An Ode to Introversion and Quietude

Photo by Min An

In a world where extroverts are admired and introverts are judged, a book like Quiet by Susan Cain can prove transformative. It might be because Susan Cain herself is an introvert. No one can truly understand an introvert better than another introvert. Extroverts who have taken the time to introspect and reflect on an introverted loved one’s personality trait might also understand and respect introversion. However, they are few and far between.

For most of my life, I was told to talk more, be more extroverted, or “smart”. My introversion was considered a defect, more like a disease I needed to be cured of. I believed it to be true as no one told me otherwise. It wasn’t until I discovered the internet that I realized there are others like me. I was relieved to find people who shared the characteristics that I thought were unique to me. It provided much-needed validation. I started understanding introversion. I started understanding myself from the lens of a new unacknowledged world.

Introverted kids often feel like a misfit because of the constant judgment. Is it any surprise that they often grow up to become shy and underconfident? Nothing undermines someone’s self-confidence more than being repeatedly told they are not okay the way they are.

People find it hard to accept that I’m an introvert now that I’m an adult. I play my part well. Or rather, I have trained myself to play the extroverted part well. I have learned over the years to create this impressionable extroverted façade to gain acceptance into this world of Extrovert Ideals, all for the sake of attaining “normality”. However, I can keep up the act only for a few hours before I feel this mad urge to rush back home to re-energize – in short, to slip into my pajamas and dive into the comfort of books.

Susan Cain covers this façade (of extroversion) and more in her book. The case studies covering different aspects of introversion are a revelation. In the real world, extroversion still gets the upper hand at school, work, and every phase of life. Your competency is determined based on how extroverted you are. The book explores why a teacher, parent, or employer needs to understand the quantifiable benefits introversion brings to the table. The author explains how to reach out to the hidden treasures buried among the buzz and commotion. The solution is pretty simple: the world only needs to stop talking for a little while, introspect a bit, and try listening instead.

To Speak or Not To Speak? The Unexpected Side Effects of Speaking Out Online

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

It doesn’t seem that long ago when I used to be uncontrollably reactive. Being a hyper-sensitive soul, I would blurt out the moment I came across a social issue. I would write long posts on social media justifying why I felt the way I did. This behavior went on until realization hit – maybe, I was not helping by speaking out.

Maybe – worse – I was unintentionally fuelling hate.

Historically, a person speaking out against injustice with complete bravado has led to inspirational revolutions. The past is a witness to bold and courageous people who had kickstarted life-changing campaigns by speaking out (à la Rosa Parks). But I am beginning to think that similar changes emanating from collective online hysteria might be an exception in the modern era and not the norm.  

What am I on about? The whole point of speaking out is to bring awareness and extend our support. But the reality is that we end up attracting only those who already feel the way we do. It is akin to having yes-men around you. The people I should have influenced with my pitch retorted defensively instead of listening, much to my dismay. Real change only happens when people are open to change – when they are willing to listen, acknowledge, and evolve. Real change is when a person with a different ideology finally understands the seriousness of the issue – when a bulb goes off in their head, and they tell you, “Now I get it. I am sorry for thinking otherwise.

But how often do we hear that?

Instead, most refuse to listen. We talk again to explain further, and they get angrier, resulting in a never-ending cycle.

Bringing my personal experience into the picture, I will list down 3 sensitive topics I had often ranted about on social media and the outcome of each.

Spoiler Alert & Disclaimer: No one changed their viewpoint because of me. No one became any better because of my posts. I have only my personal experience to narrate. Your experience might be much better.

Topic #1 – Politics

I have strong political views. When my country is bleeding, I take it to heart. My loyalty lies with my nation and not any political party. I might prefer some over the others, maybe because they believe in some of the things that I deem important. But I have not pledged blind love to them – I can be rational and put them accountable if they fail.

