Let’s take a minute to think of our dreams. We all have them – those things that ignite our souls and give a rousing sense of destiny or a surge of mental energy and confidence in the face of challenges. We may see ourselves playing different roles in those dreams; some of us envision ourselves front and center connecting with the masses with a unique and inspiring flare; some contemplate the joys of making a life changing difference in the lives of a small but precious group of individuals; others wish to work behind the scenes in a solitary but meaningful way; some view themselves as revolutionary thinkers casting the vision for something new, or leading lots of people towards some noble cause; still others wish to change the world by joining like-hearted people and being a small yet faithful part of something much bigger than themselves. Since our dreams and visions are as different as we are, I won’t go on in trying to define all the possible forms these could take – hopefully one of the examples I gave brought to mind one of those special hopes that you treasure.
The question now is, “are you making progress towards your dreams?” Most of us can function well enough to meet our basic needs and maybe even achieve some short term goals, but the individuals that move beyond survival mode and make progress towards their “big” dreams are a rare breed. And when I say progress, I don’t mean “effortless success.” I mean realistic, sometimes slow, often imperfect, progress. I believe that, even though we have the tools within us to prevent stagnation, self sabotage, distraction and other things that take us in the opposite direction of our dreams, we haven’t spent enough meaningful time on improving our self awareness and developing the habits that support our strengths.
I have had to put a lot of effort towards getting the self awareness part figured out, and the healthy habit building is still underway. Ni dominant individuals are generally inept at understanding and expressing their inner selves in coherent ways because their inner world “shifts” around a lot. This kind of introspection can be difficult and confusing processes for me, but it was 100% worth the time and energy that it took. In this article, I’ll be the guinea pig, I will break down my functions and how they can contribute to fulfilling my dreams. I’ll also spend time talking about how my functions can backfire if I’m not being intentional in using them in healthy ways. Finally, I’ll talk about how I can get them back under my control. I’m hoping to demonstrate how an honest evaluation of oneself through the lens of cognitive function type theory can lead to those dreams we discussed above. I’m an INFJ, so my stack looks like this: Ni, Fe, Ti, and Se; I’ll start with my first function and work my way down.
Introverted Intuition (Ni)
Ni is a weird function regardless of where it falls in the stack, but the intensity of it is amplified when it’s first. I’ll take a minute to try to describe what it “feels like” when it’s at work. I’ll use some pop culture visuals to help illustrate it (I love to think in pictures!); imagine that my brain is a control center, like the bridge of the Enterprise, except, instead of a gallant captain commanding the ship, picture a mystical oracle. Ni doesn’t give orders, it gives information. Usually it’s mental pictures and general impressions. It’s up to my other functions to interpret and decide what to do with the info that Ni gives.
Though this is a highly abstract function, I can trust it, and generally it doesn’t lead me wrong. Actually, for me, this is where my dreams originate, my ability to, in one sudden flash of inspiration, have a huge, yet strikingly detailed idea suspended in my mind’s eye and then see the vision grow, like 3D blueprints being downloaded into my brain. Feeling the awe of watching it take shape in my conscious is honestly one of the most joyful experiences I can have. The main area where I run into problems is when I am not positively fueling my imagination and not intentionally directing it towards building on and refining my hopes and dreams.
When my Ni is humored I allow myself to dream in a big, positive way, then I find that ideas, solutions, relational insights, and practical strategies come rolling in. In this state, my energy and my enthusiasm for life and for the future becomes infectious, Fe spreads the vision. I find I have energy both for starting and finishing projects, for planning (Ti) and for executing (Se).
However, I sometimes catch myself stifling my own intuition. It usually looks like negative self talk – telling myself preemptively that my dreams are unlikely to happen, that I can’t overcome the obstacles, and am surely headed for disappointment. In response to these thoughts, my crushed intuition starts picking apart and critically obsessing over minor problems, blowing small annoyances out of proportion, using my imagination to take me through all the things that could go wrong in the future (worrying), or just escaping current challenges by retreating into a world of mediocre and pointless daydreaming. Usually getting my Ni back to a healthy place requires 4 things:
- Self Awareness. Strangely enough, this is usually the hardest part, I’m not always aware that I’m spiraling into dark territory right away.
