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The “Sliding Scale” of Introversion-Extroversion

After my talks, people often come up to me and say, “I used to be an introvert – but I got over it,” or, “I’m not sure; sometimes I think I’m one thing and sometimes the other. Can you be both?”

Actually, you can be both, changing from one situation to another, or changing over time from one to the other, then sliding back. That’s why I call the introversion-extroversion dimension a sliding scale.

Social psychologists have known for decades that surrounding circumstances can heavily influence personality. Personality tests may claim (or would have you assume) that once you have taken the test and been given a label, you are defined for life. It doesn’t work that way. A personality test cannot necessarily project what you will be in all other situations, past and future.

Although there are some known neurological differences between introverts and extroverts, the best-known (and possibly the defining) feature has to do with how much stimulation we can tolerate at a given time. Conversation, loud music, clutter, hustle and bustle – introverts tend to find too much stimulation at one time exhausting and even threatening, while extroverts thrive on it and will even seek out more.

What’s just been happening in your life?

But what is “too much”? The analogy to eating is a useful one. We all have appetites, some larger than others. We have differing capacities, too, so one person’s “full up” is another person’s “just getting started.”

Just as with eating, “too much” will depend on not only your capacity but on what you have consumed in the immediate past. If you have been overloaded with stimulation recently, you may crave isolation.

Too much isolation can drive you to seek bright lights and activity – generally.

Too little stimulation can be damaging to human beings.

We are social beings – we need connection to others to thrive. Research on everybody from infants to the elderly supports the recognition that we need social connections to be healthy, physically and psychologically. Some need more than others; many a healthy, successful introvert thrives on a few, deeply-held relationships rather than being part of a large social group.

Total withdrawal from social life generally results in poorer health and depression. So why do people do it, insisting that it is a necessary part of their introversion?

How’s your health?

Here’s one reason to withdraw: Being run down, or even ill, can lead you to resist exposing yourself to too much stimulation, as can depression or grieving. Recovering from these situations can mean that you and your energy rebound.  

Unfortunately, withdrawing from society for a long period of time, as introverts sometimes do, means a lack of the social experience that helps us shape up and improve our connections, and makes the thought of interacting exhausting and terrifying. So we end up avoiding social interaction more and more, often saying, “I can’t do that because I’m an introvert.”

It’s easier when you have skills

Go to the beach in the summer and watch an enthusiastic but unskilled swimmer beating the water with both arms, sending up great plumes of spray, while his legs thrash furiously. Then watch a highly-trained swimmer glide sleekly through the water as if it was her natural environment, leaving barely a ripple.

Introverts often complain about social activities as being energy drainers, but confident introverts (those with good social skills) find that they have plenty of energy for necessary and even enjoyable social encounters. Why? Because any activity for which you have skill takes less energy.

Even house-cleaning is easier when you know how to do it and have the right skills and tools. The same is true of social situations.

Not being socially skilled is an energy-drainer, but it is an unnecessary one. Anyone can learn to connect and communicate well with others; being an introvert simply means you choose the times when you do this.

Confident introverts don’t avoid social situations. They just make wise choices.

Watch for my upcoming course, Social Success Skills for Quiet People, giving you the tools you need to operate effectively – and happily – in professional and personal areas, without becoming someone you don’t like!

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Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

Bullying in the Workplace: Who Bullies Whom?

Over 40% of employees in the workplace have experienced bullying, a persistent pattern of behavior that intimidates, degrades or otherwise undermines the wellbeing of the target. Bullying is four times more prevalent than sexual abuse, and, according to a study at the University of Manitoba, the outcomes for victims of bullying are worse than are those for sexual abuse victims.

So who are the bullies? And who are the targets? It’s easy to envision a quiet, introverted person as the victim of an outgoing, brash person. But it’s not that simple.

