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Three Ways to Escape the Comparison Trap

It’s all too easy to compare ourselves to extroverts

It’s a (sometimes uncomfortable) fact that our Western world seems to be set up for extroverts. As introverts, we repeatedly bump up against assumptions that the extroverted way of doing any given thing is the normal one.

In fact, historically, we introverts were defined in terms of the extroverted traits we lacked.  So, for example, people who were friendly, exuberant and outgoing were labeled “extroverts”. Those of us who… well, weren’t… were called introverts. In effect, being labeled an introvert was seen as a stamp of having failed at being extroverted.

And, of course, under that definition, introversion was seen as a weakness. So it’s not surprising that some introverts want to retaliate by pointing out the “weaknesses” of the extrovert ideal.

The truth, though, is that there’s nothing inherently wrong with being extroverted either. Back in July, the brilliant Andy Mort wrote about the dangers of making ourselves feel better about our introversion by attacking extroverts.

But even when we know it’s dangerous, comparison can be an easy trap to fall into.

 

Here’s why comparing ourselves can be so dangerous
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Andy talks about how comparison can put up barriers between introverts and extroverts, creating a seriously unhealthy us-and-them mentality. He reminds us that we’re not on opposites sides of a conflict where one side has to be wrong for the other to be right. Instead, we live in a world of awesome individual differences where introverts and extroverts each have something to contribute.

He’s absolutely right, of course. But there’s another reason comparison can be dangerous too. And it’s a purely internal one.

As introverts, our defining characteristic is that we need to “spend” energy on interacting with other people. And since most of us aren’t the antisocial misanthropes that the clichéd introvert stereotype paints us as, we generally want to be able to interact with the people we care about without ending up feeling like we’ve been hit by a truck.

Your day-to-day life is probably made up of interaction after interaction. If you bring a tendency to constantly compare yourself to others into the mix – regardless of who you end up making wrong – the energy drain intensifies.  Get too caught up in it, and you’ll create a vicious cycle that will keep depleting you.

There’s a reason I include the habit of comparing yourself to extroverts as one of the Top 3 Energy Drains for Introverted Business Owners.


So how do you escape the comparison trap in practice?

It’s one thing to know that comparison isn’t healthy. It’s another to figure out what to do about it when you start noticing it cropping up in your thought patterns.

Here are three strategies I recommend to my introverted clients when they mention struggling with comparison demons:

1.    Realize that you’re not alone as an introvert, and that there’s no one right way.
2.    Read as widely (but also as critically) as possible.
3.    Connect with other introverts in positive, introvert-friendly spaces.

 

Realize that you’re not alone, and that there’s no one right way.

Often, it can help to simply recognize that you’re not the only introvert on the face of the planet.

It’s hard to say for sure how common introversion is.  In “The Introvert Advantage”, Marti Olsen Laney says 25% of the population are introverted.  In “Introvert Power”, Laurie Helgoe more than doubles that estimate, claiming that 57% of us come up as introverted in the latest (at that time) Myers Briggs-based study.

Whatever the actual numbers, we know that some part of the population is more introverted and some part is more extroverted. It’s just what is, like some people have brown eyes and some have blue; or some are left-handed and some are right-handed.

One of my core truths is that there’s no one right way to do anything.  Different things work for different people in all areas of life. Why should it be any different between introverts and extroverts – or even between individual introverts?

Reminding yourself of this is all it takes to sometimes quiet the voices of comparison when they start to make you – or anyone else – wrong.

 

Read as widely (but also as critically) as possible

When a gentle internal reminder isn’t enough, it can help to read what other people have written about introversion. One of the stereotypes that seems to be at least partially based on truth is that we introverts like our reading. And there’ve been some fantastic books written over the past couple of decades on the subject.

Some of my personal favorites include:

•    Introvert Power, by Laurie Helgoe
•    The Introvert Advantage, by Marti Olsen Laney
•    Self-Promotion for Introverts, by Nancy Ancowitz
•    Insight: Reflections on the Gifts of Being an Introvert, by Beth Buelow

I recommend reading as widely as possible. The more perspectives you take in, the more you’ll truly get on a gut level that there’s no one right way. Keep in mind though that just because something’s published doesn’t make it true. There are a few books on introversion out there that are little more than anti-extrovert rants. Keep asking yourself whether what you’re reading is helping you to understand yourself and your reactions better… or just attacking the extrovert ideal.

You’ll very quickly pick up a feel for what’s useful and what isn’t.

Connect with other introverts in positive spaces

One of the (many) wonderful results of the “quiet revolution” is the wealth of introvert-friendly communities now available. Talking with other introverts in a no-pressure, low-interaction setting can go a long way towards helping you to connect with your own strengths and preferences.

Many of the communities I’m part of make a point of starting conversations and asking members about their personal experiences as introverts. Even if you don’t feel ready take part in these discussions, reading what other people say can give you some real insights into your own experience.

Again, as with reading, I’d recommend being critical: not all online spaces are equally positive. But again, asking that question – “Is being here helping me understand myself better?” – will quickly give you a sense of whether to stay or not.

Over to you!

In this post, I’ve talked about why comparison can be so dangerous – not just in terms of introvert-extrovert relationships, but also for our personal energy levels. I’ve also listed three practical ways to escape the comparison trap.

