Learning How To Socialize
Interview with an introvert

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Of the many differences between introverts and extroverts, one of the most obvious may be their relative comfort socializing in large groups and with new people. Today’s post is an interview with an introvert who deliberately set out to become better at socializing by studying the behavior of extroverted people around him. This is what he found.

How old are you, and how old were you when you became aware of not being comfortable socially?

I am in my early thirties. It seems kind of late, but I didn’t become aware of my own feelings of discomfort when socializing until maybe 9th or 10th grade. I remember being at a party with a bunch of classmates and all of a sudden realizing that I didn’t feel like I had anything to say to anybody and didn’t want to be there. What was surprising is that my personality in school was pretty loud and disruptive and about calling attention to myself, so I just assumed my predilection toward negative attention correlated with extroversion. But that wasn’t the case at all; and I’m actually quite introverted.

How does being in an uncomfortable social situation make you feel physically?

I think I tense up a little, but it’s not so much a physical feeling as much as a wanting-to-be-gone feeling. It’s a simple desire not to be there.

Is this just with groups of people who you don’t know?

Not necessarily; it’s generally any group that is over a certain size threshold. I feel like groups of two and three are good. Groups of four are also good. But beyond that it starts to be too many for me to feel comfortable socializing.

When you were growing up did you feel confused about why socializing was hard for you?

It felt isolating, but I didn’t feel like it was only affecting me. There were plenty of kids who were wallflowers, and you always have classmates who are the shy kids, so I was aware of other introverts – but I didn’t think I was like them because I wasn’t a wallflower.

One thing I remember was a home ec class in 9th or 10th grade when everyone took the Myers-Briggs test, and I scored ENTP [Extroverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Perceiving]. And I realized well afterward – maybe years later – that I has answered the introversion questions on the test aspirationally without even realizing. I answered them for the person I wished to be, not who I really was. Another interesting detail I remember about this test was that at the end it showed you famous people who scored the same combination on the test, and my match was Steve Jobs, so I was like, “Oh my god, I’m exactly like my hero. This is amazing.” Of course, that turned out to be untrue.

Were you aware of other people not feeling comfortable around you?

Yeah. Again, my big way of interacting with people in school was by being disruptive and getting negative attention. I believed everyone thought I was really funny, but I think I was just being a jerk. I was in band until 8th grade, and I remember once we were getting our seating assignments and I overheard the girl that I was seated next to whispering in frustration to her friend that she had to sit next to me.

Did that hurt your feelings?

Well, I still remember it clearly. So yes.

So you decided to deliberately try to be more socially capable. What did you do to achieve that?

I had a small friend group, and most of them were also introverted, but I did have one good friend who was extroverted. So when I realized I was introverted, I decided to observe this one friend more carefully to see what he did socially that seemed to work so well. I basically studied his behavior. And I would talk to him about this sort of thing from time to time, and he would fill me on things I was doing unintentionally that turned people off or gave them a bad impression.

What did “studying” consist of?

It was observing other people and then deciding on tiny things to emulate. For example, something I remember very clearly is deciding to say “How’s it going?” to people instead of just saying “hi.” The funny thing is that I now say that a lot. It quickly became unconscious.

Did you get any feedback about how your efforts at self-improvement were working?

When I was a sophomore in college, this extroverted friend and I took a trip to New York for the weekend. We were staying with his sister, who lived in the city. We had a great weekend and I didn’t think anything of it, but he mentioned to me later on that his sister thought I was a little weird. I don’t remember what exactly that comment was referring to, but what I got out of that was that I simply wasn’t interacting with her in the way that somebody was a guest would be expected to. Maybe I was just talking to my friend, and not to her. Whatever it was, I just wasn’t aware of it at all. Hearing my friend tell me that his sister thought I was weird has a particular effect on me because I had been in this specific situation and then sometime later learned that this third party had a perception of me that I was really surprised by, and so I wanted to control that and not allow it to happen again.

You’re a heterosexual dude. Was any of this related to wanting to feel more comfortable around women?

