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I tend to get wrapped up in my own thoughts. A lot.

As in, I’ve gone on solo road trips and not even turned the radio on for hours. I’m very comfortable with silence.

Because of this, I’ve heard the same kinds of comments from people close to me for my whole life:

“You got really quiet all of a sudden. What’s going on?”

Or, “You have to tell me how you’re feeling — I can’t read your mind!”

Or, usually in an argument, “Are you even hearing me? Say something already!”

The strange thing is, anyone who knows me well will tell you that I can be chatty. I used to bring report cards home from school with all A’s and a little X-mark that said, “Talks to her friends too much in class.”

And if you’ve ever listened to our podcast, I think it’s pretty clear that talking — sometimes ad nauseam — about something I care deeply about is certainly not an issue of mine!

So what’s going on? Why is it that I can be so talkative sometimes, and so quiet and pensive other times?

It took me a long time to figure this out (and a lot of seeing similar patterns in people I coach), but it turns out it has everything to do with how I process thoughts, feelings, and information.

Most people in my life — my closest friends, and most of my family members, too — are external processors. Me, on the other hand? I’m an internal processor.

HOW TO TELL IF YOU’RE AN INTERNAL PROCESSOR

Internal processing means that, when you have a lot on your mind — maybe you have a big decision to make, or you’re having a strong emotional reaction, or you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed with everything going on in your life — you’re more likely to turn inward, into your own mind and emotions, rather than outward to the people in your life, to get clarity.

Here are some telltale signs to help you determine if you’re an internal processor, like me:

HERE ARE SOME IMPORTANT THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND IF YOU’RE AN INTERNAL PROCESSOR:

HOW TO BEST COMMUNICATE WITH OTHERS WHEN YOU’RE AN INTERNAL PROCESSOR

HOW TO TELL IF YOU’RE AN EXTERNAL PROCESSOR

External processing, on the other hand, means that in order to understand how you feel about something, you prefer to talk it out with someone else — or even yourself! When you try to organize your thoughts in your mind, it feels like one big jumble; however, when you can talk it out, everything tends to get much clearer.

Here are some telltale signs to help you determine if you’re an external processor:

HERE ARE SOME IMPORTANT THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND IF YOU’RE AN EXTERNAL PROCESSOR:

HOW TO BEST COMMUNICATE WITH OTHERS WHEN YOU’RE AN EXTERNAL PROCESSOR

COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS

There are so many misconceptions about internal and external processors that cause people to reject their own internal wiring, so I want to clear a few things up.

First of all, there’s no such thing as an “ideal” processing style — one is not better than the other. They’re simply different, and both have their benefits and challenges.

Also, internal vs. external processing is not the same as introversion vs. extroversion, although there may be some overlap. On the surface, it may seem like introverts are internal processors and extroverts are external processors, but that’s not always true. Introversion/Extroversion has more to do with where you get energy (alone or from others), while your processing style is about how you understand your inner world, as well as the world around you.

Lastly, being an external processor doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re loud or opinionated or super confident. Just because you’re sharing your thoughts out loud, doesn’t mean you’re totally sure of everything you’re saying. In fact, you might be talking something out precisely because you’re still uncertain about how you feel.

Just like being an internal processor doesn’t mean that you’re quiet, not opinionated, or slow. It just means you need space and alone time to get clear on how you’re feeling and what you need to do, and once you figure it out you might become very opinionated and talkative.

WHAT’S YOUR PROCESSING STYLE?

So tell me, which kind of processor are you? What are some ways you’ve found to work with your processing style, instead of against it? Share with me, in the comments!

Much Love,

Kristen (& Rachel)


IF YOU LIKED THIS, YOU’LL ALSO LOVE…

Are you a tortoise or a hare? (October 2019)

How to tell, once and for all, if you’re an introvert or an extrovert (February 2019)

Exploring the 16 personality types with Leslie McDaniel (August 2018)

Emotional constipation with Joanna Platt (April 2018)

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8 comments | add a comment | Share this > Tweet this > Email this >
  1. I’m definitely an external processor: I need to talk through my issues before I can deal with them, otherwise my thoughts are a jumbled mess! I’ve embraced it over the years; I tell people all the time- if you hear me talking to myself I’m just thinking aloud!

  2. I could have written the portion on internal processing. That’s me completely- every bit of it. I’m learning to ask for time instead of pressuring myself to respond before I’m ready, though it’s hard to get people to understand and wait sometimes. I love this- it helps provide the words to explain to others how my mind works. Thanks!

    1. Glad this resonated with you, Natalie! I love helping out my fellow internal processors, because you’re right, a lot of people don’t really understand it. I’m happy to hear you’re giving yourself more processing time, and I hope this helps you communicate your needs better to other people. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I’m more of an internal processor, but I could say I’m a mix of both. But sometimes I try to discern the reason why I am leaning towards internal processing. It may be inherent, but I feel that it could also be prompted by past experiences or life stories I heard–which made me more wary of the insidiousness or malignant tendencies of humans (and that’s me included). Did I just sound like a cynic? ^^; Anyway, great post. Your blogs are wonderfully reflective.

    1. What an interesting point, Kat! I do think that sometimes we’ll tend toward one type of processing over the other, not because it’s our inherent nature, but because that’s what was modeled or taught was “right” in past circumstances. A good question to ask yourself is what’s your preferred processing type (vs. what you tend to do more often). That might shine a little more light on it. Thanks for sharing that great perspective!

  4. I am an introvert but I think I am an external processor. I often talk out loud about what I am thinking even by myself. When I am in a disagreement with someone sometimes I have to think about it but others I want to talk it out with the other person. I often find myself feeling the need to share what I have been thinking all alone by myself with another person. I find those things interesting and I also want to know how my thoughts translate to another human. Am I crazy? Does this make sense? Is it worth thinking about?
    I to think I am introverted in that my energy and peace is found alone but I eventually need to tell someone about my thoughts.

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