This is a pretty neat animation of an excerpt of Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
I recently read an article on Yahoo! Shine called, “Confessions of Introverts: They’re Not as Shy as You Think.” Isn’t it interesting how introverts are treated as if they have been hiding something? Or, is it just that we are so misunderstood by society?
Hi. My name is Brent and I’m an introvert. *gasp*!
We have many recent books and articles to thank for “outing” us introverts (see Quiet, by Susan Cain for the prime example). Is it now becoming en vogue to be an introvert? Just like being gluten-free or composting? It may not be that easy of course, since we aren’t choosing to be an introvert. We just are. However, it warms my heart to know that we’re becoming more understood and not just associated with serial killers and librarians. (No offense, you extroverted serial killers.)
Here are a couple of my favorite “confessions”:
Extroverts aren’t really so bad: “Even though I prefer to surround myself with a small, close-knit group, many of those in my circle are extroverts. I enjoy their energy, conversation, and charisma. I even married an extrovert! My husband surrounds himself with friends, loves to talk, and is usually the center of attention. I love him for this.” – Darcy Chappel
They’re shy. So what? “I’m shy, not broken. I’m not ‘Tiffini from marketing’ with her stilettos and neon skinny jeans. Accept that. Don’t tell me to ‘fake it ’till I make it’ or ‘just be yourself.’ I am being myself. And myself does not need to impress anyone in order to feel content. I can be a whole person and still prefer to stay home, drink tea, and watch a ‘Gilmore Girls’ marathon.” – Sarah Aiken
Do you have your own confessions? Maybe we need some extroverts to make some confessions while we’re at it. Like, they secretly wish they could just stop talking and enjoy the silence!
Us introverts are always combatting the notion that we’re shy people. We’re (usually) not, we just prefer more deep and meaningful conversation. The problem is, how do you get to that type of conversation with someone you just met or hardly even know? Small talk.
I hate small talk; most introverts do. But guess what? It’s a necessary skill to reaching a deeper conversation. Just like public speaking and changing a dirty diaper, small talk is a skill just waiting for you to master. It can be learned!
One of the hardest things for me to do is enter a room and be expected to mingle with people I don’t know. Oddly, many extroverts also feel some anxiety towards small talk, but they handle it differently than us.
A sure fire ways to engage in small talk is to think about context. Are you at a house warming party? Why not ask people how they know the host? Comment about how beautiful their home is (if it’s not, skip this one). Say how delicious the food is. All superficial topics you don’t really care to know the answer to, but it gets the ball rolling.
Depending on what their response is, use it to build into a real conversation. You might talk about current events, their opinion on such events, etc., allowing a dialogue to build. From there, you can transition into more personal questions such as what they do for a living, family, and hobbies — all of this allowing you to ask more questions.
It seems very simple, right? But it’s difficult to be mindful of these things when it’s actually happening. Maybe take a step back, take some deep breaths, and think about previous successes to use as your anchors. You can do it; this is just another skill-sharpening sessions!
Oh yeah, and if the conversation gets stale, move on. Excuse yourself to get another drink, say there’s someone else you need to say hi to, or even go to the bathroom. Easy.
As I’ve come to realize I’m an introvert, I’ve become less critical of the reasoning behind a lot of my actions. It’s something I wish I had known earlier in life; it probably would have saved me a lot of anxiety.
I now know that there’s nothing wrong with how I am. Of course, maybe I was the only one who ever thought that anyway; nevertheless, I am more comfortable with where I am today than I’ve ever been. That brings me to a concept many in the psychological world refer to as “anchors.”
I don’t want to delve too much into the definition of anchors, but as Robert Dilts, an expert in neuro-linguistic programming, writes, “In its simplest form, ‘anchoring’ involves establishing an association between an external cue or stimulus and an internal experience or state, as in the example of Pavlov ringing the bell for his dogs.” How does that relate to being an introvert? I’m glad you asked.
As I’ve grown more comfortable in my own skin, I’ve learned to use past experiences to inform my current consciousness. Now, our brains automatically do this for us, but I’m talking about harnessing past positive experiences to “retrain” my brain to a new way of thinking.
I grew up in the Midwest and didn’t leave home until I was 23 years old. I followed a girlfriend to Texas and, besides her, didn’t know a soul. We subsequently broke up, I finished college, and moved to California for a job. When I tell people the circumstances that led me to where I am today, they often say how they can’t imagine moving that far from home, especially without having family or friends around. One word that’s often repeated is “brave.”
Brave? Who, me? I never though of it as brave. I was just following a girl, and then following my dreams. It never dawned on me that I was being brave. At some point, I decided that I could use that as one of my anchors. I moved thousands of miles to a new place not once, but twice, and had to establish new friends and connections while starting from scratch. You know what? That’s not easy for anyone, much less someone who doesn’t thrive off of meeting new people.
Now, when I’m facing uncertain situations — whether a social function or an unfamiliar situation — I remind myself of what I’ve done to get myself to where I am today. I focus on the kind of person it takes to get here. Then I realize, “if I can do that, what’s so scary about walking into a room of strangers? Most people have never moved away from home and probably not to a city 100x larger. I can do this.”
Easier said than done, especially at first. But once this anchor is firmly established, I find that I no longer need to consciously remind myself of this anchor anymore. I’m not saying it works every time, and that I don’t need more anchors, but this was a pivotal moment in my life.
What kind of anchors do you use? Maybe you didn’t realize you had any until you started to think about it. If you can’t think of any anchors, don’t worry, you’ll find one eventually. When you do, take ahold of it, because it can make you immovable.
Photo: Untitled by Elemental_Adventure, on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license
When I was single, it was easy to decide whether or not to go to a social gathering. I would often be a “maybe” or “last-minute,” but I always gave myself permission to not attend. Others may have seen this as flaky, stand-offish, anti-social, but it kept me in balance.
My (now) wife and I used to be part of a group of friends who had a standing appointment to hangout on Sunday nights. At the time we were just friends, and she would often wonder why I didn’t show up. I had various excuses, some better than others. Sometimes, I would make things up for not going, other excuses were more legitimate (e.g. I hid behind studying for the CPA exam forEVER). She would wonder why I opted not to attend a beach bonfire, but then would see me “check-in” at Barnes & Noble (something she claims was a regular occurrence), and think, “that’s what was more important than hanging out with us?!”
You see, depending on my mood and whether or not the occasion benefited me, its importance, if I would be put on the spot, or depending on how many people I did/didn’t know — I had a choice.
I still do have a choice, of course, but having a spouse is a variable I didn’t used to have to plan for. I could be selfish without many consequences for others. Thankfully, my wife, God bless her, understands my introvertedness and gives me a free pass at times. But we’ve had many arguments, too, because of my aversion to social gatherings.
We’ve come to a mutual understanding of sorts, which works more often than not: if she wants me to attend something with her, she has to let me know how important it is to her, how much it would mean for her to have me there, and whether or not it could negatively affect her career (or conversely, positively affect). This seems to strike a good balance most of the time. We sometimes run into problems when we haven’t communicated these things to one another, but we’re still learning, as I suspect we always will be. One thing remains: we cannot expect one another to attend every single function that comes along.