There Is No “Introvert Code” to Uphold

I’ve been talking to myself all day today — literally.

As in talking out loud to myself (in environments where I’m by myself, at any rate). Sometimes I’ve even been raising my voice to ensure that I’m heard over the irritating, nonstop blurts of the ever-present inner critic inside of me.

What have I been saying to myself? Words and phrases that would probably be referred to as affirmations. Primarily two sentences:

  1. I’m a writer. I’m a writer. I’m a writer. I’m a writer. I’m a writer.
  2. What I write matters. What I write matters. What I write matters. What I write matters. What I write matters.

I spent much of yesterday doing the same thing as today, covering not only my identity as a writer but also my role as a parent:

  • I’m a good parent. I’m a good parent. I’m a good parent. I’m a good parent. I’m a good parent.

I’ve been aware of the concept of affirmations for years. But I’ve never actually tried them, out loud like you’re supposed to, until about 30 hours ago — at the backhanded suggestion of my lovely wife, Adrianne, who in truth suggested that I write them down on sticky notes and put them all over the house. I figured I might as well just go ahead and say them aloud instead, since research has shown that verbal affirmations actually work — that they make you feel better about yourself and thus live and perform with more confidence.

I can tell you the results of my experiment so far: Affirmations do indeed seem to work. I do feel better, and I do feel more confident now than I did even this morning.

Moreover, I’ve been inspired to write this very blog post. And another one began cooking too as I ran on the treadmill at the YMCA, trying my best to whisper my verbal affirmations loudly enough to be effective, yet softly enough so the people around me wouldn’t think I’m a wingnut.

I always thought I shied away from affirmations because they’d make me feel silly. To some degree that’s true. But in the locker room just now, standing next to a naked guy who was on his cell phone talking very seriously to someone about “operational costs” (speaking of silly … or wingnuts), it occurred to me that the real reason I have shied away from affirmations has more to do with my introversion than anything else — more specifically, my sometimes misguided beliefs about how I as an introvert should think and behave.

We introverts are so inner-focused by nature that we sometimes figure we have to solve every problem on our own, and in silence. I am guilty of this behavior frequently, albeit subconsciously. My dear Adrianne has told me that, at times, it looks to her as though I’m trying to uphold some kind of warped “introvert code” which says that I always have to go it alone, that I cannot reach out for help or even talk about what’s bothering me. That I’m supposed to keep it all inside because, well, that’s what introverts do. Or, more accurately, that’s what introverts are supposed to do. It’s the introvert brand.

Nonsense.

I have to stop. And if you’re an introvert who does the same kind of thing from time to time, you need to stop too.

I will always be, and appreciate, who I am. Being an introvert is part of that. But being an introvert doesn’t mean always keeping my thoughts and emotions inside, or always feeling like I have to. I’m human. You’re human. We all need help. And we all need to sometimes hear an audible voice of encouragement and understanding, whether its our own or someone else’s.

There is no “introvert code.” And therefore there is no “introvert code” to uphold.

Yes, the inner voice I have as an introvert can and often does work to my great benefit, helping me come up with ideas and solutions seemingly out of nowhere. No wonder I gravitate toward it and embrace it.

But when it is instead working against me, in whatever way, well, then it’s time for me to talk. Out loud.

To someone else.

Alone Time: There’s Such a Thing as Too Much of a Good Thing

My fellow introverts, we all need to remember something:

Too much alone time is just as bad as too little. It’s just a different kind of bad.

I, for one, have to watch it sometimes. As an introvert — and as the author of a book called The Introvert Manifesto, for crying out loud, which devotes many of its pages to the introvert’s dire need for some solitude in life — I protect and defend the concept of alone time, vigorously. As I write in the book:

I plan for my alone time. I plot for my alone time. I finagle and juggle for my alone time, the same way extraverts look for activity and social interaction. I all but put alone time on my calendar — because if it’s not a part of my life, well, then I don’t have much of a life.

I stand by these words, and will til the day I die. I really do need my alone time; all introverts do.

