Introverted Intuition: How Getting Present Can Reduce Anxiety
I recently realized that just because we use a particular cognitive function as a strength doesn’t mean we always use it in the best way possible.
For instance, INFJs (and INTJs for that matter) use Introverted Intuition (aka “Perspectives” in the Genius Sytem) as their dominant cognitive function. Usually, this function is so natural to INJs we don’t even have to consciously think about it.
It isn’t like our Copilot cognitive functions, which we have to exercise to build muscle around.
Perspectives is that tool we love to feed with endless amounts of information.
Sometimes I see my Intuition as a whale with its mouth hanging open while the unfiltered information pours in to be categorized and used or discarded.
Other times I see it as a hummingbird: eating and flitting; flitting and eating. Never diving deeply enough to master anything before darting to the next exciting subject. I always thought I excelled at diving into a topic and learning it until I started hanging out with ENTPs. They will dive to the absolute bottom of a subject, then tunnel beneath it and come up with a whole new way of seeing it.
That is true mastery. Whereas, I sometimes wonder if the reason INJs struggle to get into action is because they realize they don’t have all the facts since they didn’t truly master the subject before moving onto something else.
We may laugh about the NP tendency to get easily distracted by the next shiny thing, but we have the same issue with information. So much to learn. So many books to read. So many degrees to earn.
We use our Introverted Intuition a lot. We don’t even have to think about using it we use it so much. But that doesn’t mean we have mastered it. It isn’t like breathing or walking. It is more like learning a new language or a musical instrument. It requires focused practice and attention – and even then you will occasionally hit a sour note.
Unlike learning a new language or instrument, though, we don’t have a lot of examples of what healthy Intuition looks like. There are so many different manifestations of Introverted Intuition.
My gauge for healthy vs. unhealthy intuition is:
- Does it make you feel good and create harmony with the people who matter?
- Or, does it make you feel anxious and suspicious of the people around you?
Healthy = I’m feeling good, and I’m feeling harmonious with others.
Unhealthy = He didn’t return my text immediately. I knew it! He doesn’t love me anymore! I’m going to call him and give him a piece of my mind!
Perspectives and the Pre-Frontal Cortex
Perspectives is the most future-oriented cognitive function of the eight cognitive functions, which is why INJs are such good planners. They can see into the distant future better than anyone else.
So, we spend a lot of time thinking about the future and projecting things into the future. We spend large amounts of time imagining all sorts of witty things we will say if we ever get that chance we let slip away last year.
It’s kind of our superpower. The ability to see disaster before anyone else does.
Unfortunately, it can also become our weakness. We can start seeing disaster everywhere. This is when intuition goes a bit off the rails:
“I’m trying something new today. There are so many things that can go wrong. My best bet is to get there really early, and pre-rehearse everything I need to do and say so I appear totally wooden and everyone thinks I am completely devoid of personality.”
I’m not saying to ignore your premonitions. There have been many times I have had a bad feeling about traveling and have decided to cancel my plans. Was I right? I have no idea. But I’m still alive. Mission accomplished!
I’m saying when you see disaster and failure everywhere you look. Or when you start seeing bad intent where there is no bad intent. Or when you begin hyper-analyzing the words of someone and come up with a completely different interpretation days or weeks after the conversation took place.
Perspectives can get pretty crazy. And there is a reason for that.
The prefrontal cortex of the brain is the part of the brain behind our foreheads. Our primate ancestors had low sloping brows, but at some point, we evolved to our vertical brows which made it easier to wear hats. The prefrontal cortex is where our planning takes place. At some point, our ancestors realized they needed consistent sources of food and warmth, so they started evolving the ability to plan for the future – for the hard times.
What was soon to be the human brain, more than doubled in mass over 2 million years (give or take a millennia) as the ability to plan for the future made the primate’s lives steadily easier.
Fast forward a few more millennia to the 1930s when doctors started performing frontal lobotomies on people suffering from uncontrollable anxiety and depression. Initially, monkeys received the treatment, and they became less violent and aggressive as a result.
At the time, doctors weren’t sure what purpose the prefrontal cortex had, so it made sense to plunge an ice pick into someone’s brain when their depression seemed untreatable.
Over time though, they began to notice that while patients could perform relatively well on standard intelligence tests after a lobotomy, they failed utterly on any test that required planning. They could talk about the weather and compliment you on your drapes, but if you asked them what they planned to do when it started raining, they were completely stumped.
Now we know, the prefrontal cortex of the brain is essential in planning complex cognitive behavior and decision making.
What does this have to do with Perspectives?
Doctors realized they could reduce a patient’s anxiety by short-circuiting the part of the brain that makes plans for the future.
I believe it was Eckhart Tolle in the Power of NOW who said that living in the future creates fear and anxiety.
Earlier, I pointed out that Perspectives is the most future-focused cognitive function of all eight cognitive functions.
So, it stands to reason that INJs would struggle with various forms of anxiety when they spend too much time living in the future. INFJs seem to struggle with anxiety more than INTJs, but I have a theory about that also.
INTJs deal with anxiety by denying its existence and building a bulletproof exoskeleton. “You can’t touch me! I am iron man!”
However, they fear vulnerability as much as INFJs. They just deal with it differently. Where INFJs complain of fear and anxiety, INTJs complain of lack of clarity and motivation. But at the root is the same thing: fear of exposure and humiliation.
I don’t want to suggest that we should never plan for or think of the future. I’m not encouraging we go back to living like our primate ancestors. Although I swear I have seen people devolve right before my eyes, I don’t think we could stop planning for the future.
