Here is a common belief for the relationships between introversion and extroversion. I'm going to show how it worsens your life and offer an alternative you will resist and fight against.

If you keep an open mind you'll realize explains your world more effectively and helps you to improve your life.

I call it the "Or" model of introversion and extroversion for reasons you'll see below. It says that introverted people have certain properties and abilities, extroverted people have complementary properties and abilities, and you either have one set or the other, but not both.

It says some people may lie somewhere in the middle of the axis, having some introverted traits and some extroverted traits, but not the full amount that a pure introvert or extrovert would have of each.

People commonly believe it, but it has no solid scientific basis, at least not that I know (I'd love to learn otherwise). Still, when someone believes it, it influences them and, to the extent they don't realize it's a belief, it becomes part of their reality they fight to hold on to.

As Einstein said

Whether you can observe a thing or not depends on the theory which you use. It is the theory which decides what can be observed.

I suggest trying to view the world from another theory and to see where it leads.

Once you believe something, a cascade of things happens. Most relevant here is that the cognitive bias known as confirmation bias will lead you to accept information supporting your belief and reject information that contradicts your belief.

Like if you think Pat is a great person, when Pat acts great, you think "Pat sure is great" and when Pat acts like a jerk you think "That's odd, Pat is normally great but just acted like a jerk. Well, Pat's still great despite this odd anomaly."

Someone who thought Pat was a jerk would think "Pat sure is a jerk" when Pat acted like a jerk and "That's odd, Pat is normally a jerk, but just acted great. Well, Pat's still a jerk despite this odd anomaly" when Pat acted great.

In other words, confirmation bias can lead to the same information reinforcing contradictory beliefs.

If you believe this model you will start to believe you, along with everyone, fall somewhere along the axis.

If you think you're more introverted you'll feel more comfortable alone. When tired you'll have little energy to do extroverted things.

If you feel you're extroverted you'll feel more comfortable in groups and will have little energy to do introverted things when tired.

Most importantly you believe the model is right. If you believe it, you'll believe alternatives are wrong. You'll resist seeing alternatives.

The longer you've believed this model, the more deeply you'll have found ways to reinforce and confirm it. You've found patterns of rewards and punishments based on it and created a lifestyle to give you reward and avoid punishment based on it.

You recognize that acting on deviations from that model will not likely lead to greater reward since you believe you've maxed out your reward, but will likely lead to feelings of punishment.

Why that model hurts you

Here is another similar model that you'll probably recognize as counterproductive that believing only worsens your life. I call it an "Or" model too.

Anyone who reads Inc. would look at this model and realize it's garbage. It suggests people can either be strong or intelligent but not both.

You can tell its consequences to the life of someone who believed it. You'd never want your child to believe it because it would risk your child limiting him- or herself from being fit and intelligent.

You know that anyone can be fit or not fit and intelligent or not intelligent. The two measures are independent.

If you want to increase your fitness you know can do things to do so, like exercising and eating accordingly. Those things won't decrease your intelligence. They might increase it.

Likewise, you can do things to increase your ability to solve problems, like practicing solving problems and sleeping well. Those things won't decrease your fitness. They might increase it.

Still, you probably remember a time in your childhood when you believed the smart kids in school were less fit and the jocks were less smart, or something like that. If you didn't feel that way you recognize some kids did.

You probably expect some adults still believe in the above model. If so, you probably consider it tragic for them to believe it. They'd feel they have to sacrifice their health if they want to be smart and vice versa.

Even if you don't believe that model, you probably admit to some correlation that would support the above model, however much you disagree with it. For example, there probably is a anti-correlation between athletes and high grades in school, and between people with high grades and athletic ability.

But you wouldn't say biology caused the correlation. You'd say social pressures did and point out many counterexamples--fit people with high grades.

You probably believe something more like this, which I call the "And" model.

This model says that fitness and intelligence are independent of each other, that fitness doesn't imply a lack of intelligence, nor does intelligence imply a lack of fitness. You can be fit and intelligent.

You don't have to sacrifice one for the other. People who believe this model reject that fitness has any biological correlation with intelligence. They'd teach it to their kids, hoping to motivate their kids to be fit and intelligent, or at least discourage them from thinking doing well in one area might hurt them in another.

You'd also expect people who believed the Or model would resist teaching their kids this model for the same reason--they'd fear their kids would think they could have both and, in trying for both, unwittingly sacrifice some of the one they valued.

Fatigue and undeveloped skills

Say you believed the Or model of fitness and intelligence and considered yourself intelligent. You would then consider fitness more challenging for you than for most.

You'd recognize you could work to become more fit, but you'd believe you had to work harder than naturally fit people. You'd find exercise hard and figure it was harder for you than for most people.

