Last time we looked at the “awareness” part of what you are.
Since awareness is unconscious, it can be subtle and easy to muddle until you understand how different aspects function and flow together.
It’s now time to smile and take an easy breather, for we’ve reached the part of personality that’s recognizable right away, both in yourself and others.
You could say that identifying with your conscious “focus” traits is like the kindergarten of self-discovery.
Are you a bossy lion or a friendly Labrador?
Are you a cold and minimalistic winter, or a warm and lively summer day?
Are you a diplomatic social butterfly, or a hermitic scientist perfecting your theories alone in a lab?
Are you an edgy feel-good rebel with a heart of gold, or a hardworking middle-manager leading a team to do its best work?
Of course you’re not all those things; and nature or nurture has undoubtedly endowed you with certain dominant focus traits.
But life also forces you to reckon with the fact that all personality traits must come into play to some degree in different circumstances.
Difficulties can arise when you feel pressured to adopt traits that don’t come naturally to you.
For example, every boss or manager is expected to excel in the focus trait, outward thinking, since that’s the trait that figures out how to get the best results from what you have available. But if you’re not a competent outward thinker, yet try to simply act like one, your leadership is likely to come across as contrived, weak, or all-over-the-place.
You never have to fake a personality trait.
In fact, you never have to try to be anything, even if life demands you act in ways you’ve never been able to (or wanted to) before.
Just recognize the different traits and how they relate to one another, and you can then use combinations of your best traits in novel ways to make up for where you’re lacking.
Such understanding also empowers you to bring new strength and fresh perspective to places you might have never seen yourself fitting well before.
Thinking and Feeling
We looked at how you’re aware of your state, your environment, and possible underlying connections through unconscious sensing and intuition.
Your mind then goes to work consciously putting that perceived information together in the form of concepts—pictures of the world you consider and could describe to others.
If awareness is akin to you simply existing, then focus is what sets you apart as human; for all living things are aware on some level, yet only humans can conceptualize to the degree that language is even created for those concepts to be communicated.
What you conceptualize about are facts and values.
Conceptualizing about facts is called “thinking.”
Conceptualizing about values is called “feeling.”
This might be a little confusing, since both aspects of focus—both forms of conceptualizing—are technically thinking.
The terminology is just to help you identify more with one type of thinking or the other: either thinking about what’s true in terms of systems, ideas, and logic; or thinking about what’s best, as in most worthwhile to human beings.
As with sensing and intuition, both thinking and feeling are directed 2 ways—outward and inward.
Outward Thinking (Let’s get this done!)
Outward thinking creates and hones guidelines, schedules, and processes in order to achieve the best results with maximum efficiency. It manages resources or groups of people to get the most from whatever you have to work with.
Outward thinking measures consequences. It looks for practical solutions to real-world problems.
Fluent in accepted standards and definitions, outward thinking works to analyze, organize, present, and apply pragmatic facts. This process manifests as effective planning and execution toward the achievement of concrete, real-world goals.
Inward Thinking (What’s true?)
Inward thinking measures ideas and how things work, looking at every component (and relationships between components) from all possible angles to distinguish and categorize essential qualities into levels and classes for understanding.
Inward thinking never wants to stop questioning itself. It hunts for logical inconsistencies, forever examining the basis of all your thoughts to make sure they’re reasonable.
Thus, inward thinking is focused on what’s uncertain—on what could be inconsistent—rather than on asserting the truth of any claim.
Inward thinking constructs its own ever-expanding map of rational skepticism.
Thinking in 2 Directions
Where inward thinking continually circles back to challenge itself, forever breaking information apart to gain more knowledge, outward thinking rushes out to gain and maintain control over the physical world.
Outward thinking sees facts as only valuable for how they can be put to practice in methodologies measured moving forward to be ever improved.
Thus outward thinking is scientific; it values arriving at the most objectively effective systems attested to by a collective consensus.
But inward thinking is philosophical; it values challenging anything close to a consensus to measure the accuracy of all ideas and concepts.
Those who identify as inward thinkers can go through a somewhat nihilistic phase; for the deeper their understanding goes, the less of an immediate difference they come to expect to really make with it.
Skilled inward thinkers understand how tedious a task it would be for every line of their reasoning to be put forth and understood.
