Introverts often feel harried, trying to rush towards that time when they can kick back and relax, freed from all social – and other – obligations. This is especially true when the introvert works in a busy organization where much of what happens is not under the introvert’s control (unlike a writer, who may have the luxury of walking through the park, breathing in the sights, sounds and yes smells of nature, while mentally designing the next chapter).
The same nervous system that makes us intuitive and sensitive, that can caution us appropriately to collect enough information before making a critical decision, that can motivate us to fill our mental storehouse with information that enriches our lives and our work, can also make us susceptible to feelings of extreme time pressure.
How do successful introverts handle the “brain buzz” that results from feeling bombarded by too much stimulation all at once? Here are a few secrets:
Take frequent, small calming breaks
Meditative 5-minute breaks are particularly important when switching from one task to another, one topic to another. These breaks can consist of closing your eyes, breathing deeply, listening to a calming tone or voice or even taking a short walk, paying attention to everything you see along the way.
This helps to take your focus off the many ideas and challenges swirling around you, and ground you in present time.
Don’t make up alarming stories about the future
The ability to pause and consider many options before taking action can be an introvert strength, but a full 90% of stress is not about what’s happening now; it’s about what we imagine might happen. That future stress is extremely energy-draining and can make you feel overwhelmed with problems, when in fact you are simply overwhelmed by your own imagination.
In the meantime, your body braces for the coming “battle” that you are imagining as your mind swirls around searching for ways to cope with the future “disaster.”
The future is up for grabs; anything you can imagine in detail right now about the future is probably wrong in at least some details. The consequences of today’s activities could have many outcomes. There’s a difference between being prepared and being overwhelmed.
How often has your life worked out exactly as you imagined it would? Exactly. It hasn’t. We are constantly surprised as life unfolds, so what we need to cultivate is the resilience to meet life’s changes, while enjoying today’s abundance. Focus mentally on the treasures you have in your life, including health, relationships, meaningful work.
Here are some tips to maximize that resilience:
Stop wallowing in the past
Once again, the introvert nervous system helps us store information readily that might be useful in avoiding future mistakes but we tend to overdo it when we engage in what is called “rumination”: the act of pondering the same issue over and over again, a little like chewing a cud.
Don’t obsess about the past, especially those times when you think you fell short of some standard. This can be a big energy drain, and keep you from finding the energy you need to move forward, or to take a risk.
Mine your past for supportive memories
Deliberately recover memories of past successes, warm support you have gotten from others, times you were in the “sweet spot” of performance, when everything worked easily. Deliberately cultivate these memories, and add to that positive memory bank to draw on it when times get tough.
Learn to stay in present time
Focus on what is here and now; go to the past consciously to retrieve important information or supportive memories, not reminders of past failures, and go to the future consciously to construct creative outcomes and exciting visions that motivate you, not disaster scenarios.
Not to do so is like putting a giant vacuum cleaner to your brain and sucking out loads of energy. Balancing the time you spend mentally in the past, present, and future is said, by Zimbardo and Boyd, researchers and authors of The Time Paradox, to be like being on a permanent vacation.
Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach focusing on Quiet Brilliance, aka introversion. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. She divides her time between helping introverts cope successfully in an extrovert-oriented culture and in helping organizations mine the rich talent they have in their ranks. Her upcoming book, “Quiet Brilliance: Solving Corporate America’s Leadership Crisis with ‘Hiding in Plain Sight’ Talent” is a how-to book for corporations to do just that.