Nothing External Matters, Only Our Reaction To It

It’s the only thing we actually control


External events do not harm us — only our responses to them can

It may sound counterintuitive — “of course external events can harm us!” we might protest, “I can get hit by a bus, or my partner might leave me!”

But the reality is that the story doesn’t actually end with the external occurrence, even though so many people think it does. We perceive and talk about these events as though they are the defining moment, and sort of gloss over everything available to us afterwards.

These events only have the power that we choose to give them. They only destroy us because we think they are destructive, and allow them to run our lives.

Eleanor Roosevelt famously said,

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

And the same is true with anything external — not just other people.

If our judgement about any event is that it is horrible, then we allow ourselves to dwell in the belief that we are far worse off if they happen. But if we strip external events of their power, and reclaim our internal power to decide, gage, and assign value, we maintain control of our lives — and happiness.

Because our internal judgements are independent of external events, the occurrence of a bad event does not necessarily have to result in sadness.

If we lose something dear to us and get down ourselves, the problem is not the loss, but our outlook on it.

Life results in loss. Loss will happen. It’s part of being alive. And while loss looks different from person to person and we may experience different things, to go through life allowing any loss to bully us or push us around emotionally in any direction that it chooses is to surrender our control — and wellbeing.

We assign too much power to internal emotions as well

And not nearly enough to reason and balance; to reclaiming control rather than allowing ourselves to be rocked by what we feel.

Roman politician and lawyer Cicero said,

“When misfortunes appear on the horizon, we exaggerate then once more, because of the pain they are causing us. These feelings compel us to put blame on the circumstances when what we ought to be blaming is a deficiency in our own character.”

Obviously, most of us are not immune to external events. Most of us are going to feel negative emotions — anger, sadness, heartbreak, etc. — over negative things happening.

But recognizing that there is an inner core that is free no matter the circumstances, and recognizing that our mindset is not at the mercy of external events — or our immediate emotional response to it — but rather something that is under our own control can go a long way in fostering a healthier, happier outlook.

And it can help us maintain emotional wellbeing when things do go wrong — which they will.

All of us will experience setbacks and loss. But it is only our assessment of the loss and how much power we choose to give it, especially through emotion — that makes us sad. And our wellbeing, conversely, is also entirely in our own control — should we only choose.


Join my email list, champ!

(Pro tip: you can also reach me through that link.)

The 1 Most Important Thing To Be Successful

Simple, though not always easy


Someone once emailed me to ask,

“What belief, behaviour, or habit has most improved your life? And what two things do you think makes people so successful?”

Bud, I don’t even have to give you two. I only need to give you one. (And actually, you know what? I’ll break that one into two just to humor you and really get down into it. See “how to get” it, below.)

It’s not planning. It’s not passion. It’s not introversion or extroversion. It’s not intelligence.

The number one thing is PERSEVERANCE / GRIT

Taking action, regardless of setbacks, rather than making excuses. Pushing through. Relentlessness. Work ethic — but even in the face of adversity. Hunger.

I read a shit-ton of biographies, autobiographies and memoirs, and one thing I’ve noticed across all of these amazing people? Their response to incredible challenges, situations where most people would fold — but they kept going.

The difference with successful people isn’t that they never experienced setbacks — it’s that they didn’t stop.

I know a lot of readers just skimmed this post for “the one thing” answer and a lot checked out after reading it, like: “yeah yeah yeah okay— I get it!” Which is adorably ironic, because they don’t. Many of us — myself included, often — don’t internalize what perseverance, grit and relentlessness means enough to harness it.

Perseverance is not surface-level.

If you think perseverance means making a show of productivity, or working half-heartedly, without alignment with a deep underlying goal, then you’re wrong.

Perseverance isn’t stand-alone. It’s always rooted in something stronger than itself.

In other words:

Grit and relentlessness may be the number one CAUSE of success, but they themselves are EFFECTS of something deeper.

How to get grit

The two things that make it up:

1.) Knowing with absolute specificity what you want.

2.) Wanting it more than you want anything else.

Get those two things, and the rest resolves itself. You won’t need plans, you won’t have to fall back on or recall your “passion.”

What “want” looks like

It means not having to be told what to do. It means ownership. Most of us slack on this — myself included.

As Tim Grover wrote in Relentless,

“Tell yourself what to do, and stop waiting for others to lay it all out.”

Desire is intrinsic and instinctive, not extrinsic or authority-based. It’s action and ownership over excuses.

It’s not thought. It’s not even emotion, really. It’s energy; certainty; flow.

How do you “know what you want?”

Fam, I don’t know what you want. I can’t tell you that, because I’m not you. You need to work out the details for yourself.

But: you just know. Engage and see where you lean. Whatever is authentic; whatever makes you energized; whatever gives you flow and certainty and power.

What “specificity” looks like

It either has metrics defined in the goal (lose 50 pounds) or parameters are defined by external systems (win a chess tournament.)

But “lose weight” is not a goal. “Start a business” is not a goal. “Be the best basketball player” is a goal, but “play a sport” is not. Be a top chef, yes, “learn to cook” no. “Find a hobby” is not a goal, and neither is “discover my passion.” If you think any of those are, your real goal is “figure out your shit.” And the solution isn’t to sit around daydreaming up a big plan, or “soul-searching,” because that quickly becomes navel-gazing. The solution is to chase what interests you.