The kind of future casting I am specifically talking about is the kind that causes fear and anxiety – where we see impending doom around every corner.
Hacking the Doom and Gloom
INFJs and INTJs use Introverted Intuition all the time. Is there a hack in our cognitive function stack that will help us stop the doom and gloom?
It is called Extraverted Sensing (“Sensation” in the Genius System), and it is the weakest cognitive function in our stack. Take out a coin. If Perspectives is heads, then Sensation is tails. It’s the exact opposite of your dominant cognitive function, and it influences you in small ways.
It is the reason INJs tend to be emotional eaters.
Sensation is all about the five senses. People who use this cognitive function as a strength tend to be outstanding athletes and musicians. They use their body as a tool and can use their environment as an extension of themselves. It requires intense presence for a race-car driver or precision pilot to do the things they do.
Intense presence is not the forte of INJs. We spend too much time in our heads gathering data and comparing it to the other data we’ve collected. This is why we can tend toward clumsiness. We don’t interact with our bodies as athletes. Our bodies aren’t a machine we can use skillfully. So, we will bump into things. We will fall going upstairs. And we will break three ribs, puncture a lung and rupture a spleen just falling from a horse that was standing still.
When we are in our minds, we are not in our bodies. Terrible things can happen when you let go of the wheel of a car to look for something in the glove compartment. It’s similar when we try to engage in complicated maneuvers while analyzing whether or not we said too much at that last company party when the alcohol was flowing.
Sensation can be the reason we carry around an extra 20 lbs, or it can be the thing that cures us of our anxiety.
As I mentioned earlier, Perspectives needs to be practiced and used with skill to be perfected, and so does Sensation.
If you don’t use it, it will use you.
When your Perspectives process is predicting a future of job loss, homelessness, and divorce, your Sensation will reach for whatever it can get its hands on to get you out of your mind and into your body. This shuts off your intuition which is bent on self-destruction like a parasite who has decided its host must die.
Food is the fastest way to get you out of your head and focused on chewing, tasting, texture, temperature, whatever works to shut off the brain. The problem is, we have mastered the ability to think and eat – at least most of us have.
So, we can continue circling the drain, as it were, with our pint of Ben & Jerry’s clutched in our sticky fingers, which puts both Perspectives and Sensation in a lousy place.
Our inner wisdom knows the best way to shut off our mind is to engage our body, and eating isn’t the best way to go about it. Too many side effects.
The best way to engage our body and disengage our mind is by getting present by interacting with our environment:
- Take a hot bath
- Have Sex
- Do yoga
- Get a massage
- Go for a walk in nature
Most of all, practice the art of being present. Eckhart Tolle’s Power of NOW explains how valuable this practice is – physically, mentally and spiritually. I strongly recommend checking it out to understand presence work.
When my mind is running away with me, and I am projecting all sorts of evil intent I focus on my body:
What is the temperature in the room?
How do my clothes feel against my skin?
I focus on my feet, then my legs and continue my way up as I consider how each part of my body feels.
Then I focus on my environment:
- I hear the tick of the clock
- The passing of a car outside
- The sound of the refrigerator
- The purr of the cat on my lap
Then I ask myself, what do I lack right now at this moment? If I’m honest with myself, usually the answer is nothing. I’m comfortable, warm, fed, there’s somebody in the next room who is glad I’m alive. If I need something to drink, I can immediately fill that need. If I get cold, there is a blanket nearby. I am capable of meeting whatever needs I have right now at this moment.
I can’t do anything about the past or future, so why waste any energy on it? If you can cultivate this mindset, you will vastly increase your peace of mind and create longer and longer stretches of contentment between periods of neurotic impairment.
The Most Charismatic Thing You Can Do
“But if I don’t prepare for the future, something disastrous will happen! Or worse, I will freeze and humiliate myself in front of people who will never forget it.”
First of all, everybody always forgets it. Nobody cares about your failures as much as you do. Everyone else is so consumed with their own BS; they don’t have enough mental real estate to care about yours.
Second, as you learn presence work, you will realize that being present is the most charismatic thing you can do. We spend so much time thinking about what our next words will be that we don’t listen to what people are saying. Or we “Uh-huh” our way through their conversation in hopes they will hurry up so we can say the genius thing we thought of before we forget it.
I read a book on Charisma recently, and I was shocked when the author said one of the most charismatic things you can do is count to two after a person finishes speaking. It allows them to complete their thought and gives them the impression that you are thinking intently about what they said.
When I read that, I realized that introverts should be the most charismatic people in the world and the fact that we’re not is probably related to all that other non-charismatic stuff we do.
Then I realized I didn’t need to have a prepared comment during every break in a conversation. I could take a second or two to think about it and still manage to look charismatic, which means I can relax in social situations now. There’s no pressure to perform.
So, practicing presence is a win/win. It gets you out of your head where your intuition is planning the almost total destruction of every relationship you’ve ever valued, and into your body where the only thing you need to worry about is your current comfort level. Staying present also makes you appear more charismatic and relaxed. Admit it, Judgers can be a pretty uptight group of people because of our obsessive need for structure and planning.
So relax. Go into a conversation without a plan. Attend a party without a dozen pre-rehearsed statements. Get comfortable. See what comes up organically in conversation.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. This takes practice. I have to get my disaster-caster in a headlock sometimes when it short circuits, but each time it gets easier.
Keep at it. Life is meant to be enjoyed not wrestled into submission.