10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life: #3 It’s Your Life – Own It

Going to work had become torture by the time I left the corporate world.  I’d get up in the morning (too early) and drag myself to work only to end up enduring endless meetings and political struggles. With the tender feelings of an INFJ I felt assaulted by the environment, I was overstimulated and underappreciated. I felt at the mercy of the corporate tempest, and my natural tendency to absorb the emotions and environment around me made it worse. I finally realized that the best way to deal with those feelings was to  take control of  my environment rather than letting it take control of me.

Creating a Strong and Powerful Environment

Don’t be an empty vessel – There are two ways to enter a situation.  The first is to come in empty and look for what’s available to fill you up.  We do this when we walk into a party and think “Who do I know here that I can talk to?  Did I bring the right gift?Will I fit in?”  This is an example of coming in as an empty vessel, waiting for others to give you what you need.  You want to make sure you conform, that you’ll be able to align with the party.

On the other hand, if you enter the party “full,” these might be the thoughts that run through your mind as you enter, “Oh, I like that group in the corner, they’ll be fun to talk to.  The food looks great, can’t wait to try that dip.”  Or your thoughts might be “Wow, this is a really loud group, I’m not sure I’m going to stay very long.”

Notice how your thoughts when you enter the party “full” are about how the party measures up to your needs rather than the other way around?  You’ve entered with your personality intact – you know what you like and what you don’t like and that’s how you’ll assess the party.  As an empty vessel you let the party assess you.

A work example of being “full” is asking for the assignments you want rather than waiting to be selected for them, taking lunchtime as an opportunity to get away and do something you enjoy, or not participating in the office gossip mill.     

Dial Up Your Personality – First of all this doesn’t mean to be loud or to impose your personality on the people around you.  What I’m talking about is staying firmly connected with who you are, your preferences and beliefs, in any situation.

Some examples of what I’m talking about:

  • Alerting your hostess ahead of time that you don’t eat meat
  • Accepting invitations only for activities that you like rather than being so grateful to be invited that you’ll go anywhere
  • Speaking up when someone tells a joke that is distasteful to you
  • Choosing to leave a gathering that you’re not enjoying
  • Creating an environment that nourishes you in your office or cubicle
  • Wearing clothes that you’re comfortable in

What do these have in common?  They are all decisions based on what you like rather than attempts to please others.

Make Every Decision That You Can – there are some decisions that are yours to make and some that aren’t. You can have a tremendous impact on your environment just by making the decisions that fall into your realm.

Rather than always deferring to others (“I don’t care where we eat, where you want to go?”) make a suggestion.  If your boss asks you what projects interest you, be specific and clear.  If your mother asks you for the best times to call you, tell her.

Avoid the “trying to please others by guessing what they really want” dance and take other’s answers at face value.  If you feel that they’re handing over their decisions to you, send them a link to this post! Exercise: Love Your Likes Similar to the “Interview With an INFJ” exercise from week 1, this exercise it designed to help you identify and own your preferences. Find a small notebook that you can keep with you at all times, and over the next week keep an “I Like” journal by jotting down everything you encounter that you like.  For example, right now my list be: I like the warm sun pouring in the window and hitting my shoulders, the comfy pajama bottoms that I’m wearing, the fact that my office is clean and neat, how quiet my house is, that I’m going to Arizona tomorrow to visit my daughter, the fact that my house is clean and will be welcoming for my house sitters, the turkey sandwich I just ate for lunch, the TV show “Chopped” that I watched while I ate. So often INFJs get the message either directly or indirectly, that what they like is trivial.  All that ESTP energy, so dominant in our society, can make us feel that we are wrong for liking what we like.  Your like journal is a chance to:

  • Identify your preferences
  • Notice and enjoy how elegant and subtle they are
  • Start to own what you like so you can generate more in your life

A caution: Your “I Like” Journal is not a list of demands – it isn’t designed so that you can impose your likes on other people.  Your journal contains a list of things to seek out, to treat yourself with, to make sure exist in your life.  And, when appropriate, to ask for from others. This is the third installment in a series of 10 weekly articles about making the most of being an INFJ.  For previous articles visit 10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life.

