Book Review: Quiet by Susan Cain

The full title of this book is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It has been out for a while now (first released in 2012) and it was one of those books which seemed to hover on the edge of my awareness until I began to think that maybe I should read it. After all, I am a self-labelled introvert.

I’m not sure what I expected when I began to read this book, but it felt like a continual surprise in the way that I kept reading of habits or mannerisms that related to an introverted temperament. Examples include the ability to mix with others and enjoy it, but knowing that after a while there is an overwhelming urge to retreat into a quiet place for some alone time. I have thought of it for years as hauling up the drawbridge when I get home: I can be sociable and polite and even a little extroverted at times, but only for so long. Too much time with other people and I start to get irritable, wondering why they need to be so loud, to talk so much – is there anything that they think and don’t say? Of course, this is an exaggeration and I love being around vibrant people, but I know that for my sanity I need my quiet time too.

The book builds progressively along the classic definitions of introversion and extroversion from their popularisation by Carl Jung in his book Psychological Types, and there are many academic studies cited which provide insights into why introverts are the way they are. There are interesting interviews with academics and introverts, and the author lays bare some of her own habits and mannerisms. Cain’s approach to public speaking includes a how-to guide for introverts, and the way in which she was able to overcome the worst of her fears was illuminating. You can see her in action on her TED talk here.

It is more than introversion in the individual that is under consideration here. The cult of personality in the United States from the turn of the twentieth century is outlined. Who hasn’t heard of Dale Carnegie’s tome, How to Win Friends and Influence People? Carnegie embarked on his journey of self-improvement and discovery after struggling with public speaking for years. Over the decades, the traits of confidence and self-assertion became increasingly admired. Signs of introversion in children were deemed as unfortunate, and something that should be overcome. Cain’s own parents were very supportive of her quiet temperament, but the book is full of examples of people who feel as though they are struggling against the norm simply because their natural inclination is towards introversion.

Introversion is put under the spotlight in a global context, and there are cultural differences in the way introversion is viewed. The contributions made by introverts are acknowledged: the book commences with the story of Rosa Parks, the introvert who quietly stood up for her rights and played an integral part in the civil rights movement in the 1950s. There is emphasis on how to create environments that foster the contributions that introverts can make, and how powerful it can be when introverts and extroverts play to each other’s strengths.

For me this book was an ongoing revelation, meticulously researched and well written. I found that I had to – and wanted to – read it slowly, to absorb the ideas presented, to take the time to think slightly differently about things I had previously accepted without question. My own style of thinking and behaviour made more sense. The accompanying sense of relief that what I thought was a bit quirky in myself was relatively normal for an introverted temperament was significant and powerful. I am so glad that I finally read it, and will be dipping back into it again as needed.

What have you read recently that has changed your self-perception?

[Photo: there was a power failure whilst writing this post – thank goodness for candles!]

 

Advertisements

We fall into old habits*

I like routines. I find comfort in habits and having things in their place. By creating structure I find I have more freedom and mindspace to think about other things.

Routines do need a bit of room for give and take as things inevitably happen. I’ve written before about morning pages, which are an enduring legacy for me from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Since January 2014 I have been writing three pages daily in A5 journals, emptying out my head, ranting when I need to, testing out ideas, plot points and thinking through work related challenges. I was surprised that I kept to it, even though I have kept a journal intermittently for years. There is now a growing collection of these journals, swollen with the ink of many pens, marching their way along the desk in my study.

The routine of writing these three pages, preferably in the morning, has saved my sanity at times. There are other days when sleep is too tempting, or I have an early start, or there is some other hurdle to sitting down and getting the words out. But if I do miss this morning session, I tend to feel less ready to deal with the day ahead. There are some days when, before sitting down, I can’t think of a single thing that would be worth writing. And yet, with the weight of a pen in my fingers, the flow begins. If I miss the morning, I usually write when I get home, knowing that I’ll feel better for spending 20 minutes doing it, and vowing that I’ll get up earlier to honour this time tomorrow.

I know that keeping this routine matters to me when I miss breakfast or coffee to get the words out before I face the work day. If I do a self-scan at some point in the day, I will recognise a restlessness if I’ve missed a part of my morning routine including daily pages, meditation or walking my dog. These activities provide structure, but all of them also give me time to think, to dawdle a bit if I need to, to look up and see something other than the challenges of work or chores or the endless to-do list that keeps spitting out tasks like a dot matrix printer in my mind.

Sometimes routine is turning up at the desk even though the well feels a little dry. Pick up a pen or poise fingers over the keyboard and see what comes out. It might be slow and sluggish at first, but by creating the framework for creativity the chance of having something to show for the admission price of turning up is greatly enhanced.

How important is a routine in your creative life?

* The opening line from ‘Laugh in their Faces‘ by The Whitlams.

[Photo: winter landscape near Cooerwull in Lithgow]

Mindful in the Mountains

It was inevitable that I would start meditating after moving to the mountains. I had tinkered with it before, mainly with a lighted candle and a sense of wrestling with the many, many monkeys that live in my mind. Meditation retreats are in plentiful supply in the mountains with the solitude and stunning scenery providing a perfect backdrop and a sense of tranquility to enhance the meditation experience.

There are several meditation retreats in my village but I ended up stumbling across a form of meditation that I could fit into my everyday life. I had tried several meditation apps with varying degrees of success. Then a review of the Headspace app in The Guide (Sydney Morning Herald) at the right time got me started.

It was one of those times in life when the convergence of several external factors beyond my control meant that I was both more receptive to the idea, and it had a more profound impact on my life than it otherwise might have done. It took a little while for it to become a daily habit, but I was surprised at the impact that it had on my life in a relatively short period of time. Situations that would have previously sent me off on a rant or muttering obscenities no longer bothered me quite as much. I found that spending even a brief period of time meditating on a daily basis helped me to build resilience which had been seriously eroded.

I simply felt better.

I know that it is worth the minimal time invested for the returns that I get, in all sorts of areas of my life.

What do you do to unwind?