Not at all. I don’t think I ever thought of it that way.

And did your social interactions become more comfortable as a result of your efforts?

I don’t think they ever became more inherently comfortable, per se, but I did see that greeting someone with a question about how they’re doing will lead to more conversation than just saying hello. And I did perceive conversations that I was a part of becoming better. I also got more comfortable because when you have a handful of go to conversation-making questions, or whatever, you can fall back on those when you don’t know what to say. Especially around new people there is a performative component to conversation that takes a lot of energy. I’m not good at remembering details about people, and I’m in my own head a lot, so it’s easy for me to lose track of what the other person is saying.

What are some of your go-to questions?

Well, small talk is still really hard for me. Sometimes if I’m talking to someone I know a little bit, but not well, I will bring up the fact that I’m introverted and hate small talk. Often the response I get is that they don’t notice, and I don’t think they’re saying that just to be polite. In a strange way, it can be a useful opener to conversation.

Is studying the social behavior of others something you still do?

Yes, but now I do it for different types of people. Now I more study people in a work context – bosses or colleagues who I admire and who are leaders, because that is something I aspire to be.

What makes you want to improve aspects of your personality that you’re dissatisfied with? Plenty of people have no interest in changing.

Despite not always being aware of how I’m being perceived, I guess I have always understood that improving these things about myself directly translates into being more successful in every way – but most of all, in my personal and work relationships. And that’s definitely worth it for me.

 Image: Guernica, by Pablo Picasso (1937)

Two Minutes in the Closet
Power Poses Can Change Your Life

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Feel more powerful, assertive, and confident in just two minutes by striking a pose and making yourself big.  It sounds like a sleazy sales pitch, but it’s not. We learned about “power poses” from a TED talk (oh, maligned TED talks!) by Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist and professor at Harvard Business School. Cuddy studies how people judge each other and themselves and her recent work is about linking nonverbal communication – body language – to hormones, feelings, and behavior.

Cuddy’s research shows that body language has a significant influence on judgement, affecting everything from who we ask on dates, to who we vote for, to how we think about others and how we think about ourselves. Maybe you’ve heard of studies that have shown that people who are forced to smile even when they are not happy actually report feeling better? Cuddy’s work builds on this idea by studying how nonverbal communication – in this case, poses that express physical dominance and assertiveness – influences how we feel about ourselves, and therefore changes how we behave.

Cuddy found that these poses powerfully influence feelings and behavior by literally changing our brain chemistry. By testing hormone levels after having study subjects hold a power pose for just two minutes, she discovered that people’s testosterone increases, increasing our risk tolerance significantly, and levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, decline. In other words, changing how we hold ourselves physically, even for a short time, can change our attitudes and beliefs about ourselves, making us feel more powerful, assertive, and confident.

Instructions for power posing based on Cuddy’s research are illustrated here. All you need is two minutes, privacy, and willingness to try something that, yeah, feels a little weird.

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Tiny tweaks can lead to big changes! See whether these affect your next date, work presentation, or interview and report back to us. We’ll be doing the same.

Some Things I’ve Learned from Online Dating

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I’ve done a fair amount of online dating over the years, mostly on match.com and OK Cupid. And the more I dated, the more I learned – not about others, but about myself.

First thing I learned was totally Buddhist and stuff, seriously. I really got in touch with the concepts of letting go and non-attachment. When you are online dating, you can’t start decorating the Christmas tree with a potential after a) reading their profile, or b) emailing them. The art of sending out a note into the ether and then letting go to any attachment of it returning to you is paramount to online survival. It is amazing what happens out there. Unlike in face-to-face forums, say like a bar, or a coffee shop, or on the street, people online have really honed their avoidance skills because they aren’t directly in front of someone. I’ll be the first to admit that I have completely ignored an email reaching out to me because I didn’t find the person’s profile compelling, I didn’t find them attractive, life got in the way, or I just had online dating fatigue. I know, I know! I sound like an ass, but this is how online dating works. And in some ways it is a relief because you can throw out an email, if it sticks – great. If not – well, that’s okay too. This online dating experience has actually helped me to let go more in life and be less anxious because for the same reasons I didn’t get back to someone, they may not get back to me. I don’t know the reason why they aren’t getting back to me, so I don’t take it personally (more on that in a bit).

