personalityhacker.com_introverts-energy-socialize

Introverts and social time don’t always mix. I look at social time the same way I look at jogging: they’re fun but they wipe me out. I’m a Perspectives-Effectiveness user (INTJ in the Myers-Briggs system), and once I’m winded, I become quiet, checked out, daydreamy or even cranky. A single social occasion can wipe me out for a week.

But skipping social events isn’t always possible. Friends can end up feeling ignored. And many business or career opportunities require face time (the “networking” that we introverts dread). If you avoid that networking, it can feel like you’re losing out while the extraverts get all the opportunities.

So there’s no question that we introverts have to get out there and socialize. But is there a way to keep our steam longer, and feel less exhausted in groups?

I always thought the answer was no—this is just how we’re made and we have to accept our weaknesses with our strengths. But it turns out introverts can actually build up a sort of resistance and feel less drained by “people” time. The secret lies in what I call the introvert “basket” and the science of willpower.

The Science of Willpower

Socializing requires willpower. That’s because introverts take much more interest in our inner world—reading, writing, creating, thinking—than in the outer world. So turning outward requires focus and effort. You can see the same thing in reverse if you ask extraverts to sit quietly without talking. After a while, they may visibly fidget and struggle not to speak. They’re using willpower.

Most of us think of willpower as something we should be able to use anytime, if we just try hard enough. personalityhacker.com_introvert-socialize-energyBut it isn’t. The truth is, willpower is a limited resource. When you force yourself to do something hard, it takes mental energy, and the brain only has so much energy before it needs rest. You know that “drained” feeling you get after a two-hour meeting? It’s the exact same fatigue that dieters feel when they choose a salad over a pizza.

That’s good news, because there are ways to reduce how much willpower you need. For example, who’s more likely to quit drinking: the person that still has beer in the house for their friends? Or the one who throws away all the booze and fills the fridge with club soda? Both need willpower to stick to their choice, but one has stacked the odds in their favor. They have filled up their willpower “basket” with the tools to succeed.

The Social Hour Basket

I decided to see if I could apply this to socializing. I noticed that I don’t get equally fatigued at every social event. One night I might go to dinner with four friends and feel lively and engaged. Then we do it again next week, with the same people, and I wish I was home with a book. Why? What’s the difference?

The difference has a lot to do with small, seemingly unrelated things—things I didn’t even realize affected my energy. I started to keep track of what I did before any given social event and how I felt when I was there. The results were startling. Pretty soon I had a list of everything I need to be social, energetic and fun around people. That’s my introvert basket.

I’ll tell you exactly what’s in the basket, but first two words of caution:

  • My basket won’t be the same as yours. Every introvert is unique. The things that help you keep your energy up may be totally different from mine, and that’s okay. What’s important is to figure out your own personal list. Then fill up your basket before you walk out the door.
  • What shocked me is what’s not in my basket. I thought external factors would make a big difference. For example, I assumed I’d have more energy with friends than strangers. And that small groups would be better than large groups. But if my basket is full, I can be comfortable and energetic even with huge groups. I can actually show up acting like a social butterfly and be the center of attention—without wanting to curl up in a corner afterward. Introverts are not actually at the mercy of those around us. We can take charge of our own social energy.

My Introvert Basketpersonalityhacker.com_socialize-energy-introvert

Without further ado, here’s everything I put in my mental basket before socializing:

