On having an introverted child who needs to be alone. Often.

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Photo from Pixabay,
licensed under CC0 1.0

Unless you’re the Energizer Bunny, you eventually will get tired. Everyone needs to rest and recharge themselves. But how we recharge is a huge distinguisher between extroverts and introverts. To some psychologists, it is the trait that most distinguishes between the two.

Extroverts are mentally energized by being among people, lots of external stimuli, and exciting situations. On the other hand, an introvert may enjoy those same activities, but she will find them mentally draining. She’ll need to recover from them with rest, where rest is defined as down time, alone time, quiet time, or all-of-the-above time.

An introverted child will need plenty of down time in which to rest and regain energy lost during socialization. And an Introvert Parent will most likely have no problem making sure the child gets the time she needs. But beware! There’s a tendency within you, my fellow Introvert Parent, that I believe is not in your child’s long-term best interests. You need to be on guard against it.

An opportunity we wish we’d had
One of my daughters likes to be alone. A lot. If unexpected guests arrive at the house, she runs and hides in her room. When expected guests arrive, she… well, she’s likely to hide in her room then, too. And I understand how she feels because when I was growing up, I felt the same way. I suppose many Introvert Parents did.

Susan Cain’s Quiet started a cultural conversation about introversion and extroversion. One of her theories is that we live in what she calls the “Extrovert Ideal,” “the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight.” But before Quiet, many of us introverts felt misunderstood, or worse, felt our preferences were ignored or belittled.

Knowing what we know now, we Introvert Parents can do better for our own children. So your son likes to be alone? Great. Let him be alone! Be respectful of his needs. Let him whittle away his leisure hours reading in his bedroom, or building with Lego, or whatever it is he likes to do.

But no one stays home forever. Outings, errands, even — gasp! — parties are not just facts of life, they’re good things. (Yes, even parties can be good.) And there are a few tips I’ve learned to follow to give my introverted children the greatest chance of having fun and enjoying themselves in such occasions.

  • Set expectations. Don’t make the outing a surprise. Let your child know ahead of time that it is going to happen. An introverted child will have a lot of questions. Who will be there? How long will we be gone? What will we do once we get there? The more of these questions you can answer ahead of time, the greater the likelihood the introvert child will enjoy himself.
  • Arrive early. Walking into an empty room is far, far easier for an introverted child than walking into a crowd. It will give the child time to get used to his new surroundings and environment without having to get used to the crowd of people around him at the same time.
  • Not every outing is a chore. Sometimes, the outing should be to something he really enjoys, like an art class, or a superhero party. If the only parties he ever attends are crowded, noisy, and the opposite of everything he likes, then, of course, he’s going to sour on all parties. Show him what a fun outing can be.
  • Let him take a breather. Just a few minutes in solitude, or silence, or both can be re-energizing. If he seems to be getting drained in the middle of the event, take a break from it. If it’s a sporting event, go visit the souvenir stand or concession stand, but do it during a time when most folks are in their seats. If it is a party at a friend’s house, take a walk around the block, or spend some time at a nearby playground. Relieve the pressure for a while, and he might be energized enough to make it through the rest of the event without a meltdown.

“Let her take a break” is good advice for time spent at home, too. A day the family spends doing some kind of activity together is likely exciting and fun for an introverted child, especially if she has a quiet, safe space to retreat to for a while if needed.

The hidden danger
As an Introvert Parent, you are thoroughly equipped and qualified to take care of your introvert child’s need for alone time. But you can also be your own worst enemy, especially if you grew up wishing you could have more time alone, or wishing your relatives understood you loved them, but needed to control the amount of time you spend with them. You’re a parent, so of course, you want to give your children a better life than what you had. But in this case, your tendency may be to coddle your children.

Though I have tried very hard to make sure my daughter gets all the alone time she needs, there are many situations in which I’ve had to draw a firm line between being supportive and being pampering:

  • She doesn’t always get to “just stay home.” She has to do some things she thinks she doesn’t like. Am I trying to force her into the Extrovert Ideal? Not at all! I’m trying to prepare her for life. She probably won’t want to go to class in college, either. She probably won’t want to go to work. I don’t want to push her into the rat race too young, but nor do I want it to be a shock to her once she’s in it.
  • She doesn’t have to be a social butterfly, yukking it up with everyone at the party. But she does have to be polite. She has to greet people. She has to say please and thank you. She doesn’t have to offer small talk, but she has to listen politely to it. Whether you’re introverted or extroverted, being rude is not OK. Wheaton’s Law applies to all.
  • Sometimes I’m flexible on when she does her chores, but there are still deadlines, and sometimes, I just need the table set now. I give her a lot of leeway in making her own personal schedule, but when I need to step in and request her immediate attention, I need her to respectfully comply.

