The concepts of introversion and extroversion have been around for a long time, but only recently the Internet has exploded with information and opinions. Iím not going to explain how all that works here, but if youíre unfamiliar with the concept, just google Myers-Briggs or Carl Jung and youíll find all sorts of interesting information and little quizzes that help you determine which of 16 types you are.
A lot of what Iíve read is BS. There is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation about both personality types. Introverts are shy; they hate people; they have no social skills; they arenít good employees. Extroverts are shallow; they donít have empathy for others; they are over-boisterous; they talk too much. The most disturbing misconception is that one is better than the other, or the personality opposite to the writer has something wrong with them and must change himself to accommodate. These articles often degenerate into bashing. None of this is true. Neither personality type is ďrightĒ or ďwrong,Ē and neither is better than the other. They are simply different, and the most distinctive difference between them is how they gain and maintain internal energy. In very simple terms, extroverts do it by looking outside of themselves; introverts do it by looking within.
I am a card-carrying introvert. Iíve known this about myself since I was 12, although we didnít call it introversion then. But I recall early conversations with my mother that went something like this:
Mom: You need to go out more. You need more friends.
Mom: Because itís not good for you to be alone so much.
Me: But I like being alone.
Mom: Youíre too isolated. You wonít be able to go out into the world later if you donít start practicing now.
I also recall a rule my father had for my much-older sister (and by extension, me) about how she had to date 150 boys before she chose one to marry. (Realize that she was a teenager around 1960, and ďdatingĒ had a much different meaning then than it does now, and that most teenaged girls no longer have as their main goal to ďfind a husband.Ē)
I used to come home from school, do my homework, have a snack, and then retreat to my bedroom, where I could listen to music, read books, or just stare out the window and contemplate the world. In the evenings, I would watch TV, or read more, or talk on the phone. In the summer, Iíd ride my bike or explore in the woods behind my house. I also had a horse, and if I wasnít in my room, Iíd be out riding. I had friends; my neighborhood and the stables where I rode were both full of kids, and somebody was always out and about. But I always preferred to play with a single friend at a time, and more often than not, I rode alone. I was not a party person, and I despised school events.
The conversations with my mother didnít make sense, and my fatherís rule horrified me. In retrospect, I understand what they were trying to do. No one wants to see their kids isolated, and the more acquaintances you have, the more well-rounded you are as a person. It doesnít mean you have to form deep friendships with every single one of those people, and it doesnít mean you have to expend all your energy on other people. But in my simple, childlike way of thinking, I just saw that I was being pushed to do something I didnít want to do. And in my stubborn way of thumbing my nose at authority, I didnít do it. And looking back, it really doesnít matter. My mother is, and my father was, introverted just like me. My sister dated lots more boys and was more popular than me, but weíre both divorced now and have very similar philosophies about human relationships.
So what does that mean?
I bounce back and forth between ISTJ and ISFJ on the Myers-Briggs scale. The T and J are so close as to be almost 50/50, but the I part is way up there at about 75%. It means Iím a serious introvert.
It means Iím introspective. I look inside myself for answers. I can come off as cold or aloof to those who donít know me. I like basic facts, not a lot of superfluous explanations. Iím also methodical and analytical. Iím not a team player; I work best alone, or in small groups of only two or three people. I dread networking and large, noisy parties and office meetings. I find engaging in inane, meaningless small talk painful. Being out in public, being with a lot of people, experiencing constant interruptions, dealing with home stresses, all of those circumstances create sensory overload for me and drain me of energy.
I also have good people skills, and Iím generally sensitive to other peopleís needs. However, I donít make friends easily, and when I do, I take them very seriously. I have few of what I call really good friends, but I enjoy deep relationships with those people, and I would do anything in my power to help them if they need me. Shallow relationships based on shallow, immediate needs donít interest me. Iím in it for the long term.
What does that mean for weight loss?
When Iím drained of energy, I tend to make bad food choices and I tend to be lazy about working out. So the energy needs to be replenished. How do I replenish?
An extrovert would surround him or herself with lots of people. Possibly go to a party or a local hangout where he can meet up with people. An extrovert recharges Ė takes energy Ė from being around others. An introvert recharges by being alone. I need to be in a quiet place, without a lot of stimulation, where I can get inside my own head, enjoy my own peace and quiet. I take refuge in my solitary workouts, where I can listen to nature sounds, or water sounds, and either think, or not think. I take refuge in the car when Iím driving alone, where I can listen to music, or not. I take refuge behind a closed door at work, where no one is trying to get my attention and no one is interrupting me. I need these moments of solitude, even if they only last a minute or two. I canít survive without them.
Getting online, here on Spark or elsewhere, is another way to replenish. It works in two ways. First, if people around me see me busy on my computer, they tend to leave me alone unless itís an urgent matter. Second, I can connect with people who think like me. And if I donít feel like logging in, I donít have to.
Iíve heard people say that social media was invented for introverts. And I agree, in a way. Itís easy to engage people online, itís easy to ignore people you donít want to engage with, and itís easy to stop engaging whenever you want. However, Iíve also found that when I over-engage online, itís no different than over-engaging in person. I can do it, Iím good at it, and I enjoy it. Until I donít.
My introversion also affects how I interact on my teams and with my friends. The teams I enjoy most are built around a particular topic or activity, and have a small, core group of active members who check in regularly and who encourage each other in all aspects of life, not just fitness and nutrition.
I like giving and receiving that kind of encouragement. It helps cement friendships and it holds me to some standard of accountability. But sometimes I donít have anything to say. And sometimes I donít have the energy to read what everyone else has to say, especially if the thread is particularly long and I have to search for substance. Iíve discovered that reading small talk is just as energy draining as listening to it. It is just as over-stimulating as being in a crowded room. The difference is, itís easier to turn it off if youíre reading it. And I often do.
How does that work? I read and participate as long as it serves my energy reserves to do so. And when that energy reserve is depleted, I stop. As I must. The key is knowing when itís depleted and taking the necessary steps to replenish it, before it leads to bad food choices and lazy workouts.
Sometimes my teams and friends donít understand. They come looking for me with messages like ďcome out!Ē and ďdonít give up!Ē While I appreciate the sentiment and the fact that people are concerned, my lack of communication doesnít mean Iím giving up. Iím still here, doing what I do best, which is being alone and doing things my own way. Holding myself accountable. Iíll come out when Iím ready, and youíll think I was never gone.