What is an “introvert?”
We use the term all of the time during idle chit-chat and rants on pop psychology – but what does the word really mean? Many might consider it a synonym for “shyness,” but that isn’t how the term was originally used in Carl Jung’s Psychological Types in 1921.
Shyness is a lack of social interaction based on a fear or insecurity; introversion is a preference, and introverts aren’t necessarily afraid or insecure around people.
- A healthy introvert doesn’t mind social interactions. In fact, they can often love them. However, they can also find them mentally exhausting, and thus they rejuvenate themselves through alone time by playing guitar, writing, designing, swimming, or whatever they enjoy doing.
- They are often independent thinkers, problem-solvers, and creative types who work best when alone. To them, having other people around is not only overwhelming, but it can be a major distraction.
- Being introverted doesn’t mean you don’t have friends. Many introverts in fact have tons of friends, sometimes even more than extroverts. The difference is they like their friends in small doses.
- Being introverted doesn’t mean you have to suck around people. Plenty of introverts are fantastic social butterflies. For example, President Obama has shown signs of introversion and he is arguably one of the best speakers in modern American politics (teleprompter or not).
You may be surprised to see what celebrities have been identified as “introverted” based on the Myers-Briggs personality test: Adam Sandler, Anthony Kiedis, Kevin Costner, Jessica Biel among many others…
Things to remember:
- Introversion-Extroversion are two sides of the same spectrum. To be high on one end is to be low on the other, but we all have some of both. Technically speaking, there are no such thing as “introverts,” only individuals with different mixtures of introversion and extroversion
- Introversion is engagement with our internal world. Extroversion is engagement with our external world. Neither are solely good nor bad, they are both capacities that must be exercised and balanced.
- Both introversion and extroversion can manifest themselves in negative ways.
When introversion goes wrong
There is nothing inherit to introversion that leads people to shyness, anxiety, fear, insecurities, or narcissism. Nonetheless these things can happen.
When introversion goes wrong we tend to get stuck in our heads. Our self-talk doesn’t know when to shut up and we can’t pay full attention to the people we are with. Someone might be sharing a personal story, but we are too busy chatting to ourselves in our heads. This is a bad way to connect.
When our self-talk doesn’t shut up, people can see that we aren’t fully engaged in the conversation. They may think we don’t like them or find them boring, even if this isn’t true. Thus individuals begin to reciprocate that same dull or negative energy back toward us.
Before we know it, we begin to send off an unconscious aura of negativity. It manifest itself through our body language, our tone of voice, the words we use, and the way we choose our actions. We might even begin to disdain others by thinking they are all stupid or evil. At its extreme, we may find ourselves loathing everyone and wanting nothing to do with anyone.
It can happen. Even the healthiest of individuals sometimes go through this phase. The difference is healthy people learn from it, while unhealthy people bask in its misery. You can’t get out of it without making some serious changes in your attitude and actions.
Your mind is your friend, spend quality time with it
This may sound like poor advice coming from a guide that wants you to think less, not more – but if your mind is sending off a warning signal maybe you should take the time to find out what it is trying to say.
Give your mind a chance to speak by allotting time throughout the day to meditate, write, or be creative.
You can’t suppress your thoughts and emotions forever. It is like poop, eventually it needs to come out.
The problem is many people don’t have a healthy avenue to express their feelings. They try to hold it all in, only to be surprised when they bubble to the surface in unhelpful situations.
Consider adding one of these to your daily routine:
- Writing or blogging
- Playing a music instrument
- Making short films
These are all healthy ways to exercise and express your thoughts and feelings.
Overcoming the potential pitfalls of introversion is not about suppressing thoughts and feelings, or trying to become something you are not. It’s about learning how to use your introverted tendencies in productive and creative ways NOW so that they don’t become distractions and hindrances LATER.
The importance of physical exercise and getting back into our bodies
Allowing ourselves to be thoughtful and creative isn’t always enough. We also need to step outside of our minds and into our bodies.
If we aren’t doing it already, then we need to get up off our butts and exercise. Physical health is one of the most underrated aspects of mental health. We hear about its benefits all of the time but we never do anything about it.
However, for the record, exercise can increase stamina and alertness, help reduce anxiety, and also prevent against mental aging (among the more obvious physical benefits). It can also help give our analytical mind some time off.
Aerobic exercises are often the easiest workouts to jump right into. They get blood flowing throughout the whole body, which is exhausting, but it prevents our brains from having any leftover energy for over-thinking and over-analyzing
Consider one of the following aerobic exercises:
Many introverts often think and worry a lot because they don’t feel comfortable in their own skin. Not only are these exercises great ways to release pent up energy, they can also help build confidence and self-esteem.
For increased effect, also try doing strength-building activities like pushups, weight-lifting, and playing sports like football, baseball, basketball, rock-climbing, martial arts, and gymnastics.
How will this translate into my social life?
Many of the above suggestions don’t just work for introverts, they work for everyone. They are part of what it means to be a well-balanced individual both physically and mentally. When we take part in these kinds of activities we will feel better because of it, and we will develop new and fulfilling passions.
Having a wide array of interests will also give us more food for conversation and social interaction. We can discover like-minded people, share thoughts about our hobbies, and schedule get-togethers where we can have fun with others doing what we love.
These are real ways to make use of what we have and make ourselves better people. We may still prefer others in small doses, but we will be more confident and comfortable during social interactions, because we are more confident and comfortable with ourselves.
Ultimately this is about self-discovery and self-improvement. I cannot give you a blueprint for how to do it step-by-step, but I can offer some road signs to help guide you along the way.
Please take these principles and suggestions to heart, from one introvert to another. Dedicate the time, motivate yourself to make some changes, and experiment to find out what works best for you.
What you shouldn’t do is think of your introversion as a disease or illness to be eradicated. It is only something that needs to be exercised in a healthy way.
Discover more tools to daily growth in the digital guide The Science of Self Improvement