As a kid, I preferred reading books, spending time with my dogs, riding my bike or being off in the woods by myself. I liked seeing my friends, but spending time with them during the school day was plenty. I learned at a young age that my preferences were a problem. I wasn’t shy, which is a different characteristic than introversion. (Most experts agree that extroversion and introversion are hardwired personality traits.)
While it’s better for introverts now than in past eras, I still spent mental energy as a kid, middle-schooler and high-school student trying to change my basic personality — by mostly faking extroverted traits. Many introverts directly or indirectly have been instructed, encouraged, and even forced to be more social than we’d choose to be if left to our own devices. And to be fair, since our current culture rewards extroversion and punishes introversion, some of that instruction from caregivers or teachers is for our own good. It’s easier to get a job, get paid more, and get help from mentors if you’re an extrovert (or play at being one).
Now that coronavirus is here to keep us at home for some time, many extroverts are feeling sad and lonely — at least judging from Twitter comments. None of us can change who we are, so I’m not going to suggest that extroverts just “buck up and deal with it” as many of us introverts have been told over the years. But I’m going to provide some ways you can deal with spending more time on your own, something we all must do in the coming weeks and beyond.
We introverts have long had to learn to live, learn, love and prosper in an extrovert’s world. Now it’s time for extroverts to learn the skills of introversion.
Appreciate the world around you instead of people
This is probably the most important thing introverts can teach the world — that there is so much more to living than just human beings. One of the reasons introverts need time away from socializing is that their brains pick up a lot of detail — we notice more. “Introverts seem to be born with a level of arousal that is higher than average,” Bernardo J. Carducci, director of the Shyness Research Institute, at Indiana University told the “Today” show.
But this trait that can be practiced by extroverts. Noticing all the non-human detail and complexity surrounding you will give you a richer sense of the world. How? When you’re out on a solo nature walk — instead of a group walk, which would be more typical for an extrovert — try paying as much attention to the trees, insects and animals as you would have to a person. Instead of tuning out nature so you can hear your friend, tune into it.
If you’re in the city, there are lots of things to really look at — the architecture around you, store windows, or notice how the city is laid out. Think about who designed it and why they made the choices they did. Look for tiny, unusual details, watch how the light falls, dream about the city you would design if you had the power to. Try bird-watching or photography as ways to practice tuning into the non-human world layered with other types of light, shadows, textures and colors.
Really taste your food
We all have more time to cook and eat now, so why not make your meal an experience to remember and savor? Something I’ve learned over the years of eating out alone is that you can taste the food much better when there’s not a person sitting across from you. You will notice the colors, scents and flavors of what you’re eating when someone isn’t chatting with you.
This is also a technique for mindful eating, so it can also help you refine your tastes and question why you eat what you do. Are you responding to hunger and satiety cues or are you eating out of habit or to find calm and comfort? (This doesn’t have to be a judgmental process: In stressful times, eating a hearty meal can help reduce stress — but knowing why you’re eating something will also connect body and mind in a healthy way.)
Enjoy not having to constantly respond
Introverts revel in uninterrupted time because we get a feeling of space and relaxation from knowing we can really spread-out mentally. This allows us to really dive into a project and explore it, maybe even getting into a flow state. Working in an office or around other people can often mean constant interruptions, not to mention expectations to socialize. The coronavirus gives us all windows of time to create our own retreats. There’s a reason people who write, paint, make films, or engage in other creative pursuits often plan to get away by themselves — it provides a space in which to focus.
Of course, if you’re living in close contact with family members, that can be a challenge, but whether it’s kids or a spouse who’s around more, limits can be set and doors can be shut for an agreed-upon period of time, and learning how to spend time alone is a vital life skill. If someone in your life has trouble with that, this is a great time for them to practice it, too.
Remember: Solitude isn’t the same as loneliness
During the colonization of the United States by Europeans, the concept of the solo pioneer or explorer was held up as an American ideal. Anyone who has read the diaries of pioneers (or even just “Little House on the Prairie”) will notice that often people spent days, weeks, and even months alone, even going without reliable mail service to stay in touch with others.
Later, popular writers from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Henry Thoreau wrote about the importance of being alone, connecting independence with freedom. In fact, as Luke Fernandez and Susan J. Matt, authors of “Bored, Lonely, Angry, Stupid: Changing Feelings About Technology, From the Telegraph to Twitter,” the concept of a “loner” as a negative stereotype didn’t exist until the 1940s.
It’s worth stating that while human beings have always experienced being alone, the cultural weight we have placed on it as a negative thing is a recent development. “Solitude and loneliness are different words that describe the state of being of aloneness. One does it in positive terms and one negative,” writes Fernandez.
Right now, we can cultivate solitude and appreciate all that it can give us. That doesn’t mean you won’t ever feel lonely during the coronavirus social distancing, but it can help to really appreciate the unprecedented time and space we now have to be quiet, go within, take solo walks outside in the spring air, slow down and reconnect with ourselves — extroverts and introverts alike.
Tips from an introvert on how to enjoy being alone during coronavirus
Introverts have traditionally had to learn to be more outgoing, but during coronavirus, it’s the extroverts’ turn to learn new behaviors.