According to Arlene Vernon, HRxaminer, targets are often the best and the brightest: the most technically skilled, empathic, kindest – but unlikely to fight back. Incivility and aggression are often fueled by individual differences, such as introversion and extroversion. That doesn’t necessarily mean that most cases involve extroverts bullying introverts. Actually we don’t know that, as there is little research on this area at this time.  

However, bullying is most often from supervisor to subordinate, where even a fairly confident employee is reluctant to fight back. Given that extroverts are more likely to be promoted to leadership positions in the U.S., there is a chance that the scales are tipped in that direction.

But according to Vernon, bullying doesn’t have to be overt hostility. It can be covert; an introvert leader would be in a position to deny training or promotions, apply different standards, or block leave or time off. It can also be an employee-to-employee situation, as in malicious gossip, making false accusations, and stealing credit.

And what are the outcomes of bullying? Known results include stress, anxiety, depression, anger, aggression, panic attacks, and even suicidal thoughts, all negatively affecting a company’s wellness program. Even onlookers of bullying may be negatively affected.  

But that’s not all. There is increasing evidence that bullying is affecting workplace productivity, perhaps massively. Inability to concentrate or make decisions and absenteeism take their toll on productivity. Royal & Sun Alliance, the largest commercial insurance company in the United Kingdom, has suggested that absenteeism alone due to this kind of distress may cost businesses approximately eight to 10% of a company’s profits.

Then there are the costs of employee turnover, estimated at costing at least one-half of the employee’s salary to replace him or her. An estimated 70% of bullied employees leave, while an estimated 20% of witnesses to bullying also do so.

Rehabilitation of stressed employees, as well as legal costs, all add up.

Finally, a company can find its reputation damaged. People talk to other people. An unhappy employee is probably seeking comfort from friends and family, who then talk to others, and so on.

If a company develops a bad reputation for bullying, it could conceivably affect sales to the public.

So what are the solutions?  

We should follow the example of Scandinavian countries and Canada, which have enacted legislation against workplace aggression, just as there is now against sexual abuse in the U.S., allowing victims to report incidents, go to the union and take legal action.  

Training employees to recognize bullying would help create a climate in which bullying is less invisible.

Most of all, companies should work to create an environment in which individual differences are not just tolerated but celebrated, creating a cooperative and positive environment for all.

Are you aware of workplace bullying?  Have you had an experience you’d care to share?

Sources:  
Arlene Vernon, PHR, HRxaminer, in a talk to the Minnesota Council of Non-profits
David Yamada, Psychology and Work
Janet Fowler, “Financial Effects of Workplace Bullying” on Investopedia   http://bit.ly/1Hwhfky

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Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

The Unintended Consequences of Being an Introvert

As more and more attention is being paid to introversion, thanks to Susan Cain and her book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” the world is slowly becoming aware of introvert value and, what’s better, willing to make some adjustments to accommodate introverts and recognize our ability to make valuable contributions. For example, Steelcase, an international company providing “office furnishing solutions,” has designed a special “Susan Cain room”: a soundproofed room to which an employee can retreat for respite from the stimulus overload of a busy office.

Yes, being quiet can be a good thing: during quiet times we can collect information carefully, digest it, ponder it, and come up with innovative solutions. All of these are important contributions to organizations, productivity, innovation, and our own (I’m an introvert, too) sense of pride.

We introverts can and should be proud of our valuable contributions. However, in order to be truly effective, we need to manage how we contribute. Here are some pitfalls to avoid:

Pitfall #1: Being seen as “slow” or “uninvolved”

Listening carefully in a meeting or group, you test a new, innovative idea that just sprang into your head on one or two people near to you in a low voice. Ouch! The first person to speak up with the new idea gets the credit – and it isn’t you.

I can’t think how many times I have had a clever thought and handled it just like that – only to have that idea fed back to me later as fresh and brilliant – and attributed to someone else.

We may think we’re thoughtful and cautious; others may think we’re just slow on coming up with solutions.

