How you do anything is how you do everything





I am so screwed.

Let’s do the INFP thing and begin at a seemingly unrelated topic: fractals and complex systems.

Fractals have a property called self-similarity which means that if you just looked at part of the fractal, that part would look roughly similar to the whole.

Complex systems have self-similarity. A person’s life is one of those complex systems where interconnected behavior act upon each other to produce various outcomes. Say you’re an early riser. That behavior produces a different set of outcomes than if you were a night person. Different opportunities present themselves. Different actions are taken. Different results are produced.

Self-similar properties get observed when you take the entire span of a person’s life and map the ups and down and sideways of that life. That pattern of a lifetime would look very similar to an hour of a person’s life which would be similar to a day which would look similar to a week or a year.

On an average day, I wake up and go to work. It takes me some time to get into the swing of things so I do the easy stuff first. Answer emails. Respond to calls. Finish up the boring paper trail leftover to do from the previous project. Then I start coding which is my most important task as a programmer because it produces tangible results. Around 3pm or so I start losing focus because of things that have come up.

Calls have been ignored, emails have gone unanswer and tasks for other team members are deferred because I don’t want to break my focus on the task at hand. Those things become urgent around 3 because I need to start getting ready for tomorrow.

Around 4pm, I’m “caught up” on the miscellaneous or as caught up as I will ever be. I start planning on how I will leave things. I figure out what needs to be done and get everything in a place where the next person can pick it up if I got hit by a bus.

Then I go home and though I wouldn’t mind time to myself, I have a family who needs me. Sometimes I can sneak a few minutes for myself. At 9pm, I put everyone to bed and then the rest of the time is mine. I stay up as late as I can because when I wake up tomorrow, my time won’t be mine own anymore.

Compare that with my life so far. I think I spent the first 19 years of my life just easing in, trying to get my bearings. I didn’t start doing the real work on my life, ie job, family, home until my mid-20s. Right now, I’m heading into 40 and it seems my time is largely devoted to other people’s wants and needs because they need me.

So the question is: how long before everyone goes to bed so I can have my time? Will I be 50 before I start my novel? Will I be 60 before I have to time to just figure out what I want? If that’s how it is, I am so screwed.

Okay, that’s the stick. Here’s the carrot.

It’s called emergent behavior.

In this complex system called life, behavior is also self-similar. In other words, how we do anything is how we do everything.

If a person waits to the last second to finish cleaning up their room, that same person will wait to the last second to finish cleaning up their life. The go-getters who jump into their morning are the same people who jump into their new job, new college life, new marriage and so on.

So what if you’re the type of INFP that can’t figure out what you want to do for a job let alone what you’re going to do for the rest of your life? What if you’ve tried different things to find out later that those things didn’t make you as happy as you idealized them to be? Is your entire life going to be that self-similar pattern where on your deathbed you realize that the life you’ve lived really didn’t make you as happy as you thought you would be?

Take this blog for example. I get all excited about this blog because it’s new. I launch and write a few things in a very short time. Then I can’t figure out what I want to say next so I take a break. Now that I have an idea, I’m writing again. So is that my life? I go from dilettante to middle-class family man in a relatively short amount of time. I haven’t be able to figure what’s next so I’ve taken a break from accomplishing stuff. I worry that this is a bad pattern I can’t break from.

What the theory of emergence says is that complex systems arise from simple interactions. Complex behaviors and patterns start from simple behaviors. Also, the complex behaviors that do arise can’t predicted examining the simple behaviors. You can’t predict the honeycomb by looking at just the drone bee.

Simple behaviors like saving one quarter a day or meeting one new person a day creates far reaching results that can’t be predicted because from those simple behaviors will cause other behaviors to emerge. Basically, it really does come down to you can’t do the same thing an expect a different result.

I’m trying to change my life in a big way because I’m bored, exhausted, pensive, unexcited, all of the above. Most of all, I’m really comfortable which is more draining for me as an INFP than I had imagined when I was young and struggling.

I’m starting small. I’m trying to focus on this blog even though I want to know where it leads before I put so much of myself into it.

I think if any personality type is capable of great change it’s INFP. Just start small. I am.