What wanting it “more than anything else” looks like

Here’s what people don’t internalize:

Wanting it ‘more than anything else’ means: making sacrifices.

If you are truly “all-in” on one thing, you give up other things. So: what are you willing to sacrifice to get what you want?

This is why I have absolutely zero patience for people who claim to be “100% focused” on things like “finding a spouse by [x age]” — but then immediately cite a checklist of total bullshit.

Fam, no. It’s adorable to hold out for both when you have time. But as you get down to the wire, you have to decide: you either want someone within that timeframe — and you’ll relinquish your lame checklist, or you’re willing to hold out for perfection — and risk never finding them. You are always choosing one of these, whether you actively do so or not.

And it’s the same with any goal.

Perseverance is not inspiration or motivation or “feeling like it”

Serrriously fuck off with this shit.

I say this all the time, but:

‘Inspiration’ and ‘motivation’ are the greatest crocks of the universe.

Too many people think that successful people are more “motivated.” Dawg, I don’t even know what that means, but if you mean “relentless hunger,” then go get it — you have everything you need.

Anything who’s accomplished anything of value does it outside of the hours of feeling “motivated” to do so. Successful people do it regardless. I’m not saying you don’t get inspired — that’s wonderful, Susan — but inspiration is never what carries anyone to the goal line.

Elizabeth Gilbert called it “working like a mule.”

In his book Relentless, Tim Grover wrote, of the hard work required of excellence:

“I’m not telling you to love it. I’m telling you to crave the result so intensely that the work is irrelevant.”

He also wrote,

“You can read clever motivational slogans all day and still have no idea how to get where you want to be. Wanting something won’t get you anywhere. Trying to someone you’re not won’t get you anywhere. Waiting for someone or something to light your fire won’t get you anywhere.”

So what will, you ask? It’s like you didn’t even read, because the answer is:

  1. Knowing with absolute specificity what you want.
  2. Wanting it more than you want anything else.

And how do you know “what you want?” To reiterate:

It’s either screaming in your face, or others are. Sometimes it’s both, but you only need one.

Do the work — even when it’s hard

Be uncomfortable with the uncomfortable.

Keeping going when things get hard. Because they will.

And if you want it badly enough, you will.


Note: if you want further reading, I highly recommend “Relentless” by Tim Grover, as noted in the post.

Doing is Better Than Perfect

And your “planning” or “waiting for the idea” is bullshit at best


Sometimes, we do “just know.” And often, those are the best decisions — especially in work and love, if we’re lucky enough to land that sort of certainty. Because let’s be honest, you’ve gotta find the right combination of luck and readiness to get it, and not all of us do. We either never bump up into it or we weren’t aware when we did.

And it’s the rarity of “just knowing” that makes the other side so important — the part about doing when you don’t “just know;” what to do when you don’t have the locomotive engine of certainty at your back. Then what?

The answer isn’t in you

You have two options here…

1.) You could go your whole life waiting for “certainty” — and risk never finding it.

Many people go this route, and frankly there is no shame at all in choosing it — so long as you full-well understand the consequences, i.e., never finding it.

I used to work with a ton of individual women clients, and I don’t mean to scare you, but the “never-married, reluctantly single around 40 woman” is a very particular type of person. Maybe she truly never did find anyone (for many of these women, I doubt it — they were attractive enough and emotionally stable enough that, in my opinion, they could have — but they chased the wrong partners, or held out for something better, and then found themselves crushed up against a ceiling of fertility and freaking out. It’s terrible. Not the “single and without kids” part, because whatever, but the fact the fact that they didn’t get their head straight about their priorities. If finding “THE ONE” was truly that important, they wouldn’t be so messed up about being childless, and those that are lied to themselves about the necessity of “certainty” on the partner.

Happens for dudes too, of course. They just have a longer window.

Same goes for work. Some people go their whole lives waiting to “find their passion,” or even waiting to pursue it, and then wake up one morning to realize that they’ve just crossed some threshold, or had some transition, or experienced a life change, and time isn’t quite as “stand still” as they thought.

If “the one thing” is more important, being without it won’t be as bad as settling for second best. So if not having anything feels terrible, it means we lied to ourselves about the importance of certainty.

And, odds are, “nothing” is exactly what we’ll end up with, going this route.

2.) Experiment with imperfection

Because sometimes the one perfect answer isn’t coming.

Callie Byrnes said, “I’m starting to suspect this whole ‘finding yourself’ thing is bullshit,” writing,

“We love the idea that we have this specific purpose on Earth and we just have to find it. It makes feeling lost so much less scary because we know there’s a way to overcome it. We tell ourselves that at the end of our journey, everything will make sense, except in reality you get there and wonder where the hell you’re supposed to go next, because there’s not an instruction manual for what comes after ‘The End.’ Sometimes you just get lost all over again.”

And sometimes it’s just about moving in imperfection. Sometimes it’s just about making do. And sometimes “trying” is more important than waiting for perfection.

How To Start — And How To Finish

Both have very little to do with motivation


There are, overall, two types of people:

  • Those that can start things, but have trouble finishing
  • Those that can finish things, but have trouble starting

If you think you’re both, fine. It’s unlikely, but sure — that just means you’re even worse off than most. Start with one.