Since I am not biased toward any political party, I tend to point out the pros and cons of each. Mostly, I like sharing the pros because India gets its fair share of negative publicity.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

Let’s assume there are two political parties – Political Party A (PPA) and Political Party B (PPB). The moment I laud PPA for implementing something noteworthy, the supporters of PPB get agitated. “But what about this other thing the PPA did? ” they ask me. When I applaud PPB, the supporters of PPA express their agitation. Of course, the opposite happens when I point out any cons of the party they support. No one wants to hear debauched stories about the political party they support either. There is no win-win situation here. This bias does not change even when you are armed with data and facts.

Did anyone change their political views because of me? Absolutely not.

Are they still blindly supporting the political party they love? Yes.

Did my energy get wasted in the process? A big YES.

Topic #2 – Women Empowerment

The #MeToo movement was a gamechanger for women across the world. It gave them the courage to speak out. But was it successful in powerfully conveying the message to the opposite sex that sexual molestation or abuse will not be tolerated? Not on the scale we wanted to.

Instead of supporting sexual abuse survivors, I have witnessed men (offline and online) explain haphazardly that women too can be abusive liars. Of course, without a doubt, women can be all of that. But when a man gets into a fight-or-flight mode citing #NotAllMen whenever you start talking about women’s issues, you know something has gone awry. When people are more invested in the #NotAllMen issue than the primary #MeToo issue, it means the whole purpose of the movement has been defeated.

Here too, we fell short of making a real change.

Topic #3 – Religion

Religion is a super-sensitive topic that should be handled with extreme caution. The “me” and “mine” mentality takes precedence over the collective well-being of a country when religion comes into the scene. Each one thinks other religions are inferior compared to theirs. Each one thinks their compatriots can never be wrong.

The more someone stresses the hate their religion gets, the more it seems to make the other communities angry. The responses become similar to what I had penned concerning women empowerment – the whataboutery starts.

When the minority communities talk about the harassment they face in the country, the religious majority gets offended, and vice versa. Religion is the trickiest of all the sensitive topics because it hits people right where it hurts the most. Each one thinks their religion is in danger. One community thinks, “What if our religion becomes a minority?” In contrast, the other one thinks, “What if they demolish our religion?” The main culprit is fear. The more we talk about our religion-based fears, the more it seems to be escalating the fear of our own and others.

Since there are more religious people than atheists globally, politicians worldwide undoubtedly know that the way to any country’s heart is through religion. And they take this to good advantage. Stories are planted, fake data is presented, and all types of hara-kiri happen, especially in corrupted nations. We fall for such antics. They string us around like puppets, and we dance to their tunes blissfully unaware.

The most sensible thing one can do is not give undue attention to toxic, hate-mongering politics. The more attention we give it, the bigger the hate-spitting snake seems to get. When attention wanes, the snake shrivels and dies. It does not know where to go, this attention-seeking monster.

In practicality, restraining oneself from polarizing topics is not easy. It definitely wasn’t for me.

Why is this happening?

I subconsciously knew that speaking out wasn’t panning out as intended. People seem to be getting more polarized. It was only after I read an article by Amit Verma that the truth stared right back at me. I am quoting the results from the 2005 Sunstein experiment from his page. It holds the answers for all this ruckus.

In almost every group, members ended up holding more extreme positions after they spoke with one another. […] Aside from increasing extremism, the experiment had an independent effect: it made both liberal and conservative groups significantly more homogeneous—and thus squelched diversity. […] Moreover, the rift between liberals and conservatives widened as a result of discussing.

Sunstein called this effect ‘Group Polarisation.’ Sunstein defined it thus: “When like-minded people deliberate, they typically end up adopting a more extreme position in line with their pre-deliberation inclinations.”

In other words, the more we discuss something, the more polarized we become. If we look around us and observe what’s happening from a distance, we might realize the truth of it all. With the advent of the internet, it has become easy to discuss things and become more polarized.

