Marc's INTJ Blog

Cognitive Functions: Some Si in Practice

Thursday December 5, 2019

One of the cognitive function-perspectives that can be valuable to INTJs is “introverted sensing,” or Si. It’s dead last in the traditional model of functions to which INTJs give their attention. Which means we don’t usually give it that much attention at all. This can have some serious implications for our health.

What is Si?

Si has many facets and aspects. Some people say it’s 100% this facet and definitely not that other one. But I like a lot of the theories and possible facets of Si. And I think it’s a good idea to be inclusive where thought models are concerned. After all, we’re humans, and as humans one of our special gifts is entertaining all kinds of ideas, even conflicting ones.

A couple of facets of Si I’d like to highlight here are: 1) Si is about your internal feeling of health and comfort and 2) Si is about finding your “thing” or preferred sense of being and feeling, as an individual, sensory being.

(You might have also heard that Si is concerned with memory, tradition, history, duty, etc.—all of this still OK and valid I think, but for this discussion I like the health-perspective. I’d say ISFJs are one of the best personality types for demonstrating this type of Si work.)

Attacking a Problem by Attending to Si

Today, I needed to become comfortable in the physical, sensory sense, so I decided to attend to Si more than I might usually. I gave it some time and watched it develop.

It took me about 5 hours to finally figure out how I could get more comfortable, but it worked really well.

First: What was it? I just felt off. So I started thinking about what felt off. Or, “where” felt off.

  • First, my shoes. I was still wearing my hiking shoes from an earlier hike. So let’s change shoes. That felt much better.
  • Next, there was much to do. My mind felt full of information, just swimming! I laid down on my office couch, rested a bit, and got all of my information out. I info-dumped into Google Keep for a bit.
  • After that, I realized my eyes were feeling fatigued. Oh, maybe my computer monitor shouldn’t look like a lamp in terms of brightness. Confirmed after brief research, and added to my notes on eye health and ergonomics.
  • After this, I was still feeling stiff, worn out…sitting down felt annoying.
  • Back to the office couch. (If you have an office, do you have an office couch? I got one after a therapist friend bragged about the epic naps she took on her couch.) A 10 minute lay-down. Deep breaths. What a difference that made. Nice.
  • While laying down, I also picked up a portable radio that was nearby and found a nice station with some music I hadn’t heard in a while. I could tell it was really good for the emotions.
  • With the monitor brightness turned down, with my body relaxed, I felt great about getting up and continuing with my work. If you read my recent post about a new to-do list method, my afternoon work ended up with five circles filled in, five squares, and some progress on a couple of diamonds. A great result.

How my Si perspective differs from my usual thing

Previously I would have thought about my comfort or health in terms of sensory “ideas” which are not really interlinked. I should stretch, I should exercise, I should meditate. I should optimize my workspace. Don’t you know about that? All of us should know about that! (This is really an extraverted style, in that it starts with the outside idea, usually someone else’s concept, or a group’s shared and known concept, first.)

But introverted sensation is different in an important way. It says, “Forget all those other peoples’ ideas and methods. What thing or combination of things would be just right given your current condition? Which part of your body seems it needs attention right now? How can you take better care of your whole self right now?”

And maybe it’s one thing, or maybe it’s a chain of things. Maybe it’s your body, but maybe it’s just your wrist. And maybe it will change throughout the day, as a tight muscle here also affects muscles over there.

It takes time, too. I think “introversion equals depth” is a really good perspective with which to explore this set of introverted perceptions. Depth takes time. One can’t expect to be good at this right off the bat. And the journey is usually worth it.

So if you’ll be working for the duration, really diving into your career, or if you just want to extend your life as best you can, I really think it’s worth exploring Si and giving some serious attention to Si in practice.

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Some Tips on Working with Troubling Ideas

Thursday December 5, 2019

A couple of years ago, I heard a quote that immediately got under my skin. Paraphrased, it went something like this:

“Being an INTJ means constantly feeling like your hands are tied, and constantly working to untie them.”

I still remember the immediate feeling of identification: It was so true! In so many ways. I was always trying to get my hands untied in projects, goals, relationships, you name it. Feeling tied-up was a great metaphor.

But later, the follow-on feeling arrived: “Is this what my life will amount to? This constant feeling of frustration, feeling tied up?”

If true, that didn’t sound good at all. The thought felt incredibly heavy in my mind.

So was this really true? Or was this concept a false one?

Disclaimer

The methods described below might not work well if you’re worn out, exhausted, or just feeling tired. It’s difficult to work constructively under such circumstances, and accompanying perceptions tend to be dark. If that sounds like you, please take some time out for yourself, get rested, enjoy a nice treat, and re-approach.

Understanding that True and False have Limits

I think this experience really demonstrates the way a true or false model for evaluating thoughts can let a person down. Do you have to pick one of those two? Are there no other options? Because personally, I think I would have gone with “true”, and what a depressing feeling that was.

In practice, it is very easy to accept the premise that there is this idea that’s T or F, and then debate its truth or falsehood. It’s a common pattern (and by the way, it’s a pattern that could trap anybody, of any personality type).

So, one possibly helpful conclusion is: This doesn’t really need to be true or false. It’s just one way of looking at things. It’s a perspective.

