Why the FIRE Space is Full of Introverts

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Do you hate phone calls? Does the idea of a party give you hives (even before the pandemic)? Do you equate small talk to being waterboarded?

If you answered yes to these questions, you might be an introvert.

Even though introverts only make up 33% of the general population, they are the overwhelming majority in the FIRE space.

Why?

Well, as someone who is both extroverted and introverted (also known as ambivert), I tapped into my introverted side during this lockdown (because what else is there to do?) to find out exactly why the FIRE space is packed with introverts.

In order to figure out exactly why FIRE is so appealing to those of us who think answering the phone is like getting a root canal, I first had to understand how introverts think.

And after going down the rabbit hole of Wikipedia and scientific papers, I discovered that introversion and extroversion are linked to how the two groups react to external stimuli.

Specifically, how we react to noises as infants. In Kegan’s psychological study on temperament, cited by Susan Cain’s book “Quiet“, scientists took a group of four-month-old babies and had a bunch of research assistants make noises above their heads. This included popping balloons, playing tape-recorded voices, and holding vibrating cellphones.

Surprisingly not all of the babies complained. Only 1 in 5 cried and flailed their arms, 2 in 5 calmly didn’t do anything, and the rest had reactions somewhere in between.

Now, on first glance, you’d think that the complainy-pants babies ended up being extroverts, the quiet one introverts, and the rest ambiverts right?

WRONG.

When the scientists followed up with these kids later on in their teens, they found the opposite was true. The crying babies turned out to be the introverts and the quiet ones the extroverts.

Now why is that?

It’s because introversion and extroversion are related to how the babies reacted to external stimuli. The crying babies cried because they were over stimulated. Loud noises overwhelmed their tiny adorable brains and they didn’t like it, so they cried. The quiet ones, on the other hand, were perfectly happy. This explains why introverts need a quiet place to think while extroverts love to go where the action is and can’t stop voicing their thoughts. Noise = comfortable for extroverts while noise = overstimulation for introverts. 

So if you’re an introvert, don’t blame yourself for not being more social or liking loud environments. There’s a scientific explanation for why you are the way you are, and despite how much our society pushes you towards extroversion be proud of your introverted tendencies.

In fact, there are actually quite a few benefits to being an introvert that also explains why you are well represented in the FIRE community

 

Introverts need less dopamine to be happy

Dopamine is the reason we’re motivated to do anything. Whenever we eat a buttery piece of steak, have sex, or travel to Thailand for a beach vacation, we experience a dopamine hit to our brain. That’s what makes us want to do those things over and over again.

Well, as it turns out, the difference between an introvert and an extrovert is how sensitive our brains are to dopamine.

Extroverts are more spontaneous, adventurous, and social because they need much bigger and more frequent bursts of dopamine to feel it in their brain receptors. In contrast, introverts only need a small amount of dopamine—ie the amount generated by reading, writing, and boardgames with a few friends—to get the same amount of happiness. Their dopamine receptors are much more sensitive, so they feel it much more. For introverts, too much stimulation actually tires them out.

So, the next time you go to a big family Thanksgiving dinner and you feel completely drained and exhausted afterwards, you know why.

As a result, introverts are perfectly happy meditating, reading a book, writing, or spending a quiet night at home with their spouse or a friend. They don’t need a ton of social activities or activities to reach their zen level of happiness. This works well for the FIRE lifestyle, because you don’t have to worry about losing your social circle from work and all the activities that come with it. You’re perfectly happy being with a small group of friends and staying home.

 

Introverts tend to spend less money

Since introverts don’t need a ton of social stimulation or adventurous activities, they tend to spend less money in general. Partying with friends, going to crowded sporting events, bar hopping—none of these activities appeal to an introvert. This is why their wallets are generally fuller than extroverts who feel a need to shell out money on these activities to generate the large amount of dopamine hits their brains need to be happy.

It’s also the reason why introverts are faring much better than extroverts during the lockdowns of a pandemic. Spending less money and staying home is par for the course for them.