After a recent mass shooting, a friend of mine posted his thoughts on Facebook, which were a textbook example of expressed inward thinking.
Scanning through my friend’s giant block of complex text, I picked up on hints at conclusions about gun control and governmental power; but those glimmers shone forth from such a vast sea of undeveloped caveats that by the end I felt his frustration in knowing his words just couldn’t be enough.
It would have taken my friend literally forever to fully explain his thoughts.
On the other hand, those who identify as outward thinkers can sometimes miss a bigger picture as they speed off to perfect their data-driven systems.
I once worked at a massive media company whose spending and development policy was essentially: “Well, what’s everyone else doing?”
Expert consultants were paid unseemly amounts to come wow outward thinking producers with statistics-laced presentations on how certain strategies had proven so effective for other clients.
The problem: It was a media company.
Media changes fast, so paying top dollar to begin implementing someone else’s winning system is a surefire way to miss the next big wave (of wherever attention is headed).
Meanwhile, inward thinking staffers sighed and shrugged as slivers of their uncommunicable wisdom got quickly cut down by rote recitations of those same costly sales pitch stats.
You could almost hear those inward thinkers sigh and quietly whisper to themselves in soft Eeyore voices, “Well, it looks like we’re doomed.”
But what if outward thinking were set to run instead with game plans based on a moving, evolving current summation of that which inward thinking could show to be most reasonable (if given sufficient time to explain . . . and help to summarize . . . and…)?
Yes, there would be more risk involved in actually charting a new course; but I bet the results would look a lot better than tired bosses scratching their heads, wondering why what’s worked before costs so much to apply but also fails to predict much value.
Inward thinking probes deep into uncharted theoretical territory, which outward thinking could then set out to proficiently explore and conquer.
Though forever unsure of itself, inward thinking is usually closer to understanding how things truly are now than any past research money could buy.
Outward Feeling (How’s everyone?)
Outward feeling cares about what others want and find worthwhile. It desires to connect, mostly to help everyone else have whatever they value.
Through outward feeling, you can actually lose yourself in how other people are doing. This could look like laughing when someone else laughs, or empathizing with another’s frustrations.
Where outward thinking prides itself on remaining ever flat and impersonal—concerned only with applying objective facts—outward feeling intentionally wears warm emotions on its sleeves, responding and adjusting to whatever feelings and motivations it picks up on.
Inward Feeling (What’s good?)
Since inward feeling is . . . inward . . . it can seem far more detached and thoughtful than outward feeling.
Where outward feeling disappears into others’ values for the purpose of connecting and helping, inward feeling measures and compares all values independently.
Basically, inward feeling maps everything anyone could find good and worthwhile, all at once, in order to comprehend how different values complement one another.
Inward feeling recognizes and hates whenever values are compromised, since it knows exactly how and why all such compromises are unnecessary.
That might be why inward feelers are often most inspired to help the unfortunate—those who have been devalued and are unable to help themselves, such as the needy, orphans, and animals.
We saw last time how outward sensing and outward intuition represent a quality called openness in the Big Five model—being open to new experiences (outward sensing) and new possibilities (outward intuition).
Well, as we move from unconscious awareness to conscious focus, openness shifts in direction from outward to inward.
Inward thinking is open to new ideas through systematic analysis.
Inward feeling is open to new perspectives that could contribute to equality, justice, and peace.
Both inward thinking and inward feeling are non-dogmatic, out-of-the-box, and skeptical of conventional understandings.
Yet one thing that sets the 2 inward focus functions apart is how much of a direct difference each expects its new and open insights to really make.
As mentioned, inward thinkers can become quite disillusioned after seeing their partially put forth strings of valid, airtight arguments fail to convince most others.
Yet something I really admire about inward thinkers is how resolutely they usually decide to set themselves against the pessimism their own experience justifies.
You might catch a slight smile on the face of an inward feeler as they approach 2 warring parties, fully assured in their ability to show those parties why they need never war.
But inward thinkers generally end up choosing to play a much longer, slower game, setting their sights beyond even their own lives to a distant future when all their reasoning has been woven into a tapestry of collective human understanding that spans all of history and gradually fosters the positive changes inward openness hopes, looks, and strives for.
Inward and outward feeling each show different shades of a quality the Big Five model calls agreeableness.
