Introvert: How to make being an introvert a superpower?

The dictionary definition of being an introvert is “a person predominantly concerned with their own thoughts and feelings rather than with external things.” But is that really the case? Over the years, I’ve done multiple tests including the Myers-Brigg personality questionnaire, which all pointed out my introversion. Being an INFJ apparently means that despite craving my own space, I love to help others.

So how do we make being an introvert a superpower?

Thanks to the following guests for participating:

Michael Brian McDonnell, coach, entrepreneur, and author of My Introvert Journey To Being Visible: Join me on my journey from hiding in the shadows full of fear to Sky TV and beyond. Here is the full interview:

Chourouk Gorrab, Co-founder and Head of Communications & Partnerships for The Spill Mag.

Here are some of the resources from the show:

Susan Cain at a TED Talk:

Michaela Chung speaks to 2Questions.TV.

Books looked at this week:

Michael Brian McDonnell: My Introvert Journey To Being Visible: Join me on my journey from hiding in the shadows full of fear to Sky TV and beyond

Susan Cain: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Michaela Chung: The Irresistible Introvert: Harness the Power of Quiet Charisma in a Loud World

PS. I do not receive commission for reviewing books and talks.

Transcription

Exploring how we can master ourselves by looking at how experts say it is possible with your host Suswati Basu.

Intro music

Welcome to episode 18 of How To Be…with me Suswati as your timid presenter, guiding you through life’s tricky skills by taking this learning journey with you.

Over the years, I’ve done multiple tests which all point out that I am an introvert. Anyone familiar with the Myers-Briggs test, an introspective self-report questionnaire, knows that it can give an interesting overview of yourself. I’m apparently an INFJ, which means I’m introverted but like to help people. This seems like a bit of a paradox given how much I hate public speaking and the general lack of self-confidence. So how do we make being an introvert a superpower?

I spoke to author, coach, and award-winning entrepreneur Michael Brian McDonnell this week on his book My Introvert Journey To Being Visible: Join me on my journey from hiding in the shadows full of fear to Sky TV and beyond. McDonnell lives with the lifelong condition cystic fibrosis among other conditions so I could definitely empathise. After a childhood of being isolated, McDonnell tells me how he was able to overcome it and find the full interview on www.howtobe247.com.

MICHAEL BRIAN MCDONNELL

McDonnell says being an introvert doesn’t mean you can’t be visible, in fact some of the biggest names in the world were introverts. Albert Einstein, Rosa Parks, Bill Gates, and even director Steven Spielberg are apparently all known introverts so we may be in good company.

He also says there is a lot of fear associated with taking leaps as an introvert. Using his own experiences of public speaking, which terrified him as well, McDonnell says sometimes you have to feel the fear and do it anyway. You also have to create the situations for you test yourself, and it can take more effort and action than you think to do something.

He adds one of the most important conversations that ever broke him out of his mould was that as soon as he realised that he can do many things -he can do anything he put his mind to- and that the only limit was his imagination. This includes getting on stage and holding talks.

McDonnell says if you are in a situation where you want to try something new but are afraid, don’t use your first or second time to decide if you should keep doing it because remembering that consistency is key and that you need to get an outside honest opinion about things, and you need enough time to actually get comfortable focusing on the skill rather than the fear. Your mind can make it feel much worse than you think it is.

It is also important to use these situations as learning opportunities rather than failures. In his own situation, when he spoke the first time, he says he felt inadequate amongst a sea of TED Talk speakers and professors. However, once he started to think about the lessons he learned and even the possible good things that could come out of it – the fact he actually did it and that he didn’t do as bad as he thought he did- he was able to push past and do it again.

For McDonnell, doing this taught him that he was stronger than he thought, far more capable than he ever imagined and it taught him the value of him leading the way, him changing the world his way so he could show others what it actually takes – not just in theory – but by actually doing it.