  1. Eat first. An empty stomach is a willpower vampire. When I realized this, I started eating before going to a social event (even just a snack). It doesn’t matter if there will be food at the event; I eat first, so that my stomach doesn’t steal the precious energy I need to be social. This is the most important item in my basket.
  2. Finish work, or reach a point where I feel accomplished. As an INTJ, I derive joy from accomplishing things. Not accomplishing them leaves me with a nagging feeling that I should be working, and that drains me. So I plan my day to finish a work project before a scheduled social event. If that’s not possible, I try to reach a stopping point where I know I made progress. Suddenly the people around me look interesting again.
  3. Sleep. Everyone says to get more sleep. It’s hard advice to take because we’re all busy, and I do a lot of late nights. But lack of sleep is pretty much identical with lack of mental energy. If I know I’m going to attend a social gathering, I try to pay off my sleep debt the night before.
  4. Have a drink. I’m embarrassed to even put this one on the list. I’m not a heavy drinker. But, at least for me, alcohol really does loosen me up and lowers my social inhibitions. And social inhibitions are a form of stress or anxiety, which takes willpower to overcome. So before I head to a soiree, I have one drink (one!). Obviously this depends on the context—don’t slam a bourbon before a business meeting. (Unless, like me, you live in New Orleans, in which case your boss is the one pouring the bourbon).
  5. Upbeat pop music. If the cocktail wasn’t embarrassing enough, this is my basket’s rock bottom. Certain songs fire me up. And the most effective ones for me are really up-tempo, anthem-like pop songs. So yes, about 30 minutes before I walk out the door, my neighbors can hear me pumping Lady Gaga and LMFAO. Then I roll out feeling like a rock star. Thanks, YouTube!
  6. Have something to talk about. Introverts don’t like small talk. We prefer deeper conversation. But that’s like being vegan: if you want to be sure you’ll get what you need, you better prepare it yourself. So I think up a few conversation starters before I go out. They can be as simple as, “Did you know… [cool new scientific discovery]?” or “Did you hear about [recent news item]?” Ideally they’re topics that get me started on an excited rant, because excitement is contagious. One introvert friend has a more all-purpose line: “I like fruit, and I like dessert, but I don’t like fruit desserts.” The ensuing debate easily lasts 30 minutes.


What’s in Your Introvert Basket?

When I fill my basket, I can “turn on” my social skills. I don’t dread groups as much, and I don’t get as fatigued by them. People even mistake me for an extravert. (Announcing you’re an introvert is another great conversation starter.) They never guess that the secret to my charm is a snack, a nap and a Britney Spears album.

What belongs in your basket? Is your list similar to mine, or different? Leave a comment and tell me what improves your social energy. You might have an idea I should be using too.

And here’s a fun question: would anything in my basket actually make it harder for you to socialize?

Showing 23 comments
  • Inqtrini
    Reply

    Great, sensible article and so very true! I definitely feel a huge difference talking with people before or after eating. Hangry is notorious for a reason! I especially love your suggestion of accomplishing some part of your work/project. Gotta keep that one in mind for future reference, aka this weekend! Thanks, Andre!

    • Andre Sólo
      Reply

      Thank you Inqtrini!

      • Lainey
        Reply

        I was so confused about what to buy, but this makes it unsdletandabre.

  • Doe
    Reply

    This is awesome! I was already subconsciously filling my basket for many social events, but didn’t realize that not doing those things was a factor when I felt drained and incapable of being around people. For me, filling my basket would be playing folk music or uplifting music I can dance to. And writing a piece (essay, letter, poem, or fiction) that has been rolling around in my mind. Putting on makeup is the one that I am embarrassed to write because it seems so shallow. But the actual process is very focused and peaceful. It helps me feel ready to face anyone. Thank you for your insights, they are so helpful!

    • Andre Sólo
      Reply

      Ah, good point Doe. I do always feel better about going out in the world if I am showered, shaved, well dressed and put together. I should add that to my basket.

    • Brenda Knowles
      Reply

      Oh! putting on makeup and listening to music also gets me ready for a social event. Putting on makeup is sort of a calming ritual. 🙂

  • Kristina
    Reply

    Fantastic article! Great idea to journal your social encounters and see what correlations you can make to maximize everyone’s enjoyment of the moment!
    Thank you for sharing!

    • Andre Sólo
      Reply

      You’re welcome Kristina. Glad you liked it 🙂

  • Brenda Knowles
    Reply

    I love this! I definitely notice a difference in my sociability levels on different occasions. It is important for me to get work done or feel accomplished before I go out too. I also need a one to two hour cushion between finishing work/other socializing and the next event. If I can have some relax and recharge time beforehand, I am more vibrant at the social gathering. Thank you for this post. I plan to share it.:)

    • Andre Sólo
      Reply

      Yes, a buffer is a great idea. It’s hard for me to rip myself out of my deep thinking/work mode and dive into the outer world. If I have to do it, I try to do something physical very slowly for a few minutes – walk slow, eat a snack slowly, etc. No reading/podcasting allowed while I do it. Somehow this process brings me out of my head.