The fix: Turn “slow” or “passive” into “thoughtful” and “careful”

Be very careful with whom you test your new ideas. The friendly sounding board you are using might not be acting in your best interests. Or, a true but bolder friend may verbalize what you shared, thinking to help your idea gain visibility. The result is the same: you’re not given the credit.

If you are self-conscious about speaking up in a group, my first advice would be, “Get over it,” but I know too well that “getting over it” is a slow process of gaining confidence in a group setting. So, another ploy is to say, “I may have some further thoughts on this, and I’d like to get back to you a little later,” or even, “I’d like to take a little time to put my thoughts down on paper.”

Teach people around you (yes, you can do this) to recognize that you are a deep thinker who provides great value when you don’t shoot from the hip.

Pitfall #2: Being seen as “sneaky”

While listening, you start to have disquieting feelings that there’s something wrong with what’s being discussed, but you’re not quite sure if you’re right and you’re really not ready to commit yourself to providing your criticism.


When we do this, we may think we’re being diplomatic and careful, and we may in fact be just that. But if we mention our thoughts later to another group member, who speaks to another … etc., etc. … we can quickly develop a reputation as “sneaky” or, at best, “cowardly.”

The fix:

Your initial silence has been interpreted as agreement; so your later criticism seems like betrayal.  

Signal your discomfort upfront by saying, “I think this needs a little more thought/research, and I’d like to get back to you with my comments.”

If, after careful thought, you decide there is no real objection to what has been suggested, you can always say, “I’ve given this considerable thought/checked the facts carefully, and I think we should go ahead.”

The biggest fix:

Learn to be proud of your introversion.

Let others around you, including managers, know that you like to think deeply about topics and can provide greater value if you feel free to take the time to do just that.  

You don’t have to be apologetic. The cultural tide is on your side; people are becoming aware that all good ideas do not come from the people who speak up quickly and the most. People are finally learning that the introvert’s great ideas are well worth waiting for.

Yes, it’s a good time to be an introvert in America.

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Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

Introversion, Gut Feelings, and Trust

Maybe – just maybe – your gut-level feeling that you shouldn’t be doing something is right. But if you’re an introvert, you’ve probably had a lifetime of being told to ignore your feelings, and urged to act just the opposite.

Want to stay home and read? “What’s the matter with you, anyway?” It’s implied that you’re neurotic or even antisocial. Want to leave a party before it ends? “You’re a party-pooper.” Find large groups overwhelming? “Just get out there and have fun (said with incredulity)!” (Even though the event gives you a headache or even nausea.) Enjoying being quiet and listening when in a group? “You’re shy, aren’t you?” a shaming label if ever there was one.

We end up forcing ourselves to do things that aren’t bringing us any pleasure, and somehow berating ourselves for the demoralizing experiences we endure. Then we crawl back into our little cave.

It’s no wonder we have never learned to trust our feelings as guides to what will lead to success and happiness.

There is a caveat here: if you are an introvert, and haven’t had good guidance in developing your introversion in a confident way, your reluctance to participate in a given event may not be the result of intuition (“This isn’t for me”) but the result of anxiety, because you haven’t learned the social skills to cope successfully with such events.

How do you tell the difference between intuition and unwarranted, self-defeating anxiety?

The anxiety over not knowing what to do or say is simply a lack of social skills, common to many introverts who have learned to shrink away from social interaction. The self-consciousness we develop from feeling out of step with society, plus our increasing lack of practice in social skills are a part of what I call “introvert baggage,” not a necessary part of introversion, which merely calls us to manage our energy effectively.

Gaining confident social skills is simply a matter of finding good models, not the bright, energetic center-of-attention model, but the quiet, well-mannered helps-other-people-feel-comfortable model.

You can find these models through observation, reading (try an etiquette book), or coaching.
Simply acquiring social skills doesn’t mean you must get out there and go on a social binge. It does mean that you are able to do so when it’s important to you: to network, support friends, etc.

Why is socializing important? Nobody gets through a successful life alone. We all need a confidantes, support systems, and networks. If we are in business, and most of us working people are in some way or another, we need to be able to connect meaningfully with people who see value in our contributions.

