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Soulful Sundays: Extra-Version

"The unexamined life is not worth living." -Socrates

"Don't believe everything you think." -Joseph Nguyen

I am very comfortable doing things by myself. I grew up that way. I lived on a farm and my parents were usually away at work. Often it was just me and my brother left to our own devices. Sometimes it was just me. While I appreciate being able to entertain myself and do things independently, I find the term 'introversion' to be a bit misleading.

Psychologist Carl Jung coined the terms introvert and extrovert in the early 1900s to describe a person's personality as either "focused on the inner world," or "focused on the outer world," respectfully. In everyday language the terms are usually defined as a "shy, private person," or an "outgoing, people-person." All of us have heard these labels and some of us probably strongly identify with one or the other, but upon closer analysis, this kind of black or white categorization falls apart.

When we seek time to ourselves, we are never actually alone. Reading a book, watching TV, or messing around on our phones--these all involve other people, either directly or indirectly. Even taking a walk alone in the woods involves the efforts of other people (i.e. those who maintain the woods), not to mention the interactions we have with other living things while we're out there. Perhaps introversion is better thought of as a time when no one is directly watching us (at least that we are aware of). We are still, however, watching ourselves.

Something funny happens when we observe ourselves. We create an 'extra version' of ourselves. There is the person who is doing, and there is the person who is observing. This phenomenon is the basis of many forms of meditation, as well as the premise behind Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). If we can notice the person who is acting, feeling, and/or thinking, then 'we' are not the person we are watching. Well, we are that person, but we are also more than that person.

A similar phenomenon happens when we interact with other people. Social relationships have written and unwritten rules that define the type of dance that will occur. Sometimes these roles can be difficult to change, if not impossible--parent/child, teacher/student, employee/boss. When they become unstable, the relationship has to either adapt, or it will deteriorate. Again, when we look at the different roles we play in a community, we are using the perspective of the observer, and are not fully the person whom we are watching.

I know this all sounds abstract, but this kind of observation is a very practical skill for implementing change in ourselves. We can look around at our friends, family, and others in our community for qualities that we admire. Then, we can put them into action. Say that you admire your friend's courage to have difficult conversations, your mother's loving support, your partner's discipline, or your colleague's work ethic. You can take these qualities and have your 'extra self' project them.

At first it will feel like acting, but imitation is how we learn as children and is a natural way to integrate new ideas. Eventually there will be no difference between playing and being the kind of person we wish to be. Thus, instead of thinking of ourselves as either introverted or extroverted, we can simply ask ourselves, "What are we choosing to focus on right now, and is there balance between focus on ourselves and focus on others?" This is a universal tool for making meaning of the world and can help us when we are alone and together.

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