You wouldn't find it relaxing. You'd find it dolorous. You'd recognize others found it exhilarating and maybe wish you could too.

Most of all you'd say exercise drained you of energy and reading relaxed you.

If you believed the And model and heard someone else say all that about themselves, you'd say,

Of course exercise makes you feel tired. It uses up your energy, but it does that with everyone.

The same fatigue can also feel relaxing if you look at it that way. Exercise is no easier for anyone else. You don't feel more tired than anyone else after they exercise. You only think you feel more tired because of your belief.

If you just change your belief you'll see you're just as capable of enjoying exercising and the rewards of fitness as anyone else.

You can likewise imagine a fit person believing the Or model describing problem-solving as draining their energy and not relaxing, and exercise as invigorating and relaxing. You'd say something similar to them about their finding problem-solving draining. Of course it's hard, but it's hard for everyone. You only think it's particularly hard and draining because of your belief.

For every fit intelligent person you showed them, they'd show you a fit underachiever or unfit intelligent person. You'd recognize their confirmation bias in action.

All skills you don't have feel draining to use until you develop them. After you develop them, they don't drain you. Feeling drained results from inexperience.

We'll see this effect again in a moment. You can counter feeling drained by developing skills, with practice, just like everyone else. Since we all have only twenty-four hours in the day, if we spend all our time in one area, we won't reach our potential in another, but that doesn't mean we biologically couldn't.

It just means we spent more time in one area than another. If your child said because they played sports they should get low grades you'd disagree.

The "And" model of introversion and extroversion

I propose the "And" model of introversion and extroversion, which you could probably anticipate.

First I'll note that I'm using the terms introversion and extroversion as shorthand for sets of skills, each of which one can learn independently.

The And model for introversion and extroversion suggests everything for them that the And model for fitness and strength does for its characteristics. It says introversion doesn't imply a lack of extroversion, nor does extroversion imply a lack of introversion.

It says that each characteristic comes from skills anyone can learn. Just like if you exercise you'll improve your fitness, if you meditate you'll improve your introversion, no matter who you are. If you practice your social skills you'll improve your extroversion no matter who you are.

Doubtless many readers who have believed the Or model for introversion and extroversion are compiling evidence against the And model already. They've had decades to build lives around that belief and the change threatens their system of rewards. They've avoided parties out of feelings of helplessness they considered innate and unchanging that this model implies they learned.

The And model suggests they could take responsibility for improving their lives in areas they never tried to and now realize their inaction prevented them from joy and achievement. It suggests what they said was easy for others was just as hard for anyone else as for themselves.

Those implications can be uncomfortable. But also empowering.

If you just think they imply you are complacent, you may push back to protect yourself. They also empower you to act. To improve your life.

People who resist them will compile and present evidence proving their Or model correct and the And model wrong, which those of us who see opportunity to grow, learn, and improve our lives will see as showing their confirmation bias.

Because we can show just as much evidence of people with extroversion and introversion skills their biases blind them to. They can talk about neural pathways and neurotransmitters as if those big words definitively concluded anything, which they don't, at least with our current understanding of such things.

All the evidence I've seen is consistent with the And model, though you have to think about it differently. If they have evidence contradicting the And model of introversion and extroversion, I would love to see it. It would have to overcome evidence of people having both sets of skills.

People I describe this And model to consistently describe how trying to act extroverted when they consider themselves introverted and vice versa leave them drained.

Though they resist seeing it, all their explanations are consistent with the statement in the previous section,

All skills you don't have feel draining to use until you develop them. After you develop them, they don't drain you. Feeling drained results from inexperience.

I recommend rereading the last section, substituting introversion and extroversion for fitness and intelligence, with an open mind.

A challenge

If you've believed the Or model of introversion and extroversion your whole life and resist the And model, try this challenge: try believing the And model for a week or a month.

See where it leads you.

If you're one hundred percent sure the Or model is right, you won't have any problems believing something different for a while. You might be surprised how your life changes if you look at things differently for a while.

  • You might find yourself trying and enjoying things you never thought you could.
  • You might believe yourself capable of learning and doing things you thought impossible.
  • You might open new parts of life.
  • You might start to find the evidence against it not so persuasive and more self-serving.
  • When you feel your life improving, you might find yourself having no time for people who try to re-impose the Or belief on you again.
  • You might feel like someone who quit smoking or overeating whose friends are trying to drag them back to their misery.

What harm is there in trying a belief for a while?

By the way, I'll note that I'll be happy to reject the And model if anyone shows me a reason to that works. So far no one has shown me evidence that the Or model of introversion and extroversion has any greater validity than the And model.

They just keep talking about how they get tired at parties, as if extroverted people didn't.