It can be painful, however, and here’s where self-knowledge and your intuition can be an excellent guide.

Business coaches often urge me, and others, to go to every possible networking meeting in order to meet people who somehow, some time, might be able to help make our businesses go forward.

I reflected on this, and it occurred to me that this might be the equivalent of urging Kate Middleton to attend every possible party in England in the hopes that she would someday meet someone who could possibly introduce her to the future King of England. (Cue cynical laughter here.)

How do you know when it’s right to go? First, take some time to sit quietly with your wisdom and get very clear on what you want out of life. Banish the “shoulds” of society. Mentally practice your social skills: greeting people, appreciating them. Stop worrying about how good things are going to happen. Convince yourself that they can, and you are worthy.

Then, take a chance on going out somewhere, such as a meeting or a party, to check whether or not it’s in line with your vision. At the first sign of discomfort, ask yourself if it’s your lack of skill, or if there is really something going on here that is counter to your best interests.

If you’re still a little unclear, you sometimes need to allow a given event a second chance before you are clear as to whether you are responding to your intuition or simply to your “introvert baggage.” But don’t be afraid to draw yourself up proudly and say to yourself, “This simply isn’t for me. I will never be appreciated here for who I truly am.” Thank the host, hostess, or event organizer as you leave.

With enough Introvert Pride (yes, you can develop that), you can even say, as I have sometimes done at a pleasant event at which I’ve had enough, “I’m not leaving because I don’t like your event. I am an introvert, and I have had enough stimulation for one evening. Thank you very much.”

Some time ago, I was due to attend a networking meeting, but felt reluctant to do so. I hadn’t really gotten any meaningful connections at this group; furthermore, I often left feeling vaguely depressed, somehow assuming that there was something wrong with me.

But taking a furlough from life, I concentrated on who I was and what I wanted, no matter how crazy it sounded. Faced with yet another meeting of this group, I told myself bravely that I didn’t have to do that anymore – it was a go-nowhere situation for me. I fought back the voices of previous coaches who scolded me for being too passive.

So I skipped this next meeting, stayed home, and started looking at the internet for groups that might be more aligned with my interests. I found one quickly (my gut said “yes”), attended it the next day, was welcomed, connected immediately with interesting people, and set up a great relationship/partnership with two of the members.

These relationships and partnerships seem to flow into life easily, once you know who you are, and can handle it.

Until you’ve aligned your actions with your gut, you don’t know how really easy and sweet life can be.

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Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

Transforming your year

Everyone tells you that you must have a clear vision of where you want to go and who you want to be. Not everyone tells you exactly how – and how not – to get to that vision.

For example, suppose you want a life in which you are well paid and appreciated for your work. You want warm relationships and the time to pursue them.

But suppose your nagging belief is that it’s simply not possible. After all, you’ve spent years piling up evidence to tell you that.

So you sit down, meditate, and envision in exact detail what you want. You then open your eyes and everything is still the same.

Vision isn’t enough

A fellow coach tells the story of a woman to whom he was talking. She had a serious weight problem, and he asked her what she was doing to challenge it. She replied that she sat on her sofa every day for thirty minutes and visualized herself losing weight.


That, of course, was the problem. Vision should be the carrot that draws you forward, taking the steps necessary to reach that dream. It should not be a dream in which you submerge yourself in fantasy, waiting for things to happen.

It’s not enough to dream; you must walk the walk.

So you say, “OK, I’ve tried that, and I’m exhausted. I mapped out all the steps, followed them carefully, and it still didn’t work.” Maybe that was the problem.

Throw away the list

One of the reasons we fall into despair over the seeming impossibility of meeting our vision is that we believe we have walked the path leading to that vision – perhaps many times – yet we’ve never reached that Promised Land.

What probably happened was this: you made a list of the logical (to you) steps you needed to take to get there.  