Evaluating Perspectives

Now that we can hold this up as a perspective, we can evaluate its leverage points.

  • It may have leverage in highlighting an issue that may be frustrating to INTJs.
  • Therefore, it may have leverage in highlighting an issue that is worth discussing with INTJs.
  • It has very low leverage in providing any kind of insight for growing up and out of the problem.
  • Therefore, on its own, it may feel relentlessly critical and even painful.

On balance, I’d say that this perspective is really risky if offered on its own.

In terms of quality, that’s a huge point against a mental framework. To our inner critic, this can be something to rail against, to complain about. We can see exactly why this is not a very useful perspective.

But! This means we also have an opportunity for engagement with a problem, to use and demonstrate an even more impressive gift. This is where the world tends to say, “the critic role we can give or take, but we like this constructive-conceptualizing-engaging part of our INTJs.”

Engaging with the Perspective and its World

I’ve mentioned before that INTJs are often fantastic at dealing with metaphor. Not only can we engage with problems, but we can engage with problems in the visualized, ethereal world in which they live and are conceived as symbolic relations to other concepts. Long before an idea ever sees reality, we can visualize it and manipulate it.

In effect, we can enter the imagination, play with the idea and the entire imagined world in which it exists; we can add new things, or rearrange things, and finally say, “see? It’s better now.”

This is something that has taken me years to understand, as a very unique gift which can be developed in INTJs. (Not all INTJs believe they can do this, but the intuition itself is a world which can be known better, and the capacity here is nearly always incredible if explored)

So with this thought about having one’s hands tied, here’s where I ended up:

A New Idea, An Idea Improved

I developed a simple add-on metaphor that brought me some peace. It gives a bit more direction to the original idea; a vector, a new pathway. And it lends possibility, or a good chance, of increasingly positive outcomes.

It’s simple, and I offer it only as an example of a constructive, intuitive-space addition to an existing, potentially troubling idea.

So:

Fine—are your hands always getting tied up? Does this bother you?

Then become a Houdini.

(And please—give it some thought! He makes a powerful metaphor.)

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The Balance-first, Approachable To-Do List

Wednesday December 4, 2019

Here is my latest project. It’s a to-do list method. I am calling it the Balance-first, Approachable To-Do List.

(Shall we nickname this BATL? Maybe. I like the metaphor…)

The goal of this list is to bring clarity to your condition of productivity balance and prevent productivity exhaustion by intentionally managing important aspects like personal values, enjoyment, relaxation, energy levels, and overall clarity, within the to-do list itself.

Specific Outcomes

As a result of using a Balance-first list, your to-do list should feel more attractive or interesting to you and it should seem more approachable.

The energy or motivation you feel at the end of the day should also be more fulfilling, since you made progress, kept yourself comfortable, and pushed forward in living a life which is calibrated to your values.

The list is composed of three different types of to-do list items, with each item type representing an important area of concern in achieving a balanced and fulfilling outcome.

The Three Types of To-Do List Items

  • SQUARE Items: Daily productivity, errands, and “meh” or “groan” items. Examples: Pay water bill; reply to so-and-so’s email about work meeting.
  • DIAMOND Items: Values-driven items—related to personal goals, personal development, and longer-term interests. Usually mid- to long-term. Examples: Finish first aid certification process; Schedule campground for this weekend; Practice the piano.
  • CIRCLE Items: Immediate play, interest, relaxation, or enjoyment items. Examples: Watch new James Bond movie trailer; Play a round of computer golf; Change into pajamas.

Corresponding Graphical Symbols (for use when writing by hand)

  • □ Hollow rectangle / square
  • ◇ Hollow diamond (this is drawn as a rotated square or rectangle)
  • ○ Hollow circle

These are then shaded or filled up, bottom to top, as you make progress.

Example 1: As you complete the sign-up for an online course you’ve been wanting to complete, perhaps you fill in your hollow diamond by about 10%.

Example 2: In reviewing your list, you realize that by changing out of your running clothes and into something more comfortable, you already completed about half of your “Get comfortable” circle—an item that felt really good when you wrote it down. You fill in the circle halfway and add a note next to it: “Turn on the fan and play some music,” clarifying the final steps.

Non-graphical Symbols (for use when typing)

When typing, you can use the following symbols:

  • Rectangle is expressed as T (from “To-Do”)
  • Diamond is expressed as V (from “Values”)
  • Circle is expressed as F (from “Fun”)

Since these letters cannot be made hollow and filled in as we go, we add a dash and then a number indicating how much progress we’ve made, from 0-9 and including X, with X meaning “task complete.” Additionally, brackets are used to set these items apart in your text editor or writing software.

Example 1: [T-5] Activate new debit card. Make phone call next. (The number 5 indicates that the first 50% of the task was completed when the debit card was brought from the kitchen counter to the desk workspace; now only a phone call remains).

Example 2: [F-X] Turn on a favorite TV show to watch in the background. (The show is now on, and this task has been marked complete with an “X”)

Bad Example: [V-2] Complete University Course on Calculus. (This task is lacking clarity. The verb “complete” does not illustrate any next steps, and is more like a goal, rather than a task tied to a goal or value.)