So, if you’re an introvert, give your extroverted friends a (social distanced) hug during this time. They desperately need it.

 

Introverts can focus on one thing for a long time

Another introvert trait is the ability to focus on one project for a LONG ass time. Like decades even. This is because of a little chemical called “Acetylcholine”.

Acetylcholine is basically dopamine for introverts. While dopamine gives extroverts a thrill, Acetylcholine relaxes and calms an introvert. Introspective activities like reading, writing, and drawing are all very simulating to introverts, but might bore an extrovert to death.

Acetylcholine also causes introverts to take longer to put thoughts into words, react, or make decisions. This is because the neural pathway for Acetylcholine to travel through the brain is much longer than dopamine and as a result, it takes longer for the brain to receive information from this neurotransmitter.

This is why writing down thoughts is easier than thinking out loud for introverts. It gives them time to organize their thoughts clearly. Nothing pisses off an introvert like someone loudly blabbering out their stream of consciousness under the guise of “thinking out loud.” They absolutely hate it when you present them with a half-baked idea that you are still in the middle of working out—OUT LOUD. Come back when you’ve thought it through (quietly), you maniac!

This is why extroverts generally like public speaking, being on podcasts, and talking on the phone, while introverts prefer writing instead and communicating via e-mails and text messages. Writing and public speaking uses different pathways and writing simply feels more natural for introverts. 

Don’t mistaken how long it takes an introvert to respond as them being slow or stupid though. The upside to all this inner processing is that this deep thinking enables introverts to hyper-focus on one task for an incredibly long period of time.

This is why FIRE is such a good fit for this personality. When you need to focus on amassing wealth for years (or even decades), introverts can do this without breaking a sweat while extroverts have to fight their internal urge to splurge on social events or buy shit they don’t need.

3. Introverts tend to overthink

Scientists have noticed that introverts tend to have larger, thicker grey (yes, this is the correct British/Canadian spelling of “gray”. Suck it, American grammar nazis) matter in the front part of their brain—the prefrontal cortex. And since that’s the part of the brain credited with planning for the future, it’s exactly why introverts tend to overthink and overplan everything. This tends to freak out their spontaneous and live-in-the-moment extroverted friends.

But guess what requires a lot of thinking and planning?

Becoming FI! The road to financial independence takes a lot of discipline and planning, which is perfectly suited to an introverted overthinker/planner.

4. Introverts care less about what other people think

Since introverts tend to be stuck in their heads, this hyper focus on deep thoughts causes them to be very creative.

As a result, they tend to choose solo creative projects over social interaction. This isn’t to say they hate people and want to live as hermits in the woods, but they like to take the time to perfect their craft rather than spend their time socializing and chatting. As result, they are less concerned with what other people think of them.

Turns out, this is a feature rather than a bug in the FIRE community. You need to be a contrarian to walk this unconventional path and not care about the fact that you have 1000+ hater comments on Business Insider.

So that’s why there are so many INTJ’s in the FIRE space even though INTJ’s only make up 2% of the general population.

Okay, so does that mean extroverts are doomed to work until they die?

Absolutely not.

I’m a huge believer in not pigeon-holing yourself just because “your brain is not wired a certain way.” Extroverts can excel at introverted activities—like reading, writing, and drawing—just like introverts can excel in extroverted activities—like sales, public speaking, and socializing—by pushing themselves out of their comfort zone. Just because you’re spontaneous, don’t like to plan, and get bored easily just focusing on one task, doesn’t mean you can excel at all those things if you work at it. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone every now and it will help you grow.

Oh and also keep in mind that this is a spectrum. No one is 100% introverted or extroverted. We all fall somewhere in between. For example, my Myers Briggs tests says I’m ESTJ, but I exhibit many introverted traits in that I prefer writing to talking and small gatherings to big parties. But I also have no problems with public speaking or talking to strangers. I can be perfectly happy going to a conference or staying in and reading a book. And the same goes for Wanderer. So no, you don’t have to be 100% introverted or extroverted. 