You started to follow those steps. You brushed aside distractions.

At some point, you were blocked, or exhausted, or rejected, or disheartened. You lost your dream.

It’s a little like taking a path that’s edged with a tall, thorny hedge. That hedge gets in the way, and you can’t even see the fields on either side of the path, fields filled with blooming flowers and sparkling brooks. All you can see is the rocky path ahead and the thorny hedge walling you in.

Maybe some of those distractions were not actually wrong paths at all, but alternate, pleasanter, and faster ways to get to where you want to be.

So don’t make that rigid plan. An inspiring vision opens you up to all the possibilities in your environment that you haven’t seen before.

Try this exercise that I like to do with clients: what do you see here?

 OPPORTUNITYISNOWHERE

The way in which you break this phrase up into separate words is a strong indication of your current mindset. What do you see?*

Truly creative people don’t use lists:  they pay a lot of attention to their vision and notice everything in the present that confirms its reality.

Pay attention to your emotions: honor them, and recognize they are just temporary, like sudden summer storms that appear, rage, and then disappear, leaving a clear sky and sun.

Despair happens to everyone, every now and then. The problem is, when it hits, we picture ourselves sunk in a never-ending sea of despair. It’s such a heavy feeling that it forces us to sit down and stop working in order to support it.

Pay attention to when despair hits: for me, it’s about 4 p.m. and I have learned that my energy level is simply low at that hour, so I turn temporarily away from doing anything productive to reach my dream.

 Here are two despair-chasing phrases I use all the time:

There is a solution. I just can’t see it right now.
        and
I can’t handle this right now. I’ll worry about it tomorrow.
 
Angry at feeling rejected or blocked? Use your anger as energy; turn it into determination to succeed, then look around you for another path that isn’t blocked.

Unload the baggage, those memories of past setbacks, and load your mind with warm, successful memories. Collect every scrap of evidence you can that records your progress through life – skills mastered, certificates gained, warm notes telling you how important you are to others, and go over them every night just before bedtime.

It’s really all about getting out of your own way.  

I hope you love these quotes from Tut, The Universe, as much as I do:

“Rarely are the first steps in a journey anything like the final ones, either in direction, pace, or grace.“

“Simply stand aside, let spirit emerge, have no doubt, and your wings will appear.”

*  “Opportunity is nowhere” or “Opportunity is now here”

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Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

The Holiday Time and Energy Bandits

Time and energy bandits are habits and thought processes that can suck you dry, leaving you exhausted and harried.

One of these bandits, which particularly rears its head at the holiday season, is perfectionism.

Now perfectionism is a wonderful trait – in its place. Some of the places where it is advisable to practice perfectionism include brain surgery (or any kind of surgery), pharmacy, air traffic control, operation of any kind of heavy equipment, including motor vehicles, or any other activity that seriously threatens the health and safety of living things.

But true perfectionists extend this way of thinking and behaving far beyond the boundaries of necessity. Relationships, child-rearing, weddings, and holidays are areas where the whole experience would be better for everyone if the perfectionist could just back off.

Christmas can include a hurricane search for exactly the right gift, which is unavailable due to its popularity, or the ultimate holiday decorations and meal, suitable for a photograph on a magazine cover.

“But I’d be letting people down if I didn’t do it,” wailed one of my clients. “Really?” I said. “Have you asked them?” Turns out her family members were delighted to be asked. They hated her frantic search for perfection.

How to dial down your perfectionistic tendencies? Make a list of all the areas in your life where it is necessary for you to be a perfectionist (see discussion above). Then make a list of all the areas where is merely “desirable,” including filling out income tax returns, making travel reservations, dealing inadequately with customers or clients. Failure to be perfect here can result in spending money or in wasting time, but it is not life-threatening.  

What’s left after the “necessary” and “desirable” areas are the gray areas: being concerned about how you dress, how your home looks, whether you have said something foolish, made a mistake, or somehow displayed your ignorance.