Beginner Tips for Best Balance

  • A beginner’s list should have more circles (F) and diamonds (V), than rectangles (T).
  • A beginner’s list should have more circles (F) than diamonds (V), especially if they have experienced productivity exhaustion.
  • A list should be rewritten and reorganized whenever a new day has come or when the list is over 50% complete, whichever seems appropriate. If typing, you may wish to start putting completed items in a separate area of your file.
  • If a list does not immediately seem to offer you positive energy, look at adding more circle (F) and diamond (V) items first.
  • Another helpful exercise is to re-rank items easiest-first.

What to Expect as a Beginner

Remember that your energy and perceptions may jump to, or swing quickly between, positive / negative as you evaluate or study this from a beginner’s point of view. Not only is this a new type of list notation, but it’s also a new and more inclusive way of looking at productivity for many.

Pay attention to initial, inner criticisms like, “it looks complex.” Ask yourself: Have you tried it yet? For how long? How does it work for you in practice? What do you like / dislike? A good beginner’s goal for any new undertaking should involve developing a nuanced, multi-dimensional point of view.

This is new information, and to your introverted side, new information is sometimes easily interpreted as an enemy. But please give it a try. I’d love to hear your feedback.

Other Important Principles

Energy-first Prioritization

Always start with the item that seems most attractive right now, regardless of the type of item. Even if you feel some guilt, it’s usually wisest to go where your energy leads first.

Use the energy from that activity to lead yourself into the question: Where am I with these other things?

To break through a hard item, it must be clarified.

Otherwise Priority-free

Do not rank or prioritize tasks, unless:

  • The task is immediately urgent within the next hour or so, and you feel you currently have energy to accomplish it.

Raw Information-first

If you’re just getting ideas down, just write or type them out. Don’t feel pressured to apply these special terms or symbols until you have the ideas down. This is a first step in Clarity—just getting the raw information out.

Linked to the Three Points / Three-C Model

The concepts here will help you link your To-Do list with the Three Points of the Productivity Triangle, also known as the Three-C Model. They do this by establishing Clarity and helping you find Comfort. Further concerns about Courage should then be easier to address, as needed.

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Three Things I Would Change About My 20s, If I Went Back Today

Monday December 2, 2019

Lately I’ve been asked a few times what I would change if I went back in time to my 20s. (Why not 30s or teens? I think this is because people really start to feel like they have social freedom and a sort of performance question on their hands, in their 20s. It’s an exciting and unnerving decade for many.)

Here are three things I would change if I could go back to my 20s today:

Social Wisdom and Inner Wisdom Sometimes Diverge

In my 20s, my actions demonstrated that I thought achievement meant a socially-formulated happiness. I judged my goals by their impact, which meant that they were socially-calibrated.

While I would never have said, “hey, money is really what it’s about,” a lot of my actions were informed by a pursuit of a high-earning career, for example.

Going back to that time, I think I would ask more questions like, “how would someone with your beliefs about success act on a day like today? What would they do right now?”

Oh and also, “what would be fun and interesting today?” I have learned that “fun” is underrated and really poorly explored during in the average person’s mid- to late-20s.

Health is You, in Your Totality

In my 20s, I thought good health started with exercise. Feeling unhealthy? Get outdoors! Hit the gym! Get in an hour of cardio, or go lift.

Nowadays I’m more likely to say that health is about weird stuff like: Balance, pacing, design, and reflection. I take a broader view of health.

I’m also much more healthy now than I was then.

I took a really hard approach to exercise in my 20s, but I also emerged from my 20s with a continuing battle against mental health issues on my hands. I had to admit that the exercise alone was not doing as much as I wanted it to. Even if it was something like a martial art including a lot of movement combined with meditation and life philosophy, things were, on balance, not really feeling great.

Overcoming this huge mental health burden while doing simple exercises like walking and hiking taught me a lot about my internal health, my whole-body-system health.

So, in my 20s you could have told me “if you’re depressed, get more exercise” and I might have replied that this was obvious. Upon reflection in my late 30s, however, I learned that this kind of thinking even contributed to depression symptoms I had previously experienced. I didn’t have the right tools to look beyond these health-knowledge-maxims and exercise-knowledge-maxims and into my own subjective condition.

A Do-it-now Performance Bias is Not an Introvert’s Best Friend

In my 20s, I thought that I needed to do all of this sensory stuff, and do it really well. Oh, and I thought I needed to do it now, in order to stay ahead of the curve. Designing, building, performing, coding, writing, and so on.

Success, it seemed, was wrapped in a tortilla of getting things done in the sensory realm. This created an energy-draining vortex of huge proportions as I raided my best personal resources in search of a way to accomplish the day’s list of tasks.

On top of that—sadly—even when I accomplished all those tasks I was left with a huge emotional weight. Who was I working for? What was I really trying to prove? And was this the best way to live a life?

These days, my tortilla is designed in the intuitive realm and then it’s kept up there for reexamination. I have learned that I need to continually return to the big picture, even when I would have previously thought the rest of the job was nothing but details to get right. If I’m procrastinating a project, it usually turns out that there’s a big-picture issue, not a little-picture one. And many times those are much easier to attack for us intuitives.

Summary

Well, there’s more than this…I had another three bullet points here but I just don’t have time right now so maybe later.

If you’re in your 20s now, and reading this: Please look after yourself as best you can, and contact me if you have anything you want to talk about, as I’m always happy to help. Email’s in the sidebar.

