Introverts can fix themselves and become Extroverts

Introvert_vs_Extrovert_by_brianop87This is the second in a weekly series debunking myths about introverts.  (See last week’s post.)  The basis of the 10 week series is the article written by Carl King.  I will show his thinking, add mine and then encourage all of you to contribute your thoughts on the subject.

Don’t know if you’re an introvert or an extrovert?  Take Susan Cain’s quiz.

Myth #10 – Introverts can fix themselves and become Extroverts.

Carl:  A world without Introverts would be a world with few scientists, musicians, artists, poets, filmmakers, doctors, mathematicians, writers, and philosophers. That being said, there are still plenty of techniques an Extrovert can learn in order to interact with Introverts. (Yes, I reversed these two terms on purpose to show you how biased our society is.) Introverts cannot “fix themselves” and deserve respect for their natural temperament and contributions to the human race. In fact, one study (Silverman, 1986) showed that the percentage of Introverts increases with IQ.

Chris:  First of all, none of us are entirely introverted or extroverted.  To be so would probably make you a sociopath.  It’s a continuum, and we move along it, back and forth, depending on circumstances, but prefer one special spot on the pendulum arc that is our favorite place to live.  I hang way over on the introvert side most of the time but can pull out my inner extrovert when necessary.

Can we do something magical and switch sides?  Not really.  It’s not impossible, but highly unlikely.  Scientists have found that the brains of introverts are wired differently from those of extroverts.  People who have had a stroke or traumatic brain injuries have been able to rewire their brains.  It’s just not a simple thing to do.

innie-outie-brains

Marti Laney, in her excellent book The Introvert Advantage: Making the Most of Your Inner Strengths, explains it for the non-scientist, so I will direct you to her for the neurophysiology of it all, if you are interested.  Introverts and extroverts have different lengths of processing pathways and use different neuro chemicals.  But don’t think Marti’s book is just filled with science.  It’s one of the best books on introverts I have in my library.

I’ve just spent three weeks training two colleagues from India.  They are delightful people and I had a great time getting to know them, but it did mean being at my extrovert best to create and cement the relationships before they left Portland, Oregon.

I normally work out of my home office, which is wonderful for an introvert.  I am infinitely more effective without the distractions of being in a huge space crammed full of cubicles and hundreds of people.  I can think without all the noise that would otherwise go on around me.  Meetings are done by conference calls.  Those can be tiring as you must then listen harder to pick up on nuances that you don’t get visually, but I like it.  I’m more in control of my environment and time.  I can take power naps at lunch, for example.  Or I can sit in a meeting with my glasses off and my eyes shut, which helps me focus on what is being said while shutting out other distractions and resting part of my brain.

One of the best things about being with people from half way around the globe is that you can do small talk effortlessly.  We talked about customs, food, weather, and the differences between the US and India.  We never ran out of conversation and it was fascinating.

But for all of that, for all the fun of it, it was draining.  Introverts really are wired differently.  I think that biggest thing about being an introvert, or at least in my introverted self, is that I come back from any new encounter with so much information to process.  I always replay what happened, who said what, how they looked or sounded, what we covered.  That much replay can be exhausting, but that’s me.  That’s part of why I’m so successful, though, because I can respond quickly to questions.  I’ve stored a lot of data away very neatly and can retrieve it.

Going into any situation, I do the same thing.  I rehearse, over and over again.  I think I’ve done a great job in my lifetime of figuring out how to use the talents of being an introvert.

But can I just train myself to not expend energy, or, better yet, to recharge by being with people and being on show?  I haven’t been able to do it yet.

Which brings me to the most important point.. instead of trying to be like the rest of the extroverted world, why not just learn about your self, your very valuable introverted self, and find out what talents you can use in life?  I guarantee it’s a lot easier than trying to become an extrovert.  Be the best at being you, then take that to the world.  We’ll be exploring the idea of introvert strengths and talents together, if you’ll keep coming back to visit.

And now for a little laugh at myself.  Don’t you love it when you read about yourself in someone’s book or blog?  I’m thoroughly enjoying Beth Buelow’s Insight: Reflections on the Gifts of Being an Introvert.  In chapter 10 she lists “7.5 Reasons I’m Grateful to be an Introvert”.   Her very first reason is:

Depth of Curiosity:  I have an intense need to know. This need ranges from the superficial (I had to literally sit on my hands while watching a movie last week, holding myself back from running to IMDb for info) to the profound (shadow work and leadership). Bonus: being curious makes me better at annoying small talk.

When we watch TV, I always have my iPad beside me.  I like to play Suduko or do virtual jigsaw puzzles on it.  I am always annoying Cee by grabbing it and looking something up on IMDb.com, the International Movie Database, or googling something that triggered a question in my head.  Who else wants to admit to the same thing?

So let’s start celebrating who we are.  Let’s reveal our strengths, which are many.   The world needs a lot more self-assured introverts, so please chime in below.

Virtual hugs to all of you.

