Quiet Moments

Recently I had to attend a work conference in Sydney. It went for a couple of days, and the first day was particularly intense with lots of people and activities and interactions – a full on schedule where I had almost no time alone. Breaks throughout the day were spent with colleagues, with the time allocated too short to do anything other than grab a cuppa, debrief a little and get on with it. After the day’s agenda was completed, it was straight on to drinks and canapés before heading out to dinner as a group.

Accommodation was provided but shared, then another day with a full dance card but involving a smaller group of people. When we finished for the day I collected my car, rejoicing in spending time in Sydney traffic, still in a crowd but alone. 

A few years ago, the prospect of a two-day conference would have agitated me for weeks beforehand. It has taken me a while to understand the underlying cause of the agitation. The industry updates and networking don’t create concern for me – I usually emerge informed and with refreshed enthusiasm. I find, too, that taking a couple of days away from my usual routine provides me with a different perspective and I tend to come up with more creative solutions to problems. The agitation relates to the absence of quiet time.

I know now that I need time to digest what has happened and to think through what this means. And to do that best, I need some time alone.

Learning more about having an introverted personality has taken much of the angst out of attending conferences and events such as these. I know that finding even very small pockets of time when I can be on my own will help refresh me and give me the energy to return to the mob. Knowing that many other people feel the same way helps too – this isn’t some oddity on my part, and by understanding this I can get through these events and even enjoy myself.

How important are quiet moments to you?

Methodical Matters or Why Routines Rule

There is part of my personality that yearns for order, consistency and a daily pattern of sorts. I know this wouldn’t suit everyone, and there are times when it doesn’t suit me either, but I’ve learned to accept that I work best when there is a structure about my day. This is applicable for me personally and professionally, regardless of the multitude of factors beyond my control that can have an impact on what I can reasonably accomplish in a day.

What does this have to do with writing? A few posts back I mentioned that I hadn’t been writing as much as I would like, and I outlined a few ways that I managed to find a bit more time or at least make the most of the time that was available to me to create. This has definitely helped, and by creating pockets of space I find that ideas are still coming through, even if all I can really do is get the bare bones down, at least I am capturing these moments.

Recently I stumbled across Quiet Revolution, a site with lots of great resources particularly – but not exclusively – for introverts. The work of Susan Cain, author of Quiet, is featured, and there is a wide range of articles across a spectrum of subjects. In early August there were two articles about creativity by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West: 4 Ways to Make Space in Your Brain to Create, and 3 Ways to Hack Your Environment to Help You Create. I found these articles interesting and have returned to them a couple of times over the past month or so.

There are a few things that I have been doing for some time to help with both routine and creativity, including Julia Cameron’s morning pages, but I hadn’t really explored the use of visual mental imagery as outlined in Stephen Kosslyn’s psychology of ideas. Something I liked was the idea of scheduling ‘unstructured idea-generation time’ after immersing yourself in a new book or movie, giving yourself the space to play with the images created by the experience. It sounds simple but how often do we launch from one thing to the next, rather having time to reflect and explore what has been encountered?

Environment plays a part in creativity, and I know that whilst I can be creative when I’m away from home, or at work, or doing the grocery shopping (sometimes inspiration strikes at odd moments!), having a dedicated space set up makes it much easier to get into my creative zone when I’m at home. This is similar to the idea of ‘The Bubble’, the ideal creative state outlined by Twyla Tharp. By working on the creation of this space, you can have a bubble of creativity that travels with you as a state of mind.

Is a designated space for creativity important to you?

[Photo: Megalong Valley Tea Rooms, Megalong Valley]

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!]

 

The Confidence Bank

There are people who seem to brim with confidence. Lack of experience or knowledge is no barrier to giving something a go, self-belief seemingly overcoming any other limitation. Oh, how I envy them.

It is a relief that in the last decade or so, I have been making regular deposits in my confidence bank. This idea was mentioned in passing by one of my managers at the time. I had changed roles at work, moving into a managerial position. Consistent with my personality, there was some self-flagellation going on in my head as I didn’t think I was performing as well as I could be. My expectations are usually higher than anything imposed upon me externally. The circumstances around the comment elude me now, but after some small success, my manager had said that this win was a deposit to the confidence bank.

This may have been a passing comment but it resonated with me, and it started me thinking differently about the successes in life, both large and small. These successes are not limited to my working life; they can be wins or good moments in relationships, family situations or creative endeavours. It is perhaps similar to a gratitude journal in that if you take the time to notice, appreciate and recognise your wins, they can stand you in good stead when the road is a little rocky, or if you need to do something outside of your experience.

Recently I was asked to do some public speaking. It was a short speech in front of about 150 people. I can hold my own in the talking stakes but getting up on a stage with a microphone in front of me and a sea of faces? When I was asked, I said yes with minimal hesitation. How hard could it be? As the event drew closer the little niggles of doubt wiggled into my subconscious. What if I fluffed the lines? Said something wrong? Tripped over my tongue or my feet, embarrassed myself somehow?

Then I called upon the confidence bank. I am a capable, competent person. I’m naturally an introvert but I have a job which involves dealing with people from all walks of life. I’ve been told that I’m easy to listen to. I thought about how I have put myself on show in other ways – through writing and other acts of creativity. I could do the speech. And I did. Another deposit for the confidence bank.

How do you overcome self-doubt?

[Photo: Bank building at Strathalbyn, South Australia]