If you believe that the value in Myers Briggs personality assessment ends with figuring out your four letter type, you are missing out on the true value of the model.
And also, if you approached assessment in the standard way – by doing an online test – you may not even have identified your correct type. Whenever I took an online test, I’d get different results each time. I also never understood the categories properly: I assumed that being extroverted or being introverted was related to how we interact with others (strictly it isn’t – that is more of a clue).
Most important, I had overlooked the most essential information: the eight cognitive functions, or ‘mental acts’, that the system is based on.
The eight mental acts/cognitive processes
Each of the 16 types has a dominant mental act and then a preferred stack in using the others. This knowledge is key to using Myers Briggs to support personal growth.
This post aims to clarify how to get the best from Myers Briggs wisdom, based on my trial and error with using the theory.
What Myers Briggs actually says about personality
Myers Briggs theory divides human intelligence into two core attributes: perceiving and judging. It goes on to say that there are two ways of doing either. Sensing (S) and intuition (N) are the two kinds of perception. Thinking (T) or feeling (F) are the two kinds of judging.
Those are two of the four categorizations. The other two relate to extroversion/introversion (E or I) and judging/perceiving (J or P).
- E or I – extroverted or introverted
- N or S – intuition or sensing
- T or F – thinking or feeling
- J or P – judging or perceiving
The middle two categorizations are the most significant ones. They tell you your perception and judgment preferences, and together they give you your dominant mental function. So your dominant function is either ST, SF, NT, or NF.
Figuring out whether you are N or S (intuition or sensing)
Ask yourself how you tend to perceive information. Do you pay more attention to data that comes in through your five senses (S), or do you pay more attention to the patterns you see in the information you receive (N)?
Do you tend to favor ‘reading between the lines’ (N) over strict adherence to fact or evidence (S)?
You should know this about yourself right away. I found the N or S category the most straightforward to figure out in my own assessment.
Figuring out whether you are T or F (thinking or feeling)
Ask yourself how you like to make decisions. Do you like to put more weight on objective facts (T) or do you pay more attention to personal concerns and the people involved (F)? Think about how you have made the last few big decisions to do with your career, vacation time, relationships. T might be more useful for financial planning; F when organizing a family holiday.
Figuring out whether you are E or I:
Okay so that’s the important part. You should now have your dominant mental function. My dominant mental function is NF.
Now this bit is significant so pay attention:
Whether you are E (extroverted) or I (introverted) is about which function – perceiving or judging – is stronger in you, and how that is expressed – whether it is related to the outer world or the inner world.Your E or I preference is determined by how you express your dominant mental function Click To Tweet
This can take some troubleshooting.
For me, I had to ask myself which is stronger – my intuition (I) or my feeling (F) focuses. This is a close call, because one is dominant and the other is supporting it. But you should be able to call it. For me, it is the judgment focus – feeling.
I then ask whether I tend to get my feeling intelligence from the outer world – i.e. am I more aware of the feelings of others – or my inner world – how I am feeling. For me, it is definitely all about other people. So my dominant mental function is Fe (extroverted feeling).
If my perception was the stronger function, I would ask myself the same question – to I tend to go outside for my intuits, or consult my inner world? For me, it is definitely the second. Combined with my extroverted feeling, that takes you to type ENFJ.
Figuring out whether you are P and J (perceiving or judging)
The fourth categorization – P or J – is the most isolated consideration.
Ask yourself whether you prefer a more structured and planned lifestyle (J) or a more flexible and adaptable lifestyle (P).
Understand that everybody is both a J and a P. If you are J on the outside, you are a P on the inside. A person may feel very orderly/structured (J) on the inside, yet their outer life looks spontaneous and adaptable (P). Another person may feel very curious and open-ended (P) in their inner world, yet their outer life looks more structured or decided (J).
For the sake of determining your Myers Briggs type, you are looking at your outer world.
Your four letters
How your four preferences/letters work in concert lead to descriptions or a ‘feel’ for each of the 16 types.
I have found that reading those is a little comical, like reading your star sign or something. You won’t relate to every single thing it says about the type!
But reading about the flavour of a type overall can help you to know whether you have accurately pinpointed your type.
Do’s and don’t’s with Myers Briggs typing
Here are my suggestions for how you use Myers Briggs.
Don’t: Do an online assessment (this is by far the best one I have discovered) and assume you know everything you need to know about yourself.
For starters, you might not have answered honestly – the human capacity to deceive is well documented! By all means take an online test, and ensure that you answer in ‘shoes off’ mode – but use that as the starting point for your Myers Briggs self-discovery.
