What would happen if I made a conscious and consistent effort to develop a non-preferred function? Well, it took a five year experiment for me to find out. (If you want to see a video detailing this experiment, including the specific strategies and tactics I used for the Feeling function, go here.)
I first took the MBTI Step I & Step II many years ago, well before I became a Certified Practitioner. My results were not surprising to me. The results showed me as a strong ENTP with no out of preference facets. Since then, I have gone on quite the journey, diving deep into neuroscience, Carl Jung (specifically his theory of individuation), and psychometrics. Could I use these insights to develop my third function, Feeling?
As I have written elsewhere, we all have 8 cognitive functions, which are the extraverted and introverted forms of Sensing, Intuition, Thinking, and Feeling. Each of us has a hierarchical list of the functions we prefer, deal with, and avoid. Our top two functions, for most people, require very little effort to develop. They simply work, and work well. 90% of the time, we use our top two preferred functions to tackle just about everything. Our third function gets 5%, and the other five must fight over the remainder.
If anyone wishes to develop one of their lesser functions, my number one recommendation is to focus on the third function. You’ll simply get more bang for the buck, because, unlike the rest of the functions, the third function is still usable and somewhat competent. You can think of your third function as a teen driver with a learner’s permit, while the rest of the functions are more like toddlers and young children. So, to extend the driving metaphor, if you had a group that contained a toddler, a 5 year old, an 8 year old, an 11 year old, and a 15 year old, which one would learn how to drive with the least amount of training? Yep, the “third function” 15 year old. So that’s what I did for the last five years.
The results? They even surprised me. Check out my 2010 Step II results for the Thinking/Feeling function:
2010 MBTI Step II Results for Thinking/Feeling
Notice how all five facets of the Thinking function are ‘in-preference.’ This means that in virtually all contexts, in 2010 I preferred to go the Thinking route.
Now look at 2015 after five years of focusing on developing the Feeling function:
2015 MBTI Step II Results for Thinking/Feeling
Wow, what do we have here? That’s right, after five years of focused development, my results show a clear shift to the Feeling function, going so far as to add an ‘out-of-preference’ facet. I moved from Tough to Tender, something my former me would have ridiculed. I also moved the Critical/Accepting results to Midzone. This means that not only did I move toward the Feeling function across the board, but also made significant shifts in two facets.
Does this mean I could eventually become an ENFP? Not really. When you develop your non-preferred functions, it is much like learning to write with your non-preferred hand. You could eventually, after much work, get pretty good, but that doesn’t truly change your hand preference. A righty remains a righty, and a lefty remains a lefty. There is simply too much wiring set in place for your preferred functions, and they exert a powerful gravitational pull. The key difference is that you can develop the habit of using other functions, while your preferred functions require no such thing. Your preferred functions are automatic and highly competent, which is exactly what your brain wants to use in a crunch. But change really is possible.
So, biology is not destiny. And that’s a good thing.