December 22, 2014

Brain Efficiencies

What is your brain's hotline?

What is your brain’s hotline?

What if every time you wanted to pick up a pencil and write something, you had to stop to decide which hand to use?  Which hand would you use to eat? Brush your teeth?  Pick up something off of the floor?   If this were so, we would be pretty inefficient and get very little accomplished.  Fortunately, nature gave us hand dominance so we could go about our day doing ordinary things without getting tripped up by decisions of which hand to employ,.


Yet dominance doesn’t mean we don’t use the non-dominant hand!  We use it often and would be greatly challenged if we didn’t have our other hand.   We are wired this way in that we have brain- dominance for efficiency, while the other limb serves as an important second choice.


As a lifelong student of the brain, I was intrigued when I first learned how to use MBTI assessment.  Here, as in hand dominance, we have brain efficiencies that center around 4 cognitive parameters:

·      Extraversion versus Introversion-what is the primary source of our energy?

·      Sensing versus iNtuition-do we gather information by going from concrete details to concepts or concepts to concrete details?

·      Thinking versus Feeling- do we tend to employ analysis or empathy first when making a decision

·      Judging versus Perceiving- do we prefer a structured, predictable environment versus one that unfolds?


When administering the MBTI, I often have clients tell me “I do both”, which is true and it is the case for each and everyone of us.  In fact, an individual might use an opposing preference so much that it almost feels like the actual preference!  The gift of neuroplasticity allows the brain to change in response to the environment. The MBTI and other similar instruments try to identify the baseline cognitive preferences (not skills, not traits) so that you can leverage your natural strengths while becoming aware of what is out of preference – what might need a little extra attention, what might even be a blind spot!


Ultimately, the MBTI and other preference instruments take your four “brain efficiencies” and identify a whole personality type, commonly known by it’s 4-letter description- ENFP, ISTJ, ESFJ etc… There are 16 identified types.  However it is important to note that knowing your brain efficiencies in no way puts you in a box or says can only do certain things.  It’s merely a point of self –awareness and a pathway to effective living and personal development.


Do you know your 4-letter personality type? Is it empowering?  Confining?  How does this knowledge serve you?

3 Important Trends in the Use of the MBTI and Psychological Type

The venerable MBTI turns 70 years old next year.  In that time,  the MBTI has become one of the most researched, respected and widely used personality inventories in history.  It has remained relevant over 7 decades despite the emergence of other meritorious personality instruments. One reason for this is that there is always something new in the area of psychological type.

Here are 3 trends that I like:

1.  Increased emphasis on the introverted verus the extraverted manifestation of the mental functions (The 8 Cognitive Functions):  Rather than stating that an individual simply has a psychological preference for intuition vs sensing or thinking vs feeling, the distinction is regularly  being made about whether this is the an extraverted or introverted process.   For instance, introverted intuition is the process of internal visioning or imagining whereas external intuition is more like classic brainstorming.   These distinctions aren’t new,  but the nature of these distinctions are becoming more important and more clearly defined than ever before. This is no small difference especially because there is neuro data to back up these distinctions.

2. The EEG findings of Dario Nardi on brain activity based on the 8 cognitive functions.   Thanks to brain mapping and neuroimaging techniques, many theories about how the brain works have been confirmed or modified. A certain validation by skeptics is often bestowed if a concept of the mind, cognition or personality can be connected to findings in neuroscience using tools such as EEG, fMRI, PET scan. Dr. Dario Nardi has used EEG to measure the brain activity of  college students performing a variety of activities and solidly correlated these findings with the 8 cognitive processes.  (Read more).

3. The MBTI Step III.  It has long been acknowledged that the MBTI and/or the concepts of psychological type serve as a dynamic model of personal growth.   Your brain does not remain static in your type.  All of the recent data on neuroplasticity confirms that your brain continues to learn, adapt and form new connections.  The psychological type model asserts that healthy type development is defined by both well-developed natural strengths as well as knowing when one needs to operate out of preference.  The MBTI Step III is a recently released assessment tool that explores type development. (Read more).

These are my favorite important trends in the area of psychological type.   What are yours?


Three Ways to Use Psychological Type to Increase Willpower

Much has been learned about the nature of sefl-control and it’s role in addictions, procrastination, impulsivity, and unmet goals. There are many new books on the market on this topic.  Less than a year ago, I attended an all day workshop on willpower. Trying to understand the nature of underdeveloped willpower is a hot topic as it contributes to so many frustrating outcomes. According to the American Psychological Association, Americans name lack of willpower as the number one reason they struggle to meet their objectives.  There are many factors that contribute to the presence or absence of willpower including hunger, fatigue, and even goals that lack personal incentive.

