This is a typical day for the INFJ brain: Think, think, think.
The first thing in the morning when we wake up, we think.
When we walk from one place to another, we think.
Just before we sleep, as we lie down on our bed, we think.
As much as I love to think, sometimes I think that I think too much.
Overthinking is one of the biggest problems I face as an INFJ.
It wasn’t a big deal to me until I had depression. Then, I realized how important mental health is and how dangerous overthinking can be.
When I refer to overthinking, I’m not talking about the times when other people accuse INFJs of thinking too much or being too sensitive. You know that kind when you sense that there is something wrong perhaps in your relationship or job, but you can’t explain to others logically. The other party couldn’t see your perspective, so they thought that you are thinking too much. I’m not referring to those.
I’m referring to the kind of excessive thinking that hurts your brain!
What Is Overthinking?
Before we discuss how to deal with overthinking, it’s good that we define what overthinking is in this post.
INFJs are deep thinkers. We love to reflect on a problem from multiple angles and are able to come out with great solutions. That’s fine. In fact, this is not only beneficial to us; it also benefits the people around us. However, this is what I consider as deep thinking, not overthinking.
Deep thinking isn’t the problem. Overthinking is.
Overthinking is when our thinking gets out of control and we aren’t able to shut it down. It’s the kind that is unhealthy, obsessive and leads us to nowhere. We analyze so much that it literally hurts our brain or makes us feel very tired. If left unchecked, it might also lead to depression, stress, anxiety, and other disorders or mental health issues.
Three Examples When INFJs Overthink
Making Unimportant Decisions
Some INFJs struggle to make decisions. I’m one of them. Whenever I want to go somewhere, I would plan the shortest route to take. This seems like what most people would do, isn’t it? But sometimes, I would take it to another level. For example, I would think: Is the train crowded? Should I avoid the train? Will it rain? Is the path sheltered?
Or let’s say I’m going to the library, I would have many other considerations: Should I run this errand too? Will it be on the way? Maybe I could go to another library so that I can run this errand. Oh, what books do I want to borrow? Let me check the library catalog first.
There are endless things to consider and too many perspectives to look at.
Overthinking prevents us from taking action.
The time we spent on planning might be more than the time we needed to take the action. Simple things like going out could take me more than 30 minutes of planning and in the end, I might not go out after all the planning. Analyzing and planning can be good. But not so much when it comes to deciding unimportant things such as where to eat, what to wear, and how to go somewhere.
INFJs can be quite a perfectionist. So it’s better to leave this perfectionism for more important things.
Random Repetitive Thoughts
If you listen and observe your thoughts, you might find that most of your thoughts are the same.
One example I could think of is when someone asks me a question that I might not have a good or immediate answer at the moment. What would happen is for the days to come, I would keep thinking about the question and answering it in my head over and over again. It’s as though I’m perfecting the answer in each iteration, so that next time when I’m asked the same question again, I would have a better response.
Repetitive thoughts occupy a lot of our headspace,
but they are not very useful.
Another example could be angry thoughts or complaints. Usually, INFJs are slow to get angry. I usually don’t get angry until the day after when I keep thinking about the issue. The more I think about it, the angrier I get. And it’s not as though there is any new information or insights, My mind just loops the same thoughts repeatedly.
These thoughts are not very useful and usually, they have no purpose. We aren’t looking to solve any problems with our excessive thinking. They are just there and automatic, distracting you from the present moment.
Rumination and Brooding
In psychology, rumination refers to the continuous thinking of the causes and consequences of a negative experience. This sounds similar to repetitive thoughts, except that it’s usually more negative. There is something which is bothering us and we are actively trying to solve the problem in our head.
For example, you might keep wondering why your partner or your friend has been so cold to you lately. You might think: Did I do something wrong? Do they not like me? Why do they do that? What does it mean? And you might come out with certain interpretations that get you to think about the situation even more.
Trying to find an answer when there isn’t one
will make you feel trapped.
Our analytical mind can be helpful, but it’s can also be a pain in the butt, especially when we can’t get an answer by analyzing. Certain problems can be solved by thinking about it, but other problems might require us to take some action to figure out the answer. You might need to get some help and different perspectives from others to understand the cause better.