We couldn’t do a list on introversion without talking about American writer Susan Cain’s New York Times bestselling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Quiet focuses on the strengths and needs of both introverts and extroverts. Here she is at a TED Talk:

SUSAN CAIN

Cain says extroverts tend to need a lot of social stimuli, whereas introverts mostly prefer to be alone and think. She says extroverts are sociable and outgoing. They like to interact with others whenever they get the chance. They enjoy being in the spotlight and going out frequently; they need to be surrounded by people.

Introverts, in contrast, prefer to be in calm situations and like to think long and hard about the mistakes they have made. Cain believes the introvert’s tendency to meditate on experiences and sensory stimuli enables her to effectively undertake and complete artistic and intellectual projects.

She adds introverts can do such things because they enjoy spending time quietly by themselves, or with small groups of people, and find it easy to talk about personal and social problems. While extroverts tend to have many superficial acquaintances, introverts prefer fewer, albeit deeper, friendships.

The vast majority of introverts have yet another personality trait in common apparently: they are highly sensitive. People who are highly sensitive process information from their environment in an unusually thorough way.

As a result of this complex way of perceiving, highly sensitive people find profound conversations about values and morals far more stimulating than the superficial anecdotes of a colleague’s recent vacation.

Highly sensitive people’s intense processing of information is also noticeable in their sympathetic nature. Tragedies and cruelties have more of an emotional impact on them.

Cain says consequently, introverts have a strict moral conscience: they are aware of how their behavior affects others and tend to take their own mistakes to heart. To these highly sensitive individuals, it means a lot to be seen positively by others, which makes it unusually trying for them to meet new people or be interviewed.

Highly sensitive people feel emotions more acutely, notice changes more quickly and react more strongly to looks, sounds, pain and stimulants.

This sensitivity also helps us define the difference between introversion and shyness: shy people are afraid of negative judgment, whereas introverts, because of their sensitivity, just prefer quiet environments with little stimulation. So apparently Bill Gates is an introvert and Barbara Streisand, even though she has stage fright, is a shy extrovert.

The amygdala of high-reactive people is extremely sensitive as well. In an experiment, psychologists and neuroscientists found that 20 per cent of infants reacted to alcohol soaked cotton swabs held under their nose more extremely than the other 40 per cent who didn’t react to external stimuli.

Since these people have particularly  strong reactions to external stimuli, they end up preferring low-stimulation surroundings, such as libraries, and mature into reserved and thoughtful people: introverts.

Introverted children also only thrive in the right environment. When introverted children get the right upbringing, they can build up self-confidence and learn to develop their skills constructively. But when they are pressured, overstimulated or dismissed, they have a greater chance of suffering from depression or respiratory disorders.

Unfortunately the ideal of the successful extrovert prevails in the Western world. Extroverts are not only considered more qualified and intelligent because of their sociability but also more interesting and cooperative.

Different cultures value different temperaments. While extroverted behavior is generally preferred to introverted behavior in Europe and America, the exact opposite is the case in Asia.

Some introverts find it particularly difficult to switch into extrovert mode. But it has been shown that a number of them, especially when they want to achieve something important, can overcome their introversion for a short period of time and act extroverted.

However, a good deal of significant and creative achievements have come about in private. Steve Wozniak built Apple’s first personal computer by himself at home for example.

Cain says it is only when both temperaments open up to one another and try to understand the other’s perspective that they can achieve great results together.

The last book is by author and coach Michaela Chung, who has written a number of books in this area including The Irresistible Introvert: Harness the Power of Quiet Charisma in a Loud World. Here she is speaking to 2Questions.TV.

MICHAELA CHUNG

Chung says An introvert’s desire for solitude is more than just a preference. It is crucial to our health and happiness. We need time alone to restore ourselves.

She adds many introverts identify as highly sensitive. For example, Most introverts hate talking on the phone• We are often spiritual• We have a tendency to over think• We prefer deep conversations over small talk• We often write better than we speak. Of course not all introverts are this way but many can identify with these traits.

