Type A personalities
generally describe someone who is competitive, highly driven, and externally
motivated. Type B personalities
generally describe someone who is relaxed, not as mindful of competition, and
not as concerned with material things.
This system of describing people is incomplete and sub-optimal. Let me propose a twist on it.
Seeking vs. Being
It is wise to not only adopt aspects of both personality types, but also to frame them differently. Rather than regard them as static traits, we can regard them as modes. Thus, rather than Personality Type A and Personality Type B, a single person has Operating Mode A and Operating Mode B. For short, we can call them Mode A and Mode B.
Mode A is concerned with seeking, while Mode B is concerned with being. Allow me to explain.
Mode A takes the form of intellectually trying to figure something out. In Mode A, you are exploring various questions and various answers to those questions. While in Mode A, you expel mental sweat.
In Mode B you are not trying to find an answer—rather, you are simply living the answer. You are experiencing its implications. You are just being (in the moment, if you like).
One of the most obvious times that I experience Mode B is when I am running a race. In that situation, most of my resources are devoted to the experience itself, rather than to my thoughts about it. The experience is so intense, I can only be in it. I must be there fully—in the zone, if you will.
Contrarily, I often experience Mode A while running on my own on a typical day. What usually happens is, 2-5 minutes into a run, I’ll start thinking about things aside from the run itself. That’s when I enter Mode A. Typically, I eventually come to a new insight that really speaks to me and which resolves the questions I have been exploring. The train of thought is satisfied. Once this point is reached, I start running faster. I naturally speed up because my mental resources are no longer devoted to the task of critical thought: now I can put more of those resources into the run itself. Here enters Mode B.
Another obvious time that I experience Mode B is when I stand still and look at my surroundings. Sometimes I do this while running—especially if I’m in the woods. I’ll stop and take a deep breath, notice how beautiful the scenery is, and appreciate it. Without fail, this puts a smile on my face. Then, when I feel it’s time to get moving again, I resume running.
Active Exploration vs. Subconscious Flow
So, the twist on the Type A/Type B Personality model is that Mode A and Mode B aren’t about working hard vs relaxation per se, whereas Type A and Type B are. Mode A and Mode B, on the other hand, are concerned with the difference between actively seeking and simply being. In either mode you can appear to be either working hard or relaxing. I do some of my toughest intellectual work- Mode A- while lying in bed (sometimes even when someone is lying next to me, unfortunately). Likewise, at the highest levels of physical intensity, I am immersed in the moment and am not questioning myself. This is Mode B.
The basic heuristic is this: when you are actively exploring questions and seeking answers, you are in Mode A. In Mode B you can still come upon new insights and do intellectual work, but this largely happens at the subconscious level. It feels very natural, like you’re just going for the ride. While writing articles, I’m typically in Mode B (I am right now!).
If you have musical ability, playing a familiar song on an instrument will probably have you in Mode B. On the other hand, when you practice a song that is very difficult for you, and you are trying different things and addressing the question, “What is the right way to do this?,” you are in Mode A.
In other words, Mode A is about active intellectual effort. Mode B is about flow—the flow of experience and action.
The Time for Each Mode
Know when to use each mode. If you spend too much time in Mode A, you will get burned out. If you spend too much time in Mode B, you will eventually get lost, confused, or bored.
If you’re always seeking, you’ll never know that you’ve found what you’re looking for—if you find it. On the other hand, if you’re always content with the current level of truth that you have, you’ll be blind to the next level—you will fail to see the other truths and how they relate to the truths you are currently aware of.
In other words, if you’re always in Mode A you’ll take too little action, and not enjoy yourself much. If you’re always in Mode B you may take all the action that you need to, but you’ll be too comfortable to consider that there may be more effective actions out there to take.
In case you’re wondering, the idea for this article came about while in Mode B. It required no active forethought or asking questions. It was totally unexpected. It just hit me at the very end of a run—and run with it I did, indeed.