By Ramani Durvasula, PhD Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Professor of Psychology, and Author of You Are WHY You Eat: Change Your Food Attitude, Change Your Life
Did you order that coffee, or did that coffee order you? The type of coffee you order may speak more about your personality than you think.
This concept was based on my research, which included observation, work done in other countries and even a survey of over 1,000 coffee drinkers. The survey assessed numerous common personality styles and traits including: introversion/extraversion, patience, perfectionism, warmth, vigilance, sensitivity and social boldness among others.
People were given common scenarios such as how they approach waiting in a long line, planning a dinner party or what their weekends look like and asked to choose from a series of approaches to these scenarios. The survey also asked them if they drink coffee and what they typically order – and the results were not that surprising.
Take a look at this coffee summary and see where you fall:
The Light Side
The Dark Side
Latte drinkers (folks who add milk/cream and sugar)
Frozen/blended coffee drinks
Decaf/soy milk/Very specifically ordered coffee
I found that the black coffee drinkers were straight up, straightforward and no-nonsense. Whereas those double decaf, soy, extra-foamy folks tended to be more obsessive and controlling. The latte drinkers tended more to the neurotic and being people pleasers, while the instant coffee drinkers had a greater likelihood of being procrastinators. Finally, those sweet folks who order those sweet drinks (e.g. frapped up coffee drinks) were the overgrown kids who retained the taste buds and sensibilities of children.
Now, this was meant to be a sort of fun exercise, and while there was some interesting data to back it up, we are no more defined by our coffee orders than we are by our astrological signs. It is quite possible you may be a controlling latte drinker or a neurotic black-coffee drinker. I would expect no differently. If people were so easy to pigeonhole, life would be a lot less interesting.
While the segment was fun, it does speak to the important link between our health behaviors and our personalities. Our choices often speak volumes about us and sometimes we make “choices” without thinking. Sometimes those people who tend toward a more obsessive and controlling style may have more trouble when their “usual” options aren’t available, and that can make healthy choices harder for them when they are out of their usual comfort zone.
People pleasers, who may try to manage the bitterness of coffee with a little milk, may also try to please others at the table and eat the way the others want and not exerting themselves. Our personalities influence all spheres of our lives – our relationships, our jobs, our perceptions, our attitudes – and obviously will influence our choices.
And sometimes our personalities can make change harder. While some people with certain personality styles (e.g. those higher in openness) may embrace new things and new paths, others do not, and that can make instituting health changes – such as new dietary patterns – more challenging. As a result, a person may end up wanting to quit rather than taking a moment to see the connection between her personality and her choices. It may require mindfulness to push through certain personality styles, but armed with that knowledge, it may help any of us feel in better command of healthy behavior changes.
Maybe we don’t just have coffee personalities but also food personalities and exercise personalities. I would argue that, yes, we do for all three. Folks who are controlled and controlling may have an easier time following a strict diet and exercise plan, and people who are more easygoing may have an easier time making gradual changes on their own.
In my book You Are WHY You Eat, I talk about the concept of choice and how it is influenced by multiple factors: biology, other people, fear and temperament (or personality). Our choices can sometimes feel less like choices and more like something that happens to us. Does that mean personality is destiny? Not at all. In fact, the very definition of resilience is your ability to jump out of type when needed.
So stretch out your psyche from time to time. Perhaps a great place to start is that next time you go into your favorite coffee shop and want to order your usual super extra-foamy soy latte. Surprise yourself and the barista and order an old-school black coffee and see how that works out for you.