09 | How to Stop Being Introverted

“How can I stop being so introverted? Any advice would be very welcome.”

I was asked this question for the first time a few years ago. I’ve been asked it many times since. In fact, the blog post I wrote in response to it was one of the most visited articles on my website.

I wanted to help introverts to move in sync with their natural rhythms instead of resenting them. So I’ve turned the post into a podcast episode so that we can explore what this might look like in more depth.

What Do You Want to Stop Being Introverted? | 4:47

It’s easy for me to say “just embrace your introversion, it’s who you are”, but I know it’s not that simple. There are good reasons why we might wish we could stop being an introvert. Especially when we compare ourselves with the person we are told to be by society. Our natural preferences don’t always fit with the values of a noisy, overstimulating, extrovert-centric world.

It can feel like we don’t belong. Like there’s something wrong with us. And of course, we might wish we could change that.

Isolation in an Alien World | 8:32

Do you ever get the sense that everyone else is in on something and you missed the meeting?

Have you looked at others and envied how comfortable they are, interacting with an overwhelming world. They appear unfazed by the madness. They know what they’re doing, where they want to go, and what they need to do to get there.

Laurie Helgoe says that this is very common for introverts. An idea she articulates perfectly in Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life is Your Hidden Strength.

She describes two kinds of responses introverts might have to an extrovert-centric world:

Shadow Dwelling Introverts:

“Appear (if they can be seen) as reclusive and inaccessible – alien.”

Accessible introverts

“Do not come off as remote or intimidating because they have almost adapted to the extrovert culture”

The potential problem we might face through these ways of adapting to a noisy world is that they can create alienation. We might become alienated from the world around us as the shadow dweller. Or we alienate ourselves from core parts of who we are deep down as the accessible introvert. Life gets exhausting when we feel like we have to spend it hiding.

There’s nothing wrong with being reclusive if it gives us the platform to flourish. But if we are hiding and harbouring resentment about the world we wish we could be part of, then it’s not helping us flourish. Likewise, many people see themselves as social introverts. They love spending energy on other people and experiences, but they need plenty of downtime to prepare and recover. But if we spend all our energy pretending to fit in and be something we know we’re not, then it’s not helping us flourish.

If we don’t fully accept or understand what it means to be introverted we can find ourselves in a state of limbo. In a place where we might feel it necessary to make that choice: to disappear or to play along.

But Everyone Seems So Happy | 13:58

Much of our world is driven by perception. We are encouraged to believe that who we are is not enough. Where we are is not enough. And other people are enjoying the things we don’t have.

But these stories are believable. It’s easier to tell the story that other people have their lives together than to realise the truth; that no one is whole and complete. The stories we tell ourselves about what life could be if only we were not who we are, might reinforce our sense of alienation and self-loathing.

Happiness is little more than an occasional passing highlight on the mundane canvas of everyday life. If we accept this we might start to build a more useful self-concept. And enjoy what it means to be one of seven and a half billion people trying to make sense of this weird and mysterious thing we call life.

What Do You Mean By “Introverted”? | 20:28

For many of us who want to stop being introverted, we are usually referring to a particular aspect of our personality in relation to something that matters to us. For example, I have helped people take action on their dream of performing music on stage. In one example this required changing part of a script that told the person, “you can’t perform because as an introvert you get too nervous”.

When we tell ourselves stories like this, we reduce our potential by attaching what we believe is possible – or not – to something we can’t change. And by doing this we tell ourselves we CAN’T do what we would love to do.

But what if introversion doesn’t stop you from doing ANYTHING? It just informs the way you might need to approach doing the thing.

In the example of the performer, we could remove the word “introvert” from the script, and look at possible ways to manage and use the nerves more effectively. It turns out that nerves are not an exclusive introvert thing. They are universal. And they won’t always be there.

What story are you telling yourself about introversion? How might changing the script shift your relationship with your temperament?

How To Stop Being an Introvert | 23:14

There is a lot of clutter surrounding what introversion means. As our awareness and acceptance of it has grown in mainstream popularity, so too have a number of myths. It’s still confused with shyness and social anxiety. Of being afraid of people and scared to speak up in public. But while these are true for some introverts (as they are for extroverts), they are not a product of the innate temperament as we understand introversion to be.

If we really want to stop acting in sync with our introversion there are several things we might try:

  • Spend time with people when you’re feeling low on energy
  • Increase sources of external stimulation
  • Rush making big decisions
  • Find someone to talk to about everything you’re thinking
  • Fill your calendar with social engagements
  • Share your opinion before you’ve considered it

At its core, introversion and extroversion are about how we create and budget our energy as human beings. Introverts typically turn inwards when they need to recharge and process things. While extroverts require external stimulation (other people, crowds, invigorating experiences etc) to create the energy they need.

It’s About How We Are, Not Who We Are | 25:34

“Even though I’m a classic introvert, when I give a lecture for my students I perform with great passion. Introverts, when they are ‘on,’ become pseudo-extraverts. Can you tell the difference between a born extravert and a pseudo-extravert? Usually you cannot.”