Ready. Go.

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17 Responses to “How you do anything is how you do everything”

  1. Reem

    Dec 2, 2009

    6:34 am

    That is a very interesting perspective.

    “complex behaviors that do arise can’t predicted examining the simple behaviors” …like Gestalt, The whole is greater than the sum of the parts?

    I’m quite intrigued by the fact that the search for what you want is still going on for you well into your thirties and after you have managed to create a stable life. At 22, I have endless possibilities. Which sounds exciting because that allows my Fi to go wild with fantasies. But then again, it’s a great source of anxiety. Not only do I not know what I want, I’m not even sure I know what I have (or will have).


    Hmm… How is my life similar to the way I attempt to post a reply?

    After reading your post, I liked it so much, I decided to write a reply. Before I started I had one idea, that diverged into many. Then I got distracted from what I wanted to do (writing a reply) by doing what I should be doing (which is working). So this took about 3 hours to finish!

    I still don’t know what I want to say and I realized I just added yet another paragraph so now I have to go edit again to make my reply shorter because it’s starting to sounds more like a blog entry.

    Now I’ve just deleted something like 5 paragraphs and re-written most of what is here. Now I’m re-writing the paragraph above but in past tense (why?). Suddenly, I don’t feel like posting anymore.

    Ok, I’ve decided to un-delete one of the paragraphs I wrote but I can’t “undo” it so I have to re-write it. And now My post is too long again.

    I’ve just finished reading this whole reply for like the 10th time(and even this sentence had to be read agian and re-written).

    So there, that’s is an example of few hours of my life. I wonder what it says about my life as whole?

    (I have to press that submit button at some point!!)


    ockhamdesign Reply:

    Basically, your reply says you’re too focused on that reaching the endpoint and that reaching the end will give you some sense of completion and that will somehow make you happy in this one little endeavor of writing a reply.

    Speaking for myself, I’ve never been happy for more than a few days after I’ve completed a goal. I’m speaking of goals I’ve worked on for five or more years.

    I think for INFPs, it really is all about the journey. It’s good to want something as long as you realize that finally getting what you want won’t make all your problems go away and you’ll be instantly happy.

    I think the best methodology for INFPs is to just want something and try to find the path there that makes us the happiest.

    So hopefully, writing the reply made you happy even if the end result wasn’t what you expected.


  2. Reem

    Dec 3, 2009

    5:21 am

    You’re right, Writting the reply did make me happy. It made me ponder a lot of intersting thoughts, and even though I didn’t include all of those ideas in the reply, the process of following my divergent thoughts was enjoyable.

    I guess. whats frustrating is that INFPs are better at seeing an idealised “whole”. but, if they try to change the basic unit to try to reach that idealised whole the result of that change is unpredicatable. So changing simple behaviours, could alter the genral pattern of someone’s life, but the results would be so variable it would be hard to reach the exact vision of that idealised whole.

    I think maybe the reason why you feel like you’re looking forward to having “you’re time” might be because having responsiblities affects you’re basic unit. The way you do things as a responsible adult makes the pattern of your life more constricted. You would have to do things in a more effecient, more organised, more timely manner and you would have specific duties or chores that are fixed and have to be perfomed.

    The way I picture it, it’s like for someone who has no responsibilities their basic unit is soft and malleable and so the overall pattern of their life is not fixed and can be easily altered. However with more responsibilities, the basic unit hardens and becomes more and more well-defined and difficult to alter, and so achieving an idealised “whole” or changing the entire pattern of one’s life would be more restricted because they have a well-defined basic unit.

    but, a more well-defined basic unit, means a clearer vision the overall pattern. An amorphous basic unit makes it really hard to see the whole. So what you have now, is a clear basic shape which can be altered slightly and can be arranged in endless variations.

    but I guess, the INFP in you might be yearning for the freedom to envision an idealised whole that isn’t bound by your current basic shape, which is less adaptable then it used to be.

    Maybe INFPs, enjoy the journey more then reaching their destination because during the journey it is possible to fantacise, and it’s possible to change you’re destination all together.

