The Fundamentals of Personality Traits: Extraversion and Introversion

Personality traits are vitally important in your self-development efforts and in your life. They not only help determine your life path, but also dictate how you see and interpret the world around you. There are a number of different personality traits that you need to consider when planning your development journey. Learning about them will help you understand what you need from life as well as the best ways to go about getting them.

Personality traits are the characteristics and qualities that are unique to you. This doesn’t mean that you’re the only person in the world that has a specific trait. There wouldn’t be enough traits to go around if that was the case. Instead, what makes you unique is the combination of traits along with how you use them in your life. Personality traits aren’t skills, they’re a combination of your behavioral patterns, emotions and temperament. And learning about them is essential for your personal development efforts. 

What are your most important personality traits? How do they affect your life and your business success? And how can learning more about these personality traits improve your life practices?

The Big Five Personality Traits

There are a variety of theories that explain and explore personality traits. But the most commonly accepted traits are as follows:

  • Extroversion/Introversion
  • Neuroticism
  • Openness
  • Agreeableness
  • Conscientiousness

These are called the Big Five personality traits. They’re used in a range of contexts to explain human behaviors and tendencies. While they can’t explain everything, they do cover a broad swath of behaviors and attitudes.  How you rate on each of these traits is an essential element in your life success and it helps determine what you really want from your life.

All of these traits are important, but the most contentious and interesting at the moment are extroversion and introversion. Equally important is how strongly you identify with one of these personality traits. The strength of your identification is the important part because introversion and extroversion reflect a spectrum, not a point. This is actually true for most personal  qualities and personality traits. So some people are right over on the side of the introversion or extroversion spectrum, while others are close to the center and balanced between the two. This is an essential idea in this theory because it explains the vast variety of behaviors and preferences within these two simple designations.

The Basics of the Theories

The theories of introversion and extroversion were first introduced by Carl Jung. He is often thought of as one of the fathers of psychological thought and theory. Other theorists such as Hans Eysenck later expounded on his work, adding other personality traits that he believed were fundamental to human existence. Eventually, the ideas of introversion and extroversion became part of the Big Five personality traits. These traits are said to broadly define most of human variability. However, Jung’s ideas continue to be an important part of this theory.

The ideas of introversion and extroversion were also co-opted to become part of the Myer Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). This is a personality classification system that is commonly used in workplaces and in schools. The system defines important personality traits, learning styles and social styles. There are a number of problems with this theory, as well as people who speak out against it, but it remains one of the most popular personality theories in the world at the moment.

Problems with the Theories

Despite the popularity of the theory of introversion and extroversion, as well as its usefulness, there are a number of problems with the theory. This includes the following issues:

What does it really mean?

Despite the ubiquity of these ideas, there is some confusion about the difference between extroversion and introversion. People seem to think that extroverts are loud people who are always the life of the party and don’t like being alone. And the stereotype of an introvert is a quiet loner who is awkward around groups. But as with most stereotypes, these definitions are  oversimplifications that just aren’t born out in reality.

Pigeon holing

This is a problem with all of the theories that explore personality traits. Too often people use them to completely define other people or themselves. It’s as if they believe that all they are and do is defined by this one tendency. There is also a tendency to use these types of labels as excuses for bad behavior, or as reasons for avoiding behaviors and actions.

Using the theory as a weapon

Unfortunately, this has become ever more common these days. You can see it all over the internet in groups dedicated to personality traits. Introverts use the theory to ‘explain’ everything that’s wrong with extroverts, or to blame them for past wrongs. This may be understandable, because society’s bias towards extroverts has left introverts feeling undervalued and ignored, but it’s hardly a helpful or a constructive attitude.  

Exploring Extroversion

Extroverts are externally focused. This is the real world to them, the world they focus on, and their energy is externally directed as well. They not only find the external world the most interesting, they also get energy from interacting with it. If you’ve ever watched an extrovert get louder and more energetic as their audience grows, than you’ve watched this effect in action. This focus often results in extroverts being very active in the external world. Even if they aren’t the type to focus on people, not all extroverts are extremely social, they’re still more interested in the world outside than the world inside. And as for the not so social extroverts, this just means that they focus on completing tasks and activities rather than socializing.

There is a fair bit of science to back up the idea of extroversion and it’s linked to the reward system in the brain and how it reacts to dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that makes you feel good. When you do things that you enjoy your dopamine levels increase and cause positive emotions. Studies show that extroverts react more strongly to this dopamine release, meaning that they experience stronger feelings of pleasure in response to external stimulation. This may explain why they’re constantly looking for the next experience that can reproduce the positive feelings. In contrast, because the brains of introverts react differently to dopamine, the same experience often makes them feel tired and overstimulated.  

Are you an Extrovert?

