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The Introvert's Guide to Getting in Shape
I am an introvert–and I’m quite content with this fact–but a lot of my introverted comrades aren’t.
Many think something is wrong with them, largely because our culture holds “the extrovert ideal” in high esteem, says Susan Cain in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts. Extroverts are viewed as healthier, happier, and more successful.
But here’s the thing: both introverts and extroverts have unique skills they can use to maximize their health and happiness.
Several years ago, I discovered how to apply my strengths as an introvert to my health. If you’re an introvert and you’re struggling to get healthy, these are some strategies that will help you.
Eating healthy for introverts.
Research shows that an introvert’s brain is wired differently. We have more gray matter in our prefrontal cortex–the area of the brain that’s associated with abstract thought and decision-making. This helps explain why introverts devote more brain power to analysis, while extroverts tend to live in the moment.
Introverts are masters at processing, digesting, and analyzing data. But many don’t use this skill to their advantage.
If you’re an introvert and you’re not as healthy as you want to be, start by using your brain.
Read, research, write, explore, listen, reflect, meditate, design, think.
Eating healthy starts with learning how to eat healthy.
Mindful eating is a proven technique you can use to eat healthier, and can be a great place to start.
Step one to eat more mindfully: plan for the worst.
In the world of psychology, this is called an implementation intention. Here’s how it works: if you know a situation is coming up where you might be prone to eat and/or drink too much (a friend’s birthday party, for example), write or state your back-up plan beforehand:
“When I encounter ______, I will _____.”
Here are some examples:
- “When I go out to eat tonight, I will order a salad and skip dessert.”
- “When I go grocery shopping, I won’t buy any soda.”
- “When someone offers me pizza, I’ll politely decline.”
Implementation intentions are effective for introverts because they give clear instructions on what to do when your willpower muscle goes limp. Research proves they can help you make healthier decisions and stick with your goals.
Spend time thinking through your goals and preparing for challenges, and you’ll give yourself an edge.
One strategy I use and recommend: keep checklists. In the book Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard, Dan and Chip Heath say checklists help you avoid “blind spots in a complex environment,” provide insurance against overconfidence, and make big screw-ups less likely.
In The Checklist Manifesto, surgeon Atul Gawande says:
“Good checklists…are precise. They are efficient, to the point, and easy to use even in the most difficult situations. They do not try to spell out everything–a checklist cannot fly a plane. Instead, they provide reminders of only the most critical and important steps–the ones that even the highly skilled professional using them could miss.”
Exercise for introverts.
Several years ago, I stopped going to the gym and started working out at home instead. The environment was too over-stimulating for my introverted brain to handle.
Loud, crappy music. Crowded spaces. Hundreds of people.
I found a way to exercise that worked for my personality. I started lifting weights and boxing at home in my basement. My wife and I go for walks or bike rides on the trails by our house. And now I work out 5-6 days a week and I absolutely love it.
The lesson here is simple: if you’re an introvert and you hate going to the gym or to group classes, stop going. Introverts thrive in quiet, minimally stimulating environments.
I’m all about challenging yourself and getting out of your comfort zone, but doing stuff you hate is unsustainable. When it comes to exercise, forming habits is vital. And to form habits, you need to find something you actually enjoy doing.
Exercise in an environment that matches your personality type. Try working out at home, outside, or in smaller groups. You’ll save money on gym fees. You’ll stop dreading going to the gym. And you’ll increase your odds of developing healthy exercise habits.
As an introvert, you have natural talents most extroverts lack.
Don’t waste them.
Use the power of your inquisitive mind to help you form healthy habits that last a lifetime.
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