The concepts of introversion and extroversion have been around for a long time, but only recently the Internet has exploded with information and opinions. I’m not going to explain how all that works here, but if you’re unfamiliar with the concept, just google Myers-Briggs or Carl Jung and you’ll find all sorts of interesting information and little quizzes that help you determine which of 16 types you are.
A lot of what I’ve 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 aren’t good employees. Extroverts are shallow; they don’t 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 “right” or “wrong,” 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. I’ve known this about myself since I was 12, although we didn’t 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 it’s not good for you to be alone so much.
Me: But I like being alone.
Mom: You’re too isolated. You won’t be able to go out into the world later if you don’t 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 “dating” had a much different meaning then than it does now, and that most teenaged girls no longer have as their main goal to “find a husband.”)
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, I’d ride my bike or explore in the woods behind my house. I also had a horse, and if I wasn’t in my room, I’d 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 didn’t make sense, and my father’s 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 doesn’t mean you have to form deep friendships with every single one of those people, and it doesn’t 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 didn’t want to do. And in my stubborn way of thumbing my nose at authority, I didn’t do it. And looking back, it really doesn’t 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 we’re 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 I’m a serious introvert.
It means I’m introspective. I look inside myself for answers. I can come off as cold or aloof to those who don’t know me. I like basic facts, not a lot of superfluous explanations. I’m also methodical and analytical. I’m 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 I’m generally sensitive to other people’s needs. However, I don’t 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 don’t interest me. I’m in it for the long term.
What does that mean for weight loss?
When I’m 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 – takes energy – 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 I’m 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 can’t 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 it’s an urgent matter. Second, I can connect with people who think like me. And if I don’t feel like logging in, I don’t have to.
I’ve heard people say that social media was invented for introverts. And I agree, in a way. It’s easy to engage people online, it’s easy to ignore people you don’t want to engage with, and it’s easy to stop engaging whenever you want. However, I’ve also found that when I over-engage online, it’s no different than over-engaging in person. I can do it, I’m good at it, and I enjoy it. Until I don’t.
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 don’t have anything to say. And sometimes I don’t 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. I’ve 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, it’s easier to turn it off if you’re 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 it’s depleted and taking the necessary steps to replenish it, before it leads to bad food choices and lazy workouts.
Sometimes my teams and friends don’t understand. They come looking for me with messages like “come out!” and “don’t give up!” While I appreciate the sentiment and the fact that people are concerned, my lack of communication doesn’t mean I’m giving up. I’m still here, doing what I do best, which is being alone and doing things my own way. Holding myself accountable. I’ll come out when I’m ready, and you’ll think I was never gone.