Now I’d love to hear from you. When do you find yourself most vulnerable to comparing yourself with extroverts? What techniques help most to get you connecting to your own strengths instead of focussing on who’s wrong and who’s right?

Please let me know in the comments!

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About

Tanja Gardner from Conscious Introvert Success is a deeply introverted (but not even *slightly* shy!) heart-based entrepreneur who helps fellow introverts to grow their businesses without exhausting themselves. To connect with Tanja, check her out on Facebook or Twitter. Or you can check out Conscious Introvert Awesomeness: her free community for introverted business owners to connect and support each other.


'Three Ways to Escape the Comparison Trap' have 4 comments

  1. October 17, 2014 @ 2:52 PM Kate Cruise

    I always enjoy anything to do with introversion being an INFJ myself and apparently quite high up on the introvert scale! I agree that comparing yourself to extroverts is not a good thing to do and like you say, can be draining in itself. However, society still holds up the extroverted way as ‘the right way’ for so many things so it’s almost impossible for us not to compare ourselves since this is what society does to us all the time. For example, if you want to set up a business you usually have to pitch, which is a very extroverted activity. If you pitch well you are deemed a success and are more likely to get funding/sales etc. If you are nervous and awkward because you hate public speaking people look at you uncomfortably, see you as less able and you are less likely to get funding/sales. In this way a lot of systems are geared towards comparing how extroverted people are, and the more extroverted the better in many cases. Simply saying we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others isn’t enough, I really feel more needs to be done so that people have more options to do things (such as in business or just generally in work) that play to their strengths and preferences in terms of introversion and extroversion. I would love us to get rid of this concept that extroversion is the right way.

    Reply

    • October 17, 2014 @ 8:49 PM Tanja @ Conscious Introvert Success

      Hi Kate – thanks for stopping by and leaving your thoughts.

      I totally agree that it would be awesome if people realised that the introverted and extroverted ways both have value, and each is appropriate in its own place.

      I disagree that if you want to set up a business, you have to pitch though: I have two right now (a copywriting business and an introvert coaching business), and I don’t really “pitch” in the extroverted sense of the word for either of them.

      What I do is use my natural introvert strengths to slowly, gradually build relationships with people via my website, blog, newsletter and social media – all of which can be done in an introvert-friendly way. Even speaking from a stage isn’t inherently extroverted: I’m deeply introverted and love being up on a stage if I have a chance to prepare beforehand (just don’t ask me to feel comfortable if I have to interact with any of my audience members afterwards!)

      There are actually some really great resources out there for us introverted business owners: Beth Buelow at Introvert Entpreneur), Julia Barnickle at Quiet Entpreneur, and Cigdem Kobu at the Progress Lounge all have amazing communities, books, programmes and other resources for introverts to connect with each other and recognise the options we have for running our lives and businesses in ways that work for us. There’s also some great books: Nancy Ancowitz’s “Self Promotion for Introverts” and Devora Zack’s “Networking for People who Hate Networking” are two of the titles I frequently recommend to introverted clients who want to figure out how to market their business in introvert-friendly ways.

      I’d encourage you to look around: the resources are definitely there for you if you look for them!

      Blessings

      TANJA

      Reply

  2. October 18, 2014 @ 10:25 PM Michael Rupp

    Well written.

    I’m not sure if you already know the wider use of this thinking. Assuming you or some future reader doesn’t, I’ll briefly mention it here. Any meaningful dichotomy in life has this same type of problem. If you can define an existential quality that has two extremes and a sliding scale in between where most people are, then it’s going to have this problem. A dominant group that thinks they are normal, vs. the less aggressive group that assumes thy are not.

    I’ve been seeing this everywhere. Something new to me is a concept of poly-amorous people. We live in a world that is so omnipresent about monogamous life-long relationships that if you are a poly, you’ve spent most of your life suffering quietly, or being bullied if you live life as you feel it’s supposed to be. I never noticed how unbearable we monogamists have made life for the poly’s till I knew there was such a thing as poly’s.

    I’ve personally dealt with this problem in the realm of faith. I’m one who has rejected the idea of faith in a supernatural world, and the dominant world is faithful. I can’t help it but sometimes it’s fun to laugh at the faithful, but I know that is a bad thing to do. I see how much trouble the few assholes among the faithful and the faithless hurt so many innocent victims on either side with their aggression. Most people on either side of the center are good people; chose the side that feels right, and have harmony & understanding for the others.

    Reply

    • October 19, 2014 @ 2:51 PM Tanja @ Conscious Introvert Success

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting Michael. I think I’m lucky as someone who’s poly, in that I’ve never had anyone react badly when I’ve told them about it. I don’t go around shouting my lifestyle choices from the rooftops, but most people who know me well know about that aspect of my life, and have been pretty accepting of it.

      I think you’re right that there’s some intolerance and judgementality in any in-group against those who are out-group. What I find inspiring, though, is how many awesome examples there are of people who try their hardest to understand and accept those who are different. I do my best to focus on those, instead of focussing on the few “bad apples” who give everyone else they happen to share a faith / personality characteristic / sexual or relationship choice with :-)

      Blessings

      TANJA

      Reply


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