Are you an extrovert or introvert or somewhere in between? Do the traits I mentioned apply to you? Do you think financial independence is easier for introverts?

If you don’t know whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, take this quiz to find out:

Are You Extroverted or Introverted?

Share your results with us on this poll:

Are you an Introvert, Extrovert, or Ambivert?
Vote

Cheers!


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60 thoughts on “Why the FIRE Space is Full of Introverts”

  1. Could be true! But I am an extrovert through and through, and have been writing about FIRE since 2009.

    I haven’t quit writing three times a week for 11 years now and don’t plan to stop. Further, the lockdown since March 2020 has been fine. I just spent my time writing and playing tennis and softball with friends.

    But it definitely seems like there are a lot of introverts whenever I want to Fincon in the past.

    It’s been a fun journey!

    Sam

    1. That’s great, Sam. Glad to know that extroverts are doing well during the lockdown too. I think you might be the only extrovert I know who likes writing, since it’s such a solitary activity. Good for you!

  2. I call myself an extroverted introvert. When I’m at work in front of a classroom full of kids, I’m all “Hellooooo! Look at me!”
    Then I come home and am as happy as a pig in muck if I don’t go out for days.
    It’ll be interesting to see what happens after I retire in 5 weeks and the classroom goes away…

    1. Very interesting. It’s a spectrum, so you could be an introvert who leans towards extroversion (or maybe even an ambivert). I’m the same way. I don’t mind public speaking or being in front of a crowd at all (though, I do prefer having time to prep my speech before hand). I’m curious, would you feel as comfortable if you had to improvise your lesson plan?

  3. INTJ here! Wow, this is a pretty good analysis. There is a biological reason after all.
    I can be social, but it gets very tiring after a while. That’s why I never enjoy FinCon (or any con) that much. It’s too much stimulation. I like small groups way better. My wife is even worse. She’s terrible at socializing in large groups. Oh well, it’s an advantage for FIRE folks. We landed in the right place. Use your strength. Extroverts should keep working. 😉

    1. “That’s why I never enjoy FinCon (or any con) that much. It’s too much stimulation. I like small groups way better. ”

      Yup. Totally hear you. I can’t remember half the names and faces I come across in big conferences like FinCon. That’s why I love Chautauqua so much–you get time to really go to know only 25-30 people. It’s an ambivert/introvert’s dream come true.

      FIRE is definitely the right place for us. Finally our introversion gets to shine rather than being berated by extroverts to “stop being anti-social” or “what’s wrong? Why are you so quiet?”. How the tables have turned 🙂

    2. During my undergrad degree in communication, we had a class on personality types—we covered Myers Briggs—with the understanding that it’s a bit of pseudoscience though also plenty of fun. There’s some value in self-reflecting like this.

      It was the first time I’d heard of it or really thought about introversion vs extroversion and how it affected me. I came up as INTJ then.

      I’ve since taken similar in-depth online tests for fun on occasion when a friend mentions Myers Briggs or talks about extroversion.

      INTJ every time.

      However, I think I can definitely do extroverted activities and handle social situations. It’s just *really* tiring. Going to a friend’s wedding where I know many of the folks there is enjoyable—I get to catch up with old acquaintances and see how life has progressed. There’s some nostalgia and plenty of fun.

      But, it’s absolutely exhausting. I need a day of rest afterward!

      Meanwhile, I can blow through 5 hours of writing about difficult topics in solitary and feel energized afterward.

      I think that’s what really sets it apart—how you spend versus develop energy.

  4. Wow, had no idea I was in the minority in this community! Although — I am an ENTJ, so not that far off from the rest of you I guess. And my hubble is an extreme Introvert, and we’re obviously in this together. Very interesting!

