Too much external stimulation makes the typical introvert shut down, lash out, or both! So look for (relatively) easy ways to weed it out of your daily life.
My wife Adrianne and I decided to weed our financial garden recently.
So we put on our gloves and started yanking the peskiest of the creeping charlie: the expenses that are automatically billed to our credit card each month (for our convenience, of course).
First and most obvious to die was the once low-priced DISH TV. I’m as close to never watching TV as anyone in America today, and Adrianne is no different.
Our kids consume media in some form nearly nonstop, despite our unending policing efforts, but even they yawned at the idea of keeping DISH.
So it was scrubbed.
We made several other easy cuts too. We dropped a few Internet domain name reservations, got rid of a couple of academic website subscriptions that the kids hadn’t used in years, and switched a premium software subscription to its virtually equivalent free version instead.
Then we came to our—uh, my—newspaper subscriptions.
Introverts Get Overstimulated Easily
I was a journalism major in college, so the concept of reading the newspaper each day, without fail, was beaten into my head by all my professors.
And reading just one newspaper isn’t enough, I was told during the beatings. You need to read several to get a balanced perspective on things.
So I have slowly come to subscribe to four newspapers, two left-leaning, two right-leaning: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and our local paper, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.
Unfortunately, newspapers can become their own invasive species—as can almost anything else when it comes to introverts and external stimulation.
For Introverts, Less Really Is More
The Times comes in print form on Sundays and generally sits on the floor by “my” couch for several days before I read it.
The Post is an online-only subscription that—blessing and curse—offers me unlimited access.
The Journal arrives in print form six days a week, but always a day late—which doesn’t matter because it just stacks up next to the Times.
The Forum comes in print form on the weekends and is the paper I’m quickest to sit down and read. It also publishes pieces from the other three papers, particularly in its national section—a redundancy I noticed only after … dropping the Post and Journal subscriptions as the final step of our miniature internal audit.
But you know what else I began to notice after downsizing to “just” two daily newspapers?
I feel better. Noticeably better.
No more piles of newsprint lying around, chirping “read me, read me.” No more visiting the Post website to mindlessly scan the articles and, far worse, the comments.
I’m still getting the news I want and need. I’m saving about $55 a month in subscription fees, too.
But best of all, I’m preserving my introverted sanity.
Because just as reining in weeds from time to time makes your garden better, reining in external stimulation makes your introverted life better.
Introverts Have Higher Baseline Arousal
Thanks to Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, we typically think of introversion (and extroversion) in terms of how we spend and replenish our energy each day.
If you’re an introvert, you generally spend energy in social situations, when you’re interacting with the outside world. You gain energy by refueling alone or close to it, turning inward to reflect and regroup.
Thus, if you want to stay happy and healthy as an introvert, you constantly monitor your energy and make life adjustments accordingly.
But there’s another way of looking at the concepts of introversion and extroversion, one you can think of as a different road leading to the same place.
This path was paved decades ago by German-born English psychologist Hans Eysenck, who theorized that the key difference between introverts and extroverts lies in their respective needs and preferences for external stimulation.
Think of your brain’s normal arousal level as a glass of water. We introverts, Eysenck argued, come preinstalled with an arousal level that is higher than that of extroverts.
In other words, compared to the extroverts in your life, it doesn’t take much external stimulation for your arousal cup to runneth over.
That’s when you start noticing the fallout:
- Anger and irritability and impatience and anxiety, maybe even resentment.
- The sense of being physically, mentally, and/or emotionally spent.
- The inability to tolerate even one more decibel of noise, or one more person in your life saying—implicitly or explicitly—“I need you, I need you.”
Reduce External Stimulation
What do you do to make things better?
If Eysenck is your gardening consultant, the fix is straightforward: Reduce external stimulation, whenever and wherever possible.
Pull the weeds, relying purposefully on your senses—especially sight, hearing, and smell—to find them.
Some of the external stimulation you deal with in life is right in front of your face … or your ears … or your nose:
- Stifling traffic on the freeway.
- A workspace littered in clutter.
- A rancid garbage bin that you keep meaning to wash out because it’s polluting your entire garage.
Often, though, life’s external stimulators are hidden—albeit in plain sight.
My dear Adrianne, an introvert herself, teaches kindergarten. It’s a challenging gig, made all the more challenging by an enveloping external stimulus that’s right on top of her in class: the fluorescent lights.
They get to Adrianne after a while, so much so that she has taken to using only half of them at any given time.
And during her prep time (i.e., the hour each day when she can prepare her lessons, clean up, etc.), she shuts the lights off completely.
One weed eradicated.
Keep External Stimulation in Check
You won’t be able to pinpoint all the external stimuli you’re exposed to, of course, and you certainly won’t be able to control them all.
But you have more influence than you might think, especially as you start to see just how many weeds you’re dealing with in your life.
Yank them when and where you can.
So that the garden that is you doesn’t just survive …