“Pleasure disappoints, possibility never.” -Soren Kierkegaard
Sensing (S) personality types generally do a good job of living in the present moment. Sensing perceivers (“SP” types) readily respond to the pleasures and demands of the sensory world, while sensing judgers (“SJ” types) faithfully carry out their duties and responsibilities. Both find contentment in conventional lifestyles and playing their respective societal roles.
Intuition (N) takes a different approach. Instead of embracing the present moment or the current state of affairs, it’s forward-looking—always anticipating what’s yet to unfold.
Intuition is more abstract than sensing. The word abstract literally means “to draw away.” And this is precisely how intuitives engage with the present moment. Namely, they’re constantly looking beyond (or beneath) the immediate situation, contributing to their reputation as absent-minded dreamers. So even if you happen to be physically present with an intuitive type, his or her mind may be somewhere entirely different, following an abstract trail of ideas or images.
Not only is the intuitive’s departure into the abstract a personality preference, but it’s also part of their formula for happiness. Unless intuitives have something to look forward to or work toward, they’re apt to be dissatisfied. They’re animated by the idea that they are “going somewhere” or “moving toward something.” Stasis, for the N type, is a form of death. Movement, progression, novelty, and “becoming” (nod to Nietzsche)—such are the building blocks of a meaningful life for these types.
This connects with another intuitive attribute, that of being “idea-oriented.” Ideas are in many respects the opposite of sensations. For all intents and purposes, ideas are non-physical, non-sensory phenomena. So whenever intuitives are tracking ideas, they effectively bid farewell to the world of sensations. Whenever they’re looking forward, they rely on the magic carpet of ideas, which is their only means of accessing potential futures.
Ideas are not homogenous, however, and can assume different forms. One of these forms is desired outcomes, or simply—goals. A goal involves a specific picture of the future that intuitives would like to realize (e.g., “I want to become a doctor.”). Goals are useful for channeling energy toward a specific objective, as well as for facilitating the sense of movement and progress intuitives’ crave.
While all intuitives rely on goals to a certain extent, they also embrace a more nebulous orientation to the future—a sense of possibility. When this mindset predominates, intuitives resist any temptation to steer their ship toward a particular destination, trusting their fate to the winds of life. There may be a sense of mysticism underlying this mindset, although this can vary by the individual.
Although all intuitives appreciate goals and possibilities, we might expect judgers (“NJ” types) to lean more toward goals, and perceivers (“NP” types) toward possibilities. As discussed in my post, Planned or Spontaneous? Exploring J-P Differences, judgers attempt to optimize their experience through foresight and planning. Perceivers tend to resist detailed planning, in part to leave the door open to surprises and unforeseen possibilities.
The notion of potential is cherished among NJs and NPs alike, but for slightly different reasons. On the one hand, potential can be construed as a sort of goal. For instance, when we tell someone they have “great potential as a writer,” we’re in some respects encouraging them to embrace it as a goal. When NJs are attempting to help someone self-actualize, they often direct her in a specific direction, toward the goal that is her inherent potential.
For NPs, potential needn’t be seen as a preexisting thing, but more like an option or possibility (e.g., “There’s a lot that could potentially happen on this trip.”). They may have little foresight about what will unfold. The end result is unknown and open-ended. And in many cases, they like to keep it that way. We see this approach exemplified among “client-centered” therapists (many of whom are NFPs) who intentionally avoid steering or directing their clients’ therapeutic path. They don’t pretend to know the specifics of a client’s potential, let alone what’s in his best interest. They simply trust that empathic engagement will, at some point, engender meaningful change. While change is anticipated, the path to reach it and the form it will take are ultimately unknown.
Too much predictability can be scary for any intuitive, which is one reason INFP, INTP, ENFP & ENTP types struggle with commitment in relationships. Even NJs can feel unsettled if life starts feeling too static or predictable. NJs who don’t have a vision or goal for the future, or who otherwise feel stuck, may become depressed or apathetic toward life. NFJs, in particular, often rely on perceived progress or growing intimacy in their romantic relationships to feel whole. Or, they may attempt to achieve this by advising or counseling others. NTJs are more apt to turn to career goals as a path to life satisfaction.
In sum, the life of an intuitive type is always changing and evolving, even if largely inwardly. If it were left up to intuitives, life would never have a permanent endpoint or final destination. New ideas, goals, possibilities, and potentials—such are the lifeblood of intuitive types.
If you’re an intuitive wanting to better understand your personality, clarify your life path, and much more, check out our online course, Finding Your Path as an INFP, INTP, ENFP or ENTP.