Here is a common belief for the relationships between introversion and extraversion. I’m going to show how it worsens your life and offer an alternative you will resist and fight against, but if you keep an open mind you’ll realize explains your world more effectively and helps you to improve your life. I call it the “Or” model of introversion and extraversion for reasons you’ll see below. It says that introverted people have certain properties and abilities, extroverted people have complementary properties and abilities, and you either have one set or the other, but not both. It says some people may lie somewhere in the middle of the axis, having some introverted traits and some extroverted traits, but not the full amount that a pure introvert or extrovert would have of each. People commonly believe it, but it has no solid scientific basis, at least not that I know (I’d love to learn otherwise). Still, when someone believes it, it influences them strongly and, to the extent they don’t realize it’s a belief, it becomes part of their reality they fight to hold on to.
As Einstein said
Whether you can observe a thing or not depends on the theory which you use. It is the theory which decides what can be observed.
Today’s post will suggest trying to view the world from another theory and to see where it leads.
Once you believe something, a cascade of things happens. Most relevant here is that the cognitive bias known as confirmation bias will lead you to accept information supporting your belief and reject information that contradicts your belief. Just like if you think Pat is a great person, when Pat acts great, you think “Pat sure is great” and when Pat acts like a jerk you think “That’s odd, Pat is normally great but just acted like a jerk. Well, Pat’s still great despite this odd anomaly” while someone who thought Pat was a jerk would think “Pat sure is a jerk” when Pat acted like a jerk and “That’s odd, Pat is normally a jerk, but just acted great. Well, Pat’s still a jerk despite this odd anomaly” when Pat acted great. In other words, confirmation bias can lead to the same information reinforcing contradictory beliefs.
If you believe this model you will start to believe you, along with everyone, fall somewhere along the axis. If you think you’re more introverted you’ll feel more comfortable alone. When tired you’ll have little energy to do extroverted things. If you feel you’re extroverted you’ll feel more comfortable in groups and will have little energy to do introverted things when tired.
Most importantly you believe the model is right. If you believe it, you’ll believe alternatives are wrong. You’ll resist seeing alternatives. The longer you’ve believed this model, the more deeply you’ll have found ways to reinforce and confirm it. You’ve found patterns of rewards and punishments based on it and created a lifestyle to give you reward and avoid punishment based on it. You recognize that acting on deviations from that model will not likely lead to greater reward since you believe you’ve maxed out your reward, but will likely lead to feelings of punishment.
Why that model hurts you
Here is another similar model that you’ll probably recognize as counterproductive that believing only worsens your life. I call it an “Or” model too. Anyone reading this blog would look at this model and realize it’s garbage. It suggests people can either be strong or intelligent but not both. You can easily tell its consequences to the life of someone who believed it. You’d never want your child to believe it because it would risk your child limiting him- or herself from being fit and intelligent.
You know that anyone can be fit or not fit and intelligent or not intelligent and the two measures are independent. If you want to increase your fitness you know can do things to do so, like exercising and eating accordingly. Those things won’t decrease your intelligence. They might increase it. Likewise, you can do things to increase your ability to solve problems, like practicing solving problems and sleeping well. Those things won’t decrease your fitness. They might increase it.
Still, you probably remember a time in your childhood when you believed the smart kids in school were less fit and the jocks were less smart, or something like that. If you didn’t feel that way you recognize some kids did. You probably expect some adults still believe in the above model. If so, you probably consider them believing it tragic, leading them to feel they have to sacrifice their health if they want to be smart and vice versa.
Even if you don’t believe that model, you probably admit to some correlation that would support the above model, however much you disagree with it. For example, there probably is a anti-correlation between athletes and high grades in school, and between people with high grades and athletic ability. But you wouldn’t say biology caused the correlation. You’d say social pressures did and point out many counterexamples — fit people with high grades.
You probably believe something more like this, which I call the “And” model. This model says that fitness and intelligence are independent of each other, that fitness doesn’t imply a lack of intelligence, nor does intelligence imply a lack of fitness. You can be fit and intelligent. You don’t have to sacrifice one for the other. People who believe this model reject that fitness has any biological correlation with intelligence. They’d teach it to their kids, hoping to motivate their kids to be fit and intelligent, or at least discourage them from thinking doing well in one area might hurt them in another.
You’d also expect people who believed the Or model would resist teaching their kids this model for the same reason — they’d fear their kids would think they could have both and, in trying for both, unwittingly sacrifice some of the one they valued.
Fatigue and undeveloped skills
Say you believed the Or model of fitness and intelligence and considered yourself intelligent. You would then consider fitness more challenging for you than for most. You’d recognize you could work to become more fit, but you’d believe you had to work harder than naturally fit people. You’d find exercise hard and figure it was harder for you than for most people. You wouldn’t find it relaxing. You’d find it dolorous. You’d recognize others found it exhilarating and maybe wish you could too.
