One of the most common problems for INFJ writers is when they become paralyzed when faced with making a creative decision about their writing. Sometimes this happens when the INFJ writer is trying to decide which writing project to start first, and sometimes it happens when they are already working on a writing project and they are trying to make a decision about which direction it should go in for the best forward movement on the project.
What’s happening when an INFJ writer is blocked in their decision-making is usually that we’re getting overwhelmed. This occurs when INFJ writers use thinking over intuition when trying to make creative decisions. Although we are strong in our thinking skills, these skills should be relegated to situations which call for straightforward problem-solving, not complex intuitive creativity.
Writing stories—whether fictional stories or our own memoir—calls for complex intuitive creativity. This involves waiting patiently for the next piece to be revealed by our unconscious, the slow work of setting down the knowledge on paper, and enough trust in the creative process itself that we can let go of pushing or forcing pieces out of ourselves. For many INFJ writers, this feels impossible to do, because we are so overtaken by anxiety during the writing process, and when we are overtaken by anxiety and we don’t have the necessary psychological tools to deal with it, we will most often override our intuition and go immediately into overthinking.
When an INFJ writer becomes anxious about making the right decision, by default, we “zoom out.” This means that we look at the situation and we zoom out to see the big picture. Seeing the big picture of things is one of our strongest talents, and a lot of the time it can be helpful in problem-solving. But where we get into trouble is when we are completely consumed by anxiety and so we start using the “zoom-out feature” in our brain to keep compulsively zooming out. So, we zoom out to see the big picture, and then we zoom out again, to see even more of the big picture. And then we do it again, and again, and again. Until finally we are trying to see all our writing projects, and all the decisions that need to be made, and all the work that needs to be done, and the next ten years of our lives, and we’re trying to think our way through processing all of it.
It’s way too much.
It’s not surprising that INFJ writers go into complete overwhelm at this point, become paralyzed, and then are incapable of making any decision at all.
The root of this whole problem is that INFJ writers who suffer from decision paralysis are worried that they will make the wrong decision. They usually have a long history of perfectionism, and a pattern of not being able to accept that a life well-lived includes making mistakes. The mindset of this type of INFJ writer is such that they believe that if they make the wrong decision, it reflects directly on their self-worth. So, they wouldn’t just be making a mistake, they would be proving to the outer world that they really are as inadequate as they feel inside. Then also, everyone would see how inadequate they are, and judge them for it.
This is why there is so much emotional agitation that comes along with the decision-making process around writing projects for these types of INFJ writers. Decisions about our writing feel very high stakes, even life-or-death at some points, because our entire self-worth is on the line. The more agitated we become, the more anxiety takes over, and the more that anxiety takes over, the more we try to do our zooming out thing, and the entire cycle repeats.
The antidote to this situation is for INFJ writers to, first of all, shift into intuition over thinking. So, we drop all the “shoulds” and the “have tos” and the arguments based on what other people would think, what sounds sensible, and what seems safest. We move out of our heads and into our bodies and we start from that space. It’s amazing to me how many INFJ writer clients come to me with no awareness of their body or the messages it’s trying to send them. I’ve worked with INFJ writers who have reported experiencing headaches, stomachaches, throat constriction, tense shoulders, clenched jaw, and grinding teeth during the writing process and many of them never made the connection that their body was trying to send them a loud and clear message that the approach they were using toward their writing was not working.
When we start from the body, we slow down and check in with how we physically feel. We go over the options in our mind and we notice how each option makes us feel in our body. This is how we begin to learn what is a “yes” for us and what is a “no” for us. Once we are fully tuned into the body, a “yes” will feel very clear and a “no” will feel very clear. A “yes” will feel exciting, fun, interesting, curious, and like it’s “pulling” you toward it. You will feel a sense of openness in your body, a relaxation, a softening, pleasant tingling, or a solid sense of it feeling right to you. A no will feel completely opposite. You will feel constriction in your body, a tenseness or contraction, heaviness, dread, or a need to sigh deeply or even cry. This means you are getting a clear “no.”
