On being an introvert: it’s all about how you recharge your batteries

What do you need to do to recharge your batteries? I just came off of days and days and days of talking and interacting. And I. Am. Drained. When that happens, I want, need, even crave time alone (or at least with someone who I can be alone with and doesn’t need me to talk to them). That’s because, contrary to what some people assume, I’m actually an introvert.

Ten years ago at a leadership training workshop that I was mandated to take when I became department chair, I learned that I’m an introvert. This sort of surprised me because I’m also a fairly social person. I always thought of introverts as not so social. But it turns out it’s all about what you need to recharge your batteries. At the workshop they said that the defining difference that sets introverts apart from extroverts is that introverts need alone-time in order to re-energize.

In the Life Hack article, “5 Things You Should Know about Introverts,” the author puts it like this:

Think about two different types of battery: a solar-powered battery and a regular phone battery.

The solar-powered battery thrives from being out in the sun all day and being out doing things. It builds up its energy and keeps it going all night. The phone battery gets slowly drained out and about on a daily basis and so needs charging when you get home and you leave it alone.

Extroverts recharge their energy by being around other people and social interactions while being alone drains them. Introverts are simply the opposite. Social interactions, however fun and awesome which they are, drain our battery limit and so we need alone time or relaxation time to charge ourselves up again.

Extroverts are the solar batteries that gain energy when they’re out and about; introverts are the phone batteries that are operating at 5% by the end of the day and need to be left alone to recharge. When you put it that way, I’m clearly an introvert.

If I’ve had a busy week of interacting with people, especially if it’s involved small talk, which I find excruciating, the number one thing I want to do is spend time alone doing something quiet. That might be running or knitting or walking by the river or driving on empty roads or adult colouring (which I don’t do for the result but for the activity itself) or writing or meditating or reading or watching a movie or napping or sitting quietly with a cup of tea. Whatever it is, it has to be a single-tasking thing, not a multi-tasking thing, or it doesn’t recharge me.

I think this also explains why I’m not a fan of the telephone.

I’m reassured lately as there is more information out there about introverts and one of the biggest and most liberating messages for people who have us in their lives is: don’t take our need for space personally. It’s absolutely not personal. I’ve literally had relationships end because the other person simply could not grasp that this need is not negotiable and had nothing to do with them. If I need that time, I need that time. It’s always been like that. And I’m not going to apologize for it either. One of my favourite things about traveling is that I can be alone and unreachable for at least some of the time (and I’ve got a fairly good formula now for ensuring that I do not have someone in the seat beside me on an airplane unless the plane is full; Plan B: earbuds).

Renald and I both have this need for time alone, and early in our relationship we got really good at asserting that need and allowing each other to assert it without taking it personally. It all started one summer on the sailboat. I realized that I was feeling drained as all hell, despite that we were on vacation on the water (which you would think would be relaxing). The reason I felt drained is that I felt as if I was always “on call.” I would just settle into writing or reading or painting (back then I fiddled with water colours) or lounging on the deck, when Renald would call out for me to help him with something, or engage me in a conversation, or whatever.

We instituted this thing called “personal time.” A personal day or morning or afternoon was a time on the boat where we were under no obligation to interact with the other at all. I didn’t have to talk, prepare meals, pass the socket wrench, write down items on the grocery list, grab him a towel…nothing. And similarly he didn’t have to do for me. It was an opportunity to be on the boat as if alone even if we weren’t technically alone. It was the most freeing thing we could have done. By the end of a personal day, we both felt recharged and ready to spend time together again.

The fact is, of all the people in the world whom I can spend time with and not feel drained, Renald most fits that description. I’m almost positive it’s because of the space we’ve made for personal time. Even now, with him living on the boat and us seeing each other every few months for only for a few days or weeks at a time, we still do our personal time and personal days when we get together. Just because we only have a couple of weeks together doesn’t change the basic need for alone-time to recharge. We’re also good at spending time together and not needing to talk, which is another rarity that goes a long way.