Most of all you’d say exercise drained you of energy and reading relaxed you.
If you believed the And model and heard someone else say all that about themselves, you’d say, “Of course exercise makes you feel tired. It uses up your energy, but it does that with everyone. The fatigue can also feel relaxing if you look at it that way. Exercise is no easier for anyone else. You don’t feel more tired than anyone else after they exercise. You only think you feel more tired because of your belief. If you just change your belief you’ll see you’re just as capable of enjoying exercising and the rewards of fitness as anyone else.”
You can likewise imagine a fit person believing the Or model describing problem-solving as draining their energy and not relaxing, and exercise as invigorating and relaxing. You’d say something similar to them about their finding problem-solving draining. Of course it’s hard, but it’s hard for everyone. You only think it’s particularly hard and draining because of your belief.
For every fit intelligent person you showed them, they’d show you a fit underachiever or unfit intelligent person. You’d recognize their confirmation bias in action.
All skills you don’t have feel draining to use until you develop them. After you develop them, they don’t drain you. Feeling drained results from inexperience.
We’ll see this effect again in a moment. You can counter feeling drained by developing skills, with practice, just like everyone else. Since we all have only twenty-four hours in the day, if we spend all our time in one area, we won’t reach our potential in another, but that doesn’t mean we biologically couldn’t. It just means we spent more time in one area than another. If your child said because they played sports they should get low grades you’d disagree.
The “And” model of introversion and extraversion
I propose the “And” model of introversion and extraversion, which you could probably anticipate.
First I’ll note that I’m using the terms introversion and extraversion as shorthand for sets of skills, each of which one can learn independently.This model suggests for introversion and extraversion everything the And model for fitness and strength said about its characteristics. It says introversion doesn’t imply a lack of extraversion, nor does extraversion imply a lack of introversion.
It says that each characteristic comes from skills anyone can learn. Just like if you exercise you’ll improve your fitness no matter who you are, if you meditate you’ll improve your introversion no matter who you are. If you practice your social skills you’ll improve your extraversion no matter who you are.
Doubtless many readers who have believed the Or model for introversion and extraversion are compiling evidence against the And model already. They’ve had decades to build lives around that belief and the change threatens their system of rewards. They’ve avoided parties out of feelings of helplessness they considered innate and unchanging that this model implies they learned. It suggests they could take responsibility for improving their lives in areas they never tried to and now realize their inaction prevented them from joy and achievement. It suggests what they said was easy for others was just as hard for anyone else as for themselves.
Such people will no doubt compile and present evidence proving their Or model correct and the And model wrong, which those of us who see opportunity to grow, learn, and improve our lives will see as showing their confirmation bias more than anything else. Because we can show just as much evidence of people with extraversion and introversion skills their biases blind them to. They can talk about neural pathways and neurotransmitters as if those big words definitively concluded anything, which they don’t, at least with our current understanding of such things. All the evidence I’ve seen is consistent with the And model, though you have to think about it differently. They’ll likely attack my credentials, pointing out my PhD is not in psychology, which I’ll grant them, but I’ll redirect them back to the point, which is not me. If they have evidence contradicting the And model of introversion and extraversion, I would love to see it. It would have to overcome evidence of people having both sets of skills.
People I describe this And model to consistently describe how trying to act extraverted when they consider themselves introverted and vice versa leave them drained. Though they resist seeing it, all their explanations are consistent with the statement in the previous section, “All skills you don’t have feel draining to use until you develop them. After you develop them, they don’t drain you. Feeling drained results from inexperience.” I recommend rereading the last section, substituting introversion and extraversion for fitness and intelligence and an open mind.
If you’ve believed the Or model of introversion and extraversion your whole life and resist the And model, try this challenge: try believing the And model for a week or a month. See where it leads you. If you’re one hundred percent sure the Or model is right, you won’t have any problems believing something different for a while. You might be surprised how your life changes if you look at things differently for a while. You might find yourself trying and enjoying things you never thought you could. You might believe yourself capable of learning and doing things you thought impossible. You might open new parts of life. You might start to find the evidence against it not so persuasive and more self-serving.
When you feel your life improving, you might find yourself having no time for people who try to re-impose the Or belief on you again. You might feel like someone who quit smoking or overeating whose friends who didn’t take the emotional challenge are trying to drag them back to their misery.
What harm is there in trying a belief for a while?
By the way, I’ll note that I’ll be happy to reject the And model if anyone shows me a reason to that works. So far no one has shown me evidence that the Or model of introversion and extraversion has any greater validity than the And model. They just keep talking about how they get tired at parties, as if extraverted people didn’t.
Tomorrow I’ll follow up by showing how shifting from using the Or model to an And model shifts how you look at introversion and extraversion — specifically as a set of skills that you can develop and empower yourself with as opposed to set of (imagined) restrictions that confine you.
Learn to make Meaningful Connections
with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.
- Step by step instructions
- Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
- An excerpt from my book