This is an article written for Myers-Briggs geeks to understand why we chose specific nicknames for the eight cognitive functions. To understand why we call Myers-Briggs “Genius Styles,” please read Why Call Myers-Briggs “Genius Styles?”.
A major part of our mission at Personality Hacker is to make powerful concepts accessible and simple. Not because people aren’t intelligent, but because people are busy and many things vie for our attention.
Comedian Bryan Regan has a bit about getting new eyeglasses. After admitting he put off getting his prescription updated, he said, “How could instantly improved vision NOT be at the top of your list?”
But that’s what we as people do. Even if something will dramatically improve our lives, if there’s a barrier of entry we’ll put off investing in ourselves indefinitely.
Learning your personality type cognitive function stack is insanely high leverage for self-understanding and personal development. But just the phrase “cognitive function stack” is enough to have many people’s minds wander to who’s going to be eliminated on The Voice this week.
But if you have a handy, dandy graphic with four passengers in a car and easy to remember nicknames, now you’ve got a peg upon which to hang these abstract concepts making it easier for the mind to stay engaged.
Even if you’re an information “deep-diver” (which you probably are), your loved ones may not be. And it’s in these times when you really see nicknames come in handy. Your friends and family members – the ones you’ve been agonizing over how to explain these intricate parts of yourself – really may be thinking more about a TV show like The Voice than how you, their loved one’s, mind operates.
This isn’t an indictment. It’s human nature. We don’t fight it, we meet it half way.
The eight Jungian cognitive functions are ways to explain how our minds are wired. When people learn about their function stack (aka, “the passengers in their car”) it can be a really emotional “a-ha” moment. “I’m not profoundly broken!” is a common phrase I hear, and the launching pad to self-acceptance, growth and happiness.
We knew we had to honor the importance of these functions. When you simplify something you always run into the possibility of ‘corrupting’ the data. There’s a fine line between losing some accuracy in favor of accessibility versus dumbing that thing down so it’s no longer usable.
Here was our process of distilling things down to their easiest-to-understand essence while doing everything we could to maintain integrity to the concepts:
Of the eight cognitive functions, four are technically called “perceiving” functions and four are “judging” functions.
Since you have people who are either Perceivers or Judgers in the Myers-Briggs system, you can see how this might get confusing. (“Am I a Judger because I use judging functions? Wait, how is it that I’m using a perceiving function but I’m a Judger?” and so on.)
What does a “perceiving” function and a “judging” function do?
Perceiving functions help us input new information as well make sense of and understand how that information impacts us and the world around us.
Judging functions help us evaluate that new information and make decisions.
We started calling perceiving cognitive functions “learning processes,” and judging cognitive functions became “decision-making process.”
For most people, it’s way easier to grasp the phrase “learning process” than “perceiving cognitive function.” It’s also easier to use the phrase “decision-making process” than “judging cognitive function.”
Instead of using the term “eight Jungian cognitive functions” (which I will say when I want to sound smart), I now say, “You have eight mental processes. Four of them help you learn new information, and four help you make decisions based on that information.”
Easy peasy, and an easy inch-by-inch introduction into waters that can get intimidatingly deep.
As for the nicknames of the functions, themselves, we probably spent about six months (or longer, actually) finalizing which names we would eventually use.
There’s a great Mark Twain quote, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote you a long one instead.” The more concise something is the more time it takes (if it’s going to be quality), and we knew we couldn’t rush these nicknames.
We divided the functions into judging and perceiving, using the foundation of what’s actually happening with the function to guide the process.
For example, as mentioned before, perceiving processes are ultimately helping the user to learn new information. Of course, from there each function branches out into really intricate and beautiful expressions. But if you chart the different roads back to their base, you can get an idea of the ‘root’ of the function.
We chose not to name the 8 processes based on what they do, but rather the etymology of the process. Why does each function work the way it does? Naming them based on the results is a losing game – they all do multiple things for us! For example, Introverted Feeling could be called “conviction.” But it could also be called “identity” and “sympathy,” because it helps facilitate all of these things. Authenticity, however, is the decision making criteria the process is using – what feels right and is true to me? – and so is closer to its ‘root’.
The Four Learning Processes
Introverted Sensing: “Memory”
We nicknamed Introverted Sensing “Memory.”
This may be the one that causes the most confusion, since people automatically assume that means anyone using this function has a good memory.
We considered renaming it multiple times, but couldn’t get past the fact that people use this process to learn new information based on their memories.
Introverted Sensing wants reliable information. That’s its ‘guiding star’, so to speak, which is why SJs seem so insanely tied to personal experience and expert opinion. (Well, ‘insanely tied’ from the perspective of this ENTP/Si inferior.)
Both Sensing functions use their sense perceptions to gather information.
But Introverted Sensing doesn’t just take in information in the moment, it’s introverted, or inwardly directed. That means it captures the direct sensory experience and ruminates over it later. Which makes total sense, because what is more ‘reliable’ than a direct sensory experience that you get to spend time thinking about?
