If you’re anything like my introverted husband, top of your self-exploration list is “how can I better balance my energy needs?”
What rejuvenates you will change from life season to life season. Exactly how much alone time (“introvert time” in our household) you need on a regular basis will also fluctuate. But your temperament will always be introverted, so managing your alone time vs. people time will always be a thing [Extroverts: read here on How to Love An Introvert].
Here are some introvert energy management tips that my husband and I have stumbled upon via trial and error:
- Determine your needed “buffer time” between social events — This will always be nuanced (like all balancing acts), but, for example, my husband’s current rule is a solid day of no social activity to separate events: e.g dinner with friends on Thursday, nothing on Friday, go dancing on Saturday, etc. Whatever works for you, own it! honor it! “Buffer time” is an important introvert boundary. Know what certain hours of the day that you don’t want to interact with others. Know if you can text or email even when you can’t talk on the phone or be face-to-face. Know who are those people who cost you more energy (requiring longer buffer times before and after interacting with them). Discover your buffer time rules (and exceptions) for yourself — anything goes!
- “Big-batch” everything — Just about nothing is worse for an introvert than being interrupted. It’s hard to get into zone and easy to get pulled out of it. The simplest and shortest of interruptions when an introvert is trying to focus — on work or play — can then prevent him from fully getting back into the zone for 20+ minutes (<– next to incomprehensible to an extrovert). My husband carefully crafts his day so that he has chunks of several hours during which to work, then other large chunks of time for the pursuit of hobbies, chores, time with me, etc. Whereas extroverts often love popping back and forth between activities and love little breaks sprinkled throughout any project from creative writing to washing the dishes, this approach to productivity is a nightmare for introverts.
- Embrace ‘doing less’ than extroverts — To each his own and introverts don’t often perform well if they have too many irons in the fire. Extroverts claim to be stupendous multi-taskers and tend to pursue multiple projects and hobbies simultaneously. I won’t argue here about whether one approach is ‘better’ than the other, but suffice it to say that introverts are typically overwhelmed by doing little bits of a lot of things at once — they prefer to do a lot of a few things at a time. For example, my husband currently has one big work project (naturally with lots of small details) and one hobby he’s dedicated to. Anything more would be experienced as a distraction for him and prevent him from doing his best with any one thing.
- Discover your daily “sacred time” — My husband’s sacrosanct time of day is first thing in the morning. Generally, he’s an incredibly loving, helpful, and otherwise pleasant person; but WOE to those (<– me) who attempt to say anything more than ‘good morning’ before he’s enjoyed his morning walk routine. He makes his coffee, plays a podcast (or few) and walks on a nature trail for up to 1.5 hrs. After this, he immediately launches into the most productive time of his day for the next 3 hours. During this whole time, we both do our utmost to pretend as if I’m invisible. 😉 He wears noise-cancelling headphones, stays behind shut doors, and I try my best to not bother him with anything short of ‘the house is on fire’ (which thankfully doesn’t happen often). Whatever is THE best part of the day for you, save it for yourself — first for some activity that is recharging, then for your highest work production. Afterwards, rather than others ‘getting leftovers’, you’ll be able to offer to them your emotionally balanced self, ready to fully and happily engage because your energy tank is full. Everyone wins.
- Clearly communicate your energy needs — Chances are high that you’re partnered with someone more extroverted than you are (even if s/he is also technically an introvert — it’s all relative). It could be easy for others to be hurt by your needs if they don’t understand them. Take the time to spell out your various parameters and work together with others to balance your conflicting needs. For example, as an extrovert, I have much higher needs for social activity than my husband. Naturally, I’d wish that he could do everything with me since he’s my best friend. But we know that’s not possible, so we pick and choose very carefully which activities he’ll do with me and which I’ll do alone or with a friend. My husband (and every other introvert I know) also needs his own space and protects it with a ferocity the average extrovert can scarcely understand. We all often don’t truly know what our boundaries are until they feel violated, so the conflict that comes from trial and error is fairly inevitable — but with empathetic communication skills, a couple can work through anything!
