One of the first things that made a change to my life was learning about introversion and extroversion and understanding what it really meant.
Many words are used to describe an introvert: quiet, shy, anxious, depressed, a loner, a bookworm or gamer, nerd, or socially awkward.
There are an equal number of words that are used for extrovert: loud, talkative, party animal, life and soul, social butterfly, or adrenaline junky.
From the reading I have done, none of these words are accurate when it comes to a clear definition of what an introvert or extrovert is. The only thing this dichotomy relates to is where you get your energy, or put another way, how you recharge.
Think of this scenario that I got from Joel Mark Witt of Personality Hacker:
Which would be worse: 7 days never alone other than for short bathroom breaks, or, 7 days of not seeing anyone and no social media?
Now, of course, every person would struggle greatly with either scenario. The innie/extro is a continuum and there are very few at each extreme, but we all have a preference. So, think about it deeply. How would you respond to each situation; which sounds more exhausting?
I know that 7 days alone with no social media would be lonely and depressing, but this doesn’t relate to energy levels. What I also know is that after just 2 days of no alone time just for short bathroom breaks I would be exhausted and wanting to kill the people around me. I would be desperate for a break away from people because I would be exhausted. This is introversion in action. If I had a gun to my head and had to choose, I would pick the alone time.
There would be extroverts out there that would quite happily party for 7 days with shared dorms and no alone time.
What this dichotomy isn’t about though is how good you are in social situations. I, as I have said, am a self proclaimed introvert, but I love a good party. I love bringing people together and being in groups of people. I am a gamer, but I don’t read very much at all.
My husband is an extrovert that happily spends a lot of time alone at home playing angry birds, watching films, or scrolling through Netflix.
The difference can be seen when we are together at a social event. I will happily join our friends at a bike rally with 3 days of beer, loud music, and much laughter. But, I will bail on the partying at 10pm on the first night so I know I can make it to 2 am on the second night, and then by the third night I am struggling but not wanting to miss out. My husband will be partying until the early hours every night, and will come back to the tent full of energy . I will lay in bed till 9am in our tent scrolling through Facebook whereas he will be up early drinking coffee with his friends.
Before I knew about this I would push myself to be involved in large groups and I wouldn’t recognise the signs of running out of steam. Once I understood that my brain was wired differently and that I only had a certain amount of social energy I started to manage my life differently.
Now, if I am booking something into my calendar I take note of what else I am committed to that week. I hate cancelling, and I hate missing out, so I have to make sure I have enough energy to do all the things I want to do. If a week looks busy while I’m arranging dinner with a friend I will either see if we can move it a week, or make sure there is at least one evening in between where I can just watch tv.
One thing I have found important to understand is that it is a natural response to shut down your life completely. When I first learnt this I did this very thing. I dropped everything with no warning, in the process I lost so many contacts and friends and it has become a battle to rebuild that. With careful work and the right environments we can build up social stamina; we can find a sweet spot where we are not shut in, but also not running from party to party. Introverts need people too.
Introversion also isn’t about shyness, anxiety, or depression. I am a shy introvert, I live with both low level anxiety and depression, however there are innies out there that are public speakers and entertainers. There are also extroverts that have anxiety and depression. These things do not make you an introvert and it’s important to understand this.
So, are you getting enough alone time? Are you lonely and not being energised and inspired by others? Are you an introvert that actually needs to expand your life a little, in your own way? Is there something that needs to change? Or is it a case that you know who you are and you need to set some boundaries or find new friendships to get your needs met?