But today I’m reminding myself — and all of you reading this — that there was a reason I included the phrase “a part of” in that book passage I quoted, just as there was a reason I included the word “some” when I talked about “some solitude in life” in the third paragraph above:

Introverts need people too.

I know this — actually, it’s more accurate to say that I’m being reminded of this — because I’m really feeling it right now. It’s almost embarrassing to say it, like I’m violating some sort of fictional introvert code or dishonoring the introvert brand or something (which is ridiculous, by the way). But I’m lonely today. And I’ll be even more honest: I’ve been lonely a lot lately during the workday. Because for me, “going to work” means walking to the kitchen table, opening my laptop, and starting to do my research and writing. The kids are all at school. My wife is at school too, teaching kindergartners in an environment that is the polar opposite of mine.

I’m here, all by myself. Alone. No colleagues. No office banter. No interaction. A few days ago when I was really pushing it on a writing project, I went an entire workday without talking to a soul — and thus, without even hearing my own voice, let alone someone else’s.

Not good. Not good at all. It’s no wonder I’m feeling the way I’m feeling. We humans really are social animals, after all.

And so while I often do have to plan for my alone time and plot for my alone time and finagle and juggle for my alone time as an introvert — especially when I haven’t been getting it, or when I really do need to actively pursue it because I’ve actually had a day full of interaction — sometimes, like today, I have to plan and plot for and finagle and juggle for a little people time.

So I’m getting out of here, out of this house, just as soon as I post this. Not because I’m rejecting the concept of alone time, but because I’m accepting the concept of people time — and reaffirming that there can and must be a balanced mixture of both in my life. In every introvert’s life. In everyone’s life.

Let Your Fingers Do the Talking Sometimes

My wife Adrianne and I had the loveliest spontaneous chat late one night — using paper as our communications medium.

We were sitting at the kitchen table, having a late-evening glass of wine together, when Adrianne reached for the sticky notes that happened to be on the counter nearby and said, “Let’s use these to talk.”

And so we did.

There we were: Two card-carrying introverts, each of us exhausted in our own way, letting our fingers do the talking using red pen on bright blue squares of paper.

The words between us flowed effortlessly, even more easily than they usually do — especially since we both got the comparatively rare chance to think for a moment or two before speaking. We reaffirmed our love for one another, reflected upon a few of the challenges we’d been facing, and closed by drawing a heart with the phrase “P + A” inside.

At one point I told Adrianne, perhaps for the first time in such an explicit, purposeful way: “I think deeply and I feel deeply.” I noted that I have always been and always will be this way, even if it’s not in the typical-male handbook.

The fact that I was writing instead of speaking encouraged me to say things I might not have otherwise said, in ways I might not have otherwise said them. It was the same for Adrianne, too.

I hope the two of us talk this way again sometime. (I’ll send her a written invitation to make it happen.) It was fascinating. And illuminating.

And liberating.

Sometimes, the Act of Sharing Boils Down to Self-Worth — Not Introversion

When my wife Adrianne asks me about my day, she means it. She genuinely wants to hear about what I did, what I’ve been thinking about, and how I’m feeling. In some detail.

I need to get the detail part through my head.

Actually, I need to work on my head — my thinking — where sharing is concerned. And I doubt I’m the only introvert on the planet who can say that.

As Sophia Dembling wisely notes in her Psychology TodayIntrovert’s Corner” blog post “When the Listening/Talking Ratio Is Out of Whack,” it’s often easy for us introverts to listen to the stories of other people’s days in great detail while neglecting to share the full stories of our own, or anything even close to it. It takes less energy, and in some ways it’s simply a lifelong habit that is such a part of our essence that we don’t even realize we’re doing it.

Yet it can be problematic, too, as Dembling points out. She says we introverts can find ouselves “perpetually in the position of sounding board,” for starters, which has the potential to lead to fatigue and resentment over time.

But there’s a much more sinister problem to be concerned about.

Often when Adrianne asks me her loving question — “How was your day?” —  my brain’s first response goes something like this:

Fine. I guess. I did some administrative crap this morning, wrote a little, and did some house-y stuff in the afternoon. The end. It’s so boring, who could possibly care to learn more? Yawn.

