you’re not an introvert. and you’re definitely not an extrovert.
You’ve believed for a while that you’re either an introvert or an extrovert. Though, it doesn’t work that way. You’re an evolving mixture of both. And introversion and extroversion are tools we use to live lives of richness and depth.
I’ll guide you through a discovery that has shaped the way I view life and energy. And if you learn this discovery, too, you’ll grow into a more connected and healthy person.
We all desire to be more engaged. We want to connect with the world around us, yet we struggle to find depth in the mundane. Here’s how many think…
You either read books or you don’t. You either like people or you don’t. You’re either an introvert or you’re not. You’re either an extrovert or you’re not. You either finished reading this paragraph or you didn’t.
Black and white thinking is wrong here. You’re an expressible and extraordinary mixture of both introversion and extroversion. Your flexibility to seek both reserve and expression is a monumental part of who you are. And you’re limiting yourself.
When you classify yourself as one or the other, you limit an entire segment of your being.
We miss out on the vibrant life you have to offer when you limit yourself to one of two states.
let’s get a little scientific
Introversion and extroversion are pieces in a larger game of temperament. They’re tools at your disposal to relate with the world in a more connected way.
Two components make up you. Temperament and Personality.
- Temperament: the nature side of the debate. You’ve been created with a set wiring of pre-determined synapses handed down to you from your parents. And these developed in the womb. You’re a miraculous creature.
- Personality: the nurture side of the debate. In your childhood, key influencers and events shaped the way you thought and felt about life. Life shaped your vision.
We’re only going to stick to temperament for now. Personality is a beast on its own.
When you were born, your brain had a way of thinking that was unique to you. Untouched by the world and its array of sensory distractions and influencing factors. You were born of entirely-untarnished temperament: complete nature. Nurture hadn’t influenced you yet.
This is where psychologist Jerome Kagan decided to step in. He set up an experiment to put the temperament of humans to the test.
He introduced infants to various stimuli and tracked their responses. He would give a swab of lemon to children and track their reaction. Or, he’d pop a balloon next to a child and note the response. And so on.
As you might expect, some babies cried… and some didn’t. Unfamiliar stimuli startled some children while doing nothing to other children. Some reacted and some didn’t.
Kagan discovered something incredible. Human temperament has two defaults: high reactivity and low reactivity. Or children who cried and children who didn’t (when exposed to shocking events).
it gets deeper
I promise this depth will get us to a place where you can become a more complete and healthy self.
Your brain has a component called the Reticular Activating System (we’ll call it the RAS for short). Its job is to control consciousness. Or brain arousal.
Think of the RAS like a filter. It looks at what’s happening in the world around you and chooses to let some information in. And it lets some information float by. It controls your brain activity.
Your brain loves to be at a set point of brain activity. Like how your heart has a set point of beats per minute. Or how you have a set point of body temperature. Your brain likes its set point.
And you brain will do all that it can do always be at a set point of brain arousal. Too much brain arousal and you’ll be anxious, frustrated, and unfocused. Too little brain arousal and you’ll be sluggish, exhausted, and irritable.
It’s best if you’re at a comfortable set point of brain arousal. And your brain is going to get there one way or the other.
reactivity and set point
Kagan followed his patients throughout their lives. He found that high reactivity people tended to be predominantly introverted. And low reactivity people tended to be predominantly extroverted.
He found that:
- High reactivity people (introverts) have a higher set point of brain arousal.
- Low reactivity people (extroverts) have a lower set point of brain arousal.
So, high reactivity people become overloaded by external stimuli. It makes their set point go too high. It makes babies cry. It makes people seem introverted.
Low reactivity people are off balance without external stimuli. Their set point is lower. They don’t cry at external stimuli because it doesn’t overwhelm them. It makes people seem extroverted.
let’s tie it together
You either have a brain of high reactivity or low reactivity. It’s your temperament.
High reactivity makes you have a high set point and low reactivity makes you have a low set point.
And your brain uses the RAS to always be at an optimal set point.
If you’re a high reactivity person, you’re born with a higher set point. If you’re a low reactivity person, you’re born with a lower set point.
Your brain will always do what it can to be at its set point. Being at the set point makes you happier and more productive. You thrive at your set point.
People who believe they’re introverted are really just high reactivity people. When you were a child, external stimuli startled you. Your brain was full of life and had a higher set point of arousal.
You process a lot internally because your brain is always working. You need quiet space to work and be productive.
Your set point is high and you need a tool to get it to be normal. The tool you’ve chosen for most of your life is introversion.
Introversion helps you take a high set point and bring it down to a normal level: where you become the most vibrant version of yourself.
The reason people call you an introvert is because you have to use the tool of introversion frequently to calm your high set point.
Sometimes your set point dips down too far, though. You use another tool to bring it back up: extroversion.
People who believe they’re extroverted are really just low reactivity people. When you were a child, external stimuli didn’t startle you. Your brain was curious about the world around and you have a lower set point of arousal.
You process the world externally: through experiences and people. You need a more interactive and busy space to work and be productive.
Your set point is low and your need a tool to get it to be normal. The tool you’ve chosen for most of your life is extroversion.
Extroversion helps you take a low set point and bring it up to a normal level: where you become the most vibrant version of yourself.
The reason people call you an extrovert is because you have to use the tool of extroversion frequently to liven your low set point.
Sometimes your set point increases too much, though. You use another tool to bring it back down: introversion.
back to black and white
So, here’s the real black and white of it all: you either have a high reactivity or low reactivity temperament.
Reactivity becomes a bias for how dominant introversion and extroversion will be in your life. But it doesn’t define you.
You were born with a temperament that will never change, but you can use tools to guide it to where you want to be.
I’m a high reactivity person. When someone asks me to a party, I have an inner surge of adrenaline that shouts for me to deny. When I get asked to speak in front of a group, quick thoughts rush through my mind of the excuses I can use to escape.
When I’ve been around too many people I use introversion as a tool to gather resources and regain energy. When I’ve regained energy, I use extroversion as a tool to communicate and interact with others.
stretch and break
You’ve been given a temperament. Now use personality to shape it. You’re a high or low reactivity person and you can now begin to approach life that way. If a wave of anxiety overcomes you, recognize that you’ve been given tools to center yourself. If you’re exhausted, find the tools available to you so we can have the richness of you back.
The beauty of human personality is the ability to stretch and break the barriers set. Your personality is either evolving into integration or destruction. And you have the power to change it daily.
Keep in mind that brain arousal does not equal intelligence. It’s how much of the world you process internally.
So, are you a high reactivity person or a low reactivity person?
Where in your life have you seen yourself at a set point that is too high or too low and how did you naturally live to get it back to a healthy place? Did you use introversion or extroversion?
The words introversion and extroversion carry unneeded weight. And this discovery allows you to live without that weight.
You’re a magnetic and dynamic individual. Life has given you temperament, and you responded with personality. You control the way you’re going to live. You use the tools available to you to become the most healthy self.
And it is the world’s pleasure to see you at your best. When you’re aware of who you are and how you’re created and the limitations you have. And the life your bring to people around you.
your next step
I want to know more about you.
Click HERE and tell me if you’re a high or low reactivity person in the comments. Tell me a story about when you used introversion and extroversion to meet your internal and physiological needs.