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