10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life: #2 Manage Those Pesky Emotions

You know it, that flare of anger, that feeling of “I HAVE to say something, NOW!”  I know it well, it’s been the precursor to many of my most inappropriate outbreaks of temper.

Our “F” energy puts us squarely in the middle of the emotion of any situation. INFJs are easily hurt, and in reaction we can end up hurting others. But we don’t have to be at the mercy of our feelings, we can learn to recognize them and control ourselves until we can rationally consider the situation.

Here’s how I do it:

The First Step – Stop!

Unless you are faced with a truly dangerous situation, feeling the simmer of anger or hurt should always be a signal to stop and take stock.  When you feel yourself getting emotional, the first things to remember is, if at all possible, do not react! When we’re in this state our perception is off and our judgment is impaired – these are the times that we say and do things we regret later.  What makes it more difficult is when our emotions are engaged we often feel that we urgently must say something, now!  The combination of emotionality and a feeling of urgency is a clear tip-off that you need to step back and assess the situation.

The 6 Questions

Once I’ve refrained from reacting, I use what I call the “6 Questions” to sort fact from fiction:

  1. What are the bare facts of the situation? (Don’t include emotional information or impact)
  2. What am I telling myself about it?
  3. What’s the fear (or hurt)?
  4. Is there something I can ask someone to find out if my perception of the situation is correct?
  5. Using information from the questions above, what is a realistic assessment of the situation?
  6. What is important here?

An Example

To help you understand how the process works, here’s an example from my life:

My friend Michael was coming into town for a class on a Friday and was planning to stay at my house.  I’d assumed that he was flying in on Thursday afternoon and was prepared to pick him up at that time.  On Wednesday evening he called me and told me that he’d decided to take a flight that got in at 8:30 Thursday morning and asked if I would be available to pick him up.  My reaction was “What??  Oh no!!  I have plans for the morning through lunch – I can’t do this!” At that point I became upset, and felt that he didn’t care at all that he was imposing on me.

If I’d taken this situation through the 6 Questions it would have gone something like this:

1.   What are the bare facts of the situation?

Michael was arriving at 8:30am on Friday and was asking if I could pick him up.

2.   What am I telling myself about it?

He expected me to pick him up and entertain him all day.  He made plans at the last minute without considering how they would affect me.  If I don’t pick him up he’ll be abandoned in San Francisco. 

3.  What’s the fear (or hurt)?

My fear is that he’d be mad at me if I couldn’t, or wouldn’t pick him up

4.   Is there something I can ask someone to find out if my perception of the situation is correct?

I could ask Michael something like “It sounds like you’re relying on me to pick you up.  Is that true?”  I realized after the fact that he would have answered something like, “No, I’m fine, I have other friends in the city that I can hang out with, I just thought it would be fun to spend more time with you.”

5.   Using information from the questions above, what is a realistic assessment of the situation?

Michael is fine, he doesn’t need me to pick him up. 

6.  What is important here?

That I don’t make myself responsible for Michael – he can take care of himself.  

Exercises: Practice Managing Your Emotions

Create a “Trigger List” – List as many as you can think of for each: negative beliefs you have about yourself, negative beliefs you have about others, and negative beliefs about how the world works.  These tend to be your triggers for emotional outbreaks, and being aware of them will help you be prepared.

Learn to Use the 6 Questions – Think of a couple of situations that you were in where your emotions were triggered.  Try running them through the 6 Questions and notice how your assessment of the situation changes.

Practice Breaking – Practice putting the breaks on your reactions when you feel emotional.  Next time you feel yourself getting upset just stop – don’t do or say anything.  Retreat from the situation until you’re completely calm and then reassess your reactions.  Notice any assumptions you might have made and any misconceptions that might have fed into your emotions.

