Life is full of things we want to do, things we need to do, and then, a more nebulous and harder to define area of things we should do.
Wants, of course, are just that. Things we want, and often, getting or doing things we want gives us some measure of happiness; often, a great deal of happiness.
Needs, on the other hand, are things we need to get by; food, shelter, and other basics. Depending on the train of thought you subscribe to, you could argue for specific emotional needs as well, but for now, I’m going to place that in the want category, as it’s not literally necessary for survival, though you may argue it’s necessary for happiness.
And then there’s the more nebulous things we should do; buy a home instead of rent so you build equity, make more friends instead of focusing on a few so you always have someone to turn to, seek out promotions to make more money so you can be more secure, and similar types of things. There’s other shoulds as well; things like exercise, eat healthy, and so on. You’ll note that some of these shoulds are quite debateable. They’re commonly agreed upon, but perhaps there’s more to it than that? Maybe, this is simply viewed as the road that is most secure instead of the one that leads to the greatest happiness. And perhaps, prioritizing wants or shoulds is a personal preference, and it’s mentally harmful to focus too much on what you should be doing instead of what you want to be doing.
This was the epiphany I’ve been working toward for the past week or two. And it’s taken a lot of time and effort to get myself to this place.
So let’s rewind a bit, to get some relevant background information. I had two incredibly close friends who have recently dropped out of my life. One did so permanently, in spectacular fashion, while the other has just been drifting away for a long time, and we’re still trying, but it feels like an uphill battle to find time sometimes. Suffice to say, that was not a great time for me.
Throughout this, I’ve had another close friend and roommate, who we’ll call Jean, who has been incredibly helpful and supportive. We don’t always speak the same language, but we always have each others backs and do our best for each other. She’s often pushed me to not grow so attached to people, though she knows as well as I do that it’s just not my way. I seek incredibly strong bonds of friendship, and attachment comes with the territory. She’s acknowledged this as well, just as I’ve acknowledged where I see what she says makes sense, even if I don’t think it fits for me.
I’ve also had some other realizations, and while talking with her about these, she gave me another incredibly important piece of advice; It’s ok if change takes time. Change is hard for most people, and recognizing there’s something to change makes you aware of it, so you can start to see the opportunities to change and grow.
It’s safe to say her advice and support has gone a long way toward helping me figure things out, even if my conclusions have come to be wildly different than she may have expected.
This brings me to another friend, who has much more recently come into my life, but has had a similar impact on my thinking lately. We’ll call her Lisa.
Lisa and I have been talking and hanging out for a few months now, and have grown a very close friendship in that time. She’s also been an incredibly supportive friend, though she’s the type to often be supportive and either let me draw my own conclusions, or help guide me to the ideas that make sense to me.
One thing that’s hard for me now is the idea of friends just deciding to up and leave at some point. As you might imagine, this stems very heavily from the two I mentioned earlier but never gave names for leaving or becoming distant.
Being friends with Lisa has reminded me what it’s like to not worry about that. And that in turn has also helped lead me to the most important realization, that everything else stems from. I have to leave room for the present; to enjoy life as it is now, and have faith in myself and the people I care about.
Lisa also gave me one piece of advice, that ties this all back together. When I was talking with her about being conflicted about things I should consider doing vs. things I wanted to be doing, she told me if things are working now, I should focus on what makes me happy now. I could still prepare for the other options to be options, but there’s no need to rush into it.
This leads me back to things I need, things I want, and things I should do or have. Often, when things I should do are at odds with both the things I want and the things I need, I’ve picked bad options for things I should be doing and need to re-evaluate. Because quite frankly, as Lisa advised me, what I should do is what makes me happy, and what meets my needs. Not things that might make me more secure, or might make me more happy at some nebulous point in the future. Rather, things that will make me happy now. Enjoy life now. Be with the people I care about now.
And in a way, doing these things that make me happy, rather than those I’ve been told are best for me, is also meeting my needs, as I alluded to at the beginning when I brought up emotional needs, though didn’t classify them as needs at the time. That’s the important thing I’ve realized. Doing the things that make me happy is important for meeting my needs as a person, and I need to continue doing so, even if they go against the common wisdom.
So moving forward, I encourage you to try considering your needs from this perspective as well. Think about what you’re doing because you “should” do it vs. what you do because you want to do it, and what actually makes you happiest. Consider treating your happiness as something you do for yourself more often, just like taking care of your physical health, and see what kind of difference it makes for you.
Obligatory Note: I’m not a psychologist, psychiatrist, or licensed anything. This is just something that interests me, and is written and presented to the best of my understanding. I’ve found it incredibly useful in my life, but naturally, you should do your own research too.
