In today’s never-ending news cycle and constant engagement through technology, an interesting trend is developing. More people are writing books about introverts – those who often recoil from this endless interaction with others. Just under a decade ago, I wrote about Susan Cain’s landmark book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. Last year, I wrote about Dr. Marti Olsen Laney’s book, The Introvert Advantage: How Quiet People Can Thrive in an Extrovert World. Today, I combine the wisdom of those authors with an author, Thibaut Meurisse whose book The Thriving Introvert: Embrace the Gift of Introversion and Live the Life You Were Meant to Live sheds new light on the topic.
First, Meurisse asks you to consider the following ten statements about yourself:
I hate small talk, but I enjoy deep conversations.
I get tired if I stay at a party for too long.
I feel like everything I say should be meaningful and often refrain from talking for this reason.
I prefer one-on-one, or small group conversations s opposed to talking in large groups.
I need to spend time alone to recharge my battery.
I think before I speak.
I have difficulty thinking when in a group.
I usually listen more than I talk.
I dislike interruptions.
I hate conflict.
If you answered true to more than 5 of these statements, the chances are that you are an introvert. There are lots of different definitions of introversion, among them some very negative and inaccurate ones such as Webster’s New World Thesaurus claim that the words “brooder,” “self-observer,” “egoist,” “narcissist,” “solitary,” “lone wolf,” and “loner” are synonyms for introvert. So, what is the difference between an introvert and an extrovert?
According to Meurisse, it is two-fold. The difference lies both in the way that we create and consume energy and in the neurotransmitters that our bodies create and react with on a daily basis. Meurisse writes, “Extroverts need a lot of stimulation from the outside world. Without it, they start losing energy and begin to feel bored, lonely, or tired. Introverts need less external stimulation and time spent in social situations will tend to deplete their energy. This, in turn, forces them to withdraw and spend time alone to rejuvenate themselves.”
Meurisse argues that this difference is based in biology – in our sensitivity to the hormones that our body creates. He explains that extroverts need more stimulation because they are more sensitive to the neurotransmitter dopamine than introverts. In order to create dopamine we require adrenaline. How do you create adrenaline? Through activity and stimulation. This means that extroverts will seek out adrenaline producing activities in order to maintain higher levels of dopamine in their bodies.
On the flip side, introverts are sensitive to acetylcholine. And how is acetylcholine created? You might have guessed it… it’s created through thinking and feeling. When you have high levels of acetylcholine, it increases your focus, enhances memory, and creates a sense of well-being. In fact, when introverts spend time by themselves and say that they need the time to recharge, they are doing just that! The time spent thinking or observing helps introverts rejuvenate their spent neurotransmitter.
Susan Cain paints a similar picture of introverts and extroverts. Cain describes the introverts and extroverts as the north and south of temperaments. Introverts are people who prefer to be alone, enjoying the lack of stimulation and noise. On the other hand, extroverts thrive off of other people’s conversation and energy. While introversion and shyness often overlap, people who are shy experience anxiety when faced with social situations. In contrast, “Introverted people aren’t bothered by social situations,” says Louis Schmidt, director of the Child Emotion Laboratory at McMaster University in Ontario. “They just prefer not to engage.”
By some counts, roughly thirty percent of people fall into the introverted temperament end of the spectrum. And, while we might think that introversion and extroversion are choices we make, a study at Harvard University illustrated that even four-month-old babies exhibit tendencies towards introversion and extroversion that correlate with their personalities when they get older. Is this tendency as a four-month-old connected to biology and neurotransmitters? I’d imagine that Meurisse would argue that it is.
If you’ve identified yourself or others as introverts, don’t accept the negative definition that has long been attached to introverts. Instead, embrace the qualities that make introverts unique and productive.
Firstly, because introverts spend less time talking, they are wonderful listeners. Listening is an essential element in nonverbal communication, perhaps one of the most important skills when going on a shidduch date, making friends, or interviewing for a job. Recent studies show that introverted CEOs of major companies are most successful because they are able to listen to the creative ideas of their employees, instead of asserting their own ideas on a consistent basis.
Another benefit of introversion is good decision making. By nature, introverts are less likely to take excessive risks and therefore are more likely to weigh their decisions carefully before acting. Cain explains that “Extroverts are much more likely to get really excited by the possibility of a reward, but because of that, they won’t always pay attention to warning signals. Introverts are much more circumspect.”
Yet another benefit of introversion is the skill mastery, which has to do with the introvert’s ability to spend significant patches of time alone. Studies done on chess masters, concert violinists, athletes, and even regular university students preparing for examines demonstrated that the more deliberate time spent practicing or studying alone, the more skilled the person became. Florida State University psychologist reasoned, “You gain the most on your performance when you work alone. And the introverted temperament might make some kids more willing to make that commitment.”
Lean in to the quiet, lean in to the introversion, and live the life you were meant to!