According to Myers-Briggs theory, we have two basic options for approaching life and information. The first option is Perceiving, which is the process of taking in information via Sensing or Intuition. Consciously, Perceiving often feels like a passive process. Watching birds, smelling flowers, listening to music, and reading novels are a few examples. The first inclination of types with a dominant Perceiving function (i.e., IJs and EPs) is not to control, but to allow. The second option, Judging, involves a process of evaluation via Thinking or Feeling. Instead of passively allowing or waiting for things to unfold, Judging types actively work to evaluate, order, control, or change themselves or the world. Perceiving often feels relatively passive, whereas Judging is more pro-active.
The Myers-Briggs also suggests that we all have a basic preference or disposition toward either Judging or Perceiving, leading to the notion of Judging and Perceiving types. In this article, I will define the Judging and Perceiving types somewhat differently than is customarily done. Because their dominant function is a Judging function (i.e., Ti, Te, Fi, or Fe) , EJs (e.g., ENTJs, ENFJs, etc.) and IPs (INFPs, INTPs, etc.) are well-understood as predominant Judging types, whereas IJs (e.g., INTJs, INFJs, etc.) and EPs (e.g., ENFPs, ENTPs, etc.), whose dominant function is a Perceiving function (i.e., Si, Se, Ni, or Ne), are well-understood as predominant Perceivers.
Each type’s functions are arranged in such a way that either a pair of Judging functions (e.g., INTP: Ti, Ne, Si, Fe) or a pair of Perceiving functions (e.g., INTJ: Ni, Te, Fi, Se) occupies the dominant and inferior positions. And because the direction of personal growth and psychological wholeness involves a move from the dominant toward the inferior function, all types are prone to toggle between the dominant and inferior functions while forgoing the middle functions (i.e., the auxiliary and tertiary functions). We do so because this can feel like a short-cut to wholeness, or at least a means of experiencing quick gratification. But as we all learn the hard way, the satisfaction derived from indulging the inferior function is often short-lived and hard to sustain.
In laying the groundwork for personal growth, I have emphasized the importance of considering circumstances (i.e., careers, relationships, and lifestyle) to ensure they allow for authentic functioning according to one’s type. What I have yet to highlight is the importance of finding a healthy balance between Judging and Perceiving. This will serve as our focus in this post.
Because their dominant function is a Judging function, EJs and IPs are naturally less inclined to suddenly engage in Perceiving. In fact, they may even consider many Perceiving activities “a waste of time,” while viewing IJs or EPs as somewhat lazy or unproductive. At the same time, however, they may actually envy IJs’ and EPs’ ability to relax and Perceive.
Because their dominant and inferior functions are Perceiving functions, EPs and IJs can be less inclined to employ their Judging functions. They may therefore struggle when it comes to initiating tasks or projects. Just as it is difficult for IPs and EJs to force themselves to Perceive, it can be challenging for IJs and EPs to intentionally initiate the Judging process. Their most natural mode of operation is to begin with Perceiving and to allow the Judging process to emerge organically. While IJs and EPs love to Perceive, there are times when they would love to create or produce something but feel frustrated when the world seems to deprive them of the motivation or circumstances needed to authentically employ their Judging process (e.g., “dry spells” or “writers block”). For this reason, they may envy IPs and EJs who may seem more capable of independently initiating work. EPs and IJs may also struggle with perfectionism. Typologically speaking, perfectionism might be understood to involve getting “stuck” in Perceiving without being able to reach a satisfying point of closure.
In the end, all types want and need to regularly engage in both Judging and Perceiving. Problems arise, however, when we get stuck in one mode to the point of forsaking the other. So what can we do to make headway in this respect?
First, we can work to ensure that our circumstances provide for the regular and satisfying employment of our dominant and auxiliary functions. With ample time and opportunity to authentically engage our functional stack, we are more apt to find a healthy balance between Judging and Perceiving. If the first thing we do in the morning is head off to an uninspiring job, then the potential for authentic functioning is already compromised. In such instances, we might consider getting up earlier, arranging for different work hours, or transitioning to a more satisfying position in order to make way for more authentic functioning.
We must also learn to monitor our attitude and workstyle. If we are highly anxious, compulsive, or obsessive in our work, we may actually be operating in “the grip” of the inferior function. There is a relatively fine line between healthy functioning and slipping into grip experiences. Just as it can be easy to overeat when we feel famished or when a meal tastes especially good, we can easily slip from a state of healthy focus, or what has been termed a “flow experience,” into one of obsessiveness or perfectionism.
For IPs and EJs, grip experiences often entail an excessive focus on productivity or expediency (this seems especially true of Thinking types). This can create a sense of urgency, hurriedness, and anxiety in their lives and work. The grip experiences of IJs and EPs, by contrast, may entail an obsession with quality or perfectionism (i.e., the perfect marriage of N and S, of idea and form). Rather than rushing to finish a project, they can get caught up in perfecting their work and may struggle to reach a point of closure or finality. While Judgers may feel they can’t walk away from something unless it is finished in the desired time frame, Perceivers may feel they cannot walk away until it has been perfected.
The problem with all grip experiences is they severely limit freedom, flexibility, and reasonability. They are characterized by excessive, even irrational, attachment to a specific approach or outcome (e.g., expediency, productivity, perfectionism, etc.). While a certain degree of focus and attachment is required for producing quality and timely work, there is a point at which focus starts to look more like obsessiveness. This is why we often take harsh measures when it comes to our inferior function, figuring that the best way of handling it is to completely avoid or deprive it. But this is rarely a permanent or satisfactory solution.
A better solution involves monitoring ourselves to ensure we are maintaining ample psychological flexibility and suppleness. For Judging types, this includes relaxing concerns regarding expediency or productivity. While it is certainly normal and healthy for Judgers to be proactive, they are wise to avoid becoming focused to the point of closing themselves off to alternatives. This requires use of their Perceiving process, which will also bring a higher measure of quality to their work. For Perceivers, it is normal and healthy to emphasize quality, but they need to be wary of the trappings of perfectionism. They can benefit from use of their Judging process to issue the “good enough” edict, allowing them to find satisfaction and closure with their work at a reasonable point in time.