Knowledge of your personality or psychological type can also be helpful in managing willpower in at least 3 ways:

1. Building awareness around typical willpower issues based on psychological type can help you understand why you might falter.  For example, an ENFP type who has poor follow-through would benefit from knowing that ENFPs tend to be attracted to new opportunities and projects, especially after they get the basic gist of it and only details remain.

2.  Knowing your type can inform your goals and even solicit  assistance  to help you attain your goal.    For example, an ENFP is often challenged by details and follow-through.   Setting goals that specify increased attention to details rather than “just finish it”  helps to clarify where the energy needs to be directed.  Having someone whose strength is follow-through and details or an external device or system to address these needs can help as an external source of willpower support (remind and encourage you).

3. It is well-known that tasks that tap into the 3rd and 4th functions of a personality type require additional energy.  Therefore you will have more success if you are well-rested and have extra energy.    Shifting from easily accessed functions such as extraverted intuition in the case of ENFP types (Ideas! Possibilities!) to 3rd and 4th function behaviors (logic, sensing and details) can be a challenge.   A critical structure in willpower is a well-developed prefrontal cortex.  This is the most sophisticated structure in the brain and the one that uses the most energy and glucose. The prefrontal cortex inhibits impulses,, and it serves to initiate behaviors. It is the seat of judgment and holds the capacity to evaluate choices.   It is the CEO of your brain that says “do this” and “do that”.    Therefore be mindful of energy resources when you need to operate out of preference.




Introversion vs. Extraversion: The Tip of the Jungian Iceberg

The gift of introversion has been getting a lot of press lately. Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts In a World That Can’t Stop Talking, has brought the real essence of introversion to light.  It wasn’t that long ago, in the year 2010 in fact, that the vaunted American Psychiatric Association was going to add introversion to a list of determining factors in mental illness.  In an article titled, Are Introverts Nuts?, Psychology Today reported:

“The APA’s proposed definition of introversion is: “Withdrawal from other people, ranging from intimate relationships to the world at large; restricted affective experience and expression; limited hedonic capacity.” The definition also includes “deficit in the capacity to feel pleasure or take interest in things.”

No wonder introverts are fighting back!

Introverts all over the world are applauding the work of Susan Cain in setting the record straight on introversion. Introversion is a preference for focusing one’s energy and attention inward.  Thus, introverts are at their best when they can be in their heads to solve problems, formulate thoughts, and recharge their psyches.   They are simply prefer this style to an extraverted style where energy and attention is focused outwardly.

However, this is not a new concept.   Identifying introversion as a normal state equal in validity to extraversion was first popularized by psychologist Carl Jung in 1923.   Later,  Katherine Briggs and and Isabel Briggs Myers applied Jungian theory to what was ultimately known as  the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator , a widely used personality assessment.  For decades, the psychological type community has been trying to set the record straight on the beauty of introversion.

While I am pleased to see that the general public is beginning to appreciate the qualities of introversion, Jung and later, Myers and Briggs, identified other psychological preferences that are also very important.  There are also preferences for how one likes to take in information.   Do you prefer facts, what is present right now, and sequential thought?  Then you prefer sensing.  It’s opposite is intuition, a preference for patterns, concepts, and theories.  How many times have people misunderstood each other because of opposing styles of perception?

There is also a clear dichotomy for thinking versus feeling.  Do you prefer logic or value-based judgments? These are equally valid ways to evaluate information.

Finally there is a preference for order, closer and routine that is opposite to a preference for keeping things more open-ended and less routine or scheduled.  I predict this is going to be the next normal difference that people will learn to appreciate.   There is a definite cultural bias toward being organized and scheduled that makes the flexible, more go with the flow types seem like they are disorganized and unreliable.  That bias has to change too because the strength of the latter type is the ability to flex in the moment, accept multiple eventualities, and appreciate spontaneity.

The book Gifts Differing by Isabel Briggs Myers and Peter B. Myers, further advanced the need to honor individual differences and strengths.  It isn’t just the unique advantages of extraversion versus introversion that require widespread understanding, it’s all of the Jungian preferences.  For it is true that when you use your strengths, there is a tendency to  feel energized and be the most effective.  The most fertile environment for this to happen is when you are valued and appreciated for who you are.  It is therefore very important that psychological type enthusiasts use this unique opportunity created by Susan Cain to further the understanding of all of the type preferences.

