Helping introverts be happy and healthy on their own terms.


Do you write better than you speak? It’s not all in your head… or is it?

It’s not uncommon to hear an introvert declare they are better at writing than they are at speaking. I certainly include myself in that camp. While writing, my mind may draw a blank when it comes to finding the perfect word or phrasing, but while I’m talking my mind sometimes draws a blank on any word. And I’m not the only introvert who blanks out on words. It might be tempting for some to assume we’re just making this up, that we say we’re good at writing so we don’t feel like complete failures at every form of communication. After all, in the grand scheme of things we humans learned to write fairly recently, but we’ve had the capacity for verbal language a very long time. But a new study suggests that writing and speaking are actually supported by different systems of the brain.

A research team at Johns Hopkins University recently studied five stroke victims with aphasia (language disorders caused by damage to the brain). Four participants had difficulties writing sentences but not speaking sentences, while one participant had trouble speaking but not writing. They found that a participant may say “The man is catching a fish,” but would write “The men is catches a fish.” According to the study’s co-author, Simon Fischer-Baum, “If written language does depend on spoken language, then one would expect to see similar errors in speech and writing. If not, one might see that people don’t necessarily write what they say.”

Brenda Rapp, the study’s lead author, told the website Futurity, “it’s as though there were two quasi-independent language systems in the brain.” This finding may sound familiar if you’ve read Marti Olsen Laney’s book The Introvert Advantage. She theorized that “Written words use different pathways in the brain, which seems to flow fluently for many introverts.” In her book, Dr. Laney also mentions that difficulty with spoken word retrieval, or being “brainlocked,” can be particularly difficult for an introvert who is overstimulated, or is in a group situation where there is conflict.

While I’m certainly not happy when I brainlock, it is a comfort to know that it’s possible for me to be better at writing than talking, and that it’s not just all in my head.

Beyond Introvert & Extrovert

“Is this situation an introvert thing?” This is a commonly pondered question on Twitter, and one that I get asked occasionally. Introversion/extroversion is the “in” personality trait right now, and because there’s plenty of sweeping generalizations out there about how “an introvert” behaves, it can be hard to know what is actually a common behavior for an introvert.

Today, the most common description of personality used by personality psychologists is “The Big Five,” which states that personality can be grouped into 5 terms. This means that introversion/extroversion is just one piece in the personality puzzle. The puzzle pieces that comprise the “Big Five” model, which are referred to as dimensions, can be remembered with the very helpful and memorable acronym OCEAN: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Or, if you’re better at spelling than I am, you could use the acronym CANOE.

Here are Wikipedia’s descriptions of the four other dimensions:

  • Openness involves six facets, or dimensions, including active imagination (fantasy), aesthetic sensitivity, attentiveness to inner feelings, preference for variety, and intellectual curiosity.
  • Conscientiousness is the personality trait of being thorough, careful, or vigilant…. Conscientious people are efficient and organized as opposed to easy-going and disorderly.
  • Agreeableness is a personality trait manifesting itself in individual behavioral characteristics that are perceived as kind, sympathetic, cooperative, warm and considerate… reflecting individual differences in cooperation and social harmony.
  • Neuroticism is a fundamental personality trait in the study of psychology characterized by anxiety, fear, moodiness, worry, envy, frustration, jealousy, and loneliness.

Introverts can be described as “high” or “low” in any of these dimensions. What this means is that a behavior which is common for introverts high in conscientiousness won’t be common for introverts low in conscientiousness. So an introvert high in conscientiousness may have a tidy desk while the desk of an introvert low in conscientiousness may be totally covered with papers.

So, the next time you’re wondering if you’re “normal” for an introvert, remember that there are many kinds of introverts. You’re normal for you.

Is it time to break out of your routines?


While I wouldn’t call introverts lazy, I would say we frequently operate in energy-saving mode. And energy-saving mode can show up as routine. Routines can be warm and fuzzy and familiar and comforting. Sometimes that’s what you need, like if you’ve gone through a difficult time and need some space to find yourself again. But at other times routine can surround us and swallow us with their sense of familiarity. Before we know it, when we look up from the book we just started, we’re two years older.

What if we don’t want time to pass quickly? What if we want to savor our hours and years? As a New York Times profile of neuroscientist David Eagleman notes, “The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass.” One way to make the world less “familiar” is by breaking routines. Breaking a routine doesn’t have to mean going to a party or going skydiving. You can create mini breaks in your routine by moving your reading chair into a different corner, or going to see a movie you wouldn’t normally see.

