Improve Your Decision-Making: Use the Zig-Zag Model

High school and college students are faced with many decisions, ranging from which course to take, to how to spend your summer, to what college to attend. As such, honing your decision making skills is extremely beneficial. According to the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator), the world’s leading personality assessment tool, our personalities influence our approach to solving problems and making decisions. By utilizing this powerful tool to understand your natural preferences, you can identify ways to broaden your approach, and make better, more informed decisions.

How Do You Process Information?

The MBTI posits that we are each born with a natural preference for how we process information and for the kind of information that we trust. The two different preferences are:

  • Sensing: take in information in a literal, exact way; rely on facts, data, and details that can be proven through our senses.
  • Intuition: take in information in an innovative, gestalt manner; use patterns and meanings to interpret the information we receive.
As an example, let’s consider how students with different preferences might approach an assignment to analyze a work of literature. Sarah has a Sensing preference: she likes to gather all the plot details and facts about characters, and makes sure she has a good grasp of all these details. On the other hand, Brian has an Intuitive preference: he prefers to interpret why characters act the way they do, look for patterns in the plot, and construct an overall meaning of the story.

How Do You Make Decisions?

We also have natural preferences for how we respond to the information we have gathered. The different approaches are:

  • Thinking: use objective, logical criteria to evaluate information and make decisions.
  • Feeling: use subjective, values-based criteria to make decisions, with priority placed on consensus and harmony.
Let’s say you are a high school student evaluating which college to apply to. Zach has a preference for Thinking: he likes to construct a pro/con list of all the features of the colleges he visits, and spends hours viewing online sources of how students rate colleges. Rachel prefers a Feeling approach: she relies more on a gut reaction to how she feels on campus, and likes to chat with students on her visits to find out what they enjoy and don’t enjoy about the college.

Heart of Type

These two preference scales – for processing information (either through Sensing or Intuition), and for making decisions (either through Thinking or Feeling) – form the “heart of type,” in MBTI theory, also known as the “function pairs.” Each of the four combinations has a distinct approach to life and work that impact decision-making. First, let’s look at the overall approach of each function pair:

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Now, let’s look at how each function pair approaches decisions:


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Source: Introduction to Type and Decision Making, by Katherine W. Hirsh and Elizabeth Hirsh, CPP, Inc.

Blind Spots

Our function pairs represent our two preferred mental processing functions, which operate on the conscious level. The non-preferred functions exist at a sub-conscious level, and may result in blind spots. In the example below, the individual has an “ST” heart-of-type, which combines preferences for Sensing as a way to process information and Thinking as a way to make decisions. As a result, this person may not give enough time to the steps of Intuition and Feeling, or may even ignore these considerations.


Let’s say you are a high school senior writing your college essays. Even this activity involves decisions! You need to decide on your topic, your tone, and the content and structure of your essay.

As an example, Alex was an ST student (Sensing-Thinking) who loved chemistry research, and in his spare time became a national scrabble champion. When we brainstormed personal essay topics, we decided that scrabble would be an unusual topic with strong personal meaning. His first draft took the form of a factual listing of tricks he used to create words. His non-preferred functions were Intuition and Feeling, and these served as blind spots. I encouraged him to incorporate Intuition by exploring patterns in his tricks, and discussing how he applied the use of patterns to activities outside of scrabble, such as research. I also suggested that he “warm up” the essay with more Feeling, by discussing his emotions when he reached his goals.

The Zig-Zag Model for Decision-Making


The Zig-Zag process model posits that the most effective way to solve problems is to utilize all four of the MBTI function preferences of Sensing, Intuition, Thinking, and Feeling, in the sequence below.

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In order to thoroughly consider each of these four functions, the following steps are suggested:


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Source: Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, 2009, published by CPP, Inc.

The first step in problem solving is to use Sensing to identify the facts, or raw data. But this is not sufficient, as we need to examine the meaning of the data, place it within the context of prior experience, and explore create ways of viewing the problem, by using Intuition. Now we use a Thinking judgment to analyze the consequences of the various options we have generated. Finally, we apply our Feeling judgment to consider the effects of each option, and incorporate the values of people involved.

If, at the end of this process, we are not satisfied with the human consequences of our options, then we start the cycle again with the Sensing function. We may take a fresh look at our data, or even gather additional data; and then proceed through the functions of Intuition, Thinking, and Feeling.

In a college situation, let’s take the example of Alice, who is having difficulties with her roommate Emily. Alice has ST preferences of Sensing and Thinking. As a result, her approach to solving the problem is to list all of the issues, devise solutions to each, and present the solutions matter-of-factly. She may miss the critical steps of Intuition, such as considering a variety of ways to handle the difficulties, and Feeling, which would involve reflecting on how such a conversation may impact Emily, and trying to reach consensus and preserve harmony.

Emily, on the other hand, has the opposite preferences of Intuition and Feeling. Emily’s personality style prefers hearing the positives first and trying to preserve harmony (Feeling). She also prefers to view separate incidents within a pattern of behavior, and would appreciate the opportunity to brainstorm a variety of alternatives to solve the problem, while keeping in mind future consequences (Intuition).

As a result, Alice and Emily have a total mismatch of communication. Understanding personality theory and valuing differences would help both Alice and Emily interpret each other and communicate in a more effective way.


What can you do to improve your decision-making and problem-solving?

The first step is always self-knowledge. You can take an online assessment of the MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and work with a Certified Practitioner to verify your innate personality type and preferences. This process will help you become more aware of your strengths and blind spots. As a result, you can try to incorporate less-preferred functions so that your process involves all four steps of Sensing, Intuition, Thinking, and Feeling. It’s often helpful to seek input from people who have preferences that are different from yours, in order to expand your repertoire and make sure that you are looking at situations from all angles.

We believe that self-awareness is empowering at every stage of your life’s journey. If you need any further guidance, don’t hesitate to contact Collegiate Gateway – as always, we’re happy to help!

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