One of the most fundamental personality traits, common to almost every method of measurement, is the tendency towards extraversion or introversion. It’s often misunderstood: introversion is not the same as shyness, and extraverts don’t necessarily like being the centre of attention. The distinction in psychology, following Jung’s definition in Psychological Types (1921), is more about how we energise ourselves. Jung described extraverts as characterised by ‘an outward flow of energy (libido) – an interest in events, in people and things, a relationship with them, and a dependence on them.’ Introversion on the other hand was, he said, characterised by ‘an inward flowing of personal energy—a withdrawal concentrating on subjective factors.’
The popular MBTI personality profiling takes this distinction as one of its key dimensions, but it’s worth bearing in mind too that extraversion and introversion are simply points on a continuum. Most of us are a blend, and few of us are fixed: even someone who scores as highly as I do on the Myers-Briggs extraversion axis needs some quality time alone sometimes, and most introvert can pony on a stage with the best of them when necessary.
It’s tempting to say we should forget the distinction and accept that we’re all ambiverts, able to swing either way, energetically speaking. But for most of us Jung’s point holds true: there’s a default preference.
If I’m feeling threatened, anxious or even ill I tend to become more introverted. ‘She’s not herself today,’ my friends might say, and they’re right: when I ‘become myself’ again, when things are back to normal and my mental state bobs back to its usual level, the extraversion kicks back in. I’m ready to reengage and reenergise myself.
Joanna Pieters, host of the Creative Life Show podcast and herself an introvert, offered an interesting analysis of what can happen to the two types under pressure, and the dangers of both:
‘My observation is that the danger for an introvert is an increased likelihood that they’ll go inwards for a solution to a problem, either by just working harder or thinking more intensively. And under pressure, they’ll find the outwards-facing interactions harder to get value from, and they may well be less likely to do them.
However, for an extrovert under pressure, they’re perhaps more likely to have conversations, but the danger is that they can be unfocused, because their drive is about feeling better by having enjoyable interactions. And an extrovert in that situation doesn’t always take the time to evaluate or internalise what’s going on. For writing or other solitary activities, a disciplined extrovert can also decide that being social is the ‘wrong’ thing to do, so cut it out, but miss out on those opportunities.’
If you don’t already know it, I recommend taking a personality test to discover your own preference. The full Myers-Briggs test takes time and a skilled practitioner, but there are several quick-and-dirty versions out there (like this one) that, taken with a grain of salt, can give some interesting insights.
Assuming you know your type, think about what that means for how you research, write and tell people about your book. What do you particularly need to look out for, exploit or avoid? I’m particularly interested in more insights from introverts…