To say that human beings aren’t easily satisfied is probably an understatement. Even if we happen to be relatively happy with our own lives, it’s rarely long before we’re finding something to rant and rave about in the news or elsewhere. Or, we look around at our friends and family only to suddenly find ourselves dissatisfied with our own circumstances. Social comparisons are omnipresent and contentment a rare commodity in our species.
That said, there are many cases in which real change is needed and dissatisfaction warranted. Life is riddled with problems that call for some sort of change or resolution, be it individually or collectively. And while we may find many of life’s problems frustrating and inconvenient, when we commit ourselves to solving them, we can experience a sense of purpose and absorption. So in some respects our problems can serve as a source of meaning—a blessing in disguise.
Truth be told, all personality types function as change agents. We all want our lives to be better and to play an instrumental role in that process. This seems particularly salient in adolescence and early adulthood, when ideals abound and remain untempered by life experience. But I also want to make a case for how personality type can affect how we think about and approach change. This will serve as our aim for this post.
How Intuitives (N), Sensors (S), Thinkers (T) & Feelers (F) Approach Change
First, I’d like to discuss how a preference for Intuition (N) versus Sensing (S) might influence our attitudes toward change. Namely, I will contend that Intuitives are generally more inclined to function as change agents than Sensing types. To understand why, we must first recognize the role of idealism in their psychology.
As explored in my book, My True Type, Intuition is associated with abstract ideation. One consequence of this is seeing things in a pure or idealized form. For instance, instead of merely appreciating a chair for what it is, an Intuitive might compare it to their idea of a better or ideal chair. I often joke with my family (although underneath am actually quite serious about the matter) that “the perfect granola bar has yet to be created.” My vision of the ideal granola bar has yet to be manifested in reality. That said, not all Intuitives are idealistic about the same things. To my dismay, not everyone cares as much about granola bars as much as I do. Thus, following David Keirsey’s schema, it can be helpful to group Intuitives along T-F lines, dividing them into “NT” and “NF” types.
Inferior functions notwithstanding, NFs tend to be more idealistic about social and moral issues. They care a lot about social justice and rectifying inequities. Many will partner with charities or non-profit organizations that embody their concerns and allow them to make a difference, whether financially, vocationally or otherwise. NFs may also seek to materialize their aesthetic ideals through various forms of art and design.
Animated by ideals such as truth, utility, and efficiency, NTs are often drawn to effect change in intellectual, scientific, technologic or economic spheres. They are quick to notice errors in logic, systemic inefficiencies, and instances of poor engineering. In concert with the lion’s share of scientists and philosophers, they are convinced that a heavier dose of science and reason is indispensable for achieving a better world.
Both NFs and NTs share the conviction that the status quo is not to be accepted uncritically, but can (and should) always be improved upon. I’m fairly confident that, in a truly perfect world, many Intuitives wouldn’t know what to do with themselves. What would they do, after all, without complex problems to solve? As Carl Jung scribed in Psychological Types:
The Intuitive is never to be found in the world of accepted reality-values, but he [sic] has a keen nose for anything new and in the making. Because he is always seeking out new possibilities, stable conditions suffocate him… So long as a new possibility is in the offing, the Intuitive is bound to it with the shackles of fate.
The problem with idealism, as many Intuitives have discovered through experience, is that it often leads to disappointment. Reality (including other people) is not as eager to conform to their ideals as they’d like. They thus find themselves faced with an important question: Should I continue to avidly embrace and work toward my ideals, despite the potential, even likelihood, of disappointment? Or, do I take a more pragmatic approach—finding contentment with small victories rather than trying to win the whole war all at once?
While all Intuitives will struggle with such questions at some point, INTJs and INFJs—notorious for their perfectionism—may have the hardest time compromising big ideals for smaller pragmatic wins (as T types, INTJs may have a somewhat easier time with this). As discussed in our post, How INTJs & INFJs Deal with Disappointment, navigating disappointment and learning to accept “good enough” can be a prominent challenge for these types.
Moreover, as big picture thinkers, Intuitives have a penchant for solving complex, broad-scale problems. Since helping a neighbor mow their lawn, for instance, doesn’t really engage in Intuition, Intuitives may shy away from these sorts of concrete activities in hopes of catalyzing more sweeping changes. They prefer to effect change through ideas, words, and/or creativity—all of which enlist their Intuitive faculties.
Sensing types, who think and operate more concretely, are more likely to help out with practical problems—lending a hand with caregiving, transportation, repairs and maintenance, etc. More than Intuitives, they enjoy helping via direct action.
Sensors also tend to be less idealistic and critical of the status quo than Intuitives. In many respects, they accept the status quo and its attendant conventions as a given; they then find ways of living within those constraints. Challenging conventions is rarely their main focus. They aren’t compelled to question everything, or to dream about ideals and alternatives, as Intuitives are wont to do.
How Introverts (I) & Extraverts (E) Approach Change
Extraverts are quintessential change agents, at least with respect to the outside world. As managers, leaders, and reformers, they seek to manage physical (ET) and human (EF) resources in the best way possible. Having the lion’s share of their attention directed outwardly ignites their Extraverted energies and talents. Personal (I) change is more of an afterthought, or at least of lower priority, vis-à-vis handling their Extraverted affairs.
At the other end of the spectrum are Introverted types. Introverts are generally less confident in their ability to effect external change, especially on a broad scale. Hence, change-minded Introverts are more apt to focus on themselves and their immediate situation. ISFs, for instance, may consider how they can give their kids a better life or education. ISTs may look for ways of improving their small business or personal finances. INFs may focus on actualizing their potential as artists or therapists. INTs may contribute to a specialized field or knowledge area that interests them.
Change, for Introverts, is generally of a smaller magnitude and proceeds at a slower pace, unfolding gradually as they reflect on their lives and learn what makes them happy. These types may resonate with Aldous Huxley’s notion that “there’s only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self,” as well as Gandhi’s belief that “if we could change ourselves, the world would also change.”
In short, while Extraverts believe they can and ought to change the world directly, Introverts tend to feel that it’s more within their reach to first change themselves. Of course, neither of these views is inherently right or wrong. The point is merely that different types gravitate more toward certain approaches than others.
All told, we can conceive of the personality types along a continuum with regard to how they approach change:
On one end of our continuum, we have Extraverts and Intuitives, types who envision and advocate for sweeping external change. On the other end are Introverts and Sensors, types who may sometimes dream big, but are more comfortable effecting change at smaller scales, even if it means starting with themselves and gradually extending outward. ES and IN types tend to fall somewhere in between and may at times feel torn between focusing on personal versus collective change.