(Now…what would I change about my 40s, ten years from now, or even 20 years from now? I’m actually kind of excited to find out. So far my 40s have been a huge improvement in comparison to the previous decades.)

Filed in: /15/ | /12/ | /26/ | /52/

Is Deep, Effective Change Really Possible?

Tuesday November 5, 2019

Do you think people can change?

INTJs are commonly and perhaps even “notoriously” change-oriented, but many INTJs who are in the Energy Reactive zone for one reason or another tend to find themselves in a strange position. On the one hand, they’d love to believe that change is possible. In the big-picture, they even see it as inevitable.

On the other hand, people in this position are often concerned that things in the immediate present could be simpler to attack if they take the position that change is not likely, not possible, and essentially not worth the time.

Here they come, then, approaching a huge problem with only what’s on their back. It’s daring, if not always advisable. Why not build some tools to take along? Some creative weapons, even? Why not…change a bit, before, during, and after tackling that big problem?

Help, I’m stuck on a rail

It can be incredibly frustrating to feel like you’re stuck riding a rail toward a bad place in your life. This type of perception tends to come to INTJs when we are stressed out. I know I have seen some very prominent rails coming. In my mind’s eye, I was already stuck, reality or no. (Repressing the thought of those rails is, I find, a terrific way to end up stress-eating.)

As a result, a sort of change-pessimism forms. This is one of the first symptoms: If what I see coming is truly what’s coming, then almost by definition, meaningful change is impossible…! This is a sort of tyranny of the INTJ’s intuition. Our ego—powerful, strong…now acting against us, as it were.

But the perceived rail, in many cases, is simply that: A strong perception. In other words, be it a genuine oncoming rail or not, what you’re seeing ahead is a terrible and overcoming vision of you meeting that rail and becoming stuck to it. You may start to act like you’re on a rail, but even that doesn’t mean that the rail is really there.

Help, I need to get off the rail in my mind, so I don’t get stuck on the rail in real life

What’s often needed here are tools that assist in executive function. Perceptions strong, judgments weak. Up the judgment quantity and quality—and boom, many rail-riding situations are ended this way.

Measurement and analysis are two really excellent tools for making executive decisions. You know, I’ve blogged about those things before.

Help, I don’t think I have time for that, and I’m not sure it will work

And this kind of sentiment is where real change is avoided: OK, so here’s a new thing to learn; it could go deep, and there’s this change-panic that sets in: I don’t know how much time I have; what if it’s not enough. And what if it doesn’t work; I have no contingency. What else is there? And we move on to something else.

In the end, if you are forced to solve the problem in front of you using the same tools you’ve always used, because you couldn’t really settle deeply into a problem-solving change pattern, it’s really no wonder.

What’s happening here is, there are two broad problem-solving modes:

  • Breadth, and
  • Depth.

Breadth is all about light-touch, quick iteration, and fast results. What breadth lacks in depth, it makes up for in its amazingly good match with life’s hustle and bustle. Socially, very few people will argue with breadth. The “people” organism seeks broad consensus, broad iterations, and genuinely loves it when we tell easily-socially-digestible jokes. Right?

Depth, on the other hand, is all about penetrating, nuanced insights, slow and careful development, and high-quality results. And socially…well, I’m sure you’ve told a few deep jokes before. You know how it goes.

This is where I really like to introduce the opposite-personality type model. A really stressed-out INTJ starts to think like a ESFP Performer / Improviser:

  • I need to solve this now.
  • I don’t have time for all of that change stuff.
  • Let’s do this. I’ll make it up as I go along. I’ll perform as a changed person.
  • Let’s just go.

Some of that is true, good, and honorable. And yet, it’s still worth examining, in all its attractiveness. The problem is, you may be accountable to that broad-thinking, improvisational person inside you, but you aren’t really that person, so much. (If your ego disagrees here, please be very careful with yourself and understand that I can’t cover every last individual case, but this is an important little corner of the personality world)

And as it turns out, INTJs are great at going deep. Really great. Your personality type code tells you this right in the first letter: I is for Introvert. Introverts are deep, as a type of individual. As we integrate more nuance into this single-dimension model, it turns out that everybody is deep in this way or that, but given just I vs. E, Introverts can be said to stand out due to their depth.

  • How many times have you had to stop a sentence short, or not speak at all, due to the hopelessness of communicating your vision?
  • How many times have you been frustrated at the intricate chain of insights that you’d have to communicate, just to show someone why your contingency plan is worth their attention?
  • How many times have you suffered through directive-executive processes that didn’t have the intended effect, because no one could see the big picture?

That is depth. It’s not easy to do socially, but we have to pay attention to it or we become less of who we were in the first place, and even put some of our most valuable mental real estate up for sale at bargain prices.

