5 Painful Lessons Thinker-Judgers Must Learn to Loosen Up

Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on June 04, 2020

Within our structured and fast-moving society, where organization and the ability to perform under pressure are prized, Thinker-Judgers excel. These are the quick-thinking, competitive, closure-seeking personalities of the 16-type system. They operate with the same efficiency as a Swiss watch. 

Yet sometimes, efficiency can be too much of a good thing. At what point does the desire to get things done morph into dominance, arrogance and inflexibility? Just about every TJ I know has been called “humourless” or a “control freak” at some point, even if just in jest. For most TJs, there’s something built into our psyche that means we often take ourselves too seriously and get frustrated when the world doesn't dance to our tune. 

For confidence, it’s a huge kick when a TJ creates order and stays calmly focused on their goals. But making room for play, spontaneity and different opinions is important too, especially in relationships and parenting adventures where chaos often ensues.    

Here are 5 painful lessons TJs must learn to loosen up, break through old routines, and have a lot more fun!

1. Sometimes, the best answer is, “I don’t know!”

Thinker Judgers like to quickly close down a task so they can move onto the next one. To support this, there’s an in-built vocabulary of “yes”, “no,” “should”, “can't” and “absolutely” – words that are designed to shut down debate and reach a final answer. This is consistent with open-vocabulary research, which has identified a strong association between the words we use and our personalities – to the point where our language is often predictive of our in-built personality traits. Extraverts, for instance, use words like “party”, “can’t wait” and “excited” on social media, while Neurotics use words like “hate”, “stupid” and “lonely.”   

While we can’t say that changing your words can change your personality, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that words frame your thoughts, and can therefore be used to adjust your attitude in a given situation. So it’s worth exploring the possibility that using the language of spontaneity can make you behave more spontaneously. Phrases like "I don't know", "what do you think?" or “let’s try it!” fall into this category. 

What happens if we use the language of Perceivers? “I don’t know! Let’s find out!”

2. To really live, you need to fight your freakin’ diary

One of the biggest hurdles to loosening up is a busy schedule and a well-planned day...so, an average week for a TJ. Thinker-Judgers instinctively plan every hour because we’re task-oriented, and we like to get the work done before we allow ourselves to play. If we find a free moment, we try to fill it "sensibly" because that’s just the way we roll. 

John Lennon once said "Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans." He had a point. For most of us, the path to spontaneity begins with ripping up that schedule— what’s going to happen is going to happen whether we schedule it or not. 

If you’re a spreadsheet addict like me, the chances are you’ll have to work at finding a balance between planning and improvising. It took me a while to get there, but I now consciously leave free slots in my calendar in case an unscripted opportunity comes up. 

And yes, I know that consciously leaving free time is much the same as planning it. But you know, baby steps.   

3. You have to stop putting everything out there

Thinker-Judgers like to hone in on the singular “best option” based on the facts. As a decision-making process, it’s startlingly individual—there’s very little room for debate, collaboration or negotiating a group consensus. In fact, many Judgers are genuinely shocked whenever someone sees things differently to how they do. 

Here’s the rub: while this individualistic approach may come across as being domineering to people who don’t operate as islands, it’s astonishing how often these same people rely on the naturally assertive TJ to spearhead every single decision. And it’s a huge burden for us. Over time, the responsibility can really eat away at your sense of fun. The only real solution is to hold back on your strong opinions and hope that someday, someone will step in to fill the decision-making void...so you can kick back and let others take the heat occasionally.  

4. When you control less, you have to trust more

Not everything in life can be controlled but a Thinker Judger is surely going to try! These personalities are masters of self-discipline. They regulate their environment to keep everything running like a well-oiled machine, to the TJ’s own exacting quality standards. Letting others take control can be a tough task because we know they won’t do it as well as we do. 

But loosening up by definition means taking a load off, and to do that you have to give other people some of your responsibility. Which means you have to trust them to do a decent job, even if they go about it the ‘wrong’ way.  

Here’s a fact that few TJs like to admit to themselves: We don’t have to do it all alone. Other people are just as competent as we are, and are more than willing to help. Our friends, family and coworkers can help us get even more done if we’d only let them. So next time you’re planning a project, a get together or a family vacation, why not let someone else take the reins? There are lessons to be learned about teamwork, if only we’d control less and trust people more. 

