Updated: Nov 8, 2021
Everyone knows the labels, one of many that we use to categorise our fellow humans, of introversion and extroversion.
But it surprises me that people frequently misunderstand the meaning of these terms. It is frequently assumed that introverts are quiet and extroverts are loud but that is missing the point and it also means that we are just limiting the understanding of the introvert/extravert spectrum to just one dimension; that of sociability.
Actually, although introverts are more likely to be somewhat less overtly social than extroverts, introverts can be quiet or loud, and it certainly doesn't mean they are wallflowers.
In fact, many introverts have a powerful presence that radiates from themselves to others and the words they speak are sometimes more thoughtful and impactful as a result of being carefully considered.
And extroverts aren't always the life of the party either and may not be the loudest or most outrageous.
However they do tend to have an interest in what is outside of themselves, and they do possess, on the whole, an exploratory spirit that is energised by outside interactions.
In contrast with introverts, they are interested in living life in the context of what exists outside of their own mind, thoughts and emotions.
Both personality types have a lot to offer in their own ways to the world. In teams, they tend to work well together because they contribute different skills, as long as there is an understanding of their differences.
However, in this post I want to focus on discussing how we can all benefit from tapping into our introverted side, which exists to some degree in all of us, to engage our powers of introspection.
Introspection is a mode of self-enquiry and self-enquiry is one of the many paths that you can take to travel towards wisdom and mastery. Along with meditation and devotional prayer, many religions have also cited self-enquiry as a way towards greater spiritual wisdom.
Introverts love to self-reflect and self-analyse. They are often, by nature, analytical or emotional and they tend to be interested in improving themselves, so self-enquiry comes naturally to them. But regardless of where we fall on the introvert/extrovert spectrum, many of us could benefit from this ability to self-reflect.
So how do we self-reflect? Well, one of the best ways is to use tools like journaling. Journalling has been, for me, one of the greatest ways of accessing inner wisdom and working through a logical process of self-enquiry towards an answer where there would otherwise just have been a sea of confusion.
There are many ways to journal. One of them is to just write a stream of consciousness and just get everything out onto paper. This is useful for decluttering the mind but that is not journalling for self-enquiry.
Journalling for self-enquiry is more organised. It is when you ask yourself a series of directed questions with the intention to discover the answer buried within your own subconscious.
For example, if we are following a process of self-enquiry to understand why something has emotionally bothered us or why something has occurred in us, the questions might be: Why did I react like that? What is the conclusion I have reached? What made me arrive at this conclusion? Is this conclusion justified?
You could also use the what, why, when, where and how method to formulate the right questions in this process of self-enquiry. Why did I do this or Why did this happen? What happened exactly? Where and when did this happen? When did I last feel this way?
When you start off with this basic formula, then other related questions will arise, and answering them by writing on them, will lead you further into the truth of the situation that you are enquiring about, and in time you will become better at asking yourself the right questions. Asking the right questions of yourself and developing the skill to do that is just as, if not more important, than coming up with the right answers.
And, ultimately, this is the point of self-enquiry. It is not really about arriving at the right answers, it is more about asking the right types of questions.
Because asking yourself questions leads to deeper reflection on your issues and this makes you a more considered and self-aware person that, over time, is a person that is better at critiquing their actions in a constructive way.
A person who knows how to ask themselves the right questions has developed many amazing qualities, such as objectivity, the ability to think more logically and the ability to see someone else's point of view and all of this results in someone with a well-developed sense of empathy and the emotional intelligence to act with more sensitivity in the future.
Journalling for self-enquiry is one way of practising introspection. But there are many other ways.
One of these ways is to practise mindfulness, which is to be present in the moment with what is happening and allowing ourselves time to reflect on how this is affecting us in an intentional way. It is allowing ourselves the time to process our emotions and thoughts in a conscious way, rather than just letting them float around and through us.
When we catch one of these thoughts and emotions and wrestle with it a bit or try to pick it apart a bit, then it is an experience that becomes useful because it is added to our body of knowledge.
When we introspect on things that happen, we suck the juice out of the experience and allow it to be added to our breadth of experiences which we can later draw on. In psychological terms, when we introspect and draw lessons and conclusions from an event, we integrate it into our being.
Integrating something into our experience as opposed to just letting it float through, is the difference between reading a book and forgetting the plot the next day versus reading a book and allowing it to become part of us in a way that changes us in a small but profound way going forward.
This is the benefit of being introspective in life and the way in which it adds to the level of wisdom we collect over the years.
There is a saying, by Abraham Lincoln, which is: "In the end, it's not the years in your life that count, it's the life in your years." I believe, something similar can be said of wisdom.
Wisdom is not accumulated as a matter of course just because we are alive and racking up years; it is the amount of knowledge we can mine through the years we have lived through ... and that process of mining for gems of wisdom is done by engaging our powers of introspection a lot more often than most of us do on a day to day basis.
Whether you identify as an extrovert or introvert, I believe that one of the greatest gifts the introvert personality type can teach us is the benefit of time taken for introspection.
Don't waste the wisdom offered by your experience, fully dig into and uncover the full beauty of those rare gems of lessons learned through life lived fully!
So let me know ... Do you introspect? Do you find that you identify as an introvert or extrovert?
Comment below and share your wisdom!
And, if you are interested in getting additional insight and support, I offer coaching and consultation services at the link below.