An alternative model

Below is an alternative model, slightly more detailed than above, which I call the Two-Skills Model.

Here I get rid of the concepts of introversion and extroversion as fundamental properties. I use the terms "Social skills" and "Solo skills" instead of introverted and extroverted.

"Social skills" represents behaviors you can learn that are useful in social situations, like to introduce yourself to someone new, to carry on a mutually interesting conversation, to shake hands, and so on.

"Solo skills" represents behaviors you can learn that are useful on your own, like to focus on a solo task, to meditate, to avoid feeling bored, and so on.

As with any skills, you have to develop them. People start with few skills in either area. People can develop them in one area, the other, neither, or both.

People high in social skills and poor in solo skills behave like so-called extroverts. People with high solo skills and poor in social skills behave like so-called introverts.

If you believe in skills you can use this model without creating new concepts out of nowhere. I prefer simpler models that explain more to complex models that explain less.

More importantly, the Two-Skills Model suggests you can change how people perceive you and increase your capabilities by improving your skills.

If you've learned to read and write, you've improved skills, so you know you can improve your skills. Learning to walk was hard and painful. If you felt you couldn't change yourself under the one-dimensional model, the new model suggests you are free to change.

The one-dimensional model decreases your freedom to change, creating a mental jail. Personally, I oppose limiting beliefs and support creating freedom. Anyone can choose the skill level they want, but I feel it should be their choice, not one imposed on them by a limiting belief.

We can represent the one-dimensional model on the new one. It looks like this.

It's useful when a simpler model explains an old model and more. If you like the principle of Occam's Razor, that among competing ideas, those with the fewest assumptions should be selected, you can get rid of the one-dimensional model.

The graph below shows a dimension missed by the one-dimensional model: that you can improve both sets of skills at once without giving up either.

The old model calls people with equal skills "ambiverts," but can't distinguish between people who can't function as either so-called introverts or so-called extroverts and people who can function equally well as both.

The And model distinguishes them:

There Are No Such Things as Introversion and Extroversion

Once you adopt that anyone can learn skills in either area and that when they master those skills, they won't feel any more drained using them than anyone else, you see the terms "introversion" and "extroversion" as limiting and distracting.

If you research them, you'll find they were made up unscientifically and put into a model basically arbitrarily. That model formed the basis of the Myers-Briggs test, which has no scientific basis and has been shown to have poor validity and reliability, among a host of other criticisms.

Most importantly among those of us who want to improve our lives and skills, the old introversion-extroversion concepts motivate us to see ourselves as static, justifying complacency, and blinding us to our potentials.

Consider Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. Though she describes herself as introverted, she trained to speak in public and now does, consistently, and performed well enough in her TED talk to make it one of the most watched.

Maintaining the old vocabulary forces her to contort her language, describing herself as an "impossibly oxymoronic creature: the Public Introvert."

Dropping that language, she could just say she learned new skills. Much easier and empowering.

She said she trained "as if preparing for a marathon", exactly how people develop new skills.

You could say that she's still really an introvert, only able to perform so publicly at great cost to her energy, but many great speakers so-called extroverts say performing is hard for them too. It's hard for everyone! Same with introversion.

Bill Russell was one of the greatest basketball players of all time, winning eleven championships in his thirteen year career and a 5-time MVP, yet he threw up regularly before games. You can develop skills and still feel nervous. No one would call him an "impossibly oxymoronic creature: the secretly incompetent basketball champion."

The Upshot: "Introversion" and "Extroversion" Are Bankrupt Terms

I suggest you consider the terms "introversion" and "extroversion" as detrimental to your personal development, keeping you from doing things like Cain did: to succeed at parts of life that an unscientific model shown to be at best poorly valid and poorly reliable claimed you couldn't do.

Once people believed our personalities were based in our humors: blood, bile, and phlegm. We laugh at the pseudoscience behind it, yet it seemed real to centuries of people. Same with phrenology, which suggested bumps on your head reflected mental skills, which we also dismiss as a pseudoscience today.

One day we may see terms like introversion and extroversion like phlegmatic, relics of bankrupt beliefs that didn't help us.

Instead you could look at what skills the problems you face need to solve and acquire them like you would any other, or hire people with them if you don't want to learn them, but not to consider yourself incapable of learning them.

If you want to learn to play the piano, practice the piano. If you want to learn to paint, practice painting. If you want to learn to meet people, you can learn to meet people. If you want to learn to meditate, you can learn to meditate.

You can give speeches and work the room as well as anyone you call "extroverted" and feel energized from it. It may take practice.

You can work on a project that needs solo focus and meditate as well as anyone you call "introverted" and feel energized from it. It may take practice.

Published on: Oct 31, 2016