If you say you don’t struggle with either, then you’re probably lying. But if not, awesome — I’m just not sure why you’re reading this post.

If you want to argue you do both at different times, or that it depends on the thing, or the day, or the way the stars are aligned: duh. Obviously. Congrats, you’re a human being; we all do. But chances are you have a bigger problem with one or the other, or tend to one over the other with bigger shit. If not, just pick the thing that matters most, and let’s start there.

So let’s keep to the two groups outlined above. More than likely, the primary argument isn’t in the fact that there are two, but the suggestion that everyone in either group can be treated as the same.

First, for those who struggle to start

Rejecting everything as not being “right” or “good enough” or “the one.” Calling this “uncertainty” or “discernment.” Realizing (or even not realizing) that it’s perfectionism.

Manifesting as procrastination. Lack of Action. Lack of conviction. Lack of a start.

When I began writing on Medium in April of 2017, I had no idea how to start. I just did. I don’t mean to make that sound contrived, because I know it does, and I know there are a number of people who read that and think there’s still some Huge Important Underlying Secret that I’m keeping to myself, like “yeah, but what else?” (Most commonly, they phrase this as “what’s your process?” or “what was your motivation?”) And I can answer any of these questions, but none of the answers are what you need. And the best thing I could tell you in response is: I just started. And after that, I just kept going. I wrote whatever felt like it was “good.”

And, perhaps most importantly, I wrote even when I didn’t feel like writing.

And if there’s one piece of advice I’d give, it’s:

Motivation and inspiration are the biggest crocks of the universe.

And as I’ve said before: anyone who’s done anything substantial has done it regardless, and anyone who sits around “waiting” to feel sufficiently “inspired” or “motivated” is on a fast train to nowhere.

Breaking free of an inability to start is incredibly simple: forget about passion for a second. Forget about anything needing to be perfect. And in fact, tell yourself that nobody will read or see or find out about this first attempt. Pretend it’s just an experiment — the first of a thousand more to follow — and do whatever the fuck interests or excites or delights you most.

Not everything will work with this trick. Tons of people use this to convince themselves to work out every day. Like, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read, “I just tell myself to hop on the treadmill for 5 minutes — just five minutes! And crazy thing is, once I get started, I end up going for 30, or 45!”

I am not that person. Sure, I can convince myself to get on the treadmill for five minutes, and I’ll be damned if 90% of the time, I’m watching the seconds tick down on that digital clock like a sight dog on a pheasant, and the second it hits five minutes, I’m out of there. I do not like to be on the treadmill. I’ll do it, but only out of obligation. No part of me has ever once kicked in and said, “you know what?! I was wrong — this is fun!”

And that’s the second group:

Second, for those who struggle to finish

You don’t need any help in the inspiration department — at least not to get started. You probably live very well in tune with your interests, inclinations, experiments, ideas, and inspiration, and when I ended the section above with “just try things,” you may have laughed a little like “lol, people struggle with this?”

You are brimming with options.

Maybe it’s easy for you to “just do it;” just take action, on most anything set in front of you.

Maybe it’s easy for you to brainstorm ideas, or consider how anything and everything ties back to logic.

Or maybe it’s automatic for you to understand what’s most authentic to you; what you’re experiencing, feeling; what you desire.

Either way: starting or brainstorming is the easiest thing in the world for you — and your bigger challenge is either:

  1. “Finding the time” to “do it all,” or
  2. Maintaining the interest and motivation to keep going once you do.

So, you have two options here. What’s more important — authenticity, or obligation?

In the case of the treadmill, or other healthy habits, we don’t need to like it. We don’t need to like going to the dentist, or filing our taxes, or cleaning our house. We just need better ways to tell ourselves to stop being such babies about it, and get it done. We shouldn’t care if we “like” it — that doesn’t matter. And even though it feels like it should, or we’re shouting in our own ear, we can’t placate.

But it does matter when it’s work and love. And there, you have to make the same decision again: what matters more — my feelings in this moment, or what I get at the end of the road? Is failing the marshmallow test worth it to me? Maybe it is. Maybe it’s not.

But everything that’s worthwhile in life is not based on motivation alone. It’s not based on inspiration alone. Living your life waiting around to “feel like it” means you’re going to go a very long time not living at all. You have to take action regardless. And then enjoy the feelings when they do “feel” like joining.

Why You Procrastinate, Or Fail To Choose

It’s not “perfectionism,” “fear of failure,” or “time management”


As I’ve mentioned, “procrastination” is something I’m working on right now, except I don’t call it “procrastination” because it doesn’t feel like procrastination so much as it feels like “deliberation,” with the end goal being “make a decision.” More quickly.

I take action just fine, once I’ve decided. It’s the “deciding” part that often takes me a minute. I’ve stayed in relationships too long, lingered at jobs that didn’t fit; it took me forever to start a business — because I wasn’t sure. Once I make a choice, I flip a switch and move forward almost without thought or emotion, but getting to that point takes me more time than I think it should.

People love to say that procrastinators procrastinate due to:

  • Perfectionism
  • Fear of judgment or failure

First of all: those are exactly the same damn thing. But furthermore: research suggests these aren’t the real reasons.