5. If you’re going to compartmentalize, you need to build the right boxes 

Not all Thinker-Judgers compartmentalize but a lot of us do. By that, I mean that we deliberately separate work time from family time, social time from personal time, project A from Project B and so on, placing each of these situations into neat little boxes. We open the lid on whatever we’re working on in the moment while the other boxes stay firmly closed. It’s really just another way for us to keep track of priorities and help us feel like we’re in control. 

For Perceivers, compartmentalization tends to have negative connotations. Rather than mentally isolate problems or situations, Perceivers prefer to throw everything in together and work on many things at once. It’s one of the traits that gives them a reputation for being flexible and freewheeling. Other personalities, notably Intuitive Feelers, may also reject the “boxes” approach since they need all their opinions, beliefs and actions to be consistent with each other, and feel inauthentic if that’s not happening. 

Personally, I find that compartmentalizing helps me to set healthy boundaries, which is important when you’re juggling work and children and relationships and social activities while trying to stay relatively sane. But compartmentalizing only works if you build and open the right boxes. It’s a paradox of TJs that we’re great at isolating all our different challenges and responsibilities, but terrible at opening the fun box – the one that’s labelled “watch dumb movies with friends while throwing popcorn at the screen” or simply “leave the stress of work at work.” 

Redirecting your focus is essential for compartmentalization to work; you have to lift the lid on the silly, frivolous and playful box for loosening up to occur. You won't lose your smarts card if you prioritize fun.  Sometimes, your body needs you to do things just because they feel good. So why not open the box that says “screw it”? Because life is pretty amazing when you give yourself permission to let go!     

Jayne Thompson

Jayne is a B2B tech copywriter and the editorial director here at Truity. When she’s not writing to a deadline, she’s geeking out about personality psychology and conspiracy theories. Jayne is a true ambivert, barely an INTJ, and an Enneagram One. She lives with her husband and daughters in the UK. Find Jayne at White Rose Copywriting.

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About the Clinical Reviewer

Steven Melendy, PsyD., is a Clinical Psychologist who received his doctorate from The Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. He specializes in using evidence-based approaches in his work with individuals and groups. Steve has worked with diverse populations and in variety of a settings, from community clinics to SF General Hospital. He believes strongly in the importance of self-care, good friendships, and humor whenever possible.


Jaime A Pfeffer (not verified) says...

Great article, Jayne! I recognized my husband in some of the things you said; I will pass this along to him. And, there were some things I recognized within me, such as needing to make time to play. Good tips. 

Janis Keating (not verified) says...

Great article. I am a female NT and I struggle with everything in this article - especially tackling problems without wanting much help (T!), not trusting/being patient enough to want help from others (like why do they have to take 2 weeks to make the decision when the two best options are clear, not opening the fun/silly box enough, and compartmentalizing.  I have always known that I compartmentalize ( in the exact way you describe) which is useful for decision making but also hard for others to understand.  I still have a lot of work and self-improvement to do.  I am definitely going to print this and read it again. 

DeannaMarie (not verified) says...

Thank you for this article!  I recognize myself in every sentence...I was blessed with a comfortable early retirement due to my hard work and efficiency but also effectively reduced all the fun out of my like along the way.  The irony is that now I have all the time in the world to pursue the activities I love but because of my inherent thought patterns and personality have developed a chronic pain condition.  I want to let all of you fellow TJs  out there to pursue mental and physical life balance above all.  I hope this helps just one person :-)

Linda (not verified) says...

I resonnate with this.  I definitely compartmentalize, and my poor husband sees me as a workaholic (something I have tried, but always failed, to correct).  Now I will be retiring from my career as a Kindergarten teacher, unlikely profession, I always thought, for an ENTJ.  I want to retire and not set foot in the classroom again, even as a substitute teacher, not because teaching has not been a passion of mine or that I have not seen it as a very fulfilling career.  The reason is because I think I have burned myself out over the many years I taught, at least that seems to be the consensus of my husband.  I think he is right.  So, at 65, retired I will be, and the next two weeks cannot come fast enough.  I will certainly miss the students, the parents, and other teachers and administration, and wonder what I might do with myself.  I will find something.  My husband is worried and concerned for me; he thinks it will be very hard for me.  I tell him I don't mind being a home body, and will enjoy the opportunity to do things that give me satisfaction from other resources.  In other words, I look forward, as you say, Jayne, to "loosening up"!  Thanks for the article; good timing.

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