The Feeling Function and Physical Exercise

This article is reprinted with permission from The Bulletin of Psychological Type. The Bulletin is a publication of the Association for PsychologicalType.

The Feeling Function and Physical Exercise
APTi Bulletin Vol.26 No. 4 (2003) By: Suzanne Brue

To gather information about the connection between type and physical exercise, I have been interviewing individuals of the 16 types who regularly exercise, asking the following questions:

1. Describe a typical week of exercise
2. Where do you exercise? What aspect(s) of the environment is (are) important to you?
3. Do you exercise alone or with a friend or family member?
4. What motivates you to exercise? Describe the benefits.
5. Describe your history of physical exercise.
6. What types of exercise, exercise interactions or environments turn you off ?
7. What coaching/training styles work or do not work for you?
8. What advice would you give people of your type who do not exercise to help them exercise?


The feeling function is a rational judging process driven by values that are assigned to all things. The focus is on these subjective values and decisions are made in accordance with accepting or rejecting these values.

Extraverted Feeling

Extraverted feeling in the dominant or auxiliary position is typified by a focus on people and relationships. Behavior is influenced by what is appropriate according to objective standards and societal norms. Extraverted feeling is oriented toward a pleasing physical environment and harmony in relationships. Extraverted feeling types are typically motivated to exercise in the following ways:
• Frequently attracted to exercise that connects them to others, directly or indirectly.
• Environment must be friendly and harmonious
• Physically pleasing ambiance
• Routine is attractive
• Motivated by following through on commitment to self.

ESFJ, ENFJ (Dominant Extraverted Feeling)

Extraverted feeling in the dominant position is characterized by a preference to exercise alongside other people. Interest and energy is maintained through observing or being with people. Dominant extraverted feeling types report boredom and little motivation when they exercise by themselves for too long a period of time. When the auxiliary is introverted sensing, the physical environment is acutely noted. Cleanliness, smells, room temperature, water temperature (if swimming), and all other aspects of the physical environment are important. When the auxiliary is intuition, the physical environment is not noticed in such detail but must be pleasing enough not to interfere with the mind wandering, cleansing, and visions that float in and out of consciousness.

The Personal Touch in a Pleasing Setting the ESFJ Way

Iris has been a close friend for over 30 years. While my professional interests have gone toward psychology and understanding the human experience, Iris has found her passion in music and for many years was a professional jazz singer. She is presently a musical booking agent. In my first article (Vol. 23, No. 3) I described the moment I make the connection between type and physical exercise through my observations with my mother (ESFJ) and her physical therapy. Later that day over lunch, Iris and I discussed her search for a sustainable exercise program. The theme was the same as with my mom. I knew I was on to something and began my study of the connection between type and physical exercise. It has been several years since that initial conversation, and I am delighted to report that Iris has found the physical exercise she loves in yoga.

“Yoga tells me exactly where I am, where I’m weak, where I experience pain, where I’m loose, where I’m tight. I like to know where I am physically, and yoga tells me that.”

Iris loves her yoga class which is held in a church nestled in the woods in rural Maryland. Beautiful views of surrounding trees can be seen from most windows. The room is clean and large. Everyone has enough space as classroom size is kept to 10 participants. The class is taught by Wendy who has become Iris’s friend.

“Does Wendy talk in class or include readings?” I asked.

“She cites fact based information from authorities that document the physical benefits of yoga as it relates to, for example, heart rate or cholesterol. Her readings emphasize practical laws of the universe, none of the “new age” stuff that really turns me off. I also like the music Wendy selects, and she plays it at just the right level.”

Iris described Wendy as being personable, knowledgeable, and caring. “She keeps an eye on everyone. She walks around the class and gently corrects your posture, giving personal feedback.”

In addition, Iris goes to a gym two days a week to lift weights. She forces herself to go to the gym because of her osteoporosis. She knows it is good for her and she will feel better when she leaves. “I don’t look forward to it and certainly don’t enjoy it when I’m there. I get in and out in 40 minutes.”

“How are you able to stick with the gym routine?”

“Probably the commitment and fear because of my osteoporosis,” Iris laughed. “It means a lot to me to follow through on what I promise, and makes me feel I am in control of my life. The gym is small, clean, and relatively personal, and I see the same people each time I go. That helps.”