Another great life lesson is to trust your instincts. One of my bosses calls this a tummy check. If your tummy says something’s up, it probably is. For example, when I first got online, I thought it would be good to go out of my “comfort zone.” People, testing your boundaries can be and should be an amazing thing and you should do it often, but I’m here to tell you (well, at least for me), it isn’t the best idea online. Don’t keep trying to fit that square peg in a round hole, like I have. If you don’t find the person to be a fit (for whatever reason) from their profile, chances are they aren’t going to be a fit in real life. “Wha?” I can just hear you saying, but after more dates than I can’t count, I can say that if their profile picture or write-up didn’t initially interest me, my in-person level of interest was no different. For example, I still don’t find tattoo sleeves to be attractive. I just don’t. I tried. Honestly, I did. But there is something (for me) that just doesn’t find that attractive, so why keep pursuing something like that? (Okay, so I’m using a very physical visual example and I’m sorry if I’m offending sleeved or panted individuals. I love your personal form of creative expression, but I can’t help it, I like the the colors of skin, not ink.)

And that naturally leads into the next thing: don’t take anything personally. Just because tats don’t work for me doesn’t mean someone else isn’t drooling over them. And not taking anything personally is more than just this physical representation I keep talking about; it really goes back to non-attachment. I’ve had people not email me back, email me back a month later, email me and then stop (maybe only to email me again later), or even start scheduling dates only to disappear, and to be honest, I’ve done all the same things. It is hard trying to make time in our busy schedules for complete strangers. We really can’t know what is going on with someone else unless they share it with us. So it doesn’t help to fret over why someone didn’t get back to you and this should be easily extended into everyday life. People’s reactions are their own and that is okay. You can’t allow one individual’s reaction control your world.

More importantly, I’ve learned that a lot of lesbians can sometimes be a little too deep for their own good, always thinking about being present and making the world a better place. Seriously, I think it’s great, and I’m so glad that so many women are working in professions that are care-giving and that there are people who give a damn about others. But since I’m being honest, once I hear someone saying “I try to be present everyday in life,” my eyes sorta glaze over and I start to fall asleep. Sure, who doesn’t want to be “real” in this world, but once in awhile don’t we all need a beer and a bad tv show just to check out? And honestly, the things I think about are unmentionable since my parents and sisters might be the only ones reading this blog. Of course I’m overgeneralizing about lezzies, but just ask my colleagues – who have read many of the profiles of the women I’ve dated – and they will agree.

I’ve learned that I can talk to anyone for 2-3 hours provided that there is some type of beverage in front of me – preferably wine, whiskey, or beer. I have never done the proverbial coffee on a date, but once I got tea. Anyway, the point is people like to talk about themselves. I’m not saying that in any rude way, but rather just as truism. (I used to have a good family friend who could get me talking – not that that is too hard – for hours. He just kept asking questions.) First dates aren’t difficult because you are in the “discovery” period, like being in the pre-trial stage of a lawsuit. You are trying to figure out if this case should move forward, end immediately, or if you have no idea of what the next step is.  And that means a lot of questions, which usually build on previous questions if you are paying attention at all. And the truth is that everyone has interesting life stories. But I’ve also learned, while I LOVE to talk, I am really shy about sharing the more intimate things about myself. This is actually a problem because I’m not connecting, but rather leading. And the point is to connect. I’ve been trying to be more open and talk about things I find important or meaningful. It is helpful because how people respond to these things will help me understand what type of partner they could potentially be.