Having an introverted child is a dream come true for you, my fellow Introvert Parent, because such a child will share so many of your preferences in how to spend free time. Just be conscious of what you permit and the example you set; you don’t want your child to become the meme stereotype of introversion. He needs your help to stay more “I like quiet” and less “I hate all people except the Amazon delivery guy.” Help him to explore our loud, busy, wonderful world, not hide from it. Then, after the socializing is done, show him the truly spectacular things that can happen when you combine snacks, a sofa, and Netflix.

Coping with noisy children as an introvert parent

If I were to give this article a clickbait headline, it would be, “An introvert parent controlled his six children’s noise levels with one simple rule.”

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Credit: Skeeze via Pixabay. Licensed under CC0 1.0.

The family meal is as American as apple pie, which incidentally is exactly what we hope to receive at the end of one. It’s a time to be together and to eat together, but not in silence. The true beauty of the family meal is the opportunity it gives us to communicate with one another. Father Leo Patalinghug’s Grace Before Meals movement is built on the idea that “the simple act of creating and sharing a meal can strengthen all kinds of relationships.”

But when you’re the father of six children, all of them nine-years-old or younger, you don’t get a lot of communication during dinner. You get a lot of crosstalk and noise. The volume of the voices sometimes is the problem, but usually not. The problem is usually quantity. Dearest Sons 1 and 2 are talking about Pokemon, complete with sound effects. Dearest Daughter 2 is singing at the top of her lungs (and not eating). Dearest Son 3 is bellowing loudly about how his food is yucky, which makes Dearest Wife, who worked very hard to make the meal, more and more frustrated. Dearest Daughter 3 is climbing down from her seat to sit in her mother’s lap. And Dearest Daughter 1, like me, just wants to run away from the table and escape to somewhere quiet, like solitary confinement in a federal penitentiary. With young children, a regular family meal can be a raucous dinner party every night.

Some families thrive on this. If you need an example, go watch My Big Fat Greek Wedding. But what about a highly introverted person, like me? In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain discusses the research of developmental psychologist Jerome Kagan into “high-reactive” types, people whose brains easily overload on dopamine and thus find themselves easily overstimulated. Dr. Elaine Aron has conducted extensive research into what she calls “highly-sensitive persons” (which I also am), people who are easily overwhelmed by bright lights or loud sounds. In her book The Introvert Advantage, Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D., describes a similar situation and reaction: “Peter, an introvert, is going to a museum, looking forward to seeing his favorite Monet. As he enters the museum, which is not crowded, he feels overwhelmed; he reduces his focus immediately, perhaps without even realizing it.”

It isn’t just that we’d prefer a quiet meal in which the only sounds are the clinking of silverware and some soft Vivaldi music. It’s that when we encounter a situation in which numerous voices are talking over one another, our brains overload on all the stimulation, and we shut down, like a circuit breaker disrupting an overpowered electrical line. Self-imposed isolation from your own family isn’t something any of us wants, no matter what the internet cliche of the “Just leave me alone, everyone!” introvert might make some people think. So what’s an introvert parent to do?

Rule #3
My wife Rose and I have many rules for our children, but they’re all pretty standard stuff, like don’t hit your siblings, be excellent to one another, and don’t stick forks up your nose. We also have three special rules, each one important enough to be numbered. Rule #1 is “obey us the first time.” We’re not tyrants, we just want to teach our kids a proper sense of obedience and trust towards their parents. Rule #2 is “let Mommy get her sleep,” and you can read more about that one when my wife starts writing articles about being an “I Really Need My Sleep” Parent.

Rule #3 is “one person speaks at a time.” It’s pretty self-explanatory. It means when we’re all gathered together, everyone takes turns speaking. We don’t talk over one another. We don’t hold multiple conversations simultaneously. We listen, and we don’t just wait to talk.