I started reading about personality types in earnest starting sometime last year. I started with, and still focus on, the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality types because it’s what I had heard about most often growing up and it seemed easy enough to get into. Turns out, it’s actually a lot more complex than I expected. But, there’s also some handy building blocks to the system that make it easier to conceptualize types if you don’t like memorizing things. Which made it exactly what I wanted.
This post is not going to go into great detail with each personality type. Instead, I want to focus on the cognitive functions that build each type, and a little about what they mean and how they work in theory. If you want detailed descriptions about personality types, I recommend starting with Personality Junkie’s Type Profiles.
So what are cognitive functions? They’re basically the building blocks of your mental processes; they outline how you think. In MBTI models, every person possesses four out of the possible eight cognitive functions based on their type, and also has a preferred order and method in which they use them.
There are four functions, and each can have an attitude focusing it outward (extroversion) or inward (introversion). Often, the function and attitude together is referred to as a cognitive function as well, and I’ll be referring to them as such through most of this post.
So first, let’s talk about the four functions, then I’ll move on to attach their attitudes afterward.
Thinking – Makes decisions based on reasoning or empirical information.
Feeling – Makes decisions based on values and emotion, whether their own or those of society.
Intuition – Takes in information by recognizing patterns, unconscious synthesis of other information, and putting the pieces together.
Sensing – Takes in information directly by observing it through the five senses.
Now, let’s add in some attitudes to flesh these out a bit more. You’ll see why this is important soon. I’ll explain judging and perceiving shortly below, but just know the labels are included here for a reason.
Extroverted Thinking (Te) – Makes decisions based on systems in the world and empirical evidence. Hard sciences, bureaucracy, and even MBTI are examples of such systems.
Introverted Thinking (Ti) – Makes decisions based on a carefully crafted internal logic that looks for accuracy based on reasoning. If Te is inclined to science, Ti would be inclined to philosophy.
Extroverted Feeling (Fe) – Makes decisions based on maintaining harmony amongst the group, often looks toward the greater social good.
Introverted Feeling (Fi) – Makes decisions based on core internal values, making sure to be true to themselves.
Extroverted iNtuition (Ne) – Perceives the world by trying and exploring and experimenting. Every new experience provides new information about the world.
Introverted iNtuition (Ni) – Perceives the world by synthesizing currently available information and forming it into a specific vision or perspective on the world or situation. Often directed toward the future.
Extroverted Sensing (Se) – Perceives the world directly through the five senses.Is focused on concrete information in the present.
Introverted Sensing (Si) – Perceives the world by remembering experiences so they can be called upon in the present. Often directed past to present.
It’s incredibly important to note that these are very simplified descriptions of each function, to give you a brief summary and jumping off point. You’ll definitely want to read more about cognitive functions from more detailed sources over time to get a better understanding of them. I really like Personality Hacker’s article on cognitive functions. That said, be aware this is also partially them explaining why they use different “nicknames” for cognitive functions as well. Still, I found it to be a nice, accessible way to learn more about them when I was starting out.
Now, lets start putting all of this together. In MBTI, the idea is that each personality type primarily uses four of the eight cognitive functions – this doesn’t mean that traits of a given function don’t exist in a person if they aren’t part of their “stack,” but the traits related to the four that a type possesses will be the most noticeable and best understood, with the first two functions being a person’s favorite to make use of.
Not only does each type have four functions, but four very specific functions; one introverted judging, one extroverted judging, one introverted perceiving, and one extroverted perceiving. Judging functions are how a type makes decisions, and what they base those decisions on. Perceiving functions are how a type takes in and synthesizes information about the world. So we have one function for making decisions based on internal information, one for making decisions based on external information, one for perceiving internal information, and one for perceiving external information.
One other important thing is that the order of the functions is very important. The first function is considered the dominant function, the second the auxiliary function, the third the tertiary function, and the fourth the inferior function. The dominant function is a person’s most preferred way of thinking. It is supported by the auxiliary function, and together these first two will provide one perceiving and one judging function, along with one introverted and one extroverted function.
These first two together give a person the tools they need to function in the world both inwardly and outwardly, as well as to perceive the world and decide what to do in the world. These are a person’s preferred functions, and most people will think in a manner consistent with these functions when possible.
From here, these two are further supported by the tertiary and inferior functions. The tertiary and inferior functions provide alternative means of making decisions and perceiving the world, and can be used to either supplement the dominant and auxiliary, or to deal with situations that a person’s preferred functions are ill equipped to deal with. These are not a person’s preferred way of thinking however, so it can be draining to use them in this way for too long. They are often less developed, especially earlier in life, though some types, particularly idealists who seek wholeness of self, tend to try to develop these parts of themselves when they are able.
So now, I’m going to break down each type by their functions, then go over this in a bit more detail. You may also notice I’ve sorted them by Kiersey’s Temperaments if you’re familiar with his work or MBTI. This will be useful later too.