Agreeableness wants everyone to be happy, and to avoid conflict.
Disagreeableness, on the other hand, is unfriendly and uncooperative, placing self-interest above helping others and making peace.
Disagreeableness can look like outright intimidation or simple obliviousness.
You could say that outward feeling is blindly committed to demonstrating agreeableness at all costs; where inward feeling understands exactly how agreeableness’s amicable aims should best be achieved.
Outward feelers are hyper-agreeable, which can be a problem when it leads to continually passing up opportunities for success and personal development because you always put others’ needs and goals ahead of your own.
Inward feelers remain reserved and cool (unless they see important values being openly infringed upon). They’re consciously aware of what everyone finds important, but they don’t disappear into the feelings and values of others the way outward feelers do.
So, to inward feelers, outward feeling can appear shallow, contrived, showy, arrogant, and most of all fake—perhaps like a politician who acts genuine and kind, but always for some hidden ulterior purpose.
That’s because when inward feelers see outward feeling at work, they know the outward feelers are not being true to themselves and their own values.
On the other hand, outward feelers tend to see inward feelers as overly closed off and unhelpful in the goal forcing a happy rapport.
But the difference is really only one of style or tact.
Since both inward and outward feelers are “value-valuers,” each can learn to respect the other’s methodology if they come to recognize and unite around their common agreeableness.
Inward feelers can appreciate that the reason outward feelers skew hyper-agreeable (even to the point of insincerity) comes from an honest desire to help build others up.
And outward feelers can learn from inward feelers to take themselves and their own needs into consideration less they risk volcanic waves of unacknowledged resentment building up beneath the surface to one day explode in displays of rampant, uncharacteristic disagreeableness that might wipe out all the happy harmony they’ve worked so hard to build.
P.S. Another note on MBTI:
In every MBTI test I’ve ever taken, I’ve resulted as an INFP.
So I thought I was an INFP for a long time.
And if I were to look at just those 4 letters, I-N-F-P, I’d find plenty to identify with.
But that’s the problem with the way most approach MBTI: taking tests, and then just looking at what each of the 4 letters in their code is meant to mean.
I’m actually an INFJ, which sounds similar (again, looking only at the 4-letter codes), but is really very different.
INFP and INFJ share none of the 8 personality traits we’ve looked at in what MBTI calls their “functional stack”—a sequence of traits ordered from most foundational and developed to least prevalent but still aspired to.
I believe a better approach to MBTI is to begin by understanding the 8 traits (or functions) themselves.
As I studied the traits, I came to realize that the core of my identity—my dominant trait—is inward intuition, which would make me either an INFJ or INTJ.
Once you identify your dominant trait, determine your MBTI type by looking at the other part of personality (unconscious awareness or conscious focus) and asking yourself which of that part’s 2 aspects you most identify with.
Since my dominant trait is an awareness trait, I’d look at the 2 focus aspects and ask: “Am I more of a thinker or feeler? Do I conceptualize more about facts, ideas, and results; or more about people and values?”
If your dominant trait is a focus trait, you’d look at the awareness aspects and ask yourself, “Am I more aware through direct sensation of what’s happening in the here and now, or more through intuition picking up on connections and possibilities for the future?”
That secondary aspect, called your auxiliary function, moves in the opposite direction from your dominant trait; so, if your dominant is inward, your auxiliary is outward, and vice versa.
The reason for that change in direction is because MBTI is primarily a personal development tool for growth and balance.
MBTI helps solve identity crises, since it begins with the core of what you are—represented by your dominant trait—and then stretches you in a way that fits with the rest of what you are so you won’t lose sight of the main values wanting to use your life to exist even when you’re compelled to focus on other, less prominent values.
MBTI is not an exhaustive prescription. You’re not limited to only the traits in your MBTI functional stack.
If I were limited to only my stack, I never could have identified as an INFP when test results told me I was one.
Again, you’ll have to harness and make use of all 8 traits to some degree at different times.
MBTI works best to frame what your instincts, intuitions, thoughts, and feelings are already trying to show you, leaving you with no excuses not to take your own next steps, grow, and move closer to your potential.
Jung, C. G., and Herbert Read. The collected works of C.G. Jung, vol. 6: psychological types. Routledge, 1989.