Quiet: the Power of Introverts

Posted on Sep 27, 2013 in reading

Just read the book by Susan Cain http://www.thepowerofintroverts.com/ Like your true introvert,  I tend to read with a pen, unless I forget about it and get distracted (like an extrovert). This sentence pretty much sums up where I am currently on introversion-extroversion scale. Right about in the middle, with a lean into introversion, although Susan Cain’s quiz says “strong introvert”.  Sometimes I will read a book and start over again right away, and go through it a couple times. So here I learned a few things and trying to incorporate them into my life.

I could relate to many emotions/feelings described in the book that introverts experience while dealing with an overly extraverted world that we live in. Author distinguishes between nature/nurture factors that affect introversion. I can’t exactly tell which affected which, but I can see the traces of both in me. And can probably conclude that at least some inclinations were genetic. Need to note that Soviet education system starts early and hits you hard. As a sensitive kid, in kindergarten I did not feel comfortable when other children were yelled at, and would apologize for the things others won’t.  So generally the kindergarten and natural inclinations made me quite afraid of everything. At home I liked to draw quietly or invent elaborate toys out of everything at hand. I remember being forced on a stool in the middle of the room of unfamiliar adults to read a poem. Right at the beginning of grade one I spent about 2 semesters in a school where teachers could see past my quietness and appreciate it. Then we moved and I ended up in a highly competitive “prestigious” school, where I stayed until graduation. Group activities, oral exams in front of a board of adults, the cult of cheerful and competitive strengthened my shell; I was very good at academics, mostly out of fear and shame to not know something.

Other than the general sense of entitlement for my introverted side that the book encouraged, I started to pay more attention to that side and be gentler to it. As in not forcing socializing when it is not crucial, generally being comfortable in my skin.

Introverts need to trust their gut and share their ideas as powerfully as they can. This does not mean aping extroverts; ideas can be shared quietly, they can be communicated in writing, they can be packaged into highly produced lectures, they can be advanced by allies. The trick for introverts is to honor their own styles instead of allowing themselves to be swept up by prevailing norms.

This is an important point, and one of my blocks. I have trouble being heard at work. And using all the wrong (extravert) loudmouth methods, not realizing that I get tired at the second sentence I try to outyell everyone else. And I understand how whatever I say with lowered eyes, no eye contact and soft voice is not taken seriously, or just missed. So I’m still working on that one. Susan Cain mentions it really helps assertive delivery when you truly feel passionate about what you are talking about. I not always do. That is probably an indicator that I’m not always doing what I love. Working on that too.

I also started switching my focus from being self-conscious and hence shy to other people. I realize that for every other person the centre of universe is them, and rarely people truly notice others. As long as you perform within the general pattern and don’t stick out, there’s not much to pay attention to. That might be a bit gloomy point of view tho.

Sometimes people find restorative niches in professions where you’d least expect them. One of my former colleagues is a trial lawyer who spends most of her time in splendid solitude, researching and writing legal briefs. Because most of her cases settle, she goes to court rarely enough that she doesn’t mind exercising her pseudo-extroversion skills when she has to. An introverted administrative assistant I interviewed parlayed her office experience into a work-from-home Internet business that serves as a clearinghouse and coaching service for “virtual assistants.” And in the next chapter we’ll meet a superstar salesman who broke his company’s sales records year after year by insisting on staying true to his introverted self. All three of these people have taken decidedly extroverted fields and reinvented them in their own image, so that they’re acting in character most of the time, effectively turning their workdays into one giant restorative niche.

This is another very important point, and I’m feeling that I don’t have enough of that in my life. I wouldn’t say that my job is so stressful as being in public all day, but this is not exactly what I like to do all the time. I can find a restorative niche while working in the back with the laser, or actually designing something, but many times I will find thinking to myself: damn, this is boring, or, damn, this is frustrating. Not quite as restorative as I wish it was.

