How to thrive as an introvert

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How to thrive as an introvert

Introversion shouldn’t hold you back – read on for advice on how to thrive as an introvert.

Richard Branson, Meryl Streep, Lady Gaga, Barack Obama. They all have one surprising thing in common: they’re all introverts.

And I say surprising because we tend to have misconceptions about what it means to be an introvert. You may picture someone who’s very quiet, withdrawn, or maybe even downright reclusive. You almost certainly picture someone who’s lacking in confidence; someone who’d fall to pieces at the thought of getting up on stage or speaking in public.

You’d never dream that the flamboyant Lady Gaga could be an introvert as she owns the stage. Or that an introvert could address an entire nation with the confidence and poise of Obama.

Yet, introverts everywhere are breaking these stereotypes. This is because actually, introversion has less to do with confidence and everything to do with where people get their energy from.

Introverts and energy

For extroverts, energy typically comes from being around other people. They’re energised by bouncing ideas, thoughts, and feelings off those around them. They thrive in crowds and company.

Introverts, however, find that their energy increases when they have the chance to withdraw from such situations. They need to go inwards and to reflect. They need time alone to rest and recharge.

True introverts (like me!) tend to prefer interacting with smaller numbers of people. This can either be one-on-one, or in groups of perhaps two to three friends or colleagues. As the group gets larger, introverts can struggle to engage and interact. Therefore, they have to work that much harder than the extroverts in the room. As such, introverts can tire pretty quickly when thrust into large groups of people and crowded social situations. 

Why you don’t need to be the life and soul of the party

Unfortunately, as a society we’re prone to reserving kudos for the extroverts among us. They’re seen as the life and soul of the party, the organisers of social events; they’re the people we all want to emulate. Introverts, falling as they do at the other end of the party spectrum, often get a bad press. Introversion is seen as a cross to bear, as a curse, or even as something that we should try to fix.

I disagree.

Introverts, extroverts, and those that sit somewhere between the two, all have different — but equally important — skills to bring to the table. For example, while extroverts are often great at bringing people together, introverts, due to their tendency to be more reflective, more observant, and more inclined to listen closely, often forge deeper connections with the people they talk to.

How to thrive as an introvert:

Understanding your communication style

Extroverts tend to wear their hearts on their sleeves — they often think out loud and express their thoughts and feelings in real time.

Introverts, on the other hand, need time to reflect, maybe even stew on things. It’s only later, when they’ve had a chance to formulate an opinion in full, that they’ll offer their own thoughts. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, it does mean that others can be blind sighted when their friend or colleague circles back to a previous conversation. Meanwhile the introvert may feel disappointment when others can’t intuit what they’re thinking or feeling.

So being aware of different communication styles and your default patterns can be really helpful, not so much in terms of trying to change altogether, but rather in adapting them to suit whoever you’re working with at the time, or giving someone a heads up if you need more time to reflect before you want to add to the conversation. 

Take a time-out

If you’re an introvert, ask yourself how much time you allow in any given day, to simply pause and reflect?

Of course, it’s an important question for anyone — we all need downtime — but if you require alone time to re-energise, it’s particularly vital.

Now, I don’t mean that you should plan on withdrawing for hours on end. But you should factor some time in your day for activities that allow you to escape from the sensory overload of other people and to get a sense of where you are with things before you re-engage.

It could be escaping the office for a lunchtime walk. Maybe it’s having an hour on your own at home, listening to music. Or, it could be taking the time to cook or weed the garden. Anything that gives you the time to recalibrate and take stock is ideal.

Set your boundaries

Because of the many misconceptions around introversion, introverts may have to work a little harder at setting boundaries. You see, when introverts become successful in their field, they may come across as supremely confident and supremely capable — which they are! You might watch Richard Branson chair a meeting, or Meryl Streep deliver an Oscar-winning performance and imagine that they’d be buzzing afterwards. Whereas, as introverts, they’re far more likely to need a time-out and a cup of tea to recharge their batteries.

And the same goes for you. People may watch you at work or at a networking event, for example, and assume that because you’re so successful, you’re also highly sociable. They may form certain expectations about who you are and what you need.

So it’s worth setting some boundaries and making it clear that you will have to follow a meeting or busy social event with some reflective time alone. And never feel guilty for doing so. By taking the time you need to re-energise yourself, you’ll be able to give far more of yourself when you do come back.

We often feel pressure to conform to the behaviours that society deems more acceptable, or more likely to lead to success, and we all love the idea of being the life and soul of the party. But if you can find the courage to ask for what you need as an introverted person, and if you can embrace the myriad positives that come with introversion, there’s absolutely no reason that you can’t thrive in business, and in your social life, wherever you fall on the introvert/extrovert spectrum.

As an introvert myself, I’ve had to work really hard at being sociable and creating the boundaries I need to take care of my own wellbeing. I’d love to hear about your experiences, particularly if you feel that you’re really thriving as an introvert, so please do share your comments here! 

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