ISFJ, INFJ (Auxiliary Extraverted Feeling)

Those with extraverted feeling in the auxiliary have a very conscientious approach to exercise and plan what they are going to do. They are routine oriented and attracted to exercise that is comfortable and familiar. Introverted sensing in the dominant position is characterized by a highly developed awareness and focus on the physical body. Exercise is approached in an orderly, systematic manner with care not to overdo. They follow an established plan in a harmonious environment unless new information or human needs and concerns suggest changing it.

When Introverted intuition is dominant the attraction is to “mind diffusing” exercise that quiets and calms the mind. The week’s activities are envisioned ahead of time, and frequently organized into categories that are planned and carried out throughout the week. They are attracted to the beauty in nature and have a significant preference to exercise outside. They modify their routine from time to time, but only after extensive reflection and consideration.

Familiar, Interesting and Getting It All In the INFJ approach

Mear had been attracted to belly dancing for many years, but until her Astanga yoga teacher announced that she was starting a belly dancing class, she had not pursued this interest.

“I had been thinking about belly dancing since I was a kid and had many conversations and thoughts about it. I knew there were many classes in the Burlington area, but none of them seemed comfortable to me.”

“So what made this belly dancing class right?” I asked.

“I knew the teacher and I knew the fitness center where it was being taught, even though I hadn’t been in that side of the building. Classes were also being taught at the Y, but I’ve never been there and didn’t know the teacher. It would have been a whole different experience. At the Y, I would have to get to know the instructor and learn the layout of the building. Too many new pieces all at once.”

Mear’s natural curiosity keeps her on the lookout for something new and interesting to add to her life. Characteristically, when she tackles something new, she does it by bringing along something familiar. The comfort she feels with her familiar teacher is important as Mear engages in a new class.

It is always fun to see Mear when I drop into the large accounting firm where she is the Administrative Assistant to the CEO. We engage in conversation immediately with a mutual curiosity about what each of us has been doing. Mear’s interests and enthusiasms are wide ranging, from music and art to psychological theories and technical areas. I have known Mear for six years, I see her every few months, and every time I see her, she looks younger, thinner and more energetic. I was eager to hear about her exercise routine, as I have watched her increase her activity through the years.

Mear loves belly dancing, the fun of it, the flow of it, and learning to isolate different parts of her body. In addition to belly dancing once a week, Mear is physically active in a variety of ways. Usually she exercises twice a day. She works out in a nearby gym, at home, or preferably outside. She carefully described and classified her various activities which include a stretching routine, cardio workouts, weight lifting, walks in the evening, hiking, biking and snowshoeing in the winter.

Mear loves the outdoors and is always searching for friends who enjoy outdoor activities. She describes these times spent outdoors with others as “spiritual. This is my time with God.”

Introverted Feeling ISFP, INFP, FSFP, ENFP

Introverted feeling in the dominant or auxiliary process is concerned with internal values and beliefs. These core values are private and non-negotiable. Introverted feeling types are driven toward inner harmony, and are not responsive to peer pressure. Their actions are inspired by and consistent with their core values. People with introverted feeling are typically motivated to exercise in the following ways:
• Attracted to exercise that is aligned with their personal values
• Playful and fun approach to exercise, often with others
• Frequently attracted to exercise with an underlying philosophy or tradition
• Exercise is often spiritual with a mind/body connectedness

ISFP, INFP (Dominant Introverted Feeling)

Dominant introverted feeling types are attracted to exercise that is personally meaningful. When the auxiliary is extraverted sensing, the orientation is toward appreciating and experiencing the details and beauty of the physical environment. When the auxiliary is ex­traverted intuition, the attraction is to the individual experience and the meaning which accompanies it.

Enjoying the Sensing Details of the Environment ISFP

I knew Leonard was an ISFP before we met. His wife, a colleague of mine, invited me to a housewarming party shortly after they moved into their house near a ravine in a rural Vermont town. When I arrived, Leonard was giving a tour of the ravine and the woods nearby. Leonard is an outdoor educator and was skillfully and knowledgeably picking up twigs, leaves, branches, and explaining the details. I talked to Leonard about my work with type and physical exercise and he agreed to be interviewed.

Leonard walks four miles a day. Although he described these walks as mundane, he does them for what he calls “basic maintenance.” He walks during the snow free weather in Vermont. These walks address his sciatica, relax him, and “loosen up all the pressures” of his life. It also keeps him in shape for the more rigorous activities in nature that he really loves.

