Last December, I spent three days at a beautiful house on the Pacific coast and hardly stepped outside. All around me, there were stunning hiking trails, historical National Parks, and miles and miles of ocean water that reflected sunsets so bright that you couldn’t look directly at them.
At least that’s what I was told.
It’s not that I was purposefully trying to avoid all this beauty. It’s just that I was incredibly busy — inside my own head.
While the others were out in the yard playing with a homemade bubble wand and relishing the way the bubbles floated up, up, up, until they popped on intruding pine needles, I was writing my book, planning a big work project, and creating a new household organizational chart in honor of the upcoming new year.
Luckily, being so close to the coast, there’s a lot of moisture in the air, and I was forced to open a window to fight off the condensation build-up in the room. For just a moment, I let myself stare out the window, and although my mind was at first occupied with my plans, something suddenly shifted and I found myself staring at a water droplet as it slid off the enormous leaf of a speckled blue hydrangea, leaving a tiny river behind it.
I only spent a couple of minutes like this, focusing on the breeze coming in through the window, the ravens squalling insistently from the trees, even the subtle scent of salt coming off the ocean a mile away. But it was enough. I felt the strangest sense of calm come over me. I felt grounded, at peace, soothed. And those were all words I’d never before used to describe myself — words that tend to be uncommon in most INTJs’ daily vocabulary.
The next day, as we all took turns announcing our New Year’s resolutions, I secretly scribbled in my notebook: “Do more sensing.”
Why INTJs and INFJs Should Do More Sensing
It was a fascinating experiment. All throughout the year, I’d do my best to quiet my mind, keep my phone in my pocket, and instead focus on the details around me. Wherever I was, whenever I could, I’d try to engage all five senses, forcing out judgments and thoughts, and leaving only sensory details in their place.
In other words, I tried to train myself to leave the future alone and exist solely in the present.
Now, this wasn’t all the time. I’m still an INTJ personality type, after all. Intuiting, thinking, and judging are my bread and butter. And even though this was a difficult exercise for me, and even though I only managed it occasionally, it felt like I’d discovered a secret pathway to serenity.
(What’s your personality type? Take a free personality assessment.)
Imagine my surprise when I delved a little deeper into personality types and discovered something called “cognitive functions.” In a nutshell, cognitive functions are the eight possible methods of perceiving and judging, and each Myers-Briggs type has unique strengths and weaknesses associated with each. In my opinion, it’s fairly complex stuff, and I won’t pretend to be an expert in it — there are lots of places to go for more information (try this or this to start.)
But what’s important here is that INTJs (and INFJs, too) have Extroverted Sensing as their “aspirational function,” the function that is naturally weakly developed in your type, but will also give you “great satisfaction and maybe even breakthroughs, from periodically trying to exercise this function.”
A Perfect Resolution for the New Year
Does that sound like a New Year’s resolution just waiting to happen, or what? There are a lot of ways to practice and develop your Extroverted Sensing function, and because I recommend this exercise so highly to my fellow INTJs and INFJs, I’ve compiled a list of possible resolutions to make your 2018 goal-setting easy:
1. Take up a physical activity that requires extreme mental focus. Think skiing, fencing, karate, Krav Maga, step aerobics, or Zumba.
2. Enjoy a monthly date night with your significant other. But instead of dinner and conversation, try something sensory-engaging like dancing, miniature golfing, or arcade games like DDR.
3. Take an art class. Bonus points for taking a plein air class, which will get you outdoors.
4. Write fiction or nonfiction, focusing heavily on sensory details. (Note: This may actually be Introverted Sensing rather than Extroverted Sensing, but it’s worked for me!)
5. Take a long bath once a week. Play music, use essential oils and bubble bath, dim the lights, and light candles. Focus only on the sensations as you relax.
6. Spend 15 minutes each morning listening to music in headphones. I’ve found that this pair does an exceptional job drowning out background noise and keeping me focused on the music.
7. Watch one film a month in a movie theater. Try to choose especially visual films, or films with exceptional soundtracks. As an example, recently, I felt that Disney’s Coco appealed heavily to my Extroverted Sensing function.
8. Spend time each week working in the garden.
9. Once or twice a week, cook a recipe you’ve never made before. Be sure to focus on the smell of the spices, the sound of the food sizzling, and even the colors of the produce as you buy your ingredients in the grocery store.
Looking through the list above, it might seem a bit funny that some of the things INTJs and INFJs have to consciously strive toward could be considered easy and fun rewards for other types. But because we already spend so much time driving ourselves to excel, the relaxation that comes with these sensing exercises are actually perfect New Year’s resolutions that can help you have a more balanced, enjoyable year.