    1. Yay! Great to hear from an extrovert FIRE enthusiast! Even though you are the minority here, the good news is you are the majority in non-FIRE circles, and your social, outgoingness is generally way more valued than our quiet, introspectiveness. Very interesting that you have an introverted hubby. It’s good to have complimentary traits.

  5. All true – I like to describe it as “if you really want wealth, get comfy with being weird”. Everyone going after FIRE is weird for doing it (and this is coming from yet another INTJ) but hey, that’s the way to reach the life you want.

  6. Love this post!! The science explains a lot! Now I understand some of my less-than-financially-fit extroverted family members more 🙂
    -Another INTJ

    1. Yeah, who knew that FI would give me this much extra time to read psychology blogs/books? Extroverted spendy people make so much more sense now.

  7. ISFJ here! 100% introvert!

    I love your analysis, and I think you are right especially on being able to focus on one thing for a long time.

    Plus on enjoying activities like writing as opposed to talking in public (the thought of that sends shivers down my spine!). I much rather hide beyond some words written on a screen 😉

  8. I know I tested years ago as ENTJ but was borderline I. Loved socializing at work but once my 8-9 hours there were done I wanted nothing to do with it. Don’t bother me with outing and parties. Now that I have been basically retired for the past year I definitely am more introverted. I enjoy visiting and talking to people when I feel like it and the E comes out. I would think that people that are “essentialists or minimalists” would also be more I. They don’t need a bunch of “stuff” (dopamine hits) to make them happy.

  9. Great analysis – I’ve never made this connection before, but it makes a lot of sense. Fwiw, I’m fairly sure I’m an INTJ. The personality traits you connect this to are all true of me with the exception of caring less what people think. I’d _like_ to think this is true, and if you asked me, that’s what I’d say, but I’m not totally convinced that it’s anything more than posturing, and deep down it matters just as much as for others. Hard to scientifically test though!
    Anyway, thanks for the post. It’s comforting to realize that the introversion part of my personality could be one reason this movement resonates so much with me.

    1. Thanks, Tyle. Glad this post was comforting to you. I wanted introverts to be proud of their introverted traits and not be pushed to be something they’re not just because society wants them to be extroverted. Hopefully you feel this way.

  10. I’m definitely an introvert and so much of this fits with me. I loved Quiet, and appreciate the emphasis on the strengths introverts have in an extroverted world. Thanks for the point about pigeon holing yourself (or others). I love trying to understand other personalities, but we have to be careful not to assume characteristics are universal or fixed!

    1. If you loved Quiet, you may enjoy the book “The Secret Lives of Introverts” by Jenn Granneman. I’m reading it now and it’s super insightful.

      Agree with the non-fixed traits. I’m a huge believer in growth mindset over fixed mindset, and everything’s always a spectrum.

  11. I’m INFJ, which is interesting because that’s a type that’s supposed to be terrible with money 😄 Do-gooder idealist, generous to a fault (but I also had a tough upbringing which taught me money gives options, so there’s that). Introversion helps in achieving FIRE, but much of corporate life seems to reward extroverts, so I definitely think it’s complicated. Thanks for the analysis!

    1. Hello fellow INFJ! Glad to see there’s more of us. I recently found the Socially Conscious FIRE group of Facebook, and now my life is officially complete! Have a path forward of what I’ll be doing after FIRE, and where my money will be going. FIRE oriented, Introvert, and INFJ, I really couldn’t be bothered by this ‘isolation’ personally, have been feeling left out of this planet, perceived societal norms and herd mentality all my life it seems! It all makes sense now 🙂 . All the best to you, hope we cross paths someday.

    2. Hello fellow INFJ! Glad to see there’s more of us. I recently found the Socially Conscious FIRE group of Facebook, and now my life is officially complete! Have a path forward of what I’ll be doing after FIRE, and where my money will be going. FIRE oriented, Introvert, and INFJ, I really couldn’t be bothered by this ‘isolation’ personally, have been feeling left out of this planet, perceived societal norms and herd mentality all my life it seems! It all makes sense now 🙂 . All the best to you, hope we cross paths someday.