I notice also the switch towards more extroversion as I immigrated to Canada. Probably it has to do with the need to readjust and fit in, to be understood and have common ground with other people, to actively absorb new cultural norms. At the same time I felt that my quiet side that is able to concentrate very well suffered. I felt that I’m always lagging behind if I’m not able to absorb information fast enough, almost in panic mode. That affected the way I was reading, talking to people, being overwhelmed with multiple stimuli and still feeling that I’m missing lots. Yet apparently this is not my way of ingesting information.

Quiet persistence requires sustained attention—in effect restraining one’s reactions to external stimuli In other words, introverts are capable of acting like extroverts for the sake of work they consider important, people they love, or anything they value highly.

Here in Canada I noticed how much faster the pace of life is, and I have always felt the insatiable yearning  to slow down, whatever I was doing, and get away from the endless rush of too many things to do at once. I like to have a choice of things to do that the (relatively) big city has to offer, but I would like to learn to pace myself. On a side note and relevant to moving to the ExtravertLand, I could never understand such overly cheerful and very popular North American saying as “have fun”. “Did you have fun at school?” “I’m off to hockey. – Have fun.” Think about it. What is it that you are having fun about? Is it a necessary element of everything? Is it a shame if you don’t? Is it just as mandatory as “be ok” and “alright”?

I really like the word flow that Susan Cain uses to describe the following state:

… I believe that another important explanation for introverts who love their work may come from a very different line of research by the influential psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on the state of being he calls “flow.” Flow is an optimal state in which you feel totally engaged in an activity—whether long-distance swimming or songwriting, sumo wrestling or sex. In a state of flow, you’re neither bored nor anxious, and you don’t question your own adequacy. Hours pass without your noticing. The key to flow is to pursue an activity for its own sake, not for the rewards it brings. Although flow does not depend on being an introvert or an extrovert, many of the flow experiences that Csikszentmihalyi writes about are solitary pursuits that have nothing to do with reward-seeking: reading, tending an orchard, solo ocean cruising. Flow often occurs, he writes, in conditions in which people “become independent of the social environment to the degree that they no longer respond exclusively in terms of its rewards and punishments. To achieve such autonomy, a person has to learn to provide rewards to herself.” In a sense, Csikszentmihalyi transcends Aristotle; he is telling us that there are some activities that are not about approach or avoidance, but about something deeper: the fulfillment that comes from absorption in an activity outside yourself. “Psychological theories usually assume that we are motivated either by the need to eliminate an unpleasant condition like a zestful, reward-sensitive extrovert that you undervalue your own talents, or feel underestimated by those around you. But when you’re focused on a project that you care about, you probably find that your energy is boundless. So stay true to your own nature. If you like to do things in a slow and steady way, don’t let others make you feel as if you have to race. If you enjoy depth, don’t force yourself to seek breadth. If you prefer single-tasking to multitasking, stick to your guns. Being relatively unmoved by rewards gives you the incalculable power to go your own way. It’s up to you to use that independence to good effect.

Susan also elaborated on ways of finding activities that provide flow. I answered the questions she listed and found similarities I never thought of before.

Who you wanted to be as a kid?

The only profession I remember clearly is a dentist. And that changed after the first dental appointment. But I think what was behind it is love of small detail, and maybe bringing healing through pain/unpleasant experiences.

What kind of work you do for free, because you want to? When monetary reward is not important?

I used to tutor in two places at once, while being a full time student. The extra income was nice, but I didn’t think much about it, and took a course in Learning Strategy to enable me to do it. What was important here was helping immigrants like myself. Often my one on one sessions turned into a little bit of personal counseling, I did lots of observation and learned from my students and their stories. What is it again? Interest in helping, healing, emotional states. Another more recent example is staying late to help a friend with her costume for a party. Not sure about this one. Lots of detail maybe? I also volunteered in dance performance group, investing my time rehearsing and performing, and making costumes. Here the answer will be expression.

 Which occupation do you envy?

Graphic designers – because they deal with the devil which is in the details.
Illustrators – they get to express beauty through details.
People living on the land
Dance class facilitators
Unblocked creatives

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