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How to Think Better as an INTJ

Thursday August 11, 2016

Maybe you’ve had people tell you you’re smart. Maybe you’ve even received awards or accolades for being a smart person! In general, we INTJs tend to think we are pretty good thinkers.

(Personally I have found it helps to be dumb sometimes, but it’s also healthy to use and improve those Thinking skills.)

So it’s kind of funny, but one of our biggest blind spots is found in the area of thinking, even though we are considered a powerful bunch of Thinkers in general.

The problem is this: The standard INTJ thinking process, extraverted thinking, or “Te”, can be extremely shallow and brittle. When we use Te, we reference measurements, look for hard, outside evidence, and rely on outside thinking and “objective proof”.

Relying on outside thinking! Sounds like a dependency, right? (That’s the sound of millions of INTJs cringing at the thought of being dependent on someone else! First, don’t worry too much about it—but second: Let’s improve a bit in this area.)

When the time comes to be original thinkers then, to develop new thought, we can run into big problems. For example—let’s say you are confronted with a huge problem that seems specific to you alone, and it can completely overpower you. In order to solve that, as a Te-style INTJ Thinker, you’d go out and look for labels for that problem so you can find others who have already solved it. Then you buy their books, or bookmark their site, or subscribe to their mailing list. Sometimes that really helps.

But what if it’s more efficient just to solve the problem on your own? What if the key to your specific situation is to be subjectively creative and start from square one, analyzing your particular situation and developing your original theories and solutions?

This is where other personality types like INTPs, ENTPs, ISTPs, and ESTPs can really teach us hard lessons. They tend to use Ti, also known as introverted thinking, or analytical logic, to solve problems with their own brains.

If you’ve ever studied under an INTP professor, perhaps you’ve heard this criticism of your research-based thinking: “You’re using other peoples’ brains to do your thinking for you!”

(Let’s get meta: You are on this blog why again? See? I’m doing all of your thinking for you. Ha! Well, again—all these tools are useful, so we don’t want to throw out a perfectly good blog; I get that. And thanks for being here.)

Ah, the painful takedown of Ti versus Te. Introverted Thinking versus Extraverted Thinking. Subjective original thought vs. Objective, unoriginal thought. Creating your own really cool wheel versus Not Reinventing Wheels. Analyzing things yourself vs. Googling The Answers in Order to be Efficient.

Well, I completely agree that if we’re not using Ti at all, or very much, we’re not really using our whole brain, at least not in the ideal way.

When we use Ti, according to Dr. Dario Nardi, we refer to, apply, align, and refine a framework. Dr. Nardi suggests that INTJs study and learn how to apply Ti in their lives.

What’s a framework? Think of a set of rules. For example, “Rules for Having a Good Day.”

In fact, don’t just think about it, start on it right now. It will involve using your brain. And, perhaps painfully, it will involve lots of subjective thought (only painful if you were really tied to your objectivity-as-ego. Please drop that guard just a little bit, just make more room for the subjective in order to help yourself).

Applying your Te (extraverted thinking) should be natural for you. When you use Te, you typically refer to, align, and refine a measuring device. For example, the scientific method. Or some other standard for measuring thought, results, whatever. Maybe you measure others’ thoughts on the matter by googling for answered questions on a given topic, at a site like Quora.

Te is super helpful. Very often INTJs will need to drone on and on about their problems, not in an emotional way, but in a very detached way. Typically what this is doing is creating a “safe intellectual space” in which they can measure the extent of their problems and come to some conclusions. It’s helpful. It’s healthy.

Going back to Ti, I think most INTJs don’t really use it much. But I also think they enjoy it when they do.

Here is a simple Ti exercise:

First, list some problems in your life:

  • I am doing terrible at my job
  • I am doing terrible in my relationship with so-and-so
  • I hate myself for doing unhealthy activity X when I’m stressed out

Now, for each of those problems:

  1. Refer to a framework or set of rules relating to the problem (do some research OR create your own draft framework, including leverage points that come to mind. I encourage trying the latter because Te will bias you toward the former)
  2. Apply the framework. Put it into practice next time the problem comes up.
    1. To develop a framework, look for points of leverage. You might isolate specific activities, for example, that really give you a boost in overcoming this specific types of problem.
  3. Refine the framework. Make the framework more elegant over time.
    1. This is super important. If you let the framework stagnate, you cannot benefit from the compounding energy that results from its continual application and refinement.
      1. Yes, I do mean that it is like compounding interest in finance. Very good.
    2. Yes, this means possibly altering someone else’s idea with lots of creative license. Fun!
      1. Yes, a lot of INTJs get stuck here. They don’t always like altering things! That was a perfectly objectively good framework with nice clip art to accompany it! What if I break it! What if it blows up in my face after I make changes?

If you persist in this activity I think you’ll find an amazing thing happens: You’ll feel like you have a lot more leverage in your life.

Do you see how hands-on it is? You get to build something really powerful. It’s great. So:

Try it! Get more subjective. And don’t go right for Google to apply your Google-fu to find the world’s best pre-existing framework, tucked inside a PDF on some website employing weak file download obfuscation. Make your own, make it apply just to the very specific problem that you have. Then make it scale into a world-class framework meriting its own PDF later if you’d like.

I have shared this with other INTJs and it absolutely activated them. I keep a bunch of text files in a folder called “Frameworks.” Under that I have a Work folder, a Family folder, and so on. In “Work” there’s a text file with my own framework for having a great day at work. And another one for dealing with stressful meetings. In my Finance folder, I’ve got one for investing. You got me? See how that might help you? Try it out. You could google up the answers, but don’t, this time. This is better. Refine your own framework, by yourself.

[Also, I think lots of INTJs use or have used Ti already. Maybe you, have, too—when I read about this concept in 8 Keys to Self-leadership I said, “Oh, it’s that thing I did that one time in order to get better at bowling.” Well, now I do it a lot more.]

We INTJs will need to leverage both Te and Ti in order to become our best selves.

(If this article helped you, you know what to do. Or if not—your Ti can help you figure it out!)

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