A captured experience that can be reviewed later is a memory, the basis of this process.
So, when considering Introverted Sensing as “Memory”, please keep in mind we’re not referencing a skill or talent (i.e. possessing a good memory). We’re referencing the actual noun, itself: a memory.
Extraverted Sensing: “Sensation”
Extraverted Sensing, like both Sensing functions, uses the sense perceptions to gather information.
Unlike Introverted Sensing (aka “Memory”), it’s not an inwardly-expressed process. There is no imposed timeline of capture info and process later. It’s extraverted, and therefore can get into the action in the moment. Think of it as ‘real-time kinetic’.
This is why we nicknamed the function “Sensation.”
Where “Memory” seems more interested in information that is reliable, Extraverted Sensing seems to be more interested in what’s verifiable.
And what is more verifiable than something with which you are directly interacting?
Focus and attention is then given to immediate sense impressions, and all of the instruments which pick up sensory stimuli are honed in on and heightened.
Sensory instruments in the body are casually known as our ‘senses’ and the real-time feedback they give us are sensations.
Interestingly, I was speaking with Dario Nardi a few years ago and when he and his research team were doing brain scans on SPs it was observed that the Extraverted Sensing process shows up as a ‘tennis hop.’ Just as a tennis player hops back and forth in anticipation of the ball going in any unpredictable direction, Extraverted Sensing is always ready for the world to throw something unpredictable at it.
This is part of why SPs can be such adrenaline junkies, in particular Se dominants. Their minds are always ready for something intriguing or exciting to happen anyway, that when it DOES it’s massively satisfying.
Introverted Intuition – “Perspectives”
Intuition doesn’t work like the Sensory functions.
Both the intuitive processes are more focused on ‘what’s behind the curtain’ which, by definition, can never be directly experienced.
So, in order to speculate on the things that can’t be directly known, both intuitive processes become spectacularly good at advanced pattern recognition.
You get clues on what’s behind the curtain by picking up on the data points you can see, and then forming patterns to make speculative leaps.
Like Introverted Sensing, Introverted Intuition does this in a ‘ruminatory’ fashion because it’s also introverted, or inwardly expressed. Which patterns are available in the ‘inner world’ of a human being? Since all the action is taking place in the brain, the patterns that become the most interesting are the ones that form in the mind.
Our beliefs, thoughts and feelings are casually called “perspectives,” since they are our subjective ‘take’ on how the world works.
Introverted Intuition is focused on the patterns that form those perspectives, and over time it starts to see the ‘pattern of the patterns’. Meaning, if my mind forms patterns in this way when given certain information and stimuli, then it’s a pretty safe bet others are, too.
This is why users of Introverted Intuition aren’t married to their own perspectives. They can take a meta-perspective and understand the ways in which we’re the same and different on a cerebral level. The nickname “Perspectives” seemed to at least direct people to the root of how this complex process works.
If “Memory” likes reliable information and “Sensation” wants verifiable information, it could be said that “Perspectives” loves deep insight.
Extraverted Intuition – “Exploration”
Like Extraverted Sensing, Extraverted Intuition is focused on real-time interaction with the world around itself, but like Introverted Intuition it’s focused on the patterns that emerge in the outer world.
What if I touched this button, what would happen then?
How about if I pulled this toggle switch?
What if I said this thing to that person, how would they respond?
Patterns are discovered in the environment by placing things in novel juxtapositions, by searching places and concepts that haven’t yet been explored.
It could be said that Extraverted Intuition sees the world as 6 foot tall grass and it’s got a machete in its hand.
The instinct and desire to explore new territory is irresistible, and if the sense of novelty isn’t satisfied an NP will quickly (ENxP) or slowly (INxP) find themselves slip into depression.
That’s why we felt “Exploration” was the best nickname for this process – the best pattern recognition system for the outer world is to mess with everything that can be messed with, and to explore, explore, explore.
The Four Decision-Making Processes
Every process does multiple things for the user, and none of these nicknames can fully encompass all of the aspects of the function.
Again, this is about tracking the etymology back to its origin. Just like the perceiving functions are all about how the process learns new information, the judging functions will be about the criteria the function uses to make decisions.
All of the decision-making processes think in ‘should’ terms.
How should the world be?
How should we behave as people?
What should I be doing in this situation?
What should I be doing in most situations?
What should my life look like?
“Should” statements mean projecting our values on the world, which we do by focusing our attention on different criteria to establish those values.
Extraverted Feeling – “Harmony“
Extraverted Feeling, like both feeling processes, makes decisions based on how things are impacting people on an emotional level. It turns its attention to feelings in the ‘outside world’, or other people’s feelings.
As humans we are a symphony of emotions and every interaction with other human beings turn into miniature jam sessions.
We project our feelings outward onto each other all the time, with truly fascinating results. We can use our feelings to communicate intimacy and love, and we can use them to create the kind of drama that has us throwing chairs on syndicated television when we discover that we are NOT the baby’s father.