You probably know already whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert because this is one of the more obvious personality traits. However, some people do find this idea confusing because not all extroverts are extremely social people who enjoy being the life of the party. Some extroverts focus differently on the external world depending on their own interests and mix of traits. 
Instead of focusing on people, there are certain tyes of extroverts that focus on completing tasks and getting things done. Some of them may even look at people as impediments to getting things done. So when it comes to defining themselves, they decide that because aren’t extroverts because they don’t like people. This is an overly simplistic way of looking at the things. There are a number of tests you can take that will help you work out if you’re an extrovert, but basically it’s about energy and focus. If you’re focused on the external world and if you get energy through interacting with the world, you’re probably an extrovert.

Life Strategies for Extroverts

There is a strong bias towards extroverts in modern society. The personality traits that often come along with being extroverted, such as sociability, obvious confidence, and a bias towards action over thought fit well with the noisy, busy world. But this doesn’t mean that extroverts automatically have an easier time, or find it easy to achieve their goals and dreams. And it definitely doesn’t mean that extroverts don’t have to do the hard work to improve themselves and their lives. Everyone can benefit from working to enhance their strengths and to compensate for or reduce their weaknesses. To help extroverts with this, here are some of the best tactics they can try:

Remember to go inward.

Because of the strong bias for action over thought, extroverts sometimes neglect their inner work. When they think about improving their life they focus on the external factors, their career and relationships, and ignore internal traits and beliefs that need some work. This makes this area one of the biggest points of growth for extroverts who really want to push themselves to be better and stronger people.

Use your strengths

No matter what current trends say about extroverts, your external focus and sociability are nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, they’re probably the best tools for success that you have, so take advantage of them and use them.

Look for depth

Extroverts often have a lot of friends and acquaintances. They usually like to have a lot of people around them and so this tends to happen naturally. But it can also result in the extrovert having a lot of shallow relationships that don’t really give them what they need. Creating deep, trusting relationships takes time and patience, and extroverts need to cultivate these skills if they want to be happy.

Explore the world

An extrovert’s natural impulse is to interact with and explore the world and they need to nurture this tendency. If you’re an extrovert, this is the way you learn, and it’s also the way you get the most enjoyment out of life. So enjoy it!  

Learn to listen

Extroverts like to talk and interact and this can be a great strength, but it can also lead to relationship problems if they don’t also learn to listen. Listening is an important skill for rapport and bonding. Unfortunately, it’s also a much neglected skill these days. So if you want better relationships at work and at home, work on your active listening skills.

Exploring Introversion

In contrast to the tendencies of extroverts, introverts are internally focused. The inner world is what’s important to them and this often manifests as a kind of thoughtfulness, a dreaminess, as well as some degree of disconnection from the world. This is where introverts get their reputation for being shy, but shyness isn’t introversion and shouldn’t be conflated with it. If you’re shy, you’re afraid to interact with people, but if you’re introverted it means that you don’t always want to. Introverts get their energy from their internal wanderings and they lose that energy quickly when they’re out in the world and interacting with people. This usually results in introverts spending a lot of time alone exploring their internal landscape and gathering their energy so they can face the world again.

The differences between extroverts and introverts may be because of structural differences in the brain. A recent Harvard study found that the prefrontal cortex of introverts tends to be more developed. This part of the brain is associated with deep thinking and abstract thought. This probably explains why introverts like to think so much, and is a consequence of this preference as well. In contrast, this part of the brain is thinner and less developed in extroverts. This doesn’t mean that they can’t think of course, but does indicate fundamental differences in the way they use their brains.  

Are you an Introvert?

Most people know if they’re introverts because it controls how much they socialize and how much time they spend by themselves. In fact, the biggest problem that introverts have is balancing the needs of this personality trait with the demands of the external world. However, some people may question whether they really fit into this designation. There are introverts who are quite social, as well as those who enjoy spending time with groups of friends. So using the idea that introverts prefer isolation to determine if you’re an introvert can result in the wrong result. As stated before, introversion and extroversion are on a spectrum. Which means that you can still be an introvert if you like to socialize a fair bit, you may just be an introvert who’s very close to the extrovert spectrum.
Determining whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert is about energy and focus. If you’re focused mostly on your internal world, exploring and existing inside your head, you’re probably an introvert. And if you find yourself feeling drained in big crowds of strangers, or if you need to go home and be alone after a long day talking to people at work, there’s a very good chance that you’re an introvert.