This is the second in 10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life.

10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life: #1 View Yourself as Whole

When is the last time you heard an extrovert talk about how they wished they could be more introverted?  How they would like to start taking more time to think before they talk, or be able to just sit quietly at a party and enjoy watching the activity?

Probably never. You’re more likely to hear the reverse: introverts want to be more extroverted, more outgoing, more comfortable in social situations.  When this happens, when introverts focus on what they don’t have they end up ignoring the qualities they do have.

We Create Our Own Experience

Introverts often equate sitting alone at a party with being unpopular, but that’s only one way of looking at it. If you slouch in a corner looking like a loser, sure, your demeanor will telegraph exactly that.  Your anxious face will shout your innermost thoughts to the crowd: “I have no friends!” As a result – you guessed it – no one will want to talk to you.

SerenityNow imagine yourself at that same party, sitting in that same corner, but this time you’re calm and interested in what’s going on around you.  You don’t feel like a loser because you aren’t – you have friends, they just aren’t with you at the moment.  You realize that you can talk to people if you want to but you don’t have to, you know that you can leave any time you want.

Feels different, doesn’t it?  Now you’re sitting by yourself because you choose to.

You Are Not a Non-Extrovert

INFJ’s can get in the trap of defining who we are by comparing ourselves to our opposites.  We view our introversion as a lack of extroversion, we see our preference for dealing with our inner world as being inattentive.  We can believe that our emotionality makes us seem less intelligent, and that our preference for organization is an imposition on those who are more spontaneous and fun.

We need to turn that around.  We need to take the view that our quietness gives us a lovely depth of thought and creates calm in our environment.  And our ability to read between the lines is a perfect complement to analytical thought.  We need to value the fact that our orderly lives enable us to help our less organized family and friends.

And, the one I like best, our tender hearts are devoted to bringing peace and love into the world – what could be more important than that?

Exercise:  Interview With an INFJ

INFJs, in their desire to for harmony, can ignore or not even recognize their preferences.  In addition they can end up discounting their strengths and skills and focus on what others can do that they can’t.  The following exercise is designed to help you explore and embrace your unique likes and dislikes and better understand your strengths.

Directions: This exercise is designed to identify your preferences and strengths, so leave negativity and self-pity (yep, I said it – self-pity!) at the door.  Your answers should be positive declarations (e.g. “I love candy” as opposed to “I eat too many sweets.”)

  1. What is your favorite time of the day?
  2. What time do you like to go to bed at night and get up in the morning?
  3. What are your top three skills?
  4. What kind of humor do you like?  Quirky? Slapstick? Dirty?
  5. What is your favorite way to relax?
  6. What are you smartest about?
  7. Who is your favorite person to go to when you need help?
  8. Who comes to you for help?
  9. What’s the most difficult thing you’ve ever done?  What skills did it take to do it?  How did you feel afterwards?
  10. What kind of books do you like?
  11. How would you dress if you had an unlimited budget?
  12. What is your favorite type of movie?
  13. What are your favorite foods?
  14. What pastimes do you enjoy? (e.g. cooking, writing, dancing)
  15. What are the three most important things you’ve learned in the past year?
  16. What would your friends say that they love about you?
  17. What do you love about yourself?
  18. What are you most proud of in your life?
  19. When are you most yourself?
  20. What challenge are you facing in your life right now?
  21. What else?  Add your ideas in the comments section!

***

What can you add?  What have you learned about viewing yourself as whole?  Are there any books or articles on the subject that you can recommend?

This is the first installment in 10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life.

How to Impress Others

Photo by beastmanphotos via Flickr

We all want to be smart, beautiful, magnetic. We want to impress others with our charm and intelligence. What’s the best way to dazzle those around us? It’s not what you might think.

First, a simple exercise. Make a list of five things you want others to think about you. Each item on the list should start with “I’d like others to think I’m…” Your list might include things like “loveable”, “intelligent” or “a leader”. Create your list now and don’t read any farther until you have at least five items on it.