People also like to say procrastination is “giving in to temptation” or “poor time management,” but those aren’t the real issue, either. It’s also not motivation, or skill set, or rebellion…

That’s not to say those aren’t part of procrastination. They may be. But these are all other effects — not the actual cause.

HOW we procrastinate

We each have a default style that feels only one of a few ways.

Belief 1: “I can’t pick until I know The One Thing”

This is the most common issue, reflecting about 55% of people, and there are two sub-types here; people who want either:

a.) Black and white answers (~47% of all people), or

b.) Abstract, “ultimate truths” or “insights” (~8% of all people)

Both believe they need to “know” before they can do or decide, and they need time to do so. Not that that’s always bad.

Buffet-goers who look at everything available before deciding what to eat tend to weigh less than those who go for the first thing that looks good. In a study out of Cornell, researchers found that 71% of low-BMI patrons browsed the buffet before serving themselves, compared to 33.3% of high-BMI patrons.

That’s how this “procrastination” feels — just wanting what we want, which requires that we review all of the available options and information.

The problem is that “real life” isn’t a buffet, and the options we want to survey are often “endless.” So if we spend too much time filtering for “the one thing,” we’ll end up with nothing.

Belief 2: “I can’t pick one thing because I want EVERYTHING”

About 18% of all people are this type.

This isn’t me (I’m the “insights” sub-type, above), but I know several people like this and they are the light of life itself, licking the air of everything around them and drinking it in; people who live with palpable zest and enthusiasm for It All. They have endless ideas and see innumerable ways things could unfold in the future.

But I see their dilemma, when they occasionally stop short, their arms full of life’s bits and pieces, and notice they haven’t driven down substantial roots in any one way. (And wait, because shouldn’t they want to…?)

Note 1: There is one other “tendency,” but it’s “I just do it!”

This is where the other 27% of all people not reflected above fall.

These people live in the moment and are typically action-oriented and happy-go-lucky (at least compared to the other types.) They don’t struggle with procrastination as much (and probably aren’t reading this post), but I include them just to call them out, especially if anyone’s thinking “but how does so-and-so do it?”

They just do. They’re wired that way. I dated one of these types for years, and can assure you: their enthusiasm for action is very natural and real — they don’t need “the right thing,” they aren’t distracted by “everything,” and they don’t quite understand what our hang up is. They usually don’t even have plans. (When I asked the guy I dated what his Big Goals were for the upcoming year, he shrugged and said, “I don’t have any.” And yet he made more money than most people I knew.) These people are the ones with their heads cocked to the side at us, smiling and shrugging, “just do it!!”

Leaving the rest of us like, “that’s… that’s not how this is.”

Note 2: If you think “I know what the thing is! I just can’t take action”…

Bullshit.

You either:

a.) Don’t actually know “the thing” (“start a business” is not a thing, “be happy” is not a thing, “accomplish more” is not a thing), which means you are actually one of the two types above, or

b.) Don’t actually want that thing that badly… which also means you are one of the two types above.

If you’d really defined the thing and truly wanted the thing (for the right reasons) — then damn, fam, you’d be taking action. (And here so many people want to talk about needing “plans” or “process” or “motivation,” and I’ll just reiterate: that’s all an excuse. If you’re crystal clear on what you want and you want it that badly, the plan or process will work itself out and get out of your way.)

If you still think this is your hang-up, your issue is something else (read on.)

Note 3: There ARE other ways we get “stuck”

Like fear of what others think, or getting caught up in our own emotions. But these are actually our decision-making functions operating in unhealthy ways. More on that next.

Note 4: The solution to our procrastination is never, ever in these tendencies

The hardest part about our preferred procrastination tendency (above) is that it feels so damn good to us. We are convinced that “the answer” is in there somewhere, just around the corner. And while it’s true that our tendency is innate to us, the reality is that we can never find the answer inside of it.

Deciding requires we interrupt this cycle and use decision-making functions.

How we operate

We all have two primary sets of cognitive functions:

  • The ones we use to process information, and
  • The ones we use to make decisions

We only use one set at a time.

When we are procrastinating, we are “stuck” in our “information” (or “ideas”) functions. When we decide, we “close ourselves off to new information” and use the “decision-making” ones. But we have to do this using the right ones, and in the right way.

I didn’t leave partners, jobs, or cities because they weren’t “100% perfect.” I left them because they weren’t even 50% okay. It just took me a long time to realize. And that’s what’s interesting.

Ending procrastination is not about “getting just a little more time,” but it’s also not about “forcing” anything. PS Fellow Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University says:

“To tell the chronic procrastinator to just do it would be like saying to a clinically depressed person, cheer up.”

Forcing the buffet-goer to “just pick something already” only means they’ll end up with a plate of mashed potatoes they don’t want. They have to go through their process, and their functions, to choose.

But why does it take us so long, and why do we sometimes still mess it up?

The number one real reason we procrastinate is: SELF ESTEEM

It’s not our employers’ or partners’ jobs to make us happy, or discern what makes us happy, or defend any semblance of happiness if we find it. It’s ours. If we can’t accurately identify our wants, needs, aspirations, values, and boundaries — what even makes us happy — then of course we’ll struggle to decide.

And to be clear: flippant definitions of “happy” are not enough. This is not an exercise of “I love cozy Sundays” or “travel!”