According to Dr. Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive when the World Overwhelms You, a highly sensitive person (HSP) has a sensitive nervous system. Highly stimulating environments easily overwhelm them. Although not all introverts are highly sensitive, most HSPs (about 70 percent) are introverted. I’ve definitely been diagnosed as HSP. Sensitivity comes with many gifts, such as strong intuition, empathy, and an appreciation for subtlety.

But western culture’s obsession with accumulating more can become overwhelming. Bigger is better! Go big or go home! Supersize me, baby! These are household phrases that appeal to extroverted households.

Chung’s theory is that introverts give energy to everything we own. I can attest to this, I’ve had my guitar since I was seven years old and will never get rid of it. And I will wear out clothes I like to the end of its days.

Introverts also prefer to take a quality-over-quantity approach to relationships. This means that we tend to have fewer friends and fewer partners over a lifetime. Managing too many friendships is stressful for introverts.

She also mentions introverts are internal processors, which means that our point of reference for relating to the world comes from within. There’s a line she mentions which is beautiful: “For quiet, sensitive souls, solitude is the golden thread that unites us with our inner world.” Like Chung, I travelled around the world from an early age just because I preferred solitude. I’ve also lived alone just because I preferred it to sharing.

Introverts are also overwhelmed by the neverending list of “shoulds” that are doled out to us like candy from a young age in order to fit in.

She also advises one of the best ways to move forward on our journey toward our true nature is to retreat. Self-care practices, such as retreats, are not just for special occasions. We need to incorporate weekly and daily restorative practices into our lives. This can include going for a walk in nature, journaling, meditating, even reading for pleasure. Slowing down in life feels like a much more convenient pace. We tend to wander in our minds a lot. I’m a notorious daydreamer.

Constantly being inside our head leads to overthinking. Sometimes it feels like our mind is wired for worry. Our brain latches on to a particular problem and overanalyzes it. When this happens, it is all too easy for negative thoughts and concerns to flood our mind. To stop this she recommends activities where it requires less thinking like knitting, painting, walking, watching comedy etc.

Our energy as introverts is a lot more short lived for social engagements. We can easily run out of steam midway through a weekend if there’s too much to do. I limit myself to a few hours with friends before needing to retreat. The main reason introverts are drained by social activities is because those activities feel like a sensory assault. After a while, we want to shut down and end the onslaught.

She says If we only have the energy for one social activity on the weekend, the wise choice would be the option that provides the greatest payoff. And that also includes the type of people you surround yourself with that aren’t particularly draining.

Despite this, even though introverts need alone time, it doesn’t mean we should live in isolation like hermits. Loneliness can creep in which isn’t healthy either. Introverts feel a lot of emotion, but sometimes need to shut down just so it isn’t so overwhelming.

To sum up:

In My Introvert Journey To Being Visible, McDonnell says don’t let avoiding negativity stop you from moving towards what you want, in the end you can only do your best and see what happens.

In Quiet, Cain says both introverts and extroverts have qualities that can be extremely valuable to the people in their environment. Both personalities should be given the space they need to realize their potential.

In The Irresistible Introvert, Chung says in order to have more deep conversations, Use jump-off points, and use a combination of thoughtful questions, statements, and observations, get curious, and don’t judge others. And let others know you don’t like using the phone and prefer a different method of communication. I recommend checking out Chung’s Introvert Spring website for more information. She also says if emotions are too much, describe them using colours, textured or analogies.

And here are the gifts that introversion can bring: creativity, observation, loyalty, deep-thinking, listening, focus, introspection, word economy, and love of being alone.

To end this session, here’s Co-founder, and Head of Communications & Partnerships at Spill Mag Chourouk Gorrab. And if you enjoyed this please hit subscribe!

CHOUROUK GORRAB

Published by suswatibasu

Suswati Basu is a writer, journalist, producer and feminist activist residing in London. She has written for the Guardian, Huffington Post and the F-Word blogs, and has worked for various media outlets such as the BBC, Channel 4 and for ITV News/ITN. She currently works as a senior intelligence expert.

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