So it should stand to reason: More depth should never be considered the enemy. And I watch INTJs learn this lesson all the time:

  • Oh, I’m learning that my career values go deeper than just making a good income. Wow, they go really deep. I can be quite a snowflake…
  • Oh, instead of using this person’s software, things would work better if I just made my own from scratch. It turns out I have ideas for how I might use my tools, not just ideas about their output, and those ideas seem like they might be important…
  • Wow, my body feels healthier inside when I don’t treat it like a machine that is meant to work non-stop all day, including working on everything from physical exercise to mental tasks. It turns out there’s this weird health-sense which I’ve cultivated, and I am learning to slow down…

You see, the enemy in that breadth-biased decision making is often breadth itself. Depth has nothing to do with it; it’s more likely that the individual has let their your psychology fool them into thinking that depth is a terrible risk of your time and talent. That depth is all or nothing. That depth shuts out breadth. That depth leads toward ineffective executive processes and drains productivity. And those are lies! All lies.

If you’ve been pushed into that corner where all you feel you can do is scramble to find a way out, you may not feel terribly change- or depth-capable, but there usually is a gradually-deepening approach to depth-based problem solving which can be manufactured on the spot and given careful attention toward the desired outcome.

Deep, effective change is possible. You may temporarily be wearing goggles that hide the fact, but it’s possible and its characteristics even play to INTJ strengths.

So: If you’re on the rail, if you’re feeling the pressure, take this to heart. If anyone can make deep change happen, it’s a creative person who’s in touch with their introverted side. And that could easily be you.

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The INTJ Aspiration Trifecta: Become a Pilot, Learn to Scuba Dive, and Become a Musician

Wednesday October 23, 2019

During a recent coaching session, I was telling the impressive individual on the other end of the connection that there’s this INTJ trifecta of interests/accomplishments that always comes up:

  • Become a Pilot
  • Learn to Scuba Dive
  • Become a Musician

I am always hearing about INTJs who are actively doing, or wanting to do, those three things.

And I include myself in that.

I mentioned this Trifecta concept to another INTJ friend, who responded:

HAHA are we that obvious? I’ve done the sailing courses, got my Silver II. Did the violin thing too [this involves training with masters, tons of frustration and hard work, but now it’s a ‘thing’ —Marc]….Waiting for a bit more $$$ to start glider lessons …Yeah.

Another INTJ friend of mine, Mark Bodnarczuk, wrote a book which draws heavily on his Scuba experience to illustrate some really important factors in life. Mark also has a musical background, from what I recall.

Some other INTJ friends, a married INTJ + INTJ couple, told me they did this pilot-path spreadsheet exercise a while back, which I also did myself, during which you add up a bunch of numbers and it turns out you will need to set aside something like $10K to $20K USD to become a pilot, or something like that—I don’t have the spreadsheet in front of me, but I’m wondering if it’s kind of an INTJ rite of passage, this particular spreadsheet. (Hell, there may even be multiple levels here; I think I remember that INTJ Dario Nardi made a spreadsheet which computed data on how to best get your ass to Mars)

(And what’s so frustrating about spreadsheets: They are truly Te-focused little bastards, to the exclusion of so many other factors. They never tell you how fiddly the whole damn real-life experience of flying is going to be, they never tell you about the guilt you’ll feel when you’re not doing the flying often enough, they never tell you about the annoying guy at the airport who thinks you want to become just like him, or whatever. There’s this whole qualitative angle that spreadsheets kind of see as something you shouldn’t really mind, because hey, the numbers all add up! So whenever I start some spreadsheet process now, I try to remember to start a parallel, depth-based analysis process in something like a text editor.)

Personally, I’d say the weakest of the three for me would be Scuba. I love the idea, but it just hasn’t hatched into real experience for me yet; maybe this will change, and maybe not. A family friend used to take me out flying and hand over the controls, and we’d fly up into the San Juans for the day and grab a hot dog; fun stuff like that. I’ve probably logged thousands of hours in flight simulators since I was a child. Lately Geo-FS is pretty fun on little breaks, and the new MS flight sim video coverage is mind-blowing. And I worked as a freelance musician when I was in university, creating chart-topping hits such as “Backing Track for Franklin Covey Interactive CD-ROM”, “Sound Effects and Musical Intros for a Flash Website which is Long Dead” and “Sound Trademark for a Promising Company Which is No Longer Relevant”. Hey—at least it paid well.

And Something Helpful to Know About This

So here’s the real meat: If you identify with this stuff so much that you get drawn in, there’s a chance you could end up completely fooled by the INTJ Metaphor Machine. Some examples of the the way that Metaphor Machine works:

  • “I only suggested piloting because I want you to take advantage of your gift for seeing the big picture, learn to execute from idea-space, and be more positive.”
  • “I only suggested Scuba because I want you to learn to be comfortable with depth-based processes.” (INTJ perception & execution is often too breadth-biased)
  • “I only suggested musicianship because I can tell you need to pay more attention to your feelings, your moods, and their meaning, and find a suitable rhythm of life, something that will help you influence your own life and others’ for the better.”

These are just examples, but do you see what I mean? There’s this important divide between the meaning of the thing and the doing of the thing. INTJs as a group tend to jump right into the doing, and doing takes you right into the sensory realm and its associated uh…growth opportunities (you see, in addition to helping you feel good about yourself in some ways, it’s also a potentially huge trap in another way, so I’m intentionally using the word “uh” here).

There’s also the really emotional layer to all of this. We feel a connection to a thing, it draws us in—and maybe we need to learn to pause at this stage, and build out some space for examining and probing this process. Or maybe we really need to build a process for examining emotional experiences, period.

