Photo Credit: Jon Fife
I’ve always liked silence and solitude. Being alone in the company of a good book, or the wanderings of my own thoughts has always been my way of recharging myself and making sense of the world within me and around me.
However, it does seem that in our day and age, it is getting harder and harder to do so. As a society we worship extroversion, speed and noise. We admire people who grab attention and consider them to be more competent, while we judge the quiet ones as painfully shy, or label them with newfound disorders.
This is an outright injustice to over a third of humanity. Yes, introverts are by no means a minority, and yet the prejudices against our type make us close down in our quarters and make little noise about it. In fact, we often lose touch with who we are and fail to bring out what is best in us by trying to conform to a world that prizes extroversion.
However, studies show that an introvert’s ability to reflect is a strength that we could all do more of in the growing complexity of our lives. Evolutionary biologist David Wilson says that it is the quiet observers in a population that ensure its survival. Hasty action can lead to behaviors we regret, not only in our own lives, but in relationships and at work, while reflection allows us to see the world from many perspectives and build a conscience through empathy and humility.
Quiet time is also time to digest information thoroughly and come up with creative ways to solve problems. No wonder then that that some of the greatest minds of our civilization, from Darwin to Einstein, and from Eleanor Roosevelt to J.K. Rowling have been introverts. Introversion is not only normal, it is valuable.
So what are some of the ways we can stay true to who we are and allow ourselves to show up fully in the world?
Humans yearn happiness. And yet, society’s definition of happiness is often associated with the dopamine highs of joy and exuberance. Introverts rarely feel this way, partly because our neural pathways are not as strong, and partly because we tend to stay away from over-stimulating environments that drain us. We experience happiness through moments of transcendence as in Flow, the mental zone when we are so engrossed in what we’re doing that time seems to stop and nothing else matters. We also experience happiness in helping others in tough times through a shared melancholy – the recognition that life is short and fragile and that loss and yearning are all part of the game.
Introverts feel alive and energetic in quiet environments because our nervous systems react more to external stimuli. As a consequence, we need silence and solitude to recharge ourselves. However, quiet time does not necessarily mean downtime, because our minds are often busy reflecting and assimilating mental data into abstract concepts that help us make sense of the world. This is exhausting and can lead to burn out. To truly recharge, give your brain a rest by simply smelling the roses or staring out the window at a cloud.
Find Your Sweet Spot
Introverts are not averse to socializing. We simply need less of it. Each person varies in the amount of stimulation that leads to optimal energy, so find your own balance of being around people and reverting to a quiet corner. After all, humans are social animals, and lack of social stimulation can lead to depressive symptoms. But there are many ways of building social interaction into our lives other than becoming a party animal. One on one conversations are great ways to connect, as is social media, especially when it is around a cause you are passionate about.
Its not easy to thrive as an introvert in a extroverted world. Author Susan Cain, says that many introverts become ‘pseudo extroverts’ in an effort to fit in. Although this in not terrible in itself, given that stretching ourselves and stepping outside of our comfort zones is always a good thing, it should not at the expense of appreciating what is truly valuable about being an introvert.
For it is in this appreciation that we rise as our best possible selves and find the true happiness that lies in success and fulfillment.
I am a women’s leadership coach, a positive psychology practitioner and a cognitive behavioral therapist. I inspire women to become leaders of their own selves in order to become leaders in relationships, at work and in life. I do this by empowering them with the skills of self-awareness and emotional regulation that help them grow through the constraints of everyday lives towards the energized pursuit of meaningful goals.