If you search the internet for “what introverts need” you get lots of articles that are trying to explain their needs to non-introverts. In “10 Things Anyone Who Loves an Introvert Needs to Know,” besides taking the need for time alone seriously, there are lots of other things that resonated with me big time. Like that we do better in deeper conversations than small talk. Does anyone actually enjoy small talk? I don’t even understand it. Also, “sometimes silence actually is golden.” On occasion you can amp up the personal time with silent time. It’s a little added bonus that intensifies the recharge. Why does everyone feel the need to talk so much? Silence isn’t necessarily awkward if you just let it be.

The other thing I’ve read about introverts is that it might take us a bit to warm up, but then we’re good. I often have people who don’t know me so well say I’m “serious.” I know I come across that way, and that quiet “serious” people can even seem unapproachable (it’s easy to project all sorts of things onto quiet people). But I’m actually fairly cheerful and light-hearted. Yes I’m quiet and perhaps reserved. It’s not the same thing as unapproachable.

Another that resonates: “we might need more low-key nights at home than you do.” I consider a night in to be an incredible luxury. It’s more restful than a night out. That’s not to say I never want to go out. But it drains me more than it energizes me.

Image description: Cartoon of an extrovert and an introvert, each with dark hair and a blue long sleeved t-shirt. On the left, the extrovert looks very sad and his thought bubble reads I'm staying in tonight." On the right, the introvert looks elated, smiling and arms up in the air, and his thought bubble says, "I'm staying in tonight"
Image description: Cartoon of an extrovert and an introvert, each with dark hair and a blue long sleeved t-shirt. On the left, the extrovert looks very sad and his thought bubble reads I’m staying in tonight.” On the right, the introvert looks elated, smiling and arms up in the air, and his thought bubble says, “I’m staying in tonight”

So where do other people stand with me? I love my friends and enjoy spending time with them. I do best one on one or in small groups of people whom I know well. Larger groups of new people challenge me more and leave me tired. Good conversation that flows easily works for me; I like it and can be quite chatty. My favourite people to spend time with are people whom I can chat with and also who understand when I’m done, when it’s time to let me read or knit or write or listen to music or watch a movie etc.

In my little running group of Anita and Julie, I’m the least talkative. Quite some time ago I explained to them that there would come a moment in most long runs, especially in half marathons or half marathon training, when I would cease talking altogether. They were welcome to keep chatting but I would not be participating in the conversation because hey, I only have so much energy and interacting uses it up. It felt liberating to say that out loud and not be judged for it.

It’s been a really long road for me to accept and understand what I need to do to feel grounded. Time alone is one of the things I need for that and I’m sure many (25-50% of the population, evidently) can relate. It’s the only way I know to truly recharge my batteries and if I don’t get the opportunity I can feel it. I will reach a point where I literally cannot talk to anyone and just need to crawl into bed, curl up under the covers, and close my eyes.

How do you recharge your batteries? Are you more introvert than extrovert?

Image description: drawing of a white sign with a wood stake driven into the grass against a blue sky. Sign says: "INTROVERTS UNIT we're here we're uncomfortable & we want to go home."
Image description: drawing of a white sign with a wood stake driven into the grass against a blue sky. Sign says: “INTROVERTS UNIT we’re here we’re uncomfortable & we want to go home.”





16 thoughts on “On being an introvert: it’s all about how you recharge your batteries

  1. Proud (and extreme) introvert here who is now putting it front and center on dating profiles, which has been interesting. Have you read Quiet by Susan Cain?

    1. Hey RB! Putting it on the dating profile must yield interesting results. I would think it would be helpful in weeding out the complete extroverts anyway! And no, haven’t read Quiet but will add to the list! Thanks and I hope you’re doing well. Time for a catch up email with the group I think.

  2. I’m also an introvert but one who is totally fine at home with friends and family. Between kids, dogs, and caring for elderly parents (when that was a big thing here) it’s a good thing I don’t have any need for personal time. That sounds extreme to me but I’ve always lived in busy family filled houses. For me, once I’m home, I’m good.