For a process that is focused on the nuanced interplay of these emotional dances, the most satisfying result is one of simpatico: I’m emotionally okay with you and you’re emotionally okay with me.
Sometimes we do this by creating unspoken social contracts in order to establish how not to step on each other’s toes, and sometimes we do this by pretending everything is okay when it’s not.
Generally, Extraverted Feeling does this by being interested in and making sure everyone is getting their needs met.
The most sophisticated expression of this process is acknowledging that emotional confusion is part of life and in those moments ‘the way out is through’, or conflict resolution.
Ultimately, Extraverted Feeling isn’t about avoiding all conflict, it’s about guiding our way through these conflicts in order to get the to true goal: “Harmony.”
Introverted Feeling – “Authenticity“
Introverted Feeling, like Extraverted Feeling, uses human emotion as its criteria for making decisions. But as an introverted process, it is inwardly turned. The focus is on how things are impacting the individual on an emotional level, making the subjective human experience endlessly interesting.
Like talking to a room full of people, we have many parts inside of ourselves and they’re not always on the same page.
There are parts of us that want to go to the gym and other parts that want to sit around and watch The Biggest Loser while eating ice cream. (As Jack Black recently said, “I want a hot body. But I also want tacos.”)
When a decision point comes, Introverted Feeling is about checking in with all those inner parts and voices to determine what feels the most in alignment with oneself.
This can be confusing, and sometimes Introverted Feeling only knows the ‘right’ decision after it’s been made – because that’s when the voices of protest or support become the loudest.
Ultimately, Introverted Feeling is about listening to all those voices within and making the choice that feels the most in alignment with their true “Authenticity.”
If Harmony asks, “How do I get everyone’s needs met,” then it could be said that Authenticity asks, “What feels right to me?”
Extraverted Thinking – “Effectiveness“
Extraverted Thinking, like both thinking processes, focuses on impersonal criteria for making decision.
Metrics, analysis, and data points are the focal point, and Extraverted Thinking is the outer world expression of this.
There is a quote I’ve seen many times that says what can’t be measured can’t be managed, and management is of great interest to Extraverted Thinking.
Measurements are how we know we’re getting closer to our goals, and they give us the ability to test/iterate how we go about things.
Since Extraverted Thinking is intrinsically fascinated by measurements, goal setting and improvements, ultimately streamlined systems that deliver results become their guiding star.
Over time there is a focus not just on efficiency, but also on sustainability.
A system that works well but breaks quickly can be of use for a time, but it’s a true bother to recreate systems which don’t abide by Pareto’s Principle (or the 80/20 rule): focus on the 20% of whatever is getting you 80% of your results.
A system that honors Pareto’s Principle while at the same time requiring small amount of management to continue producing those results leads us to our nickname: “Effectiveness.”
If Harmony asks, “How do I get everyone’s needs met,” and Authenticity asks, “What feels right to me,” then it could be said that Effectiveness asks simply, “What works?”
Introverted Thinking – “Accuracy“
Much like Extraverted Thinking, Introverted Thinking focuses on impersonal criteria to make decisions. However, this is an introverted process, and so it is inwardly turned and expressed.
All of the introverted processes (as you have probably pattern recognized) are subjective to the individual, and Introverted Thinking is no exception to this rule.
So, how does one understand metrics, analysis and data points subjectively? You do it by ‘making sense’ of something for yourself.
This is true rationalization, the ability to reason through a subject or concept within one own’s understanding, even if it doesn’t match ‘outer world’ data.
For example, Einstein understood the data points of quantum physics long before there was outer world ‘evidence’ to support it. The concepts just ‘made sense’ to him, and when he shared them they ‘made sense’ to other people, too.
Sometimes evidence precedes understanding, and sometimes understanding precedes evidence.
For Introverted Thinking, ‘getting’ something is the litmus test. This is a trap, though, which Introverted Thinking instinctively understands.
How does one ensure that what makes analytical sense isn’t simply confirmation bias? The only way to remove confirmation bias is rigorous and merciless clean-slicing of data.
This is done through constantly scanning for inconsistencies and incongruities, the way a computer system may regularly scan for viruses.
This doesn’t mean that the Introverted Thinking process will always be right – far from it.
But that’s its ultimate goal – information purified from incongruities, inconsistencies and biases which produce clean concepts and an understanding of how things work. For this reason, we chose a nickname that indicates the fundamental goal of this function making decisions: “Accuracy.”
Harmony asks, “How do I get everyone’s needs met?”
Authenticity asks, “What feels right to me?”
Effectiveness asks, “What works?”
Accuracy asks, “What makes logical sense to me?”
We understand that there are many other nicknames we could have chosen for these functions – believe me, we cycled through a LOT of them.
So, we created a framework and stuck with it: the four perceiving functions would be based on the foundation of how the process learns, and the four judging functions would be based on the desired outcome the function has when it’s evaluating criteria to make decisions.
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