Musings: Being an introvert

I was trying to avoid work the other day, when I came across an article in the New York Times about introversion and shyness. More specifically, it was about the evolutionary advantages that likely kept these traits alive throughout human history. As an introvert AND someone who thinks evolution is a fascinating model for explaining almost everything, it turned out to be the perfect way to kill time at work.

See, a genius AND an introvert. Sounds familiar...

One of the things that the author hits upon is the difference between introversion and shyness. The former is a preference for solitude; finding happiness in limited company. The latter is a fear of disapproval or rejection around others. I never really thought to differentiate the two, but with it all laid out like that, I’ve decided that I was more shy as a child and am more introverted as an adult.

As a rather intelligent youth, I frequently avoided speaking up in school out of a fear of being wrong. I had an indescribable pride in understanding things, which I didn’t want to have shattered by putting myself out for others to scrutinize. I was extremely quiet in public, never spoke much around new people, and only hung around with one or two very close friends; however, whether it was the trappings of youth or an effect of my personality, I didn’t spend much time alone. I spoke abundantly to the close group of friends and family that I had. I would have sleepovers every night until my parents insisted that I was intruding on other people’s homes. In other words, I was far from an introvert. I just hated opening up around new people.

The older I’ve gotten, the easier I’ve found it to talk to new people. I’m definitely still quiet around people with extremely outgoing and/or loud personalities. I have no desire to compete with their jabber and content myself with quietly agreeing or disagreeing. Still, I’ve developed an abundance of confidence since my elementary school years and, as a result, speak my mind more freely to a larger number of people. I’ve even introduced the concept of “small talk” into my everyday life. I’m friends with the entire support staff at work, the people at the front desk, and the Fedex guy.

Progress.

The main thing that has changed is my level of introversion. I was obviously never an extrovert, but as I proceeded through high school, college, and into working life, I’ve developed more and more of an appreciation for time spent alone. The last time I took the Jung and Briggs Meyer personality test, my results were 99% introvert for god’s sake. It’s obviously not to say that I don’t like hanging out with friends and family. Conversely, I enjoy the time I spend with them more, because it’s a special occurrence. Having alone time just gives me time to let my ever-racing brain zing along at its own pace without distraction. It lends me the freedom to do whatever I want or don’t want to do without having to worry about another person’s opinion.

This is where another point made in the article comes in. Based on a number of studies, introverts are much more likely to consider the feelings of others, be faithful, and generally be more observant of the world around them. On the whole, I think all of these points are grounded in truth. One reason that I enjoy doing things by myself, whether it’s reading a book or taking a trip across town, is that I do feel a constant need to consider others, and it gets exhausting. I hope it doesn’t sound terribly selfish, but when you can’t shut off the instinct to think about others, the only relief is some time spent worrying only for yourself.

Another of the author’s points is one that I grapple with on a daily basis. Introverts tend to thoroughly access risks. As far as evolution goes, this is a great benefit. One can imagine an extrovert who never stops to think, running headlong off of a cliff. An introvert, who is much more cautious, considers what is ahead, and is much more likely to survive (and thus pass on their genes to future generations). On the one hand, I enjoy having this trait. I’ve been able to make myself financially stable by worrying and planning in case of an emergency, never wanting to make a mistake. The overall title for my personality type is “mastermind”; one who sits and plans something, piece by piece, and then enacts it to great success. That’s essentially my goal in life. Hell, I even like video games that are very difficult and take planning to succeed.

The problem is that risk assessment is also a great way to hold yourself back. I can plan all I want, but I’m worried that I’ll hesitate too much to put anything on the line. As much as I enjoy my personality type, this trait is going to be my final frontier. I think I’ll be ready to make it when I find the right balance of caution and recklessness. Keep your fingers crossed; I’m sure I’ll be thinking of everyone when I’ve got more money than I know what to do with.

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Fitness vs. Fatness: Biology and Pottermore

As much as I complain about having picked the wrong major in college, I am actually quite interested in biology; I just don’t want to stay in the field forever. Ironically, working in the field has made it very difficult for me to talk about the subject. Nothing wrecks your academic self esteem like working with 10+ PhD’s. Still, it doesn’t keep me from thinking about the stuff, as you will soon find out.

