Introversion is all the rage right now.
‘Introvertedness’ is still regarded as something of a deficiency, or even a taboo, particularly in the extroverted ‘West.’
If you’re not outgoing, smiley, and not always seeking out new experiences with friends and new people, you’re, well, a little strange, and quite possibly a serial killer.
At least that is how introversion appears to be presented in the spheres of media, in our schools and in the gossipy torrents of conversation.
Introverts, however, are enjoying something of a resurgence thanks to the web, and a renewed interest in the powers of introverts in the mainstream.
This is a good thing. It is important for highly sensitive introverts like me to know that we’re not unworthy for preferring to be alone with a book, over standing around at a drinks party.
It is crucial for us to understand why introversion isn’t a flaw, but a trait — an advantage even — bringing with it a host of benefits, many of which the more extroverted among us will never honestly know.
The positives introverts can bring to the world, and those around us are immense and well documented. We must cherish this nature in us.
But we need also be careful about the gaps in the pavement, threatening to catch our foot as we journey through the matrix of plan-cancelling, solitary walks, deep-thought, and feverish, coffee-fuelled note-taking.
Below are four pitfalls of which introverts like you and I might be wary.
1. Jumping on the Rumination Train
Us introverts are internally-oriented. We take cues, make decisions and are inspired mostly by the internal. We love to think.
Introverts tend to have a powerful imagination, and, owing to a sense of feeling apart from ‘normal people,’ are often drawn to creative, out-of-the-box, and innovative pursuits.
The danger lies in the downward spiral driven by the combining of a negative outlook with obsessive imagination. This is rumination, and it can negatively charge us, making us depressed and anxious.
Your powerful ability to think deeply is a double-edged machete. So we must stay in the positive lane and out of the worrying.
That’s easier said than done, but I’ve found that avoiding rumination takes practice. It is a habit like any other.
What does this habit look like?
It takes awareness and redirection of attention. Catch yourself when you worry and get off the thought. Redirect your attention to positive thoughts, or, if you can’t do that, get into your body.
This means focusing on your breath, for example. Meditate to train the mind to be un-reactive to rising thoughts. Exercise. Be in nature and feel the ground at your feet. When your body is back in sensation, you give your thoughts a rest. You create a gap.
There is power and creativity in that gap.
2. Living the UBER introvert hermit life
When an introvert has accepted that he is an introvert, identifies with it, and even prides himself in it, there is the risk that he can be restricted by the label.
I have fallen into this cavern. Knowing that I deal well with solitude, too often gives me an excuse to avoid going out and interacting with people and living according to my full potential in ALL areas.
Yes, I have traits of introversion, but that does not mean that I, or any other introverts, do not gain tremendous value in the company of others, and pushing our limits beyond our crania — and our front doors.
Rather than taking the ‘introvert’ label entirely at face value, see how you can introduce balance, by exploring your extroverted-side, which, believe me, does exist.
A lot of the positive experiences I’ve enjoyed, as with many other introverts I’ve worked with, do indeed come from doing things that many would describe as ‘extroverted behaviour.’
Some of the most excellent communicators, leaders and public-speakers have been introverts.
It might just be that the troubles introversion may have brought for someone in their early life can be used to drive a healthy obsession towards developing the extroverted side in us.
Extroverts, because they tend to be comfortable in many of the situations that make introverts uneasy, will often be less inclined to improve that area of their life, whether it be public speaking, communicating, speaking with groups, and so on.
But an introvert, if and when they make a commitment to improving in something they are not comfortable with, will often be more driven to move beyond the pains of the past, and develop extremely proficient ‘extroverted skills.’
For example, if I had the choice, I would spend all of my time painting pictures and writing, rarely speaking to people.
But this would also make me miserable because there is no balance. It is not a wholesome and connected way to live.
So I push myself to explore my extroverted side, improving my communication skills, meeting people, talking to my followers, coaching and public speaking.