I have found that I, too, get agitated after discussing a sensitive topic. My rants do not make anyone better, nor do they enlighten anyone. The only adverse effect is on me – I feel agitated and unhappy. And wait for it – more polarized. I get angry when people with a different thought process don’t get what I’m saying. I get angry when people are quiet and not saying the right things. Of course, being right is subjective. My right might not be the next person’s right – this awareness can help calm our emotions in those moments of despair.  

Hypothetically speaking, if someone were to question my long-held beliefs constantly, it would be okay the first few times, but how long would I be okay? Everyone, unfortunately, has a listening threshold. It might explain why men get fed up with constant women empowerment and feminism stories, why religious people find it hard to constantly hear someone criticizing their religion, and why politically-inclined people find it hard to disown someone they blindly love. Beliefs and habits are difficult to break. You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink. You can lead a person to facts, but you cannot force them to think.

As an experiment, I decided to stop myself from sharing or discussing polarizing topics online. It has been a few months (I’ve stopped counting). I do express my discontent occasionally when someone is not being empathic, but only offline, in a more closed and restricted environment, not subject to foreign voices.

The outcome of this was that I immediately started feeling less agitated and secure. I stopped feeling angry over the slightest things. In short, I felt less polarized and more open to contrarian views. When the interaction is face-to-face, you get to express things more gracefully and compassionately – the things we often miss out on when we tweet or post on social media.

An Ode to Feeling Moody, Meh, and All That

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It has been a strenuous few weeks at work. At a point where I am just craving to take a break and go somewhere. Or just enjoy the weather and read. Even the usual weekend break is not cutting it.

But a vacation has to wait because of work deadlines.

I have realized something over the years—whenever I am stressed at work, I also tend to overthink a lot about my life in general and become unwelcomely crabby, subjecting myself to mind-numbing questions “Where am I heading? What am I doing? Why are people like this? Why is the world so bad?” And sulk about it even if I have no plans to shift out of the zone I am in because it is quite perfect for me otherwise, outside these moody phases. So I just sit with the feeling and wait for it to pass, like a hermit in search of worldly answers.

When work is more relaxed and I get a breather, life seems calm and harmonious. Professional life does affect your personal life, no matter how much you try to separate the two. I didn’t realize this behavioral pattern till I saw it repeat, time and again. Now, I know, and tell myself, “Yeah, it’s because you are mentally tired. You just want to take a few days off and do what you like best. You will be okay once you get that break.” This self-realization is cathartic in a way and a problem-solver because you know where the issue lies. But here’s the catch—it only comes when you choose to sit with your feelings and introspect, not run away.

So I am in that phase right now where I get moody seeing others’ travel posts on social media. I get moody when an ex’s update pops up somewhere on my social media feed because of a mutual friend. (Yup, social media is bad for your mental health, especially when you are stressed.) I even get moody when there are too many people around. The things that don’t usually affect you with much intensity, start gnawing at your brain and make you overthink.

As you grow up, you become more familiar with your emotions. You start to ask why you feel the way you do, so that the next time you face the emotion again, you know how to handle it better. Self-realization builds with experience. The more you encounter a feeling, the more you get to learn about its dynamic range and complexities. I feel the manner in which each person deals with their emotions is as unique as their fingerprints. All your experiences shape the way in which you handle or feel about things. What one person goes through in an emotion might be different from the next person as each one’s life story is exclusive and uncommon. So how can we say with finality that we should deal with an emotion only in one particular way? What if there are multiple okay ways to deal with things? And being moody is also an okay way contrary to popular belief.

Most people’s advice would be to snap out of being moody. Movies and tv series show loud friends whisking away their moody buddies to a party to dull down their emotions, hoping it would make them feel better. A person like me would have dissociated myself from such friends even if they meant good because the last thing I would need is a party.

Basically, the world wants you to do just about anything other than feeling your emotions. But I would say, just sit with it. Acknowledge its presence and understand it is only human to feel “nothing” or “moody” for a while. It is not a prison that you need to escape from. It is an intricate, delicate, and overlooked part of you that craves your embrace and attention.