Done? Now take a look at the items on your list – it’s likely that these are where you put a lot of your energy and focus. They are probably the areas you tend to stress about, that trigger your insecurities. My guess is that this is where you want to look good but feel that you don’t.

The problem is that wanting “others to think” you’re anything (fill in the blank – smart, cute, charismatic…) puts the focus on merely looking good. And when our efforts go into looking good we can end up convincing ourselves that looking good is equal to actually being good – believing that talking like an intellectual is the same as being intelligent (and who hasn’t found themselves with someone who loves to hear themselves talk as they try to impress others?)

But don’t throw away your list! It’s a valuable inventory of areas that are important to you, areas that you really do want to improve in your life. You can use that information to figure out where to put your efforts and energy to learn and grow.

Using the list you created, identify an action step for each item that will move you towards being good in the areas you care about.

For example using the list in the second paragraph one might work to:

  • Become more loveable by building sincere connections with others
  • Increase your knowledge by reading about an era in history you’re interested in, joining a book club or taking a class
  • Learn leadership skills by asking someone seen as a leader to be your mentor

When we put our focus on merely looking good we often achieve the opposite effect. Plus, our efforts are usually surprisingly transparent to others, and we may waste valuable time and resources in trying to create what is, ultimately, an illusion. By focusing on improving our knowledge or skills in the areas that are important to us, we end up not only achieving more but we also end up looking good naturally and effortlessly.

Find the Sunshine in Your Life

Osteospernum: Two little stars emerge in the s...
Image by Mukumbura via Flickr

As I sit down to write this post, I find myself wanting to give you sunshine. Looking though my notebook of writing ideas the topics feel heavy to me – advice on how to survive, how to make do, how to become comfortable in uncomfortable times. But maybe what we need is simpler than that. Maybe we just need to reconnect to the little pleasures in our lives, those special people, things and events that already surround us.

As children it was easy to become absorbed in small pleasures. I remember spending entire afternoons in the hills near my home, exploring, playing, and finding new things. Fun was any place I could pretend was a house – I’d flatten tall grass, find a crook in our grapefruit tree, or sit in a hollow bush – anything to provide walls for my little tea parties.

It’s easy to get disconnected from the small delights in our lives, especially when we hear what sounds like dire news every day. Finding and enjoying these pleasures can provide warmth and texture to these precarious times.

Below is my “Sunshine List” for today – just a sample of what brings sunshine into my life:

  1. My breakfast, every day.
  2. A sunny walk at lunchtime with my daughter.
  3. Watching reality shows with my best friend.
  4. Taking a hot bath on a cold day.
  5. A coaching session where my client has an “ah ha!” moment.
  6. Elastic waistbands.
  7. Goofing around with my business partner when we’re supposed to be working.
  8. My house, especially when it’s clean.
  9. Finishing an article that I believe really captures what I want to communicate.
  10. Seeing my cat roll around in ecstasy just because I walked in my front door.

 

What puts the sunshine into your life?

Take a moment, put your feet up, and grab a pencil and paper and create your own Sunshine List.   Once you’ve created your list, what can you do with it?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Post it where you’ll see it every day and make sure you do at least one thing on your list daily
  • Each day add a new item to your list
  • Create a whole new list of 10 items every day for a week
  • If your list includes loved ones like mine does, share your list with them and suggest they write one of their own
  • Even if you don’t do another thing with your list, be aware of the things that add pleasure to your day and add them to your mental Sunshine List

It’s important not to get lost in the tension of everyday life. Staying connected with the small things that make us happy builds a storehouse of pleasure that can provide balance when troubles or worries strike. Take a look at your list – how many things on it are available to you every day? How many items on your list not only give you pleasure, but also give joy to someone else?  Our lists are filled with rich pleasures that increase the quality of our lives and of those around us.