And it works. It works so well. The two main benefits are:

  • Quiet at the dinner table. Not silence, but quiet. Although we are eight, only one of us is speaking at any one time. The noise level goes from “wild, crowded party” to “pleasant conversation with the closest of friends.” Bliss!
  • Perhaps a less obvious benefit: it slows the pace of the conversation. This is essential to my introvert-wired brain with its “long, slow acetylcholine pathway” as Laney puts it. I can keep track of one conversation. I get tired, frustrated, and eventually angry when I have to track three at the same time.

Knowing the rule and living it are two separate things
Rule #3 works so well and so wonderfully, you’d think there was nothing wrong with it. But there is. It has a single drawback, and it’s a huge one: the children don’t obey it. At least not all the time. But honestly, I’d be a little worried if they did constantly follow it. They’re all under ten-years-old, after all. They’re supposed to be wild little gremlins.

Since it’s against the nature of young children and toddlers to carry out a civil one-person-speaks-at-a-time conversation, there are a few techniques I’ve learned for helping them to follow Rule #3. First, it’s a big help if you or your spouse can “hold court” at the table. It will go against every fiber of your introvert self, but you have to make yourself the focus of attention. You’re going to have to be the moderator.

If you work a day job, apply some of your corporate experience here. We’ve all attended meetings that aren’t truly exchanges of ideas, but are instead ceremonies, right? Usually, the ceremony involves the meeting organizer going around the table, calling on participants one at a time to give their reports. This is one of the worst uses of your time in corporate America, it is an abuse of a meeting, it is an email or instant message or 1-on-1 conversation forced into the context of a team meeting merely for the convenience of a supervisor. But in the context of a parent controlling the conversation to keep it from erupting into noisy chaos, it’s perfect! Give each child a chance to say something about his or her day, or to tell a story or a joke, whatever works best. In our family, I often ask, “Who has a kindness to report?” and we swap stories of kind acts we did for others that day or kind acts others did for us.

While Rule #3 was born as a way to make me want to not run and hide every time the dinner bell rang, it doesn’t have to apply solely to meal times. It works any other time you and your family are together and the conversation is at risk of becoming a free-for-all. This might be in the car, or even just while sitting around the living room together on a lazy Sunday.

It also bears mentioning that there are ways to apply Rule #3 in a way that can steer the family activity away from conversation completely. What if the one person speaking is reading a book to the family? What if the one “person” speaking is the television, while everyone enjoys a show or a film together? Suddenly, your family is sharing in an activity you likely love, and in a way that combines a low level of stimulation with a high level of family togetherness.

A balancing of needs
Finally, never lose sight of the fact that your children won’t stick to Rule #3 forever not just because it’s in their nature as children not to, but that it may be in their nature as themselves not to. Their needs may very well be different than yours. They might be extroverts or ambiverts who need some extroverted time. They, or your spouse, may thrive on a boisterous conversation: the louder and the more people talking at once, the better. Five separate conversations going back-and-forth across the dinner table, mixed together with compliments to the chef and requests to pass the mashed potatoes, may absolutely energize someone else, even while it sucks you dry. And that’s OK!

A few paragraphs ago I disparaged the internet cliche of the “Just leave me alone, everyone!” introvert, but cliches often exist for a reason. We don’t like to talk about it much, but I believe introverts’ tendency to focus on our inner world can tip the wrong direction and slide towards selfishness. I know it can in me.

Find the right balance. Give your kids the time they need to be loud. Let them shout and giggle and make funny voices and tell silly jokes. Let all six of them do it at the same time, to the point that you honestly don’t know who is listening to who. I try to do this as much as I can, but when it just gets to be too much, I raise three fingers and wait for everyone to notice the silent reminder I’m giving them: remember Rule #3. Let’s talk, let’s communicate, let’s share our news and our hopes and our dreams and our fears.

Let’s just take turns doing it one at a time.

Small groups help overwhelmed introverted parents

My previous article on being an introverted parent has become one of my most-read articles ever, and I couldn’t be happier about that — thank you all so much for your interest. Being the father of six children plus the world’s most introverted introvert can make for an… interesting life from time-to-time, especially if you define “interesting” as “omigosh I feel so overwhelmed I swear the walls are closing in.” But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It just takes some coping mechanisms, and today’s article is about one of my favorites — and one of my children’s favorites, too.

