On being an introvert

After attending a beautiful, fun, and special party thrown specifically for me, I felt happy and exhausted. I loved being there. I loved the people that came. I loved the conversations that took place. It's always been a little strange to me that I can feel so exhausted and drained after doing something so fun that I truly enjoyed in every way. But I've always heard that extroverts get energy from being around people and introverts get energy from being by themselves. I was contemplating that statement this weekend and thought that something about it didn't appear to be correct.

When I take a look at my daily life and what my days are like when I'm on vacation, they're always filled with people. And I am almost always the one who chose to add those people to my schedule. I love hanging out with people. I love having girls nights and going to housewarming parties and meeting a different person for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in one day. I thrive on that too. On the days that I do take off from socializing, I get bored pretty quickly. I may feel productive from doing projects in that time, but often that is just as exhausting to me. So what's missing in this equation?

I read an interesting article this morning by Adam Grant, a professor at Wharton. He looked at a few myths of introversion and extroversion, and the first one helped me look at this debate in my head in a new light. Here's what he had to say:

"Myth 1: 'Extraverts get energy from social interaction, whereas introverts get energy from privately reflecting on their thoughts and feelings.'

Although many people believe that the above quote from the MBTI’s publisher is true, extensive research suggests that it’s false:

Introverts spend about the same amount of time with other people as extraverts, and enjoy it just as much. When people are randomly assigned to act extraverted or introverted, extraverts and introverts alike experience greater energy when they talk more.

Extraverts report the most energy when they’re being talkative and assertive—but so do introverts. This is true when people rate their energy during 45 different hours over two weeks or weekly for ten weeks: the energizing hours and weeks for all of us are those that involve more active social interaction, regardless of whether we’re working, reading, eating, or partying.

This shouldn’t be a surprise: social interaction is the spice of life, in part because it satisfies the fundamental human need to belong. So if it’s not in where you get your energy, what’s the difference between introverts and extraverts?

It’s your sensitivity to stimulation. If you’re an introvert, you’re more prone to being overstimulated by intense or prolonged social interaction—and at that point, reflecting on your thoughts and feelings can help you recharge. But introversion-extraversion is about more than just social interaction. Extraverts crave stimulating activities like skydiving and stimulating beverages sold at Starbucks. Introverts are more likely to retreat to a quiet place, but they’re very happy to bring someone else with them."

I've never heard that before, but it made so much sense. When I get overstimulated by things, my brain needs rest. Our bodies are created in such a way that they tell us what we need. When I've been overstimulated, my body starts to shut down, I get sleepy, quiet, and often start feeling physical pain in various forms. It's not the most pleasant process in the world, but in retrospect, if I didn't experience those things, knowing myself, I would keep racing around doing stuff. My body has to have physical warning signs to force me to slow down and get the rest I need. And once I do, I feel like a million bucks!

After I took a catnap I felt a little more energy after my party. After I got 7 hours of sleep that night, my physical ailments were a distant memory, and I felt antsy to go hang out with people some more.

So being an introvert doesn't mean you don't enjoy being around people; it just means you have to be careful about how much time you devote to over-stimulating activities and give your brain some respite before jumping back in again.