The limits of being undefined

So.. yesterday, something really interesting happened.

Here’s the scenario:

I was working with one of my stepdaughters to help find her books for her first upcoming college semester.  She had signed up for classes and my best half had wanted her to find out what books she would need for her classes, so that we could look them up and try to find less expensive versions online someplace.  My best half had asked me to help her with this project to make sure it got done, and that’s what I did.


After a bit of haranguing, I got my stepdaughter to start working on this project, although I could tell that she was reluctant.  Fifteen minutes later, I could hear the silence from the next room–where she was working on it–and I went in to check on her to see if she needed help.

She did.  She had logged into her school account, but wasn’t sure what to do next.  Thus, I worked with her and we eventually found her class schedule.  That–with some helpful googling on my part about how to figure out what books were needed for a class at the school–led us to make some progress on determining which books she would need.   We then went looking on Amazon for the books and eventually figured it out and got some prices for her various books.

Reflecting on my observations, I noticed that the biggest hurdle for her was getting started–and that there seemed almost to be a fear of starting and of not knowing what to do or where to go.

When I related this scenario to my best half on the phone, she knew exactly what her daughter was going through, because the two of them have almost always been clones in terms of their outlooks and abilities.   Specifically, my best half mentioned that she used to be exactly the same way when starting a project that was so undefined.  She would be overwhelmed by the possibilities and think that all of the details and aspects were huge and that it would take forever to get it done.

However, she had learned, over time, that such undefined projects become manageable when you just sit down and start breaking them down into smaller tasks, because she had a much better sense of how long such a small task took to accomplish.  Thus, instead of having a multi-step project with an infinite possible time and resource requirement, she had a concrete and manageable list of steps to knock out (which she does remarkably effectively and efficiently…).

This conversation/observation fascinated me, because I tend to be the opposite when it comes to this kind of exact project.  To me, starting such a project is not a hard thing–and I don’t ever see such undefined projects as overwhelming.  Instead, I start them with gusto, and if there’s a problem I have, it’s with the aspect of finishing the last 10% of them–after I’ve figured out the structure and goals along the way.

The key element that struck me while speaking to my best half was the difference in how our two brains perceived the situation of an “undefined project.”  For her, the lack of definition in the project made it overwhelming at first, because the lack of limits meant that the project grew to infinite size.   It expanded to fill all of reality without limits.

To me, on the other hand, undefined projects were never infinite.  Rather, I perceived them as being equivalent to nothing.  It did not exist yet, so it start off as the null set and then only by working on it and fleshing it out do I start to see how big and large it will become.

Reflecting on this fundamental difference, I could (and will) note that my best half and I test out as exactly opposite on mbti tests–she is (and likely her daughter..) an ESFP and I’m an INTJ–and that she has always been a natural extravert compared to my natural introversion, even if we have both become more balanced and similar to each other over the past 15 years.

In any case, despite all the caveats you can note about mbti, it struck me that these different approaches easily mapped onto one of the basic differences that I’ve noticed between introverts & extraverts, and between Artisans (SxP’s) and Rationals (NT’s).

First, for an extravert, primary reality is the external, objective world outside of our skulls.  This realm is, practically, infinite.  Given this fact, if something is undefined in this area–it is not hard to see that it expands off to to infinity.

In contrast, for an introvert primary reality is the world inside one’s skull.  This space is finite, but it is infinite in possibility, because any and all things can be created, constructed, and destroyed at any second.

Such situations fit the scenario above quite well.

Second, in terms of mbti types, ESFP’s are especially good at executing concrete tasks–they are performers and when they have a clear goal, they can knock that shit out of the park. However, they are not always the strongest at abstractions and at figuring out underlying structures without any guidance–at least such tasks are not natural to them initially.

In contrast again, INTJ’s pretty much specialize at figuring out underlying structures and meanings–and do so quite easily.  However, when it comes to carrying out a long list of concrete tasks, INTJ’s often become bored and/or have a really hard time finishing that last 10% of any project–as they want to get onto a new project already.

Such situations fit the scenario above quite well also.

In the end, I thought this whole scenario was quite interesting.  I do not assume that these latter observations about extraversion and introversion & typeology are hard, firm, and objective facts–but rather see them as a possible interpretation of what has happened–an explanation worth exploring.

And now it’s time to get back to some concrete tasks and (mostly) clean the kitchen.




About Prof. Woland

I contain multitudes. Come meet us.
This entry was posted in Human Nature and Mind and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The limits of being undefined

  1. manufract says:

    it makes me think of this software this guy wrote, that helps people break big tasks into “do-able” chunks:

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