A Judger's Guide to Dealing with Uncertainty

Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on December 02, 2015

Hello everyone, my name is Rachel, and I have a low tolerance for uncertainty.

As I write these words, I am in the midst of planning for a trip with a boyfriend who does not share this intolerance. According to Myers-Briggs theory, he is a Perceiver; I am a Judger. Generally, people with a Judging preference try to live structured lives and decide things well in advance. On the other hand, Perceivers are often more flexible and adaptable, and they may like to stay open to changes rather than have their plans written in stone. Meanwhile, I say that if it was good enough for the Ten Commandments, then it’s good enough for me.

Similarly to those with a Judging preference, people who score higher on the conscientiousness measure of the Big 5 personality traits are happier when they have order in their lives and time to prepare for what lays ahead. A high score in neuroticism can exacerbate the negative feelings and reactions when things go wrong for the highly conscientious and/or Judger. Neurotic people—hi, my name is Rachel, and I am also neurotic—may also spend a lot of time leading up to an event worrying about the outcome and whether or not it will go as they have planned.

We are leaving for our slightly under-planned trip in a few days, and I am sure that my conscientious, neurotic, Judger self is just a delight to be around. So in order to avoid losing friends and irritating people, I’ve come up with a few strategies to survive uncertainty as a Judging personality type.

Think of times that things worked out OK with little (or no) planning 

Last fall, a couple of friends and I went to Barcelona knowing nothing about it other than that it had a famously funky-looking church and bordered the Mediterranean. Two of us know minimal Spanish, but the dialect that they speak in Barcelona is not what we learned in our standard high school Spanish classes. We arrived at our hotel at midnight, three young females in a city known for pick-pocketing, and checked in using our meager Spanish. We survived a week in the city with no problems, not having a single Euro picked from our pockets, and with only mild affronts to our dignity by catcalling strangers. We did a lot of walking, drank a lot of sangria, and watched a lot of movies in our hotel room at night. Sure, had we planned more in advance, we might have seen more of the city or done more touristy things, but we still had a fantastic time, and I learned that sangria is an excellent facilitator of bonding.

Think of, and accept, different possible outcomes

These do not necessarily need to be bad outcomes. Let’s say your friends ask you Friday afternoon to go to a party with them on Friday night. If you are an Introvert and a Judger like me, then this is a double-edged sword. Having my plans changed is bad enough, but having my plans changed from solitude to socialization is one of my greatest fears in life. (This should tell you something about how terrifying my life is.) If you decide to go with them, then your evening could go a lot of different ways. You could have fun; you could not have fun; you could have fun but leave early; the party might be no fun for anyone and you all end up at a friend’s apartment watching Sex and the City reruns and having fun that way instead. The key is to be prepared for any eventuality but not to plan on any of them. You’re remaining open to different possibilities but also giving yourself a little comfort by considering what those possibilities might be. Which segues nicely into my next strategy….

Ask yourself what’s the worst thing that could (realistically) happen

This strategy is known as defensive pessimism and was coined by Nancy Cantor and her students in the 1980s. By setting low expectations and brainstorming all the problems that could occur, you can avoid or at least prepare for the worst outcomes. Long before I’d heard of Nancy Cantor, I had adopted this defensive mechanism by myself, with little mantras such as “Set the bar low and you’ll never be disappointed” and “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.” I thought of it as optimistic pessimism, and it’s been working for me ever since I won the Positive Attitude Award at my fifth grade graduation. My sister memorably quipped that the rest of my class must have been a bunch of suicidal ten-year-olds, but she probably just wasn’t familiar with defensive pessimism.

Finally, just live your life

There are no guarantees, no sure things, no real certainties. And we all have to accept that. Preparation, planning, structure, and decision-making only go so far. There comes a point where you can “what if” no longer. I know this objectively, as I suspect most all of us do, but it’s hard to actually internalize this advice. Despite all the #YOLO of 2011 and the song “Let it Go” playing incessantly after the 2013 release of Frozen, it is still hard live your one life and to not hold on to all of your baggage and anxiety.

If any fellow Judgers out there have any coping mechanisms you’d like to share, or if any Perceivers wish to share the inner-workings of your minds, please do. Because even though I’ve made myself sound like quite the confident expert in dealing with uncertainty, I’m still never more than one big change of plans away from grabbing a paper bag and going to hyperventilate in the corner.

Rachel Suppok

Rachel holds a B.S. in Neuroscience and usually a cup of coffee. She is an INTJ, but she is not a super-villain. Yet.

Folow Rachel on Twitter @rsuppok.

More from this author...
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.


Guest (not verified) says...

THANK YOU for this!

Lizabeth Kohler (not verified) says...

