An introvert is someone who is naturally more inclined to focus on the inner or subjective aspect of reality than the outer or objective one.
Everyone is a bit introverted, but for around half of us, an introverted cognitive process (we’ll get to it) is dominant.
It’s been suggested that introverts have a harder time being happy, but I’m not so sure. The research on it is scanty, and happiness is hard to measure.
What’s difficult to deny is that the world is designed more for extroverts. This means that as an introvert, you probably need to take care to ensure that you are managing your energy effectively and organizing your life around your needs and strengths.
This post offers some self-care advice for introverts. Even if you are an extrovert (like me), you might find it interesting if you enjoy understanding people, especially those with a different orientation to you.
Obviously, no two introverts are the same just as no two extroverts are the same. So everything with a grain of salt, as usual…
Is the introvert/extrovert dichotomy still even a thing?
We’re all ‘ambiverts’ – a mixture of extrovert and introvert.
Or – technically speaking – we all use four of a total of eight cognitive processes observed in humans (from Jungian psychology) and those four consist of two introverted and two extroverted processes.
The four introverted processes:
- Introverted thinking
- Introverted intuition
- Introverted feeling
- Introverted sensing
However, for around half of us, an introverted process – whether its thinking, feeling, sensing or intuiting – is the very first cognitive process we meet life with. (To know which cognitive processes you use and in which order, read this).
And so yes: the introvert/extrovert dichotomy is still very much a thing.
Check that you are, in fact, an introvert
A lot of us mistype ourselves because we judge our introversion or extroversion on a poor or incomplete understanding of the terms. And then we end up feeling crappy about how we are spending the time and not knowing why.
There isn’t a blood bio-marker of introversion, but by paying attention, you really should be able to figure it out.
One effective way to know whether you are an extrovert or an introvert is to do a Myers Briggs assessment.
Here are a few traits and characteristics associated with the introverted process:
- Primary source of life energy derived from introspective processes – ‘does this make sense to me? How does this feel to me?’
- Having exhaustive supplies of social interactive energy. Usually require downtime to recharge when depleted.
- Come to conclusions through reflection. Conclusions are experienced as factual reality, as self-evident.
- May have difficulty accessing words required to adequately express what they are thinking or feeling.
- Interruptions may disrupt their connection to what they are thinking, feeling, or saying.
- Less aware of impact on others.
Here is a profile of an introvert (it’s from Introvert Dear, which is a great site for introverts):
Profile of an introvert:
“When I was in high school, I remember many days of trying to get out of my head. I was happier inside my mind, and every time I talked to people I felt a little drain of energy. My adrenaline spiked and my heart raced. I thought there was something wrong with me, so I forced myself to talk in class every day.”
Again, remind yourself that none of us are 100% introverted. That would make the person completely incapable of perceiving or interacting with the outside world and with other people. In a similar way, a 100% extroverted person would be psychotic.
Understand the value of the information
Knowing your introversion/extroversion inclination is important from a health and wellbeing perspective. It will help you to manage your mood, energy and life.
Author of the introvert bible Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain says “Once you understand introversion and extroversion as preferences for certain levels of stimulation, you can begin to situate yourself in environments favorable to your personality. You can organize your life in terms of what personality psychologists call ‘optimal levels of arousal’ and what I call ‘sweet spots’ and by doing so feel more energetic and alive than before.”
‘Emotional labour’ – the term for the effort we make to control and change our emotions – is associated with stress, burnout, and physical symptoms like an increase in cardiovascular disease. Acting out of character for prolonged periods may also compromise immune functioning.
Basically if you’re an introvert, it is kind of important that your lifestyle reflects that.
How to become a happier introvert
Onto the tips.
1. Focus on self-acceptance
The most important thing to do if you’re an introvert is to embrace the way you are.
As with intuitive learners, it is easier for introverted people to become alienated from their own nature because of the extrovert bias in the culture.
You’ll have likely experienced a pressure to be a certain way, and judged yourself for not enjoying the same things as others or to the same degree. You may have even developed some social anxiety and depression due to a desire to conform and/or lack of self-acceptance.
So to become a happier introvert, you have to stop struggling against who you are.
Here is how self-acceptance does not look:
- Punishing yourself for being socially awkward.
- Forcing yourself to be extroverted.
- Feeling guilty about preferring alone time.
- Living in fear of judgment.
Things that help you to fly your introvert flag:
- Learning more about what it means to be introverted (I really recommend that you read Susan Cain’s book as well as listen/watch her Ted Talk).
- Describing yourself as an introvert.
- Having introverted friends.