I’d encourage you to take the online test, and then check whether the cognitive acts stack up for you to confirm your type.There is a lot Myers Briggs doesn't account for, so don't be dogmatic Click To Tweet
Do: As above, concentrate on working out your middle two letters first. Once you have figured out which of the perceptions and forms of judging you favor – that’s when you can determine whether you are E or I.
Remember that you aren’t necessarily an E if you appear to extroverted in your life. This is the major mistake I made when I was typing myself. You are an E if you go to the outside world for your perception or judging (whichever is the strongest function).
Do: Learn your order of cognitive processes, once you have identified your type. Seek to understand the implications of your favored cognitive processes.
Here are the eight cognitive processes for ENFJ, which is my type. (Don’t worry too much about the names given to the processes – they are variously termed, depending on where you get them.)
The Primary Processes – i.e. my strengths/healthy mental acts:
‘Leading’: Extroverted feeling – Connecting and considering others and the group.
‘Supporting’: Introverted intuiting – Foreseeing implications, transformations, and likely effects.
‘Relief’: Extroverted sensing – Experiencing and acting in the immediate context.
‘Aspirational’: Introverted thinking – Analyzing, categorizing, and evaluating according to principles.
Your primary cognitive processes together should paint an accurate portrait of your strengths.
The Shadow Processes – i.e. the poorly used mental acts:
‘Opposing’: Introverted feeling – Valuing and considering importance, beliefs, and worth.
‘Critical parent’: Extroverted intuiting – Interpreting situations and relationships and pickup meanings and interconnections to other contexts.
‘Deceiving’: Introverted sensing – Reviewing and recalling past experiences and seeking detailed data.
‘Devilish’: Extroverted thinking – Segmenting, organizing for efficiency, and systematizing.
Your Shadow cognitive processes should paint an accurate picture of your weaknesses.
To discover the cognitive processes or mental acts for your own type, just google ‘eight cognitive processes for [INSERT TYPE]’).
General do’s and don’t’s with using Myers Briggs
A few more pointers.
Do: Use Myers Briggs to identify your possible reality distortions. That’s kind of the whole point with any personality profiling system!
Once you learn the cognitive processes for your type, you begin to see which perspectives you lack. The key is to find out what are your natural strengths, and then see how you can balance them with the opposing perspectives.
Since finally pinpointing my type, I try to incorporate my underused intelligences back into my perception and decision-making. I am at the very least more mindful of the biases inherent in how I interpret and analyse situations.Use Myers Briggs to be mindful of how biased you are in interpreting and analyzing life Click To Tweet
As an ENFJ, I introvert my intuition, which is great for making me creative. But it doesn’t make me quite so focused on the here and now, which isn’t pragmatic for attending to responsibilities in life. My weakest (although present) mental process is extroverted sensing. I can focus on developing that in my life and it’ll balance out the dreamer quality.
Your Shadow functions are what tend to emerge during times of stress or unhappiness. My primary shadow function is ‘introverted feeling’. Introverted feeling is what helps a person makes decisions based on their own feelings. ENFJ neglects this side of them by over-focusing on the feelings of others, which causes resentment.
During extremely high stress situations, out comes extroverted thinking, which makes decisions on facts and logic. Because this function isn’t healthy in an ENFJ, they tend to distort the facts to stay deceived.
I suggest that you apply a similar analysis to yourself.
Do: Use Myers Briggs to improve your empathy with other people. Once you understand how different we all are when it comes to reality, it improves your compassion – in my experience.
Don’t: Use Myers Briggs to box yourself, or make snap judgments about other people. One of the least helpful things you can do with this information is to apply it dogmatically. Myers Briggs doesn’t account for so much stuff about you! For example, the types of the people that brought you up could have influenced how strongly characteristic of your type you are.
Don’t: Include it on your online dating profile. (Just my personal opinion). Or use Myers Briggs to determine friendship or relationship compatibility with other people. Come on, you know it’s crazy.
Don’t: Let Myers Briggs be your last effort in developing self-knowledge and a more complete understanding of yourself.
Don’t: Don’t expect Myers Briggs to offer you a complete path of growth like the Enneagram can offer.
Myers Briggs offers a great, at-a-glance way of identifying possible shortfalls in our information gathering and decision making – once you have cottoned onto the idea of using the eight mental acts.
The biggest problem with Myers Briggs is what happens when any useful descriptor gets turned into dogma. So just don’t. Enjoy it for the useful, but limited self-awareness method it is.
I really recommend you read the following three articles from Personality Hacker: