“Did you know that recent research shows that extroverts are generally happier and that introverts feel happier when they act extroverted? Even the Wall Street Journal is talking about it (http://on.wsj.com/15XiVuN).”
If that opening sentence sounds familiar, it’s because I’ve written about it before. I was ready to let the subject go for the time being. After all, who has time to chase down every story that holds up extroversion as the ideal, the narrow path to happiness? But when a Facebook fan sent me a message sharing the “How to Act Like an Extrovert” training program that’s part of an app she’s using, I had to chime in at least one more time with a response.
Who might use a “How to Act Like an Introvert” training program? Any extrovert who wants to cultivate more introvert energy, and introverts who want to feel more comfortable with their natural preferences. My instructions (which are genuine but a bit facetious, since they’re written in the style of the original article*) are followed by the app’s (in parenthesis).
Let’s turn the tables, shall we?
Instructions on How to Act Like an Introvert
Write down three ways you would like to be introverted (…to be extroverted)
Take time over the next 24 hours to notice how you are in social and private situations. Which activities or feelings would you characterize as introverted or extroverted? For example, feeling disconnected or restless when alone is more extroverted. Experiencing energy drain after a long day with people is more introverted. Now, write down three ways you can be more introverted (i.e. feel comfortable and recharged by quiet or alone time, or think first and talk second). Ideas follow in the next few instructions, but I’m sure you can come up with some ways on your own. Think of all the thinks you can think if you incorporate more introvert energy into your day!
Talk to a friend (…a stranger)
Introverts don’t often talk to strangers without good reason (we took “stranger danger!” very seriously growing up), but we do like to talk to friends. That is, when we’re not feeling like we’d rather read, nap, listen to music, or drink wine by the fire. So release the feeling that you “should” talk to the grocery check-out clerk or your really chatty co-worker, and decide to focus on talking to one person you really, really like. Someone who gives you warm fuzzies or brings a smile to your face. Feel the deep satisfaction that comes from a meaningful exchange of ideas. Make the conversation as long or short as you wish.
Be a fly on the wall (Make eye contact)
I hope that you enjoyed your deeper conversations with one or two intimate friends. I know I did! Now it’s time to focus on your powers of observation. This doesn’t mean you just stare at people as if you’re secretly psychoanalyzing them – that superpower you can turn on your family during Thanksgiving dinner. Until then, be satisfied with intentional people watching. Notice how people are interacting, their facial expressions and moods. Who looks light and carefree? Who’s carrying the weight of the world? Don’t feel any obligation to talk to them or make eye contact. Feeling connected to others doesn’t have to involve interaction; it can simply be felt by really hearing and seeing them without interference.
Say NO to an invitation/event (Say YES…)
Say “NO!” to attending an event or activity. And enjoy how empowering it is to make that choice! I want you to think about your week and identify an event or activity that you assumed you had to participate in that you really don’t. For example, did someone invite you to their dog’s birthday party? Is there a meetup that you just go to out of habit? How about a fundraising luncheon for a local charity your friend’s involved with? Notice anything that feels like a social obligation and consider how to decline it. Send Fido a Kong toy. Take a sabbatical from the meetup. Make a donation to that charity online and treat yourself to a quiet lunch away from your desk. It’s not always easy to say no, but that’s usually because we assume we can’t. Saying no every so often reaffirms that you do have a choice, and it helps make the yes answers that much more sincere and enjoyable.
Decrease your volume (Increase…)
Turn down the volume! Notice the level of noise in your environment – whether it is at home, in your office or at a social gathering. What can you control? How are you contributing to the noise? If someone else is making the noise, how can you politely ask them to put a sock in it? Using headphones or earplugs, muting commercials, getting a few throw rugs or adding more cloth to a space, closing a door, moving or asking the other person to move, writing or whispering instead of talking out loud… these are all easy ways to dampen the din. Even if you think that you are being quiet enough, you can probably stand to decrease your volume at least a few decibels. Do it. Observe how you feel. Stop talking!
Do something nice for a stranger (Smile and say hi to…)
This instruction is pretty simple: do something nice for a stranger. Rather than feel compelled to fill the silence or ask how someone’s doing, do something easy and helpful. Hold the door open. Pick up a dropped item. Switch places in the grocery line with the person carrying only one or two items to your ten. Making yourself useful is a gentle, inviting way to connect with others.
Initiate an activity or a group (Join…)
Consider an activity or a group to start – offline or online. Plan it out, make it happen. While introverts aren’t always the most enthusiastic joiners, we are surprisingly enthusiastic initiators, creating the types of groups that we wish existed, ones that are in sync with our interests and energy. It might be a highly niched meetup group, a private Facebook group, or a mastermind circle with trusted colleagues. It can be a tennis foursome or a book group. Find something that you are interested in and round up a small group of people who share your interest. Now you have created a group activity you can look forward to!
Put it all together!
Now it’s time for your last official “Act Like an Introvert” Challenge. Put it all together. When you find yourself in a group setting (work or leisure) do the following: Listen more than you talk. Spend meaningful one-on-one time with people you love. Use your powers of observation. Decrease your contribution to the noise level, and ask others to do the same. Volunteer for a role or task. Show, don’t tell. Facilitate a discussion about something you care about. You’ve done all of these things already – now just do them together. Enjoy. And great work.
How would you advise someone to “act like an introvert”? Please share in the comments!
* A really fun writing exercise is to take a passage of writing from your favorite author and mimic its style and syntax using your own message or story. It’s useful if you’re experiencing writer’s block or want to try on a tone different from your own, such as snarky, serious, funny, dramatic, metaphorical, minimalist, etc.