- Declare “Emergency Introvert Time” when needed — In an ideal world, your energy levels would never get so unbalanced, but this is life and it happens. If you get so dangerously low that you can’t simply “recharge” (<– doing solo activities from hiking to reading to video games or whatever) but you actually need to “recover” first (<– think ‘stare at a blank wall in utter silence until you have enough energy to even think about recharging’), it’s time for more extreme measures. In our household, it’s sufficient for my husband to recharge simply by being alone and uninterrupted in a given room. When he needs to recover first, I leave the house so that he can have a wider berth and not need to even worry about hearing the footsteps of another person. So, Emergency Introvert Time is “sacred time/space” in hyperdrive. If you can well balance your energy needs most of the time, this won’t happen often; but don’t be afraid to ask to have your needs met, no matter how ‘extreme’. A supportive partner will have your back both out of love for you and out of self-preservation (<– a stressed out introverted partner having an low-energy meltdown is no one’s idea of a good time).
- Structure your life — Underpinning the previous points, too, is the your deep need for a high level of stability. You thrive on structure, routine, and predictability due to your highly socially (if not also in other ways) sensitive nature. No interruptions, no distractions, no surprises, etc. You’re super-fun people — it’s just generally better for fun to be planned so you can be energetically prepared in advance vs. potentially running on fumes when your partner throws you that surprise destination birthday party with 40 people (<– they just shouldn’t do that anyway). Find your sweet spot of daily routines and carefully craft any time away from home so that you can still honor your ‘sacred time’ (<– don’t forget some form of ‘sacred space’, too). On a macro level, seek to minimize being bombarded with too much uncertainty or change at once (<– don’t have a baby, move, and switch jobs at the same time like we’re currently doing … yikes!).
- Love your introversion — Easier said than done, from what I hear; but remember that there are trade-offs for everything (being extroverted is no walk in the park either). While I know it sometimes sucks to feel so “fragile” and you wish you could just “take an extroversion pill”, you introverts have huge potential for all sorts of greatness IF you’re willing to own your temperament’s limitations and stop hating on yourselves for not being extroverted (<– I understand that a very extroverted society doesn’t exactly encourage the empathetic embrace of introversion, but the word is getting out there that “different is just different” and that you introverts are actually pretty darn cool, so hang in there!). Personally, I am incredibly inspired by my husband’s level of discipline and ability to intently focus (<– sometimes I think having ADD or ADHD is a pre-requisite for being an extrovert). I have no idea if there’s research to back this up, but in my own experience with many introverts, you seem to have incredible memory capacity (<– whereas extroverts are often more like goldfish). Again purely anecdotal, but I think you also tend to make fewer, less serious mistakes because of your internal processing power — you can map out different options in your heads whereas extroverts learn experientially. There’s way more to love about being an introvert, but that’s a good start.
- Stop wasting energy on self-consciousness — OK, so one minor way that you could work at being a little more like the stereotypical extrovert: don’t worry quite so much about what others think of you! I grant you that some level of self-consciousness is necessary for civil society, since it underpins good manners, etc.; but I’ve been consistently shocked by how much energy introverts seem to invest in trying to puzzle out what others think of them (<– generally involving a heckuva lot of projection and overarching pessimism). If you think others think you’re socially awkward or superior or cold or whatever, chances are that’s how you’ll behave — then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, try taking a page from this extrovert’s book and assume in social situations that others think you’re engaging, smart, interesting, funny, empathetic and otherwise best-friend-material (<– because, hello, you are!) and just relax. You and everyone else will have a much better time (<– and you’ll be a lot less anxious beforehand / exhausted afterward).
All right, introverts! Those are tips from an extrovert married to an introvert … how did I do? Do you agree / disagree? What did I miss? Please share your own insights!