– Professor Brian Little (Me, Myself, and Us)

Acting Out of Character | 26:11

Brian Little suggests that we all have the ability to “act out of character” when something is important to us. This phrase can be interpreted in a couple of ways:

  1. Acting in a way that doesn’t fit a ‘fixed trait’ view of who we are (doing something that might be unexpected, not typically introverted, or viewed as unusual for us by others)
  2. Acting contrary to our natural disposition for the sake of something deeper than our own immediate comfort (acting out of our character – character being moral strength)

When it comes to thinking about our personality, we often have a tendency to discuss it without context. We might say ‘I don’t like parties’, ‘I hate crowds’, or ‘I can’t stand the phone’.

Yet in reality, rather than using those preferences to ensure our own future happiness we will still go to a party, stand in a crowd, and make a phone call when the situation requires it. Or at least we CAN.

Free Trait Agreements | 30:37

The 5 Big Personality Traits (Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism) are not completely fixed. Little describes them as making up an arpeggio rather than a chord.

As an introvert I may enter a free trait agreement, for example, to arrange a party for someone I care about, to go and be a part of a crowd when I really want to watch a live performance. Or to call a friend who really needs some support right now.

When we become invested in stuff that matters we become able to temporarily put on hold our natural desire (maybe to sit at home with a book) and do something less comfortable.

Restorative Niches

The other side of a free trait agreement is a restorative niche. These are uniquely personal things we do to recharge after spending our energy. They restore our spirit and recharge our sense of self.

One reason we might want to escape our introversion is that we aren’t aware of our own restorative niche. It’s a vital part of the rhythm that allows us to invest our time and energy into things that matter to us. If we don’t have them we risk overwhelm and burnout. These restorative niches are part of the agreements we enter into.

Little suggests that there is give and take when we are in free trait agreements with others. He says “with spouses and bosses, we can strike a bargain: I’ll act out of character to advance our joint project if you will grant me a restorative niche. What we need is a Free Trait Agreement.”

The Pros and Cons of Personality Tests | 33:57

Who doesn’t love a personality test? There’s something fun about seeing things about yourself reflected back in a description of your particular ‘type’.

If we can refrain from using them to diagnose our personalities – “I’m a hothead, I fear intimacy, I’m a dreamer” – then these tools can be useful.

The Good Thing About Personality Tests

I often use a DISC personality profile when I begin a new coaching partnership. It provides some good information to explore together and allows me to adapt my approach to suit their natural communication style and personal preferences.

We often encounter resistance when we don’t understand the differences between people. Personality profiles remind us that we see and experience the world differently to others. And others experience it differently to us. Not only is this a potential path to hold the world with more empathy but also to encounter ourselves in a new way. Everyone is a bit weird. Not just us.

When we acknowledge this truth and become more aware of our subconscious preferences, we are better equipped to work WITH ourselves in service of our personal values and goals.

The Problem With Personality Tests | 37:16

“Too many of us wake up one day feeling stuck inside a narrow definition of ourselves” – Michael Puett (author of The Path: A New Way to Think About Everything)

When I first realised I was an introvert I had a category by which to divide my picture of the world. There were introverts and there were extroverts. Introverts behave a certain way and extroverts another way. The danger with personality typing is that we look for a prescription rather than a description of our preferences. It can quickly become an identity rather than a tool for understanding.

When we allow our labels to drive our behaviour we live out a self-fulfilling prophecy. Who we are reflects how we think we should act, and we end up putting ourselves in boxes that are only a tiny part of the overall picture of who we are.

Labels and Traps | 41:07

I had a conversation years ago with someone who had recently learned they were an introvert. I was talking about how much of a relief it was to realise I wasn’t as weird and different as I thought. They were quick to snap back, “I never thought I WAS weird! It’s everyone else that’s got the problem”.

On the one hand, good for them. It was great to witness such a strong sense of inner confidence. But on the other hand, I’m not sure it was confidence. They used their introversion as a source of tribal identity rather than a tool for personal growth. This was evident when they continued, “they say I’m too quiet and they can’t hear me. But I’m peaceful and calm, just because they’re not used to it, that shouldn’t mean that I have to change. They need to get over themselves.’

There is a difference between an insult and a criticism. An insult is personal whereas a criticism contains something we can use and learn from. It’s sometimes a vague line, but we must be careful not to take everything as a personal insult.

As introverts, we CAN make a free-trait agreement and adapt our natural preferences if the situation requires it. Perhaps we need to speak louder in a particular environment or when carrying out a certain role.

Embracing Who You Are | 44:22

Your introversion is part of who you are. It’s the foundation of your natural rhythm. It can help you approach your hopes and dreams in sustainable ways. It’s the track on which you run.

It’s not something to overcome, but something to understand and work with.

The Haven

If you feel alone in how you see and experience the world then I would love to invite you to join The Haven. It’s a virtual village for naturally introverted, sensitive, creative, and gently rebellious people like you. Connecting with other people who are like ourselves is a great step in learning self-acceptance and working in sync with those natural rhythms and preferences that hold the key to our quiet flourishing.

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