    I guess, our purpose in life is the “quest”, and maybe the quest seems over once we reach the end, so we need to constantly find new quests. And so we love change, and we are always looking for the meaning in life and what we want. (probably caused by our Ne).


    ockhamdesign Reply:

    I don’t feel it’s a question of responsibility vs no responsibilities and the time that each entails.

    As INFPs, we fritter away most of our time anyway and only spend a fraction of it “getting things done.’ The rest of that time is like ether where we’re looking for something to get done that will make us happy.

    Everything has a set of fixed things to do. Everyone from bestselling writers to zombie killers have responsibilities and a fixed set of activities. So does looking for fixed things to do make us more happy then actually doing those fixed things?


  3. Reem

    Dec 4, 2009

    3:57 pm

    “Does looking for fixed things to do make us more happy then actually doing those fixed things?”

    hmmm… interesting point.

    I guess, It’s like a catch 22. If we have nothing to do, we will waste away the time and accomplish nothing. But if we have a lot to do, it will somehow seem as though we have no time to accomplish what we we would otherwise be doing had we had the time!

    Well, for me personally, responsibility changes me on so many levels. After college I took a break, during which I had a rather bohemian existence. I was jumping from one pursuit to the next. I joined a fine art class, tried kick-boxing, did 2 internships, took graphic design classes, I traveled a bit… I slept any time I want and woke up in the middle of the day. My day was not planned and so was my life. But after getting a job, I know what I will be doing from 9 to 5 everyday, I know what I’m most likely to be doing 5 years from now.

    I see self-similarity in life, I also think that a person is capable of changing their day, and so changing the entire pattern of their life. And just like personality is flexible, so is a person’s daily routine, and so is a person’s general pattern. and I think what responsibility does more than taking up our time, it changes who we are and our priorities and what we choose to pursue in life, it changes our daily routine and so our pattern in life.

    Was I more happy searching for a job or after finding one?

    Well, In my “quest” to find a career I realized the harsh reality that nobody is willing to hire a graphic designer who has a Bachelor degree in Business Administration and no formal art education. So after a grueling reality check, I decided to apply for regular office jobs. After I got my job, and despite it being the exact opposite of what I imagined myself doing, I seem to be pretty content.

    So even though I tried being a graphic designer and failed, it was fun pursing that. and even though sometimes I get tired of doing the “fixed things” my job demands. I still think it’s much better than being unemployed because it gets me out of bed early and forces me to “act” more and also makes me more focused rather than living erratically.

    so I guess, personally I like the process of looking for “fixed things to do” because it leads to many new opportunities and experiences, even if I don’t always reach my desired end. and I also like having fixed things to do because I get lazy and unfocused if my day is completely empty.

    but I don’t know, I’m at a point in my life where I’m yearning for stability and a sense of direction and I feel that once I achieve certain goals in my career and personal life and have certain fixed things that I do everyday, I will feel more at peace with myself and that way I can focus my energy on all that other soul-searching/artistic endeavors.

    but, Is it possible with this temperament to reach self-fulfillment? What about INFPs in their 60s and older, have they got it figured out yet?


    Nick Reply:

    I think us INFPs all end up adjusting to reality because it becomes ‘safe’. Its tough living for anything outside the norm. Economics and responsibilty force us to accept less. Many people make the decision and are ‘content’. I’m guessing having family makes that life more acceptable.
    The director David Mamet puts it better than me. If you are an actor you have no guarantees in life, you could earn 0K a year or 300K a year. You have no stability in terms of work. So some people who can’t face that rollercoaster life of living start to work for instituitions as casting directors, producers, somewhere with more security. Teachers are to some extent the same, music teachers who sold out their music dreams, English teachers who would have been novelists. I guess life is easier when food will always be on the table.


  4. Ann

    Jan 2, 2010

    11:53 am

    I like the concept of “The Renaissance Soul”, Google the site and book. There can be multiple ways of feeling fulfilled, and one doesn’t need to feel pressure to find that “one thing” for life that seems to define one’s purpose.

    Reading the bios of members of an excellent Klezmer band that played at an event recently, I see that they are all successful in careers other than music. Most of them will probably continue in the band after they retire from their “day” jobs.

