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I grew up in an Asian family, where one believes in fate.  Born at a certain time, day, month, year, preferably “Year of the dragon” – you’ll sail towards the golden sea, without hard work.  I was not born under such lucky stars – and hence embraced American style motivational thinking with open arms.  You can be what you put your heart too.  Is this true?

As a Myers Briggs Type Indicator facilitator and career coach, I am now inclined that nature, nurture and “will” or adaptation through self awareness can help us modify our behaviors.

In “Quiet, the power of Introverts in a World that can’t stop Talking” (Ch 5),  author Susan Cain, interviewed Dr Carl Schwartz, Director of the Developmental Neuroimaging and Psychopathology Research Lab, using fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machines if introverts and extroverts behave differently.  Specifically, through measuring the activity of the amygdala – in shaping the personalities of introverts and extroverts.

In an experiment using a slideshow projecting a crowded room of strangers or some familiar faces, Schwartz found that the amydalae of high reactives (introverts) reacted more to the photos of strangers than low reactives (extroverts). Using a longitudinal study, found that the footprint of a high or low reactive temperament never disappeared in adulthood (what Carl Jung assumed all these while).  Susan Cain calls this the “rubber band theory” of personality.  “We are like rubber bands at rest.  We are elastic and can stretch ourselves, but only so much.”  Nature and nurture. Bill Gates is never going to be Bill Clinton.

What’s being processed in the Introvert’s brain in a cocktail party?

A lot.

1. When we greet a stranger in a party, the amygdala (the ancient part of the brain), goes into overdrive.

2. For those relatively skilled in social situations, the neofrontal cortex kicks in to tell you to calm down, and what to do next – shake hands, smile. But conditioning and learning only suppresses the activity of the amygdala, not erase the fear.

3. During times of stress, unwarranted fears came go haywire,  – “when the cortex has other things to do than soothe an excitable amygdala”.  => Solitude and time for meditation works for both introverts and extroverts as you don’t want your amygdala to spin out of control on you.

What should we do:

To conquer fear of public speaking, small talk with strangers etc.

1. Desensitise yourself (and your amygdala) in small doses, over and over again – in a safe environment.

Reassuring. Something I’ve known intuitively.  Don’t just jump into the deep end. Bad advice.  As Japanese say, “Kaizen” or small improvements daily is better. A case in point was when I learnt to ride a bicycle “in one hour” in my forties at the harassment of my husband.  Instead of buying a beautifully crafted bicycle meant for racers as my first bike, so that it can still be used 3 years later and not out-grow it, as he put it, I bought a safe one which I would put my feet on the ground “safely”, to minimise my fear of falling.  Also, I took to “Youtube” and watched many, many bicycle training videos to desensitise myself.

A “one hour miracle”, was actually hours of practice soothing my amygdala which cannot tell the difference between real practice and what the eye sees.

2.  Find your sweet spot.

Once you discover your preferences, organise your life around “optimal levels of arousal“, what Susan Cain calls “sweet spots”.   If you’re happily reading your book in a quiet place, and after 30 mins find yourself re-reading a sentence 5 times, you’re understimulated.  Call a friend, go out for tea.  Now you’re back into your sweet-spot.  But if your extroverted friend who needs a higher level of stimulation, persuades you to follow her to a party after this tea, you may find yourself having to make small talk with strangers, and soon, find yourself “overstimulated“.

What next?  Pair off with someone for in-depth conversation, or go back to your book. Understanding your sweet spot, can increase satisfaction in every area of your life and more.

Ask: How much time does your work require you to behave out of your sweet spot? Too much time in a research lab, and not enough time interacting with people? Or too much time socialising and schmoozing and not enough time to research in your cubicle.

3. Find out what’s meaningful for you

Can we act out of character? How then do famous strong introverts speak in public effectively?  Susan Cain introduces us to the Free Traits theory, created by Professor Brian Little, former Havard University psychology lecturer. “According to the Free Traits theory, we are able to act out of character in the service of core personal projects. ” Introverts can behave like extroverts to accomplish work/causes they regard as important, people/ projects they value highly.

To thine own self be true. – Shakespeare

How to identify core personal projects?

4. Pay attention to your actions

Can you fake it till you make it? Yes, to a certain extent according to studies by research psychologist, Richard Lippa comparing introverts who pretend and act like extroverts, with actual extroverts. Some psuedo-extroverts are surprisingly convincing.

Pay attention to how your face and body arrange themselves when you’re feeling confident and adopt the same position when it comes time to fake it. Studies have shown that behavior can lead to emotions. Smiling makes you feel stronger and happier and frowning makes you feel angry.

There is a limit to the control of self-presentation – beware of behavioral leakage. When you act out of character for a project you don’t care about, your discomfort can come across strongly and detected by the other party, sometimes as “freudian slips”.

5. Restore

Professor Little advises, find as many restorative niches as possible in your daily life, recommended by “The Introvert Advantage” – a quick read, practical guide. Surprisingly for a sedentary person like myself, going for a walk in the park, or jogging in the gym is a restorative process. After a day of lecturing, I recharge with a 20 min treadmill time, then off to a dinner with my husband’s colleagues and then supper with his friends.

While some of the recommendations are not new, it has given credibility that I am not abnormal, and allowed me to negotiate with my husband, an extrovert, who wants me to go everywhere. Professor Little calls it “Free Trait Agreement”,

Read more about this inspiring book, Quiet by Susan Cain.

