Today’s global crisis can actually teach us how to be better introverts.
I used to muse about the odd thrill of the world “shutting down.” Now, it’s actually here. The coronavirus has leveled social expectations, doling out the same fate to millions around the world. It’s herded everyone, like a giant broom, into their homes.
Truly, I never thought I’d see the day when “social distancing” became not just the norm but an actual government mandate! That said, it’s posing a challenge for many people — not just extroverts. In fact, some of us introverts, initially eager for mass isolation, are beginning to see its appeal fade.
Perhaps you’ve gained a new appreciation for the trappings of an extrovert’s world now that you’re not even allowed its crumbs. Perhaps you’ve grown disillusioned with your own company. Perhaps you’ve even found that you’re loafing around the house more than you’d like, or that your productivity standards have lost their footing because you don’t have to “show up” in the same way for the outside world.
Or maybe you’ve found yourself becoming disillusioned with your identity as an introvert, wondering if you’re betraying your deepest self by secretly admitting that quarantine can be hard, that the fantasy of social isolation can lose its luster.
The good news is that this unusual time in history — with its extreme deviation from normal life — offers us an opportunity to learn how to embrace our introverted traits to the fullest extent. Sure, we might learn to appreciate the contrast that the “extrovert world” brings to the table. But more importantly, today’s crisis can actually teach us how to be better introverts.
Here are three things introverts have always secretly craved from the world, and that we’ve now been handed on a silver platter. It’s up to us to savor the moment for what it offers (and maybe do some self-improvement in the process) before the world churns back to life once again.
3 Things Introverts Crave (That Are Here Now)
1. Owning Your Calendar
The stifling pressure of calendar events has utterly evaporated for most of us. We’ve all lost activities outside the house that bring joy and meaning. But haven’t we, as self-proclaimed homebodies, routinely declared just how well we’d function if shut inside our rooms, with most of the things that keep us happy at our disposal? Well, the time has arrived to test that hypothesis.
With many local governments mandating “stay at home” policies, calendars as we know them have changed. Weeks feel absurdly long and somehow congealed in their uniformity. If one thing’s for sure, we now have more ownership over our time. How liberating!
But do you actually know what to do with that autonomy?
The Introvert’s Dream…or Nightmare?
As any introvert knows, this seemingly endless stretch of freedom can be bliss. Many of us may find, however, that initial thrill starting to wane, which isn’t really surprising given that — introvert or not — the psychological effect of giving someone all the candy in the candy store means it doesn’t feel very special to eat candy anymore. Some of the pleasure inevitably drains away.
We aren’t accustomed to getting the world we secretly want. Modern life, after all, runs on “extrovert energy.” In some ways, we may not be sure what to do with our newfound freedom, lacking the ability to harness its potential because we’re running high on anxiety over our finances and health. But as introverts, we have a leg up on how to make the most of our present fate.
Embrace This Time
Weighed down by the sudden additional demands of childcare — or the hustle to replace lost income — not all of us have this extra time. But for those of us who do, the truth is that having greater personal ownership over it (less of it dictated by the demands of the outside world) requires that we kick the personal discipline up a notch. Get clear with yourself about what you want to do.
Do you have any creative projects that you’ve been wanting to work on for a while? Are there organizational tasks taking up space on a mental to-do list? Do you need to take this time to realign your priorities, or is it possible that you simply need to relax? Sometimes, the best thing you can do for yourself is to simply be.
And no, that doesn’t translate to being lazy. It’s about recuperation.
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2. A Slower Pace of Life
For many of us, the world moves fast. A brisk and busy life doesn’t sustain us — rather, it drains us. Is it any wonder that we have urges to retreat from a fast, loud world that never seems to stop? But now that a slower pace of life is here for many of us, how do we adjust?
Enjoy ‘Me Time’
I’ve been mindfully trying to lean into this new, leisurely pace. I meander around the house. Sometimes I lay on the floor. Absent of anywhere important to be, childish curiosities start to brim: pondering, for example, the weird marvel that is our solar system. I sit for long periods of time in my chair with a book or my laptop, the bedroom window cracked open an inch, even in chilly weather. It’s just enough to hear the wind whipping around the corners of the house and the birds trilling in the trees.
Enjoy Family Time
I spend more time with my family and our cats. The cats — all three of them — somehow become creatures worthy of intense study once the world has been filtered down to the domestic. Their daily patterns of window-gazing, of house-pacing, and of needing affection suddenly make me attuned to a smaller, more humble plane of life. Quiet details become of interest — in fact, they become wholly absorbing.
Enjoy Intentional Moments
Every one of us is finding the slower pace of life a strange departure from what we’re accustomed to. Even if some of us have secretly wished for it and now enjoy it to a degree, the reality might seem far different than our fantasies. It’s one thing to pine for it, but another thing entirely when it unexpectedly shows up on our doorstep.
Do we know how to nourish it? That’s the real test. The good news is, learning to value the slow pace of life — without feeling needled with restlessness or distraction — can feel like sinking into a warm bath. It has therapeutic potential.
Savor the sacred hush of a pared-down life. As the British writer William Morris once put it, “The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.” If you have a reflective side, revel in it. Try to break up those “disciplined” periods of time that I recommended earlier with equally intentional moments of observant calm.
Being sealed off from the outside world — even if that’s with a pack of unruly kids or a partner puttering around — you’re still likely to have more pockets of solitude at your disposal than usual. As introverts, we like our own company, but we’re still human. No matter what, we can crave distractions from our own minds and become uncomfortable and restless when confronted with more solitude than our usual dosage.
The novelist John Gardner puts it beautifully, writing, “We can keep ourselves so busy, fill our lives with so many diversions, stuff our heads with so much knowledge, involve ourselves with so many people and cover so much ground that we never have time to probe the fearful and wonderful world within. […] By middle life most of us are accomplished fugitives from ourselves.”
Grateful for Solitude
The lesson? Appreciate the solitude. Push back against the mental discomfort — if some exists. Use this time as an opportunity to probe for anxieties to work through and desires to strive towards. Get in touch with an inner voice you may have abandoned.
Know this: Liking to spend time by yourself is different from liking to spend time with yourself. The former applies to all introverts by default, the latter is more conditional and rare. Regardless, we all have something to gain from solitude — clarity, vision, peace. Solitude can both clear and heal.
In an age of social distancing, what we’re experiencing could be framed as an introvert renaissance — though one forged by unique, unforeseen, and unfortunate circumstances. But it won’t last forever. Let’s take this opportunity to make the most of it and appreciate a greater degree of ownership over our own calendar, a slower pace of life, and the beauty of solitude.
Enjoy your moment, introverts!