    1. Interesting. I think it’s because you’re good at being around people and not saying a lot. I tend to feel obligated to converse much of the time. I also just like retreating into my own space and always have.

      1. Right. I’m happy in crowds being quiet and listening. I don’t feel any pressure to contribute! But also I’ve always lived in a loud, family environment with lots of hustle and bustle. Babies and toddlers and cats and dogs are terrific, low expectations company!

  3. We were a quiet family, except at meal times. Lots of reading quietly in the same room (or different rooms) and not paying attention to one another (heaven!).

    1. One more thought. Like you, in often perceived as being serious. That’s partly true but the bits of me that aren’t serious are very playful and silly. So yes to serious adult conversation, also yes to playing with dogs and toddlers. Big no to small talk which like you I just can’t handle.

  4. I once told my husband, “Being with you is as good as being by myself.” Thankfully, he recognized this as a huge compliment instead of a huge insult! I’m extremely introverted and need LOTS of quiet time to recharge each day.

  5. Definitely an introvert. For me, a good friend is one with whom I can be silent. As for small talk – nothing more excruciating than meaningless small talk. So, yes, I do come across as reserved much of the time. I find extremely extroverted people quite draining to be around. None of this means I am anti-social but my circle of friends is pretty small (and probably comprised of introverts too!).

  6. I am a total extrovert by this definition. I love teaching and always feel sad when class is over…. lonely when my kids go to bed… general love being around people. It doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate quiet time to read etc, but think I would enjoy it more if I had a book club to share the books with.

  7. Total extroverted Introvert here- tricky 😊
    Love people, love parties/festivals/dinners etc, but OMG I love shutting the door to my house, & being quiet for 24hrs. Naps, reading, yummy food just for me… a bath perhaps… just don’t speak to me please, Outside World. And that book ‘Quiet’ was absolutely an eye opener for me in terms of understanding what I need 🙏🏼❤

  8. Hard introvert here. I’m blessed to be in a place in life where silence and alone time are standard, so my challenge is typically about getting good interaction rather than recovering from it.

    Interesting that you mention being perceived as “serious”–I hear that a lot, generally after people know me well. (This is a great cartoon about a similar idea:

    I support the other comments recommending “Quiet” by Susan Cain! It’s one of the best (perhaps first/only?) deep dive into how introverts function.

  9. Classic introvert here…to the point where my mother used to scold me for being “anti-social” at gatherings and such. Sorry, just let me read in a quiet room. I used to envy the extroverts, though. Wondered why I couldn’t be like that. Fortunately I eventually learned that it’s just fine being an introvert and made sure my introverted second daughter knew she was okay too..

  10. I’m an introvert but don’t see myself as extreme at all. 🙂 Happy to get lost in my own thoughts and comfortable not to get into small talk often. Yes, I’ve been perceived as serious and that has been detrimental, because people misinterpret my face when actually I’m thinking about something.

    The important thing for (some) introverts is to realize that some people just need a simple, friendly acknowledgement for a few seconds. It’s very easy for introverts to ignore others when passing by or doing a task/activity they enjoy, lost in own thoughts/enjoyment. I’ve been criticized for this..

    Yes, I don’t like talking alot with other cyclist(s) while cycling together. I feel as if I’m not paying attention to my own safety, aside from just enjoyment of the ride itself. Cycling does provide options for intermittent solo independence or total independence at different times.

    Thankfully my partner is also a socialable introvert by nature and as a cycling partner. He’s involved in several cycling advocacy organizations so most definitely not a shrinking tortoise and chats up with many.

    I enjoy learning from others in face to face interaction, but need to be away for recharging.

    Ok, growing up with 5 siblings.. probably has made me very comfortable to know how to deal with a lot of noise, distraction, socializing good and bad, plus finding corners/periods of necessary solitude for self-growth, reflection.

Comments are closed.