BY MYSTIE WINCKLER
Personality type is an oft-overlooked factor in troubleshooting low energy issues. Some personalities tend to be high energy and others low energy, but even high energy types can burn out and even low energy types can keep trucking along with surprising persistence.
When we know our personality type, we can readily figure out what kinds of activities we should add for energy renewal, what type of activities we should avoid as energy drains, and what we can do to grow our capacity over time.
In essence, the Myers-Briggs personality typing describes different ways of brain wiring. When we work with the way we’re wired, we’ll be energized. When we have to work outside our zone, we need to build in recovery time.
Energy management not as simple as the introvert/extrovert dichotomy. In reality, each person has both a preferred way to introvert and a preferred way to extrovert — because everyone needs both internal processing and external dealings. Whether you are an introvert or extrovert is simply describing which process you prefer over the other. It’s a starting place for energy management, but not the only factor.
To get the complete picture of how each type uses, gains, and loses energy, you need to look at what those letters signify: differing cognitive functions. Each personality type has a different cognitive function “stack” — and it is your stack that gives the clues you need to build and repair your energy levels.
The second letter in each type is the way that type prefers to take in information — by intuition (abstract leaps and connections) or sensing (concrete details). Every type uses both, but one is preferred.
The third letter in each type is the way that type prefers to make decisions. If you prefer thinking, you want to keep decisions logical and impersonal, troubleshooting and problem-solving. If you prefer feeling, you choose your course based on how it will affect others and on your own personal set of values, prioritizing harmony. Every type actually does have and use both thinking and feeling, but will prefer one over the other.
Now, for the surprise twist.
These four functions — intuition, sensing, thinking, feeling — are actually eight. Each of them can be introverted or extroverted, used for internal operations or external activity.
Here’s a handy chart to help summarize this information:
Each of the Myers-Briggs types has a primary function, a secondary function, a tertiary function, and an inferior function. Every primary/secondary pair has one introverted and one extroverted function, one perception and one decision function. The lower two will be sort of a mirror pair of the top two.
This is key to understanding how to manage energy for your type.
If everything you do requires you to act outside of your primary function, you will be worn down quick as anything. It’s extra work to use anything other than your top one or two functions.
On top of that, the choices and perceptions you make with your non-preferred functions are less accurate, less productive, and less dependable. This can create a spin-out of suboptimal living that takes its toll and drags down everyone your choices affect, not only yourself.
On the other hand, if you have time every day to use and act within your preferred function, you actually gain energy and skill and confidence.
It has less to do with the activities and responsibilities themselves and more about how you approach them and set them up. As mothers at home, we actually have a lot of freedom to do things “our way,” and when we use that freedom wisely, we can increase our capacity and confidence strategically, decreasing our stress and anxiety by playing to our strengths rather than trying to work in our weaknesses.
This happened with me in housekeeping. Cleaning was always a huge struggle for me. Alphabetize a bookshelf? I’m all in. Tidy up and vacuum? Ugh.
Cleaning is primarily an extroverted sensing (Se) activity — an activity that requires taking in the actually, physically surroundings and caring enough to make it look better. Se is my inferior function. My preferred function is Ni — introverted intuition. I live in my head and prefer to ignore physical details. When I started realizing my weaknesses and my strengths in this area (before I had the personality terminology, which clarified it even more), I stopped trying to rely on Se (my ability to see what’s actually there *and* care) and engaged my Ni. First, I convinced myself on a philosophical and theoretical level that the way I kept house mattered intellectually and spiritually — an intuitive’s version of “real.” Then, I used cleaning time for listening to audio books or thinking about a particular issue I am wrestling with. By doing this, I tied an activity that isn’t naturally in my strength with one that is, which helped me engage in the process and even look forward to it.
But the real gold mine of energy management by personality is when you can find a way to engage your primary and secondary function at the same time in your activity, whether it’s a hobby or real life. If you can get both of your top functions working together, taking in information and acting on it in a synergistic way, you will grow your capacity, grow your stamina, and gain energy — the energy that builds from a state of “flow” or being “in the zone” where you don’t even realize time is passing because you’re so engaged in what you’re doing. Using your top two functions together is when you feel “all in” — because you are.
I’ll use an INTP example, because I know there are a lot of INTP moms using AmblesideOnline. An INTP’s primary function is introverted thinking (Ti). Ti likes to see internal, logical consistency and wants to achieve accuracy within a logical framework. An INTP’s secondary function is extroverted intuition (Ne), which means they love to take in ideas from all sorts of sources — books, experiences, conversations. Ne loves to have many intellectual inputs. Being in a Ti-Ne zone looks like research — taking a lot of sources and distilling it into a cohesive, logical, accurate framework.
As a counter-example, let’s look at an INFJ. An INFJ’s primary function is introverted intuition (Ni). Whereas the INTP’s extroverted intuition loves to take in ideas from numerous sources, the INFJ’s introverted intuition needs time and space for ideas to connect up within her own mind — the “sources” are racing around internally, and there must be enough quiet to let them spark into insight. The INFJ’s secondary function is extroverted feeling. This actually does not mean the INFJ’s feelings are worn on her sleeves. It means she takes in the feelings of everyone around her and makes decisions based on how it would affect group dynamics and harmony. Thus, INFJs are often pegged as counselors because that’s their “all in” mode: evaluating others’ perspectives and needs and coming to insightful, helpful conclusions.
Rather than using our top two functions, we often fall back to our tertiary or inferior functions in times of defensiveness or stress. When we do so, we use those functions poorly, not in the same way a person would who is using them as a primary or secondary function. So, for example, someone using introverted feeling as a primary or secondary function would make sure she was always honest and acting with conviction. However, someone using introverted feeling defensively will be selfish and self-centered. Someone using extroverted thinking well is an effective manager who knows what to do and does it. Conversely, another using extroverted thinking defensively is controlling and inflexible.
When we try to rely on our tertiary and inferior functions, not only are our actions and choices, well, inferior, but our energy is drained much more rapidly and cannot be replenished without concentrated time in our “zone.” But the more we turn to our defensive stances, the harder it becomes to practice our preferences.
However, there is still value in knowing and using your inferior function. We can watch for behaviors that indicate we’re slipping into defensiveness or stress reactions. We can also choose effective play activities based on our inferior function. When we’re busy, even using our primary function, we get worn down and need a break. To switch off “work mode” and turn to playfulness, refreshing amusement, and effective escapism, we can deliberately choose an activity that requires our inferior function.
For example, an INTP’s inferior function is extroverted feeling, so to let loose she can hostess a party, speak in front of an audience, or go out to lunch with a group of friends. An INTJ’s and INFJ’s inferior function is extroverted sensing, so making something beautiful, delicious, or artistic is a healthy change after being overworked (a strong INTJ temptation). An ESFJ’s inferior function is introverted thinking, so a way to productively disengage her rather intense nature is to spend a few minutes doing logic puzzles like Sudoku.
So if you want to build up your productive energy, make sure you spend time daily in your primary function, give yourself a hobby or find a way to fulfill your daily responsibilities in line with your primary and secondary combo, and choose an occasional break that purposefully engages your inferior function.
And let’s talk and troubleshoot personality and energy management in the comments!
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