Are you ready to understand yourself and others better?

introvert mbti personality self-knowledge Feb 26, 2018
a row of coloured pencils

I’ve been getting quite a few requests recently to provide some more resources on explaining the Myers-Briggs system of personality typing.  One of the reasons I’ve hesitated to do this is because Personality Hacker, the company who I trained with, already have some really excellent resources and I didn’t want to duplicate any of the work that they have done.  I really believe that Personality Hacker are producing some of the best resources currently available on this topic.  If you are interested in learning more about MBTI then I highly recommend checking out their website and, in particular, their podcast.

Having said that, the number of requests that I am getting does also indicate to me that there is a lot of interest in me creating some more resources of my own.  So today, I’m starting with a really basic overview of the Myers-Briggs system. I hope that what I see will help you to see how MBTI can be such a powerful tool when it comes to understanding yourself and others.


What is Myers-Briggs?

MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) is a system of personality profiling that was developed in the mid-twentieth century by Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother Katharine Briggs, based on the theory of psychological types described by Carl Jung.

MBTI measures preference, not competence or character.  My belief is that this means that it is better suited to personal development work than it is for use in the workplace.  And if you want to read more about my opinions on some of the ways that I believe MBTI is used and misused, you can take a look at my previous article on the pros and cons of MBTI.

But my favourite aspect of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is that all of the characteristics it measures are valued equally and considered to be equally important. No type is considered better than the other. It’s just a way to understand the beautiful diversity of ways that humans can show up to the world.

For me, MBTI has been the single most powerful tool I have encountered when it comes to models for understanding myself and others better.

Most of the ways in which we encounter MBTI are online quizes that we mostly take just for fun and which then churn out a static description of who you apparently are as a person.  And whilst I admit that this can be quite a fun way to spend 15 minutes, it doesn’t do justice to the depth and wisdom that is contained within the Myers-Briggs system.  Obviously, not all of that depth can be contained in a single blog post either! But I hope that I can at least give you a little taster that makes you curious to learn more.


What do all those letters stand for?

Your Myers-Briggs type is basically a 4 letter code, each of these letters represents something which is technically called a dichotomy. And in the broadest sense, these letters represent the ways in which you show up to the world.

The possible options are:

  • Either you are an I (introvert) or an E (extrovert)
  • Either you are an S (sensor) or an N (intuitive)
  • Either you are an F (feeler) or a T (thinker)
  • Either you are a J (judger) or a P (perceiver)

I’m presuming that you are probably an introvert, but your personality type might, for example, be an ISFJ or an INTP, and these types will look very different from each other.

Now I should also say that we all have a little bit of all eight of these characteristics inside us – so really your personality type is just which of these tendencies are more dominant. But I’ll talk more about that in a moment. For now, let’s just make sure that we’re all clear on what those letters stand for.


Introvert or Extrovert

Sometimes people think that this is about how sociable you are, but that really isn’t the difference at all. You can be a sociable introvert or a quiet extrovert.

What this is about is how you manage your energy: an introvert is someone who is drained by interacting with the outside world and recharges by spending time alone whereas an extrovert is someone who needs higher levels of interactions with the outside world (though sometimes this may look more like productivity than sociability!).

But even deeper than that — the reason why introverts and extroverts manage their energy differently is because of a difference in how they perceive the world.

For extroverts, the outside world is the real world and they crave interactions with it because that gives them more feedback on how the world works. In contrast, accessing their inner world is something that they have probably had to work to feel comfortable with.

For introverts, their inner world is the real world. Whenever an introvert experiences something new they need to decide how to incorporate the outer world information into their inner world. This process may be unconscious, but it is still exhausting! So there is only so much new information that an introvert can assimilate before they need some alone time to catch up and recharge.

If you want to read more about this then check out my earlier post, What is introversion?


Sensor or Intuitive

This is about how you prefer to learn new information. Sensors tend to prefer reliable, verifiable information based on the feedback of their senses. Whereas Intuitives tend to be more interested in learning through pattern recognition, they tend to prefer speed and depth of insight and possibilities thinking and can sometimes feel constrained if they have to stay within the realms of what is real and provable.


Feeler or Thinker

All thinkers feel and all feelers think! This is not about your capacity for rational thought or for experiencing emotions. This is about how you make your best decisions.

Feelers make their best decisions when they consider the human impact of a decision, on themselves and/or other people. Thinkers make their best decisions when they are able to depersonalise the factors that go into their decision making and turn them into data points instead.