Finally, I’ve learned it takes a certain amount of perseverance to date online. And this is a great life lesson. Getting turned down or ignored can, no matter how hard you try not to take personally, can be difficult on the old ego. But it is a numbers game, you have to expect for every (insert your number here) emails you send out, only 10% will get back. So you gotta just keep getting back on the old proverbial horse (poor horse). Life doesn’t typically just hand us what we want. We have to work for it – we have to earn it.  I’m not saying you have to earn love, I’m just saying you can’t hide from living life and moving forward.

Online dating, whilst I haven’t found a life partner, has helped me partner with my own life in a way that is meaningful. Now, I’ve gotta go send out some emails.

This post was adapted from Rebecca’s original post on her Tumblr, My Life As A Cartoon.

Image:The Raft of the Medusa, by Théodore Géricault (1818)

What We Mean When We Talk About Happiness

Happiness according to Google trends: 2004 to present

Searches for the word “happiness” according to Google trends: 2004 to present (U.S. only)

According to Google Trends, searches for the term “happiness” have been on the rise, sometimes quite dramatically, since they started tracking inquiries in 2004. There are more books, blogs, and videos about the subject than any one person could reasonably consume. But the subject of whether we are actually becoming any happier remains in doubt.

Our careers and lives are largely structured around preconceived achievements and milestones, both recognized and invisible, things like promotions, relationships, salaries, and material possessions. Yet for many people, achieving these things doesn’t necessarily lead to feelings of happiness. Why is it that when we reach certain goals or milestones, we don’t always feel happy? According to Danny Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner in economics who studies the psychology of judgment and decision making, it has to do with a subtle difference between two related feelings that comprise what we term happiness: life satisfaction and emotional well-being. (read more…)

Bad Language

CASS COUNTY COURTROOM - LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

Earlier this year, my coach David observed that I tend to default to describing things as “good” or “bad” rather than using more accurate – and less judgmental – words. He scolded me about it, in the way that only someone whose job is to not let you get away with your bullshit can. “Why use value judgements when describing your feelings about something? I try to stay away from those. They’re lazy and unhelpful.”

He was right (of course he was right). Describing something as good or bad is often simpler than thinking about, or explaining, our actual feelings. “Good” and “bad” are such accepted descriptors, despite the fact that they are rarely the most appropriate choice, that we barely notice using them. “Good” and “bad” conceal more complex, honest adjectives, and their overuse neutralizes their actual meaning. Think about all the times you have used the word “good” because it seemed like the politest, most expedient way of expressing, “everything is fine; no further inquiry necessary.” In this way, “good” is like a shield, deflecting more questions. “Bad” can be similarly discouraging of real examination. Is something or someone actually bad, or would it be more accurate to say it was disappointing, upsetting, or tiresome?

David’s larger point about using words like “good” and “bad” to describe things is that they are value judgements, and value judgments aren’t helpful when thinking about your own feelings or behavior (or someone else’s). Value judgments don’t encourage gentleness and patience with ourselves and with others. I had been using “good” and “bad” so generically that at first I balked at this point. But the more I thought about it, the more I agreed. Language matters, and “good” and “bad” subtly signal expectations and judgments that we may not even recognize. Barry Evans, author of The Myth of the Experienced Meditator, wrote about this in relation to meditation:

Meditation is a haven away from the ubiquitous world of self-improvement. It’s not just that there’s no such thing as ‘bad’ meditation, but there’s no such thing as ‘good’ meditation either. It is what it is.

Without realizing it, I’d been slotting many of my opinions and emotions into the two giant buckets of “good” and “bad.” Since having this tendency pointed out, I’ve tried to be more precise and descriptive when I speak and write. Not just with “good” and “bad,” either, but with any that word that feels like a generic placeholder for a more expressive, more accurate, and more meaningful one. By shifting away from using words that are value judgments, the nuance and the complexity of a feeling can come out. Something can be both annoying and worthwhile, frustrating and fulfilling, or exciting and unsettling. It’s difficult not to default to the words I’m so used to; it requires actual concentration on my part. I am still only successful some of the time. But I’ve noticed that it helps me think about my feelings in a less judgmental way, and to be gentler on myself and with others.

Image: Cass County Courthouse (1937; Library of Congress)