We have to understand:

  • The difference between “happiness” and “hedonism;” i.e., long-term, substantial wellbeing compared to short term pleasure (which requires us to deeply understand and embody our values.)
  • Our values (see above)
  • How to live our values, both longterm and day to day (see above)
  • What level of happiness we demand
  • What minimum level of happiness we’re willing to accept (and for how long)
  • What we’re willing to give up in exchange for both
  • How to discern (and defend) healthy emotional boundaries so we don’t inadvertently sacrifice too much of our own happiness in the long-run
  • What our own real happiness even looks and feels like
  • What we actually want

So many of us (myself included) are woefully bad at this, building lives that don’t work and not even realizing it, instead unknowingly soothing the disconnect with day-to-day fixes and pleasant distractions, and finding ourselves unable to take action on “what we want.” (And then breezing through lists such as the one above like “yeahyeahyeah I get it!” But we don’t.)

Having lives that serve us starts and end with us. And once we develop self esteem, “deciding” becomes a lot more obvious:

How we move forward

We’re all capable of using any of the following decision-making functions, but we all only favor one of the four.

Once we start building self esteem, we move forward by using one of the following:

Type 1: Set goals

…based on what you want.

Above all else, these folks are fact-oriented, think out loud, and see their world as a series of black and white opportunities for immediate action. They love setting and achieving external, measurable goals. About 25% of all people are this type.

If you’re this type and you’re “stuck:” lol, this type is never truly stuck. If you’re “stuck,” you’re probably not this type. They don’t need this post. Even if they’re procrastinating, they fully understand why and what they need to do, because they always know what they need to do: identify the most effective next step for their immediate environment, and then do it.

Type 2: Pursue what’s authentic to you

…and then put it out there.

Above all else, these folks are highly in tune with their feelings and values, and expresses them independently through active, creative or rational means. About 30% of all people are this type.

(This is the inverse of the first type: this type first identifies their feelings, and then figures out how to act on them.)

If you’re this type and you’re “stuck:” You also already know what you need to do: get back in touch with what makes your heart sing, brainstorm ideas, and then pursue whatever feels like the most authentic external expression.

Type 3: Pursue what’s logical

…and then connect with others.

Above all else, these folks like internalized logic. Some in this group find it very easy to take action (and would probably never be reading this post); others need to first either brainstorm or mull things over. About 15% of all people are this type.

If you’re this type and you’re “stuck:” just take the next logical step, of course. Brainstorm ideas, logic it out, or tinker where you like to tinker (you’re a good judge of what to work on), then pursue the option that makes the most sense, and take action.

Type 4: Connect with others

…and apply logical solutions to their pain points

Above all else, these folks are exceptionally good at either:

a.) Understanding what is “expected of them” and acting logically, according to a pre-defined set of rules, or

b.) Identifying other people’s fears, values, aspirations, and feelings, and making logical decisions to satisfy them accordingly.

However, they struggle with: knowing what they want.

If you’re this type and you’re “stuck:” you’re not alone. This is one of the most common types to get stuck, and one of the most common personality types in general. Many people don’t want to admit that they’re this type (and instead want to identify as one of the others) but, statistically, most of us are. About 30% of people are this type.

We “don’t feel that strongly about anything,” or feel like we need to “know” before we can act. Sometimes we feel paralyzed by what others think — or withdraw from others entirely. And we’re actually out of touch with “what we want.”

I know.

I know because I’m this type, too. So I feel you.

If you’re this type and you’re “stuck:” the solution is in first building self esteem and self awareness, as mentioned above. Figure out what you want most in life. Only then can we connect with others — and in healthy, mutually-beneficial ways.

It all starts and ends with self-esteem.

Understanding what we want and value, how we feel, what we think, in a vacuum and not in relation to others. Only then will we accomplish what we want.


This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by 289,682+ people.

Subscribe to receive our top stories here.


Read This If You Think You’re An INFJ

The clear answers on what makes you different


INFJ is the least common personality and one of the most frequently mistyped. Making it highly misrepresented.

The two who mistype as INFJ most are ISFJ and INFP, and it’s so common that they’ve skewed the definitions of INFJ in pretty much everything you read online. Which, obviously, doesn’t help.

Knowing our real type helps us better understand who we are — our strengths, our weaknesses, and most importantly our blindspots — so that we can thrive. I only recently learned I’m INFJ after going my whole life thinking I was INTJ — hence all the INFJ research. And my empathy for those of us who have mistyped ourselves.

Because accurate typing can tell us why we’re not getting what we need, and how to do so.

But first we have to discern who we are:

INFJ, INFP and ISFJ are very different

They aren’t just “one letter” apart. They have entirely different “cognitive function” stacks.

Cognitive functions honor the fact that we are all thinkers, feelers, sensors, intuitives in various situations. We’re all analytical, extroverted and introverted. So functions are better way of “typing” ourselves, and break down the “cusp” feeling we have.