Be careful with the attractive pull of living a hard-core hermit introvert existence forever.
Though it is vital to do things you love and enjoy, your most profound bliss is found in moving through those things you fear.
“What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.” ~Tim Ferriss
The trick is to include both parts. I enjoy plenty of solitude. I love to make art, to read and write, alone. Sometimes you may not see me for weeks.
But I make sure to extrovert to the degree that my thirst for doing so is quenched, either in my personal or business life and in a way that I can enjoy that side of life too.
At the very least, don’t lose touch with those who matter to you.
Be part of a community, even if this is initiated on the web.
Find a group of people that support you, to whom you bring value. Do this in small steps if you need. Start by getting your voice heard, perhaps through a podcast.
Do what you can to stay sharp and connected. You are only damaging yourself in your avoidance of staying connected.
“It is the individual who is not interested in his fellow men who has the greatest difficulties in life and provides the greatest injury to others. It is from among such individuals that all human failures spring.” ~Alfred Adler
3. ‘Following what you love.’
Many introverts who follow this cutesy phrase to the letter usually end up depressed.
Because if we all followed what we loved to do, we’d never do anything that challenged us.
Those who understand that hardship is an integral part of maintaining passion in something will be immune from the dangers of such a saying, but others will not.
Introverts need to be particularly wary here.
Following this advice means we’d always be set back by the obstacles we never saw coming. We’d pollute our passions by associating pain with what we expected to be bliss.
Instead, follow your potential.
The concept of potential brings into it the requirement that we are continually challenged to build our value and our resilience. With such growth and more value to give, we feel more alive. We sense our ability to help and connect with others.
This is not to say we can’t fill our lives doing what we are drawn to — what we are fascinated by — be that writing, art, film-making or sculpture.
It does mean that if we are pursuing ‘potential,’ we will go further than the creative process in making an impact. We will bring on challenges in the form of promoting our work, speaking to people, getting on film, and persuading patrons to hand over their money for what we create.
It means finding the thrill in self-growth and the sense of enlightenment this brings with it.
4. Regretting the past
A lot of introverts had a difficult past. Schools and society, no matter how ‘tolerant’ they claim to be, don’t often provide the ideal environments in which introverts can perform well, let alone thrive.
Ask 96% of introverted adults, and they will tell you that they had a tough and often alienated early life.
I went to boarding school in England, where I had to share dorms with other lads for five years. Classes were often over thirty students, making it stressful even to consider speaking up, despite the constant pushing at the back of my mind to do so.
Those early years were difficult. There would be little encouragement for the ‘quiet kids’ beyond telling us to ‘talk more’ in school reports or publicly shaming us in front of the class for being quiet.
I would be criticised by school mates for the shyness brought on by the overwhelm of all of this, and this would send me even further into my inner cave.
Many introverts feel like outsiders growing up. Many of us take a very long time to adapt to this world, and we are slow to bloom if we do at all. Many of us are pushed further into the internal, or we isolate ourselves from reliving the hurts that were previously endured.
The worst thing I did in my twenties was to regret my past continually. Of course, I’d brilliantly side-step all the good things that had happened in my mind, focusing on the failures. I wished things were different; that I asserted myself more at school; that I wasn’t such a nerd.
But this only kept my attention on the negative, exasperating my anxiety and making it harder to live life right now, today, with purpose, playfulness and fluidity.
I have since learned to reframe my unfair beliefs about myself, to accept me for who I am, to explore and love my gifts, and to chuckle at the embarrassing moments of the past.
I try to see the good in all that felt awful back then, as forced as that can sometimes feel, to take the edge off the shame, which continues to diminish.
I no longer ruminate on what happened (as much). Those regrets no longer have such a hold on me, and I am free to focus on doing good work that others enjoy today.
Do not allow the past to interfere with your right to live well.
Your aspirations are all that defines you.
If this stirred up something in you, please write a comment, and I will read it.
I coach ambitious men to reach their full potential.
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