6 things that motivate introverts the most, according to psychology

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What motivates introverts?

While extroverts are more motivated by external factors such as rewards, recognition, and out-competing others, the same can’t be said for people whose attention is turned more inward.

Are they looking for at least some of the same things?

Well, they’re not aliens, so while introverts may be different from extroverts, they still have the same basic human needs as everyone else. 

At the same time, the things they want out of life are somewhat different and might not always be clear.

But if you’re a friend, relative, or boss of an introvert, or even if you’re one yourself, knowing what they might strive toward can be a real plus.

This is where we need to consult the experts – psychologists who’ve studied introverts and can help us to understand them.

So here are six things that motivate introverts the most, according to psychology.

1) Social contact

Surprised?

I have to admit that I was, too, when I read this article about introvert motivation.

You see, I thought I understood what it meant to be an introvert because I am one.

However, I realized that many people, myself included, misunderstand what introversion means.

There are certainly some incredibly shy and hermitic introverts out there, but being a loner and rejecting social contact isn’t normal for most introverts.

Instead, they simply want to stand out less, have less of the spotlight shone on them, and feel less social pressure.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t seek out opportunities to socialize. It normally just means that they get tired from too much socializing, and “too much” is different for everyone.

Personally, I like to go out and meet people quite often.

It’s definitely something that motivates me, except for when I’m feeling worn out physically and/or mentally. 

That’s exactly when I need to stay in and recharge my batteries, while extroverts might go out and meet people to build their energy back up.

2) Time to process information

One of the classic TV tropes for introverts is a shy, quiet kid who gets bullied at school.

He gets surrounded by other kids who hurl insults and abuse at him, and yet he isn’t able to speak up and respond to defend himself. 

Like most tropes, this one doesn’t come out of nowhere but actually from a good understanding of human behavior. If it has been used to death, that’s only because there’s a lot to it.

One 2008 study showed how this plays a part in processing speeds.

It turns out that introverts really do need more time to process information, and that can make them slower to respond, speak their minds, or leap into action than extroverts.

The benefits of slower processing are also clear.

Extroverts tend to be higher in impulsivity than introverts which suggests that introverts are practicing deeper thinking before they act.

Since this is something that introverts do anyway, it shouldn’t be a surprise that they appreciate being given time and space to do their thinking without excessive pressure.

In other words, rushing an introvert is the exact opposite of what you should do if you want to motivate them. 

3) Individual interventions

Renowned American psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman standardized some interventions for people who are battling unhappiness to use to improve their lives. 

When an expert like Seligman, who was once president of the American Psychological Association, tells us about some interventions that work, we should listen.

In 2012, researchers decided to study these interventions to see what measurable effects they have on well-being and, specifically, whether they have different effects for extroverts and introverts.

The results were that all five of Seligman’s interventions the researchers tested showed at least some positive effects on people’s happiness.

However, there were differences for introverts.

It’s well documented that introverts have lower positive affect and levels of well-being than extroverts, and that’s why the researchers suspected that different interventions might fit introverts better.

They were right.

They found that Seligman’s ‘active-constructive responding,’ ‘3 things’, and ‘signature strength’ interventions helped introverts more than extroverts.

These activities include using a signature character strength in a new way, counting one’s blessings by thinking about three positive things that happened in the course of each day and responding in an active-constructive way (with interest and positivity) to people sharing good news. 

All three of these interventions require individual effort and opportunities to focus on them, but they show that when introverts do practice them, their lives and well-being really improve.

That’s motivating, isn’t it?

4) Autonomy

Most people are under the impression that introverts spend more time alone than extroverts due to preference.

And I have to admit that I thought the same thing, although it didn’t necessarily apply to me.

As I mentioned earlier, I still like to socialize a lot, but I also know that it can wear me out, especially when I’m already low on energy.

I’m happy enough to do a lot of activities on my own (I’m a writer, for example!), but I’m in no way antisocial.

So if it’s not being alone that introverts like, then why do they seem to do a lot of things on their own?

The answer seems to be autonomy, and this is something I can really relate to.

Ever since I was in school, I preferred studying on my own to group study.

And I liked doing my own work a lot more than working in groups.

And I think this preference for autonomy is something that a lot of introverts will recognize. 

Studies looking into independent or autonomous work have generally found that introverts have a higher preference for self-study and a slight advantage for starting self-directed learning.

Why might this be?

Research suggests that this can stem from introverts’ somewhat different mental processing that makes them more familiar and comfortable with independent thinking.

They often like to puzzle things out for themselves, while extroverts might be more inclined to ask for explanations and examples.

Whatever the reason, the bottom line is that introverts often prefer greater autonomy than extroverts and will look for this autonomy as a reward or a motivation.

5) A quiet, comfortable environment 

Extroverts seem to seek out more environmental stimulation than introverts. 

They might prefer noisy, exciting clubs to quieter, relaxing restaurants to do their socializing in.

That’s because introverts tend to take in more information from their environment and may struggle to process it effectively.

This is apparent even from a young age when extroverted and introverted children study in school. 

Introverted students have been found to be a lot more sensitive to environmental stimulation than extroverted students.

For this reason, they find louder, busier classrooms very difficult to focus in, and this can impede their learning.

On the flip side, extroverted students need more stimuli to get stimulated.

They appreciate louder volumes, brighter lights and colors, and faster action and can learn better in these environments. 

Of course, when these people grow up, the effects are still very much the same.

So, if you need to motivate an introvert, the last thing to do would be to pump the music and bring out the cheerleader squad.

That might work for extroverts, but introverts want spaces that are highly structured but quiet and peaceful where they can do their best work.

6) Privacy and personal space

As we already discussed, introverts aren’t always happy or willing to spend time on their own.

But while this is true, they do have a preference for autonomy in tasks, preferring to do some things on their own rather than in groups.

Introverts also value space that they can retreat to when they do find they need, rather than want, solitude to recharge.

They may also want this privacy to allow them to get away from sights and sounds that they might find overly stimulating.

One interesting study on gamers even found that while extroverted gamers like to play in groups or with an audience, introverted gamers are more inclined toward privacy in their games.

They preferred smaller, private, and more personal spaces.

If you have a private office up for grabs, it might be better to give it to an introverted employee so they can control their level of privacy and, therefore, be a more effective worker.

If you give it to an extrovert, they’ll probably just introduce an open-door policy anyway!

What motivates introverts?

Motivation is a tricky subject because you have to know who it is you’re trying to motivate and the kind of person they are.

The carrots you might dangle in from of an extrovert, like an award, a fancy title, or public recognition for a job well done, won’t necessarily work for introverts.

They’re more inclined to look for rewards that help them feel more comfortable.

By looking at these six things that motivate introverts the most according to psychology, I hope you can better understand your important introverts and what really makes them tick.

It’s probably not what you thought!

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