I’ve come a long way since then. These days, talking to strangers is as easy as doing mental arithmetic. Here are eight tips I impart to all my introvert clients to help them have a more fulfilling — and less draining — social life.
8 Tips for Introverts to Have a Fulfilling Social Life
1. Learn to honor your wiring.
A major shift came about when I discovered what introvert really means — that I’m not alone, and there’s nothing wrong with me even if I prefer to stay home and read a book. Crowds can quickly deplete introverts’ energy levels, so big parties probably aren’t the best fit unless we really want to be there.
“The space between our expectations and reality is where we cause ourselves a lot of suffering,” my friend and leadership professor Jonathan Marshall tells me. “If we can accept who we are rather than try to become something we are not, we know our preferences and cause ourselves less distress.”
A simple way to honor your natural introvert wiring is to seek out fellow introverted friends. Not only is the intimacy of hanging out one-on-one aligned with your temperament, but it’ll also be a kind of unintentional support group where you go “Me too!” when it comes to how you’d rather have coffee with a good friend than go to a party. Understanding that introversion is a form of neurodiversity that has its strengths can help you embrace something you were needlessly angry with yourself about.
2. Set a quota.
Introvert is not synonymous with hermit. Sure, there are times we revel in complete solitude, but we also love the buzz from meaningful interactions. A helpful way to balance this is to set a quota to know that you’ve managed to have both me time and social time. Give yourself permission to be discerning about who you give your energy to; social time shouldn’t feel tinged with distaste or discomfort. A simple way is to examine your relationships objectively — are they healthy, toxic, or ambivalent?
As an entrepreneur, networking is part of my life; therefore I consider that in my energy quota. In fact, it is something I enjoy these days, because I’ve learned to be selective of the events I go to and to network like an introvert. This means that instead of aiming to speak to everyone in the room, my goal is to have deeper conversations with one or two people. With such selectiveness, professional networking has also cultivated a few deep friendships I’m grateful for.
3. Digital socializing still counts as socializing.
No matter how trendy the digital detox is or the evidence demonstrating the consequences of overusing technology, it is undoubtedly a part of our lives. As an expatriate with a global network and an entrepreneur who serves an international clientele, technology is inevitable, and in fact something I embrace when used with discernment. The truth is, it is often the only way I get to socialize with my friends and loved ones. A two-hour video call or series of WhatsApp chats still counts as social time — and it’s important that I factor it in to my social quota.
4. Let an extrovert curate your network.
“Come to this event,” my surrogate little sister tells me. As an extrovert, she attends many an event, and in the meantime, she selects the people I should meet and the places I should go — for her, it’s something she enjoys. This way, instead of attending 50 potential events, I only have to go to five that I’m more likely to enjoy. She also introduces me to these people way before I meet them, making my life easier. In exchange, she seeks my counsel and has a place she recharges her metaphorical batteries in, while we laugh and muse about life over excellent food. It’s a win-win. So if you have an extroverted friend, it might be worth considering this.
5. Be ruthless about limiting your notifications.
We all know the feeling of waking up to 200 unread WhatsApp messages and 50 Facebook notifications. It’s exhausting. These days, I’m excessively ruthless about ensuring I never get to those levels of exhaustion again.
On my phone, only people I’m close to or my VIP clients go into my address book. Everybody else who messages me is automatically muted and archived, rather than subjecting myself to an automatic onslaught of notifications that overwhelms me. My notifications on Instagram and Facebook are also turned off.
6. Honor your energy levels.
Sometimes our exhaustion is about more than just our personality type. What’s going on in our lives, the season, and other background factors mean our energy levels vary. Just because you don’t have as much energy as someone else doesn’t make you less of a person. (I used to think that was the case.) Trying to compete with someone else’s energy will burn you to ashes, depleting you not only physically but mentally as well.
I always recommend that my clients break their energy goals into baby steps, so they can celebrate their accomplishments along the way. This way, they journey toward being the best version of themselves, rather than tethering themselves to the doomed ball-and-chain of being someone else — a surefire road to stress.
7. Set boundaries around who can come to your home.
Reveling in the newly found freedom of no longer being socially anxious, I invited people to my home to socialize over meals. But it got exhausting when some people repeatedly invited themselves over, even though I never offered them a further invite. That’s when I realized that my social boundaries also extend to my home, and that just because you’ve visited a second time doesn’t automatically mean you can assume you’re welcome another time. These days, only those in my inner circles have the privilege of spending time with me in my house.
8. Create your own mental nirvana.
There’s something to be said about feeling at home in ourselves, when we can access that slice of innermost calm at will. Dr. Marshall advocates for something he calls “self-hypnosis.”
“Hypnosis is such a fancy word, but really, it’s that space in your own head, even if it’s just for a few seconds,” he explains. This might be a place you had a wonderful vacation in or your grandmother’s living room, as long as it’s a pre-furnished place in your mind you can dip in and out of.”
If you haven’t already, cultivate a place of inner nirvana. Knowing you have it means that even if you are going to a big party or hostile meeting, you can always take a step back, go inward, and energize yourself in a comfortable, familiar mental space that brings you peace.
Introvert, I hope these tips help you create a happier, less exhausting social life. What tricks have you learned that work for you? Let me know in the comments.