Not good. Not related to my energy expenditures or my habits. And certainly not at all what Adrianne is looking for with a question that comes straight from her heart each time she asks it.

If you’re an introvert who, like me, struggles to share at times — even with a very close and trusted loved one — you might have a self-worth issue on your hands. And while it may be connected to your introversion, it is not your introversion in and of itself. It’s a different animal. And it will be critical for you to get some help with it, from a counselor (that’s the route I’ve taken) or from another trusted soul in your life.

In the meantime, practice. That’s what I’m doing when Adrianne asks about my day: I’m practicing sharing in detail. One day recently, I knocked the ball out of the park and shared with her for several minutes, elaborating on several activities I was particularly proud of, including blogging. Yesterday, conversely, I laid an egg with my one-word reply: “Fine.” I didn’t come through, for her or for myself.

That has to change.

I don’t have to change who I am as an introvert, and neither do you if you wrestle with this issue. We don’t have to be something we’re not. But we do need to be heard, and to allow other people to hear us.

The only way we can do that is to give people something to hear. Especially when they ask.

Time to Think Leads to Better Responses — Unless, of Course, a Mack Truck Is Bearing Down on You

It was my kind of interview.

It wasn’t for a job (I’m self-employed). I was actually interviewed about my book, The Introvert Manifesto, and my passion for teaching the world how introverts tick and why. It was for a two-part article that appeared on Nancy Ancowitz’s insightful Psychology Today blog entitled “Self-Promotion for Introverts.” (Nancy has a superb book of the same name, by the way — be sure to check it out.)

So what was so special about this particular interview?

It was conducted entirely via the written word. Nancy emailed me her questions and I emailed her my detailed, well-thought-out responses.

It took me a little under three hours to answer the nine questions Nancy posed, undoubtedly far longer than it would have taken in a phone conversation. That’s fine by me; it was time very well spent. As an introvert, I far prefer the email approach when I’m the interviewee. And, having been in Nancy’s shoes as the interviewer hundreds of times myself, I think I can safely say that Nancy prefers it too from her end of the exchange. I’ve been conducting my own interviews this way for years.

I’m the quintessential introvert in many ways but especially this one: I crave having the chance to think, carefully, before I speak, whether I’m literally speaking or reacting to something in writing. Over the years, I’ve gotten better at responding in the moment. But, given the choice, I will always — always — default toward finding, or taking, some time before I speak. Even just five seconds can make a world of difference.

When I did go on job interviews back in the day, I noticed that my best responses to the questions consistently came to me after the interview was over! Often they showed up as soon as I stepped into the elevator to ride down to the main floor of the building, or in the parking lot as I was walking to my car. What I couldn’t come up with in the interview hot seat just minutes before suddenly sprang to my mind in vividTechnicolor, ready to be delivered to … well, no one.

Grrr!

I learned, eventually, that I could indeed share snippets of these higher-quality responses in my thank-you notes to the interviewers. But for the most part the phenomenon was just a bitter aftertaste of a job interview that could have gone so much better.

I saw my preference to think before I speak as a liability, one I couldn’t do much about, be it in job interviews or anywhere else. But that’s not true. Not always, at least.

Sure, if you’re about to be hit by a Mack truck and you’re not able to respond instantly, you’ve got a liability on your hands: your dilly-dallying will kill you. So you can’t exactly expect the world to stop and give you time to ponder in every circumstance.

But as an introvert, you can indeed learn ways to buy yourself time to think in non-life-threatening situations. In job interviews, for example, you can ask for a few seconds to consider a particular question (I started doing that, by the way, and it worked well) before responding. If one of your kids asks you a question that’s hard to answer in the moment, you can tell him/her that you will think about it and answer it later. In that case you can even describe why you want and need the additional time as an introvert — it’s a teachable moment — hopefully modeling a positive behavior in the process.

If you’re an introvert, then, look for your own ways to buy time when you’re responding to life’s challenges, whether your response needs to be verbal, written, or in some other form. With rare exceptions, asking for additional time won’t hurt you at all. In fact, it will help you. And in the long run, it will help the other people in your life as well — because when they do hear from you, they’ll get your best.