Introverts, have you ever wanted to change your personality—even just a little?
More specifically, have you ever wanted to become more extroverted—even just a little?
If you have, listen up. This article is for you.
For starters, know that if you’ve ever wanted to change your personality, you’re not alone. Most people, when asked, readily admit that they would like to change something about their personality. They want to be more conscientious. They want to be less of a worrier. They want to be more altruistic. They want to be less hostile. They want to be more positive.
Those are all perfectly reasonable desires and it’s likely that all of them would be met with a “go for it!” response from others. After all, self-improvement is almost always seen as a worthy goal in life, the bedrock of go-getters and successful folks across the globe.
But something funny seems to happen when an introvert dares state they want to become more extroverted.
For whatever reason, a lot of people take the idea of an introvert becoming more extroverted much more personally than making changes to other parts of personality. It’s perfectly acceptable to suggest that a disagreeable person try to become more agreeable or a selfish person try to become more altruistic, but to suggest that an introvert try to become more extroverted (if they desire to do so) is nearly criminal these days. (Interestingly, I’ve never heard of someone being upset at the idea of an extrovert trying to become more introverted.)
Instead of being met with a green light in the form of encouragement, introverts who want to become more extroverted are often met with a red light in the form of discouraging statements like these:
You can’t change—you were born that way.
Just accept who you are.
Being extroverted isn’t that great anyway.
If you want to become more extroverted, you were never an introvert to begin with.
You just don’t understand what it means to be an introvert. Here, read this book about introverts. You’ll feel better.
In the minds of the people who make these statements, a desire to seek change is a denial of one’s true self. They believe that a desire to use one’s current self as a springboard to one’s future self is not a noble effort, but a needless and nonsensical one.
It’s shameful, really. In a society that so often celebrates personal identity and choice, introverts who have a desire to become more extroverted are frequently dismissed as incapable, misguided, or just plain confused.
Here’s something kind of amusing: Many of the folks who believe that personality can’t change often rely on the nature argument—the “it’s born in you” mantra. To them, nurture (the environment) exerts little to no influence. But if they tell an introvert their personality is unchangeable, and that causes said introvert to not engage in more extroverted behavior over the course of their life, isn’t that the perfect example of the influence of nurture?
In other words, the introvert might have grown and matured in a way over time that resulted in a less introverted (i.e., more extroverted) personality, but that growth was stifled by the forces of nurture (the naysayer).
And if an introvert dares to state that they became more extroverted through effort, those same naysayers respond with: That person must have just been confused. They didn’t actually change. They must have not been that introverted in the first place.
What a sad existence to believe that everything we are is fixed and can never be modified. Why bother doing or trying anything with a mindset like that?
Despite the Pushback, Many Introverts Want to Become More Extroverted
Despite the efforts of some to promote the idea that introverts who want to become more extroverted are just on a fool’s journey, a lot of people across the globe have a desire to become more extroverted:
- In a 2015 study led by Oliver C. Robinson from the University of Greenwich (UK), approximately two-thirds of young adults from the UK participating in the study stated that they desired to become more extroverted. In another study by the same researchers, they found that the results were similar for young adults in both Iran and China.1
- A 2014 study by Nathan W. Hudson and Brent W. Roberts from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that nearly nine out of ten participants wanted to become more extroverted.2
If you’re an introvert who wants to become more extroverted, rest assured that you are most certainly not alone.
Introverts Can Become More Extroverted—Here’s Why
Despite what you might have heard, there aren’t really dichotomous personality types. That means people don’t fall neatly into polar opposite “introvert” and “extrovert” buckets. Instead, personality is measured through traits, and traits exist on a continuum from low to high. Personality traits are defined as “patterns of behaviors, thoughts, and feelings,”3 and where we fall on the trait continuum represents our average level of behaviors, thoughts, and feelings.
(Personality research backs up the trait concept: In 2011, University of Melbourne’s head of psychology Nick Haslam examined approximately 200 different studies to determine if personality types existed. The verdict: nope—they exist on a continuum, not as dichotomous types.4)
The labels “introvert” and “extrovert” can be derived from the trait of extroversion (“extraversion” in the academic world):
If you measure low on the trait of extroversion, you can be labeled as an introvert, and if you measure high on the trait of extroversion, you can be labeled as an extrovert. (In the middle? “Ambivert.”)
When you look at personality like this, it becomes obvious that someone more on the introverted side “becoming more extroverted” doesn’t necessarily entail a complete flip from one label to the other. Someone, through dedicated effort and training, can begin to change their behaviors, thoughts, and feelings in a way that starts to nudge their average level across the continuum. When they do that, their personality changes.
(Again, personality research backs this up: Personality researchers who measure personality change over time do so by looking at a person’s personality trait measurement at “Time X” compared to their personality trait measurement at “Time Y.”)
And if a person moves their average level of behaviors, thoughts, and feelings in a way that does flip them from one label to another (like I did), so what? If change is desired, and it creates a positive impact on someone’s life, that change should be celebrated, not condemned.
If You’re an Introvert Who Wants to Become More Extroverted, Listen Up.
If you’re an introvert who wants to become more extroverted (a little or a lot), I welcome you with open arms. I have been in your shoes and I know that what you desire isn’t the result of being wrong or confused, like so many people would have you believe. It’s very real and it’s a very worthy pursuit.
The bottom line is this:
You deserve to pursue your desires.
You deserve to see your personality as your starting point, not your limit.
You deserve to take the exciting journey of becoming the best version of yourself.
Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Green light photo: (c) Can Stock Photo / gynane
Extrovert badge photo: (c) Can Stock Photo / ulegundo
- Goals and plans for Big Five personality trait change in young adults. (n.d.). Retrieved March 13, 2016, from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0092656615300106
- Hudson, N. W., & Roberts, B. W. (2014). Goals to change personality traits: Concurrent links between personality traits, daily behavior, and goals to change oneself. Journal of Research in Personality, 53, 68-83. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2014.08.008
- Diener, E. & Lucas, R. E. (2013). Personality Traits. In R. Biswas-Diener & E. Diener (Eds), Noba textbook series: Psychology. Champaign, IL: DEF publishers. DOI:com.
- H. (2015). Think you know yourself, think again. Retrieved August 1, 2016, from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-04-13/personality-type-truths/6383146