In this context, perfectionism is NOT about setting high expectations or being successful in your endeavors. It is about being concerned about making mistakes and about worrying about what others think. Perfectionism in this arena robs you of joy, of creativity, and of authentic relationships.

Think of it this way – persistent perfectionism is stress, and persistent stress is life-threatening. Any event that you are willing to shorten your life for by having anxiety had better be an equally life-threatening event. Are dust bunnies, disarranged hair, or verbal mistakes really worth your life?

Turn the lights down low (hides the dust bunnies), sit back, and smile a lot. Forgive yourself for small mistakes and forgive others around you for the same. Trust me – you’ll be more popular – relaxed – than you ever thought possible.

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Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

Introvert Nervousness – Friend or Foe?

“I’m now able to give a talk in public, but I’m still nervous. I guess I won’t ever get over it.” The speaker was a woman in one of my seminars, and the topic was introversion and public speaking. Her assumption was that because she was an introvert, nervousness was always there, ready to undermine her performance and her confidence, and she would never be free of that awful feeling. 


After she spoke, I reflected that, years ago, I returned to dance after taking a few years off to go to college. At my initial return performance, I was overwhelmed by fear that I would fail miserably and embarrassingly. As my partner and I got into the opening pose just before the curtain went up, I was dismayed to find that his hand, which I was holding, was shaking badly. Just before the curtain rose, he said to me quickly, “Remember, this is energy. Use it!”

 

The performance was brilliant.

 

Good – really good – performers have always known that the little thrill of anxiety they experience before a performance actually enhances what they do; to be completely calm is to become a little dull. That nervousness can produce a number of positive changes, including increased mental clarity, energy, and enthusiasm.

 

Recent research by Crum and Salovey (2013)* disclosed that the belief that stress is debilitating will undermine performance, confidence, and health, too. 

 

So would simply switching that mindset to one that tells you that nervousness will enhance your performance make all the difference in the world? Not necessarily, because first it is important to rehearse your performance thoroughly, so thoroughly that you have a set of well-learned skills on which to fall back; think of it as being on a kind of automatic pilot.

 

Then, as the performance unrolls, you can hear that little voice inside saying, “I think I can. I KNOW I can.”

 

Repeatedly performing the same skills under stress while believing in the performance-enhancing value of stress leads to better performance, increased confidence, and a greater overall sense of well-being.

 

And, by the way, nervousness over public speaking or any other kind of performance is not the exclusive experience of introverts; extroverts can feel it, too. Introverts sometimes fall into the trap of believing what they hear so much from society, that introversion is a kind of defect. 

 

No, pretty much everyone has the same experiences when it comes to something like public speaking. The same rules apply: learn, practice, tell yourself nervousness is an advantage – and grow.

*Crum, A., Salovey, P. & Achor, S. (2013).  Rethinking Stress: The Role of Mindsets in Determining the Stress Response. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

What If…?

A friend and I took a lovely paddleboat ride on the Mississippi River one day, past old crumbling brick walls backed by sparkling new skyscrapers, learning a lot of history that we had never heard.

 

The good time almost didn’t happen, due to a careless mistake on my part. That mistake did trigger some thoughts about small stresses in life, which in turn triggered this article.

 

When I ordered the tickets for the paddleboat cruise, I was told to bring the printed order form plus a form of picture identification.


We showed up at the dock, I reached into my purse – and remembered that I had put my major credit card and driver’s license into a small pouch the previous day in order to attend an art fair – and hadn’t replaced them in my purse.

 

This is the kind of situation that can bring out creativity immediately. We had driven all the way to the landing, packing a picnic lunch, excited at this little respite from daily work and cares. Now the outing seemed threatened by my mistake.

 

What if we were refused entrance to the boat?

My first reaction was to say, “Oh, well, it’s a lovely day. If we can’t board the boat, we can have a nice picnic on the side of the river.” I said this loudly several times to convince both myself and my friend.

