I have been an introvert since I was a kid. Growing up I was the kind of child that would sit in the corner and read whatever is around. While all my friends were playing cricket or running around, I would be sitting and watching cartoons, playing video games, or reading books.
When I was 26 I moved to Estonia. Coming from a country like Pakistan where everyone is talkative and extroverted, Estonia seemed very difficult. The weather was cold, people even colder. It was diametrically opposite to the culture where I was from. I quickly realized that being an introvert isn’t going to cut it anymore, I will die alone if I continue to be like this.
It is helpful to know what exactly I mean by introverted and extroverted. Just like any other human trait, these human qualities exist on a spectrum. Everyone has both of these traits. But as a broad definition: Introverts recharge themselves when they are alone. Extroverts recharge themselves when they are with people. It is also notable that your introversion or extroversion does not necessarily have to correlate with how much you talk, you can be the center of a party if you are an introvert, (even though it will drain you).
So here was the problem: I was an introvert, but I wanted friends, I wanted a social circle, I wanted people to hang out with. Sadly I never had to go out for the express purpose of making friends ever in my life. I had left my family and my childhood friends behind. I had no idea how to make friends, or even meet people.
Before I tell how I learned to be an extrovert, there is one helpful concept we should understand. We should not think of ourselves as one personality. We should think of ourselves as a collection of personalities (or personas as they are called in Jungian Psychology). If I think about it there is a personality of me when I am happy, there is one when I am feeling sad. There is another whole personality of me when I am hungry and another when I am full.
Similarly, no matter how introverted you might be, there is a part of you that is extroverted (Have you ever seen a drunk Estonian?) It is that part of you that needs to develop for you to be extroverted (whenever you choose to be).
So here is what I did to develop my extroverted persona.
If I have to choose one activity that I believe everyone should do, it would be the Improv Theatre. Improv theatre is a form of theatre that is spontaneous. There is no script or rehearsal. Actors are just thrown on stage and then they spontaneously create a narrative. Sometimes the performers ask for inspiration from the audience in the form of a word, a personality, or a situation.
When I decided I wanted to do improv, there were more than 5 different groups in Tallinn, but they were all doing improv in Estonian. There was no English group. That was a predicament. I approached a few people, the word spread around, and then we were able to make a group ourselves. Every weekend we would meet and do our improv before going to have some coffee and fries at a nearby cafe. Dan of Heldeke Lounge was our teacher and we met regularly for over a year.
A usual session of improv begins with icebreaking and warm-up exercises. These are small exercises you can use to get out of your head and get in the groove. For example, one such exercise is called ‘Word Ball’. You speak a word and throw an imaginary ball at someone, the person catches the ball, and then he/she says a word that is related to the previous word before throwing it on to the next person.
There are two things that improv teaches you really well:
Firstly it is the observation: Observing like a hawk for any small detail that can inspire you. Because if you come on stage with an agenda, or pre-planning you will quickly derail the whole scene. One quickly realizes that there is no point in planning anything in our heads. Do whatever comes at the moment. Then everything flows and things sync together.
Secondly, it’s humor. When you are outside of your head, you tend to make snap judgments, things that are inbuilt in you without any pretense. This creates genuine and surprising moments of levity.
Talking to a stranger a day
After getting some confidence with improv, I thought I needed to step it up a notch. I made a challenge for myself where I would talk to at least one random stranger every day.
This was among one of the most difficult things that I have ever done. You are not the same every day, somedays you are more cheerful, somedays you are grumpy. But if we need to talk to a stranger we need to step outside our heads and be genuinely curious about them. When I started, I quickly realized that I cannot just step up to a stranger and start talking. I needed to get myself in the groove first. I would do that generally by making eye-contact with passersby, making some comments while buying something to eat, or even petting someone's dog.
This was a really interesting exercise. Being a foreigner in Estonia, I was always a subject of curiously. I would get glances everywhere I went, but this time if I saw any interest I would just go ahead and start chatting. Often the person would be surprised, but I would tell them that I know it is not common in Estonia but I am curious by nature and also I am not Estonian so I have a bit of freehand.
There was a lot that I learned from this experience. I continued doing this for over a year, sometimes I would even talk to multiple people a day. Mostly on the train because that was how I commuted to work and back.
I learned so much from this experience that it warrants a separate article. But to summarize.
People are way way more interesting than we think them to be, every person is carrying around a story with them. If you can even break the ice a little you would be surprised how interested everyone can be.
Despite their reputation for being cold and introverted, Estonians are surprisingly open to conversations, they are extremely curious and I never felt that anyone was uncomfortable in talking or sharing because they are introverted.
This is a bit philosophical, but people outside are just mirrors to our state. You will feel that if you feeling good inside everyone outside will start to smile at you. If you are feeling grumpy then you will see people frowning everywhere. It is a lot more about you than it is about anyone else.
Learning to Tango
I have always wanted to learn at least one partner dance. I was fortunate enough to have a dance school near my place. One day I went there and the classes that were about to start were Argentina tango. I didn’t know anything about it but I wanted to try it out.
It was a very lively experience, I went to the Euphoria Studio where the lovely couple Andrei and Arina would teach us every week. I learned the basics and reached an intermediate level.
If a guy can do it then I recommend that every guy learns at least one partner dance. Dances such as tango are distilled forms of interaction that are crystallized after centuries of trials. They teach you how to interact and behave with your partner of the opposite sex. For example when a person wants to invite someone to dance they don't just want up to them and ask. the guy first initiates with eye contact, if the other persons return with eye contact then the guy can approach the girl. This is called cabeceo
In the improv section, we talked about the importance of observation, observation can be both external and internal. Dancing teaches you about internal observation. Any dance has a posture, poses, and rules on how you should be moving. Dancing allows you to look yourself in the mirror and get more control of your body. The majority of our human communication is done non-verbally, dancing trains you to be proficient at that non-verbal communication by taking of control your body.
I was very privileged that I had access to such activities and it might not be possible for everyone, but there are some overarching principles are common across all the activities that I did.
Learn to be out of your head. When you are out of your head then you will be able to listen and observe everyone around you.
Learn to observe, be like a hawk, be interested in people. They are already telling you what they want you to say.
Move towards your fear. Be gentle with yourself but still learn to be uncomfortable for the right thing. Even now I am an introvert yet I can hold myself very well whenever I need to talk to someone or even present my ideas to a group. Extroversion is a skill that anyone can learn.
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