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“Audrey Hepburn: Many-Sided Charmer,” LIFE Magazine, December 7, 1953 (Link)

Audrey Hepburn, by all accounts, was an introvert. When she described her ideal weekend (see picture at right), she might as well have been describing mine. I’m a classic introvert in that time spent alone leaves me refreshed, energized, and blissful, while too much time with other people — any other people — leaves me tired, worn out, and dazed. When my weekend comes close to what Audrey describes, I feel like her dancing in Funny Face:

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Image via Giphy

But when I spend a weekend socializing, I feel more like her in My Fair Lady, planning my revenge and muttering, “Just you wait, ‘Enry ‘Iggins.”

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Image via Giphy

This is all pretty standard for introverts, but what if you’re an introverted parent? Our kids need our love, but almost just as much, they need our time. What happens when they need to be with you when all you want is to be alone? What happens when there are six of them who need you? That’s a sure-fire recipe for overwhelm, so what’s a loving parent to do?

Small Group Sessions
Any introvert who has survived formal schooling has an instinctual, negative reaction to the phrase “small groups,” because it is a reminder of times we were forced to socialize with others, even if it made us uncomfortable. But take the phrase out of the context of school, and it’s exactly what we often want. A quiet cup of coffee with a couple of friends is usually (read: always) preferable to a wild time at a loud and large party.

Why not apply this same small group mentality to time spent with your kids? When I look back over just the last few months, some of the kid activities I have enjoyed the most were small group activities, including:

  • The time just my two oldest boys and I went to see Star Wars: Rogue One
  • The time just my three girls and I went out for shopping and froyo
  • A couple of times when my eldest daughter stayed home with me while everyone else went to a party

Small group time is still time spent with your kids, which they absolutely crave, but as a bonus, there are fewer of their siblings demanding your attention, which leaves more available for the ones present. From the introverted parent’s perspective, since it’s not all the kids at once, it’s less overwhelming, less noisy, and more intimate. And I don’t think you have to be the father of six, like me, to find positives in small groups. This is something any introverted parent with two or more children can benefit from.

One-on-one time
Perhaps even better is a slight variation on the small group session: one-on-one time. My wife and I have long been big believers in the importance of each of our children getting a bit of alone time now and then with each of us. All of the benefits of small group time, both for the children and for us, apply, but even more so because here the group is a duo.

The only negative to this technique is the more children you have, the more one-on-one sessions you need to have if you wish to give all your children equal attention. (And who wouldn’t?) Too many of these in succession can get you right back into an overwhelmed state, just via a thousand small paper cuts instead of one big stab. So spread them out, a little at a time.

Don’t forget your spouse
There’s one vital consideration you have to make before scheduling small group sessions with your children every weekend from now until October. What are your spouse’s needs?

I mentioned one of my favorite recent small group activities (a one-on-one, actually) was a time when my eldest daughter and I stayed home together while the rest of the family attended a birthday party. This same day is one of my wife’s least favorite days in recent memory, because it happened on a Sunday, a day on which she has a strong preference for the entire family to stay together.

The time you and some of the children are away is the time your spouse is left with fewer family members; if your spouse is an extrovert, that may not be an ideal situation for him or her. Alternatively, if your spouse is also an introvert, think about how he or she will feel flying solo with the larger portion of your children while you’re off having a small group or one-on-one adventure. You’ll probably have to return the favor by switching roles at some point and letting him or her have some small group time.

Also remember: children keep ledgers. Your daughter will remember the time four months ago you went on a solo trip with her brothers, and she’ll want to know when she gets to have her turn. Keep it fair. When you plan a small group experience, consider at least scheduling when the children who won’t be participating get their turn.

Small group time allows for more large group time
None of this is to say that the only way an introverted parent of a large number of children can be happy is to spend time with subsections of the family. While kids will love their one-on-one and small group times with Mommy or Daddy, they absolutely crave and need lots of time in which the whole family is together.

But when every family activity is a whole family activity, this introverted parent feels like he’s falling apart. Small group time is time to recharge and time to take a fresh perspective, all while continuing to spend time with your children. It helps me to stay laser-focused, but not inward, on myself. Instead, it keeps my attention on something far more important: my children. “Introverted” is an adjective that describes us, but “parent” is the noun that describes who we are.