- Reality Check. Reaching out for help from someone I trust is a common response (Fe), or doing a mental run down of the facts (Ti) are both good ways to get back in touch with reality.
- Finding the Source. Identifying and addressing what it was that got me off track in the first place really helps. Was it a discouraging comment (Ni’s have an extra hard time with criticism), a piece of bad news, or maybe just lack or rest or time alone? Dealing with the trigger is important.
- Refocusing. Often solving the problem brings me to a neutral state of mind, but to really get back in my groove, I need to take it a step further and use my other functions to de-stress and encourage myself (which I’ll discuss more below). The mindsets and character traits that I find best for supporting a healthy Ni are hopefulness, patience, and self confidence.
Introverted Intuition is like a fierce wild bird, when you let it fly free, it sings the most amazing songs and soars to incredible heights. If you try to clip its wings and keep it inside, then its song turns shrill and restless and it poops on your curtains.
Extroverted Feeling (Fe)
Next up is Fe. This one is tricky, because, generally, I see Fe as my greatest Ni supporter; partly because most of my dreams cannot practically be accomplished by me alone, and partly because my dreams wouldn’t be complete without other people there to enjoy them with me. I need the companionship, talents, and insight of other people and Fe is how I “sell” my plans and entice people to work with me in mutually beneficial relationships.
The problem is when I perceive that the next actionable step of approaching my goal is taking me a step further away from the people I love. As an example, I am writing a novel, and the best time for me to write is at night. The house is quite, my kids are asleep, and my mind is alert. The only problem with this is I have a 16 month old who likes to get up at 5:30 in the morning, and her 3 year old big sister is usually up a couple hours after. There isn’t much opportunity to make up the lost rest, which means I’m not as likely to be at my best the following day when I switch into stay-at-home mom mode. On the other hand, if I choose not to write (or do any of the other activities that feed my soul and bring me closer to making my dreams a reality) I find myself resenting my family and friends, casting them in the spotlight of blame for why I haven’t made progress. I find myself stuck in between either feeling guilty or resentful, and if Fe and Ni team up in a negative swirl of feeling bad and imagining the worst outcomes, it gets ugly fast.
Generally there are 3 major things that help me keep Fe in check.
- Practical boundaries. At this stage in life, I have young children who are worth spending the majority of my Fe energy on, but that leaves me with a limited amount to expend beyond that, setting boundaries on influences that drain my Fe is a must.
- Reality Check (again). Sometimes there are genuine problems that pop up within the realm of the emotional boundaries I set for myself. Because Fe can be very decisive and often propels me to take action, it can be easy to rush in to help without truly thinking through what actions are the most appropriate and helpful. While there are real needs that I bear some responsibility in addressing, and require my attention, being realistic about how much “care” and energy is appropriate for the situation and not going overboard is vital.
- Rapid Conflict Resolution. Nothing distracts me from my goals like unresolved conflict, when it comes up, it’s important for me to address it quickly. If it can’t be fully resolved ASAP, at the very least, calling a truce helps me regain my headspace.
Introverted Thinking (Ti)
As Bre has mentioned in other places, the third function is often the “brakes” for the first function. This has definitely held true for me with my tertiary Ti. If Ni is the inner brainstorm, then Ti is my inner storm chaser. The really awesome thing about Ti is it can often take my Ni destination/solution and work backwards, giving me an elegant and logical game plan to get to that Ni vision. Ti also has the advantage of pointing out potential challenges or portions of the vision that aren’t compatible with reality and suggesting revisions that would make the vision more feasible.
The problem arises when the two voices of my inner world seem to be conflicting. If my Ni is flat out contradicted “No, that definitely won’t work at all!” it quickly becomes unwilling to be flexible in the details of an idea (timing, scale, etc) and stubbornly insists on the most ideal expression of the idea. Likewise if my Ti gets completely rejected, I find it gets more fired up and starts adding fuel to the negative self talk I mentioned above, using the facts of the logical limitations of my vision against the entirety of the idea, rather than just focusing on the parts that aren’t realistic.
