Category - For Introverts

Studies Show Introverts Get This One Thing Wrong

It’s Friday night and everything is quiet in Introvert Land.

No more loudmouthed coworkers or demanding boss to deal with. No more talking to be done. Just peace, calmness, and a favorite low-key activity: reading, Netflix-ing, cooking, daydreaming, gaming, listening to music, or anything else that requires minimal social interaction.

Heaven!

But then a text message comes in.

It’s your sister. She’s “just thrown together” a dinner party tomorrow night with your brother, sister-in-law, and a few friends. There will be good food, drinks, and plenty of friendly banter all night long. It’s an extrovert’s dream. A fairly last-minute dinner party, rescuing you from a Saturday night without plans, and you don’t even have to cook. Just show up and have a good time!

Your first thought: Is my sister Satan?

No, no, your sister isn’t Satan. She’s as great as sisters come and is always there for you.

Second thought: Is my sister trying to ruin my weekend?

Not at all. She’s trying to make your weekend better! She knows you don’t do much on the weekends and she wants you to meet some new people.

Third thought: Will my sister forgive me if I fake my own death?

Probably not. That’s not a very good idea.

Your sister texts again. Did you get her text?! Are you in?!

You take a deep breath. Begrudgingly, while gritting your teeth, you text back those dreadful three words of submission:

Sure. Sounds great.

And so it begins: nearly 24 full hours of competition in the Mental Torture Olympics. You’re going for the gold in the following sports:

  • Can-I-Come-Down-With-The-Flu Fencing
  • This-Social-Event-is-Going-to-Exhaust-Me Hockey
  • My-Weekend-is-Ruined Rowing
  • Her-Friends-Are-Probably-Assholes Archery
  • How-Much-Should-I-Drink Before-I-Get-There Tennis

By the time the event finally rolls around, you’re just done. You’ve thought about the stupid thing a thousand times in your head. The thoughts that cheerfully keep you company so often have turned on you, creating an overthinking monster, hell bent on sucking your mental capacity dry. You’re ready to crawl into bed even though it’s only 7PM.

While fantasizing about what you could be doing instead, you arrive at your sister’s house. Her windows are open and you hear cheery voices inside, talking and laughing, eagerly anticipating your arrival.

You ring the doorbell. The door opens—it’s your sister. Her face lights up and she ushers you inside, hugs you, hands you a glass of wine, and takes you into the living room where everyone has gathered.

After making the rounds and meeting everyone (and saying hello to your brother and sister-in-law), you sit back as one of your sister’s friends tells a funny joke. Suddenly, and seemingly so out of character for you, a strange thought enters your mind:

Maybe this won’t be so bad…

(To be continued.)

Can You Relate to This Example?

If you’re an introvert, you probably found yourself thinking about a similar situation from your own life. A random social invite can feel intrusive and frustrating, especially when you had plans to recharge alone (or in a low-key environment) on your own terms.

As a former introvert, writing this example was like diving into the brain of the “old me.” I used to dread social events and would come up with a million and one reasons why I shouldn’t go:

  • The event won’t be fun.
  • The event will wear me out.
  • I don’t like the people who will be there.
  • I don’t know the people who will be there.
  • I have better things to do.

A lot of times, I would talk myself out of going to social events. If I couldn’t get out of an event but could find a way to “hide out” away from other people, I would. There were plenty of times, though, when I couldn’t cancel and I couldn’t hide out. I just had to put myself in the social situation and deal with it.

When I did, something strange would frequently happen. Once I got out of my “this is going to be a horrible experience” funk, I frequently would have a pretty decent time. I would usually leave worn out, but my prediction of how awful the event was going to be often didn’t end up panning out.

Personality research helps to explain why this kind of thing happens:

Research Has Found That Acting Extroverted Feels Pretty Good for Introverts

Believe it or not, in study after study (both lab-based and experience studies), researchers have found that when introverts act extroverted, introverts, on average, actually report increased feelings of what is called “positive affect.”1

In layman’s terms, that means that acting extroverted actually seems to be enjoyable to introverts.

… So Why Don’t They Do it More Often?

The data linking acting extroverted to positive affect led a team of researchers at Carleton University in Ottawa to ask the question: if acting extroverted makes introverts feel good, why don’t they do it more often?2 (If you’re an introvert, you’ve probably already come up with a list of five reasons in response to that question.)

The researchers tested this idea across five studies. From those studies, the researchers discovered something very interesting:

Introverts consistently predicted that acting extroverted would feel worse than it actually did.

More specifically, introverts tended to over-predict the negative emotions and self-consciousness that they would feel when acting extroverted.

This led the researchers to aptly title their study: “Personality and Affective Forecasting: Trait Introverts Underpredict the Hedonic Benefits of Acting Extraverted.”

(Note: In the academic world, “extroverted” is spelled with an “a”: extraverted.)

Could it be, the researchers speculated, that part of the reason introverts act extroverted less often is because they anticipate that doing so will feel bad? If people anticipate that something is going to feel bad, they will likely avoid doing it. While the reason for introverts acting introverted so often is definitely more complex than what was explored in the study, their discovery is certainly worth consideration.

The researchers ended their study with this suggestion:

“We feel confident in suggesting to our introverted readers that a few more moments of extraverted behavior might be good for their happiness (even if they do not think so).”

Maybe Acting Extroverted Doesn’t Suck After All…

Back to your sister’s party.

Your last thought—“Maybe this won’t be so bad”—ends up being an accurate prediction, unlike all the bad predictions from the 24 hours prior. You end up staying a few hours and enjoying the company of everyone at the party, laughing, talking, eating, and drinking. You go home feeling tired but happy. Most of all, you feel proud of dragging yourself (albeit kicking and screaming) outside your comfort zone.

… So Why Don’t You Commit to Doing it More Often?

I believe that stepping outside of one’s “personality comfort zone” is one of the best things we can do for our lives—personally, professionally, and socially. It can help us become more flexible and adaptable, and that opens us up to a world of opportunities in every aspect of life.

If ignoring that negative voice inside your head and acting more extroverted might actually make you happier, why don’t you choose to commit to doing it more often? I can help you get started—just sign up for my free “See Your Personality as Your Starting Point Toolkit” by entering your first name and email address in the box below.

Get started now by signing up for your free See Your Personality as Your Starting Point toolkit.

Sources:

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  1. Zelenski, J. M., Santoro, M. S., & Whelan, D. C. (2012). Would introverts be better off if they acted more like extraverts? Exploring emotional and cognitive consequences of counterdispositional behavior. Emotion, 12(2), 290-303. doi:10.1037/a0025169
  2. Zelenski, J. M., Whelan, D. C., Nealis, L. J., Besner, C. M., Santoro, M. S., & Wynn, J. E. (2013). Personality and affective forecasting: Trait introverts underpredict the hedonic benefits of acting extraverted. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104(6), 1092-1108. doi:10.1037/a0032281
  3. Zelenski, J. M., Whelan, D. C., Nealis, L. J., Besner, C. M., Santoro, M. S., & Wynn, J. E. (2013). Personality and affective forecasting: Trait introverts underpredict the hedonic benefits of acting extraverted. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104(6), 1092-1108. doi:10.1037/a0032281