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Mindfulness for introverted people in an extraverted world.

In todays modern society, we have faced the evolution of a number of paradigms ranging from the traditionally to the current postmodern society. The increased urbanisation has changed the way our society functions, from agriculture to industry with service, business and sales, thus from people living in the countryside to people living in the cities.

The British sociologist Anthony Giddens, argues that this development have led us to a shift in preferable personality characteristics. Whereas characteristics such as convincing, appealing and flamboyant has become highly valued, due to their utility and importance in sales and business. These characteristics correspond to the findings of the culture historian Warren Susman, who summarized how keywords in books over time have changed. The nineteenths century most profound words in guidance books were citizenship, honour, moral and integrity among others, while the books in the twentieth century were superior in containing words such as hypnotic, fascinating, attracting and powerful.

These highly new valued characteristics, compared with the increased interest for self-help books containing guidance for; how to network efficiently, how to do public speaking, how to do storytelling and how to become likeable etc. supports the thesis of the paradigm shift towards our citizens, living and operating in a more extraverted world.

This extraverted world can be seen in elementary school, high school, college, university, business life etc. where the organizational composition has developed toward a more interacting and highly stimulating environment. This entails group brainstorming, group and team works, group exams, class and board presentations, public speaking and open offices etc.

Research show that up to 70% of American workers operate in open-plan offices and students in Denmark are faced with increased group activity, due to the ministry of education, has given the autonomy to the institutions to decide on group or personal examination.

How do introverts cope with the demands of living in an extraverted world?

Introversion and extroversion is the responsiveness of an individual towards stimulation on e.g. social interactions, sounds, lights etc. The way an individual behave and interact is closely linked to their introvert or extravert personality traits. For example, it is found that introverts are associated with being quiet, solitude and most importantly, preferring low stimulating environments.

Further, the way the central nervous system function is different when comparing introverts and extraverts. Extroverts tend to activate the sympathetic side of the nervous system that motivates people to be active, daring and prepared for decision making. The way of thriving from an extrovert, is superior activation on the sympathetic side of the nervous system and thus using the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, while also being rewarded by the “feel good feeling” of dopamine release.

These conditions make extroverts well capable of interacting in high stimulating environments. On the other hand, introverts experience this as being too overwhelming and rely on activation of the parasympathetic side of the nervous system instead. This promotes the flows of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine that like dopamine, is linked to pleasure, but acetylcholine makes introverts feel good when they turn inward and thus motivate this behaviour. This activation leads to relaxed muscles and lowering of heart rate and blood pressure which contribute to the states of hibernation and contemplation which is preferred by introverts. Thus when introverts shift from the natural and preferably conditions, by being affected and working in highly stimulating surroundings, they start to operate with increased stress and experience neural deviations. This lead to increased utilization of mental energy rather than thriving from this, such as extraverts does.

One of the biggest challenges with these highly stimulating surroundings is that they are inevitable for introverts, due to the societal and organizational structures of e.g. schools and working life. This calls for the need for introverts to learn how to cope with stresses that affect them cognitively, psychological, neural and behavioural. Mindfulness could be a beneficial way to comply with these challenges.

Mindfulness and meditation

Mindfulness can be understood as the ability to be aware of the present moment, without attaching to irrelevant thought and maintaining an open mind. The ability of being effectively mindful has the benefit of living and participating in life with appetitive control, rather than with aversive control. This enables the individual of engaging actively in life, rather than acting on autopilot.

When mindfulness is used as an instrument by therapists, it is used to enhance the individual’s awareness. This is done with the goal of enhancing the individual’s mental flexibility and ability to be aware of what is happening without being judgemental - exactly as our danish program for mental træning is enabling for clients, athletes and other practitioners. When projecting this to introverts who experience undesirable reluctance and reduced social participation, mindfulness could enable introverts not to feel overwhelmed, in high stimulating social environments.

Different mindfulness techniques can be applied with the purpose of disrupting and detaching repetitive patterns of dysfunctional thinking and behaviour. These techniques can be mindfulness meditation and attention training among others. The practicing of disengaging and decoupling from negative thoughts and awareness have been demonstrated as a basic setting for strengthening the metacognitive plans, that are stored in the brains long-term memory system.

Start your mindfulness meditation

The proposed idea is a 10-minute daily mindfulness practice in a period of 8 weeks with the opportunity to prolong this. In your daily mindfulness practice you sit down in a quite personal space, maybe with your headphones on. There is endless playlists playing nice, relaxing and meditative sounds on Spotify. Most importantly is, that the music is calm so you can focus on your breathing and noticing what your mind is doing. Nice and simple. Just start the first weeks with noticing and breathing deeply.

Even though evidence has been found that only four days of mindfulness practice lead to significant changes, this study should not be carried out as a quick fix but rather initiating a life changing habit, of training mindfulness every day (Zeidan et al., 2014). In the study of Davidson, Kabat-Zinn and colleagues, they found significant results after the 8-week programme, but also in a 4-month follow up study some of the benefits were still maintained (Baer, 2003;Davidson et al., in press). The results derived from this study should be the initiator of the legitimacy for introverts practising mindfulness.

It is likely to hypothesize that this programme in a micro perspective might bring personal understanding, increased self-awareness and self-confidence, but also in a macro perspective. These macro benefits of introverts learning mindfulness, includes organizational and economical success due to enhanced participation and reduced reluctance.

Your mindfulness and meditation practice, including your mental training, is highly recommended by our sportspsykolog.

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