INFJs and the Challenge of Staying Present
Guest Post by Marissa Baker at marissabaker.wordpress.com
Sometimes when I’m driving my mind wanders. I’ll brake at a stop sign and not remember how I got there. I’ll reach the edge of a town and marvel that the drive seemed to take so little time. Someone will ask if I noticed that new building going up on a route I drive at least twice weekly and I’ll have no clue what they’re talking about.
I’ve never ended up in a dangerous situation because of this and my driving record is clean. I suppose I actually am paying attention and it just doesn’t register in my long-term memory. Actually, the scariest thing is when I am trying to focus and still can’t seem to notice what’s right in front of my face. I’ve learned to check blind spots twice before merging and triple-check at roundabouts because I’ve nearly been hit several times after looking for other cars and just not seeing them.
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INFJ Mental Wiring
My Myers-Briggs personality type is INFJ. That means I lead with a mental process called Introverted Intuition. Personality Hacker describes it as “advanced pattern recognition” that’s inwardly focused. My brain wants to spend its time in my inner world sorting through ideas, abstract observations, and facts looking for how they fit together. That’s also the primary way I learn new information.
Every type has introverted and extroverted sides. For INFJs, the extroverted function we use most comfortably is called Extroverted Feeling. It’s primarily concerned with making decisions that maintain harmony in relationships. Though this function is focused outward, it’s not the best mental process for taking in information about the physical world.
INFJs have an Extroverted Sensing as their inferior function. Types that use Extroverted Sensing comfortably (most notably the SP types) thrive in the tangible, physical world. They’re comfortable in their own bodies and in-tune with the world around them. But for INFJs, that’s the side of our personality we’re lest comfortable with.
Blind To The World
Having Extroverted Sensing in our “blind spot” puts INFJs in an interesting sort of predicament. At times, we can enjoy sensory activities such as cooking, gardening, and athletics. But we’re not naturally in-tune with the physical world. Many of us trip over our own feet, forget to eat lunch, zone out in the middle of a conversation, or don’t exercise. And that’s on a good day.
On a bad day, inferior Sensing can come out in downright harmful ways. You might overindulge your sensing side by binge eating or drinking too much or watching TV for hours on end. Some INFJs self-harm. Others become reckless trying to use sensory activities to numb a painful stress-reaction.
Not every INFJ responds to stress in unhealthy ways. For example, we might express our stressed-out Sensing side by cleaning the house or listening to loud music. And it’s certainly possible to learn healthy ways of coping with stress (for more about that, check out Susan’s excellent book Tranquility By Type). It’s just something to be aware of if you’re an INFJ.
Living In Reality
No matter how out of touch we sometimes feel, we still have to live in a real world. I can wear a tee-shirt featuring a mermaid riding a unicorn and saying “I live in my own reality,” but it doesn’t change the fact that I have to live in a physical world. The inner world might feel more real, but I still need the outer world as well.
So what’s an INFJ to do when staying present in the real world is a daily challenge? Personally, I’ve found yoga is what helps me most. Starting out my day with a routine that makes me focus on my body and my environment helps ground me for the rest of the day. Other INFJs find different ways to make reality feel real. They eat meals so good that it helps them focus on the physical sensation of tasting. They keep pets that make them focus on something outside their heads. They join social groups of people with similar interests so they can indulge their intuitive and their extroverted sides at the same time.
When driving, I always listen to music. Some people think music is a distraction when driving but for me it’s a grounding mechanism, especially when I sing. Podcasts and the like don’t work because they make me think, which turns me inward. Music is outside my head and to sing along I have to focus outward to keep on time and (hopefully) stay on key. And that helps keep my focus on the road as well.
What about my fellow INFJs (or any other types with strong intuition)? What Sensing activities do you struggle with and have you found any strategies that help you stay present in the real world?
Marissa Baker is the author of The INFJ Handbook (available in the Amazon Kindle Store). Her writings have appeared in web and print publications including eHow and Living Education and she blogs at marissabaker.wordpress.com about everything from psychology to Star Wars to religion.
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I can’t count the number of times that I’ve driven home from work (usually about 40 -45 minutes) and didn’t even remember most of the trip. It takes a lot of work to be more mindful when I’m driving so that I actually remember the trip and don’t get lost in my head.
Lol. Auto pilot mode. Places I used to drive to regularly. … on same road then end up at a place where I used to work… hurry away before anyone sees me. Thing is, it was a 15 mile “ side trip” from where I forgot I actually was going… thinking about stuff… sigh
I love love love driving and singing really loudly along with some car dancing. It totally keeps me focused on the road better than without music. I definitely can’t listen to podcasts because, like you mentioned, it starts making you think, and that takes focus of driving. I catch people watching me but since I’m in the zone, I don’t care, let them watch. 🙂
That definitely helps explain why I need noise (tv, music, coffee house) while I study. If it’s quiet I can’t focus. Instead, I’ll daydream and re-read the same page 40 times. I need many highliters, pens, notebooks, and “tools” to keep me grounded in the external world in order to be present