Introversion--along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness--is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man's world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we've turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.
Introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling, said Jung, extroverts to the external life of people and activities. Introverts focus on the meaning they make of the events swirling around them; extroverts plunge into the events themselves. Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone; extroverts need to recharge when they don't socialize enough. Introverts may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.
Deliberate Practice is best conducted alone for several reasons. It takes intense concentration, and other people can be distracting. It requires deep motivation, often self-generated. But most important, it involves working on the task that's most challenging to you personally. Only when you're alone, Ericsson told me, can you "go directly to the part that's challenging to you. If you want to improve what you're doing, you have to be the one who generates the move. Excessive stimulation seems to impede learning: a recent study found that people learn better after a quiet stroll through the woods than after a noisy walk down a city street.
Psychologists often discuss the difference between "temperament" and "personality." Temperament refers to inborn, biologically based behavioral and emotional patterns that are observable in infancy and early childhood; personality is the complex brew that emerges after cultural influence and personal experience are thrown into the mix. Some say that temperament is the foundation, and personality is the building. Schwartz's research suggests something important: we can stretch our personalities, but only up to a point. Our inborn temperaments influence us, regardless of the lives we lead. A sizable part of who we are is ordained by our genes, by our brains, by our nervous systems. And yet the elasticity that Schwartz found in some of the high-reactive teens also suggests the converse: we have free will and can use it to shape our personalities.
Once you understand introversion and extroversion as preferences for certain levels of stimulation, you can begin consciously trying to situate yourself in environments favorable to your own personality--neither overstimulating nor understimulating, neither boring nor anxiety-making. 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. Imagine how much better you'll be at this sweet-spot game once you're aware of playing it. You can set up your work, your hobbies, and your social life so that you spend as much time inside your sweet spot as possible.
Dorn has observed that her extroverted clients are more likely to be highly reward-sensitive, while the introverts are more likely to pay attention to warning signals. They're more successful at regulating their feelings of desire or excitement. They protect themselves better from the downside. "My introvert traders are much more able to say, ‘OK, Janice, I do feel these excited emotions coming up in me, but I understand that I can't act on them.' The introverts are much better at making a plan, staying with a plan, being very disciplined."
Introverts and extroverts direct their attention differently: if you leave them to their own devices, the introverts tend to sit around wondering about things, imagining things, recalling events from their past, and making plans for the future. The extroverts are more likely to focus on what's happening around them. It's as if extroverts are seeing "what is" while their introverted peers are asking "what if."
When Should you Act more Extroverted than you Really are?
According to Free Trait Theory, we are born and culturally endowed with certain personality traits--introversion, for example--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, or anything they value highly. Introverts who are especially good at acting like extroverts tend to score high for a trait that psychologists call "self-monitoring." Self-monitors are highly skilled at modifying their behavior to the social demands of a situation. They look for cues to tell them how to act.
Three key steps to identifying your own core personal projects: (1) Think back to what you loved to do when you were a child. (2) Pay attention to the work you gravitate to. (3) Pay attention to what you envy. Jealousy is an ugly emotion, but it tells the truth. You mostly envy those who have what you desire.
"I don't really like being the guest at someone else's party, because then I have to be entertaining. But I'll host parties because it puts you at the center of things without actually being a social person." When he does find himself at other people's parties, Edgar goes to great lengths to play his role. "All through college, and recently even, before I ever went to a dinner or cocktail party, I would have an index card with three to five relevant, amusing anecdotes. I'd come up with them during the day--if something struck me I'd jot it down. Then, at dinner, I'd wait for the right opening and launch in.
Some psychological tricks for feeling calm and secure during intimidating situations: Look confident even if you're not feeling it. Three simple reminders go a long way: smile, stand up straight, and make eye contact. Pay attention to how your face and body arrange themselves when you're feeling genuinely confident, and adopt those same positions when it comes time to fake it. Studies show that taking simple physical steps--like smiling--makes us feel stronger and happier, while frowning makes us feel worse. Look for friendly faces in a crowd.
A Free Trait Agreement acknowledges that we'll each act out of character some of the time--in exchange for being ourselves the rest of the time. The person with whom you can best strike a Free Trait Agreement--after overcoming his or her resistance--is yourself. For example, you make an agreement with yourself that you will push yourself to go to social events, because only in this way can you hope to meet a mate and reduce the number of gatherings you attend over the long term. But while you pursue this goal, you will attend only as many events as you can comfortably stand. You decide in advance what that amount is--once a week, once a month, once a quarter. And once you've met your quota, you've earned the right to stay home without feeling guilty.
How to Talk to Members of the Opposite Type
Introverts like people they meet in friendly contexts; extroverts prefer those they compete with.
The catharsis hypothesis is a myth--a plausible one, an elegant one, but a myth nonetheless. Scores of studies have shown that venting doesn't soothe anger; it fuels it. We're best off when we don't allow ourselves to go to our angry place.
Introverts and extroverts sometimes feel mutually put off, but Thorne's research suggests how much each has to offer the other. Extroverts need to know that introverts--who often seem to disdain the superficial--may be only too happy to be tugged along to a more lighthearted place; and introverts, who sometimes feel as if their propensity for problem talk makes them a drag, should know that they make it safe for others to get serious.
Love is essential; gregariousness is optional. Cherish your nearest and dearest. Work with colleagues you like and respect. Scan new acquaintances for those who might fall into the former categories or whose company you enjoy for its own sake. And don't worry about socializing with everyone else. Relationships make everyone happier, introverts included, but think quality over quantity.
Figure out what you are meant to contribute to the world and make sure you contribute it. If this requires public speaking or networking or other activities that make you uncomfortable, do them anyway. But accept that they're difficult, get the training you need to make them easier, and reward yourself when you're done.
Carve out restorative niches.
Respect your loved ones' need for socializing and your own for solitude.
Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you're supposed to. Read. Cook. Run. Write a story. Make a deal with yourself that you'll attend a set number of social events in exchange for not feeling guilty when you beg off.