Podcast – Episode 0330 – The Binary Nature Of The 3-Yr-Old Inferior Cognitive Function

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In this episode, Joel and Antonia talk about the binary nature of your inferior (3-year-old) cognitive function.

In this podcast you’ll find:

  • Each function in the 3-Yr-Old (inferior) position has a black and white, binary type of thinking or viewpoint.
  • The lower the function in the car model (stack), the less territory it takes in.
  • What does it look like when a function is in the 3-Yr-Old position?
    • Co-dependency
    • Limiting or overreaching beliefs
    • Oversimplification
  • How can this come up in relationships?
  • We are all responsible for integrating our own 3-Yr-Old function.
  • How does each function appear binary in the 3-Yr Old position?
  • Memory – Si (ENxPs):
    • Black and white with procedures, real memories or nostalgic items.
    • Does this have to be exactly the same as the past or should I completely reinvent it?
    • Real-life examples from Joel and Antonia.
  • Exploration – Ne (ISxJs):
    • All the possibilities versus no possibilities – it’s set.
    • Either nothing in my life changes or everything changes!
  • Polarities: a quick reminder – you can learn more about them in our previous podcast here
  • Perspectives – Ni (ESxPs):
    • Zero thinking about the future/implications versus obsession.
    • It either takes its own perspective – or grabs somebody else’s.
    • TV show example (Hoarders)
  • Sensation – Se (INxJs):
    • Jumping out an airplane versus using the body as just a carrier for the mind.
    • Presence versus “not present” – overwhelmed by sensory experience.
    • Immediate action or no action at all.
    • Example: the INFJ “door slam”.
  • Perceiving functions as a 3-Yr-Old (summary):
    • No “should” statements attached – focused on timelines and perception of reality only.
    • A limited viewpoint of how big or small something is.
  • Judging functions as a 3-Yr-Old (summary):
    • Decision making – how the world should be set up.
    • Extraverted judging functions – assertive about the outside world.
    • Introverted judging functions – more about self-judgement.
  • Authenticity – Fi (ExTJs):
    • Crude oversimplification of emotions.
    • Binary experience of feelings.
    • Making inner terrain and emotions really simple.
    • Intent – doesn’t see nuance.
  • Effectiveness – Te (IxFPs):
    • Being very productive versus doing nothing.
    • Obsessive (fear of letting go and causing chaos).
    • Systems – being over-elaborate versus destroying systems.
    • Oversimplification – “the system should solve everything”.
  • Back to ExTJs – how they can flip a switch to control emotions.
  • The dominant function – nuance and expression, knowing the rules; when to follow/break them.
  • The inferior function – “Why don’t I know the rules!?” – how this affects our experiences and control of it.
  • Harmony – Fe (IxTPs):
    • Overdoing it to make/maintain a connection versus divorcing from society/connection.
    • Deference to others versus demanding behavior.
    • Example: Antonia’s flatmate.
  • Accuracy – Ti (ExFJs):
    • On/off switch – “truth” versus not “truth”.
    • Need to articulate their truth versus never calling anybody out.
    • Thinking of themselves and/or others as “smart” or “not smart”.
  • How can you use this information as access points for growth?
  • Benefits of self-awareness with your 3-Yr-Old function.


In this episode Joel and Antonia talk about the binary nature of your inferior (3-year-old) cognitive function. #myersbriggs

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Showing 13 comments
  • Job


    I (ENTP pref) really resonate with my 3 year old being single-mindedly focussed on standardization.
    In my jobs as an engineer I have always been striving to find the patterns (Ne), standardize the workflow (Si) and optimizing it in such a way I made my own job redundant.
    the only problem I sometimes still have is that halfway during implementation I want to redo the whole discovery of a possibly even better solution (reinventing the wheel… again….). Luckily there are quite a few Te users in engineering and project management keeping me on track and they often let me focus on the next subject because I just lose focus towards the end of implementation.

  • Julia

    Excellent podcast and great way to look at the three year old. I can definitely see this in my inferior harmony function. I would be interested in ways to build and learn to use harmony. I notice in this podcast and others you all at times tend to be pretty harsh on ISTPs and other that use harmony poorly (or at least that is how it sounds to my 3 year old…intellectually I know you don’t mean it that way nor do I think it is appropriate to society to be using it in the ways you cite as examples). The issue I have is that in addition to creating connections being a skill it is also a need (and as you stated in another podcast something I feel compelled to use even if poorly) and I get that connections should be approached from the perspective of them being a gift to others not something to generate unintentionally uncomfortable situations to receive, I am very much stuck in the loop of feeling like since it is something I suck at it is something I don’t deserve until I figure out how to get better at. So how do I do that?