 

Inside my head, I pictured the clerk adamantly refusing to give me the tickets without the proper identification, and pictured myself being my winsome best to persuade her to turn over the tickets. 

 

All the while I had to remind myself that the various scenarios that were floating around in my head were just that – scenarios. They bore no relation to reality because they were in the future, which hadn’t happened yet. Any time you can put “What if…?” in front of the description of coming events, you should recognize that you are being creative, and not necessarily in a good way.

 

When we walked up to the window, I presented the order, the clerk frowned (a little inner tension for me here), and said, “What name was this under?” I replied, she reached into the drawer… and handed me the tickets, with no further conversation.

 

I know people who wouldn’t be fazed at all by this kind of situation, assuming from the start that they could somehow handle it in a manner that would bring a positive outcome. It wouldn’t occur to them to worry about it for a minute.

 

For those of us who spent a number of years perfecting our worrying, anxious thoughts will continue to surface any time a roadblock, however small, appears in our path.

 

Worriers need to have a few mechanisms in place when things don’t seem to be working out as you planned.

 

Consider other pleasant outcomes

So what if your plans are blocked? Stay relaxed, and look for pleasant surprises in your life. You can make wonderful discoveries this way.

 

Lamenting – “This is terrible. Our whole day is ruined” – forces you to focus only on the negative and stifles any creative solution.

 

I once was denied access to a museum because I had my small dog concealed (I thought) in a large handbag. My friends went in; I crossed the historic main street of this little town, entered an antique store, and found that the owner, who had lived there for decades, could give me the complete history of the area, showing me artifacts and pictures to illustrate her words. She also was a dog lover; we spent a delightful hour or so. The dog had a good time, too.

 

I could have sat outside in the heat, fanning myself, waiting for my friends, being alternately annoyed at the museum and annoyed at myself for bringing the dog.

 

In the case of our boat trip, I immediately began mentally planning an alternate trip along the river. We went anyway, but after the boat trip, found scenery neither of us ever knew existed, and this in a city where we have lived for years.

 

Imagine the best

As long as you are creating future scenarios, why not opt for good ones? Potential lovers stepping out of doorways, exhilarating celebrations taking place just around the corner….

 

Advanced Worriers (AW’s) need to think of all the times your plans were derailed, or you had to take a detour, and instead found a pleasant surprise.

 

RAW’s (Really Advanced Worriers) need to start making such a list. Look around you when you are blocked – really open your eyes and look at the scenery and the people. Many a relationship has erupted, many an entrepreneur has been launched, and all because of a chance encounter. New restaurants, old houses, unknown parks, charming shops, unexpected vistas can all pop up when you least expect them to do so.

 

Rehearse – but not too well

Prepare to handle the potential block to your plans by considering what actions you might take or what words you might use. Then remember that this is just one of several ways the situation might play out. I had a few persuasive words prepared if it was necessary, but I never had to use them.

 

Practice your stress management skills on small frustrations, such as this one, and you will be ready for the more serious challenges you will face in life.

 

Remember, we need systems in place that will help us to deal creatively with the small challenges that life brings to us all the time. Responding to these challenges creatively makes you stronger; responding with stress makes it more likely you will do so in the future.

 

Practice the good stuff! Make it a habit. 

May all your “What if’s” be great!

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Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

The Introvert’s Dilemma – Which door?

A friend and I had a conversation recently, in which she remarked that, when confronted with three side-by-side doors, she would always choose one of the side doors.

And I thought about that, because we introverts often slide along the edges of life, skulking. I suspect many of us make these kinds of choices – to be unobtrusive.

It isn’t always wrong; I maintain that the introvert tendency to enter a new group and listen quietly before jumping in and conversing is very intelligent behavior, and saves a lot of the errors that occur because of too quick assumptions about others.

Mingling with a group, listening, and paying attention to others can be very effective means of consolidating a group, and even leading a group.

But this habit of skulking can get out of hand, when we do it all the time, and unconsciously.