An Ode to Taking One Step at a Time

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I always get anxious when I think of a big task or chore. I look at the outcome and its tediousness instead of focusing on the small steps that can lead to the result.

When you shift your attention to each step, things appear simpler. The overwhelming burden of the goal dies down, and you feel more energized to begin the task. On the other hand, shift your focus to the task in its entirety, and you are sure to feel stuck, without any motivation to move any further. Yet, this is what I end up doing – concentrating on the big, chunky, mammoth of a task instead of slicing it down into small digestible bites.

Last year though, I had decided on some resolutions, and I broke them all down into achievable steps.

Here’s how they went.

Walking 10,000 Steps

I had gained a bit of weight because of work stress. I hardly moved from my seat, stuck to my never-ending workload day in and out. This weight gain affected my mental and physical health. That’s when I decided to take things back into my control and I started walking. I set my goal as 10,000 steps, 5 days a week. Sounds overwhelming, right? It certainly was for me – someone who has never walked anywhere near 5000 steps, let alone 10,000.

I decided to go easy on myself.

The first day, I walked 2000 steps and continued it for a week. The following week, I increased my target to 4000 steps. I kept doubling it every week until I reached 10,000. I continued this for one whole year without a break. It worked; I lost the flab. My immunity and metabolism also improved considerably. I did not end up looking like a supermodel with my walks, but I now feel healthy, and that’s what matters.

Here’s the secret to how I could sustain my walks for one whole year – I had decided I would not complete all my steps at one go. Instead, I would distribute it throughout the day. That way, I was constantly moving without exerting too much pressure on myself. It also did not take up too much time in between work. When you force yourself to exercise only at a scheduled time slot, it eventually sucks the joy out of fitness (at least it does for me). When that happens, you are naturally tempted to stop exercising after the initial enthusiasm dies down.

The book, Ikigai, talks of how the Japanese, ever-famous for their longevity and happiness, thrive by walking and moving throughout the day, engaged in their hobbies and interests. They do not sit still for long, as opposed to most of us. Our routine may or may not allow us to follow the Japanese mantra, but we can try to get up from our seats every one hour and walk around for 5-10 mins. It might make a considerable difference

Completed a 60-Hour Long Online Course

I am a working woman with a full-time job. I love to write a bit on my blog (right here) during my spare time. It keeps me energized. Other than that, I do not get much time for anything else. I love to learn new things, but I never found time for it. Last year, I finally decided to take up a course to help me understand my work better. It was 60 hours long. A bit overwhelming for someone who hardly had any free time. But I completed it (yay!) by slicing it down to small lessons each day.

I would dedicate a learning timeslot that would range from 10 to 20 minutes, depending on my energy levels. It’s not much, right? But look at what 10-20 minutes every day can do. It can help you finish an entire course. It took a lot of time to complete overall (one whole year!), but never once did I feel overwhelmed or tempted to leave the course midway.

Started Learning a New Language

The only foreign language I had any chance of using for real was Arabic. I travel to the Middle East now and then. I wanted to learn the language so that I could understand the shop boards and converse in simple Arabic if required.

I dedicate 10 minutes every day to learning new alphabets or words.

I am still not fluent, but I can read and understand basic sentences. Again, all by committing just 10 minutes every day.

Conclusion

Anything can be achieved if we break it down into small achievable steps.

If you want to start reading more, spend 10-15 minutes every day. From experience, I can tell you that you will end up surpassing your allotted reading time.

If you want to start waking up earlier, start by waking up 15 minutes earlier than usual for one week. Then, 30 minutes earlier, and so on, until you reach your target.

If you think this way, you can achieve almost anything without losing steam. You are being kind to yourself, so there is no chance of fatigue. You won’t get far (at first), but at least you will be a step closer to your goal. After a while, when you look back, you will be astonished at how much progress you have made.

Sometimes, all we need is a push to take that first step.

Do not look at the outcome and enjoy the journey. Relish the whole process, and the results will automatically follow.