Otherwise maybe you become addicted to buying a bunch of stuff you don’t really need, or earning credentials that weren’t really necessary, or whatever. It would suck to become a constant victim of that, just because you didn’t have the space to really explore what’s behind it. Right?

This is all very important stuff, and if you haven’t given it much thought, please do.

Because I swear, if I hear one more of you guys tell me how much regret you have about that pile of Scuba gear gathering dust in the back of your garage…

(Mostly kidding ;-))

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Resilient Planning: Goal Accomplishment as a Race in Stages

Tuesday October 15, 2019

I remember back when I used to write out plans based on projected goals. And I also remember the way those plans would often wither in the presence of experiential effect. For example:

  • Me in 2000: “OK, freelancing is working well so far and I just barely started! Let’s say I up my rate to $20 an hour. If I work 40 hours a week, I can easily cover everything I need to turn this into a career. If I can eventually work that rate up to $60, I will be able to live a very nice life indeed!” (Things did not go that way, and I ended up taking on full-time work. There are several obvious issues in the plan, if you have done much freelancing or business ownership…)
  • Me in 2015: “OK, I’ve lost 50 pounds at the current rate. This means that (types numbers in) I should hit 100 pounds lost in early 2016. Exciting.” (Nope! Conveniently, at this point, the same tools stopped working. I had to completely change my tool set in order to lose the next 50 pounds.)
  • Me in 2017: “OK, I really love the idea of getting better at chess. I’ll drop by the city’s weekend chess club meet and play two games all the way to the end.” (This was an interest which shortly thereafter fizzled out).

The Need for an Adjusted Approach to Planning and Goal-Setting

These initial plans were just fine as little goal-seeds. As deep and resonant as they felt at the time, they were fairly temporary snapshots of my experiential-emotional outlook at the time the plan was written. But I’ve learned since then that a plan has to be kept alive. It needs to benefit from:

  • Further hands-on experience
  • Additional subjective knowledge capture from that experience
  • Measurement and other objective knowledge capture (like research)
  • Any other refinements, questions, value changes, and experiments in general

I still love to plan in terms of design & outcomes first. I don’t think that will ever change. However, without flexibility built-in from the start, such energetic goal-setting can easily set up a mental health disaster (or other disaster), in which a big and important goal-achievement process is completely incapacitated. We are lucky if we are left unscathed.

Think about some possible ingredients for such a disaster:

  • The plan was over-protected—I felt my inner vision so strongly at the beginning that I was driven to protect my vision from outside change.
  • The plan met with unexpected resistance, and I was unable to respond in the same way I could before.
  • The plan did not work very well in actual experience.
  • The plan was left behind, without further thought.

There’s also this weird need we have. Within the typical INTJ there’s this need to be able to say, “I saw this coming,” and that can result in a very discordant feeling when things go wrong. We’re lucky if we’re able to give it a voice and think about it consciously, without directly repressing the idea that we did not see a thing coming.

This feeling can, unfortunately, cause us to ignore a poorly-performing plan or put it away without addressing needed changes.

Some Adjustments Here and There: The Race in Stages

A typical goal-setting paradigm grants us at best one stage of “Goal Adjustment” to consider. And that’s important. But I’d like to suggest another way to look at it: Stage-labeling. As in, “what would I call this stage? How would I label it?”

I believe this Stage-labeling is by itself an important, recurring task during the process of goal achievement.

In a physical race, stages are typically labeled by their sensory characteristics. “Mountain stage,” or “cycling stage,” or “breakout stage.” And I think we can do even better than that. First, we need this ability to discuss something as we see it:

The ability to say, “right now I’m in this place where the original goal just doesn’t seem as interesting to me as it once did, but I’d like to hold myself accountable to some kind of change in that direction.”

The ability to say, “I seem to be in a stage with this goal where I am encountering very difficult outside feedback.”

The ability to say, “I think I’ve reached this goal, even though the parameters have changed somewhat compared to the original goal.”

Second, we need the ability to organize these thoughts, folding in other factors: Our intuition, for example, or some sensory characteristic. For example:

The label, “My Star Trek Stage,” because this stage of my goal involves a lot of exploration of the unknown.

The label, “The Jim Halpert Days,” because this stage of the goal was continually derailed by office antics.

And let me be clear: While we might re-label those stages later, I think it’s a good idea to start labeling as soon as possible, as a way of organizing our executive processes toward resolution and forward momentum. Giving you mini-shots of dopamine as you accomplish these mini-stages.

Speaking Personally: What I’m Doing

My goal-setting paradigm is more like a race in stages, and I have seen immediate benefits from this change in paradigm. For one, I’m used to the idea of suffering and breakthroughs being not completely under my control. Circumstances matter, but they can also be analyzed and planned around.

I am more likely to set milestones, things like calendar reminders to check in. I’m more likely to think and write and talk about my goals, even griping or complaining as much as I need to. The idea being that if anything changes (circumstances, interests, or whatever), I am better prepared to modify the design to fit and be thoughtful in reference to the original design, rather than resetting.

Also, I’m looking for labels. Getting my feelings out, and developing those feelings into concrete, informational thoughts.

Being accountable to such analysis in the aggregate view also helps to build up a principles-based design over time, something qualitatively deep, which is more likely to last out the long term. In other words, I’m getting to know myself and my principles better, by adopting these practices.