  • Tine

    @Christ Hughes As I was listening to them talking about that I immediately thought “well yeah, that’s the wrong word for INTJ’s”. Sounds scary…

    More general, I have noticed the binary thing with me and my brother, both INTJ, when it comes to sounds and how we experience them.

    My brother is very sensitive to noise and gets irritated or even infuriated about it. For example, when my other brother’s children come of to play at grandma’s house, there will inevitable come a point where my INTJ brother angrily shouts at them to stop shouting (oh the irony).

    I on the other hand can just sit there, reading or writing or whatever I’m doing, completely oblivious to the fact that there is any noise at all. I just block it out somehow. They could be smashing each other’s heads in and I would not notice, until they actually come running and pulling at my skirt.

  • Sanne

    Hi, thank you so much for this interesting episode. It’s really funny, because I see these binary behaviours a lot with my friends, but in myself not as much (maybe because it was in my blind spot). Now that I thought about it, it actually makes a lot of sense.

    I’m an INFP so Te is my 3-year-old inferior function, and I do resonate with either the “productivity or no productivity” idea. Another thing that might be related, and what I have been struggling with: I sometimes make lists of things I want to get done so I don’t get overwhelmed and give up being productive. This way I can tick off the boxes (literally of in my head). However, there are days I’m just accepting that I am not going to be very productive, so I would compromise and do one or two thing to make me feel at least somewhat productive. This makes me feel a lot better about myself, because I did something useful that day. On the other hand when I am feeling very productive I sometimes do not get everything done anyway and I used to get very frustrated about that, but I learned that it’s okay. So maybe I have created this system that works for me, I hope 🙂

    Also for something completely different, at the end of the episode you talked about the Fe vs Ti polarity that EXFJ’s might be confused with IXTP’s somehow. I recently met an ENFJ (who is confused if he is ENFJ or INTP) and he really has to say his truth and is always talking about facts and things that he knows very well. At first I thought that was very INTP, but due to this episode I see that that could actually be binary behaviour. He would say his truth and nothing can come between it. However, I don’t know him that well, but I will keep this in mind.

  • James

    Hi guys. I hope Joel’s back feels better. Izzy makes a solid point about “losing control”. I think that is a firm fixed fear of the SE inferior function. I also think that the Enneagram plays a role in these function’s as they manifest. For example I’m an INTJ 8w9 and for me I would call my inferior Se, “sadistic exhilaration”. For me anger is something I fear losing control over, since as a Enneagram 8, anger is a major factor with 8’s.

    I definitely do fantasize about hurting others in the sense if or when I’m crossed or betrayed in some way, I think this would be a Fi values adding energy to the Se inferior to create this feeling of wanting street justice to the extreme.

    You guys are absolutely right in saying, we do nothing or we do it to an extreme. I’ve been told this on more than one occasion. My ex would tell me I’m either a do nothing guy or I jump up and act to a blown out proportion of dramatic extremes. I have tried to tone it down, learn conflict resolution and better social negotiating skills so as to not hold a grudge, desire punitive punishments, stone wall, or have some form of contempt for people that do things that affect my Fi values in a negative way. Inferior Se requires controls of the Ni directive, to see a pattern of a negative outcome, prior to acting via Te. Luckily I’ve not physically hurt anyone, even though I could. I have however taken legal action and or been in a position to terminate employment of others in an effort to get justice for my perceived principle violations done by another party.

    One of the questions you may be wondering or I know I’ve been asked is how does one go about avoiding triggering the negative extreme response from the Se inferior. First is to ask what would trigger me, I’m pretty honest in telling you all about it. Secondly just be a moral and ethical person and act accordingly. To mitigate the response of the Se inferior, keep in mind that it can be mitigated depending on how extreme the violation is. Think in terms of an eye for and eye. However there will be a need for an added value incentive. So if you have triggered the inferior Se of someone, then consider sincerely apologizing and then set out to make amends, the cost initially will seem extreme however it’s important to negotiate the terms. What I mean here is that, we will still be angry and hurt, so our first demand will be an emotional one, not a logical one.

    So after sincerely apologizing, pause wait for them to relax their shoulders perhaps then ask what it is you could do to make it up to them and request that they take their time to think about it because you want it to be sincere and to truly make up for it. Doing this goes a long way at satisfying our principle requirements and the impact on you emotionally and perhaps financially will be minimized.

