Cognitive Processes and Problem Solving*

*Adapted from Linda V. Berens, Dynamics of Personality Type: Understanding and Applying Jung's Cognitive Processes (Understanding yourself and others series) (Telos Publications, 2000) Used with permission.

Most of the time, our daily lives go along on autopilot. However, when things are not going well, we may stop and try to apply a formal problem-solving or decision-making process.

Our type code can give us clues as to which processes we are most likely to use in any given situation, but we do have the possibility of using any of them and most likely do use more than two.

The problem comes when we overuse some and under use others and get stuck. As we get more and more stressed, we are likely to do just that.

A Personal Example

On the last day of a stressful five-and-a-half-day workshop with a group of army officers, I drove into the parking lot. I went up to the door of the building and it was locked. I went back to the car and waited a long time and then finally went to investigate around the corner.

I then noticed that everyone had parked on the other side of the building. I realized that it was Saturday, so the building probably was not all opened up. Frustrated and angry, I went up the stairs, stormed into the meeting room, and complained, "It would have been nice if someone had told me the usual doors were locked!" The poor participants were upset at my being late and anxious about the exam they had to take. My outburst didn't set a good tone for the end of the workshop.

Analyzing the problem later, I realized I had "turned up the volume" on my preferred cognitive processes and ignored my less-preferred processes, or engaged them only in desperation and very poorly at that.

My type pattern reflects how much and how well I used the cognitive processes in approaching the problem:

As I drove up to the building, extraverted Sensing information was available to me, but I ignored it.

I was so involved in analyzing my week using introverted Thinking and seeking meaning and hypothesizing about it using extraverted iNtuiting that I didn't notice all the cars in front of the building.

I went around the building to my usual parking place, using introverted Sensing in the background and rather unconsciously. Then, instead of gathering new data via extraverted Sensing, I went back to the car and back to using my preferred processes!

When I finally got a sense of something not being right, I switched to a very inferior extraverted Feeling process and projected blame onto my "victims."

I had totally omitted any consideration of what was appropriate or what that group of usually-prompt people was like. But the story does have a decent ending. It was a workshop qualifying participants to purchase the MBTI, and we were later able to analyze the experience and understand what had happened. Now when I get in situations that aren't going the way I want, I am more likely to ask myself what process I am stuck in or what process I am ignoring.


Extraverted Sensing: Experiencing and noticing the physical world, scanning for visible reactions and relevant data

What is really happening? What are the facts of the situation? What is changing in this situation? What action can I take now?


Introverted Sensing: Recalling past experiences, remembering detailed data and what it is linked to

What do I already know that I can build on? What usually happens in this kind of situation? How does what is happening here remind me of some problem I have previously solved?


Extraverted iNtuiting: Inferring relationships, noticing threads of meaning, and scanning for what could be

What inferences do I need to make? What meanings do I need to perceive? What hypotheses can I generate?


Introverted iNtuiting: Foreseeing implications, conceptualizing, and having images of the future or profound meaning

What are the implications for the future? What do I need to conceptualize? How will so-and-so respond if I do such-and-such?


Extraverted Thinking: Organizing, segmenting, sorting, and applying logic and criteria

How is this situation structured and organized? What logic and criteria apply? How can I break something down into its component parts and organize, arrange, and coordinate it for more efficient results?


Introverted Thinking: Analyzing, categorizing, and figuring out how something works

What principles do I need to apply? What models are operating here? What techniques or approaches can I apply?


Extraverted Feeling: Considering others and responding to them

Whose needs do I need to consider? What is important to these people? What is appropriate in this situation? What is good for the group?


Introverted Feeling: Evaluating importance and maintaining congruence

What is really important here? What is of value to me and to the purpose? What values are at stake? What values have been violated?

Some Important Problem-Solving Principles:

  • Develop and trust your leading role and supporting role processes. This is how you were designed to operate.
  • Chances are, you will be naturally attracted to situations where those processes are appropriate and effective.
  • When you get stuck, find a way to engage your relief role process. It should provide a way out of being stuck.
  • For important decisions, consciously engage as many processes as you can. Find friends, family, or coworkers who can help you fill in the gaps and suggest aspects you might not have considered.
  • When you want to consciously engage an introverted process, you may need to set aside time to be alone.
  • When you want to consciously engage an extraverted process, seek out the company of others.
  • Be open to input from all sources.
  • Be patient with yourself and know that when you have to use a less-preferred process, it will take more energy.

*Adapted from Linda V. Berens, Dynamics of Personality Type: Understanding and Applying Jung's Cognitive Processes (Understanding yourself and others series) (Telos Publications, 2000) Used with permission.

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