INFJs love to find meanings in everything. When we get super-analytical, we want to know why so that we can do something about it. But sometimes, there is just no good reason why someone behaves in a specific way. It is what it is and even if we know the reason for their behaviors, most of the time, we can’t help others change their behaviors. Brooding about it just makes us suffer more and makes us spiral downward into negative thinking.
INFJ Brain and the Infamous Ni-Ti Loop
You might be wondering why does a feeling type like an INFJ thinks so much. This is due to our cognitive functions.
INFJ’s cognitive function stack is as follows:
- Dominant Function: Introverted Intuition (Ni)
- Auxiliary Function: Extraverted Feeling (Fe)
- Tertiary Function: Introverted Thinking (Ti)
- Inferior Function: Extraverted Sensing (Se)
Introverted functions (Ni and Ti) focus on our inner world, while extraverted functions (Fe and Se) focus on our external world. Usually, INFJ would prefer to use Ni first, followed by Fe, Ti, and then Se. But that’s not always the case.
There is less chance for us to use Fe when we are alone.
Being introverts, we like to spend time alone. However, when we are not around people, there is less chance for us to use our extraverted feeling (Fe) function. Sometimes, we get so comfortable staying in our inner world that we just skip the Fe function altogether and use only our Ni and Ti functions.
Ni would come out with an insight and Ti would analyze and judge the insight logically. The information and feedback that Ti provides would trigger Ni to come out with a new and better insight. This cycle would go on forever if we can’t derive a conclusion that satisfies the Ti function.
This is commonly known as analysis paralysis.
A Real-Life Example of the Ni-Ti Loop
To help you see what a Ni-Ti Loop is, here’s an illustrated example from my life. If you have read my books, you would probably have known my story about instinct, logic, and Broadway.
Several years back, I was on holiday with my friends in New York. One evening, we decided to have our own program and alone time. Great for an introvert like me, right?
At that time, I wanted to watch a play called Orphans. But before I get a chance to buy the ticket, my Ti function stepped in and questioned me like a police officer: “Is this the right Broadway show to watch? Why do you want to watch Orphans? You rely heavily on the subtitles whenever you watch English movies. What makes you think you can understand this play without any subtitles?”
So I took a seat at one of the steps of TKTS, pondering what I should watch. I didn’t have a reason why I wanted to watch Orphans. I just wanted to watch it. It’s a gut feeling, an idea presented by my Ni. But I was forced to justify my decision. And I can’t depend on my friends to make a decision. They are not there, so I can’t activate my Fe!
Don’t let Ti become the boss.
I sat there going back and forth between Ni and Ti. Ni would come out with another show to watch and Ti would try to analyze if it’s the best show to watch. I was so in my head that I didn’t realize that I was sitting in the cold for 30 to 45 minutes!
In the end, my Ni won. I was able to come out with enough logical reasons to convince my Ti to watch Orphans and the show became one of my highlights from my New York trip. But in hindsight, it’s kinda ridiculous because Ni is my dominant function. He is supposed to be the leader. I don’t know why I needed to convince my Ti and asked his permission to watch a show.
How to Overcome the Ni-Ti Loop and Your Overthinking Habits
1. Be aware of your overthinking tendency.
Many people try to stop their thoughts and it’s challenging because most thoughts are automatic. It is based on past conditioning and they have already become a habit.
Instead of trying to control or get rid of your thoughts, what you can do is to be aware of your overthinking habits. In my book, The Disbelief Habit, I’ve shared in-depth on how to be aware of our thoughts and habits. But basically, what you want to take note of is what triggers you to overthink. For INFJs in particular, knowing how your Ni and Ti functions play a role in your overthinking habit will remind you to change your behaviors.
Save your contemplation for later.
Also, as you observe how the Ti and overanalyzing can get you in trouble, you will realize not to add any more thoughts to your existing thoughts. If your Ti wants to know why, don’t answer its questions immediately. Pause. Give it some space. You don’t have to answer all the questions that your mind seeks.
Alternatively, you can write your questions down and contemplate it later. This will break your habit of getting into a Ni-Ti loop. This is also very helpful if you are working on something. It prevents you from getting distracted by your thoughts.
2. Know when and what not to think.
You might also find that when you write the questions down and revisit them later, some of the questions just aren’t worth your time and effort to answer. Your desire to find answers to these questions might wear off after some time.