The best way to cope with this issue is self awareness (noticing a theme?), compromise, and, again, patience. If I remind my logical side that I don’t have to have all the details worked out immediately and I remind my idealistic side that a flexible plan is more likely to actually be realized, then I find the balance needed to make the two functions work together.
Extroverted Sensing (Se)
Se, my final function, supports me by bringing in the data that Ni draws on for inspiration. Although, I do feel like Ni can often transcend the Se inputs and make something great out of simple inputs, I have also noticed that especially positive Se experiences leave me energized. Exercising, spending time in nature, painting, and listening to music can all be huge mood boosts and stimulate Ni.
Conversely, especially negative Se experiences can throw off Ni for days. For example, a scary movie can have my Ni focused on weird, distracting problems, like how to evade an axe murderer or exorcise a poltergeist (neither of which really factor in to my long term goals!). The biggest problem Se presents comes up during the execution phase of my plans, and it is the lack of flexibility and the fear of risk that springs up when I sense my outer world becoming “unstable.” Extroverted Sensing wants things in my external world to be concrete, comfortable, settled, and secure. When an unexpected bump comes up or there’s an unexpected element of risk, Se tends to dig in its heels and resist changes, jeopardizing progress towards my goals in the name of security. Also, Se is pretty exhausting for me; I can’t take in large, intense amounts of Se stimuli and expect to access my Ni at the same time.
During this stage of my life I get a lot of Se stimuli from my children; they require me to be mentally present and engaged. I sometimes I find myself either passively retreating to Ni (the listless daydreaming I mentioned above) just as a way to cope with the overstimulation, or I find that my Se jumps the stack and totally takes over, having me focus my energies on things like cleaning or organizing, preparing food, making schedules, etc. Having Se jump the stack isn’t a terrible thing these days considering how many Se responsibilities I have. But when I use up all of my energy overdoing it in this function and I don’t have anything left for my other functions to use, I find myself struggling with mood issues and lack of motivation.
The best way I’ve found for me to avoid burnout or total Se takeover is to intentionally place limits of the amount of Se activities I do in a day and “check in” with my Ni throughout the day. The best way for me to avoid an Se insecurity-driven panic attack, is to re-evaluate my priorities. Sometimes a “no pain, no gain” pep talk and reminding myself what it is I’m working towards helps me to have more courage in the face of an unstable outer world. Remembering that I am currently living out some of my dreams right now helps me to feel good about enjoying the present and gives me hope for the future.
All Together Now…
An NiFe is a visionary who cares deeply for the people around them and desires to leave an impact on the world. They respect their need for solitude, security and their sensitivity to negative emotional influences and chaotic environments. They use their daydreaming tendencies in productive ways. Though their ideas seem (to the INFJ) to appear in a flash, they do best when they give those ideas time to mature, invite the input of others in the building of their visions, and pace themselves in the execution phase.
As you can see there’s a lot that goes into getting into the right mindset for pursuing one’s dreams. I’m still figuring out the right combination of mental habits that I need to support my unique functions and live a purposeful life. I am finding that understanding the role of cognitive functions in our day to day lives helps us to spend less time feeling confused about our responses to various challenges and more time coming up with solutions to manage them. There’s power in knowing who you are and how your mind works. I’m so excited about what Rebecca and Bre are doing here at Type in Mind, and jazzed that I get to be a small part of that. I hope you are feeling inspired to learn more about your type and how you can make the most of your functions to help you reach your goals.
Rebecca Alexander is an NiFe (INFJ) who enjoys coffee dates with her hubby, snuggling with her toddler, funny conversations with her preschooler, and spending time alone writing, painting, or cooking. An Austin, TX native, she is on a never ending journey to incorporate as many of her passions into daily life as she can, while supporting her favorite people in pursuing theirs, and still getting dinner on the table on time.
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