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Myers Briggs — Part 1: Myers Briggs Is a Failure!
why MBTI is useful and worth reclaiming from pop psychology
This is part one of a four part series.
Part 1: Myers Briggs Is a Failure — an introduction to why MBTI is useful and worth reclaiming from pop psychology.
Part 2: An Introduction to Cognitive Functions — what Cognitive Functions are, how they fit into MBTI, and detailed descriptions of each.
Part 3: Maximizing Your Type – eight concepts and tools for making the most of your type.
Part 4: Typing Yourself Properly – how to know if you’re mistyped and how to fix it.
An Introduction To Myers Briggs
Most people are familiar with the “Myers Briggs Type Indicator” (MBTI). However most are unfamiliar with the Jungian Type Psychology on which they are, or at least were, originally based.1 And this to me is a tragedy.
Allow me to explain.
In the wake of the devastation after World War II, Isabel Myers and Katharine Briggs sought out to reduce conflict and violence by helping people better understand each other. They also noticed that many hated their jobs in the military and wanted to help them find careers that they would love and be successful in.
Through their study of Carl Jung and his Type Psychology (“Jungian Functions” or “Cognitive Functions”) they believed they found the answer, and wished to bring his theories to a wider audience by simplifying and reorganizing them into a personality assessment. The result was the creation we now know today of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator.
However, while they certainly did succeed at bringing their test in to popular consciousness, many—myself included—believe they did so at the expense of not only the true value of Jung’s theories but further that they ultimately failed to achieve their vision of reducing people’s conflicts with those around them as well as within themselves.
Today most personality research scientists have demonstrated MBTI as little more predictive than astrology and many also lament it for having harmed the credibility of their field. And equally as tragic, few “laymen” consider it as anything deeper than a cutesy ice-breaker for group-bonding.
And I can sympathize with these perspectives. In my decade of personality research, personal coaching, and business consulting—having formally tested dozens and informally tested hundreds of people’s MBTI—I have found about one in four people test differently on the test than they “should” (and would) if they were tested properly using Jungian functions.
If a quarter of the population is typed wrong, of course it’s not going to predict anything!
And this makes me truly sad. Because when assessed accurately using the underlying Jungian Psychology…
MBTI is the most effective personality toolkit I know of to:
Improve your self awareness about why you make the decisions you make
Resolve internal conflicts you have that are holding you back
Identify and maximize your strengths to become more effective, resilient, and impactful.
Identify and minimize your weaknesses so they don’t thwart all your hard work
Improve your relationships with friends, family, coworkers, and customers
Improve your ability to influence, persuade, and cooperate with those unlike you
Reduce conflict and disagreement you have personally, professionally, and even politically
Do you want to maximize your wealth? Your relationships? Your enjoyment of life? Do you want to live the most meaningful and impactful life possible in maximum harmony with both yourself and those around you? You won’t do it without understanding and applying your MBTI and Cognitive Functions!
My goal with this series is to not only reclaim Jungian psychology from the obscurity it has been relegated to, but also to teach you how to wield it to better understand and ultimately master yourself, your relationships, and your future.
But before we can dive into it we will need to wade a bit into MBTI. Many who finally dig into Jungian Functions discard MBTI entirely, but I find it’s the best stepping stone to prime your thinking for understanding the deeper stuff.
So here’s a short introduction to it.
The MBTI System
In the MBTI system there are sixteen total personalities. They are derived by having two options on four different axes. Introversion (I) or Extroversion (E), iNtuitive (N) or Sensing (S), Thinking (T) or Feeling (F), and Judging (J) or Perceiving (P).
Together they combine to differentiate sixteen options of: INFJ, INTJ, ISFJ, ISTJ, ENFJ, ENTJ, ESTJ, ESFJ, ISFP, ISTP, ESFP, ESTP, ENTP, ENFP, INFP and INTP.
The details of these four axes and their options are as follows:
Introvert (I) or Extrovert (E)
In MBTI Introversion vs Extroversion is defined as where you prefer to direct your attention and energy—inwardly toward yourself (introvert) or outwardly to the world or people around you (extrovert).
In recent decades research on the subject has found that introverted and extroverted brains are structurally different, with introvert brains having longer synaptic routes—signals literally passing through more of the brain during decision making.
This “deeper” processing benefits them in situations where careful consideration is required. However, the downside to this is that, one, introverts are much more easily overstimulated and, two, they lag behind in situations which benefit from taking in a broad range of stimuli or making “good enough” decisions quickly.2
Despite this “sensitivity” being more of a spectrum than a binary, people cluster into a bimodal distribution, leading to our modern parlance of: “introverts relax in solitude, extroverts relax with others”.
Senser (S) or Intuitive (N)
Sensers prefer to take in information as it is presented, while iNtuitives prefer to “interpret” information and add meaning. Put another way: Sensers “see things as they are” while iNtuitives “see thing as what they could be” or how they connect to disparate and seemingly unrelated things. This is particularly oriented toward “impersonal” things like information, concepts, instructions, and rules (in contrast to interpersonal things like decisions or behavior, which the next axis focuses).
In their personalities, iNtuitives will care more about the “big picture”—the abstractions, frameworks, broad strokes, patterns, trends, and averages. Sensers in contrast will care more about the “details”—individual people, action items, anecdotes, behaviors, etc.
Sensers will often miss the forest for the trees but Intuitives will often miss the trees for the forest.
As I will discuss more in Part Three: this axis in the most common to get typed “wrong” (usually high Openness To Experience Sensers testing as falsely iNtuitives) and benefits the most from clarification through Cognitive Functions.
Thinker (T) or Feeler (F)
Conceptually, this axis is similar to the previous in that Thinkers prefer to “treat things as they are” while Feelers prefer to “interpret and ascribe deeper meaning”. The difference however lies in that this axis is based on interpersonal things like human judgement, behaviors, and decision making.3
When making decisions or assessing the behavior of others: Thinkers prioritize “facts and logic” while Feelers prioritize values, emotions, and meaning.
To a thinker: A decision “being reasonable” and “making sense” will almost always trump how it “might make someone else feel”. To a Feeler however, it doesn’t matter if it makes all the sense in the world, other options should be considered if it conflicts with their values or might upset someone in the process.
Put another way: Thinkers generally perceive themselves or others to have done something “wrong” when they acted “illogical” or in a way that “defied reason” while Feelers generally perceive themselves or others to have done something “wrong” when they acted “immoral” or in a way that was socially or emotionally damaging.
The distinction between Thinker and Feeler rarely causes typing errors however it is perhaps the greatest at creating misunderstandings between types.
As I explain more in Part Two: everyone has a feeling function (morals, values, etc) and a thinking function (logic, analysis, etc). And thus everyone cares about both. Thinkers just have a more dominant thinking function and Feelers a more dominant feeling function.
So yes while all “emotionless, callous robots” are Thinkers and all “hysterical neurotics incapable of reason” are Feelers, the vast majority of both types are balanced, caring, and reasonable people who simply prioritize one methodology over the other.
Perceiver (P) or Judger (J)
Perceivers prefer to maximize their options while judgers prefer to minimize them.
Perceivers feel restricted, bored, or trapped by too few options while Judgers feel chaotic, overwhelmed, or unable-to-prioritize by too many.
This manifests in their behavior as:
Judgers being orderly, punctual, organized, goal oriented, and enjoyers of planning. They love either creating new (xNxJ) or following existing (xSxJ) rules, hierarchies, routines, schedules, or any other kind of behavioral or cognitive “scaffolding”.
Perceivers in contrast, are more “in the moment”, “laid back” and “go with the flow”. They prefer to limit their commitments and keep their schedules and structures flexible as possible. Further, they are often either oblivious to (xNxP) or actively resistant (xSxP) to the the neat little rules, hierarchies, and procedures that Judgers create (much to Judgers’ chagrin!).
This is the second most common axis that gets “mistyped”, with “lazy” Judgers (usually xNxJ’s) and “hard working” Perceivers (usually xxTP’s) getting the opposite of what they should. As I’ll discuss more in Part Three, this one is actually far harder to correct given that it flips your entire Cognitive Function stack.
These four axes combine to create “types” like ENTJ, ISTP, INFJ, ENFJ etc. However, this oversimplifying of the underlying functions leads not only to frequently inaccurate test results—making MBTI useless to many—but also fails to leverage the true depth and utility of the Jungian system.
In the next article I will introduce the Cognitive Functions, how they fit into MBTI, and detailed descriptions of each.
Prior to reading the next piece, I suggest taking the 16 personalities assessment to get your “likely” type. Do make note of your percentages (taking a screenshot is easiest) as they will be crucial for correcting your type (Part Four) if any axes come out wrong.
I specifically say “originally based” on Jungian Functions because it’s clear that modern MBTI tests (most notably 16personalities) have had their types muddied by their own poor test results.
My guess is that in an attempt to improve the accuracy of their type descriptions they created focus groups of people who tested as each type. However their test was bad and typed lots of people wrong. Rather than realize this and change the test, they changed the type descriptions instead to match the results. Ultimately this muddied the lines between types, turning them into over-generalized gobbledygook.
The worst instance of this I have found is with the INFP description. This most likely occurred because a large subset of INFJ’s score low in industriousness, so will test INFP. The INFP description is now just a generalized “INFx” explainer. It fails to make any of the critical and necessary distinctions between INFPs and INFJs that would actually allow them to properly orient themselves in the world or maximize their temperament.
This is difference in “sensitivity” is also why you’ll see introverts more often addicted to things like social media while extroverts are more often addicted to things like sex, partying, etc. Digital content literally just isn’t stimulating enough for extroverts to get addicted to. Meanwhile something like partying is too stimulating and difficult for most introverts to get addicted to.
Which stimuli you will abuse largely depend on which “range” of stimulation creates the optimal pleasure-to-pain ratio for the way your type of brain works (Yes, personality can actually predict what addictions you are likely to have).
If you need further help distinguishing T vs F from N vs S: iNtuitives will ruminate about ideas and concepts, Feelers will ruminate about decisions or other people’s behavior, and iNtuitive-Feelers will ruminate about everything!