I'll never forget telling my father that I had just taken a psychological test called the Myers-Briggs (aka, the MBTI, or Myers-Briggs Type Indicator). "I've realized that I'm an introvert," I said proudly. A look of horror spread across his face, as if I'd just told him I was a psychopathic killer. For someone who was a leader, a business owner, and a gregarious person with lots of friends, I guess the label "introvert" could also be called "the kiss of death."
I explained that "introvert" meant nothing more than a person who is energized by her own inner world of ideas and images, as opposed to an "extrovert"--a person who is energized by being with other people. Introverts are not shy or people-haters, I went on. They enjoy other people--just in small doses. They prefer a few deep relationships to a large social circle and prefer to re-fill their energy tanks in solitude rather than by talking with others.
He seemed only slightly comforted.
Many years later, I have realized that much habit change advice has been transmitted from Planet Extrovert. In this blog, I attempt to modify some of this advice for those of us who inhabit Planet Introvert.
1. Usual advice: Tell someone about your habit change. Going public with your habit change is usually a good idea. You can get support from friends, family, and colleagues; you may derive additional motivation from fear of embarrassment; you have someone to keep you accountable; and the very process of saying out loud what you intend to change can help re-wire your brain in favor of your new, improved behaviors. In fact, there is considerable research evidence that going public is helpful.
Tweaks for introverts: Introverts may feel dismayed at the idea of sharing personal information with too many people. To re-wire your brain, write down your goal instead of broadcasting it. Consider sharing your prospective habit change with only one or two trusted friends, family members, or colleagues. Please refrain from posting a video of your intended change on youtube, for heaven's sake. OMG!
2. Usual advice: To start an exercise program, join a class or gym, or get an exercise buddy. Excellent advice for extroverts! In addition to exercising, you get an energy bonus from socializing with others. One elderly woman told me her exercise class gave her the opportunity to catch up on friends' lives--"a continuing soap opera," was how she put it. And, if you are learning new skills, say, yoga, weight work, or Pilates, it's advisable to do it under the watchful eye of an experienced instructor, at least at first.
Tweaks for introverts: Introverts might feel happier exercising to DVDs or videos in the privacy of their own home or taking solitary walks or jogs. Or, take a class, and either befriend one person or enjoy your own company.
3. Usual advice: For lasting weight loss, join a support group or treatment program--and stay with it.
Yes, indeed. In one study of many, people who kept in touch with their support network kept off 96% of their lost weight, whereas those who dropped out kept off only 67% of the weight. In a group such as TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly), OA (Overeaters Anonymous), or WW (Weight Watchers), you can learn to eat right, get shopping and meal preparation tips, get advice from "successful losers," monitor your progress at weigh-ins, receive encouragement and feedback, and even discover your emotional issues that trigger over-eating. You can stay in a group for life, until you've internalized the group guidelines, or you can return for periodic tune-ups.
Tweaks for introverts: If you are an introvert, you might be telling yourself, "I'm not a group person." One option: Get individual counseling for weight loss. Another option: Keep a food journal. People who keep food journals lift their level of awareness about their eating patterns and can more easily bring them under control. Using only a food journal as her tool, a student in my habit change class lost 20 pounds in 8 weeks. One study showed that food journalers lose twice as much weight as non-journalers.
Even better, change your mind about groups. After all, you will not be socializing. You will be fulfilling your habit change purpose with like-minded people--and we introverts can be strongly motivated by a sense of purpose.
My friend Nicole, a fellow introvert, has found that attending OA meetings keeps her on track and keeps her inspired. She's lost 45 pounds in the past year.
Whatever it takes. The suggestions above are not meant to be hard and fast rules. In fact, even those of us with an introverted nature need to experiment with new strategies and connect with other people. (Fellow blogger Sophia Dembling lists other perils for introverts in a recent blog, "Mistakes Introverts Make.") It would be a self-defeating thought to tell yourself, "Well, I'm an introvert, so I'm not the type to join a group." If you value your habit change motivators, do whatever it takes. You can be flexible and stretch a bit while remaining true to your type!
(c) Meg Selig, 2011.
NEXT: Do introverts have more willpower? Stay tuned!
I am the author of Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success (Routledge, 2009). For short takes on willpower, habit change, and healthy lifestyle, please like me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter.
"..considerable research evidence..." http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/23/fashion/23resolution.html. See also Cialdini, R.B. Influence, p. 100-103.
"...kept off 96% of the lost weight." Holding Fast for a Change; New Habits Don't Come Easy, But Don't Call Failure Too Soon.
Sally Squires; The Washington Post; Jan 21, 2003; F.01
"Keeping a Food Diary Doubles Diet Weight Loss, Study Suggests," http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080708080738.htm.