I am an INTJ and constant list maker. I do like to plan and actually plan trips for others. When I do it for others I make sure every item is researched and planned out. However, maybe because I have traveled so much I feel like I can wing it sometimes. I bring a guide book like Fodor's so that if the hotel is not great I can move to another one. I also don't care if the restaurant is not my favorite. I try to think of the purpose of the trip - being with my family, learning about the history of the area or getting exercise for example. I have been on trips that were perfect as well as those that were not. I just love to travel and for me the journey and mishaps are part of the adventure. Just bring a good guide book and a good attitude and you will be fine.

Guests anjulene (not verified) says...

My new plan is to be more mindful with my emotions. We all have emotions , many react with them in a not so positive way, I try to remember that my emotions are flexible and will wax and wane through the day.

Merlot (not verified) says...

I am also an INTJ and have found that the anxiety (and annoyance levels) are a bit less if you let someone else do the planning. That way, if something does go awry it is not your plans going wrong and you can kind of just go with the flow. They do say INTJ's are able to let loose when guided/with the right people. Maybe let you boyfriend make the plans (or at least some ;). If there are passports involved - be in charge of that! ) and try to go with the flow. Enjoy your trip!

Tündi (not verified) says...

"..your friends ask you Friday afternoon to go to a party with them on Friday night..having my plans changed from solitude to socialization is one of my greatest fears in life." THIS! THANK YOU! I've always been mocked for my "inflexibility" when it comes to social gatherings. I simply HATE making last-minute arrangements or changes to a plan. It takes time for me to commit to a social evening, and find it hard to tolerate any changes, even so small as going to place B instead of A, or especially if it turns out there are a bunch of other ppl joining us instead of just my cozy circle of close, trusted, intellectual friends. In general, I really, profoundly suck at uncertainty and spontaneity.
I once went on a trip with 2 guys and had planned everything out to the last detail. They kept on telling me to relax and sadistically refused using my carefully orchestrated schedule. Needless to say, it wasn't the best vacation of my life.
How do you deal with making decisions? For me, it's the absolute nightmare. I was recently looking to purchase a new laptop and took analyzing my options to a degree where my brain just wanted to explode as I was trying to weigh in ALL the factors, and after a week of research in such a stressful state I was near crying just from looking at the online laptop store. Choosing between shampoos or hair colors in the supermarket can also easily take me up to 15 minutes. Can anyone relate?

Jackie (not verified) says...

Hello Tündi
Ah, we may as well have been separated at birth :-) I'm completely with you. As 'judgers' we love to know what's coming and feel highly unsettled when plans change. The key for me is to recognise when that happens and get as comfortable as I can with the fact that's how it is. I wonder whether agonising over decisions is linked to this trait of ours. I can't help but think there is a large element of 'decision fatigue'. Here's an excellent TED talk on this topic. Enjoy! https://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_on_the_paradox_of_choice?langua...

maibeare says...

Hello kin-judgers,
As an elderly INFJ, I have found that being able to say to myself "I don't know!" to be very helpful when I get lost in the labyrinth of inner uncertainty. It breaks the tension, restores my lost sense of humor, and I can move on.
Also, thanks for defensive pessimism strategy! and for understanding that I may need to choose to make this a one time post. As much as I'd like to hear from you and to share more, I am disabled with CFS/SEID and Sjögren's syndrome. If you are younger than 67, I hope that you are taking as much exquisite care of yourself as you can manage. In the hindsight of an over-accommodating INFJ, I hope you don't make that same mistake (over-accommodating). ... This isn't anywhere close to an adequate post and reply. I must fall back on quoting the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, "I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date." Which is sleep!!

Cindy Scott (not verified) says...

Hi Rachel - I have totally been in your boat regarding vacations. My best worst story is the time my husband and I and our FOUR kids went to Colorado and spent literally half the night looking for a hotel room and the other half "sleeping" in our van... That was over 20 years ago and I have learned a few things since then.

Here's what we do now. I plan the vacations but don't tell him. It's all a serendipitous surprise for him then and I feel secure that we will not sleep in the car. Usually I plan some flex times with options and I stay open to spontaneous choices, but the structure of my plan is there to fall back on. This seems to work for both of us.

I love what you wrote about being flexible - kind of like ""the plan is to take a break from planning" and I also love pushing out the worst case scenarios to bring some clarity and reality.

Hope you had a great trip!

Arborgirl says...

Although this blog has not been commented on in over a year, I wanted to say for all of the newbies on this journey of self-discovery (like me - I only very recently took the MBTI test) that it is possible to become more flexible with practice. I am also natural (INF)J who has learned to cope with uncertainty in my college years with "optimistic pessimism." Not as young as age 10, but during college, when my friends had a wide range of personalities that required flexibility in planning. It was a good introduction to what parenthood would be like :) My second husband was a group package of three, two of them being under 9 years of age at the time. Not having children of my own, it was an eye-opening (and at times difficult) learning experience. Here is what I've figured out for trips in particular - research at least a few group activities, ask them to pick a few they would like to do, and schedule them. Leave perceiving time as well, and accept that you may not know what you will be doing at every moment - but at least you have an outline.

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