You have to decide what is important enough or worth your time to analyze. Small decisions like what to eat, what to wear, and etc, don’t matter a whole lot. It’s not life and death, so I seldom waste my energy and time analyzing them anymore. To reduce overanalyzing, you can create a system to help you make these small decisions in advance. For example, I have a color system to help me decide what I wear each day.
The whole point is not to stop thinking.
But use Ti only when necessary.
You can also have a code word that reminds you not to overthink. Whenever I caught myself analyzing or planning too much, I would tell myself “TKTS New York”. It will remind me how cold and miserable I was previously.
Also, knowing when to think and when not to think is important. I’m guessing most of you don’t want to think at night when you are trying to sleep, right? Training your mind not to think at night is quite a feat for INFJs, but it’s very beneficial not just for our mental health, but also our physical health.
What you can do is schedule a time during the day for deep contemplation. I write in the morning, so this is the time when I think deeply. When my mind gets active at night, I would talk to my analytical mind compassionately, saying something like this: “You have worked hard the whole day. It’s time to rest. We shall continue this discussion in the morning, ok?”
When your mind knows there is a specific time for it to do its work and you enforce this boundary firmly yet kindly, it’ll get used to it eventually.
3. Act upon your intuition.
When you are stuck in a Ni-Ti loop and you are uncertain if your insights are right, act according to your intuition. I’m not saying that your intuition is always right. But you won’t know if it’s right or not until you act upon it. For instance, I didn’t know that being an animator is not the right job for me until I became one. I didn’t have enough information to reject my intuition until I act upon it.
When you take action, you bypass the Ti and prevent it from overanalyzing the situation. Instead, you use your extraverted functions, Fe and Se. They provide you with more information and help you gain a better insight into the situation.
Get more information using your extraverted functions (Fe and Se).
Imagine you are working on a 10-piece puzzle and you only have gathered 5 pieces. Your Ni function can only make a fuzzy interpretation of the picture. This triggers Ti to doubt and ask you: Are you sure? It doesn’t seem right. Then, your Ni comes out with another interpretation and the Ti doubts it again. It’s a never-ending cycle because, with only 5 pieces of the puzzle, this is the best interpretation your Ni function can come out with. And your Ti function will not let it go because it’s not logical.
The only way to break this cycle is to get more puzzle pieces. With more puzzle pieces, your Ni would naturally have a better interpretation of the picture. You can talk to others (Fe). Tell them what you think it is and ask them for their help or opinions on the puzzle. They might look at the puzzle from a different angle and provide you with information that you haven’t thought of.
Alternatively, you can go out to the physical world and interact with it (Se). See if you find anything that resemblances the puzzle or simply just look for the puzzle pieces. This doesn’t mean that you have to go Se crazy and be impulsive. Use your Se when you are stuck in analysis paralysis.
4. Practice mindfulness and train your mind to stay in the present.
I have to admit it’s not easy to stay in the present. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do it. Training isn’t supposed to be easy. Our brains are used to act in a certain preferred way. However, to develop it further, we have to challenge it and bring it out of its comfort zone.
In fact, I feel strongly that intuitive types like INFJs and INTJs need to incorporate mindfulness practices into their daily life. INFJs have a tendency to daydream and think about the future, so it’s nice to balance it with being present.
Mindfulness enhances your Ni’s insights.
Furthermore, practicing mindfulness doesn’t oppose your Ni. It actually enhances your Ni. Your intuitive mind needs those dull movement or breaks to gain new insights. An overworked INFJ brain is not going to function well and give you great insights. That’s because Ni works best when it’s not rushed. Ni is the function that works silently in the background. You don’t need a lot of effort to get it to work, but you need to give it the space to form a conclusion. And mindfulness provides Ni the space it needed. Ti, on the other hand, rushes Ni for an answer.
Doing sensing activities help us to stay in the present. There are Se activities that focus on the external world such as talking a walk in nature, smelling the roses, and listening to birds chirping. There are also Se activities that are more physical such as dancing, swimming, and running.
Alternatively, Si activities that focus on your body are very helpful too such as meditation, yoga, and paying attention to your breath. If Si activities are too challenging, you might want to start with Se activities since the Se function is more easily accessible to INFJs. It doesn’t take too much time. Just 10 to 15 minutes a day would do.
If you want to find out more about how to love yourself as an INFJ, be sure to download my free eBook called Self-Acceptance for INFJs.
Featured Photo Credit: Thinking / 412 digital