Each MBTI type has: one feeling function, one thinking function, one sensing function and one intuitive function, each externally or internally oriented:

Extroverted thinking (Te): external systems, things, goals (expansive)
Introverted thinking (Ti): funneling-down logic (deductive)
Extroverted feeling (Fe): other peoples’ experience 
Introverted feeling (Fi): our own experience
Extroverted sensing (Se): the present, “doing”
Introverted sensing (Si): the past, certainty, “what’s expected”
Extroverted intuition (Ne): ideas (expansive, all ideas)
Introverted intuition (Ni): thoughts about “the one idea;” building a framework of how the world works based on abstract analysis

Each type has a unique, defined order of four functions. Here are ours:

INFP: Fi — Ne — Si — Te
ISFJ: Si — Fe — Ti — Ne
INFJ: Ni — Fe — Ti — Se

So:

INFP’s drive is their feelings, and ideas (Fi-Ne)
ISFJ’s drive is certainty, and how everyone fits (Si-Fe)
INFJs drive is thinking abstractly, about human nature (Ni-Fe)

Everyone is everything, but that’s each’s foundation

Problems:

(1.) We live and breathe our first (“dominant”) function — it’s the unseen foundation of everything we think and do, and it’s so prevalent that we often don’t notice it. The danger is it can seem ubiquitous: we may not realize it sets us apart; we assume everyone does it.

INFP may not see how much “their feelings” guide their life (and not others’)
ISFJ may not see how much “certainty” guides their life (and not others’)

(2.) We skip our second (“auxiliary”) function when stressed, which makes all introverts more introverted and analytical (and makes Ss feel like Ns.)

(3.) Introverted intuition (Ni) is very difficult to define. (Which is totally meta, because Ni is the process of defining things that are difficult to define.) It’s so abstract that it’s susceptible to others rushing in to claim it. (Described as things like “intuition” and “vision,” which everyone has sometimes, they sweep it into their own type.) It’s almost easier to see Ni as the elimination of all other types: Ni’s aren’t dominated by their feelings, others’ feelings, clarity and organization, experience or action, new ideas, or goals. They aren’t even dominated by logic (Ti.) So what’s left is just what is. And that’s Ni. It’s an abstract, undefinable filtering process. And it’s what dominant Nis live and breathe.

Further breakdown:

How to tell INFJ from INFP

They seem similar, but actually have very little in common:

INFP: Fi— Ne — Si — Te
INFJ: Ni — Fe — Ti — Se

So the biggest difference is:

INFP feels All Of The Feelings, All Of The Time
INFJ doesn’t have feelings

I’m exaggerating. Slightly.

INFP leads with Fi — their own feelings 
INFJ doesn’t even have Fi in their stack. Instead, their F function is Fe — others’ feelings / empathy. But this falls after their dominant Ni

So:

INFP has feelings, then ideas 
INFJ has thoughts, about the human condition

INFP dreams a lot — and chases ideas for self-expression
INFJ thinks a lot — and develops understanding of human nature

INFP is inspiration — with occasional insight
INFJ is insight — with occasional inspiration

INFP writes through their feelings, emotions, experience, identity
INFJ writes down their insights on the universe

INFP is an authentic, truly individualistic one-of-a-kind spirit!
INFJ
is just a mere vessel for getting universal truths down on paper

INFP is secretly a little smug about being misunderstood
INFJ
is deeply pained by it

INFP is forever a child at heart!
INFJ is an old soul, and a serious old man

INFP desperately wants to be seen as unique
INFJ actually is unique but doesn’t care and/or desperately doesn’t want people to notice

As Heidi wrote,

“Because INFPs tend to be highly creative and individualistic, most of them have never met another person quite like themselves (including other INFPs). For this reason, they find it fitting that their type is 1% of the population — they think this explains their individuality, when in reality it is their introverted feeling that sets them apart.”

INFJs don’t want unique self-expression. They want universal insight.

And INFP can still be insightful, analytical, and logical! They’re unique ❤

How to tell INFJ from ISFJ

These two have more in common and are harder to tell apart:

ISFJ: Si — Fe — Ti — Ne
INFJ: Ni — Fe — Ti — Se

So, similarities are:

  • They’re both compelled to get “answers” and they both plan (Si, Ni)
  • They’re both people-oriented (over “things” or systems) and are more driven by others’ experiences than their own emotions (Fe)
  • When stressed, they both overanalyze (Ti)

But the biggest difference is:

ISFJ’s hate uncertainties and want things in black & white.
INFJ’s don’t. They literally do not care.

ISFJs want things literal, direct and clear. They feel better knowing what’s happening and what is expected of them, often following a pre-ordained, trusted set of rules in a sequential order. They want things locked down and defined, and don’t mind social norms and tried-and-true.

INFJs don’t care. That all absolutely bores them and they find it meaningless. They live and breathe the abstract and have almost no use for “face value.”

You can see: these are direct inverses of each other. They have opposite dominant motivations — they are each other’s least favorite thing.

So when it comes to things like “defining the relationship,” ISFJs absolutely need it, INFJs don’t care.

And that’s how they approach all “information.”

They both want answers, but there’s a MASSIVE difference in: what answers, to what questions, from where, how quickly, and with what feeling:

ISFJ will: seek black and white answers, to black and white questions, about people’s behavior, given social norms, in a timely manner, anxiously
INFJ will: develop abstract answers, to abstract questions, about human nature, inside their head, for their entire lives, calmly

Anxiety — “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome” — is incredibly common for ISFJ. It’s not for INFJ.