I had a granola bar when I got back from work and drank a few cups of water. Today’s running strategy was to plan on doing it from the moment I got up. Regardless of how tired I was, I backed myself into a corner and committed from the get go. After taking my usual digestion break for 30 minutes, I took off for the monuments again.

About a mile into my run, I started to think about one of the many irritating things about running: the simultaneous feeling that you need to drink and need to pee. The earlier in the run that these feelings come on, the more irritating they are. This cruel contradiction got me thinking, the thinking gave me an excuse to discuss biology, and this blog gave me an outlet for that discussion.

My favorite things about biology are the clever little evolutionary tricks that our bodies have worked out. They’re elegant, simple, and effective. Take exercise as an example. When we start to run, our muscles start churning through oxygen to produce energy. The more oxygen they use, the more blood they need to deliver oxygen. As anyone who has worked out knows, your heart rate increases when you begin exercising. Obviously, this is to get more blood to the muscles. The better shape you get into, the stronger your heart gets, and the more blood it can pump with each beat (the amount of blood being pumped is called stroke volume. Get the giggles out now). As your heart becomes able to pump more blood per beat, your heart rate decreases. This is why people like Lance Armstrong have insanely low heart rates (Please note that this only applies to cardio). The longer your heart has between beats, the more time it has to fill with blood, and even more blood gets pumped per beat. Essentially, this is why working out is awesome.

Don't worry, I don't expect anyone to actually look at this.

I personally think this system is an extremely cool positive feedback loop. What I find even cooler is that the act of running, or any cardio-type exercise really, directly affects the amount of blood being pumped. The repetitive contraction and relaxation of your muscles puts pressure on your blood vessels and literally acts as a pump, moving more blood through the system, and getting more oxygen to your muscles. Cool!

There’s also a really terrible bit of biology involving high blood pressure and how getting it starts a downward spiral where your heart works harder, things gets screwed up, and blood pressure needs to be increased even more to maintain blood flow. It’s the reason I freaked out when I found out my blood pressure was high and obsessed over it until I got it down. The bottom line is that you seriously want to keep your heart in good shape.

Anyway, this is all a very roundabout way of saying that the same repetitive muscle movements that pump extra blood also have a tendency to put pressure on the sensory system around your bladder, which gives the sensation of having to pee. At the same time, your body is heating up, losing water, and trying to tell you to drink. So that’s why that little annoying thing happens. Looks like I could have just explained that in two sentences instead of 3 paragraphs.

Now that I’ve finally broken out of my winter/spring workout funk, I’m happy to say that I’m seeing improvements again. Despite my little annoyance with the run today, I felt a whole lot better than I have in other runs recently. It’s always nice when you feel motivated, workout, and find that working out is getting easier; it makes you avoid it a lot less. Another positive feedback loop, yay!

Finally, I need to speak for a moment regarding Pottermore. As you all know, I’m a raging HP fan. I haven’t met anything HP that I didn’t like, except for the new Dumbledore. Even he got better in the Half Blood Prince at least. With that said, I’m cautiously optimistic about this Pottermore business. Personally, if it wasn’t going to be a new book, I was hoping for a MMORPG. I know that there’s supposed to be “game” elements involved in this, but ever since Angry Birds flung itself into pop culture, I’ve lost respect for the term. I sincerely hope that there are engaging interactive elements though; lord knows that I want to be as involved in the HP world as possible.

What is the meaning of this?!

Personally, I can see the whole thing one of two ways. The timing of the announcement makes me a little suspicious. With the final movie coming out, I’m worried that someone decided that they needed to hurry up and find another way to cash in; however, I seriously doubt that JK needs any more money. I hope that the goal really is to extend the HP experience for all those who are getting depressed that our childhoods are dying, not just to sell ebooks.

Finally, although I would have preferred a printed encyclopedia from JK, I am extremely stoked about her releasing information about the HP universe through Pottermore. It would be a serious bummer to think that we already know everything we ever will about the universe. So in closing, I am at once suspicious, curious, confused, and extremely excited about the whole thing. Now if you will excuse me, tomorrow is Friday and I need to wake up at 5:30. Good evening!