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Shying Away from New Experiences: Is It Introversion, Or Is It Fear?

Imagine that you're home one night, happily puttering around the house, when your best friend calls and says, "We're going skiing on Saturday. I know you've never tried it. Want to come along?"

If you're an introvert, you'll probably say no, and maybe that's a good decision. But maybe it isn't. It all depends on why you're saying no.

If you decline the invitation simply because you need some time alone, that's a smart move. As an introvert, you recharge your batteries by turning inward. So a noisy skiing lodge, packed with people you don't know, might not be just the ticket after a long week at work.

But here's the thing: Introverts don't always turn down invitations to new activities because they prefer peace and quiet. Sometimes, they say no because they're scared.

Anyone can be afraid of trying new things, but this mindset is a bigger problem for introverts than it is for extroverts. There are several reasons:

  • Introverts' nervous systems are extra-sensitive to stimuli, so new activities can overwhelm them.

  • Introverts tend to be deep thinkers, so they weigh all the risks of a new activity as well as the benefits.

  • Introverts tend to be a little pessimistic, so they often expect the worst from any new venture.

So even if you've always wanted to try skiing, you may be afraid to say yes. But that's a problem, because you'll miss out on an experience that could be tons of fun. And if you keep saying no to new activities because of fear, you'll cheat yourself out of lots of other great times.

So here's a better approach. When someone suggests a new activity, go ahead and say no if you're really not interested. But if you do want to try the activity, then stifle the urge to say no out of fear. Instead, acknowledge your fear . . . and then say yes. This approach is a very powerful and proven psychological technique.

Here's how to reframe a new experience in your mind so you can see it as an opportunity rather than a threat:

  • Consider the risks and ask yourself, "What's the worst that could happen?" For example, you might sprain an ankle on the bunny slope. You might find out you hate skiing. Or you might not have enough down time to recharge your batteries before work on Monday.

  • Now, ask yourself, "Could I handle these worst-case scenarios?" Odds are you'll feel less fearful when you realize that you can cope if things go wrong.

  • Next, think of all of the great things that might happen if you say yes. For example, maybe you'll meet your soul mate in the ski lodge, discover that you love skiing, or simply have fun sipping hot chocolate by a roaring fire.

  • Finally, visualize yourself having fun. In your mind's eye, see yourself successfully zipping down the bunny slope.

As you face your fear, be aware that your goal isn't to eliminate it. That's because the more you try to deny your fear, the stronger it'll get. Instead, work on growing your comfort zone. The bigger you can make that comfort zone, the less scared — and more excited — you'll be about trying new things.

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