Field Guide to the Loner: The Real Insider (Psychology Today)

This is a terrific article from Psychology Today on Introverts.  Even though in the article we’re called “loners” it does a great job of illustrating the fact that much of the time we’re quite happy to be alone.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200703/field-guide-the-loner-the-real-insiders

Networking for Introverts – Mixers & Meetings

I am an introvert. And, until I started my own business, I usually avoided groups of people I didn’t know. That changed, however, when I realized that the best place to make new contacts is networking meetings and mixers. I found that all it took was a shift in my perspective to make networking events not only easy but fun (yes, fun!).

To make the most of networking events:

#1    Relax
Most people are at networking meetings and mixers for the same reason you are – to make new contacts and build their business. Unlike parties, where people often cluster in groups that can be intimidating to break into, at networking functions people tend to mix and chat in smaller groups. Still, walking into a room of strangers can be intimidating.

Some key things to remember :

  • Keep things in perspective – you have nothing to lose. At worst you’ll waste a couple of hours, but you could end up meeting someone who’ll contribute to your success.
  • No one is focused on you, and no one will notice if you stand alone for a few minutes. And if you do stand alone and look pleasant, it’s very likely that someone will come up and talk to you.
  • It doesn’t really matter if there’s someone you don’t click with. We sometimes worry that others won’t like us, but if they don’t, so what? Just move on and find someone you have more in common with.
  • And, finally, remember, you can leave any time you want!

#2  Focus on connecting with people rather than selling them
I’ve met people at networking functions who instantly launched into an obviously memorized long-winded sales pitch for their product or service. Not only was I turned off, but I also didn’t want to recommend them to anyone else and subject others to their pitch.The best use of networking meetings is to connect with other business people who can refer potential clients to you. I’m not saying that you can’t gain clients from these functions, but I am saying that you’ll only get clients if people feel a connection to you, and for that to happen they have to get to know you a bit, and not just hear about your product. Plus, it’s a lot more fun!

#3  Be prepared
Create a short (2-3 sentence) introduction that summarizes the benefits of your service and practice it until it’s easy to remember. At informal events you can use your introduction to describe your business as you meet people. At more structured groups you may be expected to stand up and introduce yourself – if you’re prepared it’s quick and painless. It’s also helpful to write up a list of the benefits of your product and practice saying them before the meeting.

#4  Avoid overwhelm
At the first few networking meetings I went to I felt that every two minutes I was getting information I needed to act on or invitations to participate in other events, classes, or groups. I would get so overwhelmed that I was exhausted by the end of the event, and my automatic answer for all invitations became “No”.

To head off overwhelm, plan to “unpack” the event in a day or two when you have more time. At the event simply tuck business cards and brochures into your bag or folder and make notes about items you want to follow up on. This takes the immediate pressure off and gives you time to recover before trying to process everything.  I also make it a rule to never accept or refuse an invitation at a networking event. I simply respond with a pleasant “May I get back to you in the next couple of days?”   This gives me time to consider the invitation outside of the pressure of the meeting.

Networking events are great place to practice extroverting, and the more I attended the easier and more enjoyable they got.  The trick is to take the pressure off yourself and don’t worry about impressing or selling, just connect with others and enjoy yourself.

Are Your Flaws Really Your Strengths?

grandmother's report card
Image by victoriabernal via Flickr

I grew up thinking that I wasn’t quite as good as other people.  I was shy, not as smart as my older brother (who was, in his words, “brilliant!”), and I wanted nothing more than to be part of the in-crowd in High School.  Finally, after muddling through college, I found a place in the work world where my organizational skills and ability to learn quickly helped me find success.

My corporate career served me well in many ways – I was able to support myself and my daughter, buy a house, and enjoy a bit of the American Dream.  But I never felt really connected to my work.  Sure I had triumphs, times of growth and recognition, but many of my personal qualities – my sensitivity, imagination and soft-heartedness were, for the most part, liabilities in that environment.

