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Ask the Introvert: Innies have a language all their own

Just as introverts process information differently (looking at you, naturally ruminative prefrontal cortex), our working definitions of popular words are positively different, too.
sharon glassman ask the introvert
Sharon Glassman (photo courtesy of Sharon Glassman)

What’s an introvert? How does introversion affect us at work and play? In our friendships? In our search for meaning and happiness?

I’ll explore these and other timely questions about introvert life in this column, as an introvert entrepreneur, artist and journalist. 

Want to ask a question? Just use the email below.

P.S.: even if you don’t think of yourself as introverted, you may find some helpful info here. Why? Because, to paraphrase Ben Franklin: we assume our differences divide us, only to find we share common ground.



Today’s introvert-astic question: Do introverts have their own alphabet?

We’re entering a bit of a metaphoric realm. But as you may have guessed, the answer is yes. And, “yay!”

Just as introverts process information differently (looking at you, naturally ruminative prefrontal cortex), our working definitions of popular words are positively different, too.

Confession: I’m not a musical fan. But to quote “The Sound of Music,” “let’s start at the very beginning” with the letter A.

A is for Awareness 

As previously discussed in this column, studies have shown the prefrontal cortices of introverts have thicker gray matter. (You could even say our introverted inward-focus stems from it, if you’re OK with a neurobiology pun that relies on a nerdy smidge of poetic anatomical license.)

Where was I? Right. Awareness. Imagine an idea traveling through your introvert brain moving slowly, like a runner on wet sand. Traveling this textured terrain over time creates more awareness and attention.

Question: Is this increased awareness a bad thing?

Not if you take a Zen attitude. Beginner’s Mind is a key tenet of Zen meditation. It asks us to look at the world with fresh eyes; to try and see things as they truly are, as opposed to how our minds imagine them. 

If we scroll back to our discussion about introverts being more responsive to the calming neurotransmitter acetylcholine as opposed to the exciter dopamine, we could even say that Beginner’s Mind is a naturally introverted kind of awareness.

A is for anxiety, too

Speaking of introverts and Zen? Back in my East Coast journo days, I went to dawn walking meditation at Peter Matthiessen’s home Zendo in Sagaponack, New York. I arrived on my bike picturing a stress-free exercise in communal Kumbaya … slipped my 4-foot-10-inch frame into a scratchy, brown polyester robe … focused my mind on the dust motes dancing in the light … and promptly stepped on the heel of the walking meditator in front of me. Dude spun around and gave me such a NY look of annoyance. Or was he simply startled?

Seriously: That meditating dude was so angry with me. Or was he?

I never went back to that Zendo, so I never got the chance to ask. Or apologize.

Enter, the idea of hyper-awareness — when we worry about offending someone so much that we may choose not to act at all. 

Focusing on life’s “what-ifs” can create anxiety. It’s a very innie thing to do. But here’s where awareness can help.

You know that old “if a tree falls in a forest and no one’s there to hear it, does it make a sound” idea? In this case, my tree was giving that walking meditator a flat tire. That really happened. 

But while I chose to believe this was a big deal, I’ll bet you introvert dollars to doughnuts Mr. Squished Heel recalls it not at all. 

So what really happened? Does my shameful faux pas exist? 

Only to the extent that I lease it valuable space in my prefrontal cortex. And that lease, innie friends, is over.

Awareness and forgiveness. Such a handy pair. To err is human, innie; let’s take a walk to that.

Have a question about introvert life? Write to askin@smilesongs.com

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The thoughts and opinions offered in this column are intended for entertainment and informational purposes only. Use of this column is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional, financial, medical, legal, or other professional advice.