of solutions blew me away. Going back now to click all your links. And (if I get around to it) I will spread the gospel on my blogs. We may be a minority but there are still million of us!

  4. Wow… Great read. These past couple of days I was getting worried thinking that I was crazy because of how my mind is constantly running new thoughts and how I am unable to focus on small things because I’m too busy thinking about the bigger picture… But now I feel that this isn’t a disorder. This is what makes me who I am, and I need to learn to embrace it. I don’t want a simple, 9-5 life. I want to feel the world around me and conjure up ridiculous ideas and thoughts along the way. I want to live life to the absolute fullest with no restrictions. Although I am aware of things that I have to control because of my creative mind, like my laziness and tendency to get lost in my thoughts almost constantly. Once I find a nice balance between the two, I know I will achieve absolute happiness; because that’s the goal of life.

  5. I test intp/entp/infp. I have been messy and disorganized for as long as I can remember. My parents were cluttery too and not too strict about my organizational skills. I’m just super impatient with organizing. The thought of having to put something in its proper place makes me so tired (the bathroom is one exception where I keep things clean). Weird right? I wish I didn’t have this propensity. I often wish I was born with a more common personality type because I feel that my clutter is a reflection of my internal state…or at least that is what society tends to say.
    I work in an office full of neat freak “doer” types who love to plan and execute. I fit in enough because I have a charm but I am in no way a traditional office drone type. I’m having an especially hard time with time management and its affecting my work so I’m trying to research the psychological root of it to fix it. Working in this environment is annoying because I’m female and my observation is you need to fit a pretty specific mold to get ahead in this company. That mold is to be an xSxJ type.

    I was “diagnosed” with ADD. I think its partially my personality and partially lack of self control. I work fine in environments that strike my interest. Anything else, however, I become pretty impatient. Everything becomes too much effort for what I think is a minimal outcome. Maybe my reward center in my brain is defective.

    I WILL say that the one time in my life where I really tried hard to stay organized, I was very successful. So I suppose in this day of age, being a methodical thinker is the natural advantage to get ahead.

    I will also say that you have to force yourself to make a conscious effort until it becomes habit. I really think I have potential to be all sorts of bad things that involve addiction but I’m not because I am proactive. Same can apply to organization. Plus I know I’m less stressed when everything isn’t on my floor or desk or bed.

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  10. Excellent read.

    I am trying to figure out what is going on with me. Arent we all?

    The people around me wish I was more of a planner. I really try. But I just cant spend my time planning a menu for dinner in 7 weeks. Plus, I dont even know that I will be in the mood for dinner on the day we have planned.

    So Im trying to be introspective and figure out why I feel this way? And why almost no one else seems to have this problem?

    I realized that I am always involved in some kind of project. I like to go to thrift stores, find a treasure, and then rehab. I do not know if I will want to break away from whatever Im doing to have dinner with you. I might have found a really great treasure and will be more excited about the rehab than the dinner.

    So what, right? Why cant I just follow through on the dinner, and rehab tomorrow?

    But I see this junk at the thrift store, and in my mind, I see what it is going to be. And I dont stop until its done. Until its what I wanted it to be. The whole house can get trashed, laundry is on hold, no time to eat…

    And then someone criticizes me for blowing off dinner. And I show them the gorgeous refinished dresser and wonder why it isnt enough? Maybe I sell the item for $800 and I feel proud, but everyone is still upset over dinner.

    And I just think, “I’m really good at this rehab thing. And you are really good at the planning thing. I dont insult you for not being better at rehabbing.”

    It has been a long time, but last time I took the test, I was an ENFP. Maybe this explains it?

    In past jobs, Ill eagerly come up with new, more efficient ways to do things. And people rave over my new process! It was fun creating the new process, but it isnt so fun to use it everyday.

    I’m too self-depricating.

    I know Im rambling… sorry about that. Just figuring things out.

    So, I guess what Im wondering is, do I just accept that I am who I am? Or do I work to change it? And if I do change it, what happens then? More dinners?

    • Thanks so much for such a great example of the dilemmas faced by many of us who are “uncommonly” creative and “addicted to potential.” You nailed it. The key here is compromise and designing your commitments. also, designing your exit strategy so as not to disappoint people. Finesse is the key here…not trying to change yourself. Think of it as tweaking your behaviors and commitments so that you can be yourself, but ALSO not “blow people off.”

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