  • Virgílio
    Reply

    Great post. I have a similar thing in my basket about the work finished. I like to learn something new every day, not necessarily finishing some work, it’s ok if I didn’t finish it if learned something in the process. This post certainly helped me this way. Thanks for the advice and the knowledge.

    • Andre Sólo
      Reply

      I love the idea of learning something new every day.

  • Stephen
    Reply

    Very helpful article. I’m an INFJ and meditation also can help me, especially if I’m feeling anxious before a social event.

  • Antonia
    Reply

    Thank you, this was so helpful and reassuring!

  • Jamian
    Reply

    Filling the basket, great way to look at things. I know something that is a sure-fire way to be miserable for the event and the whole weekend is to be rushed from work straight into a social event. Having a half hour to just veg out before I go to an event is critical. I agree with the music, makeup, and an adult beverage! Attempting to get work done would probably backfire for me as an INTP as I would end up going off on tangents and then feeling like a looser for not accomplishing anything. I’m most productive when I’m right up against the true deadline (as in – if you don’t do it you’re dead), lights my fire and I can knock it out.

  • Hadley George
    Reply

    I find the structure of the event makes a difference for me. If the social events have a task or agenda which I can follow then I get a lot less stressed out. It doesn’t have to be detailed, a dinner party is enough. Dinner party = I know we will sit and eat. I can do that. Pubic speaking = I will give a talk then allow people to ask me questions. I can do that. Panel discussion = I will listen to some people talk then I can ask questions. I can do that. It is the structureless events: networking, cocktail parties, house parties that suck me dry like the little silicon packets in shoeboxes.

    • sunny
      Reply

      i agree! at the structureless events, i just end up wandering around, attempting to join existing conversations — with little, if any, success. dinner parties, though, are tough for me if i don’t know EVERYONE at the table beforehand. it seems that the number of “recovery days” after a dinner party increases in direct proportion to the number of strangers in attendance. if i know everybody there, i may go out again in a day or two; if i know nobody there (as with a meetup/networking sort of event), it can be weeks before i’ll venture out again.

  • JoAnne
    Reply

    Good advice.
    Ummm… You might want to spell “extrovert” correctly….

    • Antonia Dodge
      Reply

      We use Jung’s spelling since his work is ultimately our source material. Here’s a link to a conversation which may help clarify our choice:

      blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/the-difference-between-extraversion-and-extroversion/

      -A-

  • Ann
    Reply

    These are all great, and it made me smile to see the one about music, since I’ve done that since before I knew what introversion was. But the biggest thing that I find helpful is to limit my interactions in the time leading up to the event. When I go to a conference, for example, I arrive a day early if I can and spend the day learning about the city – alone. I’ll visit museums, run park trails and wander historic districts, then treat myself to a nice dinner. After a day spent completely in my own company, I’m ready to socialize with anyone, even Godzilla! The other thing I do is try not to go to events in the company of an extrovert. This doesn’t always work (my husband would be hurt if I never let him go anywhere with me) but I find I’m often more sociable when I can’t be lazy and let someone else do it all for me while I just hover in the background and smile.

  • Betty b
    Reply

    I agree on snacks, sleep and buffer time. Plus I often have a plan for when and how I am going to leave, knowing it’s going to end is really helpful!

  • Liat
    Reply

    Wow, so much good stuff here. I’ve been starting to realize a lot of these things lately but didn’t know I was learning what was in my basket.

    I think carefully choosing events to attend really helps me. Wanting to be there makes a huge difference. I used to make myself go out just to go out because I “should” but that’s pretty much a recipe for a sub-par time.

    When I’m finding out about people, I like to ask them what they think of their work or how they feel about a topic in their life that they’re telling me about. It usually forces them to stop and think for a second, deepening the conversation. I also like asking people what they would do in life if they could do anything. It gets people talking about their passions which are often way more interesting than their day jobs, and they can talk about them with much more excitement. It cuts through the small talk.

  • Annie
    Reply

    “If that’s not possible, I try to reach a stopping point where I know I made progress. Suddenly the people around me look interesting again.”

    That was really interesting. There are times when I find work meetings very tiring, and tend to conserve energy by saying very little, but I’m going to make an effort to try to find a good stopping point in my work before meetings. I think that would actually make me less distracted and more likely to pay attention to whatever’s being discussed.

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