    Surprisingly sometimes after apologizing, you may ask what you can do to make amends, and the inferior Se person may just tell you, in the future don’t do that thing you did that upset them and everything will be well between you. Se inferior is kinda like Fe inferior in that regard or giving the benefit of the doubt especially if what happened wasn’t intentional.

    If it was intentional or if the person that violated the Fi rule and was given the benefit of the doubt, do not assume that the Se inferior person is passive, we choose to act or not based on how much energy we want to give to the situation. If you think that the Se inferior person is passive and you’ll get a pass each time by apologizing and swearing not to do it again, that usually only works once, and after the first time the leash of trust gets short, do it again and remember that we may forgive but we rarely forget.

    So that’s the negative non exhaustive side of it.

    So for the positive non exhaustive side of this function that was not talked about, consider that anything love language wise such as acts of service can be nothing, or it can be extreme, such as generosity or stinginess. We may not do something because that may not be in your best interest, it’s an act of love on our part not to participate. So if we feel you need to learn a hard lesson be it maybe in responsibility, we may have helped with advice to start or even given loans, did chores or we could have done all that to the extreme if we really valued you or we may just let you figure it out so you get the benefit of experience. It really depends on what we are trying to achieve. This function still can work to the extreme even if there is no grip present we’re just that intense.

    The inferior function of Fe hit home with me too, because in the email I sent Antonia on 12/22/2019 that I didn’t get my questions answered, probably due to their busy schedule at the time with the profiling events had what was discussed in the podcast as a request for information. One of the things I was trying to figure out about INTP females was most likely due to co-dependency or the opposite extreme of walled off independence. I still think that fear plays a big role in the grip function of the inferior, because in my experience inferior Fe users that have a strong relationship to their feeling function tend to be pleasers in my mind. And when their feeling function leads to over use it can lead to co-dependency such as trying to rescue lost causes for an ego boost just as the inferior Se user does what they do for an ego boost in how they tend to go about it. So I have experienced the Fe in positive ways in some people but with the inferior folks that are in the grip I often get the sense of an unspoken or sometimes verbalized expectation or even a feeling of having a demand placed on me via henpecking and nagging, to where I go into the grip and do something to the extreme to make it stop. So I can see how relationships for me with someone using Fe in their inferior hasn’t worked out when they were in the grip of it and realize now that me gripping in my inferior Se lead to a vicious loop of the dog chasing their tail, nothing got accomplished. I wish I knew however how to help the inferior Fe user when they are in the grip to bring them back to their higher functions. That would be immensely helpful.

    Just trying to get to that gray area I think is difficult for the inferior function, it takes a conscious effort to even know we’re using it to our detriment by either action or inaction.

  • Izzy

    Hello 🙂

    I have spend a while trying to get good idea about how this shows up in my inferior function. I think one of the reasons its difficult for me to get a read on, is because it’s shown up for me in different ways over the years (usually in an unhealthy way). Because I have had quite a difficult relationship with my Se, I have had a tendancy to play things really safe for extended periods of time and then lose control. For example, in my mid 20’s the only thing I ate for about a year was porridge as I knew it would give me a slow release of energy and not overwhelm my mind and nervous system. I now have a very varied diet (dairy/meat and vegetables etc) but I had to slowly build up new foods or I would freak out a bit as sometimes I would add a new food that I would enjoy so that much I feared I would lose control of myself (which sometimes I did). I became more comfortable knowing that if I did lose control that it didn’t mean that it was always going to be that way, that i’d get used to it and it would naturally balance out and I am now much more spontaneous with my diet. I’m sure different iterations of this process show up in many areas of my life (hopefully not as extreme) but I have much more trust in myself that I’ve got it covered.

    I would actually love to do a sky dive, I think the only reason I haven’t done it yet is all the planning that goes into it. It’s on my bucket list though!

    I hope you are both holding up in quarantine as well as possible.
    Best Wishes

  • Chris Hughes

    INTJ here. I never knew that the word “exhilarating” had different shades and nuances. I totally related to the INTJs mentioned in the podcast who said they didn’t want or need “exhilaration” in their lives all the time. Now, for me, “happiness” has many different shades and nuances, ranging from “inner contentment/inner peace” to “exhilaration”. Perhaps I’m being tedious.

    Anyway, this was a great podcast, as always, and an eye opener. It will help me understand some behaviors of others, as well as myself. Thank you for this.

