It’s not easy to be an extrovert in college.
An extrovert myself, I know exactly how hard it is to lock yourself in your room for hours, attempting to write 2,000 words on the metaphorical significance of Beowulf when you can’t focus to save your life.
You want to be out where the people are, where exciting things are happening! But you also want to pass British Lit.
The struggle is real, my friends. That’s why I wrote this little blog.
Studying doesn’t always come naturally to the extroverted student, but you can use your strengths as an extrovert to create a productive (read: boredom-free) study environment, instead of fighting against yourself for hours on end.
So without further ado, here are some cool insights I recently learned about extroversion, plus some of my personal tips for surviving college as an extrovert.
The Extroverted Mind
Do you know what “extrovert” means? The common answer is “someone who likes people,” and yes, that’s true to an extent. But there’s more to it than that.
Extroverts are people who feel energized when around other people or when participating in highly stimulating activities, and anxious when they’re left alone—aka bored—for too long. Kinda like a vampire… but you can still go out in the sun. (So maybe not like a vampire at all, come to think of it.)
Because of this natural tendency toward external stimulation, locking an extrovert in their room for an 8-hour study day is just a recipe for frustration, angst, and zero actual productivity.
This isn’t because we’re weird or “less smart” than our introverted cohorts. As it turns out, there are actually some biological explanations for why we extroverts can struggle with traditional study methods.
Our Brains are a Little Different
According to a study by a Harvard psychologist, people who identify as extroverts have thinner gray matter in certain areas of their prefrontal cortexes (as opposed to those identifying as introverts).
“Okay,” you might be thinking “I was terrible in biology… the prefrontal whaa?”
Let me break it down for you:
The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is the part of your brain that’s right behind your forehead. It has a variety of functions: complex planning, coordinating and adjusting complex behavior, focusing and organizing your attention, and prioritizing simultaneous competing information (i.e. deciding what distractions to ignore).
If your eyes glazed over while reading that list, just remember that the PFC is associated with abstract thought and decision-making.
Gray matter is the dark tissue that’s mostly made of nerve cells and branching dendrites, like neurons. (You know, those magical cells that help you think.)
So now let’s go back to the beginning: Randy Buckner, the Harvard psychologist, postulated that extroverts have thinner gray matter (i.e. fewer nerve cells) in their prefrontal cortexes than introverts. He believes this difference indicates that extroverts devote fewer neural resources to abstract pondering than their fellow introverts.
This could be one reason we extroverts are less inclined to consider the metaphorical significance of Beowulf just for fun.
But wait, there’s more! Researchers also believe that “extroverts tend to associate feelings of reward with their immediate environment.” This means extroverts look to their external environment for reward, joy, or security, unlike their fellow introverts who seem to find most of these things within themselves. (Must be all that abstract pondering.)
This reward feeling has been linked to the neurotransmitter dopamine and how our brains respond to it. Dopamine helps control the brain’s pleasure and reward centers. And it just so happens that extroverts tend to react more strongly to it than introverts do.
This extreme reaction encourages us to seek external rewards, anything from climbing the social ladder to taking spontaneous road trips to pursuing a high-profile project at work. Struggling through a Middle English poem about an ugly man-beast just won’t cut it.
Does this make extroverts flighty, shallow, or in any way “less smart” than introverts? Absolutely not. It simply means we need to throw in an extra dose of creativity to make it through our much-needed study times without pulling our hair out.
Building the Perfect Extroverted Study Environment
When I was a student, I learned that, yeah, I could totally sit still and work on a project or paper for reasonable stretches of time. But if I didn’t get up, move around, or change my study spot regularly I would get bored and distracted. Hello Facebook, goodbye precious study time.
I also discovered that I memorized facts and information better when I was moving. I often paced my apartment, reciting my flashcards as if I was a professor lecturing a class. I’m sure my neighbors hated me, but it worked.
The simple act of walking back and forth across a 500 sq ft space while reciting out loud engaged my body along with my mind. It was enough to make my study time interesting without distracting me completely.
That’s your golden ticket.
In my opinion, the perfect extroverted study routine is one that engages multiple senses. This means making either your environment or your studies more engaging than just sitting in a room. In silence. Staring at a page. For hours.
You have to find a way to engage, or you just won’t focus.
15 Practical Ideas for an Engaging Environment
Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of ways to make your studies more engaging. Your routine will look different than mine. In fact, your routine may look different from one day to the next.
Don’t waste time finding your one “perfect” method. Just pick an idea you haven’t tried before (or haven’t tried in a while), and get started.
Here are a few ideas to give you a jumpstart when it comes to staying sane while crushing your studies. (This is by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully it will be enough to kick you out of your rut and just get started.)
- Schedule a social event to look forward to. Knowing your grade-mandated isolation will come to an end makes it easier to focus.
- Bring your books to a coffee shop (or your favorite public hangout) and enjoy the bustle in the background while you work.
- Get comfortable. If you’re hungry, tired, cold, etc. you’ll be far too distracted to learn anything.
- Teach other people what you’re studying. Or learn with a friend!
- If you don’t have a friend to study with, find an online study group. (The Unbound community is full of ‘em.)
- Make it a game. Give yourself study goals and challenges, like memorizing a fact in record time.
- Add some pressure by setting a short deadline.
- Read out loud (even if you’re studying solo).
- Don’t sit still—try studying on a treadmill or just getting up to walk every 30 minutes
- Listen to upbeat music.
- Take lots of small breaks. Get a snack, wash a dish, or do some other odd job that doesn’t involve your brain too much.
- Apply your studies to your everyday life. Making it practical makes it interesting.
- Get interested in your topic. If you want to learn, you’ll have no problem staying engaged.
- Customize your study space. Make it interesting, comfortable, and so completely “you” that you just LOVE to being there.
- Change your routine. Often the simple act of change itself is enough to re-engage and knock out some solid study hours.
Extroverts are awesome. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
I know we sometimes get a bad rap. We’re called “shallow party people,” and we can feel stupid or jealous when we have trouble diving into our studies. But that’s just because we have our own strengths (that many introverts are jealous of as well, I might add).
Take it from an extrovert who’s felt the pain: stop fighting against yourself. Get creative, find your favorite study tricks now, and knock that degree out of the park.
You got this!
What’s your favorite study tip? Leave a comment and let us know! We’d love to hear from you!
Emily loves business and marketing. To prove it, she graduated Unbound with a marketing BA, joined the Unbound marketing team, and runs a small business on the side! For fun, she likes to cook, ski, and collect vinyls.Read more by Emily