NancyLevin

55 thoughts on “Introverts can fix themselves and become Extroverts

  1. “Fix themselves”?! That was a provocative summation and headline. Only sanctimonious extroverts would come up with that one. There’s nothing to be “fixed”. I am an introvert (as scored for two decades now on MBTI and Keirsey Temperament Sorter and any other of these fun things I’ve taken), and I empathise deeply with what you’ve written. Who cares where anyone draws his or her energy from, as long as he or she is content with his or her social life? I don’t like stereotypes, and I think the idea of introverts conjuring up a particular image– shy, retiring, staring at shoelaces, etc.– is lazy and simplistic. I know introverts who are doing a lot of good in the world by applying their energy to what they believe in or are good at. I know extroverts who are a pain in the ass and don’t know how to listen to anything but the sound of their own voices. And vice versa on both counts.

    • Exactly my point, although I think you may have made it better than I did. I fussed over this post and never did get it to be what I wanted.

      There’s nothing to be fixed, so get over it all you extroverts!

      • 🙂 *thumbs up* You made the point perfectly, I think. I was just adding pompoms. I empathise. I have posts like that too, but I’ve stopped worrying too much about how they will be received. 🙂 “Fix”, indeed! *snorts in indignation* 😀

  2. Jac Carlos wrote a great post today about how he has reinvented himself by learning to accept and work with his introverted strengths, and through compassion and understanding. Here are a few nuggets of wisdom, but please go read his blog for yourself:

    “I’ve accepted my introversion and chose to develop it because you cannot completely change yourself. I do believe however, that we are constantly reinventing ourselves as we take little pieces from our experiences, people we meet, places we go, things we see, read, feel and sense – everything that surrounds us constructively.”

    “Take the time to really get to know someone and you might just find out a thing or two, not just about that person, but truths about yourself as well.”

    http://jaccarlos.wordpress.com/2014/02/09/reinvention/

    • Thanks so much for sharing my blog. My main goal in writing that article was to help break the negative connotations people have on introverts and of course to inspire and motivate other fellow introverts to find their inner extrovert. It’s all about balance and staying true to yourself in the process of reinvention.

      I found comfort and appreciation in reading your blog about introverts. Thanks for helping me understand myself more as an introvert. I look forward to more blogs like this!

  3. The universe is bringing everyone together on this one today! Great post. I too reacted with an “ouch!” around being fixed! Thank you Chris for your explorations. 🙂

  4. Great post, Chris, I enjoyed this. I did Susan Cain’s quiz, thought I might end up slap bang in the middle, but no, I am more weighted towards the Introvert. I never realised the intense ‘need to know’ was an introvert thing, but that’s me…used to annoy colleagues and managers in the past, when I would want to know the Why, the rationale for something before I would set to it! I sometimes used to defend this by saying that I might spot a flaw before before actually setting to the task needlessly (not popular!)

  5. I am loving your blog – it is helping me to not feel like I “should” be doing things, like go out on a Saturday night. I was so much happier last night watching the Olympics and starting some of my dissertation research but felt guilty for canceling the plans I didn’t really want to do in the first place. I really need to stop making those plans and be okay with what makes me happy and recharges me!

    • I think we all probably need to find a way to tell our friends that we need a little introvert time and not to take it personally. I just haven’t found an easy way to do that yet.

  6. Awesome blog and post! I was an introvert most of my life, and 20 years ago I came out of my shell and now an extrovert! Life is so much better and having loads of FUN!

  7. Another great post and more to think about. I told my boss about the book to give her an idea of what I deal with, we’ll see what happens next!

    • That’s the next thing I have to research, introverts at work. I’m reading some great stuff, including the fact that introverts make some of the best CEOs. So watch for more on that topic.

  8. i love being an introvert! i’m also a highly sensitive person & an empath (i have recently learned these terms & feel a bit like a dork using them) but i am basically a perfect storm of emotion. i love this about me. i love that everything makes me cry & that i can feel other people’s pain so clearly. i love that i hurt to the bone & that i see things that other people miss (i also miss things that other people see!) all of this makes me who i am & helps with my art & writing as well as my mothering.

  9. Yep, I do that too.. googling or IMDBing while watching tv/movies. I am quite curious in general, and my husband thinks it’s because I am Hispanic, and apparently we are “nosey”. I always tell him that I’m just curious, but I never thought it was an introvert’s characteristic. So maybe it’s from being Hispanic or from being an introvert… probably a combination of the two. 🙂

  10. A subject near and dear to my heart. And some of us sensitive introverts look like extroverts because we choose to get involved with social justice. What people don’t notice is how much energy it takes to this and then how much quiet time is needed to recharge, decompress & contemplate. And I agree. Where would we be without the deep curiosity of us introverts? It would be a great loss to the world if we abandoned our strengths.

    • I have to say how sorry I am to read about Rosie. I also extend a virtual hug for living with Lyme Disease. We have lived with a chronic Lyme disease in our household for all too many years. My better half, Cee, is recovering from it after many years of pain and hardship. My heart goes out to you.

