Should I try to be more extroverted?

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The answer is definitely ‘no’… and ‘yes’… depending on the circumstances…

When the answer is ‘no’:

Too many introverts have grown up with the idea that introverts are simply failed extroverts, and berate themselves for it. So many introverts aspire to being more extroverted because that’s what our culture tells us we should be. ‘If only I could… think quicker, talk quicker, do more, make snappy decisions, hold my own in a group, dazzle people with my sparkling conversation, be the life and soul of the party, wow an audience, be noticed, be popular etc, etc…’ life would be so much easier!’

But trying to be what we’re not is never a good idea when it’s based on the assumption that what we are is not good enough. Contrary to popular belief, an introvert cannot just shape up and ‘become’ an extrovert, even though some are very good at pretending to do so. Acting against type quickly depletes our energy and trying to keep up with the extroverts long-term will take a big toll on an introvert’s emotional and physical well-being.

Far better to accept our introversion as being who we really are and spend our energy cultivating our unique introvert strengths instead.

When the answer is ‘yes’:

That said, sometimes it can be very useful to learn how to ‘extrovert’ – i.e. behave like an extrovert – but this should only be for short periods and in the right circumstances. The difference here is that we are temporarily choosing to act against type, stepping out of our introvert comfort zone and into the world outside, safe in the knowledge that we can return to our introvert self afterwards. The right circumstances are when we want to make things happen that are important to us, or to do things that we care about, such as change your job, speak up in a meeting, perform an art or organise a birthday party for your child.

If you are going to extrovert, you need to prepare yourself by ensuring that your energy reserves are full before you start and that you build in time straightaway afterwards to recharge the energy you’ve lost. Brian Little refers to these vital recharging sessions as ‘restorative niches’ – they restore our energy but also restore us back to our true introvert selves.

A word of warning: extroverts often find this approach confusing – that we can be extroverting one minute and withdrawn the next – so sometimes the temptation is to let these extroverting periods run on longer than we’re really comfortable with. Resist the temptation.

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