Being an introvert parent with a large family

When published five years ago, Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking opened the floodgates of articles, blogs, and more books on the topics of introversion and extraversion. For me, this discussion has been eye-opening and life-changing. I understand things about myself I never did before. It turns out I am profoundly introverted, so much so that I’ve earned perfect scores on “How introverted are you tests?” and ranked 90% introverted or higher on personality type surveys.

I read a lot about my fellow introverts and our challenges and victories, and I’ve found one common theme in particular that bears mentioning. This is purely unscientific, but in my experience, I’ve found that when it comes to parenting, introverts tend to favor small families. I feel like the ideal number of children for many introverts is zero to two. And I’ve definitely gotten the impression that anything considered a “large” family is nerve-wracking or downright horrifying for a lot of introverts.

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Me and all six of my kiddos with a family friend.

So all that being said — hi, I’m the world’s most introverted introvert, and I am the father of six children. Being the highly introverted father of a large family carries with it lots of challenges, but even more rewards.

Noisy people everywhere, everywhen
The number one challenge: you’re always with a large group.

One of the primary differences between extroverts and introverts is the effect of social interaction upon us. It’s energizing to extroverts and draining to introverts. Some introverts unwind after a day of work in a chaotic, loud, open concept office by going home and spending a quiet evening with their partner and children, or with a small group of friends, or — the introvert cliche — alone. This downtime is necessary. It’s how we recharge, so we’re able to return to our busy, busy, busy job the next day. But for me, there is no such thing as retreating home to myself or to a small group. I live with seven other people. Some days, I’m with smaller groups during the work day than in the evening.

My situation is perhaps compounded by the fact that all six of my children are nine years old or younger, and they’re perfectly normal for those ages — which is to say, they demand a lot of attention. They need interactions with me, guidance from me, fun time with me, discipline from me. They each need this every day, and not just for a few minutes per day. And did I mention there are six of them?

The lack of solitude or even small group time can be overwhelming. The demands put on my attention can be overstimulating. And then there’s the noise. My three-year-old and one-year-old are loud. They can’t help it. They don’t understand “inside voice” and “outside voice.” When they are angered or wronged, their reaction is always an 11; they don’t know how to respond at a lower, more subdued level. And as for the older children, sometimes they fight and yell loudly, as kids do, but most of the time they get along and play together with so much excitement they… still yell loudly. They shout when they’re excited, they all talk at the same time, and their raucous belly-splitting laughter is the best sound in the world… but it’s still loud. Regular, normal familial contact — conversation, a family meal — can be tiring at best and overwhelming at worst due to volume level and the number of overlapping voices.

Most meaningful relationships
If my unscientific guess is right, and most introverts prefer zero-to-two children, I’ve just outlined a scenario that is highly unappealing to most introverts. If so, let me tell you, my fellow innies: you’re missing out.

Despite the challenges, I wouldn’t trade my situation for any other, and the primary reason why has to do with another defining trait of introverts: we crave meaningful relationships. We hate phoniness, we hate superficiality. Instead of idle chit-chat about the weather, we’d rather have a deep conversation about our innermost thoughts or dreams or those of others. By our choice, we may have far fewer friends than many others, but after we’ve decided on a friend, we go all-in.

Our spousal relationship is probably the deepest, most meaningful one we’ll ever have, but we all have at most just one spouse. (Well, except for polygamists, I guess.) Having a large family means having more of the most meaningful non-spousal relationships you’ll ever have: parental ones. Your relationship with your child is one in which the child is entirely dependent on you for physical care, affection, spiritual guidance, and education. Your children are young and innocent, and they want to hear and grok everything you have to say. It’s an introvert’s ideal relationship!

It is an honor and a privilege — and a great responsibility — that I get to provide an example to six little ones. Many introverts feel we’re misunderstood by society, possibly even marginalized. The thesis of Susan Cain’s Quiet is that the world has an extrovert ideal and doesn’t place enough value on introverts. As a parent, you get to change that… at least for your children. I try to show my children that a leader doesn’t have to be a tyrant and that words spoken softly can still have a loud impact. If we want the world to look at introversion and extraversion as two separate but equal ideals, we have to start teaching it somewhere.