For ISFJ, “getting answers” is an urgent need; not having answers makes them uneasy.
For INFJ, developing answers is a lifelong need; not having answers feels as calm and normal as breathing. It’s zen-like.

ISFJ knows by gathering facts, data, and history — or just asking!
INFJ knows by analyzing the abstract — and letting it come to them

ISFJs prefer known, clearcut frameworks
INFJs spend their entire lives sifting through ambiguity to build their own

When it comes to questions of love, for example: 
ISFJ asks “what are we?” “where is this headed?” “why can’t he just text?” “what if I end up alone?” 
INFJ does. not. care. They ask questions like: “what is love?”

ISFJ is consumed with having clarity and structure about people’s behavior
INFJ is consumed with thinking deeply about human nature

ISFJ defends others, within clear expectations (like social norms and rules)
INFJ defends others, without regard for clear expectations (like social norms)

ISFJs can more readily recall memories, dates, details and rules
INFJs don’t care

When stressed or in a rut:
ISFJs brainstorm ideas (or imagine worst case scenarios) — Ne
INFJs reject everything outside their heads as “meaningless” (or abuse alcohol or other external habits) — Se

If this still isn’t clear (or definite or black and white) enough, and you’re still trying to put these two in a box and/or wish someone would just tell you what you are: you are, by definition, an ISFJ.

VERY IMPORTANT: What each does after a breakup

Or any highly-traumatic experience.

When longterm stressed, people skip their second (“auxiliary”) function to use their third, and/or abuse their fourth, creating a compulsive “loop”:

ISFJ: Si-Fe-Ti-Ne becomes → Si-Ti (neglects Fe, abuses Ne)
INFP: Fi-Ne-Si-Te becomes → Fi-Si (neglects Ne, abuses Te)
INFJ: Ni-Fe-Ti-Se becomes → Ni-Ti (neglects Fe, abuses Se)

All three get very introverted. But what’s inside their head is very different:

Both ISFJ and INFP haves “loops” with Si, and because Si regards the past, this means they both replay the breakup / relationship over and over. ISFJ wants to make sense of it. INFP gets hung up on how they feel.

INFJ doesn’t have Si in their “loop.” This means INFJs don’t compulsively “replay” breakups or relationships…

ISFJ
Replays the breakup / relationship over and over. Obsesses over questions like “why couldn’t he just care?” “what did I do wrong?” Analyzes every detail, trying to pinpoint exactly where they messed up, until they’ve reasoned to closure.

May also: say things like, “I just want to know how the future looks,” or imagine worst case future scenarios (“what if I end up alone?” etc.)— abusing Ne

INFP
Feels intense emotions; replays the relationship / breakup over and over to work out their feelings until they have fully processed them. May revert to old lifestyles or ideas that worked in the past.

May also: get hyper-critical of their feelings and suppress them in pursuit of external goals and measures — abusing Te

INFJ
Does not compulsively replay the relationship. Doesn’t agonize over what went wrong, or why, or whether they’ll end up alone. Isn’t overly emotional.

This alarms and confuses ISFJs and INFPs, who accuse INFJ of “not processing the breakup,” and don’t understand: that just isn’t the INFJ’s process.

Because INFJ doesn’t have Si or Fi in their “stress loop.” They have Ni-Ti.

INFJ’s obsess over insights — not about the relationship or their emotions, but about people and life. They read philosophy. They write philosophy. They repeat this compulsively — 50 books and a million words in a year wouldn’t be exaggerating — until they reconnect with others.

During this time, INFJs often retreat from society — hard. Not for a weekend, like a normal introvert, but as a total overhaul in lifestyle. They move into the most reclusive apartment they can find, go dark on what little social media they were on, and seclude themselves from society as hermits.

If they replay the relationship at all, it’s in order to better understand people, what people need to be happy, and what they themselves want in the future. INFJs don’t care as much why Bob did what he did, what they themselves did “wrong,” or how they feel. They want to understand why people do what they do and what it all means. It has nothing to do with them, let alone Bob.

In their free time, they also calmly and quietly rebuild a new future vision.

May also: drink themselves to sleep every night — abusing Se.

All three might do any of these behaviors on occasion, but only one of these “loops” will be each type’s obsessive compulsion when struggling

STILL CONFUSED?

Here a rapid-fire round:

Greatest aspiration (and fear):

ISFJ: organization and stability (fear of uncertainty)
INFP: individuality (fear of normalcy)
INFJ: meaning* (fear of meaninglessness)
*Important: all three want “meaning” — it’s human nature. The difference is that INFJ isn’t driven by the other two values

“Mentally masturbates” by:

ISFJ: defining everything, planning, getting it down on paper, brainstorming
INFP: daydreaming, exploring their feelings, chasing ideas
INFJ: ruminating on “what matters” and “what it all means”

Questions at work:

ISFJ: most likely to ask (others): “what are we doing?” “how do we do it?” “what are the requirements?” “what’s expected?” “what’s the plan?” “what’s the process?” “what happened?” “what’s going to happen?” “who does what and what are everyone’s roles?” “what are the clear next steps?”
INFP: most likely to ask (themselves): “how does this fit into who I am?”
INFJ: most likely to ask (themselves): “what’s actually important?”