      Thank you for chiming in on a slightly different angle. You are right about introverts also being great humanitarians. I think we need to start a list of famous introverts.

      • Thank you for your kind words about the loss of our girl Rosie and empathy for living with Lyme. I’m so glad to hear that Cee continues to recover. I had come across her blog many months back and I remember she was hit really hard.

  11. First off, I really like the blue wall/windows shot…really nice! I’m an introvert most of the time..would like to live in a small house in a deep woods. I think. Yet I enjoy the blogging community, I guess because I can control how much of it interferes with my life. I’m no good at parties, only partly good at relationships at all…but I don’t seem to really mind any of that. Maybe because I’ve grown older and none of it is all that important to me…maybe. Still this was interesting…to find out I couldn’t change it if I wanted to. Which I don’t. 🙂

  12. Hey, Virtual Hug back 🙂 Yes, ‘Curiosity’ – I am so darn curious, I have questions popping in my head all the time too! I prefer to ask someone, but hey, no-one knows everything, right? So I ought to Google a bit more.

    I get it now – we go in and out of intro and extro depending on what’s happening- I agree with that as I do it. Sometimes, for ages, I am stuck in one or other of the modes. When things are emotionally difficult, I am in intro mode completely. Feeling more up, I am in a balance of the two. Yeah, I’m getting it.

    Society needs a mix and I’m glad the different jobs were pointed out. Heck, I even saw a documentary about Psychopaths (or rather those with Psychopathic traits) that society needs them too; like a Corporate Businessman or Stock Broker. There’s a place for all of us it looks like.

    I do wonder what the ratio of Introverts to Extroverts might be. It’s something to ponder on if you think about it!

    Great read again Chris, Thanks! 🙂

  13. One thing scientists don’t like to think about is that you can actually rewire your brain. I read an interesting book by Bruce Lipton called “Biology of Belief” which dispels the current belief that we are ruled by whatever genes we have been born with. He talks about how we can reprogram our genes with a conscious effort.

    I’m not sure how you define introvert but it’s far and away different from most introverts I have known, who don’t communicate well, or if they do communicate well, they are not brimming with positivities as you are. It’s probably because my brand of introvertism is on the opposite scale of introvertism from where you live. To me, you seem closer to extroversion, with just a hint of introversion. But then, I’ve only known you for two posts. 🙂

    • Hi, Cris. Thanks for joining us.

      Yes, the brain can rewire itself. Jill Bolte Taylor is a leading expert on the brain’s anatomy, and she has recovered from a debilitating stroke. You can watch her at

      so I do believe that we can change the way our brain fires, just not very easily.

      If you don’t mind, I’ll take it as a compliment that I seem more like an extrovert. You aren’t the first person to question that. I might sound like an extrovert, but that’s because (a) I’m passionate about this subject and that fuels me, (b) I can do it safely and on my own terms on the internet and (c) I’m trying to shatter the myths that introverts can be cool people with lots to offer the world. So it’s about time we took pride in who we are. The more we understand how we are step up and function, the better our lives will become.

      I’m also testing a theory that a huge lot of photographers are introverts because they are more comfortable behind the lens than in front of it. What do you think?

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  15. The main theme of this post is something I have been thinking (maybe obsessing) for some time now. They way you have explained it makes me want to email a link to the post to all extroverts I know!

    Was also good to learn some of the things that you do that I also do, such as the rehearsal thing – it used to be a huge frustration to me that I would endlessly rehearse, now I accept it. Also googling random words to see where it takes you, well I thought I had invented that 😉

  16. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to work from home or for myself when I was still working. I found I worked best in a support role (Administrative Assistant) where I let the extrovert (my boss) do all the talking while I supported him & provided him all the info. he needed. My best boss ever recognized this in me & always gave me credit for the role I played in his success & when I did speak up about something, he definitely listened because he knew if I was speaking out about something it was really important! My hubby is an extrovert & he tires me out! Right now he is unemployed & at home which is wearing me out. Any opportunity I can take to be alone I grab with both hands!

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  18. My dad wants to fix me so I’m not so annoyed..Or scared around people…He wants me to be okay around people and I nearly cried when he said it. When I was at the store with him, I was around just a few people and I was on the verge of tears..he wants to fix that by making me go more often and I hate that idea =( And i’m to afraid to question his judgment..do you have any suggestions on what to say to him..?

    • First, you have to ask yourself why you have so much trouble around people. Is it because you’re shy? Introverts can be shy or not shy… what makes us introverts is that we feel overloaded when we’re around people. They are too much stimulation for us. But sometimes people are just shy and feel self-confident around others.

      Your dad probably means well. We all need to develop some social skills because we have to work and interact with people. Try to figure out how you feel around people. Are you nervous? Scared? Then try to figure out why you feel that way. It’s not an easy thing to figure out some times. You have to really get in touch with your feelings.

      Let your dad know that you appreciate him looking out for you, but then tell him how you feel. Be specific about your reactions in being out with people. Try to be honest and see how he reacts. Start a dialogue and see if the two of you can come to an understanding.

      Good luck.

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