But once I’d moved on to the post-corporate world I found that the traits that had made my life difficult in the business arena became assets in my new role as a life coach.   Actually, they were more than assets, they were necessary for success.

The lesson here, I think, is that those parts of us that we wish we could change, those  “flaws” that show up on our report cards or reviews, are really only our flaws as defined by our current environment.  On the flip side of those “flaws” we often find our greatest strengths.  I struggle with public speaking but love writing.  I have a friend who is considered brash by some, but to those she protects she’s a hero.  I have another friend who believes in the goodness of everyone and would probably be chewed up in a big company, but she’s a leader and a glowing success at the school where she teaches Special Education.

When we wish we were different, we hold back what we have to offer the world, and when we do that we end up a pale imitation of the person we were meant to be.  Every personal quality we have, every quirk, is a gift.  And those quirks, those differences, they’re what make us unique, and in our uniqueness is our beauty.

Ouch, My “F”ing Heart

Heart

One of the best things about being an F is how tender-hearted we are.  And one of the hardest things about being an F is how tender-hearted we are!

Like all F’s I seek harmony.  And when one of my co-workers or loved ones is in a bad mood it’s really difficult not take it personally. My natural tendency is to make it about myself  –  “What did I do?” or “Why is he being so mean to me?”  But this is a form of self-absorption, we’re focused on our reaction, on how we feel, rather than what’s happening with the other person.  We need to shift the question from “Why is he picking on me?” to “What’s going on with him that’s upset him so much?”

Some tips for dealing with others’ upsets:

  • Shift your attention from how you feel about the situation by getting curious about what’s happening with the other person.
  • Don’t take their moods personally, even if they lash out at you or blame you – it’s not about you, it’s about them.
  • Don’t take on their pain. Your compassion helps, your hurting along with them doesn’t.
  • Don’t try to fix or soothe them – you can’t.  Telling someone the “look at the bright side”  or to “feel better” doesn’t do anything except minimize their emotions.
  • It can be really draining to spend time with someone who is dealing with a prolonged issue, so be sure to take care of yourself.  Give yourself a break and schedule fun time with friends or other family members to help you not get sucked in to the negativity.

I know, all this is easier said than done.  But it benefits everyone when you can provide a supportive, calm and grounded environment when someone close to you is upset – I like to think of it as giving the gift of being strong when they’re at their weakest.

So all you F’s out there, protect that tender heart by keeping it full of love, compassion and the kindness that comes so naturally to you.

Whoops!

When I was training to be a coach I assisted for a class at my coaching school. On the first day of an endless session where the students practiced and the assistants sat quietly at the back of the room, I got bored.  I’d brought a book  and without thinking, I asked one of the leaders if I could read during the practice session.  Had I thought about it I would have realized that this absolutely wasn’t done – no assistant had ever sat and read during any of the classes I’d attended.

As the leader very kindly explained to me why I couldn’t read during the session, my face burned with shame.  For the next two days of class I felt like a fool.  I was sure that she’d told the other instructor about my ridiculous question, and I imagined that some of their instructions over the next couple of days were directed at me, just in case I had any other brainless ideas.

I was so embarrassed I almost didn’t tell anyone, but finally I confessed to my coach, Michael.

What was Michael’s response?

“So what?” he said. “You’re human.”

And, just like that my embarrassment and shame evaporated.  I realized that although I thought my question was disastrously stupid, the leader probably hadn’t given it much thought.  And even if she had, even if she paused and thought, “Here’s a dumb one,” what did it really matter?  It’s true she was the class leader but, as Michael would say, so what?  We were both there for the same purpose – to help train coaches.

Now when I goof up it leaves a different residue.  Sure, I’m still embarrassed, and I still get that flash of “What will they think?” panic.  But it quickly fades as I reconnect with the fact my blunder is merely a moment’s lapse of judgment – nothing more.  It’s not the first mistake I’ve made and it won’t be the last.

And that’s ok, because I’m human and that’s just part of the package.

Copyright © 2010    From The Easy Place