It’s not easy being an introvert, because our society seems designed for extroverts. Job interviews favor those who are personable, smooth-talking, and quick-thinking. Classrooms are noisy, busy places that reward the students who raise their hands frequently and dive into group work. The social scene lauds those who are confident, outgoing, and quick to make small talk.
How can an introvert live a happy, fulfilling life in an “extroverted” world? In my book, The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World, I explore how introverts can work with their introversion rather than fight against it. Here are 10 ways introverts can do just that.
1. Get over your guilt of leaving the social event early. Have you ever started saying your goodbyes at a social event only to have someone incredulously exclaim, “You’re leaving already? We’re just getting started!” These types of comments used to fill me with guilt. Why was I the only one getting drained and wanting to leave? Was there something wrong with me? Thankfully, I later learned that I’m an introvert, and introverts get worn out by socializing because they respond to rewards differently than extroverts (you can learn more about the science behind introversion in my book). Now, I have no problem calling it an early night and heading for the door.
2. Have more meaningful conversations. Introverts tend to loathe small talk because it feels pointless and inauthentic, but we feel energized by talking about meaningful topics and big ideas. And there’s good news for introverts: research suggests that the happiest people have twice as many meaningful conversations — and do less surface-level chitchat — than the unhappiest. You may even find that big talk doesn’t drain you the way small talk does.
3. Be okay with turning down social invitations that promise little meaningful interaction. We’ve all been there. An acquaintance invites you to such-and-such event. You feel obligated to attend because you don’t want to hurt that person’s feelings or seem rude. But you know that the birthday party for your friend’s niece’s toddler or the guys’ night out won’t be fulfilling. In fact, it will not only lack meaningful interaction but also leave you with an introvert hangover, which is when you feel physically unwell from overextending yourself socially. If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent a good chunk of your life saying yes to social invitations out of guilt — then you paid for it later with exhaustion and overstimulation. Of course, there are some things you probably shouldn’t skip, like your good friend’s wedding or your spouse’s birthday dinner with the family. Bottom line, to live a happier life, pass on any unnecessary get-togethers you feel will drain your introvert battery, not energize it.
4. Schedule your alone time to avoid hurt feelings. I had the pleasure of sitting down with introverted Indie rocker jeremy messersmith to interview him for my book. He told me about a smart practice he’s been doing for quite some time: He makes sure he gets enough alone time by scheduling it once a week on the family calendar. That way his extroverted wife won’t feel hurt when he says he wants to be alone, and they can both work together to protect his restorative solitude by not scheduling other obligations at that time.
5. Don’t force yourself to live the “extroverted” life. Research from the University of Maryland suggests that acting falsely extroverted can lead to burnout, stress, and cardiovascular disease. Turns out, embracing your introverted nature isn’t just a feel-good axiom — it’s actually good for your health.
6. Back away from one-sided relationships. Sadly, because introverts listen well and are often content to take the back seat, we can be targets for toxic or emotionally needy people. These relationships — in which one person is taking more than they give — drain our already limited social energy. If there are people in your life who continually exhaust you, consider spending less time with them. You’ll get the bonus of freeing up more time and energy for the people who do fill you up.
7. Stop beating yourself up for that awkward thing you said…3 years ago. Perhaps because introverts have more electrical activity in their brains than extroverts, they tend to ruminate. Our overthinking may take the form of playing embarrassing mistakes over and over in our minds. Sadly, rumination can give way to anxiety and depression — and it rarely helps you solve the problem you’re chewing on. To break free from the rumination cycle, do something to get the powerful engine of your mind chugging down a different track. Try calling to mind a positive memory, putting on music, going for a walk, or doing any different activity than the one you’re currently doing.
8. Give yourself permission to not do it all. I have an extroverted friend who always has her hand in something. If she’s not organizing a get-together with our friends, she’s volunteering at her son’s pre-school or taking on an extra project at work. I’ll admit that I’ve wished for her energy because she really does seem like she’s doing it all. But I have to remind myself that my talents lie in deep analysis, reflective thinking, and quality over quantity — not in running around doing all the things.
9. Occasionally push yourself out of your comfort zone. To my absolute horror, after writing a book about introversion, I learned that people wanted to talk to me about said book. They even wanted me to give interviews, go on podcasts, and give speeches! Let’s just say it was a very real lesson in pushing myself out of my stay-at-home-and-watch-Netflix comfort zone. Honestly, I hated almost every minute of it (I really did!), but I did those things because I knew it would be good for me. Taking the occasional jaunt out of your comfort zone can help you grow, too.
10. Protect your needs. Because introverts tend to be conscientious people who keep their thoughts to themselves, they may find their needs getting overlooked. Most people probably aren’t purposely trying to burden you or take advantage of you — it may be that they simply aren’t aware of what you need! Do you need a few hours to yourself to recharge from a busy week? Say it! Do you need someone to stop talking to you for a few minutes so you can concentrate? Tell them! Your needs matter just as much as everyone else’s.
My book, The Secret Lives of Introverts, has been called a “decoder ring for introverts” and “one of the best books [on] introvert empowerment.” It’s available for purchase on Amazon, or wherever books are sold.