I am an introvert.
I first had the chance to really explore this aspect of myself when I was a doctoral student. I was explaining to a friend one day that whenever I entered my apartment building and there was someone standing waiting for the elevator, I would take the stairs (to the 7th floor). She asked why. I said, “I can’t do the small talk. I’d rather walk up 7 flights of stairs with 4 bags of groceries than struggle with the small talk.” My friend was also an introvert and we began sharing stories of our “introverted adventures” (often wondering why were excited to deliver a lecture to 100 students, but wanted to avoid a gathering of 20 people). We often wished we could be more like extroverts so we’d fit in better in the world.
Last year, I heard about Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. I couldn’t wait to get it. The book definitely represented my experiences as an introvert in many ways and reading it helped me better understand myself and the fact that I am not alone. Off and on, since reading her book, I’ve contemplated how being an introvert affects me in my work environment (the focus of her book), but also in my leisure. Then last week, I read a Huffington Post article, “23 Signs You’re Secretly an Introvert,” in which I identified with almost all the characteristics outlined. Once again, I found myself focusing on how being an introvert might influence the leisure choices and experiences. And so the stimulus for this blog post.
Introversion is often misunderstood – equated with being shy. They are not the same thing. Introverts enjoy as well as energize and recharge from that alone time. People who are shy don’t necessarily desire to be alone, rather, they are afraid of interacting with others. While extroverts gain energy from being around others and being social, introverts find their energy gets zapped after too much time around people and particularly large crowds. We prefer time one-on-one or with small groups of close friends. We like our solitude – opportunities to process information, think, and reflect. We can get easily distracted and overwhelmed in environments with an a lot of stimulation (e.g., noise, lights, music, talking). Extroverts can misunderstand an introvert’s desire for time alone as him/her being anti-social or depressed. But again, this is simply not the case.
So, how can being an introvert influence one’s leisure? After considering my own experiences and reading various other people’s accounts of their experiences as introverts, there seems to be some possible patterns in the leisure of introverts.
- may have low motivation or drive to participate in social leisure experiences (e.g., may prefer to decline invitations to parties with large groups; may be disinterested in experiences that will involve large crowds)
- are more likely to enjoy leisure experiences with smaller groups of people – dinner with one or two friends as opposed to a group of 10 or 20.
- may avoid leisure experiences that involve audience participation such as baby showers or family parties where they know may have to play games, or a karaoke bar where they may be dragged up to sing with a friend (introverts can do karaoke, but enjoy it when it is on their terms).
- may be ready to leave a party shortly after they arrive and may be more likely to stick with the people they know than to work the room to meet new people
- may need and seek to strike a balance between periods of time that involve a high degree of social activity (e.g., family gatherings during the holidays) and time in which they can experience solitude (e.g., taking a walk alone after the big family dinner; heading to bed early with a book).
- may avoid team sports or not enjoy the overall experience of playing on a team as much as their extroverted teammates
- may enjoy the activity aspect of participating (e.g., running with a running club), but may struggle with (or even dread) the small talk that may occur before or after
How can you help your introverted partner, friend, or child to get the most out of their leisure time and experiences? A few tips:
- Consider involving them (or becoming involved if you are an introvert) in activities which focus on individualized practice, reflection, and personal development such as martial arts, yoga, and meditation. Perhaps consider sports such as competitive swimming. These activities may be a more natural fit for introverts than team sports.
- If you are planning a gathering, consider how many people you invite. Perhaps you (or your introverted partner, child, or friend) would be more comfortable with a birthday dinner or Thanksgiving celebration with two or three people as opposed to a surprise party at the house with 25 acquaintances.
- When planning a vacation, consider the level of stimulation in a given day and determine ways that the introverted person might be able to access solitude or alone time. For example, if you are staying with relatives or sharing a cottage with friends while on vacation, do you have your own room? Are the activities you are planning to do all social in nature or in crowds (e.g., a day at Disney), or is there a good variety of activities that involve varying degrees of stimulation (e.g., day at Disney, day at the beach).
- Understand that introverts prefer to have a few close relationships. Encourage them to make and nurture friendships with one or two close friends who share similar interests. Don’t push them to make lots of friends.
- Support the introvert in your life in accessing alone time. For a child, that may involve giving them space after they come home from school/day care/team practice – to play, read, listen to music in their room, or even just daydream. For your partner, it could mean not being offended when they want to go for a run, alone, after work. It could mean encouraging them to take time to weed or putter in their garden or do whatever it is that brings them pleasure and allows for solitude.
- For children in particular, allow them to observe new situations first before encouraging (or demanding) they perform a task. For example, before they work on riding their new bike (the one with no training wheels), give them a chance to watch other kids or you. Remember that introverts like time to take in what they are observing, process the information, and think about it.
As Cain explains in her book, we live in a society with a “extrovert ideal” meaning that the qualities associated with being an extrovert are valued and viewed more positively. It can therefore take some work to fully embrace and enjoy your “introvertedness” and to shift your leisure pursuits to support the introvert in you.
Since reading Cain’s book, I personally work to embrace my desire/need for solitude and recognize that this is where my energy comes from – energy I need for work and to enjoy life. I work to accept my preference for meaningful conversations with a friend over small talk with strangers or acquaintances. I work to accept that I’m more drawn to yoga than membership with a running club. I work to recognize that after a long period of social leisure, I need my solitary leisure to recharge. And when I want to leave a gathering soon after arriving or stick like glue to my husband the entire time rather than mingling, I remind myself that it is not because there is something wrong with me. I am an introvert.