It’s not easy being an introvert, because our society seems made for extroverts. Job interviews favor those who are personable and quick-thinking. Classrooms are noisy, busy places that reward students who are comfortable speaking in groups and working collaboratively. And of course, when it comes to making friends, networking, and dating, those who are confident and outgoing get ahead.
How can an introvert live a happy, fulfilling life in an “extroverted” world? In my book, The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World, I explore how introverts can work with their introversion rather than fight against it. Here are ten ways introverts can do just that.
1. Get over your guilt of leaving the party early. Have you ever started saying your goodbyes at a social event only to have someone exclaim, “You’re leaving already? The night’s still young!” These types of comments used to fill me with guilt. Why was I the only one getting socially burned out? Was there something wrong with me? Later, I learned that I’m an introvert, and by definition introverts get worn out by socializing because they respond to rewards differently than extroverts. Now I have no problem calling it an early night and heading for the door.
2. Have more meaningful conversations. In general, introverts cringe at small talk because it feels inauthentic, but we get energized by talking about big ideas and meaningful topics. And there’s good news for introverts: research suggests that the happiest people have twice as many meaningful conversations — and do less surface-level chitchat — than the unhappiest. An added bonus: You may find that big talk doesn’t drain you the way small talk does.
3. Say no to social events that promise little meaningful interaction. We’ve all been there. An acquaintance invites you to such-and-such event. You feel obligated to go because you don’t want to hurt their feelings or seem rude. But you know that the birthday party for Diane in Accounting or the ladies all-night pub crawl won’t be fulfilling. In fact, it will not only lack meaningful interaction but also leave you with an introvert hangover, which is when you feel physically unwell from overextending yourself socially. If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent a good chunk of your life saying yes to social invitations out of guilt — then paying for it later with exhaustion and overstimulation. Of course, there are some things you probably shouldn’t skip, like your best friend’s wedding shower or your dad’s retirement party. Bottom line, to live a happier life, pass on any unnecessary get-togethers that will drain your battery, not energize it.
4. Don’t force yourself to live the “extroverted” life. Research from the University of Maryland suggests that acting falsely extroverted can lead to stress, burnout, and cardiovascular disease. Turns out, embracing your introversion isn’t just a feel-good axiom — it’s actually good for your health.
5. Schedule your solitude to avoid hurt feelings. I had the pleasure of sitting down with introverted Indie rocker jeremy messersmith to interview him for my book. He told me about a smart practice he’s been doing for quite some time: He makes sure he gets enough alone time by scheduling it once a week on the family calendar. That way his extroverted wife won’t feel hurt when he says he wants to be alone. Plus, they can both work together to protect his restorative solitude by not scheduling other obligations at that time. It’s a win-win.
6. Back away from one-sided relationships. Because introverts tend to listen well and give others the stage, we can be targets for toxic or emotionally needy people. These relationships — in which one person is taking more than they give — exhaust our already limited social energy. If there are people in your life who constantly drain you, consider spending less time with them. You’ll get the bonus of freeing up more time and energy for the people who do fill you up.
7. Give yourself permission to not do it all. I have an extroverted friend who always has her hand in something. If she’s not organizing a get-together with our friends, she’s volunteering at her son’s pre-school or taking on an extra project at work. I’ll admit that I’ve wished for her energy because she really does seem like she’s doing it all. But I have to remind myself that my talents lie elsewhere — in deep analysis, reflective thinking, and quality over quantity — not in running around doing all the things.
8. Stop beating yourself up for that awkward thing you said…six years ago. Perhaps because introverts have more electrical activity in their brains than extroverts, we tend to ruminate. Our overthinking may take the form of playing embarrassing mistakes over and over in our minds. Unfortunately, rumination can give way to depression and anxiety — and it rarely helps you solve the problem you’re obsessing over. To break free from the rumination cycle, do something to get the powerful engine of your mind chugging down a different track. Call to mind a positive memory, put on music, go for a walk, or do any different activity than the one you’re currently doing.
9. Occasionally step out of your comfort zone. To my absolute horror, after writing a book about introversion, I learned that people wanted to talk to me about said book. They even wanted me to give interviews, go on podcasts, and give speeches! Let’s just say it was a very real lesson in pushing myself out of my stay-at-home-and-watch-Netflix comfort zone. Honestly, I felt extremely uncomfortable almost every minute of it, but I did those things because I knew they would be good for my career. Taking the occasional jaunt out of your comfort zone can help you grow, too. You can always retreat to your introvert cocoon afterward.
10. Remember that your introvert needs are valid, too. Society tells introverts that our way is not the right way. As a result, we’ve become accustomed to hiding our needs or pretending. We pretend we’re having a good time at the party when in reality we’re exhausted. We feel pressured to give our boss an answer RIGHT NOW when really we need time to think. However, as you know, when you don’t say what you need, you pay a price. Often, people aren’t purposely trying to burden you or take advantage of you — it may be that they simply aren’t aware of what you need. Do you need a few hours to yourself to recharge from a busy week? Say it! Do you need someone to stop talking to you for a few minutes so you can concentrate? Tell them! Your introvert needs are valid, too.
Start living your best life as an introvert. Check out my book, The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World.
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