SJ, Introverted Sensors, Guardians:
ESTJ – Te Si Ne Fi
ESFJ – Fe Si Ne Ti
ISTJ – Si Te Fi Ne
ISFJ – Si Fe Ti Ne
SP, Extroverted Sensors, Artisans:
ESTP – Se Ti Fe Ni
ESFP – Se Fi Te Ni
ISTP – Ti Se Ni Fe
ISFP – Fi Se Ni Te
NF, Intuitive Feelers, Idealists:
ENFP – Ne Fi Te Si
ENFJ – Fe Ni Se Ti
INFP – Fi Ne Si Te
INFJ – Ni Fe Ti Se
NT, Intuitive Thinkers, Rationals:
ENTP – Ne Ti Fe Si
ENTJ – Te Ni Se Fi
INTP – Ti Ne Si Fe
INTJ – Ni Te Fi Se
Now, the next thing to recognize is the functions follow a certain pattern with each type, and this can help you easily work out the functions for any type. Then, if you know the functions for a type, you can get a basic feel for how they think. Combining that with Kiersey’s temperaments will give you a decent basic overview of a person based on their type. Or, to put the pieces together to make a reasonable guess at someone’s type if you know a bit about them already.
Let’s take my type, INFP, as an example. First, the I tells us that my dominant function is introverted. This means I lead with an introverted function. All stacks alternate introverted and extroverted functions, so we start with this pattern here:
i e i e
Next, the P means I’m a perceiver. What this means is that my preferred extroverted function is a perceiving function. Because my extroverted function is the second, or auxiliary, function, this will tell us my second function. In this case, that’s the N for intuition. This gives us the following:
i Ne i e
Next, my other preferred function, F for feeling, goes in the other open spot at the top of my stack. In this case, that’s the introverted dominant function. Let’s see where that puts us:
Fi Ne i e
Now, we pair these functions with their opposites. The second function pairs with the third, and the first pairs with the fourth. Ne pairs with Si, and Fi pairs with Te. Also worth noting, for other types, is that Ni pairs with Se, and Fe pairs with Ti. Knowing these opposite pairings, we get the following final stack:
Fi Ne Si Te
It’s worth noting that for introverts, whether you’re a judger or a perceiver tells you your second, or auxilary, function since judging and perceiving refers to the function you show others. For extroverts, where you fall on the judging or perceiving axis will tell you your first, or dominant, function, since extroverts will have their extroverted function as their dominant function. For both types, your other preferred function will then fill the role of the introverted function. And from there, you can pair them with their opposites to finish the stack.
Let’s do one more example to try and show this point. This time, I’ll break down the stack of the ESFJ.
Starting out, the ESFJ is an extroverted type. As such, we’ll begin with this pattern:
e i e i
Next, the ESFJ is a judging type. This means that they extrovert their preferred judging function, F for feeling. This leads us to the following:
Fe i e i
Now, we know the other preferred function they have is S for Sensing. This fills the other preferred spot in their stack, giving us this:
Fe Si e i
Now, like before, we pair the preferred functions with their opposites. This gives us the result:
Fe Si Ne Ti
This works for all sixteen personality types. You can also do this in reverse, if you can determine the ways a person prefers to think or sees the world, by pairing how they think with their cognitive functions, then extrapolating their type from that.
The reason recognizing this pattern is so useful is that you don’t have to memorize descriptions of types. You can just remember the pattern for determining the functions of a type, and remember what each function covers in terms of a person’s preferences.
Now, one other useful thing is recognizing Kiersey’s Temperaments. While the functional stack covers how a person processes information and makes decisions internally, the temperaments covers more how that thought process manifests externally. So let’s go over the temperaments here.
Guardians (SJs): Guardians tend to value responsibility and stability. They tend to trust authority and care about tradition and community.
Artisans (SPs): Artisans tend to strongly value freedom to do as they will at any given moment. They tend to be hands on, and skilled with physical tasks.
Idealists (NFs): Idealists tend to value unique identities and seek a sense of purpose in the world. They tend to be cooperative, avoid conflict, and express empathy for others.
Rationals (NTs): Rationals tend to value intelligence and logical consistency. They focus on learning about the the world as it is now and seek to create progress from there.
And like many earlier parts of this article, this is greatly simplified. For in depth information about the temperaments, I’d check out Kiersey.com’s Overview of the Four Temperaments.
So now, by looking at a type’s temperament and the make up of their functions, you can begin to piece together a reasonable model of someone’s thought processes along with their expression of that thought process. Of course, this is still a model; people have unique personalities, and no one will perfectly fit in a box by type. But this model can be helpful in seeing more about how you think, and how you may interact with others who think the same as you or differently from you. It can also, if you aren’t already aware of them, help you find where your blind spots may be in tandem with more in depth information on personality types, so you can use it as a tool to better develop yourself as a person if you so choose. It can also just be fun to see how well it matches up.