Updated: Oct 4, 2022
Are We Pushing Too Hard?
I often hear from introverts that they are exhausted during the day, only to come home and crash on the couch with little energy left to share with the family. Many also complain that the weekends aren't much better. Why is this so and what can we do about it?
Why Are We Exhausted
Introverts will often reach for the "social card" to address their exhaustion. "Networking at work exhausts me. Going out to dinner with others wears me out."
While it is true that too much socializing can be our Achilles heel, I don't buy into the suggestion that introverts can't socialize. We are interesting people and in the right environment, we have plenty to say. We just need to prepare a bit and be selective - smaller crowds, familiar faces, shorter durations.
But I think it is more than the socializing that wears us down. For many of us, there are several culprits. Why?
We are often pushing ourselves to extremes! That's right, no one else is doing this. This is our doing. I too am guilty as charged. These extremes can appear in different ways: Workaholic, Alcoholic, Binge-eating, Crash dieting, Extreme sports, or a Lavish or miserly lifestyle.
But why do we pick up these bad habits?
Often we feel that such extremes can provide recognition for "the hidden half," they help us "cope" with our introversion, they help remove the "gray area," or they are obsessive compulsions out of our control. Let's address each of these:
Oftentimes introverts find it difficult to be recognized. We are the "hidden half" of society. We are rarely the ones approaching our manager to share our progress or successes. But if we are the group workaholic, others will notice. We may often feel that checking off the task list early in the morning, after hours, and on weekends brings that recognition and a warm feeling of accomplishment, much in the quiet confines of our office or home. Drinking a lot or running marathons and endurance bike races brings us recognition and accomplishment as well. We are known for something.
"Coping" With Our Introversion
Often we incorrectly believe such extremes will help us cope with the stresses of introversion. If we drink enough we can be numb to the social stresses of a party. We may overeat during social gatherings or as a way to wind down or reward ourselves after a dinner or business cocktail hour. We are relaxed and soothed for a brief period of time.
Remove the Gray Area
Evaluating situations and striving for a balanced lifestyle can be hard. It necessitates making difficult choices about work projects, work/life balances, or how we spend our time. It prompts difficult decisions and anxious discussions at times. It is a lot easier to just go for the extreme...work hard and do everything, run a marathon or bike hundreds of miles rather than gauge how much is enough, eat everything rather than decide when and how to pull back or crash diet by eliminating calories, carbs, or other items rather than relying upon intuition and good choices. We can avoid internal or external conflict and just "go for it!"
Perhaps we give in to these extremes because we feel we have no choice. They are obsessive compulsions out of our control. I must work long hours, eat these things, or work out to the point of exhaustion. I might recognize the unhealthy nature of these extremes, but they are part of me. I can't control them so I accept them.
I spent years crumbling under the weight of these habits. I worked long hours to go "above and beyond." As an observant introvert, I had lots of ideas and I preferred not to debate the validity of each with myself or my manager, so I tried to do them all. I drank to forget my introversion and to feel like a social "fun guy" for once. I ate to celebrate my accomplishments and social survival and then I extreme-dieted to address the shame of my appearance. I stretched biking around the neighborhood with my family to full-day cross-city bike treks. Each exhausted me but I didn't know how to stop.
Isn't This Just Ambition at Its Finest?
No. I wholeheartedly applaud ambition. It helps us stretch and grow and fosters greater self-esteem in all of us. But reaching for extremes is not the same thing. These extremes just don't feel right. These extremes are dangerous. They can actually increase stress and create unhealthy habits that can deteriorate our bodies, our mental health, and our relationships.
In the midst of some of my greatest extremes, I went to my doctor to address my weight and the rashes, sciatica, and shingles that wracked my body. The doctor assessed that while he could treat these symptoms, they would continue to recur until I addressed the root cause. We don't have to go to extremes to be ambitious and successful.
So What Are the Answers?
Moderation through knowledge.
I realized that the root cause for me was my introversion itself. I needed to go on a journey of learning and awareness to help shed the extreme habits and adopt a more moderate lifestyle.
This journey through the Phases of Introversion has taken many years. I had to shed the negative stigmas and stereotypes often associated with introversion, which drove me away from learning and embracing who I was. When I finally started to learn about the grand strengths of introverts like preparation, observation, creativity, and thoughtfulness, I realized I was needed. My work team, social groups, and family could value my talents. And if I practiced enough, I could lean on these natural strengths to succeed at work, in networking, leading teams, and meetings, without the need to stay on the extreme.