    Even that sort of lifetime commitment to a loved activity is not necessary for the type of person who wants to experience many different things. Some of us have a higher need for variety. Society calls it being a dilletante. Leonardo DaVinci, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin are examples of those who pursued multiple interests over their lives. I hope I never quit exploring. Keirsey says a trait INFP’s share is feeling guilty for not being “authentic” enough.

    Other archtypes might find the utility of their compromises to be a satisfying way to live, given the other values that are expressed by raising a family, providing a home, etc.
    George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life” made lots of compromises, but had a great life, when he appreciated the glass half ful view.


  5. Lilly

    Jul 12, 2010

    12:20 am

    This is a very systematic way of looking at the intuitive whole. I function in a similar way, and the symptom of this similar movement is for me, being slow to start (my pattern). When I am introduced to a new task or way of thinking it often takes me longer to get my grasp around it than others, as if I can’t truly understand how something works until I can see how all the parts react with, and lend meaning to the whole fluidly. But once I see this, I most often excel above others in understanding and applying my knowledge efficiently in the long run. The beauty of this is that once I have grasped a way of doing something, like for example, becoming a strong analytic thinker through consistent essay writing, I have a higher than average potential for mastery (I use mastery as loosely as the word deserves). I feel like there is an excess of ability in many infps that cannot be made sense of without the luxury of being able to step back and see this potentiality from a long range perspective. For example I search for authenticity, not with a passing glance, but with a lot of energy, and this process may seem fruitless in terms of task and routine– but in all actuality, authenticity can save you from a lot of unnecessary (and potentially life diminishing)problems in the long run. It might look like I’m not getting ahead, but I’m just being more thorough. I guess you have to be when your always asking the question “why?”. If ” complex systems arise from simple interactions” than grasping a simple action(s) more thoroughly gives way to a stronger grasp of complex systems.


    Corin Reply:

    I’ve gave up trying to grasp the complex system of my life. It’s unpredictable where simple actions will ultimately lead. For example, when I was 21, a girl I asked out stood me up. I was waiting for her at a dance club and instead of going home, I decided to dance for the very first time. Because I decided to dance, I discovered something I liked doing. Because I liked doing it, I got good at it. Because I got good at it, a girl who would end up being my wife ended up noticing me 4 years after that girl stood me up.

    I can truly say that enjoying dance lead me to becoming a computer programmer, getting married, learning about real estate and a whole slew of other behaviors that couldn’t be predicted by my behaviors that came before dancing.


  6. Lilly

    Jul 12, 2010

    12:43 pm

    I’m speaking at the level of grasping the complex systems of a specific skill set, or way of being. Of course no one can say how exactly these things are going to play out down to the specifics of everyday existence, but they are likely to add richness to your life.


  7. Stephanie

    Jul 21, 2010

    6:12 am

    First of all, thank you Corin for this different take on the picture of life. After I post this reply I plan on examining what an average day and week look like for me, deciding if I like the way my life looks, and changing it accordingly if I don’t! It’s a much easier way to look at change if we think in terms of individual days rather than personality. For instance: “Today I’m going to be a nicer person” as opposed to “I’m going to be a nicer person”. Putting “today” onto an action or change makes it easier to accomplish and a less impossible goal. Very interesting, love that thought process.

    Lilly said something that I think perfectly describes a specific attribute of an INFP (or me at least). “It might look like I’m not getting ahead, but I’m just being more thorough.” — typical INFP, no? Our thoroughness is often seen as inefficiency by many types (*cough*S*cough*). Even my INTJ friends who understand personality type sometimes have a hard time grasping my necessity for thoroughness over just getting something done.

    I also enjoyed seeing that I’m not alone in my “journey is more important than the destination” viewpoint. I know that is also typical INFP, but it’s still nice to read it from others. My interests and hobbies change like bee flitting from flower to flower. No one can keep up, but when I’m interested in something, I AM REALLY interested in it. I read the books, I learn the language (or at least some of it), I learn the skill (I don’t master it), I read the series, I take classes (and once I’m finished, I don’t go into that career). Everyone else sees it as a waste of time, and I admit, I did too for a while…but when I look back and see what enjoyment and passion I spent on that interest, even if only for a handful of days, weeks, months, or years, that is what brings my fulfillment. Knowing I was happy in the journey.