“I walk four miles every day and it takes one hour and fifteen minutes. I have two walks I do. I alternate walks and reverse the direction which gives me a total of four different walks . I always take binoculars and I identify plants, birds, and animals along the way. I reverse the walks to beat the boredom. When reversed, they are completely different walks and I-see completely different things. Ninety-nine percent of the time I walk alone . It’s more flexible.”

In the summer, Leonard swims at a nearby gorge a swimming hole 35 feet Jong and 10 feet wide. He is careful to go when few people are there and swims 50-100 laps under water. Leonard does not swim in indoor pools because of the chlorine . “I like all exercise outdoors, even in a torrential downpour. Indoors does nothing for me.”

Leonard has been a volunteer for his local division of The Green Mountain Club for over thirty years. He is loyal to his division and refers to it by name before referring to the statewide organization. As a volunteer, he is part a team that maintains the woodland trails. With his team, he digs ditches, clears debris from the trails and throws rocks off the trails.

“Do you ever get lost in the woods?” I asked.

“No problem. I don’t get lost. I don’t worry about it. I carry a compass in the woods and the image of the trails are in my brain. I have contour maps burned in my mind.”

ESFP, ENFP (Auxiliary Introverted Feeling)

Those with auxiliary introverted feeling have a fun loving approach to exercise. They seek variety and a high level of stimulation. They have a strong preference for being outdoors and often enjoy exercising with others. When extraverted sensing is the dominant, the attraction is to action oriented activities that require minimum advance planning. Getting together with others for a game or sport is a great way to be with friends. When extraverted intuition is the dominant, the attraction is to an activity that has personal meaning. Frequently they are attracted to exercise with a mind/body integration that is grounded in a philosophy or tradition.

Personally Meaningful and Fun the ENFP approach

Pat, 55 years old, is tall, handsome and noticeably fit. He is a well-known community leader and president of a large real estate company. Tai chi is the mainstay of Pat’s physical activities. Pat practices tai chi every morning for 30-60 minutes and has been doing so for fifteen years. He always practices outside, even in the middle of a Vermont winter. He has been a neighbor for many years, and it is always a treat when I am driving through the neighborhood at just the right time in the morning to sneak a peak at Pat practicing tai chi on the side lawn.

“Why outside?” I asked Pat.

“When I practice tai chi outside, it is not only exercise, but a meditation. I can’t do it without taking in every conceivable natural piece around me. For 365 days a year, I see the seasons change, I see the same squirrels, I see the blossoms grow into flowers, the leaves come out, then die, and then go through the same process again. I see the rain, I see the sun, I see the darkness, I see the brightness, I see the moon and the sun. I’m totally engaged with everything that is going on around me. And, I’m trying to meditate through it while creating energy.”

While tai chi provides a strong spiritual component in Pat’s life with a beauty and flow of its own, he is active in many other physical activities including astanga yoga, competitive sailing, swimming, water skiing,. tennis, golf, and downhill skiing in the winter.

While this list might seem extensive to many people, to Pat, these activities are fun and as Pat states with a laugh “provide a nice combination in my life.”


This is the fifth and final article in the series on the connection between type and physical exercise. Interviewing individuals during these past few years and writing these articles for the Bulletin has been fascinating. My research in this area has given me a greater appreciation of the MBTI and the contributions this remarkable instrument can make in improving people’s lives.

My intention in doing this research and writing these articles was to learn about the connection between type and physical exercise. I have developed a substantial amount of research that testifies to this connection. Every day in the medical journals and the media we are bombarded with new data that supports the benefits of physical exercise, yet only a fraction of the population gets the minimum recommended daily exercise. It is my hope that the knowledge I am gathering about the connection between type and a sustainable exercise routine will provide valuable information to the non-exercising population and to those who are searching for ways to improve and keep exercise alive in their lives.

I am continuing to collect data as I work on a book on this topic. I would appreciate hearing from those of you reading the Bulletin who regularly exercise. Your story is valuable and will serve to provide a fuller picture of each type. Please contact me at


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Hillman, James.(1971) The Feeling Function. Woodstock, CT: Spring Publications, Inc.

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Thompson, Henry L. (1996) Jung’s Function-Attitudes Explained. Watkinsville, GA: Wormhole Publishing.