My heart is so full as I write this. So many things going on in the world right now—both good and bad. It makes me reflect, not for the first time, on the tremendous gift given to writers in the simple fact that we have a place to put not just our feelings, but every other aspect of our cognitive experiences as humans.
Most people are familiar with the Myers-Briggs system of personality typing, which was derived from C.G. Jung’s theory of four cognitive functions, two perceiving (Sensing and Intuition) and two judging (Feeling and Thinking), which he further divided into introverted and extroverted varieties. As someone who loves systems, patterns, and abstract theories, I’ve long found Jung’s concept of cognitive functions to be helpful in understanding the way I think—and, of course, the way I approach writing.
À la Myers-Briggs nomenclature, I type as an INTJ—or someone who favors Intuition and Thinking as my go-to power plays. This means that, for me, Feeling and Sensing are often neglected. I have spent many years working on better developing both of my weaker functions, not just for their own sakes, but because Intuition–Sensing and Thinking–Feeling form inherent polarities. One cannot operate without the other. Where my Sensing is weak, there must be a corresponding weak spot in my Intuition. Where my Feeling is underdeveloped, there will be a blind spot in my Thinking as well.
Quite some time ago, Victoria Nelson (@ledinvictory) tweeted me a request:
Hi! I believe that you’ve mentioned that you’re an INTJ (as am I). Do you ever find yourself caught in a perpetual Ni [Introverted Intuition] phase—the joy of planning/outlining? (I can build bigger and bigger plots & fantasy worlds forever!) And if so, how do you force yourself out and into a Te [Extroverted Thinking] space? This might make an interesting article if you think it would be widely interesting enough for others… Otherwise, I’m always trying to balance the two, not so successfully.
Although I’m always keen to discuss cognitive functions, I never got around to the article mostly because I felt it might only be of interest to fellow INTJs—and even though INTJs are disproportionately represented amongst writers, we’re still one of the least common personalities, supposedly making up only around 2% of the population. (If an article specifically on activating Te to get stuff done sounds appealing, whether you’re an INTJ or not, let me know in the comments. If there’s enough interest, we’ll finally make it happen.)
However, the more work I do on all my functions, the more pertinent I find their contributions to my creative life. So today, I thought I’d share some thoughts on developing all four of your cognitive functions. This is important no matter your type, no matter if you’re into Jungian functions, and no matter if you have a clue or a care what Jungian functions are.
We’re going to explore the four basic functions all humans use in perceiving (taking in information) and judging (activating and using that information). All four are crucial pieces in bringing to life stories of deep emotion, logic, verisimilitude, and vibrancy. Once we’re skilled at identifying how they work within our experiences of life, we can also better use them to find exactly the right “place” to “put” our own personal experiences within our writing.
How to Improve All 4 of Your Cognitive Functions as a Writer
Let me start with the disclaimer that although I’m a big fan of Jung’s cognitive-function theories, I often find the simplified approach of Myers-Briggs (and particularly its tests) to be a limited approach. That said, Myers-Briggs is a simplified entry point into the deeper understanding of the functions. If all you know about Myers-Briggs is your “letters,” I would encourage looking deeper into an understanding of not just the four main functions, but particularly the nuances of their introverted and extroverted versions.