General Life Strategies for Introverts

There’s a lot of information out there about introversion and how to make the most of introvert strengths. This idea has been galvanizing in self-development circles recently, which is why there’s so much information and debate about the issue. There are many different types of introverts as well as a lot of different traits and qualities that determine and dictate their needs and preferences. This makes it difficult to provide advice that is basically one size fits all and doesn’t exclude a big swath of the introvert population. However, there are several things that introverts can do to better enjoy their life and achieve more success. And none of them having anything to do with turning themselves into extroverts.
Useful tactics for introverts include:

Examine your energy needs

Energy is a key issue for introverts. They never seem to have enough of it and running out of energy means feeling exhausted, wrung out, and not really achieving anything until your energy comes back. To avoid this situation you need to learn to manage your energy better. The strategies that help with this will be different based on your other personality traits and tendencies. However, as long as you keep working on this issue you will find things that work and can be adapted to your life.

Keep your friends close

Introverts tend to have less friends than extroverts, but the friends they do have tend to be closer. Nurture these relationships if you’re an introvert. You’ll probably find that they give you some of the best experiences and the greatest joys in your life.

Take your time

Introverts tend to think more slowly than extroverts. There is even some scientific evidence for this, studies that show that introverts take a longer path through the brain and use different parts of the brain to find the answer when asked a question. But the reality is that introverts are often marginalized and forgotten because they take longer to answer. But this doesn’t mean you need to change this trait. Introverts take longer because they prefer to think more deeply, and this can offer you some amazing rewards. Just make sure that, once you have the answer, you speak up and share because chances are that your deeper thought resulted in an idea that no one else considered.

Work on your social skills

This may seem like it runs counter to other advice, but you can work on your social skills and still be true to your introvert qualities. You just need to do it in a way that aligns with what you want from your relationships and what you need from life.

What is an Ambivert?

This idea is a more recent addition to the introversion and extroversion debate. An ambivert is someone who’s in the middle of this spectrum, with a nearly perfect balance of extroverted and introverted traits. This theory is fairly controversial these days. It claims that the majority of people have both introverted and extroverted traits and can use them at will depending on the demands of the context. So if an ambivert is at a party, they’ll use their extroverted tendencies to be outgoing and sociable. And if they need to think and reflect they’ll activate their introverted tendencies. The key to this personality trait is to find the right balance.

There is little research into this designation, and a lot of debate about whether it really exists. Sources suggest that up to 38 percent of people may fall under this designation. In fact, some research suggests that this combination of traits can create the ideal mix for life success. If you identify as an ambivert then you probably have the skills for and the tendency to be interested in both internal and external work and stimuli. You probably don’t suffer from over stimulation if you’re around a lot of people, and are flexible enough to adapt easily to new situations. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have your own types of problems of course. In fact, one of your biggest issues is probably because of your flexibility, which can make difficult for you to decide which tendencies to favor and result in floundering in certain situations.

Are you an Ambivert?

Because the research is so incomplete, it can be difficult to determine if you’re an ambivert. If the statistics on this designation are true, this may result in a large part of the population feeling left out of the debate completely because they can’t categorize themselves. There are tests you can take to determine if you fit into the ambivert category, so if you’re concerned then you should explore this option. Discovering the truth about this can radically change how you interact with people and which strategies you use to understand the world and help you achieve your goals.

Life Strategies for Ambiverts

Ambiverts need very unique life strategies to both understand their unique preferences and tendencies and to help them navigate the world. If you’re an ambivert, the following ideas will improve your understanding of your preferences and help you function in alignment with your own tendencies:

Build self-awareness

Ambiverts often struggle to understand which traits and skills would be most useful in different situations and this can leave them uncertain how to act. By building your self-awareness, you will learn to read situations more accurately and overcome this problems.

Don’t listen to argument

There’s a lot of debate about whether the ambivert designation is real, but in the end that doesn’t matter. Nobody knows everything there is to know about the human brain or about personality traits. So the idea that people can categorically state that they know the absolute truth is ridiculous. Only you can know your own preferences and traits, so if you think you’re an ambivert, you probably are.

Work for balance

Ambiverts need a good balance of activity and socialization and alone time to feel happy. The balance itself is dependent on you and your preferences. That’s why you need to experiment to find the right combinatio of socializing and alone time. It’s one of the best things you can do for your life satisfaction and happiness.

The Takeaway

Understanding your personal combination of personality traits can fundamentally change how you interact with the world and  with other people. It can change your work practices and your way of living. It can also suggest better ways of doing things that are more in alignment with your natural proclivities. But you should never use your personality traits as a reason to avoid certain situations or activities. There are very few hard and fast rules when it comes to people. Introverts can be as social as extroverts and enjoy it, and extroverts can crave time alone. Which is why these ideas shouldn’t be used to excuse behaviors that are bad for you or your life. Instead, you should use them to enhance your practices and your way of life in a way that suits you and supports your natural inclinations.

Are you an extrovert or an introvert? Share with us in the comments below how learning about these personality traits positively impacted your life.

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