    3. “much of corporate life seems to reward extroverts”–yes this is true. I think this is why many introverts feel they need to “put on a front” in order to fit in at work and to get a bigger paycheck. Do-able in short spurts but not for the long term. The good news is once they become FI, they can go back to being their introverted selves without having to pretend anymore. At least that’s my experience.

  12. I’m an introvert-leaning ambivert (and an INTJ), this rings really true for me, I do want to be part of a community, but after being around people all day at work I have no energy for that! One of the reasons I want to retire early is to have energy to socialize (as well as to pursue my passion for art) . Since I’ve been working from home I’ve had a lot more energy for other things, at first that was used up dealing with pandemic anxiety, but now that the pandemic has subsided where I am, I’ve had space to focus on art and on planning my post-retirement future (4 more years, less if I can keep my expenses at lockdown levels). But my employer is now making people transition back to office work!

    1. “One of the reasons I want to retire early is to have energy to socialize (as well as to pursue my passion for art)”, sounds like a great plan! And congrats for being only 4 years away!

      Sorry to hear that your employer is making you go back to working in the office. Is there anyway they’d be open to you negotiating work from home part time?

  13. Thanks for sharing this insight. It’s good to be able to appreciate the differences among us and get to know the FI population makeup. It makes sense with all you’ve shared that there are many introverts among us, myself included.

    Being home more has been what I needed. I didn’t realize I was as much of an introvert as I am or would like the opportunity to be. I’ve been happier than I’ve been in a long while; so content – feeling like I’m able to really refresh. I’ve been able to attend to my health needs better and consider discovering some interests. I feel for those who have a different experience, especially the extroverted teens and kids.

    I’m very sorry for those who have lost a loved one during Covid, had the illness themselves or have suffered in other ways. I’m optimistic that my fellow Americans and other people around the world will display their determination; the spirit of good people everywhere will triumph and hopefully unite us more. Our communities, towns and nations could use some healing and strengthening. I pray that prejudices will come to an end and we will better see one another with more dignity and regard. People are being mindful of the need to prioritize having reserves or at least a spare pack of toilet paper. 😳🤪. Travel well when you get to be on the go again!

  14. I’m a solid INTJ. Discovering this, after coming across Myers-Briggs, was a revelation. It explained why I didn’t fit well into the world. This new found knowledge was quite liberating. I wasn’t odd, I was just different, and there are others like me. I vowed to only use my INTJ powers for good. Also, all caps text is too loud, as are bright colours, and Apple stores.

  15. Another INTJ here too. I was shocked when I did a similar post on our IG account with all the other INTJs in the personal finance crowd out there. It all makes sense. Let’s all stay weird… and wealthy 😉 You can find me reading, just sitting and gazing out the window, painting, jamming out to music by myself, enjoying a cup of tea by a fire, being comfy, etc.

  16. As an introvert (and INFJ) I like reading about introversion and personal finance.

    I spend more time probably writing/thinking than talking. And guilty of letting voicemail handle incoming calls from strangers. (I had an experience with a robotic-CRA-scam call.)

    With FI I want to spend more time with activities that doesn’t drain my energy.

    Who else wants to spend time in outdoors with nature or be left alone among a crowd in malls or cafe?

    1. I too have had numerous scam “CRA” calls. I keep them on the line for ages while I find my credit card, then my glasses to read the number to them, then my hearing aid starts playing up, until I ask, in my real voice, how much longer they would like to continue this. They often hang up, but occasionally tell me to fuck off first (for which I give myself bonus points). I do this as a service to my fellow Canadians – while I have them tied up with me, typing utter garbage into their system, I’m saving someone else from being robbed of their life savings.

