In today’s world, we have more options and possibilities available to us than ever before. On the one hand, this is a good thing, as it grants individuals the freedom to pave their own path and choose their own destiny. On the other hand, too many possibilities can leave us overwhelmed and confused, unsure of who we are or what we should do with our lives.
Fortunately, we needn’t spend years in a cave to figure ourselves out, since much of the groundwork for self-understanding has already been laid by over a century of personality studies. If we can discover and understand our personality type, we can gain insight into who we are and identify the sorts of things we should be doing with our lives.
If you aren’t yet sure of your type, there is no need to worry, as you a certainly not alone. It often takes months, sometimes years, to feel confident about your type. As a starting point, we encourage you to take our free personality test, which can help you clarify your four-letter type (e.g., INTP).
The 16 Personalities
The founding father of modern personality studies, Carl Jung, proposed a number of conceptions that are still with us today: introvert (I) vs. extravert (E), intuitive (N) vs. sensor (S), and thinker (T) vs. feeler (F). Shortly thereafter, Myers and Briggs put forth the judging (J) vs. perceiving (P) dimension. Together, these variables combine to give us 16 personalities or “personality types.”
To gain an overview 16 personalities, it can be helpful to divide them into groups of types that share certain characteristics. In this post, we will divide the 16 personalities into four groups, according to their respective S-N and J-P preferences, as depicted in the following figure:
The “Explorers”: INFP, INTP, ENFP, ENTP
The intuitive (N) perceiving (P) types—INFP, INTP, ENFP, and ENTP—are bona fide explorers. They are creative, inquisitive, and open-minded. Constantly making new connections and associations, they love playing with words and exploring ideas.
One personality element that all NPs share is what Jung called Extraverted Intuition (Ne). A primary role of Ne is scanning for patterns and possibilities. This may occur at any time or place, but is commonly stimulated by activities such as reading, writing, travel, art, conversation, etc. With each new association comes a sense of pleasure, even excitement, for these types.
NPs love exploring new ideas, options, and ways of life; they are energized by having a sense of future possibility. While “SP” types are enjoying the pleasures and experiences of the moment, NPs are considering what could or should happen next. It is thus not uncommon for NPs to find themselves wanting to escape certain situations to pursue more interesting or meaningful alternatives. They may be inspired to quit their job, break off a relationship, or ditch a party in hopes of finding something better. It can be hard for NPs not to bring a “grass is always greener elsewhere” mentality to life. However, those who consistently act on this belief may be criticized by others as fickle, erratic, or irresponsible.
Because NPs feel compelled to explore all the available possibilities, they can have a hard time drawing firm conclusions and closing off their options. They are also inclined to second-guess themselves, often feeling confident about an idea one day only to feel ambivalent toward it the next.
Considering the non-committal ways of Extraverted Intuition, NPs can struggle when it comes to making big decisions, such as choosing a college major, marital partner, career path, etc. For this reason, we developed an online course specifically for NP types: Finding Your Path as an INFP, INTP, ENFP or ENTP. You can also learn more about NPs in our books and online personality profiles:
The “Knowers”: INFJ, INTJ, ENFJ, ENTJ
Like the Explorer types, the “Knowers”—INFJ, INTJ, ENFJ, and ENTJ—predominantly use intuition (N) rather than sensing (S). However, the version of intuition employed by these two groups of types differs in important ways.
As we’ve seen, Explorers use of Extraverted Intuition (Ne) makes it difficult for them to close off their options. Seeing the world as teeming with possibilities, they can struggle to reach closure about their beliefs, identity, direction in life, etc. Simply put, Ne operates divergently, expanding the number of options rather than reducing or consolidating them.
By contrast, Knowers (i.e., “NJ” types) utilize what Jung called Introverted Intuition (Ni). Unlike Ne, which sees the world as an ever-expanding web of connections, Ni dives beneath superficial connections in hopes of discerning deeper, more fundamental patterns. So while Ne might explore multiple theories but struggle to confidently know which is correct, Ni strives to identify the singular pattern—the foundational theory—that transcends or underlies them all. Ni can thus be seen as operating convergently, zeroing in on ONE answer or explanation.
Due to Ni’s convergent workings, NJs exhibit a strong sense of intuitive “knowing” and conviction about their conclusions. While NPs experience their Ne perceptions as potentially or provisionally valid, Ni conveys the sense that its insights are categorically and objectively true. Moreover, as judging (J) types, others typically get the impression that Knowers are self-assured and resolute in their perspectives. All of this was nicely summarized by my colleague, Elaine Schallock, in her post, Know Your Judger:
For judging types, this singular “best option” emerges, it presents itself objectively, as the “best option” for everyone—not merely for the judger himself… For judgers, conclusions are rarely conceived of as products of “opinion” (an unequivocally subjective term), but rather objectively, as “facts”, available for anyone to deduce given the same information they themselves are privy to.
If you want to learn more about the NJ types, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve written extensively about N types in our books and online articles (see our N types page). To learn more about each of the four NJ types, be sure to explore our in-depth type profiles:
The “Preservers”: ISFJ, ISTJ, ESFJ, ESTJ
The “Preserver” types—ISFJ, ISTJ, ESFJ, and ESTJ—are proponents and conservators of traditions and conventions. They feel most safe and comfortable when things are consistent and predictable. Thus, the more times they are exposed to something, be it food, music, or otherwise, the more preferable (or at least tolerable) it becomes.
As adults, SJs are the most likely of all types to persist in the beliefs and traditions of their childhood. Except in unusual circumstances, they are not disposed to doubt or question the foundational tenets on which they were raised. Their penchant for consistency, predictability, and familiarity can be attributed to the personality function shared by all SJs—Introverted Sensing (Si).
Most people are familiar with the notion of “learning through experience,” that is, consulting the past to guide and inform the present. Growing attached to the routine and familiar, SJs (especially ISJs) relish their “daily routines.” To be sure, all of the 16 personalities are guided by past experience to a certain extent, but for SJs it is granted foremost authority.
SJs’ preference for consistency also contributes to a strong sense of loyalty and commitment to the people and organizations they hold dear. These types are also known to emphasize hard work and personal responsibility, believing that people can better their lot in life if they’re willing to work for it.
The following notions are emblematic of the SJ mindset:
- “Trust the tried and true.”
- “Stick with what works.”
- “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”
- “God helps those who help themselves.”
To learn more about the four SJ types, be sure to explore our in-depth type profiles:
The “Experiencers”: ISFP, ISTP, ESFP, ESTP
The “SP” types—ISFP, ISTP, ESFP and ESTP—delight in experiencing the full array of sensory and physical pleasures life has to offer. In contrast to their SJ counterparts, they relish sensory novelty—new flavors, sights, and experiences. Many enjoy cooking and sampling new cuisines.
SPs are also the most physically active and engaged of all types. When physically engaged, they experience a seamless flow of perception and action, a collaboration of the eyes and hands. This is why many SPs enjoy athletics, performance, and various hands-on activities. All of this stems from SPs shared use of the personality function Jung called Extraverted Sensing (Se).
To be fully engaged, SPs require frequent changes in their external surroundings. Playing sports, for instance, allows them to enjoy a steady stream of new challenges and circumstances to perceive and respond to. External novelty can also be secured through the acquisition of new goods (e.g., clothes, furniture, vehicles, etc.) or embarking on new experiences (e.g., travel).
The following notions are characteristic of the SP approach to life:
- “Eat, drink, and be merry.”
- “Live in the moment.”
- “You only live once.”
To learn more about the SP types, be sure to explore our in-depth personality profiles: