Structured or Flexible: Which learning style is best for your self-improvement?

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Structured or Flexible: Which learning style is best for your self-improvement?

Posted 28 September 2022 by
Vanessa, MBTIonline Contributing Writer
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My grandma used to arrive at least 20 minutes early to pick me up from school. Every day, she’d do a page in her word search book while she waited for me in her car. She was never late. Not even once.

I was always impressed by how regimented she was. I don’t know her Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI), but I do know she craved structure and efficiency. And that those things shaped the way she absorbed new information, made decisions, and organized the world around her.

When it comes to self-improvement, goal setting is a huge part of bettering yourself. By setting goals, whether they’re scheduled and planned out or more flexible, you have an end condition in mind that you’re trying to achieve. Whether that’s a health goal, a professional development goal, or simply breaking a bad habit, read the tips below about learning and think about how you can apply them to how you learn when it comes to self-improvement.

In the last post, we offered some learning strategies for Thinking and Feeling personality types . This time, we’ll provide some tips for another MBTI preference pair: Judging and Perceiving (the “J” or “P” in a four-letter personality type). If I had to guess, my grandma probably prefers Judging. Let’s start there.

Things Judging Types Say: “Let’s get to it.”

People who have a preference for Judging (J) are structured and decisive. When they learn new things, they want to know what’s expected of them so they can use their time and resources efficiently. Judging learners like when assignments and deadlines are clearly defined from the beginning. And they take pride in completing one task before starting another or taking a break.

If you’re a Judging type, you probably live your life according to an organized schedule. But all that structure can prevent you from being open to new learning experiences or changing courses in your self-improvement plan when something isn’t working. This is especially true in group settings where you believe no one else will be as focused and efficient as you. Fortunately, there are ways to take charge of your learning experience while also leaving room for some unpredictability. Here are six learning strategies to consider:

Six Learning Strategies for Judging Types

  1. Take time to clarify expectations. Not every instructor will teach in the style you prefer. When you’re faced with unexpected or unclear requirements, take the time to figure out the scope of the project or assignment. You probably want to get started right away, but wait to proceed until you know more. If you’re setting goals for yourself, same applies – make sure you have clear expectations when it comes to what you’re trying to accomplish and in what timeframe.

  2. Don’t expect too much of yourself. Because you run a tight ship, it can feel rewarding to pile more on your to-do list. Try not to overload your schedule or expect perfection. It will just set you up for frustration later. In group learning situations, make sure the division of tasks is fair.

  3. Recognize when you need to take the reins. Some instructors are pretty hands-off. When that happens, do whatever you need to adapt. One Judging learner said, “College instructors didn’t tell me what chapters I should be reading or remind me about upcoming assignments like my high school teachers did. It took me a while to figure out that I needed to read the course outlines carefully and manage the deadlines myself.”

  4. Don’t make decisions too quickly. You probably like when things are done and decided. But making abrupt decisions can cause you to miss opportunities for additional learning. One Judging learner said, “In class, we were required to provide several alternatives to resolve a situation. This felt so challenging because I just wanted to make a decision about what I thought was the best and only solution.”

  5. Respectfully lead your fellow learners. In groups, it’s frustrating to feel like you’re the one doing all the work. Try to respectfully negotiate some timelines and expectations with your group. Remind them how free and accomplished everyone will feel when the project is finished. One Judging learner said, “I like to get the job done, but other people prefer to socialize and leave the task to the last minute. That just stresses me out. I’d rather dive right into the task and complete it with time to spare.”

  6. Schedule some down time. Last-minute interruptions can really throw a wrench in your efficient learning pace. If you leave some open time in your schedule, it can accommodate any unexpected changes so you can stress less.

Tips for leaders, managers and teachers who prefer Judging

If you’re a leader who prefers Judging, you probably lead the same way you prefer to learn. But not all of those around you will share the same preferences as you. Some will have Myers-Briggs preferences for Perceiving. This means they like the flexibility of open-ended learning. And they don’t necessarily mind when timelines or course requirements change. Think about your natural managing style and how you accommodate those who learn differently than you.

Things Perceiving Types Say: “Let’s wait and see.”

People who have a preference for Perceiving (P) are curious and exploratory. In a learning environment, they don’t mind if things are left open-ended or if they need to adjust timelines as they go. Perceiving learners often defer decision-making to explore new information. They’d take spontaneity over structure any day.

If you’re a Perceiving type, you like to keep your options open. You probably tell yourself you work well under pressure. But there may be times when you wish you were a little more organized. Since you’re good at going with the flow, why not give yourself the option to learn in a different way? Here are six strategies to help you become a more versatile learner:

Six Learning Strategies for Perceiving Types

  1. Keep your word. In group learning environments, not everyone will feel comfortable starting a project at the last minute. To prevent conflict, communicate two important things with your group: what tasks you’re personally responsible for and when you’ll finish them.

  2. Shift your perspective on time management. The idea of time management can feel restrictive. Instead, think of it this way: the sooner you finish that project, the sooner you can move on to other things. Schedules and timelines are there to help you.

  3. Minimize distractions. One of your best qualities is that you’re open to new ideas. But if your search for additional information impedes your learning process, you’ll need to block out the distractions. First, get clear about what you want to accomplish, and then do whatever it takes to get to that finish line. If it helps, try a Pomodoro Timer or listen to a neutral sound like Brown Noise while you work.

  4. Start earlier. Even if you think you work well under pressure, it can put a lot of unnecessary stress on your mind and body. One Perceiving learner said, “The first couple years of college, I wrote so many papers at the last minute. I convinced myself that it was just how I did things. Then I started giving myself little incentives to write a certain number of words each day leading up to the deadline. My grades really improved from there.”

  5. Communicate the importance of flexibility. Some highly structured learning environments could use a bit of flexibility. When that’s the case, try to negotiate or ask for some leeway. There’s probably a compromise that could work for everyone.

  6. Choose your learning environments wisely. Certain subjects and settings are more conducive to your preferred learning style. One Perceiving learner said, “Online courses are perfect for me. Participation feels less forced, and conversations with other people feel more natural. I actually look forward to my online classes.”

Tips for leaders, managers and teachers who prefer Perceiving

If you’re a leader who prefers Perceiving, you probably lead in a way that aligns with your natural learning style. To reach those who are Judging types, you may need to add some additional structure to your meetings, gatherings or classes (for example: handing out a list of all assignments and deadlines at the beginning of the course or sending out an agenda before the meeting).

For even more learning strategies, read the other blogs in this series on self-improvement:

Kickstart your self-improvement by understanding your MBTI learning style

Become a more flexible learner with these tips for extraverted and introverted types

How people with MBTI Sensing and Intuitive preferences learn most effectively