  17. I’m 100% an introvert. I am confident around people, but just want to be left alone (actually would like to be a woodland hermit). haha

  18. The baby experiment makes perfect sense if you look at it from a sensory overload perspective. I had some sensory issues growing up, especially auditory (and still have a few as an adult). I was the child hiding under my bed on 4th of July or crying when I was at an event and the mic screeched. My insides were already turned up on high so I sought quiet and peace in my outside environment. I am definitely an introvert. I don’t really understand why FIRE is so hard for some. But I would stress for weeks in the Before Times if I had to attend a work function with my husband and pretty much make up any excuse to get out of it.

  19. I used to feel ashamed of being ‘cool-enough’ and tried hard to fit myself in the social scene of corporate world. It worked on the surface. Mostly.
    Now that I am FIREd, I realized how silly I had been. But I still felt guilty about feeling anti-social until I read your article. Now I understand what happened and am glad with who I am. Thanks for writing it up.
    Another benefit of FIRE: you can be your true self, no need to ‘fit in’ anymore.

    1. Yes, please be proud of your introversion. It’s a superpower in the FIRE space. And yes the “you don’t need to ‘fake it’ to fit in” anymore is one of the biggest benefits of FI.

  20. Excellent article, I agree the Introvert is less likely to conform with the herd mentality of following the trend of over-spending on un-necessary luxury and show it off to the others. this tendency will reduce the spending and help accumulate the wealth.
    I remember once I joined my brother’s friends in a social event. the whole discussion was about Cars and what model they drive, I didn’t enjoy the discussion or the topic considering I have never owned a car before…this why I have very few friends and I tend to prefer to watch a classical movie or read a book than go to a party or any public event.

    1. I’m with you on the whole “cars” conversation. Never fit in with my friends/co-workers whenever they talked their dream car models. Give me a book or movie to watch over driving or shopping for cars any day.

      1. Thanks , after going through two surveys, the outcome was ISTJ in one and ISFJ in another.
        When I thought about it I think I am more than ISFJ than ISTJ.

  21. ENFJ and ambivert here, reading through the article and comments, I’m starting to feel a bit lonely! Non-Analysts, where are you? 🙂

  22. Thanks so much for this post, you are very insightful. I am definitely more introverted than extroverted. Maybe those traits have helped me with FIRE, and for sure the fact I don’t care what people think about my life choices has helped. I am also generally happier with less noise and, well, less!

  23. Great post FIRECracker, I definitely relate to this one. It makes a lot of sense on a couple of levels. Introversion might make getting to FIRE easier but it also drives people to want to get out of open-plan offices!

    I think I started to understand introversion best (maybe due to Susan Cain’s TED Talk) when I learned it’s not about being shy but what drains you and what recharges you and that this is totally orthogonal to what you enjoy. Just like exercise will tire you out even if you enjoy it. Some people are charged up by crowds and find reading alone tiring, even if they like it. I enjoy socializing and speaking in front of an audience but I do find it draining. Listening to music or reading alone recharges me.

    So part of FIRE for me is about getting to the point when I can socialize when I want to and not just when there’s a meeting scheduled! Thanks for the reminder 🙂

  24. I think anyone can become FIRE, or achieve any goal for that matter, as long as you can think somewhat logically and set goals.

    I don’t like the idea of labelling people as one personality type or another and assuming they can or cannot do something.

  25. I am an introvert with a couple extroverted tendencies (I can be talkative in certain circles, and I don’t have the attention span that many introverts do). I know I’m INTP, and the quiz listed me as 73% introverted. That sounds about right.

    In college and my lower 20s, my primary group of friends and their extended group were all extroverts. Like club loving, always talking to girls extroverts. They were awesome people, but made things very hard as I didn’t enjoy most of the things they did, and I was literally the only extrovert. Wild house parties, strip clubs, and loud clubs were their jam. I had a surprisingly enjoyable trip to Las Vegas with them despite the fact that they REALLY wanted to go to this super expensive ($300-something per person), super crowded, super loud and dark nightclub. To this day, I’m confused as to how any of them thought that was a pleasurable experience but to each their own. Though getting kicked out at least gives me a good story about it.

    Sincerely,
    ARB—Angry Retail Banker

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