The need for connection is universal and acknowledged to be amongst the most important for human beings. Through authentic expression of ourselves, we are able to connect and grow with each other.
As Introverts, self-expression in the manner that leads to genuine connection can be challenging. In a world that extolls the virtues of the Extrovert and until recently, has had only a limited and misguided understanding of Introversion, the message sent to Introverts is quite undeniable - “You need to be more extroverted to be able to connect with others, to feel accepted, to grow, to succeed.”
Towards that end, the person we show up as when amongst others, is different in varying degrees from the genuine version. This pretense certainly has its benefits; we do in fact make headway in many of life’s pursuits by challenging ourselves to do what feels difficult and unnatural. However, pretense it still is. Left unchecked, we lose touch with ourselves and burn out from the effort involved. Even the connections formed may have feeble foundations that might not withstand our reality.
Fortunately, there is a shift happening, more understanding and openness towards introversion in the world today, thanks primarily to the work of Susan Cain (author of the book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking) and others. While that is encouraging, there is work to be done and some of us still carry limiting energy and beliefs around ourselves, due to exposure to environments that invalidated our world-view. A lot of us are still playing a role.
Imagine a life driven by authenticity, in which you value your time and know how you would prefer to spend it, your priorities are clear and you know what is important to do to support them, you are aware of your qualities and value them, you feel powerful to make choices that engage you and further your purpose.
To express ourselves authentically, we must first re-connect with ourselves, and then with world. This time though, we engage with Awareness and with Power. We are no longer tired sailboats struggling to navigate the forceful, capricious Ocean. We are no longer reacting to the structure of an extrovert-oriented world at the cost of our own well-being. We recognize our qualities, we wear them with dignity, and we are thoughtful in our actions. Like Mountains - Grounded, Present and Strong - Quietly so.
Before we go any further, take a moment to answer this question. Answer as thoughtfully and honestly as you can.
What makes you an Introvert?
The benefit of having an understanding of one’s self is not limited to Introverts alone. Developing self-awareness is one of the most meaningful steps you can take towards living a life that feels fulfilling. It is your roadmap for creating the life of your choice – without doubt, without allowing others opinions to dictate whom you are being. Pay attention to who you are and you will know the best way to get to where you want to be.
Introverts, according to Susan Cain are “people who prefer quieter, more minimally stimulating environments. The key is about stimulation: extroverts feel at their best and crave a high degree of stimulation. For introverts, the optimal zone is much lower.”
Introverts are wired differently, our brains function differently and we have different physiological responses to stimuli than do extroverts. So, it follows that naturally we will respond differently to people, we are likely to have completely different skills, excel in different environments and pursue happiness and success in a way that is unique to us. Different - not better and by no means worse.
Understanding the Introvert That You Are
Nobody is completely Introverted nor completely Extroverted. We each of us behave differently, depending upon the situation we find ourselves in. As you grow your awareness about Introversion and yourself, pay attention to how you spend your time and your experience of it. How do you feel about the activities you are engaged in? Do they come naturally to you or feel forced and effortful? How often do you spend your time doing things you “have to” do? What would you like to do instead? How many of your pursuits feel uplifting and how many of them draining? How do you feel in the presence of large groups of people, small groups and alone? Discover your persona.
Note: Journaling is a particularly effective method to increase awareness.
Understand your reactions to your own traits
Refer back to your answer about what makes you an Introvert. Notice the tone of your answer. Did you project a positive impression of yourself as an introvert? Did you qualify your introversion with what you bring to the table, how you think and create and provide value, what you observe and feel, how you empathize?
Or did introversion show up in your answer as something that needs to be overcome, characterized by all the things you don’t do, say or enjoy, the things you cannot do as well as others, or how you perceive yourself as limited?
The purpose of this exercise is to reveal what thoughts you carry about yourself, how much pressure you feel to change who you are and to get a good look at what you might benefit from changing.
Power is about recognizing that you have options; that you can choose and create your experiences. Power keeps you from drifting through life without intention and merely reacting to situations. Use your awareness to feed your power.
Create a new powerful image of yourself
How we think about ourselves has a direct effect on how we show up. So, if you had a less than complimentary view of yourself as an introvert, I challenge you to answer that question again, leading with your strengths and this time reframing your qualities in a positive, empowering manner.
Choose the areas where you recognize the need to stretch yourself.
Most places where we spend our time, there are likely to be expectations of us to engage in conversations or activities that maybe more stimulating than we appreciate.
Go through each area of your life and reflect on your why - meaning why this area is important to you, what does this bring to your life, how important is it that things go well here. As you recognize your priorities through this process, identify the areas that feel most significant. Make your efforts there.
Choose where and when you will exert
Having broadly identified the areas you want to work on to extend yourself, make a plan. As part of your daily, weekly or monthly schedule what additional actions will you take?
While doing the work of improving and practicing new skills, give yourself time, challenge yourself but also have compassion with yourself. Be flexible, start slow and build up until you find a good balance. Remember to be yourself more than often than not.
Choose how you will recharge
As you plan your events, schedule time to recharge yourself.
In spite of excellent planning and a well-laid out schedule, the occasional event is bound to come up on short notice. Weigh the event through the same process, check in with your self and decide. These will likely require a lot more motivation to accept but that’s the reason knowing your whyis important. It gives your decision making process, some direction and focus.
And finally, the secret that helps tie all this together ....... RELEASE JUDGMENT
Do not think of introverts as good and extroverts as bad or vice versa. Do not judge the behaviors of either personality.
Through the numerous experiences in our lives, we will have opportunities to project qualities all along the introvert-extrovert spectrum. Releasing judgment of situations, of others and of ourselves will allow us to step into the behaviors we need to adopt, with reduced effort and with authenticity.