Conclusion

If you’re working on goals, or avoiding thinking about goals that have kind of fallen by the wayside, I encourage you to pick them up, examine them, and give them labels. Which stage are/were they in? Could those stages be analyzed and completed through some kind of analytical change, something more adaptive to the nature of the stage?

As you can see by the length of this post, it’s a much more qualitative journey than most are used to. But in the end, that’s what all of us want, in this hyper-socialized, hyper-breadth-oriented world. We seek at least some of the opposite! A highly-personal, deep, and high-quality outcome.

Given the right time and attention, it’s well within reach.

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Daily Journaling Template Updated, 2019-10

Friday October 11, 2019

I just published some updates to my daily journaling template: Daily Journaling Template, Markdown Format, October 2019

The updates include:

  • Rearrangement of the Schedule, To-Do, and Other sections to be close to one another for added efficiency
  • Added Optional Activities footnote, as a reminder of other ways of attending to one’s situation
  • Simple tip on using the To-Do section (include want-to items; start anywhere)
  • Added additional spacing under Other, to free things up a bit

This template now takes a pretty good stab at covering all of the Jungian cognitive functions. That was not my goal to start with, but I’m not surprised that it ended up this way. As a result, I think it can help provide additional balance that may be lacking in a daily routine.

As always:

I continue to use this template myself, and find that it has become one of my most useful tools for near-instant stress relief. Over time, this habit also tends to build a pool of documentation which can be used for knowledge capture.

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How to Hold Others to a Moral Standard Without Concluding that the World is Hopeless

Friday September 20, 2019

One thing a lot of people don’t understand about INTJs is that we are, in our own way, an idealistic, positive-thinking group of people. Sensing that our ideals have been shattered hurts us just as much as, if not more than, it hurts others. INTJs want to do their best to contribute to the world in a manner that leaves everyone around them feeling happy and peaceful.

With all that said, why do we (as a type! Individuals will vary) catch so much flak for being insensitive, or coming off so low and uninspired in terms of mood, or getting over-emotional to the point of destroying our chances at working with others, slamming doors, and burning bridges?

One big problem is, giving attention to this sort of idealism involves Feeling, which is not a truly native habitat for the INTJ.

Feelings Suck, Feelings Rock, and Also A Million Other Things

Getting used to Feeling involves attending to energy levels that can fluctuate, energy levels that can rise and subside in waves of varying frequencies and amplitudes. For example, pay attention to the way you react when you read about Feelings. What fears arise? Are they perhaps a little bit hyperbolic, pushing you to feel one way or another? “Beautiful, I LOVE feeling,” or the opposite, “NOTHING GOOD WILL GET DONE BASED ON FEELING ALONE?” If so, this kind of observed experience can be a helpful sign that more direct experience with an object is needed.

Paying attention to Feelings can certainly come with risks. Attention to Feeling may involve direct access to levels of disclosure that can seem toxic in some ways and incredibly healing in others. For those who have not practiced the arts of Feeling, for those who have simply been affected by feeling, the risks of giving inexperienced, even annoyed or intolerant levels of attention to Feeling-based perspectives can compound over time. Ironically, the result is often an outburst of poorly-controlled Feeling!

And this danger—this effective and immediate access to Feeling-based perspectives which we may not yet have developed in a nuanced manner—is exactly what can also bring about that dark feeling of shattered idealism. INTJs in this position are prone to deploy relatively shallow (yet highly judgmental), morality-based thinking, when caught up in situations that cause us stress. We can become highly-judgmental, black-and-white moralizers who drop our judgments as if thunderbolts from on high, without a hint of warning.

So I’d like to propose some simple steps that can help INTJs developed more nuanced, educated, and broadly satisfying access to the topic of morality, ethics, and moral standards.

Here are the steps:

  1. Write down your moral standard. (This alone is surprisingly uncommon among people with high moral standards)
    1. What does it mean to be good?
    2. What is evil?
    3. Given [very specific current moral/ethical issue], where do you place yourself? Are you open to gaining a more nuanced point of view?
    4. What would make the world a better place, right now? How can you start?
    5. How can other people work toward that, without being held back by evil / bad intentions?
    6. Who do you feel are some good “living examples” of your moral standard? How would you identify relevant traits in others?
    7. …and any other thoughts that come to mind.
  2. This should be your thinking. That’s right, you may need to start at square one. If you want to consult others’ thinking and try to get a leg up in that way, I’ll just warn you—you are doing something that can still leave you exposed to critical flaws in your own moral foundation.
  3. With that moral standard established, even as a “beta” version: Live your standard, apply it to others, and stay open to adjustments.
  4. Revisit your written standard, and update it over time.
  5. Compare it against existing standards. Does this prompt you to further develop and test your ideas? Or perhaps try out someone else’s?
  6. Periodically ask others for input.

I’ve added the last two steps at the end for two reasons: 1) This really needs to be YOUR thing first and foremost, so these last two fall at the end because of priority ordering, but 2) at the same time, ideas of this sort need some amount of objective social exposure in order to mature and grow. Over-protecting one’s moral code from outside feedback is a fantastic way of defeating the purpose of having a moral code.