Here are 4 more tips for quietly breaking out of routines:
1. Do your relaxing activities somewhere different. Read in the park instead of on your couch. Do your daily run down a different street.
2. Learn something new. Have you always wanted to learn to knit or the art of flower arranging? Take a class at a community college or pick up an instructional book from the library.
3. Spend a whole day doing something different. Go explore a nearby town, or spend a whole day coffee-shop hopping (or library hopping). If you work from home, try a coworking space (but speaking from experience, bring noise canceling headphones). Go camping and talk to the trees.
4. Do your routine tasks in a different order. Wash the dishes in the morning instead of the evening (if you listen to music while you wash, try listening to a different genre). Buy groceries at a different time (or at a different store).

What do you do when you want to take a break from your routines? Let me know in the comments section. 

Are you outsourcing your happiness?

I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.

A lot of introverts are proud of their independence. I know I am.

And yet we often let other people’s opinions about us affect us deeply.

We may have just read three articles about introversion and were reminded that introverts have many gifts (certainly no fewer gifts than extroverts); that there are many celebrities and high-profile CEOs who are introverts; that it’s possible introverts make up 50% of the population, making us the majority and not simply “weird.” And then our hearts sink when a family member calls us a “special snowflake” because we said we needed a few moments to ourselves (how ironic that so many articles about introversion seek to remind us how normal our personality is, and yet many of these articles contain the phrase “introverts think they’re special snowflakes” in the comment section).

Don’t outsource your happiness to the trolls – the ones online or in real life. Treat your happiness as an in-house job.

I’m not saying don’t let people into your life. But there’s a huge difference between letting people share your life, and letting people control how you feel about your life. You need to be the source of your happiness. Humans are messy. And flawed. And although we can welcome other people into our lives, and let them make us happier (and help to make them happier), ultimately it’s up to us to control how the world will affect us.

Gretchen Rubin, in her follow-up book to The Happiness Project, noted “If I’ve learned one thing from my happiness project, it’s that if I want my life to be a certain way, I must be that way myself.” She went on to say “If I want my marriage to be tender and romantic, I must be tender and romantic.” Ultimately, we can only control ourselves.

Here are a few tips to help you stop outsourcing your happiness:

  • You are the expert when it comes to you and what you need to be happy.
  • Other people’s opinions can be helpful sometimes, but opinions are different from “the truth.”
  • Keep a happiness journal. Each time you do something that makes you happy, write it down in the journal. When you find yourself wanting to do something fun, but not knowing what, take out the journal.
  • Happiness isn’t the only feeling worth striving for. It can also be fulfilling to be content, calm, peaceful, or serene.

Dear extroverts, here’s the worst thing you can say to an introvert

“You need to break out of your shell.”

Please, please, please do not say this to an introvert! In case my pleading isn’t enough to make you stop, here are five reasons why you should not say “you need to break out of your shell” to an introvert:
1. This sentence is something introverts have heard over and over again. Your words won’t feel like an epiphany. Instead, the phrase will feel like a familiar cliche repeatedly used to shame us.
2. Being on the receiving end of unsolicited advice is rarely welcome. Normally it’s at best annoying, at worst alienating. If you want to give advice, please ask permission first.
3. Someone in a shell might, in the long run, be happier after learning the skills necessary to step out of the shell. But you know what? They don’t need you to judge them, which is exactly how “You need to break out of your shell” feels.
4. There are times when the shell makes sense, and there are times when it doesn’t. Unless you know the person in question really well, who are you to say if this situation warrants them coming out of the shell?
5. They might not be in a shell. Sometimes introversion looks a lot like shyness or social anxiety. It’s even common for parents to mistake introversion for shyness. Unless you know the person very well, say if you’re their therapist or life coach, it’s very likely you could be misunderstanding the introvert’s behavior. Introverts feel depleted of energy after socializing, and gain energy by being in low-stimulation environments. Shyness, on the other hand, is often defined as the fear of public judgement. So unless you know the true reason behind a behavior you won’t know whether that person is hiding in their “shell” because they are scared, or if they just don’t have the energy to do whatever you are pressuring them to do.

I understand not everyone who says “You need to break out of your shell” is saying it from a place of judgement or wanting to shame. But you know what? That’s how it feels. If you want to encourage an introvert to grow, then support them and help them when they ask for help. If you have the type of relationship where the other person looks to you for advice, honesty, and a challenge, then for goodness’ sake choose words other than “You need to break out of your shell.” Try “How can I help you to try new experiences?”

Copyright © 2014. Introvertology.