Sensing vs. Intuition: What’s the Difference?

If you’ve ever taken a personality test, you’ve probably encountered the terms “Sensing” and “Intuition” or “Intuitive.” These terms were first described by Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist who developed analytical psychology.

Essentially, these Sensing and Intuition types lie on the ends of a continuum that determines how we take in and process information.

At one end, Sensing represents the tendency to look at the world in tangible ways, through the 5 senses of sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell. People who are Sensing types tend to live in the present, “here and now.” They focus on concrete things and definite facts. Sensing types also tend to be very practical and quick in their judgment.

As one psychologist, Dr. Sheedy, put it:

A Sensor loves sensory stimulation.  They enjoy activities that are sensory-rich in the way they stimulate the body.  They love going to movies – preferably those packed with action and sound.  They seek sensory experiences.  They are more reactive and less contemplative.

People on the Intuitive side tend to rely on their intuition or higher cognitive functions to draw an understanding of the information their brain receives. Intuitive types prefer to look at the “big picture,” are future oriented, and are more comfortable discussing ideas and concepts rather than concrete facts and details. Their minds process the theoretical better than the practical. They also tend to be more contemplative and slower to draw their final conclusions.

Dr. Sheedy describes Intuitive types as “spending a lot of time in their heads.” He notes:

An Intuitive is good at putting ideas together in a structure.  This is one of the highest levels of left/right brain synergy.  The left brain is great at knowing facts and coming to deductions about them. But, it is an additional skill to be able to combine the facts in a meaningful way to support or create larger concepts that need the right brain architecture.

Whether one is more Intuitive or more Sensing is hard-wired in the brain. It is not something that can be changed, although one can certainly work on any faults associated with their perception type.

So why does this matter in sports?

It is important for players and coaches to understand and work with one another’s personality types.

Here are some common judgments passed by Sensors about Intuitives:

  • “Unrealistic and impractical”
  • “Overly complicated”
  • “Too quiet”
  • “Always lost in thought”

Here are some ways that Intuitives might see Sensors:

  • “Lacks imagination”
  • “Uncreative”
  • “Too short-sighted”
  • “Bogged down in details”
  • “Impulsive”

For the team to work together effectively, everyone must be able to work with sometimes polar opposite approaches. These approaches can actually work together incredibly harmoniously. For instance, Intuitives are great at seeing the bigger picture when solving a problem, and the Sensors are better at coming up with the specifics of the plan. Each approach has a valuable role in a team environment.

In fact, a team full of only one perception type will likely not be as effective as a team that has a good balance of both.

This is discussed in Appreciative Team Building, a book by Jay Cherney, Ph.D., an esteemed psychologist with over 25 years’ experience.

Winning teams learn how to optimize the strengths of intuition and sensing, providing people freedom to dive into the chaos and forge ahead without a clear blueprint, all the while returning to the solid ground of clear-headed, grounded, actionable tactics. Encouragement and leveraging of these strengths unleashes a kind of sensible magic that fuels team progress.

What Am I? And What Are My Teammates or Players?

You don’t have to take a lengthy personality test to know whether you’re a Sensing type or an Intuition type. In fact, just by reading the descriptions above, you likely already know where you fall. But remember, these terms describe the ends of a spectrum. You could easily fall anywhere in the middle, with some traits from each side.

To see where your teammates or players fall on the spectrum, try this fun experiment developed by Ann Holm. This exercise uses the famous painting by C.M. Coolidge entitled Dogs Playing Poker.

After studying the painting for 60 seconds, everyone must look away and write down what they saw in the picture.

Those that are Sensing types will tend to write down details. They’ll remember the color of the dogs, what each one was doing, maybe even a guess of the breeds. They’ll note the subject matter of the painting in the background, the color of the walls, and the time on the clock.

Intuitive types will tend to write something completely different. Here’s one example from Ann Holm’s experiment:

The dogs are playing poker.  One of them is cheating.  Maybe they are going to share the winnings after the game.  I wonder if their wives approve of them gambling and staying out all night?  Do they do this every Saturday night and leave them at home?  I wouldn’t stand for that.

After explaining the descriptions of the Sensing and Intuitive types, have the players decide where they fall on the spectrum and share their self-analysis with the rest of the team. When the players know how others perceive the world, they’ll be able to work together much more effectively.



Hi, I'm Zayn. I am a personal trainer and blogger living in Miami, Florida. Welcome to my blog! Zaynez follows my life and my interests in sports, fitness and healthy living.

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