If you are not familiar with Jungian cognitive functions, please reference “Personality Development Tools: The Car Model” to familiarize yourself with cognitive functions and how they influence personality type.
It’s incredibly frustrating to read two, three, four different type descriptions and know you’re ALMOST there.
For some people it becomes a Chinese finger puzzle that has to be solved, and they pour countless hours into reading type descriptions from what feels like a million websites and sources.
By the time I get an email, the people who write me have generally parsed their type down to two contenders in the Myers-Briggs system.
I’ve noticed that there are a couple of predictable patterns in the battle between The Final Two in Myers-Briggs. Understanding these patterns can help narrow down to your Best-Fit Type.
Your Best-Fit Type is the personality type you resonate with the strongest and which you have “self-typed.” A profiler can help guide you toward your Best-Fit Type, but it is ultimately YOU that determines your type. And while people can (and do!) latch onto a type that serves their biases, each individual gets to make the ‘final call’. After all, you’re the only person that dwells inside your head and knows the terrain better than anyone else.
A caution: Attaching to a type based on how you want to see yourself only limits personal growth. The most helpful quality to develop in self-typing is modesty, the ability to honestly assess what you’re great at as well as owning your limitations.
First, let’s talk about the most common Final Two (in my experience, based on email inquiries):
INTP vs INTJ
INFP vs INFJ
INTJ vs INFJ
ENTP vs ENFP
ENTJ vs ESTJ
ENFJ vs ESFJ
INTP vs ISTP
INFP vs ISFP
Notice that almost all of the inquiries are from people questioning which Intuitive type they are, or at least asking if they might be Intuitive.
While any and all of the 16 types can become interested in and even obsessed with the system, it’s generally Intuitives that take it Very. Seriously. The Myers-Briggs system offers Intuitives an explanation for that life-long feeling of being a ‘weirdo’ or ‘alien’, confirming what they suspected the whole time: they don’t think like the majority of people. Great relief also comes from understanding they’re not alone, and in fact up to 25% of the population has similar enough wiring to feel a sense of simpatico. For someone who feels like an outcast, this can be game changing information.
Both the INFJ/INFP and INTJ/INTP questions warrant their own attention, so I won’t be diving into them in this article. They also don’t follow the same ‘patterns of confusion’ as the other types. Confusion around INFJ/INFP and INTJ/INTP are more based on similarity of descriptions. That is, INFJs often resonate with descriptions of INFPs, and vice-versa. The same is true for INTJ/INTP.
This article will address confusion between these types:
INTJ vs INFJ
ENTP vs ENFP
ENTJ vs ESTJ
ENFJ vs ESFJ
INTP vs ISTP
INFP vs ISFP
One pattern to notice is that there is generally only one dichotomy letter that’s in confusion. They could also be written as:
INxJ – T or F?
ENxP – T or F?
ExTJ – N or S?
ExFJ – N or S?
IxTP – N or S?
IxFP – N or S?
So… what’s the connection? Where does the pattern emerge?
The answer lies in each personality type’s cognitive function ‘stack’. Each type isn’t about what you are, it’s about which cognitive functions you’re using. There are eight cognitive functions, and each personality type has four of those functions that influence them the most.
A cognitive function is a mental process we utilize to 1) learn new information and 2) make decisions based on that information. They are technically called judging functions and perceiving functions. Please don’t get them confused with personality types that are Judgers and types that are Perceivers in the Myers-Briggs system. While the same term is used in both ways – and while they are related – they refer to subtlety different aspects of type.
The technical way of referring to cognitive functions are Dominant, Auxiliary, Tertiary and Inferior.
For each type the Dominant process is their ‘go-to tool’ in their toolbox, and the mental process with which they most identify. The Auxiliary helps balance each type out by making up for anything the Dominant lacks. The Tertiary is the opposite of the Auxiliary, thus creating a ‘weakness’ that can trip the type up. The Inferior (the opposite of the Dominant) creates a real Blind Spot, arguably the weakest function of the type.
