How Introverts Can Generate Energy In Social Situations
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. But 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 Basket
Without further ado, here’s everything I put in my mental basket before socializing:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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!
- 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?
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I agree on the recovery and sleep parts. If I am going to a large gathering I will make sure I have someone to talk to with a common, deep interest. Trying to talk to someone I know nothing about is just too draining.
Good article. (I know it was posted around 3 years ago, but I’ll still reply.) So I’m a textbook INFP, and a little less “forgiving” than Andre when it comes to my time, commitments, personal freedom and social life involving extroverts.
As bad as it may sound to some, I went to great lengths trying to weed out unwitting extroverts from my life. These days, if you’re not INFP-compatible, I probably don’t want much to do with you.
This made my social circle much-much tinier than it used to be in my college years, but it made me a MUCH freer, more liberated, more fulfilled, more productive person in the process.
I would actually urge fellow INF* people to try and pander less to extroverts who are clueless about our true needs and emotional life anyway.
I’m also INTJ, and I find that I need a little bit of play space for my tertiary and inferior functions. For example, I’m at synagogue all day on Saturdays, but I rarely have a problem feeling drained, because the bookends of my day are singing, which feeds both Fi and Se, and dance class, which gives me a nice growth loop in Te-Se. The more creative I’ve been in the time leading up to Saturday–the more I’ve engaged with the week’s reading, maybe written something based on it, the more likely I am to not feel tired during the potluck time when I have to be social.
I have more to learn here, though, and will definitely try queuing conversation topics. Like your experience, sometimes I drag and sometimes I’m energized by social interactions, so I will keep a closer eye on the surrounding circumstances. Thanks for your insight and experience!
That’s great advice. I’m going to use some of that.
My basket includes some type of activity to ground me…probably some yoga or at least quiet time to do some sort of routine preparations for going out. What doesn’t work is going out straight from work, I need to go home and reconnect to “me” before launching myself into social events. I also get as much information as possible beforehand about the event so I know what to expect: how many people, who are they, what time can I reasonably go home etc. At the event I then try to connect to people I think I may have something in common with, and I allow myself plenty of “bathroom breaks” so I can get some space and come back to myself. I struggle sometimes as I have a boyfriend with a large circle of acquaintances and friends he has known since childhood and there is seldom the chance to meet just one couple or two, it is always mass events…tiring and totally de-energising. I am now beginning to say ” you go alone”. Read “The Introvert Advantage” by Marti Olsen Laney for more great ideas about preserving energy . I am a female INTJ and basically real conversations with people about common interests, but just social things leave me cold after about 30 minutes. And I have not mastered the art of dealing with the “S” type, gives me “Ns” and day!!! I totally agree about the need for recovery time. I work as a teacher/lecturer and if I have a busy day socialising is out. Even after a normal week, I need several days to recover from a social event. And note: recovery time is longer as we get older. I am 65 and need a long time to recover from over-exposure to people. But over time I have developed better social skills. My experience is that as an INTJ female I find people wary of me, but are generally pleased to see me as I don’t bullshit, usually only speak when I have something meaningful to say and am a bit “different” to most women. I think most INTJs can be scary for other people as we do live inside ourselves and the ES types can’t work out what we’re thinking. Their problem.
I just have question but didn’t know where to put it. Are INTJ females different then INTJ males? even if it’s not much of a difference? this question has been prying my mind for a while. Anyways, good article.
I’m not an expert but, as an intj female, I’ve researched and observed that intj females typically have more of an ability to tap into the feeling functions which can allow us to be more balanced in emotional aspects. We have the ability to flip that switch that either allows or cuts off emotions a lot easier. Though, of course, anyone can learn that skill and I’m totally just generalizing here. Intj females also have hormones that can make a range of emotions something we need to learn to deal with at younger ages whereas intj males are able to be more steady and consistent (other than occasional bouts of rage).
There are so many factors that affect a person’s personality even within their mbti type but I do believe that physical as well as societal factors factor into the differences between males and females of the same mbti type.
Tessa, spot on. I agree about biological factors. And several female INTJs have discussed with me the role that hormones play in their own feelings and emotional state.
“other than occasional bouts of rage” = you perfectly captured my younger male self 🙂
I wonder what you would think of this article I did about female INTJs:
And may we add that male INTJs might be a bit less anti-social than females? Or maybe that being anti-social affects females more?
“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.
Yeah, this one was the most interesting point for me too. I think I hate people and find them very annoying because I feel like they are preventing me from doing useful things, when they are around they just push me to waste my precious time by doing nothing.. so yeah I think if I achieve something I feel “enough” to need a rest or a just a stop to mark the begining of a new task it’ll be less annoying to be around people.
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.
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!
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.
Ummm… You might want to spell “extrovert” correctly….
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:
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.
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.
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.
Thank you, this was so helpful and reassuring!
Very helpful article. I’m an INFJ and meditation also can help me, especially if I’m feeling anxious before a social event.
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.
I love the idea of learning something new every day.
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.:)
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.
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!
You’re welcome Kristina. Glad you liked it 🙂
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!
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.
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. 🙂
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!
Thank you Inqtrini!
I was so confused about what to buy, but this makes it unsdletandabre.