Once we begin getting familiar with using our body as a yes/no compass, and we can drop into that space as needed, we have shifted into using our intuition over our thinking. From here, we then do something that normally doesn’t come naturally to INFJ writers, and that’s to zoom in instead of zoom out. We start with something that we’re getting a strong yes on—a story we really want to write or a memory we want to put down on paper—and then we zoom in so that we can see only the next little bit that is calling for us to work on it. This might be just a fragment of a scene, or we may even be unclear on how this little bit will unfold when we start writing. That’s okay, and actually even more helpful, as it allows us to write into a space that is open-ended and filled with possibility.
I strongly recommend INFJ writers write that next little bit and then do not reread it. The absolute worst time for a writer to reread their stuff is immediately after they have finished writing. I don’t know the scientific reason for this, but after many years of writing experience, I know this is true. You will never see so many flaws in your writing as you do when you read it right after you just finished writing it. The best thing you can do is not reread at all, and put it away somewhere that you can’t see it. Then move on. Give yourself a break for the rest of the day and get involved in something else that will take your mind off it.
It’s most helpful for INFJ writers, especially those who are in the sloppy first draft stage, to stay as zoomed in as they can during this phase. This is hard to do, because anxiety is an almost constant companion for the INFJ, and every time we get anxious, we will want to zoom out again to get that big picture as a way to self-soothe, because this is what we do in most of our life, not just the writing side of it. Whenever an INFJ feels anxious about a situation we will push all our energy up into our heads, start overthinking like crazy, and then try to escape by jumping into the future and throwing all our energy into that future time.
However, you can’t actually do anything in the future, and this is very important for INFJ personality types to understand. When you are overthinking and projecting into the future, your mind is trapped in an illusion and you aren’t thinking clearly. The illusion is convincing you that you are increasing your safety by anticipating and preparing for future outcomes, but that’s not what’s happening at all. Instead, you are thought-looping. You are going around and around again, obsessively combing over the same options and squandering all your energy on getting nowhere. You are depleting yourself because, essentially, you are just throwing yourself at the walls of your mind over and over again until you’re bruised and bloody and then you mentally collapse.
The only location from where we can access our power, and work with any effectiveness, is the present moment. This is the place where we can take action, make decisions, move forward, and grow and evolve. To get into the present moment—especially with our writing—we must zoom in. We must tune into our body, acknowledge what feels right, and then focus only on the next little piece we need to write in order to move forward. We don’t need to see the entire big picture of the story, we don’t need to know how it ends, or what lessons it will convey to readers, or the overall theme or story arc. We just need to focus on the next little piece, and start there.
Incidentally, this process also works well with starting writing projects. I work with so many writers who become overwhelmed with starting a work, and I always see that it’s the same cycle that is going on with them. They’re trying to zoom out too far to get the big picture of the entire work and that’s sending them into paralysis about starting. Much of the time, in their mind, they’re telling themselves that they need to “just do it,” without truly examining what “just do it” means to them. When they slow down and begin to unpack this “just do it” statement it becomes apparent that just do “it” means “all of it.” Start it, write every scene of it, edit it, polish it, finish it.
This is way too much for the human brain to handle and it would honestly overwhelm any type of writer. The best writers know that you have to take things step by step, and day by day, or you’ll overwhelm yourself before you even get started. That’s why I always advise that INFJ writers shift from the “just do it” mindset to the “make a start” mindset. Make a start can mean anything. Write one page, write one paragraph, write one sentence, it doesn’t matter so long as you write something and you do your best to just make a start on the project. When you hold the intention of “making a start” you are also, again, leaving things open-ended and there is room for all sorts of possibilities to unfold. This is exactly where you want to be at the beginning of a project.
For INFJ writers who suffer from decision paralysis, the best thing you can do is slow down, move out of overthinking and into intuition via your own body cues, focus on the next little piece and only that, and then make a start on it. That’s it. Leave all the big-picture, perfectionistic, pushing and shoving kind of approaches behind and just start where you are, with one little piece.
Lauren Sapala is the author of The INFJ Writer, The INFJ Revolution, and the creator of Understanding Yourself as an INFJ Writer, an online video course for INFJ writers who struggle with traditional writing methods. You can get a free copy of her book on creative marketing for writers by signing up for her newsletter HERE.