How to focus outward when we want to focus inward?
There’s so much more I could say on this topic, and I will. This is the first in a planned series of articles about being an introverted parent. This series is not intended to lecture anyone, or to tell anyone how many children they should have. I hope that it speaks to introverted parents with any number of children. This also isn’t meant to brag about how great introverts are, or about how great I am. Quite the opposite, it’s part of my self-discovery journey, because — confession time — I often don’t know what the heck I’m doing.

My favorite dictionary defines introversion as “the state of or tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one’s own mental life.” I know the definition of introversion can be a controversial topic, and the first time I read this, I thought, That’s a terrible definition! It makes me sound so self-centered and selfish.

But here’s a hard truth that no amount of self-deception can change. While I might not like to admit it, left unchecked, selfish and self-centered is precisely what I can become thanks to my introversion. And being selfish doesn’t jive very well with parenthood, a rather permanent state of life that demands near-constant sacrifice for the well-being of your children, especially in their first couple of decades. So how can I balance the sacrifices I must make (and want to make) for my family, while at the same time reminding myself that self-care isn’t selfish and is necessary to keep me in a state of being a responsible, loving, unselfish parent?

If you’re an introverted parent, I’d love for us to figure out the answer to that question together. What are your biggest challenges? What brings you the most joy? Leave a comment here, send me a message on Twitter, or use the Contact page to send me a direct message.

Monotasking

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Photo by Karina Carvalho (https://unsplash.com/@karinacarvalho)

I cannot do two things at once and do either one well. I try. Oh, life keeps making me try. But I am not a multitasker.

I’m a dedicated monotasker.

I can accomplish a lot of things. Give me a list, get out of my way, and I’ll conquer it. But I’ll do so one item at a time.

My preference for monotasking is evident in the activities I enjoy, like writing and reading novels, untangling and refactoring a messy bit of software code, or watching a marathon* of a great television show. If it is something I can get mentally involved in for a long time, losing all track of the outside world, blissfully sailing along in flow, count me in.

On the other hand, the days in which I have ten things to do and eight minutes in which to do them are the worst. When I find myself having to juggle multiple tasks for work, the demands of fatherhood, an unexpected incoming phone call, and do it all in a small timebox, that is the time when Cranky Mike is present.

I always knew multitasking was hazardous to my mental health, but I didn’t realize how detrimental it could be until a couple of months ago when I read about a study that found multitasking with electronic media might reduce your IQ.

A much larger study … found a significant negative correlation between media-multitasking and brain density in one part of the brain–the anterior cingulate cortex, which is involved with impulse control, reward anticipation, and decision-making. What does that mean? A negative correlation means higher amounts of one variable (e.g. minutes of multitasking behavior) are strongly linked with lower amounts of another (e.g. brain density). Significant means the findings are unlikely to be explained by chance. Correlational studies like this don’t prove that one variable’s changes cause the other’s, by the way, but they’re important in the same way circumstantial evidence is important to a detective; following their trail can lead to stronger, causal evidence.

I knew I felt stupid when multitasking. I didn’t realize it may have been the multitasking itself that was making me stupid.

But as much as I want to, I can’t stop the world and melt with you. I’ve found a few coping mechanisms that work well for me.

  • Eliminate distractions. My work area is my garden of zen. Indirect but natural sunlight illuminates it. My wife planted flowers just outside the window. A small fountain of serenity and a natural scent air freshener provide a light kiss of nature (yes, there’s a window, but for much of the summer in South Texas, no, it is not open). But most important is my noise-cancelling headphones on which I’m usually listening to pink noise. Everything in the world except my task — my beautiful, lone task — disappears in this oasis.
  • Make a schedule. Part of me hates this. I can tolerate confinement to a room better than confinement to a time box. But it is also the only effective way I’ve found to ensure I get everything done in a day that I must. It helps that I look at my schedule as a very strong guideline, but only a guideline. If I’m in flow, and I don’t want to stop working a task when its time is up, I sometimes choose to keep working and figure out how to catch up later. And when I do have to toss something out of my agenda, undone? Well… I cherish those moments.
  • Declare yourself. I make it clear to others, firmly but politely, that I will only do one thing at a time. My children know the phrase, “Yes, I will do that for you, but you’ll have to wait. You’re on my list.” The same is true at work. “Yes, but not right now” is an OK answer to a request for your time. (Hint: it is also a good idea, especially at work, to set an expectation on when, if not now.)