At one point in my life, I made an extrovert friend (yes, it is possible, and I learned a lot from her). When we attended a conference in a big hotel, I noted that the center entrance door had a doorman who would open it for guests with a flourish, and I sidestepped over to a less threatening, less public (or so I thought) side door.

She grabbed me firmly by the elbow, and said, “No. Always use the center door.” She then swept in with a regal carriage, her head held high. I gulped, followed her, and learned a lesson.

The lesson is this: make it a conscious choice. Tell yourself you have just as much right to be in the center, and even waited upon, as does anyone else. When you choose not to be in the center of any event, make sure it is a clear choice: I’m listening, observing, reflecting, but not hiding.

Because there will surely come a time when you want you, your expertise, and your talents to be recognized, a time when it really counts, but there will be no one to grab you by the elbow and say, “No. You must take the center door yourself.”

Consider the experience of Kari Rihm* who became a CEO on what she termed was “one of the worst days of her life” – the day after her husband’s funeral.  

After 17 years as a stay-at-home mom, she reportedly had 180 days to learn the business and come up with a business proposal – or sell the business. How could she sell the business, when she didn’t even know what it was worth? So she decided to take charge. “I had to face a boardroom full of people, mostly men, and convince them that I could do this.”

She did so, successfully, later saying, “You have to understand and believe that you have the right to be there.”

You don’t have to, nor should you want to, wait for a major event such as Kari faced to convince yourself you have a right to be there. Start practicing every day – walk through doors consciously, with your head held high, recognizing you are making a choice.

*Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal, September 26, 2014  

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Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

Introvert Anger: The Good, The Bad, and The Downright Ugly

 

Are you an introvert? Afraid of anger? Your own and other people’s?

You’re not alone. We introverts are famous for becoming clams when we’re hurt or affronted. After all, anger can involve raised voices, threatening language – all that over-stimulation against which we try to protect ourselves.

The Bad

When we feel threatened, we introverts tend to pull into our shells to wait out the storm. Cowering in there, we re-play all of the scenes that distressed us: the frustration of feeling blocked, the seemingly unkind comment, the raised voice that sounded, at least to us, like a shout, the slight sneer we think we detected on the other person’s face…oh, the unfairness of it all.

This pulling-in becomes a habit that we activate at the slightest hint that something distressing will occur. It too quickly becomes a way of life: threat, retreat, re-hash.

It gets very crowded in that clamshell.

You can only do this so many times before the scene turns downright ugly. Not because of the other person, because of the phenomenon of the Exploding Clam.

The Downright Ugly: The Exploding Clam

Even placid clams can get enough. After all, there’s only so much room in that clamshell, right? You, plus all the hurt and anger, piling up.

That’s when the Clam explodes, not over an important issue, but often over something trivial. It’s Just The Last Straw! “Why do you always put away an empty ice cube tray after you’ve used what you want?” “What makes you think I want anchovies on the pizza?”

The problem is that no one sees it coming, including the perpetrator. It just bursts out. Who could predict that finding the ice cube tray empty once again would trigger the start of WWIII?

And the Clam is shaken by having this unfamiliar energy burst forth, and so retreats again into the clamshell, feeling embarrassed and muttering, “Nothing. Everything’s fine.” when pressed for an explanation.

The Good

Successful, confident introverts recognize that it’s not about the ice cube tray, the anchovies on the pizza, or the shoes left (yet again) on the stairs.

It’s generally about a sense of a loss of power. So it’s good to ask yourself, “Why did I give away my power?” “To whom did I give it?” “Why?”

Only then can you convince yourself that it’s really better and easier on everyone, including you, just to address the real issue: “This relationship isn’t quite going the way I would like.” Or, “I’m feeling overwhelmed and needing help.” Or a thousand other issues that make us feel helpless.

Speaking up about what you want and need doesn’t mean you’re aggressive, a bully, or even (gasp) an extrovert. It means you respect yourself and the people around you.

So, what have you got stuffed into your clamshell?

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Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

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