  • Elise Allan

    Another brilliant podcast. An INFP, I’m having one of those mornings where after being busy and productive all week, I’ve crashed this morning and find myself unable to face doing much at all. The thought of having a job in management is my worst nightmare. It also made so much sense of my ISTP partner who, with his 3 year old Fe, insists that my daughter and I wear headphones if we’re listening to anything, but refuses to wear them himself. At the same time, he’s also incredibly generous with time and help. Especially when the washing machine breaks down, and he’s in ST heaven taking it apart and working out what’s wrong. Okay, now I’d better have one more go at working out the Perfect System to get my life back on track. On those days when I get a lot done, I glow like a super hero and really should be given a sticker with a gold star on it. So disappointing for my 3 year old when no-one notices or gives a s***! 🙂

  • Adeline Loh

    Hey Antonia and Joel,

    I work up this morning in a mood, mulling over why I can’t seem to stay disciplined and how I’m gonna eventually be able to “kill it” by figuring out a perfect system for myself… and then this episode turned up in my inbox. (It’s pretty obvious I’m an INFP).

    I had several laugh-out-loud, humbling moments of recognition, especially the part about having an all-or-nothing approach about staying organised. My kitchen is my recent obsession – my instagram feed is populated with posts on storage, perfectly labelled pantries, colour coordinated cutlery etc. I went into another podcast of yours, and you said one way to recognise an INFP who’s denying his or her three-year-old if he or she wants to have everything under control – and that’s pretty much how I ended up burning out in my previous business.

    I just want to thank you for explaining this with such eloquence, and I’m always impressed by how real your conversations are (in true INFP spirit). It feels good to be able to understand and laugh about it and put it all into context.

  • Celeste

    This was so relatable. I’m an ENFP and going through some slide pictures my dad took. My husband bought a viewer which makes it where I can save them to the computer to view later. Yeah, so… I went through 8 slides and I’m soooo bored now. So sad. And no one in the family is ISJ. At least it’s good to know I’m not alone.

  • Mr JE Matley

    My life time struggle has been my short term memory, I have always thought that it is broken, but also my ability to organization every day events in a logical order. In school, college and university and to extent in work, I have always struggled with knowing how much time I need to do a particular task and what I need to do it. Now that I am self employed, I kind of know how long things take if I have done it before, but I also have anxiety I do not have enough time or resources and over prepare, or under prepare, I have tins in my kitchen past their expiry date, but I allways run out of milk at the worst moment. I am getting my rocks of on doing an online pub quiz has been fun, I love picking up facts about random countries I have visited and sharing them with everyone even if they are not interested, I get obsessed sometimes, I must know the flags of all the countries for example. The there is my body, I go to being full of energy, then an energy crash, on or off. Like I’m not great at thinking about what I need to bring with me on a day out, enough water, or so much I will knill myself carrying it up a volcanoe (true story) aah. Allways something I forget, I am, getting better at these thing as I get older, letting my body tell me what I need. So that I believe is SI.

  • Jessica Wilcox

    Thanks for this episode! I’m an INFP, 37 years old. Right now I’m navigating a career transition. Definitely having to get jiggy with my baby Te in order to accomplish my goals. It is a slow go. It’s hard to get into it, but once I clear out distractions and I can focus, it’s been a big relief. Almost wondering why I haven’t been doing this all along. …But then realize it’s a blind spot. 37 years of personal development has just been laying the foundation to learn how to get better at things I suck at.

  • Firda

    Interesting episode! it’s fun seeing the simplified version of what our 3 yo functions can effect each types. This will definitely be useful to anticipate differences in people’s way of thinking and to type others.

    “What do you mean by there are only 2 emotions??” lol! As infp it’s also interesting to see the binary version of our Fi. I laughed when it comes to IFP’s Te. It’s very true, i’m either being productive and want things to complete and finish as soon as possible (eg. mom asked me to clean the clutter on her desk so i hard-cleaned the whole room), or do nothing at all (i do this much more often). Also about the tendency to either do things all spontaneously or create an all-purpose system at once. I’ve posted an example about me oversystematizing in episode 0308 and i’ll post it again. For example, i have an elaborated personal excel file about all the comic books that i’ve read. This also applies to other trivial things such as eating food. I once ate waffles with bacon, pineapple, tomato and I literally counted the waffle holes and cut the side dishes in accordance to the number of waffle holes. I’ve eaten a japanese fried noodle and since i want to get equal amounts of toppings in each of my last bites, i separate each toppings even though the chef has mixed it deliciously. Frankly, i won’t do the waffles again but may do the noodles depending on my mood.

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