The Blue Zen Brain (INFJ/INTJ)

There are many intriguing findings in The Neuroscience of Personality, Dr. Dario Nardi’s book that reveals neural correlates associated with psychological type and personality. The macro or whole brain data are particularly interesting because they describe an overall  brain state.  Studying specific brain regions in relation to type also yields some compelling findings. Still, whole brain states reflect a different level , one where the brain is fully engaged or excited.

What do these macro brain states look like on EEG ? They are are either asynchronous one example being the Christmas Tree Brain (while engaged in transcontextual thinking), or synchronous where all regions of the brain are working in harmony and at maximum amplitude.  Nardi reports  6 colors that can appear on the EEG read out.  For example, a red macro state occurs when the neocortex is hyperstimulated, such as when we have  a moment of insight or see an attractive person.

Another such synchronized state features a blue colored EEG read-out and is associated with being alert and calm or performing an activity in which we have creative expertise. While technically not called The Blue Zen Brain,  it does capture the essence of a calm mind.  Dominant introverted intuitive personality types, specifically the INFJ and INTJ are the most likely to achieve this state.  Not only do they achieve this state when they engage in an area of expertise, they also show this pattern when tackling an unfamiliar, novel problem and or envisioning the future.  All areas of the neocortex are called to action to realize an answer.  The answer is often complex and difficult to explain.

Indeed, omplexity and perfectionism are often byproducts of  this elegant and visionary style of problem solving. However, seeing a material world that often does not match what the mind can see can be a source of stress for INTJ and INFJ  types.  There will always be an ideal that lies just out of reach when the mind is capable of conceiving such a thing.   Still, knowing the general tendencies of one’s mind as well as realizing that those tendencies represent one perspective out of many, is a useful point of personal insight. In this case, it can lead to strategies to accept  a less than perfect outcome when the ideal is not possible.

In the coming months, look for more articles on the neuroscience of personality.  I will report the findings then offer a practical application of these concepts.  As always, I appreciate questions, comments, and feedback on what I have written.


The Christmas Tree Brain

What is a “Christmas Tree Brain?”  Someone who likes to shop? Decorate the house? Take a limo ride to view the holiday lights? Actually, the Christmas Tree Brain is an asynchronous macro-state measured by an electroencephalogram  (EEG).  It is characterized by various brain regions firing at different amplitudes and frequencies.   Colors of blue, green, yellow and red, illuminate the EEG screen, with the overall look resembling a Christmas tree. What’s going on?

From a cognitive standpoint, this pattern is called trans-contextual thinking.  According to UCLA professor Dr. Dario Nardi in his newly released book, , “Regardless what kind of stimulus enters the brain – be it sight, sound, smell sensation- the brain responds by rapidly processing that stimulus in multiple regions, including regions seemingly not applicable to the stimulus.”  Responses to the stimuli tend to be fast, creative, and sometimes seemingly contradictory except to the originator of these thoughts!

Indeed, these are the brain patterns of the ultimate brain stormers in the psychological type world, the ENTP and the ENFP and to a lesser extent, INTP and the INFP.  Another name for these types are the extraverted intuitives. In the case of the ENFP and the ENTP, this extraverted  intuition is a dominant psychological function, occupying half of all of the brain energy these types use every day.

Doesn’t this sound wonderful?  It IS except that with this highly energized state goes creative burn-out.  Another hallmark characteristic of the ENFP/ENTP type is the tendency to work in fits and starts, waiting for the moment of inspiration to hit and set off this powerful pattern all over again.  This pattern of thinking long described in extraverted intuitive personality types scan now be supported by EEG findings.

Recently I was at a brain conference on managing bad habits and addictions. The presenter remarked that, “Nowadays, there has to be some sort of neural correlates as measured by fMRI or other type of scanning or imaging device to lend support to psychological and cognitive theories.”  The Neuroscience of Personality and the work of Dario Nardi is an important first step toward providing supporting evidence via EEG scans.  The Christmas Tree Brain is only one of  the many EEG patterns he has identified that correlate with various psychological types profiles.

On 11-11-11, I will be presenting some of Dario Nardi’s  findings along with a framework describing the challenges that psychologists have today to provide neuroscientific data to support their behavioral theories. In addition, I will offer some insight as to how this can be used in coaching and in uncovering personal potential.

If you would like more details about this upcoming presentation, please contact me at