Judger or Perceiver

This is the most abstract of the dichotomies to explain and it is also the one that online tests most struggle to identify. But it has a huge impact on our personality type!

Essentially what this is about is how we manage two conflicting needs. As humans we all have a need for freedom and we all have a need for organisation and yet, to some extent, those needs are in conflict with each other – if we had complete organisation there would be no freedom and vice versa.

If you are a Judger, you prefer to have your freedom in your internal world, to let your mind wander and make creative connections. In order to do this you organise your outer world in an attempt to minimise the number of things that are likely to disrupt the freedom of your inner world. The stereotype of the Judger is someone who always like to be on time and who enjoys organising their cupboards. But many Judgers (myself included!) can actually be very disorganised in lots of ways, if they feel that the act of organising something would deplete their inner freedom rather than support it.

If you are a Perceiver, you prefer to have your freedom in the outside world, to be spontaneous and responsive, and in order to do that you organise your inner world of thoughts and feelings so that you have the most chance of being able to respond in the moment in a way that reflects who you are. The stereotype of the Perceiver is someone who tends to love adventures and may be a bit messy. But many Perceivers can be very tidy, if they feel that this way of showing up to the world is part of how they express their identity.


What are cognitive functions?

A lot of information about cognitive functions is quite technical – and so most people never bother. But this is my best attempt to explain it as clearly as I can.

Put simply, cognitive functions are mental processes or patterns of thinking (they are the mental wiring behind the behaviours that introductions to MBTI usually focus on). And your 4 letter Myers-Briggs type (e.g. ISFJ or INTP) is a code that, when deciphered, can tell you what patterns of thinking your brain loves. And, just as importantly, what patterns of thinking tend to trip you up.

The best way that I’ve come across of explaining this to ask you to imagine that your brain is a four-passenger car (like the one below).  Each of these passengers represents a cognitive function, or way of thinking.

In the front of the car, behind the steering wheel, you’ve got the driver. This represents your absolute favourite way of thinking and your primary way of engaging with the world.

Next to the driver is the co-pilot. This represents your area of highest leverage personal growth – it is an area of natural talent for us but one which may be less developed because it doesn’t feel as good to use as our driver.

Then in the back of the car, you’ve got two children – behind the driver is the three-year-old, and behind the co-pilot is the ten-year-old.  These are not bad part of ourselves any more than children are bad people – but they do represent skills that are less developed for us and sometimes things can get a little messy if we ask them to take on responsibilities that should belong to the adults in the front of the car.

The real beauty of understanding cognitive functions is that it encourages us to explore the depths that are sometimes missing from many of the more shallow discussions of MBTI. It gives language to the complexities that lie within all of us.

So, for example, one of the criticisms that is sometimes leveled against MBTI is that the dichotomies (described in the section ‘what do all those letters stand for?’) are too simplistic. One of the most common situations is when people type out as an introvert or an extrovert but feel that they have some of the characteristics of the other inside them. But this same pattern also plays out for each of the dichotomies. And these kinds of criticisms sometimes lead people to say that MBTI is too simplistic and therefore not helpful.

But once you start to understand cognitive functions you start to see that actually everyone has some aspect of each of the dichotomies included in their personality type, it’s just the level of skill that we have in that area which varies.

So for example, an introvert is someone who has an introverted driver process. But every introvert will have an extroverted co-pilot process. And vice versa – an extrovert is someone who has an extroverted driver process and an introverted co-pilot process. It makes sense, right!? After all, in order to be healthy, we all need ways to interact with both our inner and our outer worlds.

A similar pattern is also true for the thinker/feeler dichotomy. Someone who types out as a feeler is someone who has a feeling process in the front of the car (driver or co-pilot). But every feeler will have a thinking function in their car it will just be sitting in the back seats (either in the three-year-old or ten-year-old position).

The main thing that I want to get across in this post isn’t necessarily the detail of how cognitive functions work, so much as it is the general principle that there’s so much more to MBTI than you might initially have realised. Once you understand the cognitive functions for your type, then MBTI can help you to explore the type of activities that might reenergise you most efficiently, the type of personal development work that will have the most impact on you, the types of defensive behaviours and blind spots that you might have.

And if that sounds like something you might be interested in learning more about then you should definitely check The Introvert Library’s free course, Effortless Energy, because that explains how you can use knowledge of your cognitive functions to redesign your life so that you can really thrive as an introvert.

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