2. Think quality over quantity with your relationships
Close friends with whom you can have meaningful conversation are high prize for an introvert. Those who understand you will not drain your resources in the same way that random social interaction can.
Knowing that you’re an introvert might help you to make peace with the fact that you really do not tolerate small talk that well. This applies to certain extroverts too, but for introverts, it is likely to be true.
If you are thinking in deep and complex ways, then talking about the weather is annoying and trivial when you could be discussing values or morality. Introverts are often more than happy to small talk with people, but only once they feel accepted for the deeper ways they think.
3. Develop your natural strengths
I am not suggesting that you become defined by your introversion in totality, as I think it’s useful for us all to develop in the opposite direction to the natural one.
That said, playing to your natural strengths at work and in life is just smart. It is putting yourself in the best light.
Seek to have your work and life draw on your (quieter) strengths. Studies have shown that the majority of introverts tend to be more focused than the majority of extroverts. They’re also great listeners, and often effective managers at work, too. Things like persistence, concentration, insight and sensitivity are also associated with this preference.
Introverts tend to think more carefully, whereas extroverts are more likely to take a bit of a slap dash approach to problem solving. Extroverts can wind up exchanging accuracy for speed, making mistakes and abandoning ship when the problem seems to difficult or frustrating (I relate heavily to this).
Introvert role model: Steve Woniak
In his book ‘iWoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It‘, Computer Engineer and Programmer Steve Woniak said:
“I acquired a central ability that was to help me through my entire career: patience. I’m serious. Patience is usually so underrated. I mean, for all those projects from third grade all the way to eighth grade, I just learned things gradually, figuring out how to put electronic devices together without so much as cracking a book…I learned to not worry so much about the outcome, but to concentrate on the step I was on and to try to do it as perfectly as I could when I was doing it.”
As an extrovert, what Woz says makes me feel very jealous. I don’t want to talk too down on extroverts, but we are shackled in certain ways that introverts are not.
For example, studies show that extroverts are characterized by their tendency to seek rewards – everything from sexual highs to status.
As an introvert, you might be a lot less at the mercy of that.
So use that.
4. Have extroverted friends
I wouldn’t be without my introverted friends. They have taken my hand and guided me to analyse my emotions and experiences. Plus I love the way they nurture and value our friendships.
In turn, extroverts can help introverts to have fun and interact with life.
You’ll know this already if you are an introvert, but being caught up in your own thoughts and preoccupations is unhelpful after a certain point.
For the sake of balance and sanity, every introvert needs to befriend at least one extrovert. They will help you to stop taking things so seriously. They will also get you out of your head because they can’t stop themselves from sharing what goes on in their life. This can help an introvert to open up.
5. Make use of free trait agreements and carve out restorative niches
These are simple mental models to manage your time and energy better. Look at your day and see which elements require you to be extroverted, and plan accordingly.
‘Free trait theory’ states that we are born with certain personality traits (including introversion), but we can and do act out of character in the service of ‘core personal projects’. In other words, introverts are capable of acting like extroverts for the sake of work they consider important, people they love and anything that they value highly. You may be doing this already.
If you are, then you’ll want a ‘free trait agreement’ with yourself. Such agreements acknowledge that we’ll each act out of character some of the time in exchange for being ourselves the rest of the time.
Your ‘restorative niche’ is the place you go to when you want to return to your true self. It can be a physical space such as a quiet lunch alone, or a mental one such as meditation. Make provisions for your restorative niches in advance.
6. Have a set of ways that you communicate your personality needs to others
Many introverts generate considerable anxiety for themselves by not feeling able to communicate their needs and desires for quiet time.
People need to hear you loud and clear when it comes to your boundaries. The more you make a habit out of expressing yourself, the easier it gets.
One particular problematic scenario arises in new group settings, where introverts tend to be quiet and can inadvertently wind up giving off the wrong impression.
Elaine Aron talks about this in her book ‘The Highly Sensitive Person’. She says that if we remain silent in a new group, other people can be left wondering if we are judging them. As a defence mechanism, the group might reject us before we have a chance to reject them.
So, in a new group, it becomes important for introverts to communicate what they are thinking, even if it is just to say that they are happy to listen and will speak up when they have something to say.
Recognizing yourself as an introvert and embracing that is a vital piece of the self-awareness puzzle.
To recap, here are some important self-care aspects for introverts:
- Accept yourself – learn about what it means to be this way inclined.
- Ensure you have a community of people that understand you.
- Focus on your strengths.
- Have extroverted friends help you get out of your head.
- Use free trait agreements and restorative niches in your day.
- Have set ways of communicating your needs to other people (especially new people).