There are more nuggets in this book not covered by my blog. Watch Susan Cain’s TED introduction, but she’s too modest in promoting her book.

Type: a kind, class, or category, the constituents of which share similar characteristics (The Free Dictionary)

By nature, we like to categorise people into groups. This how our brains deal with the complexity of the world. We chunk information, remember phone numbers, in groups of three or four. (Psychology experiments have shown us.)

Categorising people in groups help us remember, learn, and predict behaviours.  Question is not if we do, but on what basis, and if those categories are reliable?

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Historically, we type people into Zodiac signs e.g. Virgos can’t make up their minds. According to astrology, you have the personality of whichever star sign you’re born under. Chinese we have the Zodiac signs according to the year of birth. Those born in the year of dragon are destined for greatness. Female babies born under the stars of tiger and dragon though, will climb over their husbands.  In the days before hospitals, the wise mid-wives and families will “cover up” the birth year and report an auspicious timing.

It is in the context of categorising people into types that I want to introduce the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. [For that matter, other psychometric tools in the market, such as Enneagram, DISC, 16PF etc are very useful too.] MBTI is based on the works of Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, who in 1921, published “Psychological Types“.

There are a several fun websites where you can read more about types and what hobbies you like.

http://www.truity.com/intj

http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/jtypes2.asp

People display patterns of behaviour. Jung developed the idea of introverts and extroverts, popularly used today. Watch Susan Cain’s TED Talk  and read her book “Quiet- the power of introverts“.  My personal favourite book for introverts is The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World, by Marti Laney, Psy.D with CT scans showing that introverts and extroverts have different neural pathways leading to brain stimulation, and how we can cope with these differences and work together, both introverts and extroverts. There’s value in reading both books.

According to Jung, introverts and extroverts differ as to where you direct your attention and energy. Extroverts to the external world (big groups of people) and introverts in the Inner world (reading, reflecting, one-to-one)

No one is 100% introverted or extroverted.  We have both qualities on a continuum although a dominant inclination towards one side or swing to the other side (when we’re highly stressed).

In addition, there’re four other modes of orientation:

Thinking – people who value debate

Feeling – value relationships and aware of others’ emotion

Sensing – people who look at the parts and details

Intuitive – The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. See the forest but miss the trees.

Catherine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Myers took Jung’s theory and combined the attributes, adding the last category: Judging and Perceiving into 16 personality types.

Judging – (not judgmental, but people who like to plan and make “to-do-list” and stick to their plan.)

Perceiving – (spontaneous, go with the flow, make changes last minute, be “present” in the moment)

The MBTI is not to be used as a tool for prediction, i.e. recruitment selection test. Otherwise, it will skew people’s results. Errors could be due to the fact that it is a self-reporting instrument. We are subject to bias due to our level of self-awareness (see Johari window), and tendency to either under-report or exaggerate the results. Given a motive/ reward to be biased, this instrument will lack objectivity.  [Our perception is not always the most objective.]

Do “Opposites attract?” or “Birds of a feather flock together?”

Think of this scenario.  A fun-loving talkative extraverted lady meets a well-read, interesting guy who listens to her every word and gazes into her eyes.  They get married.  One year later, they explode, she accuses him of never wanting to out and do stuff, meet her friends.  After a day’s work at the office, he has nothing to say to her, and wants to just read.  Familiar? MBTI will explain that both have not changed. The lady is an extrovert and the man in the story an introvert. Successful couples learn to communicate about each other’s differences and work around the differences and respect their space. No two introverts are alike. My favourite tool is to combine it with “VATK” and Honey/Mumford “Learning Styles.

The MBTI is a “mirror”. Perception of beauty is skewed by self-image and others’ perception. For instance, traditional Chinese beauty is the “olive-shaped face and thin, willowy figure”. During Tang dynasty, beauty defined by the standards of Royal Consort Yang Guifei was “moon-faced and full figured”. There is no good type nor bad type. Use the tool as a reflection of your state of communication health rather than a predictor of career success.

If you work in an environment daily that doesn’t use your preferred strength, you are exposing yourself to higher levels of stress. Peers operating in their comfort zone, and with their own tribal environment will take to their work like fish to water.

Knowing I’m an introvert, shouldn’t be used as an excuse for not making new friends or trying out new space.  Very few people work alone. Being alone can subject us to higher levels of depression. But it helps to know that I’m normal when I feel drained after a networking session whereas my extroverted friend is re-charged in a high energy session. I feel less guilt going home to recuperate and have some “alone time” before going out again.

Application:

1. Don’t conform your behavior to fit your reported type.

2. Use the results as a tool for reflection and development.

3. Understand the people in your eco-system, whom you interact with (work, family or social), i.e. your tribe. Do they have certain patterns different/ similar to you?

4. How can you improve your communication style?

5. Understand that the opposite party’s communication style is not meant to irritate you, how can you work around your differences and accommodate both parties?

6. How can knowing your type help you manage your stress?

 

Note:

My personal preference for using MBTI is simply because many of the Jungian concepts introduced have crept into our everyday language such as introversion and extroversion, and that the tool has been tested by the US Army. All tools that rely on self-reporting or human interpretation, are subject to biases.