This experiment may seem far too fundamental and simple to you. It may seem uncomfortable and easy to avoid. Well, that’s about right—as I hinted at above, this is a growth exercise, not a remain-the-same-as-always exercise. INTJs are not Feelers in our native habitat; we are broadly referential Thinkers. But his carries a high risk! It is worth the time spent on development of even a simple moral standard idea.

Over time with this kind of experience, I believe you’ll become more comfortable with the concept of humanity, and thus more acceptable to those with whom you’ll have to work in order to improve or elevate humanity.

By knowing “us” as a human species inside and out, not just the “good” and the “bad” but by building a nuanced view of the entire N-dimensionality of who we are in our character, you’ll rarely struggle for long before finding the right tool to attack the job at hand. Which, in turn, should provide you with enough restored idealism to operate from a place of that big-picture confidence that we all desire. Good luck.

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Credentials and INTJs: An Uncomfortable Combination

Thursday September 19, 2019

Credentials can be a really awkward area for INTJs.

In one sense, it can totally bug us that the “piece of paper” may be socially necessary in order to feel valued and validated. The Fe blind spot.

In another sense, we want to celebrate the potential of even the lowliest individual: The Fi-aspirational bias. (And that lowly individual happens to be us? Well, it happens that we are pretty damn good! etc. Fi is endlessly kind to us, yet it’s also, awkwardly, us loving ourselves…)

And yet, we understand that credentials are a thing. It’s just how society works. You wanna argue my point? THEN WHO ARE YOU? We perceive the question; we may see it coming before the argument starts. The ultimate Se-attentive argument question.

So we get to this point where we feel the need to put up, or shut up.

This creates some amusing situations. Here’s what I’ve observed in other INTJs who were having argumentative moments, and—might as well admit it—even in myself, on your model M1-A1 really bad day:

When we think we are right:

  • We definitely don’t think we “need” any credentials in order to argue our point. We will even come out and say this directly, which can kind of shock other people.
  • We think people who do have credentials and expert experience who disagree with us are possibly just bumbling idiots, or possibly they missed the latest study on this or that, or possibly they are part of a conspiratorial cabal. There may be literally seconds between reaching that first conclusion and reaching the third one. (This can be especially true if our subjective intuition function is truly and awkwardly mixed with a lack of experience or perspective that we don’t want to admit…)

When we sense a need to be seen as even more right:

  • We spend time researching the “optimal” credential: Time, cost, social effect, broad applicability, title. From “hey, what do you got for ten bucks that makes people want to listen to me?” to “I made a spreadsheet, and I will go into reasonable debt for 20 years in order to earn a basic level of professional respect for the rest of my life.”
  • For the time being, we bring up our experiential credentials, even if we don’t have formal credentials: “I worked for 10 years as a construction foreman, and this qualifies me to tell you…” But really—it doesn’t necessarily qualify a thing. We have such a big performance shadow ESFP that we can usually come up with something, and let’s pray that no one looks into it, in extreme cases where we overextend ourselves rhetorically. The critic knows what a critic can dig up.

When we think someone else is right:

  • If they lack credentials, we find it easy to excuse their lack of credentials, and we refer others to their body of work. After all, it’s what they’ve actually done that’s important! Not a piece of paper! The Se-valuing viewpoint.
  • We may also point out that people with great credentials have been wrong in the past, and some have even been totally corrupt!

When we think someone else is wrong:

  • We can criticize any credential, no matter how bulletproof it seems.
  • We can, even unfairly, make our experience seem bigger than theirs. This is the “As a” gamble: “As a [user of this software for 10 years], I feel qualified to state [to its expert development team]…[certain harsh criticisms]”

And finally: When we’re really afraid of not succeeding in life:

  • We start to look, desperately, for sets of learning and achievement credentials that will save us from shame, and prevent bad outcomes, and make us seem like we’re a badass.
    • Is that so bad? Well, it can lead to a huge waste of time, is all I’m sayin’.

In Conclusion: Things to Consider

Well: Zoom out a bit, of course, and more often than not we find that low energy levels can cause us to get embroiled in some embarrassingly emotional and fundamentally flawed arguments. And high energy levels can cause us to overstate our case.

Also, being humans of a type, we pay attention to some things, and don’t pay as much attention to other things. That’s how personality type works. So it’s important to remember: None of those arguments or thought patterns necessarily have anything to do with making a logical argument, for example. Our argument may seem rational to our preferred perspectives, but it has other shortcomings.

Ti really is a great example of that, by the way, and this is why it voices itself as our critical parent: As a type we are so often guilty of nope-ing out of logic, of fundamental understanding, of depth-of-analysis. We didn’t do the homework, we did it intuitively. And unfortunately for people in that boat, some things that are logical can sound over-simplistic, and sometimes that over-simplicity is really, and embarrassingly, worth exploring with some humility.

Now to wrap this up, it’s true that we INTJs sometimes really have something going for us, with this “credentials are BS” viewpoint: Diving into life now in order to achieve positive outcomes and help people out really does matter. And many INTJs are really good at this. And they are rewarded for it. Smiles, hugs, thank-yous. (It can help if we have enough grounding in our gifts and position at this point to smile back and tell them it was dumb luck…)

(But should I get that credential anyway? Some of you have asked me, and continue to ask me.)

It’s hard sometimes, man. ;-)

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