You know that student in class who only makes a comment every now and then, but when she speaks, the rest of the room falls into a thoughtful silence?
Hi, I’m that student. My name is Bria, and I’m an introvert.
It’s hard for me to respond quickly, but I’m the master of peeling back the layers of an idea until I understand it completely. That’s why I’m also the person other students come to when they’re having a hard time understanding things. I love being the go-to girl, but this wasn’t always my reality.
Honestly, in my first year of college, I had a hard time making friends because, simply, I enjoy my own company. I also had a hard time talking in class. It’s not because I’m shy, or because people intimidate me. It’s because my thoughts wander along their own path, and it takes some time for them to reach the end. Introverted personalities are not necessarily slow, shy, or incapable of being social. Sometimes we just take a little longer to arrive at a conclusion than others.
The Introverted Brain Processes Information Deeply
For the majority of people, their brain simply processes information. For introverts, it’s kind of like our thoughts have to walk around a bit before they’re fully understood — or explainable to others. Our thoughts meander through our long-term memories, pairing up with our emotions, our powers of strategy, and our analytical processes. Then they arrive at the point of conclusion. That’s why an introvert can stop the show with one comment in class: that comment is the culmination of a deep thought process that pulls from every part of the introvert’s knowledge and understanding.
That’s also why these comments don’t happen often.
Think of it in terms of a class taking a field trip to a museum. In general, extroverted personalities will move from one exhibit to the next, making quick connections but possibly skipping over areas that don’t interest them. For a deep-thinking introvert, there’s no such thing as not being interested. The introvert may wander around the entire museum, seemingly at random, spending time absorbing each exhibit fully before moving on to the next. The introvert brain is quietly making connections too, possibly more than anyone could imagine.
Introverts Miss Very Little
Many introverts are highly attuned to their environment and/or other people. We take in everything, and I mean everything. We may notice what you’re wearing, if you seem tired, and what that squirrel behind you is doing.
Sometimes it seems like we’re not hearing you, and sometimes we aren’t — sorry — because we’re daydreaming. It took me a long time to master the art of listening and processing at the same time (even though that is supposed to be a natural talent of us introverts). It can be done, but it takes patience.
Extroverts Don’t ‘Get’ Us
Despite our quiet superpowers, it’s not easy being an introvert. Even when you embrace your deep-processing intellect and love of solitude, some people won’t “get” you. Especially the most extroverted among us.
Some extroverts wonder why we introverts:
- Have less fun as the party goes on
- Watch the clouds while they’re talking
- Can’t answer their questions right away
- Are entertained by staring at our feet and daydreaming
Trust me, if you knew what was going on in our heads, you’d get it. So let’s take a look at the science behind those minds of ours.
Introverts Respond Differently to Rewards
According to research, there’s a big difference between the way extroverts and introverts process rewards. Rewards are things like attention, social status, money, and even food. When you earn a good grade, get a promotion at work, or eat a yummy meal, you feel rewarded.
Sure, introverts care about earning money, eating, and having relationships, too. The difference is, compared to extroverts, introverts are less energized by the possibilities for rewards around them. In fact, they frequently find levels of stimulation that are rewarding for extroverts to be exhausting and annoying. For example: a big party with lots of people, a loud rock concert, or a crowded bar. If you’re an introvert, you’re able to put up with these environments for a little while. You may even have some fun. But soon enough, by definition, you’ll want to head home where it’s calm and quiet.
Why do introverts care less about the things that excite extroverts so much? It has to do with a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine plays a role in the brain’s pleasure and reward centers. It enables us to notice rewards and take action to get them. It also reduces our cost of effort.
According to Colin DeYoung, a psychology professor at the University of Minnesota who recently published a paper on introversion, extroverts appear to have a more active dopamine reward system than introverts. For extroverts, that’s why big parties are fun, daydreaming can be boring, and they’re always ready to move on to the next exciting thing.
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Life Is Easier When You Own Being an Introvert
The way my brain processes rewards is why I can be the life of the library study group but have a hard time being the life of the party. My first year of college was really hard until I began honoring who I am as an introvert instead of trying to be what I am not. That’s the big secret, dear quiet ones: you can have a fantastic life just by being you.
That’s the advice I want to leave you with. Stop thinking something is wrong with you or feeling as though you’re missing out. You get to decide what your life will be, so make it a happy one. Don’t try to be a social butterfly. Instead, be the go-to person that others seek out when they need help, a listening ear, or an insightful perspective. Do that, and you will never run out of friends, I promise.
Instead of forcing yourself to participate in large group activities, give yourself permission to meet in small groups. Join a club that attracts other introverts, and play to your strengths when you’re interacting with extroverts. Maybe you can’t pop out a funny quip every couple of minutes, but chances are you can stop the show with one hilarious comment that captures the nature of the entire conversation or the recent classroom lecture.
Don’t look at being an introvert as a drawback — because it’s not. Your personality has a different set of strengths and weaknesses. Accept who you are, and you will find that everything becomes easier.