For many years, Personality Hacker has worked to simplify an understanding of cognitive functions using the metaphor of a car. Our terms are “Driver” (Dominant), “Co-Pilot” (Auxiliary), “10 Yr Old” (Tertiary) and “3 Yr Old” (Inferior).
The four letters in your Myers-Briggs personality type are like a secret decoder ring to tell you what your cognitive function stack is, also known as “how your brain is wired.”
If you are an N (Intuitive), you may only have a surface understanding of how your brain is wired, because there are two types of Intuition – Extraverted Intuition and Introverted Intuition. (For a deeper dive into both types of Intuition, please refer to Personality Hacker podcast Introverted Intuition vs. Extraverted Intuition.)
The same holds true for S (Sensing) types, T (Thinker) types and F (Feeler) types. Each of these letters represents two different cognitive functions.
So, it’s not a question of “Am I a Thinker or a Feeler?” It’s a question of “Which Thinking and Feeling processes am I using, and in which order?”
It’s not what you are, it’s what you’re using.
This dials up the ‘complicated’, while at the same time creating a lot more clarity.
For those of you familiar with cognitive functions, the pattern that immediately jumps out is this: type confusion almost always dwells in the Co-Pilot and 10 Yr Old positions.
For example, when INxJs have confusion over whether or not they’re a T (Thinker) or F (Feeler), it’s because their Co-Pilot is either a thinking or feeling cognitive function, and so is the 10 Yr Old. Here’s a side-by-side look:
It’s common to recognize certain attributes shared by the Driver process, and then weigh a ‘feeling of familiarity’ with the Co-Pilot and the 10 Yr Old processes, trying to figure out which is strongest.
Since many type profiles don’t include the cognitive functions, but rather overall descriptions of how the types generally ‘show up’ in the world, the individual is left looking for something they don’t even know exists: tie-breaker examples between the Co-Pilot and 10 Yr Old cognitive functions.
But if the 10 Yr Old is a weakness and in the “backseat” of the car (so to speak), why would a type resonate with it enough to have confusion?
There’s a great model that was introduced to me years ago called the “Competency Model.” It’s designed to explain the stages in which people build skill, but I’ve found it to be a great way to understand each type’s relationship with the functions “in the car.”
Matching it up with the car model, it looks like this:
If you match these two models up, both our Co-Pilot and 10 Yr Old processes are in our ‘conscious awareness’, whereas our Driver and 3 Yr Old processes are unconscious – either due to muscle-memory style competence or blind-spot induced incompetence.
When a type profile hits us so hard we feel like someone stole a page out of our playbook it’s because we’re reading a description of our Driver process, something that’s so second nature to us it no longer has language. When someone puts language to what we are unconsciously competent at we feel like they’re reading our minds.
Similarly, when someone describes our 3 Yr Old process well we generally just get the heebie-jeebies. It’s ‘foreign’ and ‘icky’ and ‘not us at all’ (though it is ‘us’, just the part of ‘us’ we tend to bury deep in our unconscious).
But the Co-Pilot and 10 Yr Old processes are different. We’re VERY aware of them, because the yin-yang relationship they have is in our field of awareness. We’re ‘conscious’ of both of them and how they impact us, including how the polarity of these two functions impact us. If we’re a Thinker – but not Thinking Driver, Thinking Co-Pilot – we can conceivably test out as a Feeler because there IS a Feeling nature to us. Just a 10 Yr Old Feeling version.
In the same vein, if we’re an Intuitive – but not Intuitive Driver, Intuitive Co-Pilot – there will be a strong connection with the Sensory part of us, because it’s in our conscious awareness, and may have us testing out as a Sensor some of the time.
And here’s the kicker. If we’ve learned defensive strategies that keep us in the ‘attitude’ we prefer (as explained in this article), we may be more associated with our 10 Yr Old process than our Co-Pilot!
SO. If you’re down to a Final Two, the most helpful information will be 1) learning the cognitive function stack of both types, and 2) a strong description of each cognitive function.
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