    Thanks again Corin for your insight and sharing! It really made me think 🙂


    Corin Reply:

    The only caveat with thoroughness is I tend to make up unnecessary stuff to do when I’m on a project I really like. It’s avoiding doing the next thing that I may not like as much as what I’m currently doing.

    That thoroughness on something I enjoy is journey. It’s taking time to smell the roses instead of rushing off to do the next thing. Because there will always be a next thing and a next thing after that.


  8. Mark

    Jul 21, 2010

    7:51 pm

    I want to be happy with my life when it is over–but I have to start with being happy with my life when the day is over! As I approach mid-life, I too am learning that the journey is more important than the destination–but every time I start something I fall back into the pattern of making it a destination thing.

    The things I have been focused on for a really long time have been the things that when I examined why I really did them it was either for some fantasy of recognition–or if that was not the prime motivator, I became dissillusioned when they did not result in recognition. However, when I do things for the pleasure of the journey, it is harder to stick with it. When I look back at previous endevours–and start new ones–I have to keep in mind the pleasure I got and gave along the way and not the inevitable, ingorious endings.

    Thanks for your blog, Corin, and for the others that have commented. Its comforting to identify with snippits of myself.


  9. Nick

    Feb 24, 2011

    7:07 am

    I feel some closeness in what you said. I have an example in my head that I need to figure out myself as to whether it has any resonance.
    When I was younger I enjoyed maths. I was always in the top group because I had one of the highest test scores. If you saw me in class on a regular basis you would see me trying to work out how to do the math. would look at the problem, try it one way, try it the other way. I would raise my hand to the teacher and she would get me past the intermediate problem I was on. So by the end of class I would have done less questions than the entire class, but I had learned how to do the problems in their entirety. My tests scores were always high. However two years before finishing high school I changed where I sat. I went to sit with the kids who became Engineers and Underwriters. I got in the competitive mode as we would all try to finish before each other. I would do it anyway I could generally – copy answers. My test scores would plummet after that and in future years I struggled with maths.
    I guess that became my life, I wanted to be with the top rather than average, to do that I fundamentally changed the way I handled things. I would love to go back to that original way of working, but its hard after 20 years of trying to be the best. Which is what most of society wants. Speed. I stopped working the way that was best for me
    Can anyone relate?


    John W Reply:

    Gosh, Nick, that’s quite a story.

    I’ve read many times about how the education system that’s all about scores/grades is severely lacking. We get kids who aren’t very clever leaving school with fantastic grades.

    Certainly does sound like it’s about checking a box, ticking something off as completed, rather than going through the process/journey of: exploring, enquiring, using one’s own mind, imagining, discovering. The excitement and frustrations of fully engaged trial and error – and then success!


  10. Mel

    Apr 24, 2012

    6:13 am

    A couple of months ago, a Myers-Briggs fan friend of mine introduced me to MBTI, and test results showed that I was INFJ. For some reason I decided to dive into it again tonight (I am going through a process of internal upheaval now, post-quitting my job)… and after reading a lot of sites including yours, I think I am actually INFP.

    Thanks so much for writing your site Corin. It’s well past midnight but I am really enjoying reading your articles – they are so enlightening and I find myself saying in my head “Ahh! he understands!!”

    I feel like I get lost in my head a lot, and I have all these passions and interests and ideals so I get enthusiastic quite easily, bulldoze into minor things with gusto, take way long to make major decisions, and get angry when things don’t match my ideals – and then I vacillate between going the whole way and not doing anything at all. It’s the way I have approached cooking / writing / relationships – I realise that now. I take a long time to decide I “really” want to do it. I get started. Something happens that upsets my ideals/values. I quit entirely. The cycle repeats with something else.

    And I am now in danger of posting a book in your comment box…….. apologies! Will keep reading the rest of your site now.


    John W Reply:

    Yep, that sounds like me too, Mel.

    I’ve heard that there’s a known phenomenon in which people who are talented and have tended to just do well at things (for whatever reason) can quickly get frustrated if a new activity doesn’t come as easily, and they just want to give up.


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