Ferris Bueller said life moves pretty fast, and that if you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it. And he said it 30 years ago! Life is far faster today — Ferrari fast. Monotasking is an effective way to not miss life. You still live it to its absolute fullest. You just do it one thing at a time.

* The newfangled term for this is “binge watching,” but in my day, we called it a “marathon” and enjoyed the irony of applying the name of an incredible test of physical fitness and endurance to a couch potato activity.

Society and Monsters and Introverts

Simcha Fisher wrote a great article titled “Who’s Your Monster?”

Want to learn something about a society? Then take a look at what sort of fictional monsters are currently in vogue. What we fear tells us what kind of people we are.

Mary Shelley’s book Frankenstein (subtitled The Modern Prometheus) expressed, among other things, the early 19th-century concern over how far man should go in trying to tame and manipulate the natural world. …

The first Godzilla film, featuring a grotesque monster accidentally resurrected by nuclear experimentation, is a walking, smashing embodiment of the anxiety of a nation who had just been flattened by nuclear war. No secret decoder ring needed there. …

Vampires? I’m tired of talking about vampires, so I’ll just say: Inverted Eucharist. AIDS epidemic. Glamour of evil. And so on.

ZombieWhat’s the current monster in vogue? At this point, I’d like to hand this article over to Dolores O’Riordan of the Cranberries to sing, “Zombie! Zombie!”

Fisher goes on to describe a conversation with one of my favorite writers, Mark Shea, on why zombies represent modern society’s fears:

The guy who beats the zombies, says Mark, is very often the rugged individualist type — the kind of guy who ignores government directives and relies on his own wits and strength. Most tellingly, the enemy to be feared is not so much the individual zombies themselves, as the contagiousness of the virus or disease or whatever it is that’s causing zombification. There is no one you can run to for help, because the bigger the crowd, the greater the chance there is of contamination. When there are ghosts or vampires or werewolves or sea monsters after you, you seek out allies, and make yourself stronger by banding together with anyone who can fight. But when it’s zombies? You can’t trust anyone; you may be required to turn against your own friends and family in order to save yourself. The only hope, really, is to wall yourself up safe inside some fortress. The worst possible thing that can happen is for people to spend time together, travel, encounter people they haven’t encountered before.

The monster is, in short, community itself — and the solution is to hide, survive, and wait for everyone else to eat each other.

I thought this was spot-on and very true. I definitely think there is a portion of today’s society that fears zombies for just this reason. But I don’t believe it’s universal. In fact, I think there is one part of society to whom this most definitely does not apply. And ironically, it is a segment of society that many probably think it applies to the most.

Introverts.

Susan Cain’s book Quiet launched the Quiet Revolution, an ongoing discussion about introversion and what it means to be an introvert and/or a highly sensitive person (HSP). The fruits of that discussion have been life changing for many people. And I don’t mean that as hyperbole because I’m one of them. I have a better quality of life armed with better knowledge of who I am and how I best function. But the discussion has also led to less desirable fruits.

This article from the Onion — “Report: Only 20 Minutes Until Introverted Man Gets To Leave Party” — is hilarious. But it also reinforces the stereotype that introverts don’t like people.

introvertsUnitePictures like the one on the left have a lot of truth to them and make me smile, but they also make introverts look like misanthropes.

And then there was the time that a newspaper featured a blog about highly sensitive people (Hi, Kelly, keep up the great work!) under the headline “In Other Words, Leave Me Alone.”

Community does look like the ultimate monster for introverts, but only for the stereotypical introverts that don’t exist anywhere except in funny meme pictures.

Real life introverts crave human interaction.

Yes, when we’ve had too much of it, we need alone time, though for many of us “alone time” doesn’t mean solitary confinement. It means either solitary confinement or quiet time with our spouse or partner. (I often tell my beloved Rose that I do need to be alone often, but time spent with just her counts as time alone.)

Yes, we don’t like large groups because they can be loud and overwhelming. But a cup of coffee or a meal with a small group of friends at a quiet cafe is the stuff of our daydreams.

Yes, we don’t like “fluff” conversation like small talk or showboating, but a good genuine conversation is immensely satisfying. (I often think Holden Caulfield was an introvert based merely on the way he used the word “phony.” Well, that and the fact that he was created by the most reclusive author ever.)

So have some good-natured fun with introverts’ need to separate from the community from time-to-time often. But don’t mistake it for hatred for that community.