How they were as a kid/teenager:

ISFJ: Well-mannered and keenly aware of what was expected
INFP: Sensitive and imaginative — and they’ll always be a kid at heart! 
INFJ: No part of them was ever really a kid. 
INFJs often “Siddhartha” on your ass, getting all “sage” (or “martyr.”) They’re more likely than ISFJ to decide grades don’t matter (or do reckless things), but less likely than INFP to do it for self-expression.

How old they feel:

ISFJ: forever a little bit “mom” 
INFP: 60 or 6 depending on the day, but forever childlike
INFJ: 90.

What each type is gonna cry about:

ISFJ: anxiety, uncertainty, people’s behavior and worst case future scenarios
INFP: almost anything 
INFJ: almost nothing

Number one reason they break up with someone:

ISFJ: They didn’t feel secure, prioritized, and/or committed to
INFP: They didn’t feel emotionally validated, individually accepted, or received with open-mindedness, so “the music died” and they flipped a switch
INFJ: They weren’t intellectually understood

HOW they breakup with someone:

ISFJ: becomes increasingly passive aggressive until it all comes to a head
INFP: just sort of… drifts off into a happier fantasy
INFJ: the door slam
You thought “ghosting” was bad? INFJs cut partners out of their life deliberately, severely, and often without explanation.

The happiest they ever were (or could be):

ISFJ: getting everything and everyone in order so everything’s good
INFP: living fully in self-expression and seeing things manifest
INFJ: bettering the human experience through meaningful insight

Why does it matter??

It doesn’t.

If you’re happy and getting what you want in life.

It only matters if you’re not. In that case, knowing your type can help immensely.

I went my whole life thinking I was INTJ. I might have gone forever thinking this —and suffered. Because I wasn’t thriving how INTJs thrive. I wasn’t even bumping along how INTJs happily bump along. Pursuing what makes INTJs happiest didn’t fulfill me.

So I hired a coach, who told me I was INFJ. And after researching, I learned that the reason I spent most my life an Ni-Ti “loop” (see above, under “breakup”), in which I rejected society in preference of “rationalization,” which looks like INTJ.

I thought this was normal. But I also realized I wasn’t happy. Because my fix wasn’t in INTJ’s functions — Te-Fi — but in my own: Fe, people.

And that’s why it’s important to know our type— because the “fix” for INFJ is people… but the “fix” for INFP is fresh ideas, and the “fix” for ISFJ is to soften their need for certainty and embrace others’.

Knowing this helps us thrive and live our best lives.

It’ll work out for you.

But it’s up to you — not the universe.


Be Honest

About what you really want.

Too often, people lie to themselves — and others — about what they want most. Or they do things day to day that conflict with those statements.

Our life always reflects our values. If we don’t have what we say we want, it’s because we valued something else — probably immediate gratification — more.

If you want meaning, don’t undermine it by chasing markers. If you want substance, don’t sabotage it with superficiality.

Be Focused

It’s a lot easier when you’re honest.

I don’t want to be an astronaut. I don’t want to bang Ryan Gosling. I want something that looks a lot like the job I have, and I like banging the dude I’m dating.

But I do have other ideas I chew on.

Be self-loving

And hang your self worth on internal value rather than external accomplishments. The joy is in the journey, not the endpoint. If you don’t reach it, you won’t be devastated.

It’ll be okay when everything doesn’t work out — because your self esteem was in giving it your all, doing things that delighted you, and learning along the way.

Awesome, exciting ambitions can be super fun — and motivating. But only if approached as something fun and motivating — not something by which we’re measuring our self worth.

Intrinsic rather extrinsic is where it’s at.

Be here

Ari Eastman writes,

“It’s a privilege to say ‘chase your dream.’ And frankly, it can be quite isolating.”

I think she meant “isolating to other people,” but it can be equally isolating for us.

When we pursue pet projects — especially when those things are deep-dives into thought exercises, experiments, or writing — we often isolate ourselves from the real world. And while this can feel really pleasurable on the surface, it can also feel a little like coming out of a bad trip on the tail end — like you just spent hours of your life buried in hedonism with nothing real to show for it.

Be doing it

Because thinking about doing it isn’t doing it. Ever. Doing it is doing it.

Do the work. Push yourself. Discover interests and passions and things that delight you and chase those rather than dream about some glossy endpoint. Do the actual thing.

Nicholas Cole recently wrote,

“You have to practice more than you think about practice.”

In pursuit of being a top World of Warcraft player, Cole writes,

“I remember I used to download dozens of… videos made by other players and watch them, study them, trying to figure out how I could be like them.
But one day, it clicked: I was never going to get better by watching. I had to DO. So I replaced all the hours I spent watching other players with simply playing myself.”

Be Baby-Steps

Ari Eastman writes,

“Take small steps towards satisfaction. Instead of envisioning yourself as the next stadium-selling musician, just play your music. Learn your craft. Remember why you’re doing it. Is it because you love it or because it fits into this grand dream? Don’t sit back either. Remember: WORK! Find like-minded individuals. Make friends, not as just some social-climbing-networking shtick, but as ACTUAL friends. Make yourself laugh! Fall down and get back up. It’s okay to be bruised. Life is going to do that.”

But really, just be self-worth

Approach the thing for what it truly is — not what you’ve made it out to be.

You’ll be fine. And it’ll all work out.